Monday, 31 December 2007

Childhood Haunts

The above picture is back view of me and my mum on the cliffs above Godrevy, my mother’s favourite beach as a child. (She's the little one.) It’s a very long beach of fine golden sand studded with high cliffs and huge rocks jutting out of the sea and the entire situation is dominated by a lighthouse which in Mum’s youth was still running manually.

We had a gusty walk along the cliffs then headed down to the beach where the tide was on its way out, revealing deep rock pools of slated blue and grey, studded with ruby sea anemones and shy limpets.

‘I learnt to swim in that one,’ said Mum, shedding her 78 years of age and skipping along the beach like a young girl. ‘Let’s go and walk along the beach down there.’

After about an hour, we returned to the car with one glowing mother and one knackered husband. Even Moll and I were blown to pieces and happily tired.

As we made our way round to St Ives, the sun came out drenching the streets with unseasonable warmth. Outside the Sloop pub people sunned themselves, turning their faces to the sky in astonishment. We stood outside wondering whether to go for coffee, but my stomach was rumbling.

‘I need to eat soon,’ I said. I get all panicky when my blood sugar level is low.

My mother looked at me. ‘Come on,’ she said. ‘We’ll go and have an early lunch.’

So we found a café where we could sit outside with Mollie, and devoured bowls of garlicky fish soup (for me and mum) and garlic and cheese bread for Himself. (The sort that’s nice at the time but leaves you incapable of eating anything else for the rest of the day.)

With a stomach full of soup I was able to relax. We finished our coffee and strolled across the beach with the other dog walkers, marvelling at the clarift of the cobalt sky, at the dimpled ridges of the sand. You can see why painters come here – the sheer brilliance of the light is breathtaking.

My mother chuckled as we watched a black spaniel puppy chasing its tail. ‘I can always tell when you need to eat,’ she said.

‘How?’ I said. ‘Do I go all pale or what?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘You go all sort of blotchy and anxious looking.’

I had to laugh at that. Thanks, Mum.

So if ever I get to meet any of you, you’ll know if I need feeding….

Saturday, 29 December 2007

More animals

Another one of Bussie in his box which has nothing to do with this post, but I like it.

On Christmas Eve we met another dogwalking friend who lives down the road. Betty has an Old English Sheepdog called Annie and we were talking about Travelscope going bust (see earlier post). Betty is going on a cruise in February, though not with them, and hoped that would be risk free.

‘What about Annie?’ I said.

‘My son’s going to move into my flat,’ said Betty. ‘But he starts work at 6am so I need to find someone to walk Annie in the mornings.’

Before I could think, I’d opened my mouth and said – yes, you’ve guessed it – ‘We’ll do it.’ I then looked at Himself who said, ‘We come up to the castle every day, so it’s no problem to take Annie.’

Betty looked and sounded overwhelmed, dear of her, and the next day she asked if we’d come for a drink on Christmas Day and bring my mother too.

So at noon we set off down the road and had a very congenial hour with Betty drinking wine and eating home made sausage rolls (don’t get those in this house I can tell you).

Betty is over 80 and has tremendous spirit and energy. Annie, by contrast, is a real softie who can be naughty but was incredibly well behaved when we were there. She gets Betty up at 6.30 every morning and at 8am Betty and Annie leave the flat to meet friends every morning and walk round the castle for an hour.

She always greets us with a smile and a laugh, regardless of rain or shine, gales or snow.

I’m using Betty as my role model.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Post Christmas Blues

Here in Falmouth, on Christmas Day what used to be the Docks Choir assemble the far end of town at around 10.20, have a few pints and then set off through the town, stopping at various places to gather and sing. If you haven’t heard a Cornish male voice choir in action, they are incredible. No backing, just pure voices thoroughly enjoying themselves. It really brings tears to your eyes.

They continue through town, where over 1,000 people flocked to watch them, and end up on the Moor for a few pints and a pasty. The atmosphere is wonderful – the very best of Christmas with everyone watching out for old and new friends, all anticipating the holiday. And anticipation can be a wonderful thing.

Over the last few days we’ve seen friends, walked miles and watched some great stuff on TV – anyone else see Ballet Shoes? At Mum’s request, I taped it and we watched it twice…

She had a computer lesson with Himself before she left, and has promised to ring Chris to get her laptop up and running as soon as possible. Various friends of mine who know her are asking for her email address, so the pressure is on. (And contrary to what Himself thinks, she needs that.)

She was upset because she couldn’t find the copy of Ballet Shoes she had as a child, so as part of her lesson she’s just bought her first purchase on Amazon. Well, I bought it but she saw what to do. As a booklover, I can see her Amazon bill mounting up…..

She stayed five days – much longer than she usually is with us – but we’ve had a wonderful time. We don’t always get on so well, but this time just clicked. We had great weather, loads of walks and Himself cooked a lovely roast lamb dinner on Christmas Day in the evening.

After her lesson RT and ET came over to have a cup of tea. It’s RT’s birthday so HAPPY BIRTHDAY RT!

Mum left half an hour ago and while it will be good to have the place back to normal (she has to sleep on the sofa bed as this is a one bedroom flat), it will suddenly be too quiet and I shall feel bereft.

But the best thing was, we just had fun. And isn’t that what life should be about?

Thursday, 27 December 2007

A Feline Blog

This year Bussie decided to take over the box that the Christmas tree was stored in. As you can see, Mollie is wondering what the hell is going on…

Last year it was a lost girl on the Lizard who we rescued. She was lost, pissed and had broken up with her husband. Or so she said.

This year it was a cat hiding in the hedge at the end of our street. A passing shopper told us about it saying he’d noticed the cat there for several days and was worried; it was obviously ill.

We hurried along to look at it and noticed a swollen face: an abscess probably. As cats often crawl away when they’re ill, we said we’d keep an eye on it and bring it food.

Then we got back and tried to ring the RSPCA who were constantly engaged. I did think of the vet but didn’t really want to have to pay the vet’s bills as it wasn’t our cat. Then later, just before I was going to take mum to the crib service, I thought, well I’ll ring them and see what they suggest.

This was 2.30 on Christmas Eve. I rang the vet and explained that it was a stray (we’d tried other houses in the street and it didn’t belong to anyone) and the vet nurse who answered the phone said, ‘Oh that’s OK. Can you bring it in? We’ll treat him as a stray.’

So we managed to bundle him into a catbox and took him up to the vet – which is also an animal hospital. The poor fellow yowled a lot on the way there, but they took him in and I know he’ll be well looked after there.

So you see, there really is – or was – some Christmas spirit after all.

And on a similarly feline note, as I walked into town the other day I passed a fellow with terrible scratch marks all over his face.

Oh yeah, I thought. Been in a fight, eh? One too many in the pub? Too much festive spirit? Or wife/girlfriend pissed off – she should cut her nails, mate. Vicious, that.

As I drew nearer, a friend of his approached him and asked him how he’d got his scars. I slowed down to listen (as you do, it’s research, you understand, of a literary nature).

‘These?’ said the bloke, wincing as he brushed his face. ‘It was the cat.’

So there you go – how wrong can you be?

Monday, 24 December 2007

The Good News ...

The last few days have been chaotic which has meant no time to catch up on anyone’s blogs, let alone my own, but full of friends which has been lovely. Or rather, friends and shopping if I’m truthful.

The good news is that James is going to his daughter for Christmas – we took him out yesterday morning and he devoured his usual coffee and shortbread and tried to tell us about a dream he had last night. Something about losing his watch under the bed, but we couldn’t work out the rest of it. So we went to Tesco where he bought two packets of lurid looking sweets and a huge box of Ferrero Rocher. For him. So at least he’ll be happy over Christmas.

The bad news is that Travelscope has gone bust. This is the travel company I worked for as a cruise ship rep. Mind you, our shifts were cut so much this year that it won’t make much of a difference to my income but a) it was an interesting job and got me away from the computer, and b) I feel very sorry for not only the thousands of people who won’t now have holidays, but the staff who are faced with a pretty gloomy Christmas with large mortgages and no wages to look forward to.

However, I’ve just realised that I still have my Travelscope coat. This is pretty hideous but is waterproof and warm which is a great bonus when dog walking. Then I realised that I also have my Travelscope scarf and blouse. Things are looking up.

So the plan is to wait a few months and put my Travelscope clothing on ebay. Sell it for a fortune, of course. Sort out our financial problems.

Dream on Flowerpot. Go and have a glass of wine.

At this time of year I always remember talking to another writer friend of mine and asked how her festive occasion had gone.

She looked at me, took a large gulp of wine and said, ‘We had a very Polite Christmas.’

Here’s hoping yours is anything but.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Christmas Presents

Without wanting to cast gloom over the proceedings, it makes me think that Christmas is very much about other people, and how bad news always seems worse at this time of year.

Yesterday three of my friends had bad news.

One has been told she has osteoarthritis and is terrified that she is going to lose all mobility and end up in a wheelchair. I think this highly unlikely, because she’s very active, but she has been in pain for a long time and is to have a thorough examination at the beginning of January. But as you can imagine, it’s not done much to uplift her spirits.

The second came in a phone call from someone who hasn’t been happy with her husband for a while. Well, years. She has always worked her butt off, cleaning and cooking and doing all the shopping as well as working seven days a week (she’s self employed) while her husband does – well, nothing would cover it.

Their marriage is over which should make her feel better, but she feels it’s all her fault, and for some reason she’s the one leaving the family home and the cat. (She is going to work in America in January for 2 months which has some bearing on who looks after the cat.)

How sad though. To have tried so very hard at a marriage that obviously wasn’t working, and to feel that she’s failed. I do feel for her so much.

The third is from a dear mate who’s just discovered her father is very ill.

Happy Christmas, eh?

But on a brighter note, I doubt I will get any work done today. As my Christmas preparations are zilch, I’d better get a move on.

And I’m meeting another writer, Liz Fenwick, this morning for coffee. She’s a member of the RNA and of the Novel Racers, and spends part of her time in Dubai and nips back to Cornwall when she can. It’s always great to meet other writers and will be a good chance to indulge in writerly chat/gossip for an hour or so. Called networking, you know?

I also have to buy presents, decorate the house, walk the dog, have my hair cut, and meet friends in the pub.

Yesterday was the most beautiful afternoon and a friend and I took Mollie out on the Woodland Walk at Trelissick (see picture above - not mine but that's what it looks like). It was the first sunny day for what felt like weeks, and although the sun was low in the sky, it painted the woods a soft gold, the sky a palest Wedgewood blue, the sea a clear emerald green.

I got back to find a card from a friend saying, ‘thanks for wonderful walks and for invaluable friendship.’

I couldn’t get better presents than those two.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Phone Calls

Two recent phone calls, one at 6.20 this morning. As we don’t have a phone beside the bed, I struggled out from beneath the duvet, pulled on a shirt and got to the phone just as it stopped ringing.

I dialled 1571, heart thumping. Who’d died? Or was ill? Had something happened to Mum, or my brothers, my nephews or nieces? Who was ringing at this time of the morning?

It turned out to be someone sounding not entirely sober, saying that he wasn’t able to get to work this morning because of the weather.

I was so relieved that nothing untoward had happened that I fed the animals and snuggled back into bed for another half hour’s warmth. Hey ho. Happy Christmas and all that.

The other phone call was from elderly James last night, wanting to meet before Christmas. As we’re completely disorganised here, Saturday is set aside for shopping so that’s out, which leaves Sunday, when my mother is due to arrive. Then a thought struck me.

‘Are you going to your daughter for Christmas?’

‘Er – no.’ He sounded embarrassed by this. ‘I’m going to tiggle.’ Sigh. ‘You know. John – Tiggle.’ He giggled. ‘Can you translate that into English for me?’

I couldn’t, being momentarily defeated, and stunned that daughter isn’t having her own father for Christmas Day. I said I’d ring him back when I’d spoken to Himself who was out.

Himself was, like me, incensed that James wasn’t going to be with his daughter for Christmas Day so I rang back, said would he like to come here.

‘I’m not sure,’ he said. ‘I think I’m going to John. You know – no – what’s his name? Who are you?’

Having sorted out who I was, he calmed down and said he wasn’t sure what his daughter was expecting him to do. So he’s going to ring us when he knows.

If he’s not spending the time with her, I’m thinking of inviting his Canadian friend from the residential home. The one who's lost his sight. He's got a great sense of humour and is wonderful company. So that's me, Himself, my Mum, James and his mate. Hell, why not invite the whole home? We could have a party.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Paying for care

This morning I heard on our local news that Debbie Hirst, aged 56 from Carbis Bay, is being denied the breast cancer drug Avastin that could extend her life because it is not available on the NHS.

The news comes despite three cancer patients at Treliske already paying for Avastin privately. The reason, according to the government, is that guidelines have changed, meaning that co-payment (allowing patients to contribute towards NHS treatment) is against the values and principles of the NHS so it must be stopped.

Earlier this year our hygienist left our NHS dental surgery on maternity leave. Several months later I started having excruciating abscesses and toothache. I ended up having five teeth removed and was told that I’d lose the lot fairly soon because I had bad gums. I panicked. I’m not 50 (quite) and didn’t want to lose all my teeth just yet.

I asked my dentist if he could recommend a hygienist and was told that I’d have to move dentists to get to see a hygienist, but knowing what pain I’d been in, he said he’d refer me to a private periodontist. ‘But it’ll cost you,’ he said.

I was desperate. I said yes.

It cost me a horrific amount of money which I’m still paying for on HP, but nine months on my gums are so much better, I have had no more teeth out and if I continue looking after them, I should keep all the teeth I have.

Now that my NHS dentist has another hygienist and I have finished with the private treatment, I will go back on the NHS.

A two tier system I would say.

The other instance was more recently with my gynae problems. Here again I was desperate, but was able to see a specialist once, privately and quickly, but continue to see her on the NHS.

That saved me six weeks of what would have been agony. I got a leg up the ladder. I was very fortunate that I was able to pay the necessary amount to go privately (and recoup the money in words!).

And yet the government say we can’t have a two tier health system.

In the same breath, I hear that it’s perfectly possible for people unable to get treatment over here to be treated in Europe. And claim the cost back from their NHS Trust.

Excuse me. If that isn’t two tier, what is?

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Best blogging buddies

I have been awarded this by wakeupandsmellthecoffee, for which much thanks. I only arrived in blogland in May this year and I have now made a new bunch of friends all over the world. Rather than pick seven of you, I’d like to pass it to you all. You deserve it!

Life here in Falmouth is freezing as we are in the teeth of an easterly gale which has been raging for the last three days and promises to continue for another three. This means that every time I go out of the house, I feel as if someone has thrown a bucket of icy water over me. It trickles down my back with determination, freezing my hands, feet, nose, ears, anything it can get hold of. It also sucks any warmth out of the house so even when I get in, despite the central heating being on for hours, it’s still cold.

And in case you’re wondering, if it wasn’t for this hyperactive dog, I wouldn’t go out…

However, not to be deterred by bad weather, Himself has gone off to the workshop for the third day in a row to make a box for the new love in his life. The one that it arrived in isn’t as lovely as he thought it was, and as he can’t find anything suitable, he decided to make one.

Four trips to Trago later, he has plywood, velvet and several cans of spray paint. He’s taken all the fixtures off the old case, including an old Boosey sticker (before it became Boosey & Hawkes) and has now assembled the box which looks very fine.

(Well, it looks like a box, to be honest, but I had to make the appropriate noises.)

Now all it needs is some padding and it’s ready for its red velvet lining. Fit for a queen, you might say.

Lucky thing, eh? In my next life I’m coming back as a cornet.

Monday, 17 December 2007

The Winter of Discontent

We took James out for his weekly outing on Sunday morning and could see that everything’s so much more of an effort. Talking, walking, thinking – everything has slowed down and the dear fellow looks much older all of a sudden.

Even a few weeks ago he was relaxed, laughing at his mistakes when he said the wrong thing or stumbled. Now it’s as if the winter of old age has crept up and has thrown a thick coat around him. A scarf of confusion is wrapped around his neck and he's disorientated and, I fear, frightened. That’s the worst part.

Talking is virtually impossible; he gets so muddled that the wrong words come out and it’s difficult to guess what he’s trying to say. In the car he kept saying, ‘I’d like to get some – you know – honey.’

It wasn’t honey, but I have no idea what he did mean. Then he came out with ‘trousers’ which wasn’t what he meant either.

He can’t write because he has terrible rheumatism, so communication is, at best, difficult. Throughout a process of miming, we managed to work out that he wanted to get a razor, so after coffee and shortbread at a café in town, we hit Tesco.

‘I want some – er – er - chocolate,’ he said. ‘You know, to eat in bed.’ He smiled forlornly and said, ‘I probably shouldn’t, but …’

‘Of course,’ I said and steered him firmly round the aisles where he chose three family sized slabs of chocolate, three large packs of plain chocolate digestives, a tube of toothpaste and a pack of disposable razors.

When we got back to his room, I hung up his winter coat and at the bottom of the wardrobe I noticed three tubes of toothpaste, four bottles of mouthwash and six tubes of Steradent (for his dentures).

Whenever we go out we always pay for our own drinks to save confusion. This time, when he saw us out, he gave me a big hug and managed to say, ‘Next time I’d like to pay for all of it.’

And that is what I will always remember him for. A warm and loving, generous friend.

Friday, 14 December 2007

More Cornets

Himself has just heard that the cornet he sold a few weeks ago has now turned up in Uganda. He got an email from the buyer saying how pleased he was, and where he was. So let’s hope some little Ugandan boy is learning the play the cornet. What a story that would be…..

Last night I met my dear mate Carole for a drink – she’s partly living in Exeter these days so we don’t get to meet too often and had a lot to catch up on.

There’s something very special about good friends. It doesn’t matter when you last met, or what you’ve been doing since. Once you’ve met up again, the hours just fly by, as they did last night.

But I digress.

When I got back, Himself was in the kitchen, misty eyed and playing the cornet. ‘This is it, Pop,’ he said. ‘This is just such a magic cornet. I’m in love.’

‘Good, darling,’ I said with a certain amount of déjà vu. ‘I’m really glad.’

‘No, honestly Pop. This is just perfect – the pitch is wonderful. Even Pete said so (his brother).’

(This phrase was repeated at various times over the evening. I forget how many times.)

‘It’s taken a lot of time and expense to find the right instrument, but now I have, I can’t tell you how pleased I am.’

‘Good,’ I said. ‘Rather like finding the right woman, darling.’ I paused, realising one big difference. ‘Except, of course, that the women were cheaper.’

‘Oh,’ he said. You could see him thinking this one through. ‘That’s a bit harsh, Pop.’

‘Well, you didn’t pay £45 for me, did you?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘No, that’s very true.’ And he smiled.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Not Another One..

Hold this thought:

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is
exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different
kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900).

Yesterday the latest cornet arrived. Himself has been in a fervour of anticipation, pacing up and down the flat all yesterday, insisting that one of us was at home in case it arrived. He even went up to the post office on the corner to ask how long it would take, given the Christmas post.

Of course it arrived yesterday morning when we were out at a hospital appointment, but he was able to go up to the sorting office and collect it.

The new cornet is in fact an old, treasured cornet that has been playing in brass bands since the 1930s. It looks rather tarnished to me, like someone who’s stayed up all night. But I would never dare say so.

The case was shabby which he has now stripped with a hot air gun (why?) to reveal battered black leather.

He spent all afternoon cleaning it, polishing it and playing it (I’m learning to work while he practises). And he’s now happy.

“This is THE ONE, Pop.”

Now where have I heard that before?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Other People

Words are timeless. You should utter them or write them with a knowledge of
their timelessness.

Khalil Gibran, mystic, poet, and artist (1883-1931)

My mother has this thing about hands. She will always notice people’s fingers, how many rings they wear, and what they’re like, and what people do with their hands. (I wave mine around a lot when I’m talking.)

A friend of mine notices hands too. ‘You can tell how anxious Gordon Brown is,’ she said. ‘He’s always twisting his with nerves.’

Another friend was watching my legs on my recent TV blip. ‘They were ever so still,’ she said. ‘Mine would have been hopping around all over the place.’

But she also notices smiles. I try and keep my mouth shut because my front teeth stick out (despite years of braces as a child). Then when I had a lot of problems with toothache and bad gums, I didn’t dare open my mouth at all. I became paranoid about other people’s teeth, and wouldn’t talk to them if they had good ones. (It’s difficult to talk with your mouth shut.)

As for me, well I notice people’s voices. I also notice what shape they are.

What do you notice about other people?

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Bad Hair Day

Another of these amazing foodie pictures....

I’ve been tagged by AOJ to name five weird or strange things about myself, so here they are:-

I have always had lots of nicknames. Some of these include Kit Kat, Sweet, Rabbit, Flower and latterly Flowerpot, Pot, or Pop. (As you can see, I answer to a variety of name calling.)

I don’t really like staying in hotels or B&Bs. If we could afford a holiday I’d like to go self catering or hire a campervan but a) we can’t afford it and b) Himself doesn’t like the idea, so that’s that!

My bad back means that I can’t sit comfortably in a car – any car – for more than half an hour so travel anywhere is somewhat limited and takes ages to accommodate back stretching for me and pee stops for Mollie. It takes my mother two hours to drive down to us. It takes us about four hours to do the same journey. You can see why we don’t go away much.

I was going to be called Emily after a great aunt (or someone) then parents looked at me and decided no. She was beautiful.

I hate shopping. My idea of hell is a Saturday afternoon spent At The Shops. I do my Christmas shopping either very early or late in the day, to avoid other shoppers. Every present I buy has to be right for the recipient – I can’t just buy Things. Knowing me, the Sunday afternoon before Christmas I’ll nip down to the shops and I can sneak in and out, rush home and wrap. If not - well, we won’t go there.

If anyone else would like to take up this tag, please do so.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Fame Part Three

As we are such a famous family now, the above is a picture of Himself playing in a jazz band a couple of weeks ago. (He's the one on the right, playing with his mate Bob.) He was to have been playing this Wednesday but unfortunately the venue was already booked, so that will have to wait until after Christmas.

In the meantime, you know that cornet he bought a few weeks ago? The one that was JUST RIGHT, POP. The one that he spent ages reshaping, stripping of lacquer and doing god knows what else to?
It’s gone back on ebay

He did laugh, rather nervously, and said, ‘”the tone’s wrong, Pop.”
Story of my life.

He sold it at a loss of £45 .

“Just as well you’re not trying to make money,” I said (though of course this was the idea).

Out walking the dog on Saturday, he said, “Come on, Pop. I have to get back to check my internet business.” He giggled. “It’s called”

Just to compound matters financial, he bought another cornet last night on ebay at the knockdown price of £42. I despair.

For those of you asking if I could put my moments of fame on Youtube – I don’t (yet) have a DVD of the programme, but for a good laugh, you can see it on the Westcountry TV website - and click on Documentaries.

Unfortunately I sound like Ann Widdecombe. But we don’t look alike.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Flowerpot's Moments of Fame Part Two

Mum rang at six o’clock last night.

‘In my paper it says something else is on at 7.30,’ she said. You could hear the panic bubbling down the phone. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Well, that’s what Dermot said and I guess he should know,’ I said. Thinking, well, there’s not much I can do about programme timings.

‘You will tape it, won’t you, so I can see it when I come down?’ bleated poor Mum.

I reassured her – Himself had spent some time making sure that the video would tape, and all went well up until 7.20 when I dashed next door to put the tape on.

It wouldn’t work. I hollered to Himself who grunted, abandoned the last of his meal and hurried down the corridor, saying, ‘Don’t be silly, Pop, it was working this afternoon.’

Ten minutes later, it still wasn’t working so I ran back to the snowy screened telly in the kitchen, shouting at Himself to come and watch.

He emerged, nearly in tears of rage and threw the remote onto the floor. It broke.
He was past caring.

‘****ing thing,’ he said – and other words in a similar vein.

Then we sat down and watched my fleeting glimpse of fame together.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was not to come over as some idiot who couldn’t string two words together. Then Mum rang for her debrief – she approved, saying, ‘you looked almost intelligent.’

Thanks, Mum.

Then my mate Deb rang to offer congratulations and Himself kissed me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you, Pop.’

By this time I was so excited I was running up and down the flat, saying ‘Mollie, Mollie, Mum’s famous!’

Mollie looked at me quizzically and jumped up and down as well, and after about half an hour, Himself said, ‘Careful, Pop. You’ll burst.’ And sent us out for a long walk.

I'm glad to say that a friend has taped it for me, so I can relive my moments of glory over and over and bore myself rigid (I won't inflict it on anyone else, never fear).

But The main reason I was so pleased was that the object of the programme was to vote for your favourite Westcountry author. The others on the panel voted for Thomas Hardy whereas I was torn between Daphne du Maurier and Mary Wesley.

I was glad to see that they opened the programme with my first soundbite on Mary Wesley and sex, (yes they did keep that bit!) and closed it with mine on Daphne du Maurier’s gift for writing. So I had my say.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Flowerpot's 30 seconds of TV Fame

Tonight the Westcountry Hall of Fame programme series starts on ITV Westcountry (ITV1) at 1930 (that’s 7.30pm to the likes of me).

I have to say here that the fame in the programme title refers, sadly, not to my participation but to those featured - i.e. famous writers. Of which I am not one YET.

Tonight's programme will feature writers, music and painters. The second one on 13th December looks at entrepreneurs, politicians, campaigners. Programme 3 looks at sailor/adventurers, inventors, visionaries on 20th Dec, and the last programme on Thursday 27th December is all about saving lives, soldiers, sporting heroes.

As Dermot, the producer, says,

“In addition – and to facilitate viewers’ votes – we will have a strong presence on the new, dedicated ITV Westcountry web page: which will go "live" for each programme immediately after transmission. This will guide online visitors through the voting process, and will allow them to view either the entire programme or – to refresh memories for those who will already have seen it – the background films on the nominees. Do please log on to vote yourself and, perhaps more importantly, ask all of your friends, colleagues and neighbours to do the same!! The results of the viewer voting for each programme will be posted on the website on the Monday following the programme, and will be announced soon thereafter on “Westcountry Live” (weekday evenings 1800-1830 on ITV1).

We are sure you understand that we have had to edit the discussions (which averaged about 25 minutes) down to a fraction of that. Sadly, to squeeze 3 categories into a programme that runs for 23 minutes in total, each discussion runs for less than 4 minutes or so. Rest assured, though, that we have chosen the very best of the discussions, that every panel member contributes, and that all five nominees get a mention. This means that some material that we had hoped to include has had to be dropped, but the end result has much better pace and rhythm without hesitation, repetition etc.

We hope you enjoy watching.”

It will be interesting to see whether my bit about Mary Wesley and sex will remain in. I’ll just have to wait till this evening to see my 30 seconds of fame..

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Film Buff

Last night I went to see A Mighty Heart – the film about Daniel and Marianne Pearl.

(I don’t usually see so many films but there are a glut on at our local independent cinema and I like to make the most of them while they’re here, which is usually only for one night.)

For those of you that don’t know, Daniel Pearl was a journalist with the Wall Street Journal working in Pakistan when he was kidnapped. I’d wanted to see this as I’d heard Marianne Pearl interviewed on Woman’s Hour and was struck by what she’d been through and how incredibly together she seemed, how gutsy.

Also, I used to work at WTN at the time when John McCarthy was a hostage. I knew Jill Morrell and became involved in Friends of John McCarthy, so I was interested to see how this film would portray this terrible time for the Pearls. As it was produced by Brad Pitt and starred Angelina Jolie as Marianne, I feared it might turn it into a Hollywood soap saga.

Stupidly, I hadn’t realised that the whole film would be devoted to his kidnap and the incredible efforts involved worldwide with trying to get him back. I’d thought the focus would be on how she got over this terrible tragedy. WRONG.

I don’t know how I got through the film. It was gut wrenchingly agonising. I spent two hours knotted up, waiting for his inevitable gruesome murder, which didn’t happen right until the very end by which time I was in tangles, and completely empathised with her unspeakable anguish. (She howled, the most terrifying sound.)

All I could think of was, this is how I’d feel if Himself was taken. The ethos of No Deals with Terrorists is one thing, but if it was your loved one…..?

Still, it showed how hard everyone worked to get him back and the technology involved nowadays is mind boggling. Of course I had nightmares last night, and I’m feeling extremely jittery this morning, but it was worth seeing. I just couldn’t sit through it again.

She showed true courage at the end. She must have been about 7 months pregnant and decided that if she was going to be able to live in peace, she must face the worst – know exactly what had happened to Danny – and then there was nothing to be frightened of. I won’t repeat what did happen because it was just terrible, but what bravery. And what sense she had.

At the end of the film, she has her son, Adam, and she continues her work as a journalist in Paris. So life goes on. Perhaps Adam will grow up to be a journalist like his parents. Perhaps not. But Danny Pearl has brought his son into the world, and for that Marianne must be eternally grateful.

How on earth you cope with that sort of ordeal I can’t imagine. It’s not as if anyone says, ‘OK you can bunk off now if you’ve had enough.’ You either get through the bad times or you go under. But most of us do get through – somehow - because we have to. Because things will get better. Because we have courage, and we have optimism.

If we’re very lucky we have a sense of humour. The most underrated emotion of all.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

What chefs do when they're bored

This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with the following post but appeals to my sense of humour.

The other evening I went down to the Falmouth Bookseller, our very own independent bookshop, to support Jo Thomas, a fellow writer who was doing a book signing for her excellent book, “Lost Cornwall,” all about Cornwall’s heritage.

It was one of those cold, wet, windy nights when you’d rather be sitting inside with a glass of wine looking out on the weather, but I drove off to find a road block at the top of the High Street. Never mind, I thought, I’ll go another way.

I drove right round the town, got down onto the Moor and found another road block. Policemen. Crowds of people. What the hell was going on? By this time my temper was not improving and I very nearly went straight home. I could hardly see out of the windscreen, it was raining so hard.

Finally I got down to the car park behind the bookshop and found the last space (hah!) and found you had to pay £1.10 minimum charge. Dear God… But I did.

When I finally got there, Jo was sitting with a pile of books and we had a long chat. Furthermore, I had a very good glass of red wine while we talked. I could even have had a mince pie but I don’t like them – they make my teeth squeak with their saccharine sweetness.

I apologised for being late and moaned about the traffic and was told that it was the first night of late night shopping and the Christmas Lights were being turned on, hence all the crowds and policemen.

I cheered up then (half way through my glass of wine) and watched a procession of children with Christmas lanterns and almost started to feel festive. (This is someone who is allergic to Christmas and realised, with a jolt this morning, that I haven’t bought a single card or present.)

I guess there’s a motto in here somewhere – about persevering and getting your just rewards and all that. In this instance, I was more than happy to settle for a good chat with a fellow writer and a glass of (very nice) red wine.

And, of course, Jo’s book which I got for Mum for Christmas. So I have got a present after all.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Bread Man

This is not Himself's bread, but comes courtesy of Madison&Mayberry. But it serves to illustrate one of the problems to do with breadmaking.

Himself is now on his sixth loaf of bread in the last few weeks. We’re talking home made bread here, and not with a breadmaker.

The whole process takes between an hour and two hours depending on how long the yeast takes to rise. First the flour – this can be white, wholemeal, granary, organic, non-organic or a variety of those mentioned. This is weighed then mixed with the yeast which can be dried or fresh and mixed in hot water with a variety of ingredients which can include, at various times; salt, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, malt extract or none of these things.

It’s put in a bread tin and left to rise. I get confused with the varying methods – sometimes it rises once, others twice when it is pummelled (sorry, kneaded) and put back in the tin. The actual cooking of the bread takes about 35-40 minutes.

Every time it comes out of the oven it smells delicious. Every time Himself cuts a chunk off the end, covers it liberally in butter and says, ‘Mmmm. Best ever, Pop. This is JUST RIGHT.’

And every time I say, ‘Good darling.’

The next day, at breakfast time, he eats the toast and goes very quiet. Bottom lip protrudes.

‘What’s the matter, darling?’ (though I can guess by now.)

‘It’s the bread. It’s no good.’ Beginning of Sulk.

‘What’s the matter? Tastes all right to me.’

‘No.’ Sigh. ‘It’s rubbish. Too *heavy/crumbly/light/didn’t rise enough/rose too much (select one of these or a selection of all).’ Another sigh as he eats another piece. ‘I’m going to have to make some more.’

The bread is then either thrown out or given to various friends/relations who are less discerning or throw it in their bin.

This has continued over the weeks, interspersed with times when he eats Tesco organic sliced granary bread (it has to be that or nothing). I have made various comments about Waste (that flour is expensive, to say nothing of the cooking time) which as you can imagine, haven't gone down well.

At the moment he’s actually quite pleased with his loaf and is munching his way through it.

Unfortunately I can’t eat it. I find it like Cranks food when it first came out. (For those of you too young to remember this, their bread was Lead Like to say the least.)

As a friend of mine said, “depression is very much like a Cranks cheese scone. It takes a long time to go away.”

Friday, 30 November 2007

When I get older, losing my hair....

My mother is 78 and extremely fit and healthy (she says, touching wood quickly).
She lives in a small village where a car is a necessity; there is one bus a day into the nearest town and one that comes back at an inopportune time. She has been a widow for over twenty years now but has a strong network of very good friends who support each other, and her social life leaves me breathless.

But recently she had to have a hernia operation and wasn’t able to drive for a month. It nearly drove her bonkers (it tested our relationship when we went up to look after her for a week, too, but the less said about that the better).

So while Mum is able to drive and get around and be independent, all is well. But what about when she can’t drive, or if, God forbid, she should become ill? Should she come and live in Cornwall? My brothers live near London, and both have children and I can’t see her wanting to go and live with them. Or vice versa.

Himself thinks it would be a good idea, if and when the time comes, for my mum to buy somewhere nearby. ‘I’m quite happy to go and make her breakfast,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to worry about me in that respect.’

But she has so many friends in Devon, would she want to leave them? I’m not sure that she would. But what should they all do, when the time comes?

Should she come and live with us? Given that we live in a one bedroom flat, we would have to sell this, she would have to sell her house and perhaps buy something together.

Himself looked after his mum until she died at home and thinks this is only the right to do. ‘We should look after the oldies,’ he said firmly. ‘They’re family.’

Filled with guilt at Himself’s unselfish attitude, I discussed this with several friends. We all agreed, with a certain degree of shame, that having our mothers to live with us would be a disaster. Not because we don’t love them but because we don’t think it would work, and that would be disastrous.

We need our independence, just as they need theirs. The idea of a granny flat has its appeal, but I would hate for my relationship with my mother to break down. We are close but having looked after her for a week when she was unwell, I can see the problems that could arise.

I would hate her to wish she hadn’t made the move, for us to resent her and her needs. I can foresee a Pandora’s Box of complications.

A friend of mine said, “when we get old we should all sell our houses and buy a big place with a big garden. We could turn it into flats or just have a room each and share the kitchen and living room. We could have our privacy yet always know that someone was there. And medical care when we needed it.”

I think that’s a great idea. But what about my mum? What would/will you do with your parents when the time comes?

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Good news and 70s memories?

Good news on the medical front – Himself has now been discharged from Geoff’s care and has to report to Debbie, our wonderful cancer nurse in future. This means that he can hopefully go on to intermittent treatment and not take the hormone treatment all the time (Geoff is a bit old fashioned on that front, believing it better to play safe. What about saving the NHS some money? Himself’s drugs must cost quite a bit.)

Geoff was still of a sunny disposition, despite being the only consultant there yesterday meaning that he saw someone else’s patients as well. This meant waiting for over an hour in chairs that gave me chronic back ache.

But I noticed that his name badge has changed. He is no longer Geoff but GT and his badge is valid till 2012. Would he really still be there then? 2012 sounds such a long way off.

The other good news is that I sold the first piece on adenomyosis. For exactly the amount that it cost me to see Dr Gray privately, so that’s a good bit of irony.

So we went to the pub.

Now this morning I’m hoping to get back to Arthur who I’ve had to neglect in favour of journalism.

What I need is your memories of the late 1970s. Queen, David Bowie, that sort of thing. Punk on its way in.

What about make up and clothes? My memories are dim as a) I was in hospital for a lot of the time and b) I’ve never had any interest in fashion anyway. Google wasn’t much help so I’m appealing to you lot.

Where were you (if you’re old enough) and what were you doing and wearing in 1977?

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Matters Medical

"We drink one another's health and spoil our own"
JEROME K. JEROME 1859-1927

I’m putting the final touches to my pieces on adenomyosis having finally got quotes from one medical source yesterday morning, and badgered poor Dr Gray’s husband into getting her to call me last night for more information and quotes.

Now I’ve rewritten the two articles and have one editor interested in one, hopefully someone else in the other one. I’ve been awake since 5am and gone over the information so much that my brain is going round in ever decreasing circles.

Now I have to catch Woman’s Hour who are doing a piece on heavy bleeding (as in menstrual) to see who they have interviewed – not Dr Gray which was a bit remiss of their researchers.

She said she thought they knew who they’d use instead, and also said that my GP had asked her (Dr Gray) if she would teach her how to insert coils with a local anaesthetic. So this means that my recent problems – and hopefully the articles - will be able to help others which is wonderful.

And on matters medical, Himself has a cancer checkup with his specialist this afternoon. This man is the most dour fellow I’ve ever come across, who wears very thick glasses, a squint and manages not to look at either of us when he speaks. He’s short and wears an identity badge that bounces off his more than ample stomach. Sense of humour? Don’t think he’s ever heard of such a thing. We are used to brief encounters with this fellow who, according to his name badge, is called Geoff. This puzzled me. If ever there was a Geoffrey, it’s him.

However, last time we went, we were greeted by a tanned, smiling, considerably smaller (as in slimmer) man. So what had happened? Had he taken up a new hobby – like rock climbing or sailing? Had he fallen in love? Left his wife? Had she left him? The mind boggles.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Obsessions and Elizabeth I

This cornet business is becoming something of an obsession and believe me we can neither afford one nor have we got room, in a one bedroom flat, to store musical instruments.

As I write, Himself is crouched over his laptop, poring over ebay (oh no), though he assures me that he’s actually going to sell one of the cornets. The one he’s fallen out with, that he bought last month. Oh fickle man. I won’t hold my breath until I see it despatched, though. I know what he’s like.

He’s been so excited over the most recent arrival in the cornet family that he’s completely switched off from normal life. He forgot to put petrol in the car on Saturday so on Sunday we drove round for an hour with it on Very Empty. Then he forgot to take the bottles to the bottle bank (which he drove straight past). He forgot to bring the newspaper back from the workshop, and forgot to make two important phone calls. This morning he forgot to put the rubbish bins out.

When he's home, he spends the entire time either playing the cornet, or he sits and gazes at it with starry eyes, stroking it. Every now and then he'll take both from their boxes and admire them, side by side. Let's hope this honeymoon period is over soon. For my sake as well as our neighbours who have to endure increasing hours of cornet practice (sorry RT).

On another note, we had a girls night out last night and met for a few drinks before going to see the latest film about Elizabeth I last night. There were some fairly gruesome scenes, but Cate Blanchett never disappoints, and neither did the cast list. We were riveted. Despite the fact that she was supposed to be in her fifties at the time and looked a lot younger, she was well portrayed I thought. A sympathetic mixture of steely ambition and thwarted desire; someone who needed to be loved and never had the chance.

I also noticed that she has a very masculine profile – that very long nose and wide mouth. Very apt given the fact that she was playing one of the most powerful women in the world at that time.

If it's on near you, I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, 26 November 2007

He's In Love (and so is Mum)

8.15 on Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. Himself went to open the door and emerged, beaming, with a huge cardboard box.

Another cornet.

He fell in love with this one on ebay last week, bid for it and got it for a knockdown price of sixty five quid (plus postage).

‘What’s the matter with the other one?’ I said.

‘Nothing, Pop, but every musician has two instruments.’


‘Well, what if someone stands on it or something?’
Not being in the habit of standing on musical instruments, I hadn’t thought of that.

Ever since he sent the cheque off he’s been in a fever of suspense, saying, ‘How long does it take for a cheque to clear?’ and ‘I wonder how he’s sent it – do you think I might get it this week? Or next week. Perhaps Monday – or Tuesday.’ And so on.

So when it arrived this morning, he was very much the proud father. ‘Oh, look, Pop,’ he said, stroking it lovingly. ‘I can’t tell you how wonderful this is.’ And then, ‘This is beautiful Pop – look.’ This refrain was repeated often during Saturday and the other cornet has been cast aside for the moment.

Oh, fickle men.

On the other hand, my mum came to stay for the weekend and we gave her the laptop. I’d already been told by my youngest brother that she was very apprehensive, and I thought OH NO. But Himself gave her some lessons and by the time she left yesterday, she had sent her first email and was positively skittish about it. She’s going to get set up at home next week (very busy social life this week) and is going to go to the library for some lessons, and when I suggested she bring the laptop down for Christmas, she said, ‘What a good idea! I can only thank you for such a generous gift. I should have done this years ago.’

So, fingers crossed…..

Friday, 23 November 2007

A bad news day

This could have been the woods where I walked with a friend on Wednesday - the colours are so vibrant at the moment, like a child's painting. And I felt this was cheering on a grey autumn day.

I’ve been talking about Arthur and Jane with various friends of the writing fraternity and the general consensus of opinion is that the internet is not a safe place to publish it. There is no copyright on ideas and I can’t afford to expose my story to misuse.

So I’m afraid that that’s the last bit of Arthur for the time being. I will continue writing it however and maybe one day it will end up in the shops – I hope. Very many thanks to all of you for your comments and your encouragement that this is a story you wanted to hear. That is most important of all.

I’ve just had a call from a friend whose husband was made redundant yesterday afternoon. She’s in shock, as you can imagine.

‘I’m all hormonal and weepy,’ the poor thing said. ‘I woke up this morning and thought – waterproof or normal mascara? Luckily I settled for waterproof.’

So for anyone else who is going through a rough time, I found the following very cheering. And for all of those writers among us, this is now my motto!

''Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A Musical Family

I’m exhausted this morning, recovering from a musical soiree. That’s a slightly grand description of last night, but it was a very late night for us.

I started off with rehearsals for Pajama Game where we sang more numbers and learnt the steps to Seven and a Half Cents. The new choreographer is tiny, with huge eyes and long un-mascara-d eyes, and is young enough to be my granddaughter (well, nearly). But she has patience and understanding which makes her a great teacher. Just as well – trying to teach thirty lumbering adults steps to a number in a small room is not easy.

But I got a real buzz from it. Being in at the beginning of a production is very exciting – like starting a novel, it’s a real adventure, full of unknowns. New people, a new plot, new songs, new moves and who knows who will play whom?

Auditions are all day on Sunday so as you can imagine, the atmosphere was electric. Everyone eyeing each other up, while being nice and smiley, thinking, “I want that part. I want it so much that – or should I go for Babe? Or Mabel. Perhaps I’ll go for them all.”

Given my dubious health this year I’ve opted to go for the chorus which will be taxing and time consuming enough, but that means I don’t have to attend auditions – though I might call in and see how it’s going.

Anyway, after that I drove a friend home then went back down to town where Himself was sitting in with a jazz band for the first time in nine years. He was very nervous but a friend had rung that morning to say her husband was also sitting in and would Himself come and join them, so it made that first time a bit easier.

In fact the band was run by someone he knows and it was her father and mother who came along to sit in – Bob is a wonderful sax player and Ruth sings with a raunchy blues voice. A wonderfully talented pair, and their daughter led the band playing guitar (she also plays the bull fiddle) so they’re a very musical family.

Himself played several numbers in the second half and excelled himself. He even played a solo which he’d refused to do, thinking he wasn’t good enough. When he and Bob played, the influx of students who’d suddenly materialised started stamping and shouting, whistling and clapping. Outside people peered in through the windows to see who was playing. The bored youngsters serving in the chippy opposite stood up and started jiving behind the counter.

Boy, was I proud.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Part Four

Over the next week, Arthur ignored Chapter Fifteen and devoted himself to his new project. It didn’t have a name, but it was a closer bond with Jane, and as he wrote she seemed to jump off the pages. He could almost smell a certain perfume she favoured which on anyone else he would have loathed. It was pungent, like too strong incense, and made him sneeze. But mixed with her French cigarettes, it had a certain cachet. It clung to his suit jacket, though, and reeked, according to the children. Marjorie never said anything. She just looked.

One morning Arthur returned from giving Mungo his morning run and settled down to the laptop. It was such a relief to be able to write again. ‘You wouldn’t understand, Mungo, but there is nothing more fearsome for a writer than being stuck.’

Mungo settled down in front of the still smoking fire with a hefty sigh.

‘Staring at that bloody screen and not having the faintest flicker of an idea. It’s terrifying.’

Mungo open one eye and shut it, turned over onto his side.

‘I really think that despondent trough I’ve been in might be lifting.’ Arthur was faintly aware of mixed metaphors but couldn’t be bothered to change them. After all, Mungo didn’t care.

Arthur settled down and as he opened the document which he had so far entitled, ‘Jane,’ his phone rang. Arthur stared at it with distrust. Few people knew he was here – Rosemary of course, and his youngest daughter Libby. That was all. Or had someone else found out? Arthur picked up the phone gingerly.

‘Arthur? Rosemary here. Listen, I need to know how you’re getting on.’

‘Fine.’ Arthur shut his eyes against the lie. Why was he so frightened of this woman?

‘So. When can I expect the manuscript?’ There was a pause. ‘Arthur. You’re not writing, are you?’

Arthur shifted in his seat and cast a hopeful eye at Mungo. Save me, he wanted to say. ‘I – well, I got rather stuck,’ he said. God how pitiful that sounded. What had he become? A shrivelled up weakling, unable to even talk to his agent. A scrap of a girl. Arthur thought back to their last meeting, which had proved Rosemary to be rather more than a scrap. She was a Rubenesque redhead with, he suspected, a temper to match her hair. He made a vow then never to anger her. The thought was at once terrifying and faintly thrilling – had he been twenty years younger.

‘Stuck?’ From the way she pronounced the word, Arthur could tell that it wasn’t one in her vocabulary.

‘Yes.’ Arthur felt like a little boy again, caught stealing his friend’s tuck. ‘Stuck. You know. Writer’s block.’

Rosemary sighed and Arthur shivered, glad that several hundred miles separated them. ‘Listen, Arthur. It is vital that you get this manuscript delivered to my desk on time.’ A poignant pause. ‘Your last sales weren’t good. As you know.’

Arthur glanced at Gertrude. Oh no, he mouthed to the impassive cat. This is worse than being at school, with the worst report of the whole school. Gertrude blinked and stretched out a laconic paw.

‘Arthur. Are you listening?’

He jumped. ‘Yes. Sales – not good.’

‘I’ve been thinking, Arthur. Maybe you should have a break for a while.’

He shuddered. He was being put out to pasture. This was the end of his writing career. No words that a writer fears more.

‘It’s either that, or –’

‘Or?’ he grabbed the chance like a lifebelt.

‘Or we try something new. A different genre. Something completely different.’

Arthur looked out of the window at the grey November morning. At the steady rain that had been falling for the last month. Beyond the sodden garden was the path leading to the beach. Where Jane would gather driftwood and scamper back to the cottage with handfuls of rubbish. ‘Look, Arthur, look!’ And she would unload her biscuit barrel, miraculously unscathed. A mobile phone, one day. An old lantern that she managed to coax into life. A bedstead that she painted up and sold, with her other treasures, lined up against the wall of the house.

‘What do you think?’

Arthur tried to bring himself back to the present. ‘Something completely different,’ he muttered. ‘Like – er – what?’

‘I don’t know, darling. You’re the writer.’ Rosemary laughed, a sound that cast terror into Arthur’s soul. It meant your career is over. Do This or you Die.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Best Laid Plans

That is a good book which is opened with expectation, and closed with
delight and profit.

Amos Bronson Alcott, teacher and author (1799-1888)

Today’s one of those topsy turvy days as I have my journalist’s hat on this afternoon, interviewing someone for a feature on Inspirational Women. And this morning we promised to take the lovely James out this morning for coffee.

He’s much chirpier and very giggly which is good to know and introduced us to his Best Friend who is a lovely fellow; half Canadian and half Norwegian. Very intelligent and a good friend for James.

When we picked him up, James was fumbling about for something when Himself said, ‘are you all right, James?’

‘No.’ Giggle. ‘But I’m happy.’

I told him about Arthur and Jane. This is very curious, this story. There I was, a third of a way through my current novel, feeling decidedly down about life, bad back, writing – you name it. A real old misery guts. And then along came Arthur. Or rather, I blogged about Jane and you lot got me going. The other novel is sitting on the sidelines, like a shy debutante at a Jane Austen ball, while Arthur and Jane storm into centre stage, taking me with them. Where this is going, god knows, but it appears they want their story to be told.

I’ve realised I need to do some research on this story, it being set in the 1960s – or rather, that’s when Arthur and Jane met. And I want a title – something to do with a song of that time. Or a 1960s musical – they met in about 1966 at a party in London.

Hair is the obvious choice, given that Jane is very Extrovert and bohemian (very flower power and whacky backy), but Hair was on in Broadway in the late ‘60s so that’s too late.

I thought of Pajama Game’s Steam Heat but alas that was 1957. Drat.

So any of you out there with memories of the ‘60s or of the songs of that time – I need a good title for this tale. One that evokes the time and, of course, two very special people who fell in love……

And given that she’s an unconventional, feisty lady, what sort of jobs should she do? NO way would she be a secretary – she would want something different, probably lots of different jobs. She’s good at talking, very good at listening and is a good mimic. She’s also very attractive and has a good sense of fun. Any ideas?

Monday, 19 November 2007

Part Three

Another quote that is very Jane - "Cold sober, I find myself absolutely fascinating!"
Katherine Hepburn.

(I wish I could say the same.)

Part Three

An hour later, Arthur got up and stretched. Really, laptops were a terrible invention. Designed to ruin backs and inflict RSI. He flexed his fingers, did a few stretches as advised by his oldest daughter, a zealous physiotherapist.

He peered at what he’d written and nodded. Five pages. He felt lighter inside. Closer to Jane. It was as if writing something for her had turned into a joint venture. She’s beside me, telling me what to write, he thought, and for the first time in ages he smiled. It felt strange, exercising those unused muscles. Pleasant. A relief.

Looking down he gazed at Gertrude, Jane’s large tabby who stared at him with supercilious green eyes. She’d been fed by the neighbour after Jane died but refused to move in next door. When Arthur arrived she had seemed pleased to see him but made it clear she didn’t like sharing her house with Mungo, Arthur’s five year old long haired scruff of a mongrel who, happily, was used to cats.

Arthur went into the kitchen, rattled Gertrude’s biscuit box and watched as she jumped down fluidly, gave each leg a good stretch, and deigned to follow him to her bowl. Daintily she crunched her tea, giving it full concentration before she settled down to a lengthy wash.

Mungo sat by the fire, his eyes never leaving Arthur. Having been bitten by Gertrude for interfering with her teatime, he had learned that there was only room for one person to eat in the kitchen, so he bided his time. Now it was his turn. Beaming, he skipped forwards, missing Gertrude by a whisker, and buried his nose noisily and happily in his bowl.

Arthur smiled again, made himself another mug of tea and saw the postcard sitting on the table by the phone. I should reply, I suppose, he thought, manners surfacing as ever. A brief note, that will do. And he sat down again.

Dear Mr & Mrs Pascoe,

Thank you for your postcard of St Mawes. I once visited there with Jane one Sunday afternoon in December. It was very cold I remember but we’d spent some time in the Victory pub before (and after) which kept us warm.

That day was crystal clear in Arthur’s mind. As the light fell we walked along Millionaire’s Row, he remembered. The road the other side of the castle with all the very expensive houses on it. And onto the headland, where we watched the watery sun dip behind the fields, finally sink from sight into the cold winter sea.

She leaned against me, and I wrapped my coat round her shoulders and for the first time in my life I knew what a terrible wrench it was to love someone so completely. For the first time in my life I was completely adrift and directionless. But when I was with her I was complete.

Arthur stared at the laptop screen, tried to banish the image of Jane leaning on his shoulder. It was so real he could feel the roughness of her jumper: woollen and scratchy.

He shook himself and continued writing. In reply to your question, my name is Arthur Grace and I have known Jane for a long time. I am living in her cottage which, as you will know, needs a lot of improvements. It is extremely cold and damp and my arthritis is not improving.

However you can rest assured that I will look after her cottage and love it for it reminds me of her. When I am able, I intend to put in proper heating and a damp course and make the necessary improvements but it needs doing sensitively, without ruining the very essence of the place.

Arthur stared unseeingly at the words and continued writing. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t write, but I have to be near her. When her daughter rang to say she’d died I was in Vermont – which is where I live.

I miss her so much. She was one in a million.

He looked at it – self pitying drivel. I can’t possibly send that. And he deleted the last two paragraphs. Seeing his naked anguish in words was too painful, too embarrassing. Hurriedly he saved the document and turned off the laptop.

Whistling to Mungo, Arthur fetched the lead and decided to walk round the back of the cottage to the woods, Mungo pattering happily in front of him. There he could get away from the guilt of not being able to work, let go of some of this bank of pain that had built up inside him. There, in the woods, he had found a bench that he and Jane would sit on and look out at Polruan Castle, and further, out to sea. There he could cry, alone and undisturbed. There, one day, he hoped to be able to achieve a kind of peace.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Jane Part Two

I wasn't sure about continuing this but Shelagh has insisted. So you can blame her...


(Arthur has just thrown the postcard on the fire)

That’s when he heard Jane’s voice. It was almost as if she’d cried, ‘What did you do THAT for?’ And he lunged forward guiltily, grabbed the disintegrating card from the fire, burning his fingers.

Maybe this was a sign of some kind. Not that he believed in that sort of thing. Usually. He could just make out the couple’s address, but the code for the phone number had disappeared amongst the ashes. Just as well. He didn’t like phones anyway.

Sitting back carefully, avoiding the troublesome spring, he looked round the room wondering where this couple had sat when they visited. The chair he sat in was Jane’s. She’d always sat there, like royalty, when people visited and now he felt closer to her when he sat in her chair, even though she wouldn’t like it. ‘Sentimental old fool,’ he could hear her saying.

Pip and Pop. What stupid names. Like the bloody flowerpot men. But who were they? The husband was – what had she said? A sailor? Or a jeweller. Or something, perhaps both. He had a sexy voice, she’d said, and her voice lifted when she spoke of him. Sexy and well educated. The girl – woman – had lived in Fowey for a while – had escaped there when things got bad in her life. That’s what Jane did. Collected people in need of help. Gave them stimulating conversation and watery tea and Rich Tea biscuits and kippered them with her smoke.

Arthur got up, stretched his long legs and realised his feet were still cold. ‘Bloody house,’ he muttered and went next door to the tiny kitchen to fill the kettle. While he waited for it to boil, he remembered the first time he’d met Jane.

In London, at a party in the Kings Road. She’d worn a very short mini skirt, with a black and white miniscule top and her eyes were rimmed with khol, laced with clods of mascara. I monopolised her, Arthur thought, remembering the way he’d been drawn towards her boundless energy. When he heard her deep laugh – more of a man’s chuckle, that was it. I had to have her. Except, of course, that it took ages to get her into bed, he thought ruefully, pouring boiling water onto teabags. He added milk, stirred and took a couple of Rich Tea biscuits from the chipped porcelain barrel that Jane found washed up on the beach and kept her biscuits in. Always Rich Tea. And I don’t even like bloody Rich Tea, he thought, leaving the kitchen.

He poked the fire, choked at a billow of smoke and eyed his computer warily. The screensaver winked at him unflinchingly and he could hear his agent’s voice, rather like that of Vanessa Redgrave. ‘Come on darling. I need it by the first of December. I’m being hounded.’

Arthur sighed, sat down and looked at the screen. Chapter Fifteen it said at the top, but below that it was blank. Ever since I came here I’ve been blank, he realised. I’d thought it was the news that she’d died. That can knock the words out of you. But that was six months ago. The thought stabbed him like a wound, fresh and raw. No more Jane. Was it possible? Surely not. Here she was all around him, her spirit so close that often she whispered in his ear. He could still smell her cigarettes, caught a whiff of her Imperial Leather soap.

But I need more than that, he thought. I need another connection with her. If ever I’m going to write again, I need to make things right with Jane. And after the last time we saw each other, how do I do that? It’s too late.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN sat uncompromisingly at the top of the screen. Evidence of what he’d achieved so far. A jeering reminder that he was only half way through the book. Another 50,000 words to go. Dear God. And Rosemary wanted the entire manuscript on her desk in three weeks time. I shouldn’t have lied to her, thought Arthur wearily. Yet what else could I do? She hounds me, wretched woman. Won’t leave me alone.

He sighed and clicked on his emails, anything for distraction. He saw one from his daughter in France and scanned it idly, not taking it in. What the hell can I do with Peter (the charming but psychotic bank robber) who had got himself down a Cornish mine with the pertly pretty Patricia who had a degree in Psychology and a knife in her knickers. “God this is such crap!” cried Arthur.

He could just hear Rosemary's rich gravelly voice. “Nonsense, darling. It’s very bankable,’ she would say.

Arthur sipped his tea which was too hot. He heard a whisper in his right ear. A chuckle and a waft of French cigarettes. He smiled slowly, clicked on New Document and decided to write something completely different. To hell with Rosemary. He sniggered, crunched a Rich Tea and, with crumbs falling onto his keyboard, he started to write.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Jane Part Two


That quote is courtesy of Shelagh, my sister in law, but I post it here because it’s the sort of thing that would have made Jane roar with laughter.

I haven’t heard anything from the owner of Jane’s cottage, so here is a version of what might happen. Don’t tell Himself. I’m supposed to be having a break from any writing for a few days as I’ve been very down recently and he thinks I need a rest. But I just had to write this .....


Arthur heard the cough of the postman’s van outside and lifted his head, heard a raucous greeting with the ginger haired lad who always cleaned the public toilets at this time of the morning. A burst of laughter, a bark from next door’s collie and a knock on the door. Arthur started, head lifted like a gun dog. Wouldn’t be for here. Not for Jane, after so long.

Another rap on the door. ‘Oy. Mister! Letter for you.’

Arthur froze, wondered whether to hide as he had done for the last few weeks. He shivered as the call was repeated. Curiosity got the better of him. Could it be the girl writing? The boy? How old would they be now? Mid forties – fifties?

He heaved himself to his feet, crossed the tiny dark room and pulled at the top half of the stable door. Stuck, as usual. It swelled with the rain. He tugged again with such might that he feared for his blood pressure and the door swung outwards and hit his cheek with a dull thud. He cursed loudly.

‘You’ll get a nasty bruise if you’re not careful,’ said the postman, his nose ring glinting in the winter sun.

Arthur forced himself not to sock him in the jaw, grunted and took the letter, now wet, from the outstretched hand. Before the lad could talk any more, Arthur shut the door smartly, listened to the disappointed footsteps retreat down the path.

Satisfied that he’d gone, Arthur returned to the smoking fire which cast a dim glow round the room that had always reminded him of being on a ship. The ceiling was low and covered in nicotine, the room filled with a permanent haze of woodsmoke. Everything was just as she’d left it – the walls lined with Penguin classics, photographs of the children when younger – in their twenties, he supposed. A handsome young man with a proud chin, an attractive girl with her mother’s huge fun loving eyes.

A selection of demi-johns in the corner of the room. He dimly remembered her rice and raising wine. On the mantelpiece a collection of postcards from all over the world. Some that he’d sent, he saw to his relief. She’d kept those, then. A calendar, now sadly empty. In strange writing he saw Hospital visit on a Tuesday. Day Centre one Friday. And Pip and Sue in what must have been her writing.

Glancing down at the envelope he wondered how anyone else knew he was here. Had the agent in London heard? Surely he would have rung. The phone was still working. Was it one of the kids? His heart beat faster, but as he turned over the envelope, he saw it was addressed to The Owner, Farthings, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Safe. For now.

He tried to warm his hands on the fire, wondered how Jane had ever kept sane, let alone alive in this place. And yet how she’d loved it. He had a sudden image of her lying in his bed, her hair rumpled, mascara smudged under her eyes. A mini skirt lay on the floor, two empty wine glasses and a half full bottle. His white shirt, lying in a crumpled heap by her stockings. Her shoes, discarded on the floor, waiting to get up and go.

He hated it when she went. Kissed him hurriedly with a mouth that smelt of those French cigarettes she smoked. Leaving him with an empty bed and an empty heart. While she hurried back home to Harry.

He shook his head to clear the image, so bright. That was fifty years ago, felt like yesterday. That was the trouble with getting older. The past was so much clearer than the present. He looked down at the envelope and frowned.

The writing was strange. Not young. Hurried. Careless. Female at a guess. He felt a prickle of fear. Intrusion threatened. He got up, peered out of the window, careful not to show any signs of his presence. Apart from the kitchen window at the back, that he’d had to break to get in, there was no sign of his presence. Apart from the postman and the lavatory cleaner, no one knew he was here. He’d said he was looking after the place, which he was. Just not in the way that they thought.

He sighed and ripped open the envelope. Inside was a postcard, a picture of St Mawes Castle on the front. On the back a short note scrawled in untidy, almost illegible writing.

We were good friends of Jane’s and visited her often. Having heard of her death, we wondered who had bought the cottage and hope it will be loved as she loved it. If you would like to get in touch, here are our details.
There followed an address in Falmouth and a couple’s names.

Arthur sat down in the old armchair and swore as a spring poked through, piercing his right buttock. Friends of Jane’s. He was glad she’d had friends, especially towards the end. She needed them. Perhaps this was the couple she’d mentioned? The husband so much older than the wife. They brought presents and took her to the pub.

Or was this a ruse? A trick. He couldn’t afford that. He stared at the postcard, shrugged and flicked it onto the fire. Watched as the smoke spiralled upwards, shooting flames of bright blue, tongues of green and orange. He felt a sudden pang, which he stifled. Too late now.

Or was it?


Unlike my usual writing, where I have to know what’s going to happen, this time I have no idea where this is going, so please leave suggestions as you think of them.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Old Friends

This picture has nothing to do with this post but I felt like something soothing and uplifting - and seasonal.

The other weekend when we were travelling back from Devon we stopped off in Fowey. I used to live there, some time ago, and although it’s changed a lot since then, it’s still a favourite old haunt of mine. I’ll only go in winter though, when it’s quiet.

I had a very dear friend called Jane who lived at Readymoney Cove, not far from the town, but sadly she died two years ago and is sorely missed. Mind you, she’d had a good life, and at the time she died I think she’d had enough. She was in her seventies and sprightly minded, but her body was letting her down.

She had gone blind and needed a hip done. She had no money and the cottage was falling down. Her children (grown up) lived in America so they rarely came over, and most of her friends had either died or moved away.

But whenever we went to see her she was wonderful company. Intelligent, funny, a wicked sense of humour and liked nothing better than a good flirt with Himself – who was more than happy to oblige.

So it was a terrible shock when I got a phone call saying that she had died. The funeral was full of young people, which said a lot for Jane, but next to me stood a man of about Jane’s age wearing a smart dark blue woollen coat, highly polished brogues. He crept in at the last minute and cried all the way through. Then he tiptoed out, quiet as a cat.

It’s a while since we’ve been back to Fowey so I decided to go and see what had happened to her house. There were net curtains at the windows (not like Jane at all) but the door was firmly locked and no sign of life. So I asked the fellow who was cleaning the toilets if he knew who owned it now.

‘I haven’t been doing this job long, but my mate told me that a famous writer had bought it,’ he said.

So I went up and knocked on the door. Nothing. I asked her neighbours and they thought it was let as someone had the fire lit the previous night.

I came home none the wiser. Then I thought, I’ll write to the owner – whoever it is. So I did.

I’d like to know that Jane’s house was loved as she loved it. So I’m waiting for an answer. Not that I expect to get one, but you can always hope. And if not, I shall write one.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

A Meme

8 things I’m passionate about

My family
My animals
My friends
Writing (not necessarily in that order)
People watching
FUN (though it has to be said, this last week has been dire so fun has been very thin on the ground)

8 things I want to do before I die
Get all of my s****ing books published
Actually earn my living as a writer
Earn some more money so we can have a dog friendly holiday
Win the lottery so Himself needn’t work again
Get my ill health sorted this year
Can’t think of any more

8 things I say often
NO!!!!! (to Mollie)
Love you
Shit I’ve burnt it
I don’t know (in response to what do you want to eat tonight)
Yes I’d love one (in reply to how about a drink?)

8 books I’ve read recently
Ann Tyler – Ladder of Years (for reading group)
A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
We are all Welcome Here – Elizabeth Berg
One Good Turn – Kate Atkinson
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
The Renegade Writer – Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
The Memory Garden – Rachel Hore
Can’t Wait to get to Heaven – Fannie Flagg

8 things that attract me to my best friends
Sense of humour
Being There
Shared interests
Love of Himself (they all do)

And I pass this challenge on to anyone who has enough time to do it! It’s taken me ages when I should be WORKING….!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


This is Tetley, an worldwide celebrity.

He and his siblings were first photographed by Richard Austin for the Western Morning News at Pennywell Farm, where they are unique. Chris Murray, the owner, started breeding these miniature pigs and the pictures were soon broadcast round the world.

Soon TV crews started arriving from America, France, Germany, New Zealand and Russia. Next week Warner Brothers are paying a visit.

This has done wonders for Pennywell Farm’s publicity of course, with more than 100,000 hits on their website: - which has already been named as Tourism Website of the year.

I remember Chris Murray from 30 years ago when we both lived in London. He was a very different person then to the family loving businessman he is today. Pennywell Farm was his idea and is now a great success with families and animal lovers all year round.

The miniature pigs are sold for £250 as pets to carefully selected customers.

As Chris said, “This French TV reporter told me the other day that the news was just full of horrible stuff all the time. So it’s nice to have something fun for a change.”

So here you are. Tetley in a teacup. Enjoy.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Me and My Girl

The above picture was taken on Saturday at Agility Class Two - Moll running towards her Mum. (I'm the one in the red coat. The other one is Lisa, one of the people who runs the classes.) The photographer couldn’t get too near but you get the gist.

In the papers over the weekend came the news that curvy women are more intelligent and are more likely to give birth to brighter children.

Have you noticed that these sort of pieces are always preceded by “scientists say” – though in a piece like this, it doesn’t say who these scientists are. Mind you, I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t particularly like to be renowned for discovering such a thing. Wouldn’t win you the Nobel Peace Prize, would it?

But I doubt the authenticity of this news as I can think of loads of examples to disprove it.

The first one is my mother who is tiny – she just peeks above five foot on a good day when she’s wearing heels, and no way would you say she’s curvy. But – and here I can boast – she’s a member of Mensa.

She evidently didn’t pass her brain cells on to her children, but that’s through no fault of her own I’m sure. Perhaps her Mensa cells got stuck somewhere in her womb?

As for her offspring – well, I’ve got my mother’s build though I’m six inches taller and my brothers take after their father who was a six foot plus rugger player.

When it comes to children, my nephews and nieces are far from stupid. Sadly, we don’t have any children, but as Himself keeps telling everyone, “Mollie’s very bright, you know.”

Saturday, 10 November 2007


A few weeks ago I was walking with Mollie at the beach in Flushing when on the very edge of the water I saw three large birds. They looked just like herons, but I’d only ever seen herons along the creeks.

I squinted at them: it was a hot day and the sun was slow, shining strongly in my eyes. I drew closer and, sure enough, there were three herons standing on the rocks at low tide. Mum, Dad and Littl’Un.

Of course you never have a camera when you want one, and herons being shy birds, they flew away before I could get too close.

I stood on the beach, watching as they flew to the top of a tall tree; the branches bending and swaying as they settled one by one. Standing on the beach I could only feel their absence, wished I could do more.

But it was the most magical sight. The sun bouncing off the water, turning the shadows black. The herons stood out in relief, like perfect statues, frozen in the sunlight. It was a sight that I hope I never forget.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Rejections and elderly shopping

Yesterday I got another rejection for the last novel. It floored me. One a week I can cope with, but three is too much, given that my hopes were raised by a very good critique which indicated that she thought this book should be published. Sometimes you can’t win. I was drained and felt I didn’t have the energy to keep doing this. To have my spirits raised and then dashed – there’s only so much you can take, on bad days.

To cheer myself up, I had a look at the Novel Racers blog and read that someone has just had 5 positive responses from agents. Within 48 hours. While I'm delighted for her - no, I am, really. I've just read her blog and she sounds great. I mean that. And she's worked very very hard on her book for over 2 years. But a little devil inside me is shouting, 'yah hah! Hopeless aren't you? Failure!' You can guess how that makes me feel.

Himself was wonderful, gave me a big hug and said, ‘I wish there was something I could DO.’ He does of course – he provides much needed moral support, and I told him so.

But I decided I needed a few hours off. As it happened, James rang asking if we could take him shopping as he wanted to get a watch. When we arrived he said, ‘I have a very small favour to ask. Could my friend come too?’

His friend is in his late 80s and blind, but we said of course. Wondering why someone who can’t see would want to go shopping. As it happened, he declined as he was having a doze, but the two men arranged to go for a walk round the garden when James got back.

So we took him to Asda, where he said to me, ‘You didn’t bring my shopping list.’

‘No,’ I replied. ‘Because neither of us could read it.’

We both giggled at that and headed off towards the watches where I found one for £8 with a nice clear face. He was delighted.

‘And now I need to go to the chemist,’ he said.

‘What for?’

‘I can’t remember,’ he replied. So we headed towards the pharmacy department so that he might remember what he wanted if he saw it. After much discussion and a lot of guesswork he bought some glue for his dentures, some toothpaste and some mouthwash. (Has someone been saying something I wonder? Is there romance in the offing? It’d be nice to think so.)

Then we went to the next aisle and he stood before it, stroking his beard and looking puzzled.

‘Do you need anything to help you sleep?’ asked Himself.

‘No,’ replied James. ‘I need – you know – it’s to do with animals.’

I carefully avoided looking at Himself and asked, ‘what kind of animals?’

‘Oh,’ James giggled. (He has a wonderful giggle.) ‘I don’t know.’

And he lumbered off to buy himself three large bars of chocolate instead.

We had a cup of coffee on the way back and got him there in time for his walk with his blind friend, who expressed great interest in coming with us next time.

I can see at this rate word will get round and we’re going to be needing a minibus.

Perhaps we could enter the Guinness Book of Records for How Many Octogenarians can you fit into a Ford Fiesta?

Thursday, 8 November 2007

A Singing Flowerpot

This morning I woke up singing.

The song was, “I’m not at all in love, not at all in love, not I…” a wonderful romp of a song that gathers you up and swings you along, feet in the air, like a child.

Our first rehearsal of Pyjama Game (the musical) was last night and this was one of the songs.
It’s been six months since we performed Oliver which was the first musical I’ve done with Falmouth Theatre Company, and I loved it. I was in the chorus and had a wonderful time. Was bereft when it was over.

And now we’re starting all over again, right from the beginning, with a new musical director, producer, choreographer and pianist.

I wasn’t looking forward to it last night as I’d had One of Those Days. I was so tired I felt weepy (mood swings I fear), my back and legs ache from the side effects of the coil which means it’s very difficult getting comfortable, and I’d had a rejection from an agent for the last novel. Then one of my friends who’d been in Oliver rang up to say she’d decided not to take part in Pyjama Game as she’d got the video out again and just couldn’t get excited about it. And the kids were in Snow White so she felt it was their turn this time. She was really sorry.

I understood, of course, but my heart sank. I thought, it won’t be the same without her. (We were partners in crime in Oliver and had a good laugh which is vital. The others are pleasant but not on the same wavelength if you know what I mean.)

Also, we’d seen the video together and I wasn’t that struck either. My sense of doom increased. But I’d said I’d take another friend and introduce her, so I had to go. And thank God I did. She’s been having a bad time recently so it cheered her up, and as for me – well, it was marvellous just to sing again. Last night we sang through most of the major songs and I thought, YES!

I’m no singer – I mean, I’ve sung in choirs, but I’m not trained or anything. But even I can tell when I hit the right notes.

It was wonderful last night. Our voices took off like a flock of birds, soaring high into the air. Up and down we hovered, in and out, and all the time the music lifted us, brought us back down, swept over and under, and all that exhaustion went. We were alive again.

It’s like flying with your feet on the ground.

It reminded me how important confidence is. When I have it, I take it for granted. When it lapses, it leaves me floundering, like a bird with a broken wing.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Silver Surfers

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come
back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

This has absolutely nothing to do with the news that Joan Barker, aged 75, is one of the three winners of Silver Surfer of the Year. The others were Dora Pegge, 93 and Pauline Davis at 83.

Joan lives in sheltered accommodation in London and learnt how to surf the net some time ago. She had had lessons and now has a laptop of her own, and this way keeps in touch with her children and grandchildren in Italy.

I’m hoping that my mum has read this by now, as we are getting her a laptop for Christmas. I thought some time ago that she would enjoy a computer – she can touchtype, she has lots of friends all over the world, and she’s very bright so she will pick up how to work it very quickly.

Originally my brothers and I were going to all club together and get a new one but they are financially indisposed so rather than wait any longer for them, we have decided to get her a secondhand one with a warranty. (So no one else is getting any presents this year, OK?!)

I’ve managed to find someone who will install it for her - someone she can ring up when things go wrong (as they always do) and now all we need is for it to arrive for the end of the month when she will come and play with our laptop, take hers home and get it fixed up. Then she’s going to go to her local library for lessons so she can go back and practise at home. Well, that’s the plan.

Like any newcomers to the world of computers and the internet, she was terrified when I first mentioned it, and needed a bit of cajoling.

‘I don’t know,’ she said, with that pursed look. ‘I’m not sure about it at all.’

My heart sank at her lack of enthusiasm, but having talked about it over the weekend, she was markedly more cheerful. Since then she’s talked to other friends who are computer literate, and the last time she phoned she was quite excited about it all.

‘I should have got one ages ago,’ she burbled. ‘I can’t wait!’

I hope to god it lives up to expectations. One thing’s for sure. This blog will have a new reader, so I’d better be careful what I write in future.