Bah Humbug

dsc_0001It was maybe the best Christmas ever, certainly, if I don’t count the curry we had a few years ago when renting a cottage for the week, it was the best Christmas dinner I have had for a long time.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind Turkey and trimmings but I do feel it is overrated these days and as our pallets become more adventurous there are other tastes to celebrate.  I attended 6 Christmas meals through work, the advantage or by the end disadvantage, of working alone but being included in networking, and client get togethers.  I pointedly ordered anything but turkey from the menus and had some very wonderful meals.

Sadly, a long time ago now I lost my Christmas spirit and am not quite sure how or why or even if I really want it back.

The Christmases of my childhood were magical. The tree, locally sourced and dug still smelling of pine, was put up in the hallway. So tall it climbed, up through the stairwell to reach the uppermost floors where the star shone out from its tip. Twinkling lights illuminating the shadowy stairs as we made our way up to bed.

No matter how poor we were, there were presents for all, many homemade or shared with siblings but they arrived under the tree each Christmas morning.  I had spent weeks if not months saving pennies to buy materials for making odd shaped toys for the children, cringe worthy  paper poetry books, thankfully long lost for the adults.  The annual battle to fit the turkey in the oven, my uncle always brought this as part of his contribution along with all kinds of alcoholic bottles.  Being single he challenged himself to donate the biggest bird he could find. There were chocolates and if you were clever no real constraints on how many you could eat. It was one of the few times snacks appeared in our household, nuts, olives, anchovies and occasionally crisps, oh and those tiny silverkin onions, that I don’t see today.

We ventured out once over the festivities to go to Midnight or more often early morning mass leaving my father to cook the Christmas breakfast for our return,  getting up was never a problem for us in those days.    People came to us for the annual Boxing Day drinks party and as teenagers we experimented with many a concoction of what now seems; rather mild cocktails mixed surreptitiously and drunk secretly.  For a few days, I, who used helping as an escape to academia found willing sibling hands at every turn keen to wash, dry, cook or lay up just to move things on.

Things changed.  I stopped sending Christmas cards some years ago, when  I could not find religious ones and the cost of posting exceeded my meagre Christmas spends, but even then I managed to budget for a small donation to a deserving charity.  This year it is the air ambulance’s turn; being involved in rugby I have seen this arrive at the club a few times over the years, not to mention it attending accidents involving friends children.

I see the Christmas lists, watch the adverts and note the wishes of children wanting the latest expensive gadget or must have. I can remember asking the wider family if they have any ideas for presents and being sent a list of items from the Argos catalogue, cost, colour page all included.  All overpriced for what I could afford to spend on my own children let alone those of someone else.   As they grow their tastes and expectations have increased and there is no way I can equal, so I don’t; not anymore.  I send money, tokens or vouchers to be put towards whatever they choose.  With a new generation of babies starting to appear on the wider scene buying baby toys brings back a bit of that lost magic.

Christmastime to me was once the season of goodwill.  That meant the enjoyment came from the giving and in my own quiet rebellious way I am now doing just that.

I am dsc_0043involved in the Charity Christmas meal.  I have spent about 6 weeks attending meetings and asking the local community for help with, the cooking, serving out, the venue, the food, and presents.  People have been so generous not only with their time but their money.

I was told before Christmas I was being selfish doing this.

“Why?” was my astonished answer to that.

Because I was stealing my children’s Christmas and they would never know the fun and excitement of a proper Christmas like the ones we used to do when they were tiny.

Mini Son has to take part in an award for school part of which involves 15 hours of community service in some form or another.  Spacing it out over the past few weeks he has attended the meetings with me and was there on Christmas Eve helping decorate the hall and tree.  After opening his very full stocking from Father Christmas and a hearty breakfast he joined me at the hall and worked all day as a fantastic runner, washer upper, and now is having a well-earned rest playing with all his new toys and gadgets while his classmates try and find things to help in the community.   This is the second year he has helped and he is already talking about next year.

No 1 Son who now at 21 may come and go as he pleases, for the third year in a row arrived shortly before the guests and spent a few hours chatting to them, helping them to get food, help them open their presents and generally flirting with old ladies who absolutely loved him.    There is no pressure for him to be there and if he wishes to join us next year he is so welcome.  My suspicion is he will.

Middle Son, I feel sorriest for.  Three years ago he wanted to be involved and spent the whole day helping, having made the ‘still talked about today’ shortbread at his garden centre work for guests.   Last year he was angry that having to work all day at the pub where he cooked prevented him being involved at all. This year it turns out he had to work again, a downside of being a chef.  However he and his team offered to cook the turkey, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts and gallons of gravy.    They even brought it to us before getting on with their own service.   He was probably more involved than the rest of us.  I managed by pure accident to run into him as I loaded my car just as he walked back to his home where his friends were waiting , so wished him a happy Christmas before I came home. The briefest of encounters but enough to allay any worries about him being lonely. He was joining us on Boxing Day.

I arrived home, my mouth watered as the rich aroma of Italian enveloped me.  Sexy, Sporty Dad handed me a large glass of wine and a bowl of steaming lasagne, garlic bread and salad on the side.  He had been on a long guilt free cycle ride before arriving back with time to create the meal, yet another thing to add to his repertoire of cooking successes.  Every mouthful tasted succulent, the pasta cooked to challenge our local Italian restaurant and the cheese sauce dripped through every forkful bringing the tastebuds to a level I rarely reach these days.  Maybe because I had no part in it, maybe because it was not the long laborious roast with heavy vegetables or just maybe it was the wine that accompanied it but it was one of the best Christmas dinners I have had.

dsc_0075We sat down in front of Doctor Who, Mini Son handed out presents, of which there were still plenty and nobody felt hard done by.  The TV played in the background, the chocolates disappeared surprisingly quickly, a couple more glasses of wine and liqueurs were consumed.  It was warm, very festive and the day resonated with goodwill.

I think I may have found my Christmas spirit; underneath all that commercialism people want to help, they are happy to give generously. Maybe they just need to know what is happening. Friends who’ve known what I do, asked to be part of it this year, others who are tied up with family helped on the other days.   What each took away is a sense of inner peace and contentment that all the presents, food and drink can never quite match.

I may be selfish in that I held out for what I felt was right; but I know that there are people in the local community who had a better Christmas because of my selfishness and I do not feel my own children suffered in any way.  Maybe they benefited in some small way by contributing.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that the New Year brings health, happiness and helpfulness.

Tiggy

 

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Sprinkling the Magic -Story Snippet

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This was a piece I was asked to write for a workshop. It was all a bit rushed but tries to capture the spooky season with a slightly different take.

It was a large full moon that lit the starless sky. The world was aslumber, as was Serena although her ears were on full alert. They had been for a few days now. Tonight was different though, just as the clock began to count down towards the 3am bewitching hour, a howl broke the silence of the night. One might have guessed it to be a wolf far away crying for its mate, but the call wakened Serena in a second.

She looked over at her husband, he was fast asleep and a kiss would keep him so. She slid from the bed,down through the door and was away in just moments, gliding over the gate, along the road and across the fields. As she got nearer the stones more dark shadows emerged, women from every direction cloaked in the blackness of the night, some still travelled by broomstick and others appeared unexpectedly throwing Serena off course slightly. One day, she thought, I will be able to just appear.

The stones themselves rose high into the night sky, full of history from the coven. Tonight they were lit from within, with arcs of light reaching up to touch the moon. It was a signal when the light arcs met and only occurred every 13 years, but every witch was attuned to its light source and the interim monthly changes that surged their powers.

The wolf, silhouetted against the stones, ceased his calling and metamorphosed back into the loyal servant of King Oberon, his sharp face watching the approaching crowd, long ears listening for any threat. The King’s other fairies were flitting through the crowds taking cloaks and serving butterfly milk. Serena handed over her heavy black cloak to them, took her drink and shook her long golden hair free. Her gown, layer upon layer of invisible, weightless, sheer silver gossamer, radiated the light from the surrounding stones. Friends sought her out and there was an excited aura of expectation.

Oberon appeared, relaxed and beautiful with the exquisite Tatiana by his side. It was strange, Serena thought how the world assumed Oberon to be the King of the Fairies whilst he was, in reality; King of all other worldly creatures, including both types of witch. Tonight’s gathering of white witches would send out powers of good and benevolence into the world but, there would be another night like this when all would be in darkness with the obscure, blood red moon high in the night sky and black witches would yield to Oberon’s darker commands.

Serena had attended a black witch gathering in her early days not knowing where she belonged and not understanding the differences. She now understood goodness was ingrained in her heart and she could never cross that line even if she wanted to.  She knew many women though who chose the darker side, that she called friends and even family.  She also noted for a few years now, there were fewer white witches being accepted at the annual augeration ceremony, what this meant was not for mere witches to worry about.

“Friends,” Oberon finally called the gathering to order. “We are gathered here tonight as there is a menace attacking our humanoids and frightening their little children including our own young witches.   With the onset of Halloween fortnight we must be vigilant this year and destroy  these creatures before the humanoids become aware of other worldly creatures sharing their space.” His voice roared but each witch heard it as a tinkle of soft bells as it implanted its message on their hearts.

“Oh Great King how will we recognise these evil beings?”

“They are easy to spot by their oversized feet, although beware they are deceptively fast when put to the test. They wear large, brightly coloured trousers, held in place with coloured braces. They have bow ties that spin round and spray water and their grotesque faces are white with sad tears and big red noses. Do not be fooled by these foul fellows, they are out to steal souls and when afraid the humanoid becomes vulnerable.”

“And how should we defeat them Great Oberon?”

“Fairy dust will destroy them and return the earth to calm. Bow down my magic coven and receive the fairy dust in bounteous quantities. Use it well and wisely doing good throughout this land.”

From Oberon’s open arms came a shower of stars, every colour of the rainbow plus a 100 more shades and tones, filling the air. Each witch blazed as the dust settled upon her and her radiance burnt a hole in the sky around them. Fairies flitted back into the gathering with cloaks and brooms, the meeting was over. Oberon and Tatiana were nowhere to be seen.

Serena threw her cloak around her shimmering body and extinguished her sparkle. She watched as the remaining fairy dust filled the sky with stars, little pots of emergency dust to be used when needed.

The journey home was quicker, almost instantaneous with her replenished power. She floated upstairs and climbed into bed silently. As she unkissed her husband, he began to stir again. Tonight he will have dreamed of fairies and witches and magic, but will be too embarrassed to speak of it, even to her. How she loved being married to a humanoid or man as he called himself.

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Writing Fear

I call myself a writer and my own experiences should nurture my writing. Remembering to capture the physicality of emotion is not always a priority but over the last 24 hours I have suffered a full spectrum of fearful senses.

It began when the whistle blew.

What now? That was the most perfectly placed kick, well I thought and so did those round me.

He‘d had the ball and the huge thugs from the opposing team were thundering towards him. He had his best friend out on the wing, the telepathy between them finely tuned. He would kick the ball, Stuart would run as fast as he could, catch it and take it over the line adding 5 more points to the home scoreboard.

It started well, he kicked, the ball arced beautifully up and the supporters lifted their heads to watch and follow as the ball almost in slow motion came flawlessly down toward Stuart’s welcoming arms.

So much can happen in a split second.

A rush of heady pride filled my heart and I felt heat swell against my ribcage almost threatening to burst through as I watched No 1 Son’s kick land safely and precisely.

Why then did the referee blow his whistle, no one was offside, No 1 Son was playing his coveted position of No 10 and the kick was in. Stuart like all the supporters was furious. Why stop the game?

Glancing back to see if I could catch his expression and offer my sympathies I could not see Number 1 Son. Where he kicked from there was a body on the floor. In the corner of my eye I can see the team physio running on to the pitch. Where was he, green shirts standing around but none wearing his Number 10?

Fear, that’s what this feeling is, I search the pitch. The ref is telling off one of the opposing thugs and by the gesticulating he is not happy.

Can everyone hear my heart, it beats so loudly, my stomach has pinched so tight I feel sick. It could have been 5 minutes on pitch but it felt an eternity before the tableau on the far side of the pitch helped him stand. He could not support his weight and went down again, a friend already hobbling having been taken out earlier in the game came and assisted him to hobble off the pitch. I breathed.

A late tackle!

At least he was not unconscious. But it was not Number 1 Son’s head I was concerned about or even his life now he was up; it was his future most certainly as a rugby player, his as yet, only true love. He was holding his hip.

As followers of my blog will know well; Number 1 Son’s hips and I have been on a long and very painful journey. How can you feel hot and cold at the same time? I was seething with a red hot anger that someone had hurt him, I was physically shaking with no control over it, the slow creeping cold of concern growing up from deep within my core dousing the heat and I found I was gasping each time I remembered to allow myself to breath.

Instinctively I wanted to run across the pitch thump the thug and pick up my 20 year old baby in my arms and rush him to the hospital to be checked over.

I refrained and went through an overwhelming excess of emotions in just a fleeting moment.

I was hot, my muscles were taut and ready to throw a punch at my son’s attacker. My safety did not register on my emotional scale. How dare the opposition tackle my boy, even if it was a game. He had tackled late and that is not allowed for a very good reason; it is unsafe.

Finally Number 1 Son made it round to the bench. He was unhappy and it was his hip that was hurting. Did he want me to take him to hospital?

Not at the moment; the glare told me, in front of the team’s pretty physio and his team mates and coaches. His face told me the other story, but I knew here and now I wasn’t going to win. I no longer felt that I was going to be sick but my stomach was bruised with the wringing it had been given. My heart was still beating fast but maybe not as loud, it too ached with bruising. With each breath though still came a silent prayer that he would be alright.

He played no more of the match and was helped by team mates to join in the end of game tunnel of clapping where both teams clap the other through. Far more gallant than I felt towards the opposing team who had effectively removed 4 from the game and possibly future ones, and injured and bloodied many more still struggling off the pitch. He then joined his team in the changing room whilst I waited in the bar for his arrival, only allowing myself reassurance when he arrived walking, albeit a little awkwardly, unaided with pint in hand.

It was only the morning after when I was out jogging, very slowly. As dawn rises so much later these days I leave the house in darkness and head for the main road where the street lights remain on through the night. I was on my way home and had turned off the main road to come through the lower part of the estate, I know the road and route very well even if I could see very little. It was quiet, very quiet and suddenly I was shocked by the hushed sound of another pair of footsteps contrasting with mine.

I could see nothing and my heart missed at least one beat; I felt it could be more. I took a deep breath and I could feel my hairs stand on the back of my neck cat like. We were in touching distance before I could make his shape out. I felt every nerve in my body tighten in readiness, for what I did not know but the fleeting thought of sprint went through my mind.

He was taller than me and his face hidden in darkness, his head with a hoody, his dark close fitting trousers and his trainers only really visible now. He was so close as we passed on the pavement I could hear his breathing, not hard or fast, his arm brushed mine fleetingly.
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I pulled back without thinking and my pace quickened without any conscious input from me. My hands had formed fists and I flexed them to check my only weapons, my nails were prepared. Back to the middle of the empty road and I kept the faster rhythm going. I know someone living here, and here and here just in case. Of what?

Here was I clothed in dark hoody, black leggings and trainers breathing fast and furious and so ready for flight if it was needed. Fear cloaking me and preparing me to fight I was still breathing fast and I was alert to every tiny sound, every nuance of movement.

My potential attacker disappeared as quickly as he had appeared probably on his way to his own day and routine and I suspect he didn’t even register he had passed me. One thing I am sure, my presence will not have caused the reactions in him, his caused to me.

In less than 24 hours I had experienced the two very different extremes of fear and this week those moments of fear will come in very useful as I edit Memories. I need to remember those intense non cognisant responses and use them in my own writing.

An update on No 1 Son, he is walking slightly better and hobbling around. He will not be playing for a week or two but I suspect he will be back as soon as he can.

Tiggy

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Butterfly

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I returned to my favourite week of the year; Swanwick.

The trepidation never dissipates and the fear still accompanied me up the long driveway. Was I good enough? Who would remember me? Why was I pretending to be a writer? Despite doubts vying for my attention, this year was different, it felt different, and I was different. The butterfly was emerging. Maybe no longer deceiving myself and them this year; I felt like a writer.

It was going to be another adventure that much was sure. Adventures don’t always need to be the unknown as I knew the drill, I knew where I was going and I knew some of those who would be there but I also know there would be new friends to make, new experiences and learning to do.

The journey up was clear and smooth and so much easier with friend and fellow writer Marianne doing the navigating.
No matter how many times I drive up the majestic curve of the drive to the house at the top, the tummy flutters, the tangible taste of fear teases the taste buds and the worry that no-one will remember me, ride roughshod over my consciousness. Every inch of that drive is filled with an amalgam of conflicting emotions competing for attention.

Stepping out of the car to receive my key was long enough to allay the worst fears. As I re-entered my bubble of inspiration, already I was buzzing, someone hugged me and said welcome back we must catch up later. I was home; home in my community of like-minded friends, in my step out of reality and in the one place I could be me – a writer.

A brilliant first night that involved meeting up with old friends spanning the last four years, some who I have seen every year others that have returned just this time.

The inspirational speaker John Lamont sowed the first seeds of my belief.

“Visualise what you want, see that book cover, smell it, lick it, taste it. How do you feel as you hold it in your hand? How do you feel watching someone turn the pages of your book and smile or wipe a tear from their eyes as they immerse themselves in the story?

Come back to the now and go and achieve your goals”

I felt good, I felt so excited. The week could only get better.

I awoke with a great hunger on Sunday morning that could not be satiated with a cup of tea and biscuit. This hunger went deeper into the psyche and needed more than food to fill the senses.

I set off to explore journalism with the enthusiastic, energetic and engaging Simon Hall, BBC News correspondent for the South West, so his credentials seemed certain. I was not looking for a career path change but the immediacy and tight deadlines could only enhance my writing. The same disciplines and of course the techniques would serve me well in my day job where press releases and magazine editing are monthly tasks. Seeing opportunities and running towards the danger could not only be lucrative (if I remember my camera phone) but augment my descriptive narrative.

Not a conventional teacher Simon soon had the group in the palm of his hand determined to impress and when he threw out the first challenge I was compelled to not only complete the task but in the quiet intimacy of the Vinery where he had moved the class I read my first piece out. Shaking scared and stuttering my way through the piece I was overawed by the response. They liked it, for the life of me now I cannot remember what I had read out but it was liked not just by Simon but others in the class made an effort to congratulate me and comment after the class. There was just one more challenge laid down that first day.

“We will be producing a newspaper at the end of the week so go out and find stories”

My week could only get better as I joined Fiona Samuel for her Eats, Shoots and Leaves course. A title that explained exactly the topic. I admit that my writing is not perfect but I do try to get the basics right although the modern use of the Oxford comma may take a little while for me to get my head round. It was also Fiona who led me to my first story for the Swanwick Standard.

My next hurdle was the flash fiction, a fast hour of ideas and stimulus that left me determined I could do this. The idea inbued, infused and implanted my mind over the next few days; probably not the fast immediacy of journalism but the story developed until I felt able to pen it and pop it into the competition box. Never before has my adage “its not the winning its the taking part” been so relevant, as I entered against a stunning array of other worthy writers. The competitiveness within me obviously could not remain dormant for long and a flutter of disappointment rippled through me as another name was called for a deservedly first prize. I was, however more than content to have been in the competition with some quality writers.

The week progressed with the wonderful speaker Kathryn Aalto, who I am so inspired by, talking about her book. Normally I buy so many books at Swanwick from the speakers and tutors but this is one of the rare occasions when I already had her book The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh treasured in the bookcase at home so declined yet another copy. But it was her words Persistence and Positive Mental Attitude that took my week forward. “I really can do this!”

Building my confidence, I later joined Bridget Holding to learn how to eat an elephant. She had been my tutor earlier this year on my Historical Fiction course. Her words endorsed my learning from the earlier course and reminded me she had been impressed enough with my writing to feature me on her own website Wild Words. I remembered how the course had built my confidence when my fellow students commented on my words and when Bridget had been so complimentary.

Further challenges and obstacles leapt across my path but the underlying message “I can” was the theme of my week and as the week drew to a close and the chrysalis of Swanwick magic began to break open around me I found myself reading more work out and submitting not just my first item but 3 articles for the Swanwick Standard which was published on the last day.

The reaction to 3 simple stories and not even fiction was the icing on my tea-time Swanwick cake. “Was that your story? I loved the stories in the Standard! Well done great work.” Does it matter if the platitudes were truthful or not, not in the least; the fact that people sort me out, the quiet dull moth in the corner to allow my wings to unfold into a blaze of colour and confidence was what mattered.

The last night pantomime crystallised my own journey of doubt vs success. I know it will not be easy and doubt will still be omnipresent but have I launched my fluttering flight into the future? I am on my way to overcoming doubt, I may not quite be ready to run away with success but I know she is “just behind me” with a helping hand to guide me on my way.

Suddenly the bubble was burst and the butterfly departed but not before a fresh round of farewells and promises to keep in touch, to continue what was learned on the courses and a promise to send Memories out.

The week had been full of firsts particularly overcoming the biggest hurdle of my writing career so far; reading my work aloud. I had never been able to do that; so what gave me the confidence to open my mouth in a room full of some very professional writers and read my humble offerings out. It had seemed so easy, surrounded by passionate, persuasive and persistent writers but back out of my larva of literacy and learning and in the real world can I sustain that determination and enthusiasm.

I have taken the plunge and following a wonderful breakfast discussion sent Memories out again to a beta reader from Swanwick. A real test of my faith in my story, although it has been read by a few people this lovely lady is a writer and someone I look up to so I hope her critique is not too harsh.

Simon Hall has now published the Swanwick Standard online, check out the three Tiggy Hayes articles and not forgetting the fabulous ones others have written. Shall I stick to the day job?

I finish with the twitter exchange as his words are at the heart of my determination that this Swanwick was different…
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And in answer to Simon’s comment I did send off an article using all I had learned from his course to our local weekly news magazine and I had a reply.
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Tiggy

Previous posts about my emergence from anonymity to today through Swanwick.
Whats in a Name Aug

Commercial Potential Aug 13

To Become or Not To Become Sep 13

Stirred and Shaken Aug 14

Back to School Aug 15

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Hidden Support

As individuals we all go through diverse and unique experiences which collide together to create the characters we become, totally distinctive and unlike any other being. Leaving us feeling solitary and solo. Sometimes it is in the most crowded of places that you feel so alone and isolated. I was told something this weekend which had a deep effect on me.

Cousin Cat and I met up for a rare family party. Due to life and geographical distances it is not often we get together, other than weddings but increasingly at funerals. This was a fun opportunity to recap, remember and ruminate on how we have all changed and grown up over the intervening years. We explored our mutual struggles with being working mothers and bringing up our children, we swapped stories of emotion, trauma and triumphs. we giggled at the gruesome, the guidance and the rebellion.

It was her husband who came over and joined us as we cried with laughter and asked us what was so funny. Cousin Cat commented “did you know Middle Son was run over, knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured skull?”

together-235128The bewilderment on his face as he said, “that’s hardly funny” sent us both into further gales of laughter. How could he understand that we were not actually laughing at the incident but at how Middle Son had overcome this hurdle and now as a grown man was about to depart the family nest and build adventures of his own. Not to mention; his emotionally sapped parents who have suffered with all his ups and downs and even now were about to release some of the home reins.

It reminded me of another moment of emotion that Number 1 Son probably will never understand; when at 14 he was told he would not be able to play rugby due to injury for a whole season. To a young teenager a whole season or year as it effectively was, might seem like the rest of his life. To a world weary mother who had spent a week researching on the internet and was terrified the doctor was going to say he would never play again,“one season” were the sweetest words I think I have ever heard. Now a 20 year old he has spent his first season playing in the first team and taking part in cup matches when work allowed.

The morning after the party I was reminded of the 1992 Olympics and Derek Redmond. I cannot hope to convey the emotion of the moment, the true grit, bravery and sheer courage he showed to finish that race after his hamstring snapped in such dramatic fashion. Derek slowed but did not stop, he hobbled on determined to reach the finish. Such blatant agony etched on his face, felt by every onlooker as they willed him on with each excruciating step. Suddenly from the stands a man broke through and pushed off the security guards to run across the track with the words “I am here son!”

Leaning heavily on his father’s shoulders the pair staggered and stumbled across the line. The video of the event is widely available but I must warn you, tissues are a must.

Of course with the Olympics just round the corner, there will be so many stories of battles and brawls to reach this pinnacle of perfection. We will learn of the determination and sacrifices that have been made and the huge cost in emotion and hard work to have overcome the hurdles so far.

Happiness is often tinged with sadness. I have a deep belief that success comes through the striving, conquering and defeating of setbacks. Achievement comes from tragedy to deliver a deeper intense emotional high. Without the adversities in life, we would never enjoy the bittersweet taste of accomplishment.

hold-544519How I would love life to be a rose-tinted smooth un-traumatic journey but it isn’t like that and it’s the bumps and bruises that build us into the people we are together with the unseen posts of support that hold and guide us along that unforgiving road.

Sexy Sporty Dad and I went to Paris last weekend to watch the “Tour de France” final. We had a wonderful view from le Place de la Concorde at the base of the Champs Elysees. I was surprised when my hero Chris Froome who had led the race for 3 weeks was not out in front leading the pack where I expected him to be. He was dropping further and further back till on the last lap he had made his way to the back. Amazingly so was the rest of his team; the same team who had fought so hard through rain, sun, mountains and sprints to keep him in the lead. That same team, who now in front of me linked their arms across the wide expanse of the Champs Elysees, with the Arc de Triumph as back drop. Chris may have won the tour but the whole team crossed the line as one. It is a moment I will remember forever. It had been a team effort to get him to victory and he now acknowledged their support and sacrifice in that simple gesture.

I don’t actually remember who won the 400m in the Barcelona 1992 Olympics although it will be well documented. Somewhere there will be a richly deserved gold medal proudly displayed in someone’s front room. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I keep an image of two men struggling over the finish line together.

Enjoy the next few weeks of determination, there will be emotion, there will be tears and there will be disappointments as well as successes. The amazing stories that will be told of overcoming adversity especially when the Paralympics follow on; will all include the essential element support. Naturally I want England to win all the gold medals but the inspirational tales that will be told of many of the athletes will be the memories that remain.

Having laughed till we cried not only about my children and struggles Cousin Cat and I talked of her own family with the different worries and concerns her children caused as they grew to adulthood. As we parted at the end of a lovely evening Cousin Cat whispered in my ear “remember you are not alone and what doesn’t break you actually makes you who you are.”

Simple words that mean a lot!

I am counting the days till I go off to Swanwick again this year and immerse myself in my bubble of writing, inspiration and support. Although Memories waits Swanwick matchingfor the send off to an agent, I have been kept busy writing small bits of content for work and the web. What to pack, to remember to take with me, to leave behind. And what style nails will I choose for this year’s school?

Tiggy

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Out of Control

Isn’t it funny how sometimes no matter what you do and what carefully laid plans you may have spent hours formalising; life just throws curve balls so fast you cannot return them all.

And this time what a curve ball.

Out / leave / Brexit.

I don’t think the full impact has really hit home and only now is the reality starting to hit with yet new crises hitting the government daily. Unfortunately in a week since the referendum result, Don’t get me wrong I campaigned for people to go out and vote but I have been shocked at the reaction of those that did vote to leave and are already regretting the decision; but they won. Where are their celebrations? Particularly I have been amazed to hear how many people say “I only voted to make a stand; we didn’t expect to win”.

Have we all lost any modicum of intelligence, our sense of reason, our view of democracy; if you vote for something in this country at least while we are a democracy, you may win and that means you have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

I cannot believe the deep dividing damage this referendum has done. Families have been split with partners not able to talk about it, children unable to agree with parents and grandparents. I know of one friend whose elderly gran now will have nothing to do with her or her son. I hope they can be reconciled sooner rather than later. Husband and wife friends who can hardly talk to each other, if only for their children’s sake I hope they speak soon.

The damage will not heal for a long long time to come. It could be generations before the memory of why we don’t talk to that side of the family eases enough to rebuild. And all this was played out before any stubby little pencil was lifted on the day. I don’t for one minute think that had the result been to remain the division would be any less, the rift was already ruptured.

I am angry, a very deep down anger that makes me feel sick to the stomach. It is not so much the result which was always inevitable if not now then later. Had the very close vote been reversed the shock and resentment would have been just as visible and brutal but the other way round. I am angry by the hype and propaganda played by all sides in this bitter battle.

I am irate that such a life changing and key decision can be left to a simple yes/no, asked from us the ignorant. We are not the experts, we are not the holder of the purse strings of the country, we do not have the knowledge or involvement to make an informed decision this momentous and binding.

I feel betrayed not just by politicians who let’s face it; are only voted in if they have enough charisma to carry the populous with them, and are paid to win the debate however they see fit. I feel betrayed by the people around me, the everyday people who didn’t take this seriously; they preferred to be led by hype than to actually understand what they were about to vote on. The people who believed what was being said even as the hype escalated into the higher levels of fiction and fantasy, but could not be bothered to find out what it was all about.

I am being naïve really; who actually reads the small print before signing. Who actually asks what the contract wording actually means and who even knows what we have just left. Not many apparently as Google crashed the day after the referendum under the pressure of requests for “what is the EU”. It’s like signing up to a 24 month phone contract and then realising you have the wrong provider and you cannot get a signal without standing on the roof swinging from the aerial to speak to anyone. It is too late!

Maybe I am lucky, as I don’t have time to watch all the mud-slinging and the fancy propaganda that has followed this campaign around. I did, however write an article for publication explaining what it was all about and I believe it was a very balanced article; that was the feedback I had. What it enabled me to do was look at the small print, read the treaty, unpick the concessions and the reactions to us getting them and understand the process.

It was 1707 when Scotland and England became united, then in 1922 Ireland left the union, almost immediately Northern Ireland came back to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shortened to the easier United Kingdom or UK.

After the Second World War a group of countries got together to adopt an economic and friendly co-operation with the basic concept; countries who trade together are less likely to go to war against each other. And the European Union was forged. Well that forging of foreign foes has been destroyed in one very close vote; the repercussions of which will ripple far beyond the shores of the UK.

I know there are certain rules and legislation that annoy the hell out of me; light bulbs why do they have to be so dark? When I am struggling to read; at that moment in time, I care little about the future of planet earth and global warming I care about the strain and effort on my eyes to see the small print. The same with the hoover and the kettle, when I need a cup of tea I need it now not later when the kettle has had time to think about warming up slowly. I of course cannot blame all these on just the EU as the UK, a major player, was very much instrumental in making these for ourselves as we were with every rule, initiative and decision made in Brussels. And what exactly is the point of metric?

I have my own fears and worries about the future. Sexy Sporty Dad and I are in a precarious age bracket and we both worry now our jobs could be at risk. He does not know how things will change for him but being in a relatively high position he will be in the early firing line if things cannot calm down. I work for small businesses who are just struggling to get over one recession that saw many go out of business, so I hope the few that did survive can weather this storm, because without them I have no work. Every cloud has a silver lining and I would have no excuse not to get my book ready and out.

I do hear there is a job available urgently and to be in place by September, checking my diary I seem to be pretty free.

Job Description:
To pick up the broken pieces of a battered nation, kiss it all better and guide it through the most precarious decision making, and choice of options available whilst stemming the flow of lifeblood and trying to save such major limbs as Scotland and Northern Ireland. To negotiate with the other children in the playground of Europe who have turned on this loudmouthed and biggest troublemaker and don’t want him back with his special needs and wants, so that he can at least have some corner of the continental concourse to make new friends.out of control

I hesitate what nation needs picking up and whether there is anything to salvage with all parties imploding in on themselves. Maybe now would be a time to start afresh and create the united rational party with the premise to make it a better world for our children.

So how to begin?

How about; a nice cup of tea and maybe a small slice of good old fashioned Victoria sponge.

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Damask Rose Cottage – Story Snippet

I have to confess; I really did not listen to my head at all.  When I saw the cottage; I fell in love there and then.

There was something about the Virginia creeper that crept obsessively over the front of the house framing small windows, shading the front door, cradling it from harm.   The way the sun fell to one side and the grotesque shadows played across the side garden, half the house stayed in the shade whereas the other was bathed in glorious contrasting light.

I still remember the feeling as I got out of the car.  The sweet citrus smell of the already flowering magnolia cloying my nostrils.  I peered through the arched gate and up the tiny broken path.  The house was so concealed that you could not see it till you stood on the path and then the whole house smiled its deceptive welcome.

Up until that point, I had hardly noticed being part of life.  The pain of thinking and particularly remembering was just too much to bear.  As I stepped through that arch, I had felt something. Was it fear? I was not aware at first, but the numbness was dulled. Butterflies flitted round my stomach, dancing a fast and furious salsa.  My heart was beating, and even I could hear the quickness of breath.  I realised at that moment that I was still alive.  I knew I owed it to Carl and Tiffany to try to rebuild my life.

“I’ll take it” I had told the bewildered agent there and then, with the smell of sea air brushing round me and the taste of salt on my tongue.  It had been a while since I could taste anything.  The gulls down on the beach were swooping high in the air screeching warnings loudly to each other as they soared closer over the cottage.

“but you need to look inside.” He was young, in his recently acquired jacket and particularly polished shoes.  “What about the quaint kitchen leading to the basement utility room and the beautifully appointed en-suite to the …”

“Its ok I will take it.  How long a lease will they allow me?  I definitely want it all summer do you think they will grant me a full year?” It was probably a bit rude of me to cut him off in his newly learned patter.

“I don’t know,”  he flitted through his sheaf of papers, leaning from one foot to the other “shall we go to the back garden, you just have to see the view and I need to show you where the cliff drops to the…..”

“It’s fine” I had told him.  My face even managed to crack a small smile.  Oh I remember the effort and the pain of doing so, but the effect had been a lightening inside me.  It was as if, that saying you know the one; ‘a weight was truly lifted that day from my shoulders’.

I could not understand what was happening.  What was important on that day, was that I could feel again and it was Damascus Rose Cottage that had opened my eyes or rather my heart.

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Making Time

Lists, lists and more lists!
My days run to a prescribed set of instructions that I have transposed into a list of what I am to do today, my bucket list of what I want to do in my life, and the longest of all lists, what I need to do for other people. Sometimes, although rarely, two or three of these items merge and I strike them from both pages simultaneously; mostly they collide in a cataclysmic explosion of conflicting loyalties.
In a bid to amalgamate my routine I have been re-arranging my working week so that I have a day to write; after all isn’t that what I say when asked what I do “I am a writer”. The rest of the week I fit into categorised chunks of work for different people. It doesn’t always work; this week there is a bank holiday on Monday which belongs to one job. I found myself working on other days to make up for that.
I have however proved to myself that it is possible to create the extra day and what is more I laid the foundations for a far more determined and deeper commitment to my writing. I joined Exeter University about 3 months ago to do a 10 week Historical Fiction Course which involved course work on a weekly basis. Unsure if the enrolment would prove too much, or even if I was up to the task ahead I embarked on the first week’s homework with trepidation fused with equal measures of fear and excitement.
I found very quickly that not only did I have to do the work and submit it for my tutor to comment, but it was posted on the open forum for my classmates to appraise. I think peer critiques were more nerve wracking than waiting for the marked assignment to land back in my in-box. Added to the pressure of others evaluating my work came the daunting task of reviewing their work in return. My contemporaries all seemed to have such wonderful deep use of historical description and language that sometimes I struggled with my own validity to be on the course.
10 weeks later I have finished the course and even I have noticed the improvement in my fictional writing. I re-iterate fictional; before readers of this blog wonder what improvement! I admit; it was a balancing act to keep up and produce the work each week for this alongside editing “Memories”.
As the course was historical fiction I used my latest NANOWRIMO story “Destination” as a template, giving it a first and an early edit. I found that I fell back in love with my characters and the story, which still needs much work especially the ending but I feel there is much in there to work with.
“Memories” is still being edited, one day I hope to surprise myself and my readers and say it is finished, but manuscript-547038when? I found the course gave me an edge to my writing that allowed me the confidence to change that oh so important first line and many subsequent ones. My change in tact on the first page now needs to be carried through the story so I feel another read through is required. But…, and you may need to sit for this; I have been working on a new fresh synopsis and cover letter so I am ready to send them….
The course has filled me with inspiration, along with the determination to get there; wherever there is. I have booked myself into my week of magical motivation at Swanwick in August which I am already counting the days till. Best of all I have cajoled, coaxed and persuaded a very good writing friend to come with me. I hope now it proves as inspiring and invigorating for her as I know it will for me.
Have a great bank holiday, try taking a step back to see where your lists can be shaken, stirred and blended to help balance your life.

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Chicken or Egg

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Visit or make up?

I found myself in Ireland the other week celebrating St Patrick’s Day with my brother who reached his significant half century on the very day. “As the Irish have so kindly laid on a party each year for my birthday I felt this was the year to attend the celebrations” was how the invitation began. Well not one for missing the opportunity for adventure I agreed to join him taking Sexy Sporty Dad and Number 1 Son, along with other members of the family.
DSC_0298All the arrangements made we waited through the autumn. Christmas came and went and life began a fresh hectic New Year of work commitments, socialising and motherhood. I woke early each morning and did a small amount of writing noticing that the dawn rose earlier than I these days. Some mornings were dedicated to editing rather than the far easier subject of writing.

Oh a writer’s life would be so much more productive and even lucrative if we could skip the editing. I know all about “honing the story” and ”crafting my tale” but I cannot get in to the “ editing zone”, no matter how I try!

This month I had reached, eventually, a really critical editing section of my story “Memories”. The story was at a point where all the evidence had come in and the fighting really starts. The scene where my protagonist has to get her family into hiding as the information breaks to her antagonist and the world’s media. For some inexplicable reason I had put them on a plane from Bristol to Cork and out to the tiny cove of East Ferry. (First rewrite after NANO 2010 had finished).DSC_0269

I do not believe in co-incidences; but I happened to be editing this very journey about four weeks ago. I thought about my protagonist’s trip and how I was travelling from Bristol to Cork for St Patrick’s day. Cork is not the out of the blue location you may have thought; my Grandfather was born and raised in Cork or just outside and our plan was to visit his home town while there. So when looking for a place for my novel family to visit in Ireland; Cork was the obvious choice. The characters live near Bath so Bristol Airport was also eminently sensible.

How many other parallels will I find in my stories?

DSC_0292Five years later I was now following her footsteps. (Is there something spooky or stalkerish about retracing my fictional heroine?) A visit to Cobh was on the cards for the historical value linked to the Titanic, and as it was not far from Monkstown where my grandfather was actually born. Another look at Google Earth was called for and confirmed East Ferry was just beyond Cobh. The train and ferry plans abandoned while a search of the internet revealed many car hire firms from the airport.

We did make it to Monkstown where my brother and mother knocked on the door of the family home (long since sold) to apologiseDSC_0320 for the torrent of photographers and attention the house was receiving. The door slowly opened and expecting a short apology, we all stood agog as they were invited inside and the door closed. 10 minutes of cold and discussion led us to the warmth of the tiny Italian coffee house round the corner where the smell of cappuccinos and lattes infused the nostalgic aura surrounding us. The others joined us later; the house owners knew of my mother’s family but they had all gone a long time ago.

With the St Patrick’s parade due to start back in Cork, Cobh was the dropped excursion from this visit’s itinery. I kept East Ferry on my agenda for after the parade.

DSC_0590East Ferry was not quite how I imagined it to be. There is very little there; a few houses, a pub and a view right up and down the River Lee estuary, and not forgetting a small ferry crossing. The internet claims it to have a fairly major sailing school. However, the house I was looking for was not. I remembered looking on Google Earth; the house had been there, I had checked it several times in the run up to the visit, the view from it photographed and uploaded to the web; I knew it so well. Could I have the wrong place? Could there be another East Ferry?

Sexy Sporty Dad who had accompanied me on this particular quest suggested hesitatingly as we drove away from the few village houses, we find somewhere on the narrow lane to turn round and get back to the hotel for dinner. Well DSC_0569at least I had found the village, I was full now of reservations whether it would serve my purpose and which house? Does it really matter in a story if you use a real house or made up one? He pointed ahead, a small row of cottages at the end of which a wider area leading into a drive way where we can turn.

Stop!

DSC_0576The row of cottages, the middle one! It was not the most dignified of stops and luckily the road was fairly deserted as I would have blocked any passing traffic. I was out of the car, camera in hand shooting shots for posterity. Clambering through a small gap in the hedge to the precipice of the cliff drop I found the internet view shot taken from the house. Coming back through, I could see in all its glory, the very house my fictional family stayed in. Apologies to the current owners who have probably owned it for years but this was to be my holiday home.

I took the obligatory photos and shots of the river looking both up and down. I dictated how we had got there. We turned round and drove back through the village or rather past the pub which seemed to provide the only cDSC_0596hange of use other than the church, and along the coast. We reached as far out the other side as the house had been and turned the corner away from the tiny port. Here we found another cottage with an even better location that fits my story. So back to my question should I visit the places first or make them up to suit my purposes?

How many novels have real places but with made up parts and how many are set in fictitious worlds that resemble visitable places?

Ireland DSC_0595was just a short stopover and I would have loved to have stayed longer but my research was a very powerful emotion. I had lived with my fictional memory for so long; then finding the reality of its existence provided an unexpected climax to my trip.

Back to reality and editing has taken its place back in the lower etches of the pecking order. Just a few days break allows my priority list to reach urgent and important again. I am managing to keep writing fresh work but nothing to send out yet and the synopsis and cover letter await my attention once the edit is finished.

Maybe next NANOWRIMO I will base my story on a wonderfully relaxing holiday on Bermuda or Hawaii, scuba diving, swimming and eating exotic fresh fruit!

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Seize that Intention

Is it me? Or has the last year gone so fast I cannot catch my breath.
As far as writing is concerned I have done sporadic in depth sessions and certainly have a new Nano book “Destination” waiting for editing. I managed to blog LEJOG as it happened, which was harder than I expected, and hope to fill in some other missing trips soon. Swanwick was again a week full of inspiration, momentum and love which left me determined to find the time to produce more writing.
As the year turns to 2016 I need to think about my aims and plans for the coming 12 months. Where do I want to be then. My family have all grown older and wiser with No 1 Son now settled in an estate agency and playing his beloved rugby fortnightly (on his Saturday off). Middle Son is working hard at his chefing where he is learning far too much fine dining and not enough serve it up to the family meals, the down side is the daily split shift that Sexy Sporty Dad and I have to deliver or collect him from. Mini Son has found his voice and musical talent joining the Jazz band at school planning for a big trip later this year. Sexy Sporty Dad still cycles but is training hard for a half marathon in the Spring and then planning a mountain to climb with school friends later on in the year.
It was such an odd December to end the year so to begin with I would like to take you back to a date in the summer.
It was an inevitable decision. A 90th birthday is an awesome achievement in anyone’s eyes and it was very fitting that we should make the effort. Which is how, I came to take four sisters out to lunch.
My mother had spent months preparing and liaising with other members of the family over what to buy their sister on this prestigious occasion. What does one get or need having reached the incredible age of 90?
There was a photo that all the family loved; it was a photo of the 7 siblings taken at my wedding some 21 years ago. They were all dressed in their finery, all Seven Siblings 2happy with smiles on their faces and it was a reminder of happier times as two of the brothers have since passed away. It was a great photo; the River Exe burbled and meandered its route to the sea as in the foreground, 7 happy smiling faces enjoy the celebrations.
Sexy Sporty Dad and I had been able to send copies of the photos to each of the siblings in the photo, the Christmas after our wedding and we know that all are still displayed prominently in their homes.
This summer my brother had been able to scan a copy of this photo and had it made into to a large canvas to go on a wall as a birthday gift. The rest of her family were happy about the choice of picture but nobody would see the delight on the birthday girl’s face as she opened it.
That is where I came in. Did I have a choice?
We found ourselves on a Monday morning in July crossing Cranborne Chase, passing the village my parents had moved from when I was 4. My mother had not been back since moving away. The local town had changed beyond all her recognition, with the bridge at least being one of the few landmarks she remembered.
We gathered the other two little old ladies and took them to the pub where we met the fourth, kindly brought by my cousin whom I had not seen since I was about 14. Unfortunately we had both aged far more than the group of sisters we had reunited.
We sat down; two blind, 4 deaf, one diabetic with a wooden leg and proceeded to order meals. It became obvious that none of them eat particularly heavily now as any thing bigger than a starter was too much for them.
The conversation flowed as it always had done with this group of sisters, we sent non-alcoholic cheers to absent husbands and brothers who had not managed to keep up with stamina and determination of their wives or sisters. The combined age around that table of 6 was 460 years. One brother was absent; too poorly to travel the very long distance it would take for him to have joined us. The picture was definitely well received and a triumph declared in the surprise and delivery of the present.
DSC_0077A question was asked and another answered as misunderstandings were rife. A conversation started but left part way as they all forgot the topic and moved on to the next. Confusion rose around the modern card machine and payment. Then, began the operation to manoeuvre them all back in to the cars, together with one wheel chair, a variety of sticks and several slow paced steps.
Maybe it was all over too quickly but this group of formidable sisters all needed to get back for their afternoon naps. They would be sure to speak to each other very soon on the phone. It amazes me how information is passed to each other through the medium of a telephone as none of them could hear each other properly around the dining table.
“and we must do this again soon” was our parting words.
We did do it again this past month of December but the occasion was not as happy.
One of the sisters has passed on and we all again came together at her funeral. There were a lot of tears, there was a lot of laughter as we each recounted a special time this lady had meant to each of us. There were more family members as cousins and the next generation of 2nd cousins met again with hugs and tears and promises of “let’s not only meet at funerals and how can we get them all together again”.
There being no possible weddings imminent we have vowed to put something in place.
I think the farewell would have delighted my aunt, the one who I am named after. It was very apparent that she touched people in very personal ways and was an incredibly wonderful woman despite all the suffering she endured. “There are some people who come in to your lives and then leave but there are others who leave a footprint on your heart” this was a quote used to describe her; I hope I can live up to her memory.
I remember a time in the past when we lived not far from each other. I worked for the same company as her but a different office. I would be given a lift across town to her office and she then drove me home. One evening my lift and I were involved in a car crash resulting with me going through the windscreen of the car and ending up in the local hospital. She was there waiting patiently for me after I was de-glassed, and bandaged more than most Egyptian mummies. Gently they coaxed me back into her car and she drove me on that hurdle building journey home.
It was she who introduced me to the theatre, a love of which will never leave me. And it was she who so loved reading my blog. Not owning a computer or able to access any kind of web link, she is the only one I would print my blog off for and send, in later years for others to read to her.
The day of the funeral made me realise that time is so short, our busy lives take time and effort from us; that we sometimes forget to make the arrangement that we truly meant to make.
Suddenly it is too late.
I have some wonderful ideas but I don’t have the time to follow them through, then the opportunity has passed by. I reflect on all the resolutions I was going to achieve in 2015; some just simple ones that got left, and I am ashamed to say, are still floundering at the bottom of the “to do” pile. I am such a advocate of the expression “carpe diem” but maybe I should follow my own advice.
May this wonderful lady leave her legacy that we action our ideas, seize the moments and days and fulfil all our plans and opportunities. This year will be even quicker than the last so don’t just think about it, do it! If ever I needed a resolution that will be it.
May I wish you all a very happy new year and let this one be full of opportunities and achievement….hopefully

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