Friday, 30 December 2016

2016: The Last Word

Christmas isn’t a time of year I look forwards to; it’s too commercial, too full of expectations and false promises and the daylight hours are too short. However, I appreciate I’m very fortunate to have friends and family and I value the time the season offers to be with them. At the River Cottage Canteen in Bristol, just before Christmas, we celebrated Tom’s birthday with three of our four children, their other halves and Bee. A truly happy occasion was made even happier by the news that we’re anticipating not one but two new arrivals in 2017. It looks as if we’ll need a bigger table for my birthday next November!

Without my dad and Tom’s mum it felt important to make memories with our remaining parents so we drove to the south east to collect Ma and Tom’s dad, Ken, so that they could spend the Christmas week with us. We’re very happy that they’ve both been out on the boat this year, but we’ve added fish and chips at Tenby, beach walks at Aberaeron and Poppit and surprise Christmas stockings to the store of thing to look back on. The nine hour traffic jam to take them back home again is probably best forgotten!

For all that I know that every year brings its share of ups and downs, I love New Year. I have a brand new diary for work on my desk and my pocket diary (yes, I’m old-fashioned like that) is already filling up with dates. 2017 lies ahead like a stretch of newly-washed beach still damp from the receding tide - what impressions will we make on it, I wonder?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Autumn Statement

Well, I knew I was in for some hard work and so it’s proved - and there’s more to do - but we’ve managed to find time for leisure and family too, so here’s a quick update of what we’ve been doing:

We went out for a late October sail and had visit from a seal who tapped the bottom of our boarding ladder hoping to be rewarded for a treat. There wasn’t much on offer but our visitor seemed happy to stay and chat for several minutes.

We had a sad but healing trip to Devon to scatter the final remains of my mother-in-law’s ashes in the village where she was evacuated to and spent so many happy years. On the way back we stopped in Cardiff to introduce my father-in-law to the delights of Welsh rugby… he says he enjoyed it, but he doesn’t look totally convinced in these pictures.

I also roped FiL into making marmalade with me. There are no Seville oranges but this batch should see us through until then. My poor elder daughter, a busy working mum, has had one illness after another, ‘I’ve got the immune system of a stray kitten,’ she observed - but at least it means I’ve spent lots of time amusing Smallest Person (and she me, of course!).

I had a lovely time with two of my fellow Choc Lit authors, Christina Courtenay and Evonne Wareham chatting to an audience at the newly opened Ystrad Mynach library. You can read writer and blogger Kathryn Eastman’s account of it here. I’ve also seen some of the hard work bear fruit; I received the paperback copies of Only True in Fairy Tales and a copy of the latest edition (January) of The English Home in which I have two feature articles. I’ve celebrated a birthday and received some lovely cards and gifts, including flowers from my younger stepson and his very thoughtful girlfriend. And that huge cup of coffee and a cake? Tom had a study day at the OU in Milton Keynes so that was a treat to myself before I headed to the OU library to work. So now it’s head down again to make a last push to finish my latest novella.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Looking Glasses and Rabbit Holes

No sooner have we waved goodbye
to dear friends Jill and Martin who’ve been staying with us for a few days than I’m off to Aberystwyth with friend and blogger Preseli Mags to meet up with a group of blogging friends. Jo, Jayne and Jane are here, Mountainear has come down from her small mountain kingdom and Elizabeth has temporarily swapped one set of Welsh hills for another. We’ve ‘known’ each other for almost ten years now since we, and many others, started blogging for a competition in the hope of being picked to write a magazine column. Although none of us won we ended up with a much bigger prize, an enduring online friendship with bloggers across the globe. Today we have a chance to catch up; some of us have met before, others are new faces but those shared virtual glimpses of our lives make conversation easy. There’s lots of laughter, many cups of coffee but also an acknowledgement that real lives - with all the usual trials and tribulations - go on behind the looking glasses of our online personae.

Being a writer sometimes feels like tumbling down a deep, dark rabbit hole whilst holding a small flame and desperately trying to keep it alight. It’s a constant battle against doubt and uncertainty - even when there’s good news. I’m delighted to have written the words to Jake Fitzjones’ beautiful photographs of a stunning Highgate home in this month’s edition of The English Home (November. Issue 141). I’m also thrilled to have been commissioned to write two more features for the magazine, yet as much as I love writing these articles, a freelance writing career is precarious and I’m keenly aware of wanting to do my best for the home owner, the photographer and the magazine. The finished article should appear to be effortless, informative and easy to read, but lots of material has to be gathered and sorted first and all the time the deadline clock keeps ticking. Luckily it’s a challenge I enjoy, for all the tense moments of wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle will ever fit together, and it’s still something of a dream come true to see my name by a feature in a glossy magazine.

All the training for my recent half marathon’s been a useful reminder that goals are achieved one step at a time and I’ve been making slow progress - at last - with fiction. A novella is inching towards completion and I’m 12,000 words into a new novel. Just when I need an incentive to keep going during those times when I feel as if I’m working in the dark, I receive some very welcome news. I’m pleased to say that my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales will be available in paperback from November and, very excitingly, Turning the Tide is one of nine Choc Lit titles being launched by Norwegian publisher, Cappelen Damm AS, as a new mass market series in 2017. And now, it’s back to real life and hard graft!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Running The 'Diff 2016

Some 22,000 runners are taking part in the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon but as I thread my way through the crowd to my starting pen, I feel lonely and a bit daunted. I know
people will be thinking of me, but I won’t be seeing any of my family en route as I don’t feel it’s reasonable to ask them to turn out for such a busy event. In my pen, however, I’m quickly gathered up by a group of blokes who offer Jelly Babies and talk race tactics. The fellow feeling between runners is a real tonic! I start to relax and enjoy the fantastic atmosphere. The race starts at 10 am - later than I would normally run - and it takes seven minutes to get to the start. Then I’m away!

It’s a glorious day in Cardiff; there’s no wind, the sun is shining… and it’s absolutely boiling! By mile 4, I know I’m not going to make the time I set for myself - that sub 2 hours so tantalisingly within reach. It’s just too hot for me and the busy field requires energy-sapping weaving between runners so I just dig in and do the best I can.

The support from the crowds in Cardiff is always brilliant and this year is no exception; every mile of the route is lined with people cheering and lending their encouragement, there are choirs and bands, old folks and babies and I try to ‘high five’ as many children as my energy levels permit. Oh, and I certainly don’t have to worry about being short of Jelly Babies or Haribou sweeties as so many kind spectators are handing them out to weary runners - in fact by the end of the course, the smell of Jelly Babies is rather overwhelming in the heat; all I want is a long cold drink!

I’m running for Pancreatic Cancer UK so I’ve stitched a photo of my dad to the front and back of my race vest. At mile 9, Dad suddenly defies my sewing and flies off my shoulder! Oh no, has he abandoned me? Rose says later he was just lifting the weight off my shoulders which is a lovely thought. Two years ago, when I last ran this race, I was thinking not only of my dad but also of the tiny little spark who became Bee, who my daughter, Lily, was carrying. This year, there’s an equally happy glimmer of the future to contemplate, all being well.

As I cross the finish line I’m absolutely exhausted - I’ve given it all I have. The wonderful students of Cardiff University who’ve given up their time to volunteer to give out finishers’ goodies are of many nationalities and religions - food for thought in these Brexit times. I express my thanks to the young woman in the hijab who places a medal round my neck and her beautiful face lights up. Then it’s a 20 minute trudge to meet Tom and another 20 minute walk to the car by which time I’ve got nothing left in the tank. At Lily and Russ’s house in Cardiff, Lily runs me a bath and tenderly dresses me afterwards in the first reversal of our roles.

Checking the official results, my time’s slower than I hoped for - 2:14:12 but I’m 50th out of 175 women in my category and 9935 overall which I’m pretty chuffed with. But the best news is that thanks to the generous support of so many kind people, I’ve raised £576 for Pancreatic Cancer UK. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who made that happen.

I would also like to thank everyone involved in the wonderful event that was the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon and made it such a memorable day.

PS. It turns out I did have a supporter in the crowd - Lily’s lovely friend Ruth - and I didn’t even hear her shouting! So, sorry, Ruth - you’re a star!

The blessed relief of seeing the finish line!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

One Week to 'GO!'

Well, that’s it! I ran my last long training session this morning and after weeks of hard work I’m counting down the days until the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon on 2 October. I’ve quite literally run up hills and down dales, I’ve run short sharp races across sand and, thanks to the company of my running buddy Helen, the long runs haven’t been quite so lonely. All I can do now is to try to stay as fit as possible and avoid colds and lurgy before race day.

Thanks to the kindness of many supporters, my JustGiving page stands at £486.98 raised for Pancreatic Cancer UK. This LINK will take you to the page on Pancreatic Cancer UK’s website showing the valuable research projects the charity is funding. This LINK takes you to Pancreatic Cancer UK’s tribute wall and explains why this cause is so important to me.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Green Remembered Hats

A quest to find old paperwork finds me sorting through boxes in the loft. Not that many, actually, since I’m not a hoarder and I’d rather look forwards than over my shoulder. I find the documents I’m searching for but also another folder which contains certificates. Leafing through them is quite unsettling as I discover records of achievements for everything from my degree and professional qualifications down to third prize in a miniature garden competition! Who was that girl, I wonder, who skied, swam, typed, quizzed and first-aided her way to success?

Prompted by the imminent arrival of a dear friend, I also recover a box full of our school magazines and lose an afternoon reading them. In a week that’s brought heated debate about Theresa May’s intention to lift the ban on establishing new grammar schools, I remember how liberating, exhilarating even, it felt to be in a place where academic excellence was celebrated and every girl - it was a single sex school - was encouraged to reach her full potential.  

All right for some, you might say, but I wasn’t from a privileged middle class background and I certainly didn’t have private tuition; my dad was a carpenter and joiner and Ma spent most of her working life - when she wasn't raising me and my sister - as a school cook. I remember a withering comment from a neighbour from one of the new ‘posh’ houses up the road that there surely must be some mistake that I had passed the eleven-plus and her son hadn’t. And whilst I was overjoyed at the brave new world opening up for me, I was keenly aware that my parents had to work harder than ever to pay for the long list of uniform requirements and equip me to take up my place.

So yes, I was lucky, and fortunate, too, that my parents encouraged me to go to university in an age where further education for girls was still seen as a ‘waste’. However, it’s not the rights and wrongs of our education system that are foremost in my mind as I read the school magazines, but the names and the faces. Several times I’m moved to tears; I read a funny, engaging account by one pupil of her university interview in one magazine, the next year there’s a poignant obituary to her. Here’s a poem by that gifted all-rounder in the year below me who went on to have a stellar career yet died, aged 44, of a brain tumour. There are fabulous illustrations, wonderful music - yes, one of the magazines contains a vinyl record of music and poetry - reminders of school plays and trips, sporting achievements and speech days. A testimony to the superb teachers who drew out the best in us. How many of those bright girls, I wonder, carried on achieving, how many simply got crushed by life?

Like most people, I’ve had ups and downs along the way, but the seeds of my own career are planted in those school magazines; I rediscover poems, travel pieces, life writing and reviews and remember that I worked as an editorial assistant on two of the editions. I’ll always be grateful that I was encouraged to fly and wish more children could have the same opportunity. Give a girl a pair of wings - or in my case a green hat - and you never know where they’ll take her.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Back to Work

Autumn’s in the air here in west Wales. There’s a heavy dew on the grass in the mornings, leaves are turning and a lower sun casts a slanting light across the landscape. We’re still trying to make the most of what’s left of summer and this week we enjoyed a very happy couple of days with my stepson and his lovely girlfriend in their new home, (you will see from the photos we also had a visit there from Bee who was keen to learn how to play the piano!) but now it's time for some hard work!

Our garden has ‘got away’ - so much so that I’ve been afraid to go down to the compost heap because of what might be lurking in the dense undergrowth. We spend a whole day chopping up a fallen tree and clearing the area round the septic tank (nice… actually it doesn’t smell at all which is how it should be!) just in case we have to call for Mr Sh*t , as the very cheerful man who empties the tanks is known round here. We achieve what feels like a lot …. until I look up and see how much more there is to do, but at least I’m not too scared to walk down to the bottom of my own garden now!

With just over a month to go to the Cardiff Half, I’ve been introduced to different routes by my new running buddy, Helen. Unfortunately I almost keel over after 6 miles one morning and Helen sprains her ankle on another, but I’ve also been tackling some absolute beasts of hill climbs so it’s going the right way.

As well as the autumnal feeling outside, there’s a ‘back to school’ feeling in the house. Tom’s begun writing up his PhD thesis so I’m back at my desk too. Another commission, fingers crossed, from The English Home, is in the pipeline - which I’m really looking forwards to as I love writing these features - and, after a lot of ups and downs, I’m also writing fiction again… and enjoying it at last!

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Wendy House by Pauline Barclay

A big welcome to my guest Pauline Barclay who is sharing the news about her latest book, The Wendy House here.  Pauline says her passion is to write about life-changing events and those affected by them and in the her latest novel she shows she's not afraid to tackle the darker side of human nature. 

When Nicola changes overnight from a bright, happy young child into a sullen, rebellious girl, ceasing to show interest in anything or anyone around her, her parents struggle to understand why. As she develops into a difficult, troubled, hostile teenager they put it down to hormones, believing it will pass. Yet Nicola goes from bad to worse and no matter how much her mother tries to reach out to her, it seems she is hell bent on self-destruction. When she leaves home at seventeen, rushing into the arms of a man ten years her senior and quickly becoming pregnant, her despairing mother almost gives up on her. A decade later, the events that stole Nicola’s childhood and changed the course of her life threaten finally to destroy her. She knows if she is to cling on to her sanity she must tell her mother the dreadful secret she has carried all these years, but her fear that she will be met with disbelief, hostility and branded an evil liar drives her to the edge.

A heart-rending story of betrayal, secrets and gripping fear.

Publication Date: Saturday 3rd September 
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Family-Noir 

The Wendy House is available in Kindle for pre-order on all Amazon sites including 

Pauline says...

"I am from Yorkshire, but have lived in several different locations including, Suffolk, Surrey and Holland. Today, I live on one of the beautiful volcanic islands of the Canary Isles with my husband and our two gorgeous rescue doggies.

Years ago I gained a BA (Hons) degree from the Open University, today I spend my time writing fiction. I have five books published, plus a 20 minute short festive story.

My passion is to write about events that happen in life and change everything for those involved as well as those caught up in the maelstrom. I want my characters to sit at your side, steal your attention and sweep you up in their story. Stories that will bring tears to your eyes, have you laughing out loud and sometimes, what they share with you, will stay in your hearts for a very long time. "  

Twitter: @paulinembarclay 
Instagram: @paulinebarclay

Our Summer

Yes, it’s been a while! There’s a limit though to how many times I can blog about sailing, running and spending time with family and friends without boring the collective pants off you. So here’s a glimpse of summer 2016 in pictures instead.

All the hard work Tom and I put in to get the boat back in the water has really repaid us.  We've taken every chance we can to go sailing.  A couple of days spend watching the world go by from Blue Nun feels like a proper holiday.

I've completed all three races in the Poppit Sands Race series - and I'm hoping that all the running on sand will help build up my stamina for the Cardiff Half this October. I'm also pleased to report that my JustGiving Page for Pancreatic Cancer UK now stands at £330 thanks to the kindness of many supporters.

I was delighted to be invited to write another feature to Alexander James’ photographs for the August edition of The English Home and, best of all, we’ve been very lucky to have spent lots of time with family and friends.

Tomorrow, by way of a change, I'm joined by guest blogger Pauline Barclay, who will be revealing the news about her latest novel. Do visit if you can.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Raving, Waving and Racing

Xname and Yaxu at Bleach
The news from my consultant ophthalmologist is good, given the limitations of my myopic eyes with their defective tilted discs, but with my sight still blurred with drops we’re off to the south east to catch up with friends, family… and a rave.

Tom’s PhD research leads us to Bleach in Brighton and an algorave where music is generated from algorithms using live coding techniques. Having always felt a bit miffed to have missed out on raves and foam parties, I’m slightly disappointed that there isn’t a glow stick in sight. Actually there isn’t any dancing either - though the young man in front of us does go wild and nod his head from side to side at one point during the proceedings - but it’s certainly an interesting experience and I think my internal organs have now recovered from the bass notes.

After calling in to wish Stepson Two and his lovely girlfriend every happiness in their first home, we bring Ma back to Wales with us and introduce her to sailing. With her poor bad back, I’m a little concerned about how she’ll manoeuvre herself onto the boat, let alone cope with a full day’s sailing, but in true grit fashion, she not only copes but also throws herself into the role of crew, passing ropes and fenders and generally making herself useful. Her only complaint is that she’s waited until the age of 82 to begin.

After what’s been a hectic few weeks, we have particularly unusual and busy day which begins at crack of doom with a visit to the Boob Bus. I get my kit back on and then it’s off to change our poor old car, Le Beast - which has been run into the ground - for Le Beast Rouge, a newer model with far fewer miles on the clock. More expense. The day ends with me putting a few more miles on my own clock with the madness that is the first of the Poppit Sands Race Series, a 5k yomp over mud, stepping stones and energy-sapping sand. In a field packed with club runners and fit young men I come 91st out of 114 runners - 8 places up on my last attempt!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Precious Time

June. The summer solstice. The year, it seems to me, is turning before it’s begun. At home, there are personal reminders of the wheel of life turning full circle. Was it only a year ago that I sat with my daughter and son-in-law, watched as Bee came into the world, listened as she took her first breath? We didn’t know this little person at all then, never imagined how much love she would bring. Now she’s very much a character in her own right, someone who on Saturday at her first birthday party, trotted round the room smiling and clapping with pleasure at everything that was going on. I’ve seen my daughter and son-in-law put Bee at the centre of their world, giving her all their love and care, and I’ve watched my daughter blossom into the most loving, attentive and generous mother.

June also marks the number of years since my dad died, eleven now, but the sense of loss is no less for the passage of time. I so wish I could tell Dad about all the things he’s missed. That’s part of the reason, I’ve decided to run for Pancreatic Cancer UK again this year, in the Cardiff Half Marathon. I know that there are many deserving causes out there, but I have set up a JustGiving page because pancreatic cancer survival rates remain shockingly low and this grim disease is still taking too heavy a toll.

On a far more trivial note, I’ve been fighting a losing battle with my hair colour which has bleached thanks to the combination of a sunny holiday and sailing. I’ve decide not to fight the tide any more but go with the flow…. but I’m taken aback by how difficult it’s been! I’m not vain - there’s no turning back the clock as all those strangely Botoxed and filled faces prove - but I am struggling with a certain loss of identify. The change has happened so suddenly that I don’t recognise the person I see in the mirror at the moment. My regular makeup looks wrong, some of my clothes drain me of colour so I’m back to experimenting like a teenager. And just to cheer me up, waiting on the horizon at the end of this month is my appointment with the consultant ophthalmologist closely followed at the beginning of next month by a mammogram.

Whatever my personal trials and tribulations, everything’s been put into context by so many sad and bad stories in the news and in particular the tragic death of MP Jo Cox. I may not like my grey hair, but it's a sign of age that too many people never see. I’m lucky to have seen my children grow up to be wonderful people and I have the pure joy of being a grandmother. Time is too precious to waste it fretting about the colour of my hair!

The painting is 'Sunset - Bardsey' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Heading for the Rocks

Blue Nun and the rocks!

Aaaah! The joy of having a boat again! Blue Nun’s so much more responsive than our wooden boat, lovely as she was, and so nippy too! We enjoy a brisk sail from Neyland to Dale where we spend a couple of restful days, reading, writing and generally watching the world go by. On the third morning we decide on a change of scenery and potter round to a sheltered bay where we can pick up a mooring buoy. Well, we would have, if I’d been quicker. Now, I’m pretty good at picking up buoys, but make a right dog’s dinner of it this time.

‘Never mind,’ says Tom, ‘we’ll give it another go!’ He puts the engine in reverse and Blue Nun obediently travels backwards (something no previous boat of ours has ever done!) … and a rope which trails the dingy behind the boat whirls round the propeller. Yikes! Tom manages to free enough to regain control of the engine, but he’s pretty sure that some of the rope is still tangled up.

Whilst I would quite like to pretend it doesn’t matter, ignoring the problem isn’t a solution - there are huge ships manoeuvring in Milford Haven and the last thing we need is for the gearbox to pack up or lose control of the boat when one of those is bearing down on us. There’s only one option; we’ll have to run the boat up the beach, dry out and free the prop that way.

A Chris-eye view of the beach as we approach
Although Tom has planned the operation very carefully, I have a very disturbed night during which I decide I would quite like to be airlifted off the boat. Low water comes and it’s time to begin. I sit on the bow scanning for rocks - and see bloody millions of them - but there is a clear stretch and Tom navigates it superbly. What a star!


He frees the prop - which does indeed have rope wrapped around it - and then we spend a couple of hours in the sunshine waiting for the tide to rise again. A glut of sand eels has washed up on the shore and the seagulls are having a field day feasting on them. They’re beautiful birds in their natural environment and it’s great to be able to watch them closely. The tide returns and we lift the kedge anchor and cruise back to our berth, no harm done. Another adventure in a small boat!

And I wonder why I'm going grey!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A little Mansplaining and a lot of Spa

 It’s raining in Cardiff but Lily, Rose and I are going to make the most of our long-anticipated spa day. Russ has arranged it as a treat for Lily before the end of her maternity leave and we’re going to make the most of every moment, heck, we’re even going in to town by cab! 

Unfortunately no one’s told the cab driver this is our treat, not his, as every time one of us tries to talk, he talks over us! There’s a lot of mansplaining about how many miles he’s travelled, he tells us about the ring he chose for his fiancĂ© (her birth stone in a heart-shaped setting, delivered to her with the bill at the end of a meal, (a lovely touch) in case you’re wondering. Apparently, she ‘liked’ it but before Christmas, she presented him a Samuel’s catalogue with a diamond ring marked out that she ‘liked better’ i.e. she hated it), and he passes us his phone to show off the many fancy dress costumes he’s worn to darts finals. And do you know what? Instead of saying, ‘do you mind, we’re trying to talk,’ we find ourselves muttering ‘lovely’ at his photos of himself as Mrs Brown and laughing at his feeble jokes. None of us is exactly a shrinking violet, we’re just too polite to tell him to shut up!

Anyway, we reach the hotel and check in at the spa. The girls have both booked back massages, but I’ve decided to have a facial - the first one in years. It must be the Day of the Talkers as my very sweet beautician drones on throughout about how my skin would be much better if I spent £80 on various lotions and potions. ‘Although cennot vork miracles,’ she adds, comfortingly, warning me that I’ll end up ‘like dried epple’ if I don’t drink more water/spritz my face/spend £80. Nice. Still, off to the spa where groups of women perform a strange watchful dance as we take it turns to occupy favoured spots like the jacuzzi. There are only two men - and guess what? - one of them jumps into the pool like Shamu the bloody whale and causes the biggest splash ever. We almost sit on the other one who is lurking in the steam room when we wander in blinking in the murk and don’t realise he’s there.

Our day is rounded off with a champagne afternoon tea which is lush, but it’s still raining when we leave so we pile in another cab which, we quickly realise, smells of wet dog. Luckily our driver doesn’t chat. Oh no, he’s too busy cutting up other drivers and complaining under his breath about the other road users. We make it back to Lily’s in one piece, although I suspect the strain of the journey won’t helped my chances of avoiding the ‘dried epple’ look.

I then spend a fab three days with Lily, Russ and Bee who’s such a joy tottering round the place. It’s quite a wrench to leave and I have to admit to being a bit tearful on the train. Next month it’s Bee’s first birthday - how quickly that time has passed - another reminder of how important it is to make the most of every day.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

A Merry-Go-Round of a Weekend

Whilst Tom is busy on a research day at the University of Kent, I have a freewheeling day in Herne Bay which has more than a hint of Little Spitmarsh about it and it makes me wonder what my characters who live there are up to. There will be some fiction - it’s not that I’m short of ideas - but, gosh, as I’ve said many times here, with so many readers expecting to pay as little as possible for a full length novel, it’s a lot of work for scant reward. However, Herne Bay in the sunshine is a fine place to be - even though that North wind is a bit nippy on my bare legs (sorry about that, people of Herne Bay). I tuck myself away in a sunny spot in the municipal gardens to admire the triumphant tulip displays and read for a while then I take myself off for a walk round the pier. A wonderful display by the Herne Bay Cosy Crew who’ve ‘yarn-bombed’ the railings with their brilliant knitted and crocheted creations makes me stop in my tracks. It’s not just the art work, but the smiles on people’s faces that delight me - it’s such a lovely, playful idea. I buy myself a pot of tea and brave the icy wind so I can just sit and soak up the sights.

In the evening Tom and I find an unexpectedly good restaurant, The Oyster and Chop House, where someone really knows how to put a dish together. It’s not too expensive either and makes a wonderful end to the day.

Over the weekend we do the relly round and keep our fingers crossed for Stepson Two and his lovely girlfriend who are - if all goes according to plan - buying their first house. Exciting times.

It’s good to have some lovely memories in the bank because on Monday my eye test brings up worrying discoveries and a new referral to an ophthalmologist. Health wise, I’m pretty fortunate, but, goodness how I would like better eyesight and stronger eyes. The lesson, in the meantime, is to concentrate on the moment and keep soaking up all that is good and precious in this world. Whilst I’m sitting down absorbing the news someone sits next to me… it’s Julie Walters. I have a ‘one of our national treasures is sitting next to me’ moment before spotting Ma heading towards me. Ma’s feeling good because she’s treated herself to some new glasses, after getting every penny’s worth out of the pair she’s been wearing for ten years. I wonder, perhaps, if Ma is so distracted by her new specs that she hasn’t noticed who else is there, but no. Proving she’s still as sharp and eagle-eyed as ever, Ma leans in and tells Julie how much she loves her work. I hold my breath but Julie Walters smiles warmly back at Ma and thanks her. Happy faces, and some relief, all round!

Monday, 2 May 2016

New Adventures in a Small Boat

It’s launch day for Blue Nun, time to see if all the hours spent scrubbing every bit of her, hoisting sails (during which I managed to turn the boatyard air blue as I fight with one end of a flapping Genoa (sail) whilst Tom bellows instructions from the other) and the long, hard, expensive fight to install a sea loo have paid off. Launching is always fraught but wondering if Blue Nun is about to leak like a sieve adds an extra frisson of danger and I have flashbacks to the our previous little boat, the stumpy-legged, evil-tempered Pig Boat which must have been a submarine in a previous life so keen was she to disappear underwater.

The sky's a beautiful blue and there’s a stiff, bitter breeze but at least it’s not raining. Alistair and Martin, who are in charge of operations, calmly scoop up Blue Nun in Rudders boatyard’s tractor contraption, trundle her down the hill and place her gently in the water beside a pontoon where Tom and I step aboard. If the new seacocks leak it’ll be the shortest maiden voyage ever… we wrap up, put on our life jackets and check again… the seacocks still look good. Phew! The engine - after a heartstopping moment - starts running. We run through safety checks and procedures and then it’s time to cast off!

As the boatyard recedes we see Alistair waving us off, a curiously emotional moment which underlines the fact that even a short passage in a little boat has the feel of an epic voyage. Six years of being without a boat suddenly fade into nothing as everything comes back to me. Blue Nun’s certainly lighter, friskier in motion than our first boat - the one we sailed the most, pretty Veryan, a vintage wooden boat - and there’s enough of a chop beneath the Cleddau bridge to get a feel for her, but - amazingly and wonderfully - I don’t feel sick! And believe me, I can do seasick very easily!

We follow the marker buoys to Blue Nun’s new home in Neyland Marina’s Upper Basin where she slides obediently into her berth… which, take my word for it, is a huge relief. We’ve made it, the sun is shining and new series of adventures in a small boat beckon.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Breaking in the Sun

‘You and Tom need a break,’ says Rose and sends us a link to the resort where she and Si stayed last year. Tom, who’s been telling me we need a holiday for months, books it immediately; twelve days in sunny Tenerife - what could be nicer?

A week before we’re due to fly I go down with the worst cold I’ve had in years. By the time Tom gets off the plane, he’s feeling absolutely wretched too. A few days later he picks up a stomach bug, which drags him down even further, and I get conjunctivis and have to wear my glasses for three days. 

It’s not just the physical ailments either; after running on empty for so long, I’m finding it really hard to switch off and just relax. It’s not as if it’s difficult; we have a huge, if slightly dated, apartment with an enormous terrace, sun-loungers and glorious views across the Atlantic, a maid arrives every day to freshen the place up, the weather is fantastic and, heck, we’ve even gone half board and the restaurant is jolly good. (As an aside, what a sign of the times when I heard a little boy declare at breakfast, having perused the buffet choices of a wide range of cereals, bacon and eggs etc, fruit, yogurts, breads from all over the world, ‘Oh, there isn’t really anything I like here.’ Really?)

Eventually I stop thinking about what I should be doing, forget about trying to write and go with the flow and, of course, that’s when the holiday magic begins. On a walk to the harbour, we notice sinister-looking black and red crabs which scuttle across the black rocks when they sense us looking at them (anyone else remember the annual ‘The Eyeballs in the Sky’ episode of The Perishers?’) .

Then, as night falls, we hear what sounds like the Mass Kazoo Band of Tenerife piping in the hill above us. A little research reveals they’re Cory Shearwaters returning to their burrows. A female wall lizard darts away from my foot when I stop to look at her and bougainvilleas bloom in brilliant colours contrasting with the blue sky. We round off our stay with a two-hour boat trip on a lovely old wooden boat, Katrin, and see dolphins and what the crew cheerfully call ‘bad seas’ as we surf back into the harbour on huge Atlantic rollers.

Yes, we agree, it’s been a good holiday. We’re definitely in a better place than when we started …and then we get to the airport where our plane’s delayed. Arriving at Cardiff airport, there’s another long delay while someone is found to unload the luggage (one little plane in the middle of the night - not three airbuses!) and eventually, worn out, we crawl in at four in the morning. Apart from the journey, it was a really good break!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Things We Do For Love

The day before we take Ma home, we decide to poke around a cavernous bric a brac shop close to where we live. Above a sea of sad sofas and heavy dark wood furniture, something catches my eye and I feel a little sharp thrill and edge nearer but suddenly a hand shoots out and beats me to it. ‘I like this!’ says Ma, hanging on to it. ‘So do I,’ I gulp. I’m truly not a covetous person, but, gosh, how I would like the jewel blue vase with its mysterious swirly depths that Ma is holding. I tell myself to grow up and stop being a tad disappointed about something so trivial as we return to the car. Then suddenly Ma turns to me and places it in my hands. ‘You have it,’ she says. There’s a bit of a tussle but Ma wins again, so now this beautiful piece of glass lights up our room not just for its gorgeous looks but also a reminder of everything Ma’s given up for me.

We drive Ma back home to Surrey then continue on to West Sussex where FiL is trying to make sense of his changed world. When my dad died, I think we all felt relief that his suffering had ended as well as great sadness but my mother-in-law’s final weeks were so difficult, all of us are struggling to come to terms with what’s happened. It’s something we get to discuss later the same day when we call on dear friends in Hampshire. Jan and Roger have moved on from sailing to new adventures in their motorhome, Molly, so have boxes full of useful boaty stuff which they generously give to us. During the course of the evening they also open two bottles of ‘special occasion’ champagne, feed us, listen to us offloading our troubles and give us a bed for the night. Surprisingly I don’t have a banging head in the morning, but as we head back to West Wales, my heart feels lighter thanks to the kindness of good friends.

Two days later, we’re back down the M4 again this time to move Rose and Si from their first floor rented flat in Bristol to their very own home, a three-storey townhouse between Bristol and Bath. Si’s mum and stepdad are there too, but we still climb an awful lot of stairs between us! Si’s dad and stepmum have been hard at work too installing new plumbing and an electrician's also been busy but somehow we manage to clear enough space to get the new home owners moved in. Si’s mum produces a tin revealing the wonderful cake she’s made - and after all those stairs, there’s no better way to celebrate! To Rose and Si, wishing you every happiness and much love in your new home.