Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Free-e-day


I'm a bad blogger, an AWOL blogger - if my blog were my house it would be thigh-deep in dust. Hey, wait a minute, my house IS thigh-deep in dust. Art imitates life or what?

Why the absence? Well, I've been trying to concentrate on writing. As many of you know I wrote a children's/YA book called Walker - which languished in a bottom drawer for some considerable time (adding to the dust factor). A few months back I posted it up on Authonomy and now it's riding high at #7 in the charts. I've had amazing feedback and have rewritten it several times (and have a few more rewrites left to go I fear) so the experience has been fabulous.

While on the site, I have met some marvellous people. One, Dan Holloway, has a dream of spreading words and art and music through the Internet for free. So he has set up an initiative called Free-e-day - going live for December 1st - and you can find out more by visiting the blog...here....

I've offered up the first chunk of Walker (and will happily send the rest to anyone who is interested - once it's edited!).... check it out here....
Also, check out the downloads from two superb authors, Traci York and Kim Jewell.

If you fancy getting involved in any way do have a look at the blog......and please spread the word by any means you fancy.... Something for nothing? Can't be bad.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Thank you, Liz Jones


Back to school. Eventually the interminable summer holidays ended and James returned for his last year at primary school. Trousers too long and baggy, hair amazingly neat after the wild mop of summer. New bag, new pencil-case, new school shoes, new (well, new to him) blazer.
Of course the sun came out and laughed at us. It always does.
I’ll miss summer: the lie-ins, louche time-keeping followed by late nights to hit looming deadlines; sitting by the river watching the boys bodyboarding down the Barle while we sip Moscow Mules; dashing off to the beach at the faintest hint of sun. But I also love September, that crisp new start.
New Year doesn’t really do it for me but Autumn ticks all the boxes for a fresh beginning. And it does feel like that, this year, it really does.

As regular readers know, it’s been a tough year, following on ten tough years, if I’m honest. When mum died in December, I plunged into yet another depression and the world felt very bleak indeed. If I’m brutally honest, there were days when there just didn’t seem any point to anything and only the thought of my little family kept me going.

But now it feels as if I’m slowly, cautiously, emerging from the sludge. My detox has segued into healthy eating (rather than binge retoxing) and I’m planning to get back to aerobics, fitball and circuit training. I’ve been playing squash again and, while I’m hopelessly unfit, it’s huge fun. I’m going to get sociable and have friends round again (I’ve neglected them for far too long). Above all, I’m going to get everything in perspective and be grateful for everything I’ve got.

Two events really rammed the message home in the last week. Firstly a good friend told me she was going into hospital for what would be a life-saving operation. If she didn’t have it, she would be dead by the end of October. Now that really does concentrate the mind.
Secondly, and I barely like to put the two people on the same page, let alone paragraph, I recorded Woman’s Hour in a head-to-head with the Daily Mail writer Liz Jones. To cut a long and exceedingly boring story short, I had written about LJ in the Telegraph in response to her columns in which she kept running down Exmoor. Apparently we’re a bloodthirsty lot; our farmers are negligent; our men are toothless and decrepit; our teenagers are feral; our pubs are crap and the people who work in the local Co-op all have special needs. I suggested that maybe this wasn’t the most tactful way to ease oneself into rural life. Liz objected, implying she was singlehandedly supporting our local economy with her expensive lifestyle and we should be damn grateful. So we went on Radio 4 to debate how best to make the shift from city to country.

It was supposed to go out live but the producer said that, having spoken to Liz Jones the day before, they would have to pre-record as Jones was seemingly incapable of keeping calm and holding a rational conversation when it came to me.
Sure enough a large part of the recording was unusable as Liz just ranted and poor Jane Garvey could not stop her for love nor money. Most of it was just silly, such as asking why, if I cared about Exmoor, I didn’t employ twelve full-time builders (er, because I can’t afford to). But one point was really interesting.
‘I’m the best thing that’s happened to you in ten years, aren’t I Jane?’ she spat.
At the time I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t have replied, even had she given me the opportunity.
But it made me think. What IS the best thing that’s happened to me in the past ten years? My son, James, is the obvious first answer. Followed by moving to Dulverton. Followed by meeting and becoming friends with some fabulous people. Yes, I suppose I should include Asbo Jack and the mad, crazy, still half-finished Bonkers House. And the fact that I still love my husband to pieces and have a hugely happy marriage (even if he does bore for Britain on the joys of beer).

And, at that point, I felt sorry for Liz Jones, I really did. Poor little rich girl who says she has spent £400,000 on clothes, who has a drop-dead gorgeous farmhouse (albeit NOT on the moor where she claims it is) and feels the need to preface every household and item of clothing with a designer name. I suppose she thought that going on Woman’s Hour was the pinnacle of my career but, to be honest, I work to live rather than live to work. My career is certainly low-key nowadays but that’s the way I rather like it. I’ve done the newspapers and the glossy mags, I’ve sat at fashion shows and been flown first-class and interviewed rock stars. I’ve been on TV and radio. It was fun at the time, it was a hoot but it was just a job (albeit a very privileged one). Would I want to do it now? No, I wouldn’t, because it would mean being away from my home and my family.

She doesn’t have that. I know you will say it’s her own fault; that if she stopped writing about everyone she meets and didn’t dismiss everyone who isn’t gorgeous and rich and young and vegan, then she could probably find happiness (and even a man) relatively easily. But I still think it’s sad.

So, back at the Bonkers House, I’m counting my blessings on this lovely autumn day. Would I change my life for all Liz’s trappings of wealth? Would I want to see my face plastered over the dailies? No, not in a month of Sundays. Would I even want to be that thin (had to think about that one for a moment but, um, well, not if it meant cosmetic surgery and a vegan diet). She’s certainly not the best thing that’s happened to me but she has reminded me very forcefully of what the best things really are.
So, for that, thank you Liz.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Teaching steam room meditation to Americans

There are times when I truly love my job. I’m typing this, swathed in a fluffy white robe, at the antique desk in my suite at the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath.
I pitched up yesterday, rather hot and more than a little wet and windswept, pulling my M&S case behind me like a reluctant terrier.
‘Do you have a car, madam?’
‘Nope, just me.’ Smiling brightly and wiping a line of perspiration off my forehead.
‘Just the one case?’
‘I'm detoxing.’
Not sure he got that one.

If you’re going to detox you may as well do it somewhere nice and the Royal Crescent is nice, very nice. Location? Couldn’t be more gorgeous if it tried. Style? Trades on its neo-Classical good looks to the extreme with that rather grand yet extremely comfy English country house look: big squashy sofas, swathed four posters, antiques hanging around louchely as if they were just any old IKEA job-lot. I was expecting a nice room but I wasn’t expecting an entire suite, complete with a chandelier, fireplace (working) and a massive Joshua Reynolds (yes, the real mccoy) on the wall. Seriously you could fit the average modern house into this and have room to spare.

It’s a bit weird though, staying in a hotel prized for its food and wine and not being able to eat or drink it. I reckon it would have been kind to have removed the wine list and the menu from the welcome pack and though my view out the front looks over a nicely healthy green to the hills beyond, from the bedroom I can watch the diners trip-trap in and out of The Dower House restaurant. Still. I have my tree syrup and lemon juice flask and, weirdly, wonderfully, I haven’t been hungry since I got here (and we’re talking well over 24 hours now).

The spa is a good ‘un. It’s small and down-to-earth and the therapists know what they’re doing and clearly enjoy their work. The actual workhouse part of the spa is earthy and organic, with rough slate floors and dim lights – very kind to the less than svelte. Actually, it was a huge relief to find that the clientele at the Bath House are not size zero supermodels but nicely solid, chunky forty-pluses on the whole, serenely swimming up and down the very warm pool.

It’s pretty evenly mixed between men and women too. I plunged into the steam room to find someone, a male someone, already sitting there. Now it’s OK if there are several people, and it’s OK if you’re the only one – but just two of you is always a bit uneasy. I tend to keep schtum other than a polite nod and sat down opposite, tucking one leg up underneath. After a few minutes I realised this was a very uncomfortable position and swung my leg up and into a half-lotus (nothing smart about it, just always been able to do it and find it comfortable).
‘Aha,’ said my steam-mate who, judging by his accent was American.
‘So you’re meditating? Good idea.’
And he promptly swung up his legs and placed his hands on his knees and started breathing deeply.
Dear God. So, we sat like that for what seemed like forever. Him meditating; me pretending I was meditating and wondering how long a decent steam session meditation might take.
Finally he got up.
‘Thank you so much,’ he said. ‘I never realised that was what you’re supposed to do.’
He’ll probably go back to LA and set up sauna meditation (though they probably already do it).

I went off for my reflexology session with a lovely woman called Pam who told me that my liver was ‘stressed’ and that I had problems with my ears, bladder and immune system. ‘Good job you’re having a detox,’ she said sympathetically.

I slept for a straight twelve hours and then spent a couple of hours being scrubbed and hosed and then massaged by the fab Fran, who has the wonderful nack of knowing when to chatter inanely (when your boobs are being swept hither and thither by a strong shower jet) and when to be silent (when you’re being soothed into slumber).

I love nothing more than a massage but I do wish someone would invent a massage table that not only has a hole for your face but also a couple for your boobs and hey, maybe one for the stomach too.
I shared this thought with Fran and she burst out laughing.
‘Actually that’s a really horrible idea, isn’t it?’ I said, imagining my tits hanging down under the table like udders.

So now I’m back in my room(s) and, though I suppose I should be catching up on emails and so on, the bed is calling and, hey, it would be plain rude not to make the most of it, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Why perfect holidays don't involve men



‘We need fairy lights,’ said Jools firmly.
We were having a summit meeting at the Bonkers House to discuss our forthcoming camping trip to Croyde in North Devon.
‘Fairy lights?’ I said weakly, pouring out more wine and breaking into another packet of hula hoops (Adrian away so low on shopping).
‘Absolutely. And parasols and pretty bowls. I’m thinking pink and orange as our theme. Have you got a pink flowery tablecloth?’
‘As a matter of fact, yes.’
‘Good. Bring that. And that silvery tray with the tea lights on it. Don’t suppose you’ve got bunting?’
‘Er, no.’
‘Shame.’

Last time I went camping I was sixteen and madly in love with some nerd called Peter. A crowd of us went to the Yorkshire Dales and it was mighty minimal. Everything had to fit in or on or dangling from our rucksacks (including the tents). It rained the whole time and we spent the entire week trying to persuade the local landlords that we really were eighteen in order to get into the pub and get warm. I developed chilblains, flu and a taste for Theakstons Old Peculiar. I never did get off with Peter which, in retrospect, is probably a very good thing.

‘Help,’ I wailed to my friend Rachel later on the phone. ‘I think camping has changed since I last went. They said I need blow-up beds – and chairs – and fairy lights.’
‘I’ve got all that – come and get ‘em.’

So the next day James and I picked up Adrian from Tiverton Parkway (en route home from the Great British Beer Festival and surprisingly not as slaughtered as usual) and headed over to Rachel’s. I wish I could be as calm as Rachel (and she’s not even taking the happy pills). She was in the middle of supper, with three children AND guests but was she fazed? Not remotely. She plonked a glass of wine in my hand, sent James off to see the new piglets and went to rummage in the barn.
‘Do you need three mattresses?’
‘Nope, just two.’
‘What? Ron’s not going?’ She always calls Adrian Ron. Don’t ask.
‘Don’t be silly. He’s allergic to camping.’
He insists, of course, that he’s not. It’s just that, were he to camp, it would be deeply macho, halfway up a mountain, battling the elements camping. Modern camping is, he insists, too consumerist, too suburban, too middle-class, too irritatingly smug. I suggest this might be projection and he has the grace to look sheepish.

Anyhow, we left Rachel’s loaded with ‘essential’ gear – camping chairs, tables, solar powered lanterns and fairy lights, strap-on head torches, glo-sticks….
‘We seriously need all this?’
‘Absolutely.’

We departed Dulverton in convoy with the Killers blaring out. Four middle-aged women, two teenage girls and two ten year-old boys.
‘Rick doesn’t believe we’ll get the tents up,’ said Tracey.
‘Oh don’t be so ridiculous,’ said Jools.
It took an hour to pitch two huge tents (with a few breaks for tea and brownies) and then another hour to embellish our campsite to Jools’ satisfaction. Fairy lights festooned the wind-breaks, pink raffia parasols kept out the sun, the jugs and bowls and glasses were all perfectly colour-coordinated. And, yup, the sun was shining.

Someone handed me a glass of wine. Ah but this was fun. This wasn’t the tough hard trudge I remembered.

We wandered down to the beach and the waves were huge. We set up our pop-up tent and everyone (bar Tracey and I who felt we ought to look after base camp) plunged into the sea with body boards and surfboards.
As the sun sunk lower, the waves came in. A sense of warm satisfaction broke over me.
‘Time for sundowners,’ said Jools, dripping happily. And we cracked open another bottle.

A barbecue back at the campsite plus a huge jug of Pimms. The sun set red and rich over the sea and, as the moon rose huge and full over the hills, the fairy lights twinkled into action.

It was perfect. Just perfect. In fact, so perfect that it was worrisome. What was it? Ah yes. Nobody had moaned. Nobody had disagreed. Nobody had demanded we do things differently or ‘my way’.
‘What a fabulous day,’ said Maggie with a sigh.
‘So peaceful,’ said Tracey.
‘Why is that?’ I asked, still puzzled.
‘You really haven't figured it out?' said Jools.

'No men,’ said Maggie.

Just then James and Jack came hurtling back down the hill and tumbled into camp.
‘I’m faster than you are,’
‘No you’re not. I am.’
'Not.'

Jools raised an eyebrow in an 'I rest my case' sort of way. We smiled indulgently, leant back in our chairs and poured another Pimms.




Friday, 17 July 2009

In which Adrian nearly drowns and wrecks our holiday

All my life I’ve had this image of the perfect day at the beach. The sun is shining and it’s deliciously warm (not too hot, definitely not raining). The sand is soft and I’m lying on the dear old tartan rug in the shade of rocks (Celtic skin doesn’t do sunbathing) listening to the waves softly slapping the sand. Nice things are sizzling on the barbecue and I have a glass of bubbly in my hand as my boys splash merrily in the sea, their laughter floating on the gentle sea breeze.

It was there, it was absolutely (well nearly absolutely) there. On a beach in Cornwall just last week. This is it, I thought. I have finally, FINALLY achieved the dream. This is the day that will wipe out all the failures and disasters; it will sweep aside the days of lashing rain and jellyfish and turds floating on the waves. This is, quite simply, It. Bliss.

Adrian and James were snorkelling. Adrian very James Bond in his new wetsuit and, dare I say it, ever so slightly vain about his newfound sub aqua prowess.
‘Now James,’ he said, in strong paternal tones. ‘There are several rules you have to follow. These are…..’ pause for effect…

‘One – stay close to me – don’t go swimming off on your own.
Two – don’t go out of your depth.
Three – keep an eye on where you are – water can be deceptive.
Four – don’t stay in too long – you’ll get tired and cold.’

James nodded solemnly and off they went. I pulled the top off my ready mixed G&T and lay back with my book (Marion Keyes’ This Charming Man – one slightly irritating POV but her usual mix of humour and hardhitting issues). Every so often I bobbed up, turned the sausages and checked their progress. Two little heads, like seals, a long way off.

I have a morbid imagination, I can’t help it. I played out this horrible scenario in which I couldn’t see the heads anymore, in which they had vanished. I got as far as the bit where I’m being sedated by the doctors and then driving home alone to an empty house and weeping over my ex-family’s scent on the clothes in the overflowing laundry basket. It’s an awful habit and I slapped myself on the wrist. Stop it. It’s a perfect day. All is well. They are together. Adrian would never let James drown. Pulled the ring-pull off the second G&T and sighed with pleasure.

‘Hi Mum,’ James padding up the beach.
‘Hi love. Want a drink?’ Not a G&T I hasten to add.
We sat and sipped, watched the waves.
‘Where’s Dad?’
‘No idea. I was getting cold so told him we should get out but he wanted to stay in.’
We both peered. No sign of a head. No sign of kicking feet. Just the far off rocks, waves crashing into them.
‘He’ll be fine, Mum.’
‘Of course he will.’ I will NOT succumb to neurotic obsessive behaviour.

Twenty minutes later he emerged, staggering up the beach. Gone was the cocky surf-god demeanour. He looked knackered – and shaken.
‘Hi love. Want a sausage?’
‘I nearly drowned.’
‘Ho ho, ho.’
‘I nearly DROWNED.’

James and I looked at each other.
Turns out he had been quietly snorkelling along, blithely disregarding all his own advice. Came up and didn’t know where he was – couldn’t see the beach. However hard he swam he felt himself being pulled out. Panicked. Swallowed water. Found the beach and called ‘Er, hi,’ in a very British embarrassed voice to some people on the shore. They didn’t hear. Swallowed more water and tried again.
‘Hellooooo.’
People smiled and waved.
‘Er. Help.’ In a small voice.
‘What? Sorry, can’t hear you.’
‘Help.’ Still couldn’t bring himself to shout it.

At this point, he said, he was overcome with a sense of complete and utter unfairness. How totally ludicrous to drown within sight of a beach, with your wife and child merrily prodding the barbecue. He wondered if his body would be found, bloated and nibbled by fishes or whether we would go home leaving him in a watery grave.
‘Worse of all,’ he said. ‘I knew you wouldn’t do me a memorial.’
What?
And then, just as he was saying his final goodbyes, looking wistfully at us far away, clinking cans, laughing totally unaware of his plight, he stopped trying to swim and put his feet down…..and (yup, you know what’s coming) touched the sandy bottom. Stood up, shook himself down and walked out perfectly alive and in a right palava.

Poor chap. Since we got back, he’s been telling everyone about his near-drowning and is very reproachful that I haven’t been more sympathetic. I would be, I really would – but somehow the comedy elements are too strong. Still, it’s a cautionary tale and just goes to show you CAN nearly drown in an inch of water. Oh, OK, three foot. But, serious voice now, DO take care.


Slightly insane footnote
Now this may seem a bit bonkers, given our ‘heatwave summer’ has collapsed into a soggy mess. But, ever optimistic, I’m going to offer you free suncream! Nivea have brought out a new pocket size children’s suncream (factor 30 and 50), designed to be popped into handbag or rucksack without weighing you down (or spilling all over the shop). The first ten people to click the link will be sent a free full-size sample (all Nivea ask in return is that you give some brief feedback on the product).

So, come on, let’s be optimistic eh? If we wear it, it will come (the sun). Maybe. No? Nah, I’m not sure either…..but what the heck. Click here and let's bring on summer:
http://niveasunkids.dbmblogs.co.uk/request-a-free-sample/?siteName=Exmoor

PS - pic is James, not Adrian.......I may be cruel and heartless but I'm not THAT cruel and heartless.

PPS - Beth, if you're reading this, DON'T tell your Mum or Doris - you know they would be worrying themselves into early graves.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Torture by trombone, and flute, and clarinet and recorder


‘Oh God, it’s the school concert on Wednesday,’ said Annie glumly, swirling pink fizz round her glass.
‘Damn,’ said Sam. ‘I’d clean forgotten. Not sure I can get away with missing two years running.’
‘We went last year – AND the year before. I was thinking that we could pull a sickie this year with relative impunity,’ said Sue, sucking on an olive.
‘Hmm. They look out for that,’ said Joyce, an old hand with her fourth child going through the system. ‘If you want to be really safe, call her in sick at the beginning of the week.’

It puzzles me, this. I’ve yet to find a parent who actually enjoys the school summer concert. Every year we moan and bitch about it. Every year we try to wriggle out of it. Are we really all such terrible mothers?
What makes it worse is that it’s supposed to be ‘fun’. The idea is that everyone comes along and camps out in the marquee and at half-time (sorry, still thinking sport, I mean, in the interval) we lay out our picnic rugs, open up our hampers and clink champagne glasses and generally have a super jolly sociable time.

In theory it’s lovely. In practice it’s hell. Firstly school finishes at 4.30pm and the concert doesn’t start until 7pm. So you’re left batting round town with a bored hungry child and nowhere to go. The only places open are the Wetherspoons (full of old soaks) and the McDonalds (full of fat slobs) – OK, massive over-generalisation but you know what I mean. Secondly the darn thing goes on until about 9.45pm so by the time we get home James isn’t in bed until 10.30pm and is completely knackered, cranky and foul the following day.
Thirdly, it’s interminable and being brutally honest, unless your child is actually playing, turgid to the extreme. Actually, come to think of it, it’s even worse if your child IS playing. I know, I know, I should be more charitable and I should be overcome with gooeyness at small children playing big instruments but by God what’s worse than 7 year olds on violins or the combined onslaught of twelve trombones? Or a thirty-piece recorder ensemble (surely there must be a better collective noun for recorders – a squeal? A screech?).

Thank heavens for Annie who stoically volunteered to collect James and keep him amused until the concert and to save us a seat behind a pillar.
This year I had fully intended to play the game, be a good sport, shave my legs and wear a linen skirt or something. I also resolved to pull together a posh picnic and sling in a bottle of something chilled (in the realisation that most sensible parents get through it by getting totally sloshed). Of course it didn’t happen. Time slurped past and it was too late to defuzz and pluck so on went the black jeans. Clean forgot the picnic so we had a frantic trolleydash around M&S for food. Arrived hot, sweaty and with a grubby carrier bag instead of a nice wicker picnic hamper or a trendy tiffin stack.
Annie was her usual calm collected self (always is, despite having a furiously demanding job), sitting serenely with a batch of saved seats, firing off emails on her blackberry and keeping four boys under control at the same time. Yup, two sneaky mothers had somehow managed to skive off altogether and parked theirs with her (God, I envied their style). She even had a pukka picnic, proper plates and wotnot, cream to go with the strawberries (which were decanted into bowls). We meanwhile hoiked bits of salami straight from the pack.

What can I say? For the most part we simply endured but there were a few moments of pure gold. The pre-prep brass group was fabulous – five and six year olds squeezing farts and burps out of shiny trumpets, tubas and trombones. The clarinets were even better. Just the two boys (friends of James) on one end of a phalanx of girls with one boy visibly prodding the other as he kept hitting bum notes. As the piece progressed the notes squeaked more, the prodding got harder and in the end the protagonist collapsed in hysterics. They had another go but it was a lost cause and after a few bars and a lot of hysterical squeaks they gave up, the girls giving withering looks to the boys who merrily waved and raised their instruments in triumph as the audience whooped and clapped (presumably out of sheer relief for a break in the monotony).

Then it was time for the staff song. They’d gone for Abba’s Money Money Money which came out a little dirgy (and wildly off-key on the part of the men).
Annie raised an eyebrow. ‘Bit ironic really, given the current climate,’ she hissed. Rumour has it that quite a few parents are struggling to meet the fees in the recession (and boy do I sympathise with that). There were lots of resigned nods at the lines: ‘I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay’ and a few glum faces at ‘it’s a rich man’s world.’

We hurtled out at the end, relief etched deep.
‘Back again on Friday for Speech Day,’ said Annie as we parted company in the car park.
‘Same deal? Sit together and share the agony?’
I nodded gratefully.

PS - the picture is where I'd rather have been sitting. Ie outside my house with a glass of chilled pinot.
PPS - just HUGE thanks for the incredible support re the Liz Jones blog. It really seemed to touch a nerve but sadly doubt it will make any difference to her stance.



Monday, 15 June 2009

Leave Dulverton alone, Liz Jones


‘We’ve had the most wonderful holiday ever,’ said the woman sitting next to me in the pub with the broadest of grins. I’d got talking to her and her husband a fortnight earlier when they’d just arrived and we’ve bumped into them here, there and everywhere in the interim. ‘We tried out all the places you recommended and we found a few more too,’ she said, making my mouth water as she detailed every fabulous supper, every cool glass of pinot. ‘You are so lucky to have such great places to eat and drink round here. And it’s so beautiful. And the people are so friendly.’
She’s right on all counts. We are. It is. They are.

Dulverton is a small town but it’s packed with good things. We are blessed with great small shops – both of the everyday useful variety (greengrocers, hardware, newsagent, chemist etc) and the totally non-essential but deeply delightful variety. You can buy everything from a saddle to a pair of f***-me heels, an antiquarian book to a fishing rod, a set of Sophie Conran cookware to a sack of dog biscuits.


Woods (as many of you know) is a fabulous bar/restaurant which serves seriously smart food (alongside a robust bar menu). The landlord, Paddy, is a connoisseur of wine and beer – and you can drink any of his vast selection of wines by the glass. It’s been feted in every paper and guide going and is always packed. The Bridge offers superior pub grub – home-made pizzas and pies, steaks and salads – and has to have one of the most gorgeous locations – right next to the river. We have a Thai restaurant which is excellent and slightly further afield are other excellent eateries (the Quarryman’s Rest in nearby Bampton is a favourite and my new best friends seriously rated the Tarr Farm restaurant, just up over the moor). OK, it's not London - you can't get a choice of organic vegan cafes or decide you fancy dim sum on a Sunday morning - but it truly isn't a culinary desert.

It’s a lively community too, a right old mix of ages and interests. And yes, people are friendly, very friendly. We all know that tourists are vital for our town’s wellbeing and they are made hugely welcome – not just for their credit cards but for the buzz they give the town. People work hard, darn hard to make Dulverton work and to keep it as a living breathing town. So I do get cross when I hear people running it down. This has been brewing for a long time and I have been sitting on my hands for months, nay two years, but it’s time to say to Liz Jones, enough already.

Liz Jones, for those who don’t read the Mail on Sunday, writes a weekly column in YOU magazine about her life. In the past this has revolved around her disastrous relationship but, ever since she moved near to Dulverton, her favourite gripe seems to be Exmoor itself.

Nothing is right. It seems we’re all uncouth yokels with hairy legs and armpits, downing our flagons of cider and doddering around, crashing into one another as we’re all so ancient and decrepit. Except, of course, when we toss aside our Zimmer frames on Sundays to hurtle out to blast pheasants from the sky. For pity’s sake, someone tell her nobody shoots pheasants on Sundays – they’re taking a pot at bits of clay. Apparently there’s nowhere decent to eat – all you can get in the ‘wine bars’ and ‘bistros’ are chicken in a basket and rum-babas. I wouldn’t mind if it were true but it isn’t. I wouldn’t even be so cross if it were funny or witty. But it’s all just so clichéd. So stereotypical. So lazy.

If Liz had come to Exmoor with an open mind and open heart, she would have been made hugely welcome. Exmoor loves mavericks and eccentrics and would have smiled, indulged and probably feted her (and she would have found a mass of material for her column). But all she has done is moan and gripe and poke fun at her neighbours and the surrounding area. Why, people wonder, did she come in the first place? A lot of the locals reckon she’s only here to get a good book out of the place. I am prepared to be more charitable. She clearly loves her animals (even if she does think that feeding rats on organic muesli is a good idea) and she probably fell for that age-old idea that things will be better in the country than in the big city. Well, they can be. But you have to make an effort. You have to meet people halfway, if not more. You have to introduce yourself to your neighbours (not turn them away because you’re ‘in the middle of a photo shoot’). You have to pitch up to things. You have to try things you would never normally do in the city. You have to recognise that country living is entirely different. In the city you tend to mix with your own narrow band of people – when I lived in London, it was all media, fashion, arty types. In the country you meet a much broader cross-section and that is its delight.
Above all, you have to adapt. You can’t expect the countryside to change itself for you. It’s not too late (not quite) and Liz, if I can offer just a few bits of advice…..

1. Ditch the BMW and get yourself a good old Suzuki or Subaru.
2. Stop feeding the rats – truly, people are laughing.
3. Try smiling as you come into the pub. Get chatting at the bar.
4. Accept that you won’t stop people shooting or fishing or hunting or farming out here. It just ain’t gonna happen. Live and let live.
5. Please stop calling hooves ‘paws’. Ditto to 2.
6. Learn how to reverse.
7. Stop going on about Prada, Laboutins and so on – not only is it vulgar but it’s pretty offensive to the hoards of people out here who are on minimum wage.
8. Stop winging about your dilapidated farmhouse. It’s gorgeous. Drop-dead gorgeous. Or it was.
9. Stop with the impression that you live right on the moor (now that really IS another country). Ditto the bits about seeing the sea (physically impossible).
10. Start doing your bit for Exmoor – you’re a journalist with a lot of power. Use it kindly and wisely.

The last is really important. The woman in the pub paused over her glass of wine. ‘You know the funny thing?’ she said. ‘We nearly didn’t come at all.’
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘Well, I read Liz Jones in YOU magazine and she keeps going on about how ghastly the food is, and how barbaric Exmoor is, and it very nearly put me off. It was my husband who insisted we should give it a go, that surely it couldn’t be that bad.’

So, Liz, if you should ever happen to read this – please stop with the running down. It’s one thing to play fast and loose with your own relationships and friendships in print – but when you run the risk of taking away a small country town’s much-needed income for the sake of column inches, it simply isn’t fair or just.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Blogs I love #1

Sometimes, as I wander around the blogosphere, I come across strange and curious delights. It struck me that rather than just bung them on my blogroll, where only chance curiosity will lead other bloggers to discover them, I could be more proactive and highlight them every so often. So, without much further ado, I take great pleasure in introducing the wonderful Susan Sandford who blogs as Artsparker....
Susan is a madly talented illustrator and artist and you can see her commercial work at this website....
I have been adoring her Alice in Wonderland montages for some time (see a few examples below) but now she has launched on a hilarious series of encounters from the TV series Lost. I would urge you to go over and have a look and a laugh.....(oh and please ask Susan if you want to reproduce any of her pictures on your own blog).
Always had a soft spot for the Cheshire cat......

I think this is possibly my all-out favourite from the Alice series. I once played the Mad March Hare (badly) in a school production.


Sawyer (oh still my beating heart) tackles Bosco.....don't you love the shadows?

Painting the roses......


Oh, btw, have posted new material on my other (serious) blog
about cranial osteopathy for babies, ways to protect yourself from swine flu and how even picky parents can cope with DisneyWorld!




Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Favourite children's fiction


Children and YA fiction is my true guilty pleasure. It’s a funny thing but, while I flinch at adult fantasy, I will lap it up when written for a younger audience. Why is that, do you reckon? The children’s books just seem more imaginative somehow and more earthed. I’ve always justified buying a disgustingly decadent amount of children’s fiction on the grounds that I’m merely furnishing a superb library for James. Only thing – he has grown up hating anything remotely spooky or supernatural. So my favourites languish... Well, not really as oddly, I can re-read these again and again while I will never go back to an adult book.
Here, for those who might have children of finer taste and discretion (or share my penchant for marvellously spooky or strange tales), are my total and absolute favourites (for this week at least).

The Old Beloveds
(C S Lewis and Tolkien go without saying)

· The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – classic up in the highest tower of the castle stuff…just magical. The sequel, The Princess and Curdie is lovely too.
· The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and the Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner. But you know this already – the most accessible and openly mystical of Garner’s books, steeped in old magic and folklore.
· The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper – again, folklore and magic entwined as Will discovers he is one of the ‘Old Ones’ born to battle against the Dark. Don't be put off by the (awful) film - the books are stunning.

The new favourites
(Philip Pullman and J K Rowling are, again, givens)

· The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (The Amulet of Samarkand etc). Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, Nathaniel, a young and reckless apprentice gains a brilliant sidekick in the form of 5,000 year old djinni Bartimaeus. Smart, slick, scary with a sense of humour.
· The Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson. Never can understand why this hasn’t been made into a movie – Nicholson is a renowned screenplay writer (Gladiator, Shadowlands etc) and this is begging for a film treatment. A dark alternative world with memorable characters you really care about.
· The Wardstone Chronicles by Joseph Delaney. This started with The Spook’s Apprentice and has gone from strength to strength. Dark and very scary indeed – even I am not sure about reading these after dark. Definitely for older readers - 12+
· Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver (Wolf Brother etc). Oh, for heaven's sake, don't you hate this woman? These are just totally and utterly brilliant. Paver researched intensely, meticulously (some might say obsessively) to recreate an ancient world that is totally plausible. Torak is an outcast in a world of spirits and wild animals, fearsome shamans and elemental terrors. Can't wait for the next one.
· Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Another deeply eerie and scary trilogy. Sabriel is the daughter of a Mage, who has to learn how to cope in a world where the dead won’t stay dead. My favourite character is Mogget, the cat who is not a cat. Oh, and the Disreputable Dog (no surprised there). These are my favourite Nix titles - the others don't quite do it for me.
· Tales of the Otori trilogy by Lian Hearn (Across the Nightingale Floor). Set in medieval Japan this is just fabulous. It’s got the lot – action, magic, mystery, love, romance, revenge, nail-biting suspense. It is hugely atmospheric, beautifully written and totally page-turning.

Now James won’t touch any of these with the proverbial bargepole. He likes a bit of action but with not even the vaguest whiff of brimstone. So his favourites have been, of late:
· The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson – with my critical hat on I reckon these are the best written of the whole ‘young spy’ genre. Cracking yarns.
· The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz – again, great fast-moving thrillers but just a tad formulaic for my taste. I still read them though.
· The Cherub series by Robert Muchamore – these are great – spy stories meet the boarding school yarn. Orphans of exceptional ability are recruited and brought up on ‘campus’ – a secret location from which they venture out on very modern missions (drug trafficking, animal rights extremists, religious cults etc). Violent with some strong language and sexual activity – they’re not - at first impression - every parent’s dream but Muchamore gets across some good healthy messages (don't take drugs, don't smoke, don't bully, don't be homophobic or sexist, don't get pregnant in your teens) without being remotely preachy. I'm hugely in favour.

Right then. Back to the reading chair…







Sunday, 7 June 2009

Neck-deep in sludge


Riddle me this. How come I’m on antidepressants and yet I’m still revoltingly depressed? It’s been two months now and I still feel as if I’m neck deep in a monochrome swamp. Thinking is an effort, even breathing is tough – every so often I realise I have been living on the shallowest whispers of air and have to take a huge gasp. There’s a fog in my head and my limbs feel like lead. My immune system has taken a crash and so the weird palindromic rheumatism I suffer has returned and is proliferating, a bit like a Russian vine, thrusting shoots all over my body so everything aches. I just get rid of one pus-laden spot and another one appears. On my face of course.
I sit at my desk, day after day, and watch my life passing by and just want to shake myself. I try all the old tricks – thinking of things to be grateful for; remembering all those who are far, FAR worse off than I am; taking it moment by moment. But sometimes I could slap the people who write the self-help books (and that would include me – the irony doesn’t escape me). Every night I go to bed and think that ‘tomorrow I’ll be OK. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will get my act together and get my life back on the road.’ Then tomorrow comes and the day passes and every evening is a fresh failure.

‘Don’t be so tough on yourself,’ people say. They point out that my mother died just six months’ ago (it seems like yesterday) and that the last few years have been extraordinarily tough on many counts. But the brutal truth is that I can’t afford to lie on the sofa and stare at the ceiling (as I would dearly love to do).
‘Oh, don’t fret. Everyone’s on happy pills,’ says a mother at the school gate, bright as a button, neat as a pin (swirling around managing a family and two jobs AND fund raising AND looking gorgeous).
‘Even you?’
‘Yup, even me.’
Yet hers are obviously having the desired effect and mine aren’t.

My doctor phoned up the other day.
‘Hello,’ he said, brightly.
‘Hello,’ said I, bleakly.
Pause.
‘How can I help you?’
Eh?
‘Er, I don’t know.’
‘Well, were you phoning about your results?’
‘I didn’t phone you.’
‘Oh.’
He sounded a bit disgruntled.
‘Well, your liver is fine.’
‘Great. Back on the booze then?’
‘Ha ha ha. Your chest x-ray showed up a little abnormality so we’ll get another one done. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about though.’
‘Oh. Good.’
‘Anything else?’ Still acting like I’d called him.
‘Well, I’m still not feeling great. Pretty grim really.’
‘You’re better than you were.’
Well, true. If not bursting into tears all the time is better. Now I don’t cry but I’m not sure that’s particularly healthy either. Grief has to go somewhere and if you squash it down it lays heavy on the heart.

Instead of crying, I read. All I really want to do is curl up in bed, or in a chair by the window, or lie on the sofa and lose myself in other people’s words and worlds. There is nothing as comforting as a good book and this last fortnight I have read some absolute stunners.

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz – which took me right out of myself (a good place to be) and had me marvelling at his imagination and dark humour and use of language. So effortless. So sublime.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh – backdrop the Opium Wars, cast a motley crew. Again, the language is remarkable (if sometimes difficult – a glossary would be useful) – an epic of a book (the next two instalments eagerly awaited).

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry – a 100-year old Irish woman details her pitifully harrowing life, alongside the testimony of her psychiatrist. I struggled with this to start with – and soon realised that its themes of memory, motherhood and betrayal touched particular chords.

I’ve now started Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency (yes, I’m working my way through the Booker shortlist) and holding out great hopes for it. He was one of my tutors on the Arvon course I went on and just fabulous – funny, generous, scary, inspiring. If you haven’t read The Mulberry Empire, grab a copy and give yourself a treat.

I was also sent review copies of a couple of books in the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series by Charlaine Harris (Dead Until Dark is the opener). It seems our appetite for sexy vampires isn’t remotely sated – though don’t expect the dreamy teen landscape of Twilight – it’s far more earthy and tongue-in-cheek, with a bit of crime plot to boot. I rather like the calm matter-of-fact way that Harris handles her alternative reality. Vampires have ‘come out’ and some try to rub along with humans (drinking synthetic blood and keeping their fangs to themselves). The heroine (a small town waitress) has her own ‘disability’ (she can read minds) and it soon transpires that half the town is ‘different’ in one way or another. Total nonsense of course but huge fun and wildly undemanding.

So I sit and read, or lie and read, and let the housework go hang, let everything go hang. Presumably I will surface at some point or another. But right now being inside other people’s heads is a much nicer place to be than inside my own.


PS – I’m not entirely sure that seeing my books (look on the sidebar) being sold for 1p on Amazon is helping my mood. How depressing is that?

If you want to read something a little cheerier check out my other (far more professional, far less self-absorbed) blog –http://brutallyfrank.wordpress.com/

Chalk and cheese, yin and yang……ah whatever.....

Friday, 29 May 2009

Mice biting, dogs peeing, tum-ti-tum



This was going to be such a good day. James is off having a sleepover with a friend and so this was going to be the day I salvaged from half-term to get through my Sisyphean list of Things To Do. I was going to write two features; bang off lists of scintillating ideas to my editors; do some invoicing; and all before lunch. Then I was doing to spend the afternoon resurrecting the children’s novel, washing my hair, painting my toenails and maybe, just maybe, making up a new batch of rhubarb syrup. I was going to launch into the weekend feeling productive and positive and pretty fabulous. Yup, well that was a silly idea.

It’s 11am and I still haven’t had breakfast. Mainly because Adrian and I, demob happy, went out last night to see Angels and Demons (total and utter tosh – we kept whispering to each other things like ‘he’s got ten minutes to save the cardinal from being toasted and he’s changing his suit?’) and then had an immense curry. We were the only people in The Ganges which was a little disconcerting and so I think we felt honour-bound to order more than we really needed. The waiters were so impressed they gave us free lager. Hence spent a long uncomfortable night balancing on my belly and dreaming of stomach ache.
Quite apart from feeling queasy (had to stop reading Sea of Poppies as they kept talking about dhal and chapattis) the morning has gone wrong in about six directions at once.
Adrian woke me up to tell me: ‘There’s a leak in the kitchen…under the sink.’
That would be the new kitchen and the hand-built sink unit with the water seeping into the new oak flooring.
Tracked down Percy the plumber who turned up with his usual knowing grin.
‘Been having a good time, I hear. Off on trips to Disney. Was reading your blog…’
What? Is nothing sacred? Now I can’t even moan about plumbers online.
Turned out that mice had eaten through the piping. Nice. And Percy couldn’t fix the pipes until Brett, the cabinet-maker, came back to take the sink unit to bits. So the whole morning has vanished in phone calls, and people racing over the moor and narrowly missing each other, pretty much like a Laurel and Hardy farce.

Meanwhile the dog has been barking his head off and I just caught him sliding down the stairs having peed up against the bed – again. The friend’s mother has just rung to say could we pick up James early (I’m not even going to ask why) and so my beautiful organised productive day has descended into chaos.
Never mind. As Adrian said, ‘Nobody’s died.’
‘Wish the bloody mice would die,’ I muttered in return.
‘Nobody’s in hospital.’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘There’s still time for an assault on A&E.’
So far James has managed to get through half-term without concussing himself or spraining an ankle – though he has a cracking black eye courtesy of cricket (no, not a ball, fell over on a piece of rope) and a graze over his nose (Butlins water slide). The first thing his maths teacher said, on seeing him in the park, was – ‘Still in one piece, James?’

Anyhow, here I am blogging when I should be working. Why? Because it’s good to write. I still think blogging is great therapy and that, when the mice are eating through your pipes and the dog is peeing against the bed; when every travel editor in town has no budget and you're STILL feeling overfed at 12 noon, at least one can still moan and gnash one’s teeth and whinge online. Yes, of course I should be doing something constructive, like heading into battle against the weeds or even sponging down the bed but frankly I can't be bothered. Is it too early for a rhubarb bellini?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Bank holidays and Butlins

Half-term and I’m playing that grim old game of motherhood multi-tasking. I’m trying to frame some sensible questions to email to a professor for a feature while a plangent voice is wailing from the kitchen, ‘How many angles make up a triangle?’ I’d love to be able to take half-term off but time waits for no freelancer and, in today’s climate, you take what you’re given – and of course it’s always given (and expected back three minutes later) when children are off school.
Still, I’ve ratcheted up quite a few ‘Good Mother’ brownie points this weekend so I’m not feeling too guilty.
It was a weekend of rhubarb vanilla bellinis (not for the children, let me quickly add) and barbecues; of actually sitting outside and enjoying the sun on the terrace while the children were building a den in the big conifer arch. All terribly nice and civilised.

‘What shall we do tomorrow?’ said Adrian, still mellow and glowing from receiving accolades for his paella cooked on the open flame.
‘Well, I thought about Butlins.’
‘What?’ Spluttering into his wheat beer, horror etched on his face.
‘Relax. You don’t have to go.’
‘Are you totally and utterly mad?’

Sort of. Probably. Ah, what the hell? We only live half an hour from Butlins (the Minehead branch). Yet for the ten years of James’ life we have steadfastly pretended it doesn’t exist. Maybe we were a little put off by Adrian’s mate who once booked a week there with the family and left after ten minutes (I’d better not say why). But things are better now I’d been told. Still slightly high from Disney I thought I ought to stop being so arsey and pretentious and just go for it. If I could learn to love the Mouse…..

Anyhow, I have always had a sneaky desire to check it out. See, we never did Butlins as a child. We used to go to Southwold (when Southwold wasn’t fashionable) and Dover (which still isn’t fashionable). We would stay in b&bs with sour landladies who threw us out after our meagre breakfast and leave us to shiver in our rented beach hut (not remotely desirable then) as the rain lashed down and the wind blew straight in from Siberia. Butlins sounded fun. Actually, more than anything it sounded warm and dry. I yearned to go.

So we went. Me and James and his mate Jack (with Adrian waving us off incredulously and with relief writ large on his forehead). We were given a map and advised to get our bearings as ‘it’s big, really big.’ But it isn’t really. Most of the acreage seems to be taken up by the accommodation (including a rather smart set of flats that wasn’t there last time I drove by). The first shock is that not that much is included for free. You don’t pay for the rides on the fairground or the entertainment inside the big top but pretty much everything else – from the bumper boats to the go-kart track, from the paintball to the climbing wall to the bouncy playground, all entails extra cost. It’s not cheap either, ranging from roughly £2 - £10 per child per activity (with a few going even higher). I got sick of hearing myself say, ‘No’ and urging them to have another go on the good old Waltzers.

The second surprise is that the height restrictions are really, well, restrictive. Jack is several months older than James (and in the year above him at school) but several inches shorter. So we had the mad situation in which Jack (who is a dab hand at go-karting) wasn’t allowed to drive his own kart while James (who is, sorry lad but honesty compels me, rubbish) was.
‘I suppose I could drive you?’ I said to Jack who gave me the kind of look that screams ‘Are you totally insane?’
‘Or not.’ I quickly added. We moved on.
Same problem with the bumper cars. I really really don’t get this. Ten year old boys and bumper cars go together like Ant and Dec so the idea of Jack having to be piloted by decrepit old me was totally daft. Several other parents clearly felt the same as there was an ongoing rumble of discontent at several rides. However, on the plus side, there weren’t really queues as such and, if you like funfairs (and have tall children), then you could merrily spend a few hours making yourself queasy and dizzy.

The real hit, however, was the pool complex. Here the boys spent about two hours going on various slides and shoots and generally getting themselves a fabulous array of bruises and bashes. I meanwhile sat in the ‘viewing area’ (which is ridiculously sited so you can’t see half the stuff going on) and got my nose stuck into A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (which is just absolutely and totally fabulous). I can feel my long-held adoration of David Mitchell starting to slip (just a little). I Just Can Not Believe it is his first novel (truly life is hugely unfair).

It was sweltering hot and if I closed my eyes (and ignored the whistles of the lifeguards) I could pretend I was sitting in the steam room of a spa. I swear I sweated off at least a couple of pounds.

Upshot? The boys loved it, really loved it. They voted the pool complex (free) the best bit, followed by the bumper boats (£4 per boat), the big climbing wall (£6 each for ten minutes) and the shooting range (£2 for twenty shots). As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected but I do think Butlins could up their game. Include a lot more free rides and experiences, have a bit of a smarten-up (some bits are decidedly ropey), sweep up the fag ends and relax the restrictions on the rides: then, actually, it would be a pretty good day out.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Crime and Punishment


Crime and punishment – how far do you go? This morning we were listening to the news and a MP saying that the mood in Westminster was tortured and ‘unbearable’.
‘It’s getting a bit McCarthy-esque,’ I muttered through my muesli.
‘It’s like a McCarthy witch-hunt,’ echoed the radio. Whoah, that was a bit Big Brother-ish. Is someone listening in?

The breakfast table was swathed in gloom. Not because we are particularly anxious about our tortured MPs but because of a case of crime and punishment much closer to home.
Last night James came in from school as I was on the phone to a mother from school. Yes, Ben would love to come for a sleepover, yes I could pick him up from school and they could go to the cricket nets and muck around in the den and generally have a heck of a laugh. We haven’t had this boy to stay before; he’s a bit of a ‘new best friend’ and James was virtually dancing as I got off the phone.
‘Oh, thank you, THANK you, Mum. You’re the best Mum in the world.’
Yeah, well…..
Off he went to climb into the hedge and spy on the neighbours, practicing to be a deep cover M16 agent. My boy was happy: I was happy. The sun was shining (rare and beautiful). I sipped a glass of wine and thought all was well with the world.

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. Same mother. Er, change of plan.
What, in twenty minutes?
Another younger boy, it transpired, had accused James, Ben and another friend of calling him, not names (the typical playground taunts) but, bizarrely, name (that of another boy in his year – still shaking my head over that one). The small boy’s mother was threatening to complain to the head. Ben had been dispatched round to apologise profusely but his mother felt further punishment was necessary and the sleepover had been cancelled.
What could I say? It seemed a little steep but if the boys had been mean then obviously something needed doing. I said I respected her decision; maybe we could reschedule another time, and came off the phone with my unhappy mother face stuck firmly on.

James was genuinely incredulous. A small stunned and indignant face poked out from the top of the hedge.
‘What did we do? We didn’t do ANYTHING.
I believed him. James can be a little sod but he’s an honest little sod and if he’s transgressed he will hold his hand up and take what’s coming. But this was clearly unfair in his book and he totally lost the plot.
The head disappeared and the bush heaved with sobs.
‘Twenty minutes?’ he managed to splutter. ‘Twenty minutes ago I was really really happy; now I’m totally miserable.’

What can you say? That’s life. Sometimes, no matter how good and innocent you are, crap things happen. I suppose it’s a good lesson for later life but my heart went out to him. We’ve always tried to be scrupulously fair with James and he respects that privileges are taken away for misdemeanours. But being punished for something that he felt really wasn’t his fault unleashed the flood-gates. He lashed out in every which way – grief turned to anger turned to incredulity.

Finally, exhausted, I got him into a bath (laced with soothing lavender) and managed to calm him down.
‘Honey, these things happen. Nothing’s achieved by taking it out on the cricket bat.’
‘But it’s so unfair.’ He shook his head sadly.

This morning I’ve been wondering about it. As far as James was concerned it was all part and parcel of playground banter. He said that everyone gets called names at some point and that you just take it on the chin and get on with it. I could sympathise. As a child I was called ‘willy’(from my surname I hasten to add), ‘carrot-top’, ‘spotty’ (freckles let’s be clear) and never thought of complaining. When James has moaned that so-and-so did this or that, we’ve told him that he needs to ignore it, or just deal with it.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ asked James. ‘How am I supposed to play with kids if at any moment they might take offense and run off and tell tales?’

Interesting point. How far should children ‘snitch’ and how far should parents take it on themselves to interfere in the playground? When does teasing turn into bullying (which I think we all would agree needs stamping on firmly)? I suppose it depends on the degree. But I do wonder if phoning up parents and threatening to go to the headmaster actually benefits the child in question. Will this boy grow up expecting that, every time something rotten happens, that someone will dive in and sort it out? Are we breeding a tell-tale culture?

I really don’t know. All I do know is that the atmosphere in this house has turned horribly sour and sad. Much like the corridors of Westminster I suppose.



Over at my other blog I have posted on downshifting and also on watery ways to enjoy the summer (ho ho ho). Click here to be directed.....

Monday, 18 May 2009

Swamplands of the Soul, Infinity and Revenge

I’ve been living in a daze but I think I may finally be starting to wake up. I had a fallout with a friend just before the weekend and it triggered a surprising response in me. I realised, very suddenly and painfully, that I’d been projecting a huge amount of my deeper ‘stuff’ onto her. She was carrying all the tough, dark, difficult parts of me: the depression, the anxiety, the loneliness, the fear of rejection and frequent feelings of despair and worthlessness. She also held all the more interesting parts too: the intellectual enquiry, the spirituality, the psychology, mythology, poetry, music and art. While she was there, doing all the work, I was able to hide away and numb myself with a frenzy of social networking, of Spider Solitaire and other distractions. Foolish me.

So over the weekend I turned off the computer and made time to start a bit of work on my self, on my soul. A small start, for sure, but a valuable one. I pulled an armchair into a corner by the window, where I could look out and watch the wisteria blowing in the wind; where I could see the exclamation marks of day-glo azaleas amidst the green on green. I played Nick Drake, Ray Lamontagne, Davy Spillane, Sean Tyrrell and Conor Keane. I re-read James Hollis’s amazing book Swamplands of the Soul and started re-reading another of his books, The Middle Passage.
In the last ten years since I had James (like many mothers, I suspect) I’ve ignored my soul. I’ve abased it, abused it and neglected it. No wonder it is sore. No wonder my body is causing me pain. When one neglects the soul, the body reacts too and flinches and cowers from the abuse.

Jung said that ‘the goal of life is not happiness but meaning’. James Hollis reaffirms this and states that:

‘There is no sunlit meadow, no restful bower of easy sleep; there are rather swamplands of the soul where nature, our nature, intends that we live a good part of the journey, and from whence many of the most meaningful moment of our lives will derive. It is in the swamplands where soul is fashioned and forged, where we encounter not only the gravitas of life, but its purpose, its dignity and its greatest meaning.’

So yes, I’m in a swamp but I think that is OK.

‘You think too deeply, that’s your problem,’ said Adrian with a sigh.
‘No. I don’t think deeply ENOUGH,’ said I with a grimace.
‘Well you worry too much. I don’t know anyone else who worries about infinity.’
He’s right. I do. I can make myself dizzy thinking about forever. My head spins (not literally, that would be wrong) when I try to trek out beyond the known universe. But doesn’t everyone do that?
‘Er, no.’

James, meanwhile, is worried about school. He came home looking shifty.
‘Did you hear?’
Hear what? About how he had been accidentally knocked into a puddle by a boy a year younger and had waited an hour to take his revenge stone cold - which entailed carefully placing all said boy’s sports kit in the showers? Er, yup, had had a call from the headmaster about that one.
I smiled ruefully and he smiled back.
‘I’ve got to write apology letters.’
‘Sounds reasonable.’
‘Yeah.’
He took it on the chin and I confess I was impressed – not least that he actually wrote more than:

‘Dear X

I’m sorry.

James.’

Things are looking up. However this morning, over breakfast, he was low again.
‘I’m worried about what people will say. I’m worried about what the teachers will say.’
So we sat on the sofa and had a bit of a hug.
‘You know what? There is no point in worrying about something until it actually happens. So, I’d suggest you don’t even think about it – until it does (and it might even not). Makes sense?’
‘Sort of.’

It does make sense. So today I am going to try to follow my own advice. I’m going to watch the rain, trace the auras of the trees and watch the blackbird making another nest, this time in the jasmine. Infinity still worries the hell out of me, but I figure I’ve got plenty of time to worry about it….


btw, have posted the piece I wrote for YOU magazine on blogging as therapy on my other blog

Plus pieces on EMDR and whether detoxing is dangerous.... click the links to read - and please do comment as I'd love to hear what you think - whether you agree or disagree or have any new, better ideas. This is a new venture for me and I'm aiming to get up a whole ton of my old features as a resource, now that so many of my books are out of print.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Short to the point of rude?


Well the experiment didn’t work. Someone (OK, englishmum) said she once got 4,500 hits on a blog because she posted a recipe for lemon meringue pie. Then someone else told me they had been ‘inundated’ when they happened to mention that Brad Pitt was filming in their village. So, still feeling somewhat inadequate after hearing that there are US bloggers who get 94,000 hits a day, I thought I’d try it out.
Result? Even less hits than usual. Ah well, it was an interesting experiment (although, as Kitty points out, makes for a pretty trite blog – apologies).
Got me thinking about communication though. I’m still a bit bemused by Twitter. I can see its applications for business and it’s a good discipline to get over your message in 140 characters or whatever it is. However I reckon James must be beta-testing a new even more concise Twitter at school.

I’ve just had this little exchange via email (reported verbatim):

James: hello

Me: Hey, hello you! How are you? Daddy's gone for a cycle ride and I'm at my desk. Well, obviously. Blackbird is building a new nest now, in the creeper next to my window. Are you in IT?

Lots of love

Mummyxxx


James: thanks


Me: Thanks? Is it raining at school? It is here. Are you going for lunch soon? Wonder if it'll be lasagne? he he.

Mummyxxxxx

James: didyou get my attachment (sic)

Me: Is that it? What are you doing? Obviously on computer but is it an IT class? What attachment? Ah, that attachment. Sorry, didn't see it. Will go and open it now. Mummyxx

James: hi from nathan
and did you get my attachment

Me: Just seen the attachments. Wow the cover is great!
Do you want it printed out?
Hi Nathan - are you OK?
Mx

James: yes

Me: OK, I'll sort that.


James: not the second page but the first

James: (blank email)

Me: OK
Crikey, you don’t talk much on emails, do you??!! ;)
Mxx

James: No

Long pause.

James: Archies being a saddo about james Bond

Doesn’t look like he’s inherited either his parents’ love for words or their capacity to yatter on at great length on absolutely nothing in particular. Probably a huge blessing all round. Or is it that men (and boys) are just naturally more brief than women? Adrian’s emails are frequently brief to the point of terse (though he can write the hind legs off the proverbial donkey when it comes to beer) whereas women tend to write longer, more polished emails. Or is it an age thing?

By the way, have just posted a report on over the counter medications on my other blog – http://brutallyfrank.wordpress.com/

And, actually I am no longer bemused by Twitter - I am in love with it. Breaking news, looks like the Disney 7 might rise again as the Bognor 7 (or should that be Blognor)? Watch this space......









Thursday, 14 May 2009

Blog bling and lemon meringue pie


More blog bling is pinging in….and very welcome it is too. Bereft of prizes in everyday life, it’s always kind of nice to get a pat on the back from a fellow blogger (even if the whole blogosphere will have the award by the end of the week).
I have decided to set aside my rant on Liz Jones for another day and instead focus on the positive things in life. I know this is a little unexpected but hey, even miserable old bags have their occasional moments of frivolity and glass half-full instead of glass draining the dregs.
Also I am being grateful for small mercies, particularly given a couple of recent events. Firstly, as I type, I am watching a thick line of smoke billow up over the hillside opposite.
James was working at his homework on my PC (at which point may I say a HUGE thank-you to the Purplecoo people, in particular Peterwf and Zoe who saved our bacon with helpful weather sites) when he said, in an awed voice.
‘Wow, that’s a big fire.’
I was expecting a large bonfire but, Oh My God, it was a REALLY big fire and looking pretty serious. Quick phone call determined the firemen were already there and focusing their hoses on the fixed caravan which had surely been torched one way or another (given it was tipping it down).

Secondly I was having coffee with my neighbours yesterday (and very pleasant it was too) when the discussion turned to the pub opposite us.
‘Wasn’t that awful about W?’ said my neighbour, turning to me. ‘Has all the blood gone now?’
‘Blood? What blood?’
‘There was blood all over your wall.’
Eh?
Seems one of our local characters had stumbled out of the pub and pitched over the road and our wall had jumped out and hit him on the head. Poor chap lay bleeding all over the place until someone from the pub looked out and called an ambulance. Did we notice? Did we heck.

Anyhow, am feeling I should be grateful
a) not to have my house on fire – and, indeed, to have a house (no matter how damp and decrepit and money-pitish)
b) not to be bleeding all over the wall

I tried to find c), d) and e) but have been sitting, blankly staring out at the rain, for the last twenty minutes so maybe I’ll just leave it there. Quit while you’re ahead.

Now then, before I get onto the bling, just bear with me for a moment while I try out an experiment.

Harry Potter is gay. Daniel Radcliffe isn’t.
Princess Diana is alive and well and living on a farm in Simonsbath.
Lemon meringue pie recipe is truly fabulous but chocolate brownies are better.
Johnny Depp is buying our house after all (allegedly).

OK, that’s it. Will explain later.

Meanwhile I’ve been given two bits of blog bling which I really like (most are a bit naff, if I’m brutally honest). The first came from yummy mammy and is all glittery and sparkly (bear with me, I’m still in Tinkerbell mode – no, OK, that is too weird an image).
The second comes from dear Milla and is the polar opposite and just makes me laugh and (bizarrely) think of Disney again (though swearing is SO not Disney).

Apparently I have to list my five fabulous addictions. I hadn’t realised addictions were fabulous but here we go.
1. The sodding PC – or rather the internet. If I got offline I might have a life.
2. Ground elder. I dream about it. Not in a good way.
3. Thinking about losing weight. Note the thinking bit.
4. Spider Solitaire. Wiped it off every laptop and PC in the house and now find my fingers unconsciously find it online. Aaaghhhh.
5. Books. At least one I can be proud of.

So now I have to pass it on (I hate this bit)….but if you’re not in the list it’s because I think you are basically far too nice and polite to put up swear words on your blog.

1. The Disney 7 en masse (they count as one choice as come as a package).
2. Yummy Mammy: you give me pixie dust, I give you filth. Sorry hon.
3. Aerial Armadillo.
4. Her on the Hill (View from the High Peak).
5. Called to the Bar (Adrian’s beer blog….) – rank nepotism? You betcha.

I’m passing on the glittery gorgeous award to Milla (because she collects this stuff and hasn’t got a sparkly one yet) and also because she’s always a fab read. Don’t think you have to do anything for it, just grab it and feel the lurve.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Who's looking over your shoulder (paranoid blog)?



Who reads your blog? OK we all know the people who comment (or at least, we like to think we do, while still harbouring suspicions about some of them) but what about those who don’t? What about the lurkers? It’s all too easy to forget that your writing is whizzing out there to the big wild world and anybody, yes ANYBODY, could be reading. When I first started blogging I didn’t really believe this and couldn’t get my head round the idea that anyone, other than a little gaggle of cyber-friends, would be remotely interested in my warblings.
But I’d forgotten that favourite pastime of the terminally bored and those in need of frequent ego nuzzles – googling oneself.


The day I wrote about T***y W***te (I’m being careful – see) will forever remain the most cringe-inducing of my life (check out this link if you want to smirk at my shame – you have to read all the comments to get the full picture). Then there was Rachel Johnson (oh heck - incoming - I’d better duck) who sent a series of emails accusing me of being a stalker and a holistic therapist (both equally untrue) and then (having eventually become quite nice – to the point where we were talking about meeting up for a drink) proceeded to slag me off in several (I think the final count was three) newspaper features. I’m happy to give you copy, Rachel, but cut out the hypocrisy next time eh? Just call me a mad stalker to my face as well as in print.
Anyhow. Enough already and I SO thought I was over that (note to self: practice forgiveness ritual on RJ). However, what I really hadn’t expected was to find out that my desperate ramblings were being read by the family.

‘Hello, Jane..is everything alright?’ My mother-in-law sounded cautious, edgy even, on the phone.
‘Yes. Everything alright with you?’ Feeling a little worried.
‘Oh yes. Are you sure everything’s alright?’
Any more ‘alrights’ and we were going to break into a rendition of ‘Everything alright, yes everything’s fine’ from Jesus Christ Superstar.
‘Yes, truly, we’re fine. Are you OK? You’re sounding weird.’
A long pause.
‘Well. Is it true that Adrian’s had a chest x-ray?’
What? Cogs whirring round in my head. Didn’t take long to figure out where this had come from.
‘OK. Someone’s been reading my blog.’
‘Ummm.’
‘I wrote on the blog about going to have a chest x-ray. Me going. Not Adrian. But someone got muddled up and left a comment asking how Adrian was.’
‘Are you sure he hasn’t had a chest x-ray?’
‘Yes, of course I am. I had it.’
‘Oh, thank God.’ Pause… ‘I mean, not that I’m not worried about you having an x-ray. Not at all.’
‘I understand. It’s fine. Really. But who’s been reading the blog?’
Long deep silence. But really there were only two likely contenders and I guessed right that it was Adrian’s cousin. So, if you’re reading this Beth, do me a favour and say ‘hi’ in the comments! And if anyone else is out there reading and keeping schtum, go on – cheer me up (or freak me out) and announce yourselves.

One of these days I’m going to have to shed discretion to the wind and blog about Liz Jones, the Daily Mail writer and YOU magazine columnist who seems dead-set on painting a ridiculously stereotypical portrait of country life, packed with clichés such as the pubs that still serve rum babas (er, where would that be, Liz?) and the population of ancient men and women with beards (all clad in our wellies and Barbours). I could put her straight on a few things, like the fact that we DON’T shoot furry things on Sundays (that’s bits of clay plate that are being blasted to kingdom come). But I think I’m in enough trouble for one day so might save that for tomorrow….



Meanwhile, over at my other blog – Never Knowingly Overwhelmed – I’m pondering whether Reiki is fabulous or purely a sneaky form of New Age pyramid selling. We’re debating whether breast-feeding advocacy is going too far and wondering if children should be allowed to play rugby. Oh, and getting all wistful about fabulous spa treats…. Come on over and join the debate…..oh, and leave a comment…..

And the DUPLO winner is......


Huge thanks to everyone who entered the LEGO DUPLO competition. I had cajoling and unseemly begging and some people (no names, you know who you are) even threatened to come down and wrestle the DUPLO off me.... Can I just say that this would never be a good idea as tough grown men have been known to weep and run when Asbo gets his teeth into the, er, tender zone.


Anyhow, after a few abortive attempts to get Asbo to pick the winners from a hat, we tried another tack. We coated the names in gravy (outside, I hasten to add) and watched which were eaten first (all names were coated in exactly the same amount of gravy before anyone shouts 'fix').


First into the JRT's gullet was:

Pipany (with unseemly haste)

He then licked a few but in the end went for Amy.

So huge congratulations to you both. I have sent your postal addresses to the nice people at Lego who will be sending out your DUPLO kits as soon as humanly possible. Commiserations to those who were unlucky this time - I am trying very hard to figure out how to track down your various requests for future giveaways - ie vodka, donkeys, spa trips, cars....


For more info on DUPLO..... http://legoduplo.dbmblogs.co.uk/


Normal service will be resumed soon on the blog.... Meanwhile, if anyone wants to offer my good readers more delightful giveaways, do get in touch!


You might also be interested in my new blog Never Knowingly Overwhelmed which will occasionally be reviewing carefully picked products, trips and treatments.


Thursday, 7 May 2009

er, I have a new book out - apparently



Was idly wandering around Amazon, as you do, when stumbled upon a book called The Smudging and Blessings Book, just published. Hmm, looks nice, I thought, wonder who wrote that. Umm, turns out I did. Well, that was a weird way to start the day. A little explanation maybe is called for here. Years ago I was asked to put together The Smudge Pack – a book based on Native American cleansing and space clearing. The pack included a book, a smudge stick (a bundle of herbs you light and waft around to cleanse yourself, other people and your home). There was also a candle, a crystal and maybe some essential oil (it was so long ago I forget). At the time my publisher swore it was going to ‘go stellar’ and make me a wodge of money. Sadly she was wrong. This was around the time she told me I was going to become a ‘brand’ and yup, still waiting for that to happen. But now it seems the US publisher has brushed it off and repackaged the book. Nice I suppose but kind of wish someone had told me. I know my life is out of control but this really is ridiculous.

Maybe it’s time to google myself and find out if I’ve written any other books lately.

Actually I really have written a new book – at least I have a fleeting memory of typing furiously for a few months – so pretty sure it’s happening. I don’t usually plug my work on this blog but these are tough times so needs must and this one is quite amusing. It’s called The Mind Body Spirit Miscellany and should be coming out some time in the next few months (earlier in the US than in the UK). It was a hoot to write as I had to dig out unusual, useful and downright bizarre stories, facts and self-help tips from the broad wide fields of natural health, mythology, psychology, symbolism, religion, esoterica and the supernatural.

A few of my favourites include:

· how to conduct a home séance
· how to master lucid dreaming
· how to locate ley lines
· ghosts in the Viking sagas
· essential oils that pests hate
· water spirits of the world
· the ghost hunter’s tool kit
· how to practice CaoDai
· how to make herbal cough drops

As you can see, it’s all vital stuff. Of course, if I’d been smart I’d have written The Miscellany of Getting By and Making Do but hey ho, those kinds of books are going to be ten a penny and at least with mine you can have some fun while the ship is sinking.
Some of it is actually pretty useful – in a sort of left-field way. Take onychomancy. Heard of that? No, thought not. It’s a form of divination – the art of reading symbols formed by the reflection of sunlight on the oiled fingernails of a child? Grab a nearby child and try it. Tongue analysis can be handy too. Bet you didn’t know that if the right-hand side of your partner’s tongue is pink with a flecked texture, this can indicate lying and unfaithfulness?

I haven’t looked at Adrian’s lately and can’t right now as he’s off in Dorset on a brewery visit, having stayed overnight in some smart hotel. Hey ho. Better cop a look when he gets back. So it was left to James to get me up this morning.

‘It’s 7am, mum. Are you getting up?’
Oh shit.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll let the dog out – he’s been howling for the last hour.’
He has?

I am such a lousy mother. In fact, let’s face it, I’m pretty hopeless all round. My child has to get me up. I don’t even know I’ve got a new book out. I don’t even have a clean house or a tidy garden. While other career women are sitting in meetings or holding serious conference calls, I’m hurtling round a rollercoaster at pucking DisneyWorld. The older I get, the more disorganised and out of control I feel. I keep waiting for someone or something to haul me out of my torpor and shake me hard.

OK, off to pull myself together and get a grip. I might be some time. In the meantime, you can see the books I know I’ve written over at my new ‘serious’ blog – Never Knowingly Overwhelmed. It’s kind of a work in progress so let me know what you think. And do tell me if you stumble over any other books I might have written…..
By the way, there's still time to enter into the draw for FREE LEGO DUPLO.....just ask nicely in the comments section of the post before this.......the draw will take place on Sunday.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Diary of a Desperate DUPLO donating woman (OK, this is weird)


I thought Disney was surreal enough (what with pin-swapping and grown people wandering round in mouse ears) but life back home is turning a little odd too.
I returned to find I was double-booked for two funerals yesterday. Given one was in London and one was twenty minutes away, there wasn’t too much decision-making involved. Clifford was our old neighbour back when we lived up on the weird windswept moor (for any readers who go back a long way with me you might remember him as the flirtatious old dog who used to growl, ‘they don’t call it SExmoor for nothing’ accompanied by a lascivious leer and a finger tickling down your backbone and coming to rest, cupping your arse. For all that I was very fond of Cliff and even fonder of his long-suffering (if redoubtable) wife. So we headed across the moor back into our old life.
‘We don’t want to be too early,’ worried Adrian. Mainly worried, I hasten to add, because he didn’t want to bump into a certain ex-friend. It all went wrong when the chap had an affair, news got out – to his wife eventually – and the ex-friend blamed Adrian (very unfairly as it happens). But anyhow… So we dawdled, and went past our old place and eventually……
‘Oh shit. Think it might be busy.’
The entire hill was jam-packed with 4x4s and quad bikes and tractors. Sure enough, it was standing room only in the church. The average age was about 70 and, as we waited for the cortege, there was a small concerto for hearing aid (high-pitched squeaks and squeals) followed by a couple of deep sigh farts. It was a great funeral (if you can say that). Cliff was a hunting man (fox, stag, otter, mink, women) and we were only surprised that the church wasn’t packed with hounds. As it was the service ended with a rousing rendition of a local hunting song.

We slid out before the hunting horns got going and hurtled back home. I flung Adrian out of the car and carried on to town to get a chest x-ray (nothing horrid – at least I hope not – doctor just scared of litigation so covering all eventualities. Seriously hope those aren’t famous last words). Stalk into X-ray clad head to toe in black and the chap behind reception seems a bit bemused.
‘Are you clergy?’
Do I look like a vicar in high heels, slim black trousers and a coat with three-quarter sleeves? Is the make-up and earrings a bit of a giveaway?
‘No. I’ve been to a funeral.’
‘Ah. I wondered. Concentrates the mind, doesn’t it?’
‘Er, yes.’
‘He he, don’t worry. I’ll give you a good x-ray and if you’ve got lung cancer I won’t tell you. No point making a bad day worse.’
‘Er, thank you.’ I think.

So I sit in M&S drinking decaf and gazing gloomily at my trolley waiting until it’s time to pick up James from school. He’s fed up as they got thrashed playing cricket.
‘I got one run.’
‘Oh dear. That’s rubbish, isn’t it?’
Frown and hurt look. ‘I was the third highest scoring batsman.’
‘That’s great!’
‘Oh don’t patronise me.’
Really, you can’t win.
Anyhow, home James and a flurry of the usual when an email pings in.

Would I like a set of LEGO DUPLO?
Hmm, not really. My son is ten and, last time I looked, DUPLO was for toddlers. Now had it been the Battlestar….
‘Well, you could give them away to your readers.’

What is going ON with this blogging lark? First I get flown to Florida, now I’m being offered free LEGO. I said no, the chap from LEGO said, aw, go on….your readers will love it. So, in the spirit of wild generosity, I present Diary of a Desperate DUPLO Donating Woman. It’s got a ring, don’t you think?

Here’s the juice. LEGO are offering two sets of DUPLO. Each set comprises two boxes: one’s a funky Zoo type playset and the other one is a groovy police set (so the nice policemen can arrest the penguins or vice versa). If you’d like one bung a comment below and, come the end of the weekend, I’ll get Asbo to put out the magic paw and pick two wildly random winners. Sadly, you have to be in the UK for this and LEGO do ask that you visit their blog and report on how the sets went down with your children…..but hey, no hardship really?
Click here to see the sets…. http://legoduplo.dbmblogs.co.uk/

And watch this space. Today DUPLO, who knows what might happen tomorrow….Spa week at Champneys? Laptops? Plasma TVs? Surreal. Just surreal.