Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Let it snow..

Not a hint of snow here, but as ever more rain and some very strong winds.

But I'm not writing to have a gripe about the weather but to talk about Potager Garden, a very special place that Tony took me to several years ago. We went for a party of a friend of his, who has a workshop there and , as it was February, it was freezing. The party took place in the cafe which is in a greenhouse type conservatory room that was a little more open to the elements than might have been desired for winter.

Now, the place has been double glazed, though the woodturner is continually lit in winter and all the better for it. I have taken several friends there recently, as part of a walk for the next book, and every time I go I am delighted by it. The garden was a derelict nursery years ago and has been recovered over the years, to form lots of little separate areas where, in summer, people can gather to read, to talk as well as to garden. Dementia groups have started there; a singing workshop was held the other week and a workshop on making wreaths is to follow tomorrow. You can play table tennis, badminton, lounge around in hammocks outside, or just sit and read the papers.

The cafe serves homemade vegetarian food, cooked in the kitchen at the far end of the conservatory, accompanied by cafetieres of coffee and a range of other drinks. It would be quite possible to while away hours here quite happily. But we had a quick coffee and cake stop before doing a walk along to Scott's Quay, a mile or so away, and then back to Constantine over the fields.

It is a secret, magical part of Cornwall where you can rarely see a house, let alone meet anyone. And as we walked along the silent lanes, save for a noisy blackbird or a chatty robin, it made me wonder again at how many different faces of Cornwall I am privileged to see.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Gloves wanted - for the Invisible Men

In case you can't read the caption, this is the Invisible Man in St Ives the other weekend. You may see the relevance after reading this post.

Last weekend, our musical director asked for donations of gloves, as a friend is volunteering in Calais where there are a thousand people sleeping outside in the freezing cold - it has been snowing. They need gloves, particularly men's gloves, and if anyone could give them to her, she would send them off on Thursday after choir.

Strangely enough, I'd been digging out my gloves as I've started getting chilblains (an occupational hazard for those of us with bad circulation) and found a pair of men's thermal gloves that I'd got for Pip. As his health declined, and due to the medication he was on, he felt the cold more and more, so I was always thinking of ways to keep him warm. For some reason he'd never really taken to the gloves, though he had worn them a few times.

Seeing this post on Facebook, and finding Pip's gloves made me think - well, he would be delighted. So am I - to think that these gloves have been sitting here, unused, for years, and now they can go and help some poor fellow freezing out there and give a little bit of comfort. Well, I can think of no better use for them. And I know Pip would agree.

So please, if you have any spare gloves or anything to help these poor people sleeping outside, do give what you can. Stuff Christmas presents - this is the kind of thing that's really needed.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Ghostly reminders

Facebook has an unnerving habit of picking posts from this date many years ago and reminding me what was going on. Normally I wouldn’t mind - it can be fun, or funny - but this time of year is full of ghosts for me and for some reason, this year they are all out in force.

Paddington 2 was another trigger, for some reason. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I would simply say, do go. The film was as good if not better than the previous Paddington, and although it had been showing at my local cinema for several weeks, we got the last two seats and found we were in a packed screen with no children whatsoever.

All of us wept and laughed and wept again all the way through, and it really is a few hours of honest, heartwarming magic. Also, Paddington has exactly the same stare as MollieDog, which of course made it even more touching for me. There is such a loving and courageous honesty to this little bear (and to Moll) that is unusual in today’s sceptical world, and the film was all the better for it.

But walking home on my own, and returning to a dark, cold flat, made me realise how much I miss having someone to share it with. To get in, have a cuddle and tell them about the film. To cry at the touching bits, and laugh at the hilarious bits. To lie in bed later, hearing the comforting sound of another person breathing next to you. Nowadays I look over at Pip’s picture and wonder if I dreamt those 14 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very fortunate. I have some extremely good friends, many of them male. I enjoy my work, and am lucky to be able to survive financially when so many can’t. I have my darling Moll, I love singing with my various groups, and particularly enjoy doing gigs, which are all very good for the soul. I am a healthy, independent woman and I value that highly.

And yet this year more than ever, as the days grow shorter, I am aware of all those whom I have lost at this time of year. My dad died in early January, when I was in my early twenties, and that knocked the stuffing out of Christmas from then on, as far as I was concerned.

Pip died seven years ago on Boxing Day. I lost my brave, funny, charming and Best Cuddler in the World that day. Three years ago, his brother, the lovely Pete, decided to join his brother Pip. I can’t blame him, but we all miss them so much.

And right now, these very special men, whom I have all loved very dearly, are circling round my thoughts. They call out to me in my sleep, and stand at my shoulder while I walk. They sit beside me when I watch TV at night. They remind me that this is part of what love is. If I hadn’t loved them, I wouldn’t be missing them so much now.

I have so much to be grateful for, and yet being on your own, especially at this time of year, when you loved being with your partner, is no joke. So spare a thought for those of us who might seem a bit blotchy eyed or less enthusiastic than others right now. We are just waiting for our ghosts to disperse, and maybe find that other special person to share our time with.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A winter duvet to warn off the blues

This is the fabulous bronze statue dedicated to all the Newlyn fishermen who have died since the 1980s - far too many of them, sadly. We walked past this on the way to Newlyn a few weekends ago, doing the first walk for my new book.

It's strange how our moods can change, isn't it? Last Thursday I went to an inquest with a dear friend of mine whose partner's son had very sadly committed suicide earlier this year. As you can imagine, it wasn't the most pleasant of ways to spend an afternoon, but no one wants to have to go to those things, let alone on their own, so I was very pleased to be able to offer some moral support. I was very impressed by the professionalism and thoroughness of the investigation, too. They were very sensitive to the witnesses and offered a volunteer in case anyone needed emotional support in the Coroner's office.

The worst part, for me, was coming home to a cold, empty, dark flat. This is one of the times when living on your own isn't much fun, paticularly in winter. I did meet a friend for a drink which cheered me up a bit, but as I lay in bed, on my own, I was very grateful for darling Moll at my feet. And wishing for some strong arms around me.

So the next morning I felt really miserable. About everything really. But I walked Moll, got down to work, and gradually I began to make headway. And that afternoon I went to a friend's for rehearsals for the numbers we were singing at the Looe Literary Festival the following day. Paul greeted me wearing a red patterned fish hat and blue goggles - one of the numbers is an a capella version of Yellow Submarine. And from then on, we had a brilliant time. The rehearsal went well, our singing improved, and then I realised the time, said I'd better walk Moll before it got too dark. "Can I come?" said John. "And me?" added Paul. "And me," said Heather - and so we all set off, Paul in charge, and had the most wonderful walk through a farm, down along fields onto Point Quay where the sky turned rose pink streaked with purple. The reflections of the swans on the river were perfect mirror images. And the trees formed blackened silhouettes against a perfect pearly sky.

We walked back through woods of ochre leaves dimmed by the twilight. As it grew darker, we switched on our torches and shouted out warnings of what to miss - dark and sinister tree trunks, like silent buildings; hidden, huge cow pats, darkened ditches and muddy puddles. And as we walked, our voices rang out in the dark of a Cornish evening and I felt a warm glow, which started from within and spread outwards. What fabulous friends I have, I thought, wrapping this duvet of happiness around me. Isn't singing wonderful?

It's a long time since I realised I was really happy. So whenever I feel down I will reach for that duvet and pull it tight around me, up to my chin so only my nose sticks out. The best way to combat the winter blues.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Pay it Forward

Today's been one of those grey, dark days when nothing turned out as planned. A meeting that I needed was cancelled this morning, I've had no luck on the work front, and then I had some depressing news via a phone call at lunchtime before I had to go to the hygienist. So you can imagine I wasn't feeling too chirpy.

But I had a lovely weekend in St Ives courtesy of a friend at singing who was going to be away for the weekend and said would I like to use her house while she was away? Viv and I and the dogs set off there and after a few hiccups (couldn't get the key out of the safe, then couldn't get the heating to work), all was well. We had a really relaxing weekend exploring the beaches of St Ives, so we (and I'm including the dogs here) had a brilliant time. And how very generous of this singing friend to let us have her lovely house for two whole days!

Highlights included a very good evening in the pub on Friday night, seeing seals close up on Saturday afternoon, and meeting a bunch of people promoting Cornish apples and Allyn day - they were giving out apples which you must then put under your pillow and you would dream of your sweetheart.

The next morning Viv and I compared notes. "Well?" I said. She grinned. "I had a lousy night, but I can't remember my dreams at all - if I had any." I roared with laughter. "Same here!" She stopped."Do you think that's bad luck then?"

The effects of the weekend wore off rather quickly though, making me realise how much I need a holiday - I haven't had one this year and must make plans for several next year. Anyway, I was walking into Lidls after walking Moll when my phone rang and a dear friend asked me out for a drink tonight. Suddenly, I found I had some energy again.

Then I was loading my shopping into the car when a teenage girl approached me. "Really sorry, but do you think I could borrow your phone to make a call?" she said breathlessly. I'm sorry to say it crossed my mind that she night run off with it, but it's an old phone so no use to a teenager, so I let her ring her mum to get her a lift to go from the car park to work. Her mum wasn't answering so she thanked me and handed the phone back. "She's hopeless at answering the phone," she said. "Oh well, I'd better walk to work."

It turned out that work was a long walk away on foot so I said I'd drive her and she was so pleased. She hopped in, Moll instantly jumped out of her basket and sat on her lap and we set off, out of the car park. Then she suddenly said, "Oh, there she is - my mum!"

So she was able to jump out and go with her mum to work, but as she left she said, "Thank you so much. I'm so glad i met you."
Yes, I thought. I'm really glad I met you, too. At the risk of sounding like some goody two shoes, sometimes when you're feeling miserable, helping someone else can be the key to feeling better.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The importance of earwigging

One of the attributes my mother passed on to me is the knack of eavesdropping. This is quite an art, actually - watch my mother as she sits, utterly still. Her whole being concentrated on the person/people at the next table. She will absorb their conversation like osmosis, so that it becomes part of her, enriching her life. Yet she would never betray a confidence - and this is what makes her such a good listener, and why all my friends would come and confide in her. Marriage gone wrong, trouble with children, broken love affairs - they would troop in anxiously, sit down, and talk……She would listen and dispense advice where appropriate.

And all this comes from the ability to really listen to other people. My mum is a pro, and the story goes that when my parents were courting (such a lovely word, rarely used nowadays), my dad had saved up all week to take her out for dinner.

Imagine the scene - sitting at the table, wine glasses full, platefuls of delicious food in front of them. My father leaned forward, to whisper someting lovingly in her ear - when she said, “SSSHHH. I want to know what he says next,” looking at the next table. It is some tribute to my dad that they actually got beyond that date. A tribute to my mum, too, no doubt.

Years later, when I was working in London, I got the coach down to Exeter as this was the cheapest mode of transport, but it broke down three times en route. It was very hot and Dad had asked me to bring a big bag of olives from one of the delicatessens near Berwick Street Market. As the heat increased, the olives emitted a somewhat unsavoury smell, and I was left with the seat next to me empty. All the way.

This was long before the days of mobiles, so I had no way of telling mum that I would be late, so when eventually we arrived, hours late, I expected a very fed up mother. (I’m being polite here. You don’t want to anger my mother.) To my surprise, she greeted me with a kiss and a big hug. “No it was fascinating,” she said. “I sat in the cafe and I got talking to....... and off she went, painting a delicate picture of the finer parts of her companions’ lives.

She taught me to recognise the pitch of a persons’ voice - you can always tell how they’re feeling. Depressed, hungover, tired - voices are sluggish and low, dragging along the ground. As their hopes rise, so do their voices. I’m a prime example here - when I’m excited I almost talk in a Top C.

The other day I was walking Moll along the beach and two women were walking behind me, deep in conversation. I’d worked with one of them, many years ago, and recognised her voice. It carried, clear and true, through the quiet of an autumn afternoon.
“The thing is,” she said to her friend, “He’s the one that's been left behind after thirty years.”
I almost stopped walking, this was such a gem. I held my breath to hear why and where, what. I could almost see my ears flapping. But I carried on walking, head down. As if I wasn't listening.

But there was silence. They must have seen my ears pinned backwards, ready to snap up their every words, like a Venus Flycatcher. Sadly, they moved over to the other end of the beach, stared out to sea and from what I could gather, change the conversation. So I never will know who he was, why he was left, or when…

Then yesterday I went to the corner shop as two students walked in. One was tall, dark haired, the other short and dark. They wore jeans with large (fashionable) holes in. The tall one had a skimpy top that showed her goosebumps. The other one wore a dark green jumper with cuffs that came down over wrists.
“You know,” said the taller one, “I've never seen your arms.”

And if either of those isn't a brilliant start to a short story - or a novel for that matter - I don’t know what is.


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Documentaries

Life recently has been overshadowed by the darker moments of life - losing my lovely, cantankerous, elderly Bussie to begin with. Then Mr B's even older mother would not be hurried onto her next journey, which obviously caused a lot of distress for the family. And while I was writing about organ donation, I had to dip into Pip's last days, which was harrowing to say the least.

It's all served as a reminder of how in life we have to deal with matters that are incredibly hard. And ones that I wish to write about, for I feel they can help others.

Then last Sunday Louis Theroux did a very good documentary on anorexia. Having suffered myself - thankfully a long time ago - it brought back all those terrible feelings of powerlessness, fear and complete lack of self worth. Nowadays the media might be unhelpful in portraying celebrities with supposedly perfect bodies, but most anorexics' problems stem from lack of confidence, a desire to gain some control over their lives. Some may have experienced terrible loss or other unhappiness and find life just too painful; starving yourself brings a certain numbness, and all focus is then drawn in on oneself rather than external factors that might be too difficult to deal with.

I could see Louis Theroux looking completely flummoxed on more than one occasion, for all the women featured were highly intelligent, extremely attractive and very adept at describing their situations. So why would they seek to destroy themselves in such a vicious way? For believe me, anorexia is terrifying. It seizes you with an iron grip that is so, so hard to get out of - think addiction and it's a million times worse than that. I've given up smoking, which is apparently more difficult to give up than heroin, and that was a breeze compared to getting out of the anorexic grip.

But many people - myself included - have found our way out of this stranglehold. it is perfectly possible to live a normal life after an eating disorder. And to be happy. To form good, meaningful relationships, to bear children. But it is so important to get help. And get that help as soon as possible.

So if you know of anyone who has an eating disorder, it is vitally important that they get help soon. I know only too well how difficult it can be to persuade an anorexic to get help, but be patient. Contact BEAT. Do what you can. For I wouldn't wish anorexia on my worst enemy. And it's one of the few reasons I am glad I don't have children - at least I don't have to go through what my poor mum went through all those years of my life that were ruled by this miserable condition.