Thursday, 2 July 2020

Love in all its forms

I love this picture which I was sent via WhatsApp last week but had already been sent as a birthday card from my dear Belgian friend. It says it all, and made me think about how many different types of love there are - and all of them equally valuable.

My friends are so important to me. They would be anyway, but not having children of my own or a close family, they are the mainstay of my life. We walk miles with our dogs (or just Moll), cry and laugh over our trials and tribulations and keep each other sane. I've learned how important it is to be non-judgemental. To listen. I got that from my Mum, bless her, who is an amazing listener.

I've found love, the last two times, very suddenly and unexpectedly. A friend and I were discussing how her tenants had run up a massive phone bill (It's strange what you remember about certain occasions) when Pip walked in. And the rest is history.

Four months after Pip died, when I was deep in the throes of grief, I met someone else. I really couldn't handle falling in love again, not in the middle of grieving the man I loved most in the world. I couldn't sleep, lost half a stone in a week and felt as if my world had turned upside down.

Well, that love has been full of ups and downs, some great sadnesses and moments of enormous happiness. During one of the sad times, several years in, I had to have major surgery and met another wonderful man, incredibly kind, who offered to nurse me through my operation. While we weren't as compatible as might have been hoped, he remains a dear and true friend and I am so grateful to have met him.

Last year I ended the ongoing relationship as the sadnesses outweighed the good times. And yet that love, which has been incredibly complicated, has endured through the darkest of times. Even though we're not together we are still very close. It's rare that you find someone you can confide in, share laughs with, be utterly yourself and also find them attractive, years later. It's a great shame this one didn't have the happy ending I feel we both deserve, but it seems this is as good as it's going to be.

Over the last week I've learned of two people I know, both who live near me, who have both found love during lockdown. Now how incredible is THAT? The first one I heard about via Facebook when I was feeling particularly miserable and it felt like a real kick in the guts. I'm sorry but it did. Now, I'm having a better day and I am really glad for her. Which I was anyway, but when you're feeling unloved, sometimes you don't want to hear about how happy other people are.

Then I heard about the second person and I am so very glad. So happy for both of them. It just shows that love can - and does - pop up when you least expect it. In the most extraordinary of circumstances.

I was talking to a dear friend the other day and she looked at me and smiled. "There are lots of different types of love," she said. "Be careful of your heart, but remember, life is about risk versus benefit."

So I give you Love. In all its forms.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Here today, gone tomorrow

Confidence is a strange thing, isn't it? Some people seem to have it ingrained, from birth, maybe, whereas others struggle desperately, floundering on the slippery banks of insecurity.

I've noticed that many creative people have low levels of confidence. I suppose because, like anyone who sells anything, we are only as good as our last product. If, say, your first book sells really well, the expectation is that the second book must be as good, if not better. That's enough to knock the creative stuffing out of anyone.

But even for those people who write books that consistently sell well, there is very often the sudden confidence crisis once the book's been sent in to an editor - is it good enough? Will she/he like it? And then, when the book comes out, you have the same worry - will the readers like it? Will it sell? Will it convey the message you're trying to get across?

I remember hearing that Jenni Murray said that, for all the many years she's been presenting Woman's Hour, the only time she wasn't nervous was the time that she made a huge blunder - on air, with her mother listening. So perhaps this lack of confidence is like stage fright - we need it to keep us performing at our best, whether it's books, art, presenting - whatever it is.

As I've grown older my confidence levels have mostly levelled out. But there are those Bad Hair Days when everything seems wrong, when I can't write a word - or what I've written is rubbish. When I'm convinced that I am unlovable, unwanted, few an utter failure, all that stuff.

What I try and do now is remember that there are certain times of year when I just feel rubbish. Mid December to mid January us often a write off for me. Lockdown hasn't been fun. But the only constant in life is change.

And I think that's what we all need to remember. That the rubbish times do pass. Last week I was feeling horrible, but today the sun is shining, Moll is snoring under the bed as I write this and I'm seeing some dear friends later.

So we all need to remember, not just in these Covid times, that this too will pass.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Bubbles and Huge hugs

I wrote a post on Facebook a few days ago about my own experiences of the Social Bubble and have been asked to write a longer version, so here it is.

When I first heard that people living on their own could form a support bubble with another household, I thought, What great news! and skipped around the kitchen, as I am fortunate in having some really amazing close friends. At last - the prospect of a HUG! Like everyone living on their own, we are starved of that most basic of human needs - TOUCH. But now I’d be able to hug my friends!

But as the evening wore on, it gradually became clear that all my close friends have FAMILY, and family takes precedence over friends. So, at a time when the government finally appeared to be trying to make it easier for those of us living on our own, I now felt as if I were being punished for not having my own family. (I have brothers but I rarely see them, and my mother lives 100 miles away. Much though I love my mum, driving 200 miles to see her would not be support in any way. But I still felt guilty, that I was being a Bad Daughter.)

The fact that my friends have family commitments was quite understandable on one level, but because I was feeling very wobbly, it felt like a personal rejection. I began to feel unloved, unwanted, the odd one out - it opened up a Pandora’s Box of insecurity that I have battled with since being a teenager.

Once again it felt like Christmas (a friend once described me as The Waif and Stray), with everyone wrapped up in their family bubbles, while I stood outside, watching through the window, before trudging home on my own. Or at school, when everyone picked teams and you were the last one left. The odd one out. The one that the teacher made one team take, and they hated you for it. Yes, the demons really had a field day.

I finally plucked up courage and texted a dear friend, but I was by this time so worried about rejection (her partner has family commitments), that I was prepared for her to say No, sorry.

But bless her, they readjusted their family commitments so I can be part of their bubble and we celebrated with HUGE HUGS (I cried like a baby) and a glass of wine on Saturday night.

For someone who hasn’t touched another human being, let alone had a hug for three months, those hugs were simply the best thing ever.

I know I'm incredibly fortunate in having a Support Bubble, but those days of feeling really isolated and wretched made me realise that there most be so many people who feel the same. And who don’t have the prospect of a bubble to help them.

Those who don’t have friends or family nearby. Those who might have family but don’t get on (remember, this is supposed to be a support bubble, not a detention bubble. We’ve all had enough of those.) Those who have to make really difficult choices between children and partners, children and other children - the list is sadly all too long.

I discussed this, sobbing loudly, when I met with my dear mate Jacqui, and wondered how I could help others who are, for whatever, reason, Bubble-Less.

And while I can’t invite anyone to join mine, I would urge any family or couple to look around you, think of who you know who might be on their own, who might really need some support. They might not want to ask: they might be scared of being rejected. (I was.) And that would make them feel even worse. But if you can help anyone, please do. It would not only change their lives, but it might also change yours.

Just think about how quickly life can change. It could be you on the outside, looking in.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Slowing down?

Social media and, in fact, the media at large seem to be full of the virtues of Slowing Down (in lockdown). Of leading a Quieter Life. Of not rushing round etc. Taking the time to relax, read, do nothing, appreciate nature etc.

Well, to a certain extent I suppose I did slow down socially as, like everyone else, I had no social life during lockdown. But during the day I was busy working on my novel. I did a counselling course. I collected prescriptions and shopping for people as part of Volunteer Cornwall. I walked Moll as and when permitted. I wrote my blog. I wrote. And I wrote. As I'm used to working from home, this part of my life didn't change.

But I listened to various friends talking about how lovely it was to be with their families and/or partners, doing nothing all day. Evenings spent watching films, drinking wine with their nearest and dearest. Daytimes spent cycling or walking or doing the garden (with their nearest and dearest).

Last week I had a socially distant walk with some friends I hadn't seen for a while who had both spent a relaxed time with their partners. "You've been ever so busy," one of them said.

I felt almost guilty, that I hadn't been relaxed. Doing nothing. But I explained, "It's lovely to do nothing when you're with your loved one, but the trouble is, because I live alone, if I sat around doing nothing, I'd get extremely depressed. I'd fall into that black chasm which has steep, slippery walls, and I wouldn't be able to get out again and that scares the hell out of me. So it's vital for me to keep working. Have a purpose. A focus."

As Wendy Perriam once said, on being widowed, "I've got plenty of friends to do things with. I really miss someone to do nothing with."

I was telling a close friend about this conversation with my mates when he rang a few days ago. He's not on his own but sometimes you can feel more lonely when you're with the wrong person. There was a short pause when I told him about fearing I'd fall into that black pit. Then he said, "Yes. That's what's happened to me."

As a writer we want to communicate. And part of that communication is to help other people crawl out of their black pits. So for everyone wanting a hand up, just shout. Talk to anyone you trust about how you feel. The black pit only exists when there's one person in it. Once you've shared how you feel, the black will become lighter. Daylight will filter through. You will realise that the walls are not so steep, and they're beginning to dry out.

Furthermore, there's a foothold in the corner, and if you put one foot in, you can reach up, and pull yourself out.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

She's Fine!

Thank you so much for all your comments - they mean a lot.

As you can imagine, Thursday was a bit of a fraught day. The vet rang at 9.30 to see if I'd like to bring her in earlier as they had a cancellation, so I had to take her there, ring from the car park, while someone from the surgery, in PPE, picked her up and took her off. And that was the last I saw of her for six hours.

Luckily the heart surgeon rang before and after the scan to ask what had been going on etc. and he said he thought she'd probably just had a bug. Certainly after several days of very little exercise, her energy levels have bounced back which is lovely to see. Moll has a heart murmur which could lead to congestive heart failure - this is essentially when fluid accumulates around the lungs. (This is how Pip died, so I am praying this doesn't happen to her, bless her.) So I monitor her breathing once a week while she's asleep and as it hadn't changed, this seemed a good sign.

Having done the scan he said no, the heart isn't enlarged, she's no worse than she was nine months ago, and she doesn't need to have another scan for a while. Unless her breathing changes or I see anything else I'm worried about, in which case bring her in straight away. I suspect that she led them a merry dance in there as she gets very stressed at the vet anyway, let alone when they're trying to sedate her and do scans etc. The scans are also incredibly expensive so I will be glad for her not to have any more for a while.

So she's back and, to my amazement, the next day she was firing on all cylinders. Had her first proper walk for a week and loved it. Since then her energy levels have been amazing - especially as it's been hot - so we've walked later, in the cool, and the last few days we've both been swimming which has been fantastic.

I am so relieved and delighted and amazed to have my little companion back with me and walking alongside me. Bouncing and swimming alongside me, in fact. I can't tell you the difference it has made.

There were other things going on last week that were very stressful and unfortunate, resulting in more sleepless nights and a lot of tears. But having Moll back to her occasionally grizzly self makes me a very happy woman.

She is snoring on the bed behind me as I write: the one loving constant in my life and I am so glad that we have some more time together. Time that I hope to make as joyous as possible for both of us.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Poorly Pup

This is for my friend Iz who reminded me yesterday that I hadn't written a blog this week.
"I find them very comforting," she said. "I think it's because I realise someone else thinks the same way as me."

Certainly when it comes to dogs we do. All my friends know what a huge part of my life Mollie is. She has been with through so much with me for the last 15 years - shortly after she arrived, Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Moll kept us going then. Later on he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Once again Moll was there. And when he died - well, life would have been so much harder without her.

True, she has a heart murmur and possible arthritis so she's on medication but so far, apart from a few blips, she's been her resilient self. But since lockdown she has really slowed up, and didn't appear to be enjoying her walks much. Which has meant I haven't, either.

To those of you who don't have dogs, a walk alone is completely different. Our four legged friends might not speak (much) but they are such amazing company, and you never feel alone with a dog. OK, she has her maddening habits like eating anything she can get her jaws on, and increasingly wanting to sniff rather than walk, but none of us are perfect. And at least she's never had a habit of running off which must be very worrying.

Anyway, last Thursday I could see she was really struggling, and since then she's made it clear she just didn't want to walk. My vet said don't push her so she has been on a very short walk round the block (5 minutes rather than half an hour) and the hour long afternoon walk is again either 5 minutes or maybe 15. It's heartbreaking, seeing her struggling. And, selfishly, I really miss her striding out exploring with me. Solitary walks are a constant reminder of her absence. A visit to the beach at Helford at the weekend had me in floods of tears as she wasn't there to share it with me for the first time ever.

Today she is a little brighter but it is very hot which isn't good for dogs, particularly older ones, so having had a little walk this morning that will probably be it.

It's not an understatement to say I have been in mourning and I've cried more in the last week than I have for a long time. Our pets occupy such a special part of our hearts, and when you live alone they are even more special. My days are structured round my time out walking with her, and during lockdown this has become increasingly important. She was my only contact at first and the only being I can touch.

So now it's a question of having to accommodate her decreasing energy with my high levels - I have to think of us both. She is having a heart scan tomorrow which will determine the state of her ticker, darling girl. Maybe she will be able to do slightly longer walks, maybe I have to do those without her. We will see....

So think of us both tomorrow, please. And keep fingers crossed....

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Touch and Stress Container

Like most of us who live on our own, I am desperately missing the sense of touch.

I realised yesterday that it is nearly three months since I last had a cuddle. Since I actually touched a human being. And for many others it's a lot longer than that. Writing it down, it seems incredible that I have survived without this fundamental sense - as all my friends know, I am a tactile person.

But oh my god I miss it. I was watching Normal People on Monday night (it's so achingly good that I am trying to ration myself to just watching it on Mondays so I have something to really look forward to) and as they are touching each other most of the time, it was agony. I had to hug a cushion very hard and pray that it won't be too long before we can have physical contact again.
But it does all add to stress levels in what has to be the most extraordinary time most of us have ever encountered. I'm doing a course on Mental Health First Aid on Friday and as part of that, we will talk about Stress Containers. This is such a brilliant way of describing how we deal with stress that I thought I'd share it with you.

Basically, we all have stress in our lives but some obviously have more than others. The size of this container can be influenced by lots of things - bullying, abuse, being out of work, financial worries, relationship problems, health problems - etc. Those who are more vulnerable to stress have a smaller container, so it fills up quicker.

And when the container overflows, problems start to occur. So we all need to learn ways of turning the tap on so that we can let the stress out. Others the tap gets blocked, and the stress container overflows. It's such a simple idea but, like all the really good concepts, is spot on.

Talking to people we trust is probably one of the best things. Asking for their help. I know some people find it very difficult to ask for help but THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. It is a sign of STRENGTH that you realise the situation and have the courage to do something about it. That is real bravery. And once you've made that first little step, it all becomes a hell of a lot easier. Believe me, I spent much of my teens and twenties receiving help. I have a degree in it.

I can't speak for others, so I will briefly list my ways of coping. Writing - this helps - my novel, journalism, or a journal. It doesn't matter what you write really. Walking - this is one of my favourite things to do. Reading - nothing like getting lost in a book (other than writing one of course. That is the best thing ever.) Hugs - well, those are off limits at the moment so moving swiftly on, cooking and enjoying new recipes. Eating on your own is bloody boring but I do try and experiment a bit. Planting stuff in tubs: watching things grow. DIY. Helping others I find helps me too. It gives me a sense of purpose and when we're feeling low it's all too easy to lose that sense of purpose and so we feel useless.

And I think lastly it's being kind to myself, as well as others. It's so easy to beat ourselves up because we haven't done anything with the day, because we lack motivation, because our confidence has crashed. We're feeling really low. We feel really stuck in our lives, a failure, can't see the way ahead. (I've been through this all too.) But really we all need to cut ourselves a bit of slack. And try and turn a negative into a positive. For instance, instead of 'I didn't sleep last night, try thinking, 'I had a bit of a wakeful night but I read for a bit and listened to the radio and eventually I dozed off again'. This takes a bit of practice but it really does help.

Celebrate the small things - getting out of bed is a good start. Talk to or ring someone who will make you feel better (some don't as we all know). Write an email to a friend or send a text. Having a walk. A bike ride. A swim. When you feel rubbish, celebrate the small stuff. But please, if you need help, take a deep breath, and ASK. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Bad Hair Day (literally) and Book Updates

Oh dear. Is a polite way of saying what I thought when I looked in the mirror this morning. I should explain that I rarely DO look in the mirror. I am probably the most un-vain (is that a word? it is now) woman in Britain. I only have a quick look to drag a brush through my hair and put my contact lenses in. At the moment I can't wear my lenses as my eyes are too dry but that's another story.

Anyway, as I was saying, I decided to give my hair a quick snip last night before going to bed. And no, I was quite sober in case you're wondering. The last time I did it, about four weeks ago, I didn't make too much of a mess of it, so I set to last night with a snip snip here and a snip snip there. I have to say rumpled chicken came to mind when I washed and brushed what was left of my hair. Oh well, I thought. There's no one to see it and it will grow. It's just a question of what it will look like when I grow it out. And there's a lot more grey, I noticed. But I can't do anything about that either so - onwards, dear reader.

The good news is that I finally finished the first draft of my novel on Friday and as a result was shattered all weekend. But a good sort of shattered. Not an Am I Sick sort of shattered. (Though of course that did occur to me as well.) So I'm giving myself a few days off before starting on Draft Two. And once more being everlastingly grateful that I have this world of mine to escape to.

Today, as we know, we have more freedom to go out and walk which is music to my ears. What is not music is the fact that people can drive as far as they want, so those of us in Cornwall are terrified that some may think they can come down to Cornwall on holiday or to their second homes. PLEASE DON'T. We would love to see you when it's safe to do so but it really is not right now. There are no camp sites, pubs, restaurants or cafes open either, so there would be nothing to do when you did get here. So please stay away for the moment.

But if you're planning a holiday towards the end of the year, or live here anyway, and would like some inspiration, I am having a lockdown sale of 10% off all my books. I keep stock here to sell when I do talks but all my talks have been cancelled for obvious reasons. So now is a good time to plan what walks you would like to do, inspired perhaps by your favourite authors. (Not me - I refer to Winston Graham, Du Maurier, Rosamunde Pilcher and many others.)

On that note, I see it's clouding over. But the forecast is set fair for the next five days. So enjoy the weather but please keep safe, be careful and keep well.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Big Things and Little Things

Some days I see no one. I talk to people on the phone, and sometimes via video calls but sometimes I find these calls unnerving. I can't exactly explain why, but I think it's because, as the days and weeks go by, I am becoming more and more introverted.

This is both a good and a bad thing. It makes lockdown more bearable, but it also means I am withdrawing from everything that is good for me on a social level. But then, so are many others, and if anything makes lockdown a little easier, that's no bad thing.

But I digress. The first thing to say is that I have finished the first edit of my novel. This has been a huge amount of work and I have loved it. It gives me focus, a reason to get up in the morning. It is an escape and keeps me sane. So for that I am so grateful. And, after this weekend is over, I shall start on Edit Two where I shall look more at the actual writing rather than the structure of the novel which was what I have been addressing. It's a times like this that I am so thankful to be a writer. In the absence of a partner by my side, or physical friends, it is wonderful to have them in my head.

A common question floating around at the moment is, What will you do once lockdown measures are more relaxed? As in, what have you learned? Well, I've always been busy, with work and socially. Obviously the busy-ness is much less these days but I have a structure to my day which I think helps a lot. And while I have no social life, other than on the phone or Zoom, it made me realise that I want to do more with my life and at the same time less.

Yesterday I helped out a friend who lives upstairs and as a thank you she bought me a copy of a gardening magazine, which contained a booklet offering free access to lots of gardens (not much good at the moment, but hopefully one day in the not too distant future) and SIX PACKETS OF SEEDS. I can't describe how delighted I was - and still am.

SO I started sowing some seeds, leaving the rest for another day. I had just finished typing the last words of my edit and wanted to save more of this planting treat for later. I've had a look at the magazine and also the brochure, seeing what gardens I might like to visit. One day. To be honest I've never been a great one for gardens - I prefer striding out to inspecting flowers, but I do love the colour and brightness that they bring to a day, and I get beyond excited when I see shoots coming up.

Which just goes to show that it really is the little things that matter. But then, when you think of it, growing things is pretty big stuff anyway. From a flash of an idea comes a novel. From a rough piece of timber comes a boat. From a seed comes a flower, a plant or a tree.

So here's to the little things in life. May they become strong and grow tall.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Book Swaps and other escapes

So, where do you go when you want to escape? I don't necessarily mean literally, but in your head?

I've always been an avid reader since the age of four. My parents both read a lot so it was as natural to me as breathing. I've always, also, read too fast. I'd love to be one of those people who savour books, but I can't. If I'm enjoying it, I have to tear through the next page, and the one after that.... and if I'm not enjoying it, I'm afraid I skip bits.

But my appalling reading habits haven't stopped a lifelong love of books. When the libraries announced they were closing for lockdown, I took out ten books, knowing that wouldn't last me long. But to my surprise, I find I've still got a high To Be Read List, healthily enabled by various friends.

Anne texted a few weeks ago to say she'd got Tom's Midnight Garden, a childhood favourite of both of ours and would I like it? YES! I'd told her I was re-reading several childhood books for comfort reading - Susanna of the Mounties being one. Which was just as good as I remember, and beautifully old fashioned, being written in the 1920s. So Anne dropped it round, while walking her dog round the block.

Last week she texted to say she'd got two more for me, so this time I took Moll round there. It's so lovely to actually talk to someone, face to face, albeit from two metres. Cheers my day up no end. This time she lent me Sweet Caress by William Boyd, which I'd read some time ago - the true story of Amory Cade, one of the first women war photographers. It's so well written and useful research for my novel, which features a young photographer. I couldn't put this book down, and as I'm going through a phase of walking at 3/4am for a few hours, it's lovely having something good to read to while away the wee hours.

I'm half way through Tom's Midnight Garden, which I find good for reading at night. it's not overly exciting and beautifully written, full of imagery and time travelling magic. And inscribed by the seven year old Anne, which makes it all the more special.

Corinne lent me several French text books as well as The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell, a fabulous writer whose books I will always read. And Fiona dropped round Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo - another amazing writer.

So, along with another pile of books for my book group, I'm OK for a few weeks. This might not be a big deal for some people but for me not having enough books is like telling a smoker she's run out of fags (I was one, I know how terrifying this is).

So thank you, all my other book loving friends, for enabling my escapism during lockdown. It is much appreciated.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Where's your blog? and Haircuts...

Yesterday I had two chat with real friends. You know - actually seeing them face to face - from a safe distance of at least two metres, of course.

Nowadays, and particularly when you live on your own, such instances are to be treasured. And this blog is due to a sharp reminder from Izz. "Are you OK?" she said, as we walked our dogs along North Parade - at a safe distance. "I haven't seen your blog for ages, and I thought, of my God, what's happened?"

I reassured her that I was OK, but I wasn't really sure what to say. Life ticks on, the days are curiously full - though I have in part my novel to thank for that. I never thought that anorexia would be a welcome release....! I collect the odd prescription, explore new solitary walks, learn French, do my counselling course, talk to friends on the phone, paint and cook.

I am not one of these people who can sit and watch television for long. Thirty minutes is about my limit. I wish I could just get stuck into a good box set, but I do find it very difficult to sit still and concentrate - unless it's my own book of course. So I keep busy.

I am learning new skills. At least, that's going a bit far. I have cut my hair and Moll's, though I have had marginally more success with Moll's than my own. Moll has been terrified of groomers all her life, and she got so stressed that the last groomer (a very mature lady who's been doing it for 30 years), said she didn't think she should do it any more as she was frightened of hurting her. This was about six months ago - maybe longer, so you can imagine how long her coat has been getting.

For Easter she was given some dog treats from Lidls and god knows what are in these but she ADORES them. I mean, she's one of the greediest dogs I've met but these are the heroin of dog treats, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor. So I thought I'd have a go at cutting her hair. I balanced a bit of one on my knee and snipped away carefully while she shook with anticipated delight at the prospect of this injection of delight. So focused was she that she didn't notice hair going missing.

I repeated this over about a week - which meant that she looked really weird when half of her was cut and the other half not - but we're just about there now. Apart from her bum, and who wants that interfered with? And she looks so much better and lighter in this warmth. Her spots show through and she is, I think, happier. And I'm £30 better off - and it means I can carry on doing it. So that's one bonus out of this strange time.

Like all - or most of us - I miss my friends. I am lucky in HAVING so many friends. I miss daily companionship. I miss cuddles. I miss walks and a coffee with my mates most of all. I try not to cry when others say that they are really rather enjoying this time. I try not to be jealous. I have my Moll. And for the moment, that's just how it is. I am so much luckier than so many. And I try never to forget that.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Be careful what you say, and Comfort Reading

This was taken on a local walk recently - while the world is in uproar, at least nature is putting on the most wonderful display, reassuring us that life does go on, in some fashion, and while it's frustrating (to put it mildly) not being able to go out and explore, to say nothing of writing the book that I'm contracted to write, at least it's cheering to see those blue skies and, in my case, paint my very small back yard.

Several weeks ago I read a piece written by an Italian journalist about what she'd learned from living in lockdown. One of the things I remember her writing was that you will find that some friends aren't who you thought, while the opposite can be true. I had an example of this last week when talking to several friends I've known well for many years, some of whom are married and have family living with them and were saying how lovely it was to all be together, have barbecues, great for the kids to be getting on so well etc etc.

Each word, in that last conversation, felt like a punch in the guts. I pointed out, eventually, that it wasn't so much fun when you're living on your own and don't have a partner, or children. (And for the many, many people who ARE banged up with family and/or a partner they really don't want to be with. For those who have lost their business, who aren't able to pay the rent, bills, and all the other terrible things that people are having to go through.)

My point was entirely lost, and so I ended the conversation feeling bruised, lonely and miserable. And while I am really happy that several of my friends are enjoying this situation - I think that's great - it doesn't make me feel any less lonely and isolated to hear about it. So please, when talking to friends who are less fortunate than you, please be careful. We are all anxious, over sensitive and downright wobbly right now.

To counteract that, providing inspiration on Easter Sunday, The Reunion on BBC Radio Four, featured John McCarthy, Terry Waite, Brian Keenan and Jill Morrell. For those that don't know, the three men were held hostage in Beirut for many years before being released, and I was working at WTN (where John worked) shortly after he was taken hostage, so I knew Jill Morrell and the awful uncertainties she lived through. I would advise anyone to listen to this brilliant piece of radio - it was full of gentle humour, incredible bravery, and showed the deep love and respect they all had for each other. When we're chafing at the bit about lockdown, think about being locked in a cell for four years with no one to talk to, no radio, no books - nothing. As Brian Keenan said, "We belong to an elite club, and Jill is an honorary member" which I thought was such a beautiful thing to say.

And finally, to also counteract these wobbly times, what are you reading? I have been dipping into old childhood favourites of my mother's. Susanna of the Mounties by Muriel Denison - what a joy! Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I think A Traveller in Time will be next - any other suggestions?

Hope you're keeping well and safe everyone. Take care, please.

Monday, 30 March 2020

The New Normal

So. We are all trying to adjust to a new way of life since partial lockdown was announced last Monday.

I really miss our morning walk, but figure that I'd rather have something to look forward to later on in the day, so we have our walk in the afternoon and Moll has found this equally confusing - dogs like habits but she is adjusting, bless her.

I have started preparing the walls of my back yard ready for painting - which badly needs doing - and it will be a lot brighter as a result even if I can only go up to as far as I can reach. It's also been good for me as when my friends upstairs are also outside painting, we can have good chats at a safe distance - they're up a flight of steps on the next level. So I've had a bit of company on those days which is good.

Otherwise, thank god I have the novel to work on, although some days that's hard. In fact, everything is hard but it is for all of us. As has been said before, this is a great leveller.

One good thing to have come out of it is that although I couldn't get to see my Mum - the lockdown came in force just as I was about to go up, but she'd already said No I'd rather you didn't come - I am ringing her every other day which seems to really cheer her up. I sent her flowers last week instead of for Mother's Day which was a much nicer surprise (she did get a card on The Day) and she rang last night, absolutely delighted. I suppose since we're all isolated now, for some reason this has broken down barriers between us.

Since Pip died, and being involved with someone who was away a lot, I was very aware of not having a partner around all the time, compared to my brothers who have both been married for a long time. (And of not having children but we won't delve into that Pandora's Box.) Now all that is irrelevant. You could say that while I don't have company as I would if I had a partner living here, at least I have lots of friends to talk to when I want to. So while I am alone it is a very different sort of alone-ness to missing being with someone, if that makes sense.

The divorce rate in China has rocketed over the past few months - no surprises there - and I know of at least one good friend who would rather not be in lockdown with the person she's with. So at least I don't have that problem.

And yes, I wish sincerely that I did have someone to go through this with, but life isn't like that at the moment so we have to make the best of what we have. I can look out of the window at fabulous views. Spring is really on its way. I can dream of the walks I will do when we are safe to go out freely again. I can walk to the castle or the seafront. And I am learning to like myself more. As a wonderful veteran said on the radio this morning, "If you can't get on with yourself, who else can?"

I know the coming weeks and months will be very testing. We will all be going stir crazy at times, frightened and angry and frustrated, lonely and miserable. But maybe some of us will learn more about ourselves, which could be interesting.

I'm wondering what lessons we will learn from this time? Or will we just go back to how we were before? It will be interesting to see, long term.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Brave New World

It seems incredible to think how quickly everything has changed. A few weeks ago I was out in Spain having the most amazing writing retreat. Now - well, I worry for the lovely people who run the Finca. They must be so concerned.

Every time I turn on the radio, TV or look on social media, there is almost nothing but news of CV19 which I find makes me very anxious. I’ve got that horrible swirling in my stomach and I find it difficult to eat. I'm exhausted by it all and very fearful, like most of us, particularly those of us who live on our own.

We all have our different ways of coping. I’m not in denial, but I listen to the news headlines to see what might affect me, and those of my nearest and dearest, and then I turn it off. To listen or watch endless statistics make me so fearful and that isn’t good for me or anyone else. I fully respect others react differently, but I don’t think it’s healthy just to focus on this virus for 24 hours a day.

We have lives that we have to live and for the moment that is the challenge - to figure out how to cope with self isolation and panic buying. How we can support each other, and keep fit at the same time.

In amongst the tales of bare supermarket shelves and widespread panic, rising statistics and the economy flatlining, are wonderful stories of how people are helping each other. People playing ping pong out of balcony windows in Italy, singing out into the darkness. Pubs and cafes offering takeaways.

Pip’s old local, the Seven Stars in Falmouth, is offering to deliver beer and prescriptions to those who are self isolating. My vet will post medication and say if you’d rather wait in your car until your appointment is ready, they will ring you. Endless shops in Falmouth are offering deliveries (not then supermarkets). Becky Wass has been delivering postcards around the town so that people who are on their own can give their details and post it through a neighbour's door if they need help or just contact.

I'm getting together a group of friends so we can keep in touch, share shopping, dog walking, visit those we can, and enjoy walks or other ways of keeping fit.

Being a writer I'm fortunate in that I'm used to working in isolation. I will really miss going out of the house to meet friends for drinks or coffee, though we can still walk and need to for our dogs. It all feels very surreal, and we have to get used for that for a while.

The most important thing, and this is very closely with the Connecting Lives organisation I am involved with - do look up their website - is helping those who are depressed and isolated. That may be you or me, our neighbours or anyone.

We all need to remember, or think of how there are so many little ways in which we can help each other keep strong, keep sane and keep safe.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Writing retreat

Well, it was one of the most stunning locations I've ever seen. That's what hit me at first. Having lived most of my life near the sea, I'm not used to those vast open expanses of mountain and they awed me, they spoke to me, they humbled me and I couldn't take my eyes off them.

The finca we stayed in was superb - a 200 year old place that had been lovingly restored and supplied comfort, relaxation with a lot of careful thought and consideration. The food was great - buffets of fresh fruit, cheese and ham etc for breakfast, gorgeous platefuls of fresh salad and wonderful cold concoctions for lunch, and for dinner - well, who knew?

And that's all before we got to the writing which was a tight timetable, but gave us plenty of workshops and one-to-one sessions, as well as time to read out and share our work with the other writers in the early evenings. Plus time to work on our own novels. Our tutor was Rosanne Ley, not only bestselling author of many novels, but a bloody good teacher!

I hit a very low spot half way through where I couldn't see where to go with my plot - well, I knew had to simplify it but nothing was making sense - and after a few sleepless nights, I cracked it. Plus we had an amazing workshop where one of my main characters suddenly leapt into life - boy that was brilliant, if harrowing.

The people were a lovely lot, all writing different things, and we left as good friends, which is how these sort of things should be, I imagine.

So I left on a wobbly high, if there is such a thing. I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I got home but surprisingly, I feel really fired up again. The enthusiasm and self belief that I'd lost has inched up a notch and my confidence is a lot better. More to the point, I am loving writing the novel again, even though i'm aware it will need a lot more editing.

So I would say, if you get the chance - go on this retreat at the Finca El Cerillo. It will be one of the most memorable experiences of your writing life.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Writing retreat - can we fly?

I'm getting so excited over our writing retreat - though keeping a wary eye on the weather, in case the next storm prevents us from flying (oh, please no!) Anyway, I have a pile of stuff next to my case as I'm not sure what to take and keep on thinking of things I should print off that I want to discuss. The synopsis for my novel, being one as I've rewritten the beginning and will need to rewrite bits as I go along, and need a slightly different ending.

WE were sent the timetable last week which made it all seem more exciting and plenty to work on which I'm really looking forward to.

Last weekend, being deluged by Dennis, I saw two films. On Saturday it was so depressing and beastly we thought we'd go for some animal love, so went to see Dolittle and laughed, cried and really loved it. It also covered various elements of mental health - fear, isolation, grief, loneliness, panic attacks, lack of confidence, low self esteem, in a very palatable way. And my god we felt good when we came out!

The same could not be said for Parasite. You know, the one that won all the Oscars. Well, being of an overly sensitive nature, I didn't realise what was in store (I had only skimmed through one review, silly me) and both Jac and I were hiding at the end. I won't ruin it for anyone that hasn't seen it, but if you're of a nervous disposition, don't go. I had four hours sleep that night. Yes, it's a very clever plot etc. but not what I felt like at the moment. Mind you, Viv loved it, so each to their own.

I'm realising the value of holidays. I know it's obvious, and when I first started working for myself, and got incredibly stressed trying to manage money, work flow etc., someone said, "Just because you freelance doesn't mean you shouldn't have holidays. You should try and have a break every three months - take four weeks off at least just as you would if you had paid holidays." And for many years I did that.

But over the past few years, the reviews have disappeared (mostly thanks to Tripadvisor etc.) and somehow so did the holidays and I felt really wretched last year. So now, although being on my own now means not having a partner to go away with, I have met a few others who would like to go away with me. So I intend to make up for lost time, have some fun and R&R as well as hard work on this one. And next year I will plan more jaunts as well. And maybe I'll meet someone (male I mean) who'd like to go away with me.

I'm sitting here thinking, "this time in four days we'll be there!" or at least, I bloody hope so. If not, I shall be stranded at Bristol airport. Or wending our way home to celebrate my birthday in Cornwall. And much though I love my home, I'd really rather have that week in Spain. So keep your fingers crossed....

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Surprise Presents

Having hobbled around like the hunchback of Notre Dame for a week (well, I wasn't bent over quite like that, but you get the picture), thank god my shin is a lot less painful albeit a jaundiced yellow colour, and my ankle is bearing the remains of a blue black bruise, but I am mobile again - hooray!

So I am able to start looking forward to my Spanish writing retreat (to give it its full title). Or I was, until a friend said, "I hope you don't have snow, and are able to get to Bristol airport." Then I met another friend whose partner was due to fly to Alicante last Sunday only to find the plane couldn't land because of high winds, so that holiday's postponed for two weeks. This is making me a little jittery, but what will be, and all that.

The good news is that I've started editing the novel again which is a terrifying but a great relief to get going again. As I was trying to explain to a friend, the only thing you can do as a writer is keep going. If you stop, you're immediately plagued with monumental insecurities, self doubt, collapse of self esteem, convinced that every word you write is rubbish. And the longer you don't do it, the worse it gets. He said he thought it was the same with art - you just have to keep going. Well, I know we all need a breather to recharge our batteries, but you get the gist of what I mean.

This will be a brief burst as I'm off to the hygienist and dentist - double whammy but I hope only a check up. Anyway, as Spain looms ever nearer, I'm starting to get excited. I will also have my birthday out there, and a dear friend who won't see me before I go, turned up at French last night with my birthday present, bless her.

It was beautifully nestled in one of those present bags - you know the type I mean, with tissue paper on top. "Don't peek!" she cried, as I did precisely that. "Pack it carefully and take it with you." Well, I managed to resist until I got home and then I not only peeked but took everything out and had a look and am delighted. Notebooks, pencils, pencil case, everything I need for my writing holiday. And they are planning a French birthday party for when I come back.

So while I was quietly thinking, tomorrow is Valentines Day and it will be the first Valentines for 24 years that I don't get a card, well at least I can spin out my birthday for a while... Meanwhile, here is my Valentine. Shame she won't send me a card...

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Curved Balls and all that

I've been quiet on the blog front because I had a streaming cold shortly after writing the last post, and well, to be honest, I felt really down in January. I'm not usually a down person (though I have suffered from chronic depression in the past, so try not to let it get that bad again). But the past few months have been more challenging than normal.

Having been on my own for a while now, I thought I'd try internet dating. Well, that has been one of the most demoralising procedures I've gone through recently. And at a time when my self esteem has been at an all time low, the last thing I needed was to be kicked in the teeth, so I've abandoned that for the time being. A friend and I decided to join a walking group, and there's one that meets weekly specifically for single people, so we thought we'd do that. Except that she has a terrible lurgy and I've hit another bit of bad luck of which more later.

However, I got over the lurgy, and then hit a big problem with my latest walks book. That is still ongoing but I have help in the shape of the guy I work for, who is helping me look into it all. Really, he is like a Guardian Angel and I am so grateful to have him to help fight my corner.

But I have finally got comments back from my mentor on the novel so I am processing those and can get going on that in the near future. And another lovely thing - I have been invited to Portugal for a week at the end of May. This was dependent on my dear friends having Moll and as they're also having her when I go to Spain in a few weeks, I was wary of imposing. However, they've said yes, so I can have two holidays this year. After none last year, I am so excited and delighted!

So life is looking up. Or it was, until I fell over last week taking the immobiliser key out of the van, tripped and cracked my shin on the granite pavement. To say it is painful is an understatement. I did something similar many years ago and it took about six weeks to heal properly. I'm hoping it won't take quite as long as of course I have Moll to walk which makes life difficult and also means I can't go off meeting new men (I wish) on the weekly walks. But that is to come.
At the moment I'm hobbling round and have to sit with it up a lot. I've had it checked over and unfortunately bad bone bruising just does take a long time to get better. It's also very tiring, but there's nothing more I can do about it except rest when necessary and keep the wound clean.

On our way back from a meeting, hey Guardian Angel said I needed some love in my life and how about dating? I explained how awful it had been, but that I'd thought I'd try these weekly walks, which seem a good way of meeting people with no pressure. And of course walking the dogs. Except that decent walks are out of the question a the moment as my leg's too painful.

So I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland at the moment - as the Red Queen said, you have to run as fast as you can to stay on the same spot, and faster than that if you want to go anywhere.

But just think - two holidays abroad! For the first time ever, I think. I can't wait......And as my GA said, "maybe you'll meet a man in Spain, or Portugal? As long as they put you first..." Well, exactly. So who knows what's ahead?

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

We've had several days of beautiful weather, so I've made the most of it by doing several walks for the new book.

On Sunday Jacqui and Daisy Dog came with me and Moll to Porthleven on a day when the sky was a perfect, cloudless, Wedgewood blue. It was so warm we walked in jumpers (well, I was wearing a thermal vest underneath my layers).
Then yesterday I picked Fiona up in Helston and we headed down to St Just where we had a coffee and shared delicious sweet potato cake at the Dog and Rabbit which is fast becoming my favourite cafe ever. Just as well it's an hour's drive away or I'd live in there. But the real reason was to do a walk down to Cape Cornwall, round to Carn Gloose and then back to St Just, which we did in again lovely weather - not as sunny but still dry which was so much appreciated.

I have Jacqui and Fiona to thank for photos as my phone won't now download photos onto my iMac which is a pain for someone who relies on using photographs. Also it's stopped telling me when I have texts. So it appears I need to get another second hand but newer phone. I did do a recce on Monday and was going to shoot down into town to get it sorted today but I've got one of those irritating colds where I just feel worn out and can't get warm.

So as the forecast for the next week or so is - shall we say - not inspiring - I will leave the phone for another day.

This time of year is always rather like wading through treacle, I find, and this year is no exception. I long to wake up with my usual bounce, longing to start writing again. But my novel is on hold until I await further comments. Once I am able to get going on that, I will find myself again, I'm sure.

In the meantime, the days really are getting longer. Not long now till Spring...

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Week Seven ...

Well this morning I am going to pick up the van, and my garage have said they are 99% sure that it is fixed. The problem has been intermittent trouble from the dash pod, they believe. But just in case, I asked them to fit an isolator switch for the battery. Call my cynical, but we're on Week Seven of Van Gate and I am not leaving anything to chance.

I'm also being taken to see a friend's mate who's a mechanical electrician, so he's going to look at the van on Friday morning and see if he can figure out the problem.

And while I'm sorry to bang on about Van Gate, it has really been getting me down. I feel as drained as the poor battery. But when I got the phone call to say the van was ready to pick up, my spirits shot up. Admittedly, the sun is shining which is a rarity at the moment, but the prospect of the van actually being FIXED - well, I felt this massive burden being lifted. Possibly.
I was thinking, as I walked Moll earlier, how lovely it would be not to have to worry about my van. I'm so fond of it - it's a real workhorse and has seen me and Pip through all sorts of crazy camping, different ideas of Pip's, and subsequently, since then, has felt like a benevolent older brother looking after me. (Well, until now, poor thing.)

So I will be more than delighted if this is the end of the road for this particular misadventure. I could feel my confidence, which has been trodden on severely over the last few weeks, pick up its head and shake itself, like a Peter Pan shadow. If I can once again rely on my trusty friend, we can soon be ready to fly out of the window again, into NeverLand. Well, maybe. I mustn't get too hopeful. I don't want to be disappointed again....

Everything recently has been on hold so it would be great to get going again, workwise and everything wise. We did do walk at Cot Valley on Friday which was great, so that's another for the book, and yesterday I was researching an artist called Gill Watkiss whose work I love. I met a friend for a drink in the evening and she brought along a friend who I'd met before - who turns out to be Gill Watkiss's daughter! Now isn't that a wonderful Cornish coincidence? It cheered me no end.

The only other spanner in the works is that my phone, which I use for taking pictures for my books, has decided it's too old to download pictures onto my iMac. The frustrating thing is that the phone works fine, but I do need to be able to use the camera. So it's finding another second hand phone. SIGH....
This wonderful tortoise was spotted on our walk last Friday. What a clever critter...

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

2020 Here We Come

Well, I had the quietest New Year's Eve and beginning of the new year ever, due to a tummy bug. No hangovers here, she says smugly, though I would rather have - I had to be taken home at 8.45 on New Year's Eve and put to bed. What a killjoy!

So I had a very sober, very quiet start to the year - and very little food as I wasn't up to it. (No, I know - me not eating!) But we did see Cats - liked the costumes, choreography was good and so was make up but wasn't too taken with the rest of it. Little Women was very good, but I enjoyed that very much and of course all the struggle about becoming a writer had special meaning for me. Next on the list is Jo Jo Rabbit, this weekend. I love going to the cinema, particularly at this time of year, and being able to walk down the hill, get cheap seats (there are advantages to being over 60) and cheap drinks make it all a cheap afternoon or evening out. A lovely bit of escapism.

However with low energies, it's been difficult to get going this year. Mind you, I always find this a peculiar time of year when my energies are always depleted, so I'm hoping that I will soon be firing on all cylinders again and start planning my writing schedules, looking forward to my writing holiday in February and planning our next French break. Having had no break longer than 4 days last year (which was mostly spent in a garage in Bude), I am hoping to get more in the way of time off this year.

As for the van - well, it was towed off to the garage yesterday and I await news. No comment....

In the meantime, like most of my friends, it's a question of easing ourselves back into the working week gently.

But here's wishing you all the best of 2020. And now I will go and have a quick snooze....