Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Goodbye My Darling

(Picture taken by our friend Claire Wilson last year.)

2.11.40 - 26.12.10

On Boxing Day my lovely Pip died. It sounds such a cliche to say that he fought for his life, but he really did, and was so brave and so funny at a time when most people would have given up long ago. And he never ever forgot to say, "I love you, Pop".

Deathbed scenes such as those written about or filmed may happen but in my Pip's case, he elected to die alone. He wanted to protect me, as he always has. Being me, I said nonsense (to the nurse, not wanting to distress him), and waited until he was further along the line before I crept in and held his hand. There were no vows of eternal love, no gazing fondly into each other's eyes, but silence as his breathing slowed. Every now and again he gave a sigh, then carried on, just as he did when asleep. I kept waiting for him to open his eyes and say, “Pop? What are you doing? I told you to go home.”

The minutes ticked past, and I looked at his watch. The curtains around his bed were dotted with gaudy flowers, and I started counting them. I kissed his hand, wishing it to respond to mine. My dear brother in law, sitting awkwardly behind me, stroked my back. Outside the curtains the nurses were trying to track down another nurse who hadn't turned up for her shift, were trying to find her number. “I've got it, it's under Bet Mob!” came a triumphant cry.

And finally, my Pip stopped breathing. I expected to feel some momentous wave of grief, to sob loudly and noisily, as I have been doing for the past week. Instead there was a sense of shock, of disbelief. For the man lying there looked nothing like the vibrant husband that I love so much.

We collected his things; I took his wedding ring and his watch. The nurses provided us with a booklet entitled What to do following a bereavement, and my brother in law and I staggered disbelievingly down the now-familiar overheated corridors out into the grey gloom of a quiet Boxing Day.

As we walked back to the car, Pete put his arm around me, I snuck mine round his. Awkwardly, for there is a considerable distance in height, we walked back to the car, sharing stories of a very special man. “You gave him an inner contentment that he'd never had before,” said the generous Pete. “You've made such a difference to the family.”

My Pip gave me love in abundance, confidence, pride and a sense of right and wrong. He was unfailingly generous, courteous and incredibly brave. His wicked sense of humour, his ability to charm any woman alive, and his quick thinking will be remembered by all, and that is one of the things that I shall hold onto on those days when everything is too much.

I feel privileged to have loved, and be loved by, such a very special man.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Survival Plan

Dogs know when something's up, they really do, and little Molls often sits in the window looking out - for her dad? Yesterday a friend volunteered to look after her whenever I want if I'm going to be out for a long hospital run, so I took Molls round to meet her. You know people who love animals and Sheila adores them, cuddled Molls and I know that she would be much happier there having a cuddle with Sheila on the sofa in front of the fire than sitting in the cold at home while I'm out.

I am constructing a Survival Plan for Christmas which I have been dreading but everyone has been so kind and supportive that I feel a bit better about it now. The current plan is that my brother in law and I will go in and spend time with Himself on Christmas Day itself and he was very pleased about that, as am I. Then after I've walked Molls, my dear mate round the corner has invited me round there to eat with her daughter and grandchildren – and to bring Molls – so that will be lovely for us.
In the following days I am hoping to do a walk for the magazine (weather permitting) and see various friends.

This is such a strange situation – I have to take one day at a time and keep strong and positive for both of us. He is so incredibly brave and funny that I wonder how he has kept so positive for so long. The nurses and doctors all appreciate how special he is which makes a big difference, too.

So wherever you are, and whatever you do this Christmas, I hope there are moments of happiness.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Carn Euny - a muddy walk in West Penwith

This is a fogou (see below) - it seems amazing to think that Viv and I did this walk when it was warm and sunny - aah those days...

A friend of mine sadly died last year and asked that his ashes be scattered at Chapel Carn Brea, adding, “but if it's raining, don't get out of the car.”

Carn Euny is well known for its large underground passageway or fogou (Cornish for cave) which was possibly used for storage, living or ritual. Just below the sign to the fogou is a dark little lane leading off to the right: we walked round the back of a cottage on our left and continued until we reached a fork where a barn was being rebuilt. We turned right here, then immediately left, where we met a bunch of serious walkers clutching maps. “It's extremely muddy,” they said, looking at my sandals and Viv's trainers.

“We don't mind,” I said cheerfully, eyeing their sensible walking boots, caked in mud. Minutes later, wading through ankle deep mire, I began to wish I'd worn my boots. Behind me, Viv squelched and skidded along the narrow lane, muttering. The nettles were vicious too – I'd never been stung through jeans before.

Looming ahead was Carn Euny Well – there are two, apparently, though we only found one, and slightly eerie it was. Hung from the trees nearby were festooned all kinds of 'cloutie' – strips of rag, a key, a scarf, the letter Z and a teddy bear. Legend has it that if you wish to be healed by St. Euny's Well, “you must come and wash upon the three first Wednesdays in May”. Another method of healing is to tie something that had been in contact with the affected part to a tree: as the rag rots, the illness should pass away.

“Look here's a candle,” said Viv. “Oh – it's black. Do you think my fingers will drop off?” To be on the safe side, she decided to wash her evil fingers, but “it's Monday – it's probably bad luck,” I said. “And you might fall in.”

Disturbed by her new-found superstition, Viv heaved herself out of the well and we followed the footpath round to the left towards Tredinney Common. “I have to say, this walk is very interesting, but very inadvisable,” Viv said. “I can't believe how un-muddy you are. Were you a goat in a former life?”

Soon we reached the end of the track, crossed a road and turned right then immediately left where we walked through a car park to see Chapel Carn Brea which is the most westerly hill in Britain and where a beacon is lit every Midsummer's eve. The hill is 657 feet above sea level and looking out to the horizon we counted three layers of blue, where it met the skyline.

Climbing a dry path to the summit we gasped, looking out at distant waves breaking off Longships, then further round to Stone's Reef. St Just lay to the north, Sennen and Lands End to the west, and Mounts Bay to the southeast. Land's End Aerodrome was nearby, distinguished by a red wind sock and tiny planes that buzzed above us like friendly bees.

We were going to be adventurous and try a different route back but Viv wanted to be back before dusk, so we retraced our steps. All too soon, it seemed, we arrived back at Carn Euny and looked back, over the moorland and fields.

You can almost feel how very ancient the land is here: rugged and largely untouched by human hands. The only buildings visible were farmhouses, barns and a church tower on the skyline, their exposed granite walls weathered from endless Cornish winters. So many of us spend our lives rushing around, while here the world stays still. Here, you can think and breathe.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Is that a lemur by the fire?

I was looking at our pictures of Fowey from March this year, and this is one of my favourites taken on the Hall Walk - this is of a boat at Pont Creek. Take a deep breath and let go of those worries. That's better...

I finally got to the Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary yesterday with my mate Viv, and what a beautiful (if freezing) day we had. Arriving, we were shepherded into the farmhouse and found ourselves in a room crammed with photos on the walls (rather like Flowerpot's flat). At the far end of the room was a large cage with a white cockatoo standing on top. Nearer, two elderly black labs reclined on the sofa, giving us a rousing welcome. A black and white cat was curled up on one of the chairs, and then - I blinked - warming his hands (paws?) in front of the woodburner was a lemur.

For animal lovers like myself and Viv this was sheer heaven. John and Joy Palmer, who run the sanctuary are two of the most generous, intelligent and warm people you could ever meet, and seeing round the park later I was amazed at the huge selection of rescue animals in huge enclosures, so they all have plenty of room to run around, and are evidently extremely happy. If ever you're near Liskeard, do take a look, it is more than worth your while.

I did a hospital run on the way home, as Viv lives very nearby and was able to look after Molls while I popped in to see Himself. Seems he won't be out for another few weeks yet which is a shame, but at least he is being well looked after, even if he is longing to come home. His highlight today was managing half a Weetabix for breakfast. It's amazing how such a small thing can lighten a day.

But I was able to tell him about Porfell and hope to take him there next year. Meeting a couple like the Palmers and seeing the wonderful work they do with those animals can only enrich anyone's day.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

More Upheavals - don't mention Snow...

Well, I'm sorry to be a spoilsport but I am so sick of the word SNOW I could scream. But here in Falmouth we have had extremes of weather that I've never seen before all in one day. We woke to snow. Half an hour later, we had a huge thunderstorm with lightning flashing ahead. That calmed down and gale force winds blew up, with lashing rain.

A half hour reprieve, during which I dashed out with Molls and realised just how incredibly cold it was – got back and looked out of the window to see huge golf ball sized hailstones, followed by snow. All of which took place in the space of two hours.

While we've all been disrupted, I had to put off an interview with Porfell Wildlife and Animal Sanctuary which I have been trying to get to for some time. First time Himself was starting to be poorly, then they were going away and this time we were snowed in, so I am hoping to go next week – or at least before Christmas.

The couple that run it are now in their 70s and came to Cornwall in the 1970s with the idea of running their own smallholding. They arrived in an old minibus containing a pony, rabbits, budgies, two dogs, and a horsebox with their daughter and her pony. Joy followed in an old Triumph Herald with yet more animals including the cats.

Their dreams have multiplied, and now they aim to “provide a safe haven for elderly and problem exotic animals for the rest of their lives. The work of our sanctuary is recognised nationally by zoos, wildlife parks and other organisations.

Here at our animal sanctuary you will see groups of single sex animals, such as Ring-Tailed lemurs. Elderly animals like our dear old meerkats in retirement in a nice heated enclosure. You will see some who can breed, like the White lipped tamarins. Mother, Tammy had twins last year, they look as they have just drunk a large glass of milk, with milk still on there lips.

Not forgetting old favorites like zebra, capybara, owls, ocelot and lynx. All enjoy environments created to suit their individual needs. New to the park are Black lemurs – we have registered to become part of the E.E.P. European Endangered species programme; to help these very rare lemurs, ours are past their breeding prime at the age of 27 but are helping us to highlight the plight of the Black lemurs of Madagascar.”

They sound such an inspirational couple, I am longing to meet them. So hurry up weather and warm up so I can get there!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Best Made Plans

Or is that best laid plans?

It's not often that I plan ahead, but there have been two events in November that I have been looking forward to for months.

The first was Matthew Bourne's new version of Cinderella. I am a huge fan of his and seen almost all his ballets as a) my mum is also a fan and treats me for birthday/Christmas and b) he premieres his shows in Plymouth which means I can get up there by train for the day.

The second event was seeing my oldest friend, Lin, who is over from Australia (where she has been living for some 30 years). I'd got the whole weekend organised – Friday interview in Callington on the way up, stay with my mum, ballet on Saturday, see friends on Sunday and Lin on Monday. And then Pip got poorly and that scuppered that.

Never mind, we'll go for Plan B, I thought, being a great believer in Plan B. So I did the interview by phone. Sadly I couldn't find anyone to look after Mollie for the day so I could go to the ballet, but in fact I got the most horrendous fluey cold and felt so ill that frankly getting out of bed was a major achievement, so I'm now hoping to see the ballet next year in Bristol.

As for Lin – she was hoping to drive down for lunch this week. But they've been roaring round and just got back from London, she needs to spend time with her family and she goes back on Friday so sadly it isn't going to be possible. And for once in my life I can't see a Plan B, let alone C. And it will be another couple of years before I see her again.

But the best news is that she is engaged. I haven't (obviously) met him but if he makes her happy – which he does, very much – and they love each other – which they evidently do – then that's good enough for me. And even if I can't be there for the wedding I shall be there in spirit. So here's to them – three cheers and may they have a long and happy marriage!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but was taken after a walk in Penwith - I was convinced the cow was going to land up on top of the car!

Many thanks for all your kind thoughts and wishes which mean a great deal.
Himself is making progress but it's going to be a long old slog – they reckon he will be in hospital for probably another 4 weeks (though he insists it won't be that long).

It is heartening to see him improve, and fingers crossed that will continue apace. The care that he is receiving is wonderful: the nurses couldn't do more and the consultants have also been terrific. Hearing that 25,000 frontline jobs are to go in the government cuts makes my blood boil – those poor nurses are rushed off their feet as it is. And how can those jobs possibly go without affecting patient care? Stick a politician in A&E or the Medical Admissions Ward for a day or two and they'd soon revise that bright idea....

At first, living by myself, after 14 years, was one hell of a shock. I'm not used to cooking for starters as Himself took over that chore years ago. Luckily, seeing my increasingly baggy trousers, friends dropped round food parcels which kept me going until I remembered how to actually make a meal again. Oh, and eat it. My dear brother in law has checked the van over for me and brought me a huge bag of kindling as well as generally being there for me over practical matters which makes a huge difference. I seem to spend my whole time thanking people...

But I am adjusting to being sort-of-single – Mollie and work both enforces a morning routine and the afternoons are taken up with visiting Pip most days and walking Mollie. I see friends for dog walks or in the evenings if I have the time and energy but have found to my surprise that most evenings I am content curling up in front of the fire with Molls, a glass of wine and a good book or the telly. Who wants to go out in this weather?

BUT something terrible happened recently. Downton Abbey is no more. What on earth are we going to do on Sundays now?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Poor Himself is currently ensconced in Treliske hospital, having become very poorly over the weekend. I feel very strange, as if I'm living in some parallel universe ruled by doctors and nurses speaking in a language I don't understand. My husband has seeped away, and is replaced by an old, frail man.

It's difficult to keep sane at the moment. But I know I must keep doing the things I always do – work and walking Mollie – and my friends have been so wonderful and supportive. Several have provided food so I don't have to cook (eating is difficult when your stomach is constantly lurching as if on a cross channel ferry) and sleep is a bit hard to come by.

But I know he's in the best place and just hope that he responds to his treatment very soon. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Happy Birthday by Tottering

My mum sent this card to Himself and comes from an amazing collection called, appropriately, Tottering. Give the reclining figure a beard and substitute the labrador for a scruffy Jack and you have a true indication of The Sick Bed.

Many thanks for all your good wishes. He is improving, albeit very slowly which is good news. I'm shattered but nothing that a bit of rest won't cure.

But it's a big day for Himself - a Big One. Rather too big for us to mention in fact.

He has managed to haul himself out of The Sick Bed and, weather permitting, we will go and have a drive somewhere in the sunshine – or that's the plan. Then a quiet night in with a DVD.

Reading this makes me laugh. His other 14 birthdays since I've known him have all been somewhat energetically enjoyed in the pub and then with more liquid refreshment at home. Every year he says he doesn't want to do anything, and every year I secretly phone a few friends and we agree to meet in the pub – just for an hour or so. And every year he thoroughly enjoys himself.

This year will be a more sober affair, as we're postponing celebrations until he feels better. But as a friend said in an email today, he has turned very chic. My husband has been called many things in his life but chic is not one of them. It came about like this.

He has decided, since the GP said that he could drink alcohol if he wanted, to try vermouth. (The antibiotics seem to have done something to his taste buds so he no longer enjoys wine, beer or coffee.) So for the last few nights, as his health improves, he's been sitting up in bed, with a glass of vermouth to hand.

So picture us on the eve of his birthday, settled on The Sick Bed. Himself and I lying in (or on my case on) the bed, Mollie sprawled luxuriously over the duvet, watching telly with a glass of vermouth to hand.

I should add that Himself has the glass of vermouth, not Mollie.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ups and Downs

Life continues to be full of ups and downs. On the upside, I had a fascinating interview behind the scenes at Truro Cathedral last week where I met the Head of Music there, three Head Choristers and one of the gap year choral scholars.

I felt very privileged indeed to talk to them all: they share a profound love of music that is very uplifting, and hearing the boys rehearse brought tears to my eyes. Even better, I have been offered tickets to the carol service at Christmas and will take my mum who is over the moon.

The down was that Himself, who'd been doing so much better, suddenly had a relapse and went down with another high fever. Luckily I got the emergency doc out on Sat morning and he gave more and stronger antibiotics – it's another lung infection. The poor patient is back in bed feeling incredibly weak and miserable but after another home visit yesterday, the doc said that the infection seems to have gone, so hopefully once he's finished the anitibiotics, he will start to feel much better.

He needs feeding up but has no appetite so Nurse Flowerpot is standing over the poor fellow saying,” Eat this!” I'm not quite that bad, but a dear friend who is a fabulous cook offered to cook whatever he wanted and bring it round (she knows my lack of vision in the culinary department). Himself smiled when I told him this and he said, “ooh, cottage pie catches my imagination,” so I put an order in for that. So thanks Izzy!

Her partner is also recovering from being very poorly, so we are both doing nursing duties. Himself's eyes lit up when he thought of Izzy in a nurse's uniform. Didn't do his heart much good but it sure as hell cheered him up.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Updates and paddleboards

This was also taken in Lerryn - I couldn't resist it.

Many thanks for all your kind thoughts from last week. I am glad to report that, first and foremost, the patient is up and about again, albeit a bit weak and wobbly, but much recovered.

Secondly, following your comments and those of other friends, I've written a letter of complaint to said doc about his highly unhelpful comments. As a physician I have no truck with him – it's just when he opened his mouth that time, and unfortunately the two tend to go together.

I have the utmost respect and compassion for anyone who is a carer and/or has a sick partner or member of the family. I really don't know how they keep going, long term, except that I suppose you do if you have to. I only did two weeks of it but that was more than enough. That sick terror in the base of my stomach, the long dark nights of fear, wondering what was going to happen – or rather, when. Whereas now I feel as if I've come out of a long tunnel and seen sunlight at the other end.

On a lighter note, work has come up with some very varied jobs. This afternoon I'm off to Truro cathedral to interview the head chorister, one of the student choristers and one of the lay vicars. Then next week I am interviewing an author of historical thrillers, and on Friday off to see a wildlife animal sanctuary. It won't make me rich but it's so varied and love meeting so many different people. And animals are an even better bonus.

Lastly, I saw the most wonderful sight this morning. Imagine - the sun dazzling as it rose above the sea when I walked Molls on the beach, and silhouetted against the bright sun was a boy and his dog on a paddleboard.

(I'm kicking myself I didn't have the camera but I'm sure you can imagine in.)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Madder than Spit

“In the back of my mind I'm thinking the cancer might have spread to your ribs,” the doctor said chattily, as if we were discussing the weather. “But I think it's more likely it's pleurisy.”

These comments came on a house visit on Monday, when I'd had about 2 hours sleep the night before, had to drive to Truro to do an interview, then raced home to be in time for the doctor. As you can imagine, his words didn't exactly provide the wisdom and comfort I had hoped and provoked a wonderful email from my sister in law entitled "Madder than Spit".

(The another picture above is of Lerryn, designed to calm all troubled thoughts, particularly Shelagh's.)

It's been a bit of a week for poor Himself who has suffered high fevers and then thought he'd broken a rib he was in such agony (this could be the pleurisy). But at least the antibiotics have kicked in and so have the heavy duty painkillers. When Himself woke up yesterday looking and sounding a bit better, I was so relieved I burst into tears over my toast. And last night I had the best night's sleep for a long while.

On the day that the Chilean miners were released, my husband decided he might get out of bed later. For someone who has never gone to bed when ill, a week in bed is quite something, but he's still too weak to do much more than doze. I think it could be another week in bed actually, but at least he looks much better and is no longer in pain so fingers crossed.

The last week has been hell, but has shown me several things. Firstly, how much my husband means to me. We don't actually have much in common but we do share a sense of humour and we have a steady companionship which means so much. In the dark hours of the night, when I thought this was the beginning of the end, it was the companionship that I realised I would miss the most.

Secondly, I have the most amazing friends. You know who you are so thank you so much for your love and support. It means the world.

Thirdly (the list could go on but I won't bore you), thank god for my job and for lovely Holly Young, milliner and great talent, who unwittingly kept me from turning into a weeping, terrified wreck on Monday because of our interview.

Lastly, I think we'd both forgotten what a lousy cook I am.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Lerryn, feverish husband and tumble dryers

Another picture of Fowey - actually Lerryn - as requested by Ellee.

A week of not being at home much due to doing a magazine walk on Monday over at Penwith. A day of rare and glorious autumn sunshine and a very, very muddy walk. “I have to say, this walk is very interesting, but very inadvisable,” Viv said half way round. “I can't believe how un-muddy you are. Were you a goat in a former life?”

That excursion took most of the day as we had to pick up something in Truro on the way home, and today I was supposed to go up to the wilds of St Mabyn to interview an author for another magazine. Unfortunately poor Himself had a flu jab yesterday and has been running a high fever – freezing cold then boiling hot and shaking - since yesterday afternoon. Not much sleep had by yours truly so I will have to rearrange the interview or do it over the phone. I don't want to leave sick husband for 5 hours (which is what the round trip would take).

Talking of poor husband - while in Fowey I decided to do a wash and use their tumble dryer as there was nowhere to hang washing up. I've never used a tumble dryer before, so the drying process was somewhat hit and miss, and all the clothes came out with creases ironed in. Worse than that, Himself only owns two pairs of trousers and the ones I washed – and dried – have lost the will to live. They now hang, lifeless and permanently creased, like a tearful apology. Which I'm afraid he didn't get from me, bearing in mind that defence is the best form of attack.

However, he looked almost as sorry as the poor trousers, wearing them, so I towed him off to Asda and had to buy him another pair. These are Very Smart (his words) and he decided to wear them to the pub last Friday. The next day, he realised that he'd forgotten to give them their first airing.

“I was too tired,” he said when I asked him. “But I felt smart.”

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Post Holiday Melt Down

This is one of my favourite walks near Fowey - on the coastal footpath leading towards Gribben. Every time I do it my heart leaps.

I'd forgotten just how difficult it is to settle back into work after a good holiday. And it was fabulous. We had a great weekend with friends when we arrived, which included a trip in the blow up boat (named Inflated Ego) up to Golant, via Cannabis Creek.

Deb and I walked back, exploring Cannabis Creek on the way back – you could see why it was so named (when the Sawmills Studios were first in operation), and Himself did a wonderful job on the catering front.

Altogether we had fabulous weather, and a few days to ourselves, when we had a boat trip up the river to Lerryn, again in amazing weather. Molls and I did a new walk every day, walked miles and then on the Wednesday two more friends came for more walks and general hilarity.

As Himself's breathing isn't too good, hills are difficult (and Fowey is built on a very steep one). Luckily, he found he could walk into town then get the town bus back free courtesy of his bus pass, which gave him quite a thrill. He and John sloped off to the pub just like two schoolboys playing truant, and both were able to come back free on the bus, glowing with alcoholic naughtiness.

We left last Friday and it gave me a real wrench to drive off the Bodinnick Ferry and leave Fowey behind. God knows what I was in my past life but I certainly lived in Fowey.

And now it's back to work. It's chucking it down with rain and, having just transcribed an interview from the way home, I feel I need a lie down. But I have signed Himself up for a photography course and he has to go in today to meet the tutor. The reasoning behind this is that a) I hope he will enjoy it and give him an interest (he takes very good pictures already) and b) I don't have time to go, so he can pass his learnings on to me. DAMN - just had a phone call to say the government have cut the OAP discount so he won't be able to do it. What a shame.

So life returns to normal, whatever that is. Himself is painting the bathroom – for the third time in as many weeks – don't ask. I've told him that I am DEFINITELY having a shower tomorrow, come hell or high water. So don't come and see us till then.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Ralph McTell (2) and hols

Mr FP took this picture at the weekend, sitting outside the Ferryboat at Helford. Now sadly not much of a pub but a lovely spot to sit and watch the world go by.
We're off to Fowey for a week shortly. Brother in law is house sitting the dear, fearsome Thug so he will be well tended to. And now back that interview....

Ralph McTell takes up a lot of room, not because he's tall and solid, but because he is full of the passion, the sensitivity and the ideas that flow into his music.

I particularly liked his description of waiting to go on stage at a gig. The lights go down, “and then you walk the longest walk in the world,” he said.

What impressed me about Ralph was his modesty, his quiet sense of humour, and the fact that he makes friends very easily – because he really cares about people. “My level of involvement with people is quite high – every concert I go to, I know so many of them by name and there's a lot of them,” he said.

Ralph's music appeals to so many people because he writes about things we can all relate to – loneliness being one. “If someone you love has gone out of your life, there will always be that gap there,” he said. “Loneliness is probably one of the biggest fears we have. It's hinted at in other songs but not so graphically or as simply as in Streets of London.”

We covered a lot of ground, from sharing notes on giving up smoking, to how the music business has changed since the '60s. But it was his philosophy on life that I liked. “Give people hope,” he said, “you've got to keep hope alive, Jesse Jackson said. Not retire into a cotton wool drug-induced stupor. Try and do the best you can. I think it's criminal to waste time when there are so many people that didn't have these opportunities.

Not to do things to the best of your ability is a waste of your time and probably those around you: those to whom you can have an affect upon. So do it the best you can. If you go at things half cock you can expect to fail, but if you fail when you've done your best then that's OK. It might sound Victorian but I think it's a worthwhile thing.”

What a good role model. Thanks, Ralph. And here's to his tour starting next month.

Affairs of the Heart - a 4 CD compilation of Ralph’s love songs with introduction by Rory McGrath
Somewhere Down the Road - pre-order from
Ralph is performing at Hall for Cornwall on Wednesday 10th November 2010.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Ralph McTell and Cheesewring

No, I know this doesn't look like Ralph McTell. This is the Cheesewring - see below.

I'm beginning to get that panicky feeling in my guts as I'm interviewing Ralph McTell on Friday. A few nerves are useful before an interview, I find: it means I'm not complacent (not a word in my vocabulary) and ensures that I've done all the research and preparation needed. Ralph is such a consummate musician, poet, song writer – and has been doing it for so long, I really admire him. Also he gave up smoking after 37 years – another point in his favour.

So the reason for my nerves is because I really want to do him justice. By all accounts, he is a lovely, friendly, sensitive man (as well as being hugely talented) with a family and a self deprecating sense of humour, so I'm sure it will be fine. But even so ...I only hope the poor man hasn't got interview tedium – I know he's been doing a lot over the past few weeks.

(Note to self. Do not drink cappuccino while doing interview. When I interviewed Patrick Gale, I rushed to the loo afterwards and noticed I had a chocolate moustache which must have been there throughout the entire interview. Not the kind of impression I really wanted to make.)

And now onto other things. The other week we did a walk for CT round the Cheesewring and the Hurlers on Bodmin Moor where we spent a lot of time getting lost.

Firstly, Viv's navigational skills were a bit off, so we spent a good half an hour driving round in circles before we found Minions village, where we parked. I'd read about a cave where a Mr Gumb (a mathematician and astrologer) lived with his wife and 13 children, but despite asking lots of people, who looked at us in utter comprehension, we couldn't find the cave, and arrived at the bottom of Stowe's Hill cave-less.

Then our directions told us about Rillaton Barrow, and for some reason Viv became fixated on finding it. We asked a couple who turned out to be German, but they hadn't heard of it, neither had anyone else we asked. As we neared the end of the walk, Viv became quite despondent. “I don't want to go to my death bed without having seen this Barrow,” she declared.

No sooner had she spoken, than we passed an old shed with a wheelbarrow sitting outside. “Look, there's my barrow!” she said, and walked on, somewhat mollified. When we finally made it back to the van, we collapsed and fortified ourselves with the last of the sarnies and a flask of tea that Viv had brought and sat in comfortable silence.

“It's a really nice walk,” said Viv thoughtfully, “- if you know where you're going.”

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Charmer

Well here's a charmer...

With Tony Blair's autobiography out today, excerpts are splattered all over the papers and one political journalist on breakfast news had read an advance copy – over 700 pages of it – and confessed to TB having “used his usual charm” so that by the end of the book the journalist found he “almost liked” TB.

This got me thinking - what is charm and how is it manifested? Himself and I were discussing it while walking the Molls this morning and, of course, our views differed.

“It's to do with words,” said Himself.

I think he's right but I believe it goes further than that. I think that charm is the ability to make the other person/people believe they are important and special. Which of course is done with words – and actions. A well placed hand on the shoulder. A smile and a hug. Tears maybe. A sense of empathy.

And then comes the difference between CHARM and CHARMING. I think charm is a gift, whereas being charming is something that most of us can learn to a certain extent, though some are better at it than others (mentioning no names of course). For example, a salesman or politican has to persuade people to buy that TV or vote for them. They have to persuade people that they are right. That they know best. Is this learning how to be charming?

When I asked Himself who he could think of who had charm, he replied, without a sliver of hesitation. “Me.”

So who can you think of who has charm? Other than my husband, of course.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Talk and Dad's Earrings

Our Talk (on Becoming a Freelance Writer) went very well, I'm glad to say. The first 15 minutes were a bit hairy but I got over my nerves and felt a lot better, then actually enjoyed the second half which was a great bonus, and the audience seemed to have a good time too.

I think what made it work was that Fi and I are both unconventional in different ways, and we both work in completely different ways.

She's been to university and trained as a teaching assistant, as well as performing in public a lot so she's not fazed by an audience, and this made me feel a lot better – I knew she would be able to wing it if anything went wrong.

Whereas I have never been to university and apart from a short TV piece several years ago, the last public performance was in Falmouth Theatre's production of Oliver 5 years ago – which I don't think really counts for much as I was in the chorus...

With regard to interviews, Fi says she doesn't plan anything, but lets the interviewee talk as they want, then types up notes in long hand. Whereas I prepare questions, take notes and tape the interview as well - but the end results are the same which is what matters.

I also made notes for the talk – being my first time I knew my brain was likely to seize up without loads of prompts – whereas Fi just ad libbed. But having said that, she had done a very exact running order, down to the last minute, which made all the difference. So a big thank you to Fi for making it all possible.

My mum came, as did Pip and our Penzance cousins (thanks to all of you) and the night before, when Mum and I were having a glass of wine on the sofa, she pointed to her earrings: tiny pearls I don't remember having seen before.

“These were the last earrings your Dad gave me,” she said (though he died 26 years ago). “I thought he should be with us tomorrow for your talk.”

Thanks, Dad.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Family and Talks

Picture taken with family last week over at Daymer Bay.

I get to see my brothers and their families once a year, usually, if that, so it's typical that they should both be down in Cornwall the same week – though sadly not together. So it's been great to catch up on everyone and hear the nephews and nieces' news.

It struck me – once again - how very different our lives are. I am very happy with ours, but very glad I don't have the financial stresses and strains that they do. Skint but happy is the rule that applies here, but I could see that our comparatively simple way of life baffles them. We don't have children, of course, which makes a big difference but much though I love my brothers, I did feel on a different planet most of the time. (I expect they did too.) Nurture versus Nature and all that....

Work has been suddenly busy which is good, and on Thursday another journalist, Fi Read and I are giving a talk on Becoming a Freelance Writer at the new Penzance Literary Festival. Whether we actually get an audience of more than 10 remains to be seen but I'm telling myself it's good practice. Though for what I'm not sure.

So think of us on Thursday morning – Fi's more experienced at public performance than I am and is very laid back about it. I am counting on her to rescue the day should I make a complete hash of it.....

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Girly Weekend

We had a fabulous girls weekend, from the moment we stood on Truro platform waiting for the train – Molls shaking somewhat, as it was only her 2nd train ride. But once she'd jumped aboard the train (like a true pro), she snorted up all available crumbs and settled down at my feet.

Av met us 2 hours later, then we had a great walk at the Water Meadows at Dartington, and sorted the first part of the world out. I cooked that night (roasted vegetables with cheese), washed down with plenty of Sauvignon. Bit of a wakeful night as Molls rushed to the door everytime anyone went to the loo, but all was well.

On Saturday afternoon we went up to Dartmoor and did a circular walk around Haytor, the quarry and Saddle Tor (see pictures above) and it couldn't have been better weather – sunny, breeze and the ground is just right: dry but not too hard. I shall remember that walk for a long time.

That night we called in to say Happy 60th to my friend Annie and had a glass of wine with all of them, then up to the pub for supper. After another long walk on Sunday morning, Molls and I got on the train and came back for a rest.

What a fab weekend – really makes you realise how important good friends are. Cheers, Av! Here's to the next one.

By and large, we are both very happy with our lives, but while we walked, we discussed what we would change if we could.

So that's today's question – if your fairy godmother waved her magic wand, what would would you change about your life?

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A Girls Weekend, Japanese bloggers - and male authors

This weekend Molls and I are heading off to have a Girls Weekend with my dear friend, Av, who lives in Dorset. (This is Molls on Av's bed last time we met.) Actually we're meeting in Devon which is halfway and hope to see a few of my friends there and also my mum.

Av and I met when we were both going through big life changes – I;d been made redundant, had washed up in Cornwall but couldn't find any work there, so went on to Devon, with a very small measure of confidence and self worth.

Av's marriage had just ended and she was having to work (other than running her ex-husband's business) for the first time in her life. So despite a 10 year age gap (she's a bit older than me) we clicked and have remained steadfast friends ever since.

While I love my husband dearly, it's good to have some time away from each other and taking Molls means we can have some even better walks while we're away. Molls was very taken with Av last time we met – so much so that I began to doubt whether she really wanted to come home with me at all. But as Av's husband is direly allergic to anything with fur, that rather put paid to any notions she (Molls) might have had about swapping mothers.

Secondly - Japanese bloggers. I welcome any (suitable) comments, but given that this blog is written in English, please, if you are going to comment, could you do so in English. If the comments are not suitable, please refrain.

And lastly - I've been doing some more author interviews recently and have been asked to think about male writers.

So today's question is – what male writers would you like to see interviewed?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


We had an unexpectedly gorgeous day (I'm talking about the weather here) on Sunday and took a trip down to Gunwalloe Cove on the Lizard, one of my favourite places and also a dog friendly beach. Cornwall really looked at its best, and that night I had a phone call to say that my oldest brother and his family are coming down next month and could we meet up? Of course the answer was yes – I can't wait.

We haven't seen him and his family for two years now, owing to their hectic lives. My nieces are now grown up girls – one's in her second year at university and the other is about to leave school, and my nephew is in his early teens. A lot can happen in two years. I think back to when I was their age and life was so different – I am showing my age here – but I'm sad that we've missed out on so much of them growing up. This will probably be the last family holiday they have, so the chances of seeing them after this are even smaller.

I miss my brother and his wife too. When the kids were younger we saw each other a lot more and had some wonderful times. I remember crying with laughter over various things; a tickling match just before I got married; a sunny barbecue one evening; sitting in their kitchen while my sister in law made plans to Get Me Hitched; putting the girls to bed when they were little. Happy memories.

Out of school activities can be a great opportunity for children and I'm all in favour of trying things out – at any age. I never knew I had much creative talents until – well, until my 30s. I spent most of my teens and 20s in a creative black spot and it wasn't until I left London that I realised I could write. Realising I could sing came later, and I did wonder the other day what I might have done with my life had I realised all this stuff earlier.

So what I'm saying is – yes, let's give children the best chances we can. But don't forget your family.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


This fellow was taken in Fowey when we were there in March and, as we all know, has a quick eye for any bits of grub going.

One of my favourite cold weather lunches is something I had in the States years ago - tuna topped with grated cheese on toast (apparently this is called Tuna Melt). It's easy to assemble, pop in the microwave and hey presto. (I say microwave rather than grill because we don't have a grill on our oven. Or if we do, it doesn't work. Another on the list of jobs for Himself.)

That smell of hot, stringy cheese always takes me back to many years ago when, for some reason, we were all at an Italian eatery in South Kensington. I must have been about 11 or 12 and so my brothers would have been 9 and 6 or thereabouts. Why we were there I can't think, as we lived in a small seaside town in Devon at the time. But I digress.

Dad took us to this Italian place which was in itself a novelty. Devon boasted fish and chip shops but we only ever had those for a special treat – like if the fair was in. We never ate out, let alone at a place with people who spoke a funny language.

But I can still remember the smell of that hot, stringy cheese on top of my pizza. The underlying, exotic whiff of what was probably oregano and who knows what other herbs. I can almost feel my teeth sink into the lovely chewy crust as my tongue burnt with the heat from the cheese. Feel that squidgyness as the tomato hit the back of my mouth. And watch in amazement as, forkful after forkful, that mozarella stretched in splendid yellow cords, like a tasty spider's web.

I don't even like pizza now – I find it too stodgy – but the memory of my first one will stay with me forever and always makes my mouth water. And that got me thinking of how much we take our senses for granted. Dogs have a sense of smell apparently 40 times as strong as ours. No wonder they get excited whenever food appears.

So I thought I'd see what I can smell now. Here goes while I sniff.

The musty scent of my rooibosh tea cooling next to me.
A faint waft of Persil from my fingers – I've just hung the washing outside.
The unmistakeable smell of wet dog – Mollie still hasn't dried out from her walk earlier when the grass was wet with rain.

What can you smell?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Ups and Downs

Life has been something of a rollercoaster recently, which has tested me severely. But as Himself said the other day, “Life is about how you deal with setbacks, not successes, Pop.” He's too right – but I've been floundering a bit recently which made me think I wasn't doing too well at this business called Life.

However, I now have some unexpected commissions which has boosted not only my confidence but my bank balance (or will when I'm paid), and my other novelist friends are back from their varying absences which means we can get our group working again and I can continue with the novel which does the soul good.

On Saturday we had the launch of The Suitcase Singers at nearby Miss Peapods in Penryn, and I have to say it was a great evening. Himself propped up the bar and applauded loudly, other friends came to join him as we sang, and afterwards we had a party in the bar. I would have joined in the bopping only I have a poorly foot, so perched on my bar stool, knocked back a few glasses of wine and had a lovely night.

Himself and I have had the same songs on our brains as a result for the last 3 days.

On that front, the poor fellow isn't feeling too good. He's back on some aggressive treatment for the cancer and is coughing like a trooper. We're seeing the lung consultant in just over a week and hope to get some help for his poor lungs which are being punished on a daily basis. But throughout all this, he is reasonably patient (just the odd swearing when he has a coughing fit) and deals with his illnesses in a very measured manner. I don't know that I'd be quite so calm about it all, and suspect that inside he's roaring. I admire and respect him and just wish there was something I could do to help.

But rather than end this on a note of gloom, I'm writing this looking out on my tubs where the Californian poppies (such a wonderful deep rich yellow) are waving in the wind and being splashed by a sudden downpour. (I don't mind the rain with a poorly foot as I don't feel so bad about not being able to walk far.)

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing some Kittows (distant relatives) and had a fascinating time with them. A friend has just given birth to her first baby and is understandably smitten (hormonal snuffle from Flowerpot here). I have singing again tomorrow, and an appointment with the physio for my foot next Monday. We're meeting our cousins in Penzance on Saturday and I will take Himself for a famous Jelbert's ice cream afterwards.

Life is full of good things if you know where to look.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Making of a Writer

(Molls demonstrating that the road to becoming a writer is a long one. This was taken at Bedruthan Steps last week.)

I've been asked to give a talk at the forthcoming Penzance Literary Festival. At first, the idea filled me with a mixture of excitement followed swiftly by extreme terror. Luckily I've managed to persuade another freelance journalists to do it with me, which is much less scary, so the title of our talk is to be Becoming a Freelance Writer.

So far so good. I sat down yesterday and looked at the muddle of notes and tried to make sense of them. I started thinking about what made me a writer, going back to when I was a child. I thought of all those years and years of diaries I wrote as a teenager, and up until my forties. (Page after page of mostly incredibly boring monologues.)

I remembered the boss that had tried to get me into the newsroom as a journalist over 20 years ago (they employed too many cheap Antipodeans so why train me?).

I realised it wasn't until I left London – and thereby stopped trying to have a Proper Job – that I started writing properly. It was as if all those words bubbled up to the surface and had time to breathe. From then on there was no stopping them.

Except for when I met Himself. I think that was such an overwhelming experience that there wasn't room for anything else. My whole life turned upside down, inside out and back to front. I didn't write – couldn't – for about two years. Then when I decided to pack in a very stressful job, up bubbled those words again.

Ten years on I am proud to call myself a freelance journalist. The book(s) aren't published – yet – but I'm still working on them. They are another goal, but no less important.

Watching Wimbledon last week, it struck me that writing is like playing professional tennis (though not nearly as well paid). It's very competitive, you have to love doing it, develop a thick skin yet be sensitive enough to do it well. You have to understand people, build up good relationships with them and remember that it never hurts to help others. You have to have your ears and eyes open, keep your wits about you and go for it. Continue to try and improve, and never, ever give up.

The other night we watched the DVD of the Sound of Music. This is a digitised version of the film with Julie Andrews giving a little talk before hand. She considered several reasons why the film is still so phenomenally successful. The two that I remember were faith and perseverance. And you need both of those to succeed as a writer.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Ten Things.....

I've been tagged by Becky for 10 things about me.

Well, after much scratching of head, here they are:-

1. I've had numerous nicknames ranging including Chubby Cheeks (from my dear brothers), Kit Kat, Kitten, Kittoff to Flowerpot.

2. Husband also has lots of nicknames.

3. Both my parents are from good Cornish families but I was born in London.

4. I'm a late starter. I didn't decide what I wanted to do until I was 40.

5. I didn't marry till I was 41.

6. I sold my first short story when I was 33; my first article when I was 40.

7. My Dad was called John; one of my brothers is Jonathan and I married a Jonathan. Come to think of it, I've had several boyfriends called John along the years, as well.

8. If I get stressed or upset, I have trouble sleeping. And eating for that matter.

9. My father died when I was in my early 20s and my husband is old enough to be my father. Shrinks would LOVE that one.....

10. And last but not least, I am teaching Moll to swim. Actually, she can swim but she is actually coming swimming with me now. Go, girl!
(Picture of Molls taken by Claire Wilson)

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Summer Solstice and on

On Monday we decided to take advantage of this glorious weather and headed over to St Agnes to see the sun go down for the summer solstice. As you can see, it did us proud: this is two of my friends having a quiet moment, watching the last of the sun's rays disappear. It really was very special and I was glad that for once I had the camera.

On Sunday we had a picnic over at Polly Joke on the north coast, one of our favourite places, and had to get home in time to go and see Fisherman's Friends. On the way back, we passed a lonely young figure plodding along the road (no pavements) and stopped to give him a lift.

It turned out the poor fellow had been camping in Newquay, been for a swim that morning and had his phone and money stolen. Further more, he had just started working at a fish and chip shop and was supposed to be there by 12 noon – when we picked him up it was already nearly 2pm and of course he couldn't contact them as he'd had his phone taken.

We went home via Truro (not exactly on our way but we couldn't let the poor fellow be even later) and headed off to see Fisherman's Friends. A great gathering at the sea shanty festival and hundreds of people enjoying the good weather. We topped that off with a drink in the pub on the way home, and had a mighty fine day.

Yesterday I said goodbye to the editor of Cornwall Today going on maternity leave and met the new editor. Then Molls and I went down to Helford and I had my first swim of the year.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Happy anniversary

A few weeks ago it was our anniversary, and our plans were rather disrupted by meeting up with some Australian cousins that afternoon. Himself bought himself and Rob a pint, and when that was finished, Rob (Aussie cousin) eyed my husband. “You drink port?” he said.

“Of course,” said Himself, as if he drank it regularly. (Last time was 4 years ago.)

Rob came back with two huge schooners of port, and having downed his, Himself looked quite rosy and declared he was going to drive home.

“No way,” I said grabbing the keys.

“I haven't had much,” he said. “Port's nothing – like snow off a ditch.”

I held onto the keys and ignored him. On the way home he said, “Let's go and have a meal out to celebrate, Pop.” Then he said, “I'll pay.” That's when I knew he wasn't sober.

To be honest I'm not that fussed because a) it's expensive b) we usually have disappointing food c) Himself is a very good cook and c) I don't actually like eating out much. I get nervous with those hovering waiters and never know what to choose. But I knew he wanted to go, and was touched that he'd asked.

“That would be nice,” I said. And then came the problem of trying to decide where to go. We decided against our local pub, so I suggested the bar at the marina.

“No,” he said, “they've gone all modern with those square potatoes.” (Small pause while I choked with laughter at the idea of those poor spuds.) “I don't like food that's been F***ed around with, Pop.”

And that rather set the tone for the evening. We did go out in the end, but the wine was like vinegar, the portions were far too big which we both found offputting, and sitting opposite us were two of the hugest women I have ever seen (25 stone plus at a guess), eating their way through platefuls and platefuls of food.

Now, what shall we do next year?

Friday, 11 June 2010


As sung by the immortal David Bowie (for those of you young enough not to have grown up with his music) – changes are afoot here.

Firstly the result of Himself's coughing appears to have been by the drugs he's been taking for his prostate cancer. Oh, great. So he's been told to come off those straight away and have a month to clear his system before they put him on something else for the cancer.

I really hope to god it does help his breathing. It's exhausting, frustrating and debilitating for him to cough all the time, and for me it's incredibly difficult living with a cough like that that threatens to take over our lives. So fingers crossed on that one.

The second thing is that Kirstie Newton, the editor of Cornwall Today, goes on maternity leave at the end of this month, and Alex Wade, a highly respected journalist and writer, takes over the reins as acting editor over the next year. While I will miss Kirstie, I'm looking forward to working with Alex who sounds a fascinating character.

Thirdly, for any of you feeling a bit down, or in need of a change – try singing. I don't belong to a choir – that's a bit formal to describe us – but we are called The Suitcase Singers, and sing every Thursday for a couple of hours. The more I sing with Claire Ingleheart, our musical director, the more I enjoy it.

Last Saturday we had a gig in Flushing in the evening. Claire had done a workshop that afternoon with over 20 people and many of them stayed on for the gig. From there we went to the pub, relaxed with a drink for half an hour, and started singing again, sitting outside the pub.

It was a real example of singing crossing all kinds of boundaries. We sing a-capella (without music), and Claire chose several rounds that are easy for bystanders to learn but sound fabulous. We had a stag party that joined in (as she said, that could have gone either way but they joined in and had a wonderful time) and everyone who was in the pub came out and joined us, and gradually doors opened in the village and more and more people came to listen and join in.

It was a night I shall never forget. Hearing the melodies rise out over the sea, watching faces light up with the pure joy of the music, and a lightened atmosphere of sheer enjoyment. Claire is not only an incredibly talented musician, she is a great leader and knows how to manage large groups of people, which is vital in these instances.

It really was a night with a touch of pure magic.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Poorly Mum but Lovely Grub

Himself has been busy working on the flat here, so Molls and I have just got back from a few days looking after my poor mum who's been having a bad time with a poorly leg and far too many antibiotics. She's had a bad leg for weeks now and has had to cancel one holiday so is desperate to go on a cruise next week. So here's hoping she really enjoys it – she deserves a good break.

While it was lovely to see her – and in such wonderful weather – Mollie had a wonderful time, from the moment we got on the train when the conductor made a beeline for her, saying how much he preferred dogs to humans (“they don't smash up my train, they're not sick all over the place and they don't get drunk”) - from then on her fan club grew daily.

Like any royal subject, she bestowed humour and great affection on her subjects and behaved very properly when out – in the pub, on the train or in other people's houses. She's not always so well behaved but this week she did us proud. She also met my dear friend Av again and they are now Best Buddies, with Mollie bouncing on her bed when I took a cup of tea in that morning. Mollie looked at me with that sideways look as if to say - "don't need you any more. I've got Av now." But as it's Av, I've forgiven her.

She's also been given some new dog food to try – Burgess . There are lots of different varieties, but she's got the Beef Casserole version which is reputed to have all the vitamins and minerals that a dog needs. She certainly loves it – you serve it (in a *porcelain dish of course) with hot water so it forms a very scrummy smelling gravy and she wolfs it down – though it has to be said she's never been fussy.

She's only been eating it for a week or so but has definitely given it the paws up so far. And as she's been given a huge sack of it, she has about a year's worth of beef casserole to enjoy. And talking of food - Himself has just presented me with a plate of home made apple tea cake. Now that is perfection itself!

(*I was kidding about the porcelain dish, though Himself has been known to serve tuna to the cat in a glass dish.)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Fisherman's Friends

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to meet the Fisherman's Friends, noted for their new album of sea shanties which is the first folk CD ever to make the Top Ten. Being a singer myself, I was keen to see them in person, and on a beautiful evening Himself and I drove up to Port Isaac, through sun dappled lanes, under Wedgewood blue skies: North Cornwall couldn't have looked better.

When I attended the launch and signing of their CD in Truro with my sister in law, we discovered that one of them was wearing a brooch made of Cornish tin. I lent over and said, “My husband designed that – and made it.”
“That's my brother!” added Shelagh.

Two weeks later, Himself and I turned up on Port Isaac quay and were met by two of the Johns (several of them are called John but I won't list their names here as it gets too confusing). Himself handed over a bag of Cardinham Cross brooches – one for each of them - that he'd made back in the days when they ran the Cornish tin jewellery business (all made from tin from the last working tin mine in Cornwall, South Crofty).

The Johns looked astonished. “Thanks, Mr Sue,” they said, and insisted on buying us a pint in the nearby pub.

The next hour was fascinating (“You'll treat us gently, won't you, Sue?”). I've never interviewed 6 people at a time (not an easy thing to do), but it was clear from their quick banter how close these men are, and what fun they have together.

What became clear is that it's not just the quality of their catchy singing that has caught the imagination of the public (though their singing is fabulous). It's also that these 10 men, ranging in age from 50-76, have been friends since they met at Port Isaac primary school.

In an age where celebrities tend to be young, self centred and obsessed with fame and fortune, it was particularly refreshing to meet these men whose lives aren't ruled by money: they are all self employed, and appreciate the beautiful place they live in. They are also proud to live in a small community where friends and family are all important. They have a sense of proportion about life.

So here's three cheers for the Fisherman's Friends, whose single No Hopers, Jokers and Rogues, is out on May 31st.

They sing most Fridays at Port Isaac at 8pm (check website for details of other gigs) and if you get to see them, have a look on their smocks – if you catch a glimpse of silver, it's a Cardinham Cross tin brooch.

Cornish good luck for very special Cornish boys.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Resident Thug

(Margaret Millar has rightly said that Bussie doesn't look much like a thug here. I would point out that he's in disguise. See end of post.)

Yesterday I was talking to my editor about cats. We were comparing notes on how our respective felines wake us up. Hers, being female, is of course much better behaved than Buster, who jumps on my pillow, stanks over to Himself and prods him until he wakes up. “He sounds rather a bully,” she said.

Actually, he's a thug. I love him dearly (sometimes more than others), but that love is tried and tested every morning at around 6am. And recently, because we dared to go and see my mum for a night, he decided to take revenge and wake us up at 5am for his breakfast.

Being a light sleeper, I always hear those feather light footsteps – or paws – as they creep into the bedroom at dawn. Then Buster jumps onto my pillow, while Mollie squeaks and jumps onto the floor. Buster prowls over the bed, nudging both of us, then returns to my pillow. I ignore him. Or pretend to, but I'm wide awake by this time.

The above exercise can tends to be repeated over and over, with Bussie using the bed as a trampoline and Molls almost wetting herself with sibling rivalry. Until eventually, one of us gives in and gets up. They are fed and we all go back to sleep again – if we're lucky.

One memorable time we'd been away for a few days and were loading our belongings onto the pavement. Bussie deigned to come and say hello, then proceeded to piss on everything. I was most angry because he was pissing on my library book, a very fat biography of Margot Fonteyn.

“What are you doing?” I shrieked like a madwoman. “Margot Fonteyn was the most famous ballerina in the world. How dare you piss on her?”

He looked at me with narrowed eyes and aimed another stream of urine at my feet. At that I decided to get our stuff inside before he could ruin anything else.

Bussie would be a very good terrorist, I've decided. (What do I mean, would be? He is.) He is very good at focusing on the job in hand, has no loyalty, isn't afraid of anyone and has NO sense of humour.

Anyone want a cat?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Itching and Sister In Law

Having written that blog title, I hasten to add that the itching has nothing to do with my sister-in-law, nor myself. But it's coming up to that time of year again. Itching time.

Apart from Mollie's allergy to fleas (a very common problem and one that the cat is responsible for), she's had another itching problem, but all non-dog owners, I suggest you look away now. This is not for the squeamish.

The second problem was anal glands. You know when dogs sniff each other's bums? This isn't anything disgusting: it's just how dogs identify each other – like us shaking hands or saying hello. These glands are also known as scent glands and they help dogs mark their territory.

Most dog owners will know about problems with these and I won't go into details here for fear of offending those of a delicate nature – or nose in this case. Suffice it to say that our first vet wasn't overly helpful, so I asked all my other dog owning friends for advice, scoured the internet and went cross-eyed with conflicting information.

The problem with the glands seemed to clear up relatively easily courtesy of changing her diet. I was advised to use a hypoallergenic diet and was recommended James Wellbeloved. (Widely available or from Nutrecare.) Within weeks her problem had sorted out, though this was also due to the fact that she was not allowed any treats (Himself sulked over this) and had to adhere to a strict diet of biscuits only. Still, it did the trick and now she is happy and problem free in that area.

So if your dog has a problem in that department, talk to your vet and perhaps try a hypoallergenic diet. It worked for Molls, it could work for you! Er, I mean, your dog of course...

And on another tack, just off to take my sister in law (over from Vermont) to Penzance. Rain is forecast, of course, but it's a joy having time with her. Come again soon, Shelagh!

(Pic of Mollie taken by Claire Wilson)

Friday, 7 May 2010

So long, farewell

This post is dedicated to a very dear friend of ours who died a few weeks ago. He was nearly 90 and had had, as they say, a colourful life, but was one of life's true charmers in the best possible way. He had wonderful manners, a quietly courteous air and a wonderful sense of humour. A real gentleman.

For the last few years of his life he was in a residential home and we would take him out most weeks for coffee. He had a passion for chocolate and would devour coffee and a chocolate muffin or brownie and then we'd take him shopping – for more chocolate. About £20 worth of those big family bars would last him a fortnight.

He was one of life's special people but sadly had very few visitors. We last saw him in hospital and knew that he didn't have long to live so that last visit was a very sad one, and our real goodbye. Which was just as well as, while a friend told us of his death, no one informed us of the funeral or the wake.

In fact one afternoon last week my sister and law and I were walking Molls and decided to go into a nearby cafe/bar for a cuppa. Mollie nosed open the door, we burst in and I was aware of a lot of people there. Thought it must be a wedding reception. But it dawned on me they were all wearing black. I saw one person who I recognised and thought – out of here!

So we retreated. Fast. Laughing at the incredulity of it all. (Wondering what all those people were doing at his funeral when they couldn't be bothered to see him when he was alive.)

And that night we had our own goodbye to a very special friend.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Dogs and Fisherman's Friends

The above picture isn't of Mollie but gives you a good idea of what she's doing at the moment.

Two canine incidents occurred this week, the first being when I was out with Molls and a friend walking near the river at Bissoe. One minute Molls was running around in front of us, the next she had disappeared down to the river, then I saw her shivering and sodden on the opposite side of the river bank.

The river is fast flowing, deep and the riverbank has eroded due to all the heavy rain this winter, so I think she managed to get herself out on the far shore but was too frightened to get back. I ordered her to stay, thinking I could run back to the road, cross the bridge and get to her that way.

Then a young bloke on a bike arrived and offered to help. "If you could just get down to her and hold her collar till I get there, that would be wonderful," I said, and the dear fellow duly obliged.

Unfortunately Molls was too freaked out and ran as soon as she saw him approaching (normally she'd run towards people not away) and jumped back into the water to swim towards me. The river bank was too deep so there was no way she could get out, but after a bit of struggling I was able to lean down into the water and pull her out, to the relief of all.

Having nearly drowned myself once, I could understand why she was a bit haywire for the next half an hour, but was a huge relief to have her back safe and sound. It wasn't till later that the "What Ifs" started churning round my head, and I was very happy to cuddle up that night with Madam safe next to me.

The second doggie incident is linked to my last post about Jill Murphy. To my delight, I received a beautiful hand made card from Jill – a hilarious cartoon about a Dither of Deerhounds – saying how much she'd enjoyed my piece on her and Dear Hound, and thanking me.

Even the writing on the envelope was embossed with gold and had a little blackbird singing above my name. I was so touched I could hardly speak.

My sister in law, who has just arrived from the States, looked at it and said, “you should frame this.” I think I will.

And this afternoon, to dodge the doggy theme entirely, we are off to see Fisherman's Friends in Truro. Go for it boys! They've got a movie deal now!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


The above is one of Jill Murphy's illustrations from Dear Hound, her latest book. Recently I was lucky enough to interview Jill Murphy, author of the Worst Witch series of books, who has turned to her own dogs for inspiration for her latest book about a deerhound that goes missing. See link to the interview here. Jill is not only a highly talented writer, but a fabulous illustrator as well and there are some heart breaking pictures in the book which derived from a true incident when her son's dog went missing.

Thankfully Dear Hound has a happy ending, but Jill's life hasn't been quite so straightforward. She's a bubbly, very attractive lady, a mix of very strong and very sensitive, and very close to her 19 year old son (and vice versa).

She has also overcome incredible hardship in her life. As a single mother, she discovered that she had breast cancer when her son was young. She got over that only to find that her mother had dementia, and made the barn next door to her house into a flat so her mum could live there. When her mother died, she discovered her aunt had dementia and brought her to live next door.

At one point, Charlie (her son) said, "Mummy do you realise we've spent the last 7 years looking after mad old ladies?" And yet Jill had some wonderfully funny stories about this time in her life (when she was also bringing up a teenage son and working). "It was a privilege to look after them," she said.

A lot of writers I've met recently have undergone a lot of difficulties, and some keep writing no matter what, whereas others don't feel able to put pen to paper. But in the end, I suppose we all muddle through.

I find work a solace, an escape. But obviously if you have a very sick partner it's not always possible to write if you're in charge of nursing, or driving to hospital. And sometimes it's just not possible to write.

But sitting on Jill's sofa, being licked to death by her gorgeous dogs (and they really are huge and lovely), I felt such admiration for this gutsy lady who, rightly, is very loved by all around her. Do read Dear Hound. It's a fascinating tribute to some very wonderful dogs.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A week of Surprises

The last few months have been difficult, observing Himself's breathing difficulties, but following extensive lung function tests and X rays on Monday, we were relieved to find that his lungs are only fractionally worse than they have been, and as his cough is improving very slowly, the consultant will see him in another three months and assess his breathing again then.

Having been told last time that the prognosis for his condition was 2-3 years, and now being told that actually he seems to be reasonably stable, you can understand why I've been worried. And he has been increasingly quiet, lacking appetite, not even enjoying his beer. As a result he's lost weight and several people have commented on how pale he is. So as we drove back home I said to Himself, “you must be relieved.” (Understatement of the year.)

“Oh, no,” he replied, gazing out of the window noncholantly.

I stared at him, stunned. “- er, what did you think had been going on over the past few months then?”

“Well, I wasn't sure, but I'm not a worrier, Pop,” came the reply.

I won't repeat what I said, but I relayed this to a friend who rang up later. Her reply was instant. “What a load of S***E” she said briskly. Which I have to say, I go along with.

But who could ever explain the meanderings of the male mind?

Another surprise – which has to do with the workings of the female mind, I'm glad to report – came today when I collected Himself from a job in the High Street. He'd been making some shelves for a young mum, and was very chirpy when I picked him up.

“She was very interested to hear how we met,” said the old lothario. “Said it was very romantic.”

Being full of sinusitis, I grunted in non-romantic fashion.

“And she gave me more money than I thought, and something for you, Pop.”

At that moment she appeared and waved from the front door: an open face with a warm smile. “This is my wife,” said Himself, and she smiled even wider.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, and turned to Himself. “See you soon, Pip,” she said, like they were old buddies.

I looked from him, down to the large jar of Quality Street in his lap, then at the bunch of paper wrapped tulips: the palest pink with a brush stroke of red.

“Thank you,” I said with a lump in my throat. I wondered what we'd done to deserve that, and reflected how such gestures can transform a day.

My smile as we drove away was almost as big as hers.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

My Hero - Wheelyboats and Flu

I'm just getting over (I sincerely hope) the worst fluey cold I've had for years. You know, where everything aches, including head, you get shivers the whole time and have not an ounce of strength anywhere. Even my hair has gone straight. Luckily Himself isn't too bad this week so he has been walking Molls (ie Very Short Walks) and will be in dire need of a Long Trek as soon as I am able.

Anyway enough of that. On to better things. Back in 1984, Himself was approached to design a boat for disabled anglers. He did the preliminary drawings and these were then taken to a marine architect to polish off (though they looked pretty polished to me). The boat was then launched by Prince Charles in 1985 and has gone from strength to strength - or so we gather. Himself was disillusioned by some of the people involved and decided he didn't want to be involved any further. As a result he declined any money or kudos.

Well, a few weeks ago he was in the van and heard something about Wheelyboats in Cornwall. We googled it when we got home and found that one's being used not far from us - and patrons include Jeremy Paxman and Bernard Cribbins (Curiouser and Curiouser...) so I emailed the Wheelyboat Trust and said "guess what? I'm married to the bloke who did the original designs" - or words to that effect.

Himself is far too modest to blow his own trumpet - pardon the pun.) I told him what I'd done and he looked horrified. "What did you do THAT for?" he said, as if I'd torched the place. I grinned smugly - I'd had a lovely email back from the Director of the Wheelyboat Trust saying how delighted he was to hear from me. He also said they'd sold over 100 boats and were launching the Mark III version of the Wheelyboat soon in Cornwall and would we be able to come along? You bet!

So any day soon we are off to Golant to meet Dick Strawbridge (he of the bulbous moustache) and other bods from the Trust and see Himself's fine work put to good use. I'm also writing a piece about it but if you want to see more about this great invention, here's the link.

Three cheers for Himself. I am so proud of him and he SHALL have his moment of fame...

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Lousy Lung Club

(As this blog has been filling up with a lot of work stuff I've decided to open a new blog just for journalism which is here. )

And now for the post itself - Once a month a group of friends and I get together for a meal. It started just over a year ago, when my Swedish friend and I got together with one of my other mates. Then I invited another friend. Then another friend came along: her partner was ill and we thought she might like a bit of company.

That friend lost her partner just over a year ago. We had a meal the night of his funeral – she wasn't there but there was a surreal air to the evening. We drank too much but it was a strangely happy time and I felt blessed to have such good friends.
It was reassuring, like a close family.

More than a year on, I noticed that the dynamics change regularly. One of us who was newly divorced has a new man. For the two who are single, other men have come and gone (in every sense of the word). A new man in the offing for one but of course with Complications.

None of these women knew each other before I introduced them, and as someone who prefers meeting one-to-one, this was quite a new thing for me. I felt out of my comfort zone at first, but each time we meet it gets easier as the talk flows and ebbs like the tide. It's interesting to see how friendship shifts and grows, like a plant putting out feelers, winding round each and every one of us.

Something that three of them have in common is Lousy Lungs. So as Himself has been suffering of late, Nik suggested that he should come along as Honorary Girl. A notion that was loudly approved of by the others, I'm glad to say.

He refused, but the other night his health was discussed at length. I hadn't realised quite how much support we (he and I) have, and I am most profoundly grateful. It means more than I can possibly describe and gives me a warm, snuggly feeling, like an inner duvet, or that old Ready Brek glow.

The friend who lost her partner said to me one day that she has taken his advice and now takes each day at a time. And while I'm worried over Himself's health, I've discovered this is a really good way to try and be. In amidst all the What Ifs that the brain is so good at coming up with, there are moments of intense happiness that I treasure all the more.

So here's to all members of the Lousy Lung Club – of both sexes. What would I do without you?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Ten Pin Bowling

I'd naively thought that ten pin bowling would be really easy. Easy? Hah! But great fun..... Cornwall Today March 2010

2010 marks the 50th anniversary of ten pin bowling being played commercially in Great Britain. So it seemed fitting that, being very slightly over 50, I should have my first go at the game. After all, it couldn't be that difficult – could it?

Richard Harris, 45 has been General Manager of Ocean Bowl in Falmouth since it opened in 2002.
“I've bowled for the county, managed and captained the county team and played in various competitions,” he said in his quiet, unassuming voice. “It's an active sport, it's energetic and sociable. Because it's indoors you can play in any weather.” And judging by the bar next door, you could have a drink as well. Sounded good to me.

Richard undertook teacher training which helped him improve his game, and he is now qualified to teach beginnners and intermediate players. Looking around, the players varied a lot. Richard smiled: “Yes, we get all ages, from 5-80, though there are roughly 60% men to 40% women. Ten ten pin bowling attracts all kinds of people. We get children's parties, corporate events – staff events and bonding sessions,” he told me. “The Navy also come from Culdrose for sports events.” There are also various leagues for those that wish to play competitively, and 'roll offs' for selection of the county team.

But as I was having a lesson, first of all I had to change my shoes. “You have to wear special shoes but that's included in the price,” Richard explained as he kitted me out with a pair of rather fetching red, white and blue lace up shoes. “They're smooth so you can slide into a shot.” I had no idea what he was talking about but it sounded good and I had visions of myself expertly bowling the perfect shot.

I asked him about the lanes. “There are 12 wooden lanes, 60 foot from the foul line to the head pin. The lanes are made of pine and mahogany which is about six layers thick,” he explained. I watched other people having a go, and wondered why it was so popular. Richard smiled. “People can get addicted,” he said. “Particularly when you start scoring – you have to to score higher each time.” I nodded, though I couldn't imagine it.

But I had no time to think about addiction, as the lesson started in earnest. First Richard showed me the balls. “These vary in weight from 6-16lbs and you measure the ball by hand spec and weight,” he told me. He chose a large red number for me weighing 10lbs which seemed incredibly heavy, but “the heavier the ball the more pin reaction you get.” He showed me how to hold the ball: “Middle and ring fingers in the top holes and thumb in the lower hole. If you can hold it comfortably for 10 seconds it's about the right weight.” It wasn't exactly comfortable, but I persevered.

“You have to think of the ball as a clock face and your thumb at 12 o'clock. You want to release the ball with the thumb between 10 and 11 and the fingers between 4 and 5.” Richard could obviously see the completely blank expression on my face and explained further. “As you're right handed, the ball is released anticlockwise and that gives a hook which means the ball comes in at an angle which will knock more pins down.”

It sounded all right, but now to do it? Richard talked me through it, making it look incredibly easy. “The way to release the ball is either to think of shaking hands with somebody or having a drink if that's easier to learn. Then your arm comes up in a follow through which gives more rotation on the ball. Keep your shoulders level and parallel to the foul lane.”

My head was buzzing, but we then learned about where to stand. “The approach is the part leading up to the lanes, and there are markers on the approach to help you remember where to stand,” said Richard, “and wooden arrows on the lanes – you need to aim for the second on the right rather than the actual pins.”

All this and I hadn't even taken a shot. But that was next. Richard had me kneeling (hard on the poor knees on a wooden floor) with my left foot forward. “The left arm is out for balance, now swing the ball back and release it forward with the thumb at 10 or 11 o'clock. Aim for the second arrow, and don't forget the follow through.” Getting the hang of this 10 or 11 o'clock business was a lot harder than it sounded. Next we tried the one step drill, standing up. “The left knee has to be bent, and you slide into the shot with the right foot skewed behind to keep balance.” I also had to remember what to do with my hands and feet. How could I remember all that?

That, it turns out, was a mere warm up. Now for the four step approach. “Take four steps back and a half step, then pivot round on your toes and that's the distance you need to be from the foul line,” said Richard. “Get the stance: stand straight, feet parallel, and hold the ball in both hands, cradling it. Weight on the left foot, step on the right foot, holding the ball in both hands, extend the right arm, let go of the ball with the left hand which comes out to the left, at shoulder height, facing the lanes.” He'd lost me already, but I had a go. “With the second step, swing the ball forwards, then back, then the last step slides forward into letting go of the ball, and the right foot goes behind and across the left one to balance.” Richard executed the perfect shot, moving like a dancer from Ballet Rambert. When I tried I just lost my balance. And don't ask me where the ball went.

But I was determined to have another go – and another. And another. Waiting for my ball to return I glanced across at several teenagers playing with gusto, like true professionals. They played so fast, though Richard said I was probably bowling at about 15mph. It felt like 5mph – a granny version of the game.

After an hour and a half I had to leave, but I was glowing. Even if you're as bad as me, the temptation is just to have one more shot......

Ten pin bowling is believed to date back to the Egyptian Pharoahs, but the first written reference dates back to 1366 when King Edward III banned the game, fearing it would interfere with archery practice. A painting from around 1810 shows British bowlers playing the sport outdoors, with a triangular formation of ten pins.

Glossary of terms
Strike - When all 10 pins are knocked down with one ball. You get 10 points for these pins, plus the points of the next 2 balls thrown.
Spare - All 10 pins are knocked down with 2 consecutive balls. You get 10 points for this plus the points of the pins that the next ball knocks down.
Game - A game consists of 10 frames (or turns) per person.
Frame - A frame is one turn.
Foul Line - The black line at the start of the lane.
Foul - You will receive a foul if you step over the foul line.
A Double – When you get 2 strikes in a row.
A Turkey – If you get 3 strikes in a row.
Gutter – The sections either side of the lane where the ball ends up if they come off the lane or you miss.

Ocean Bowl, Pendennis Rise, Falmouth TR11 4LT
01326 313130
Open 11am-11pm, 7 days a week
Prices start from £3.50 per game