Wednesday 22 December 2010

A Different Kind of Day

I knew as soon as I got up this morning that I wouldn’t be going to the shops.

And there seemed to be little point in finishing off my current picture book manuscript. Editors are too busy with holiday matters right now and anyway the post boxes are full to overflowing. So I decided to do something scarily different. I decided to bake some cakes.

For me cake baking is close to magic. If I don’t wave my wand... sorry, wooden spoon in quite the right way, it’ll be a disaster. So I spent some time consulting the book of spells... I mean, cookbook [lent to me by a very good friend] and I set to work measuring, mixing...

...baking and *abracadabra*...

I’ve only gone and magicked up a lemon drizzle cake! (It’s quite easy this baking business.)

Encouraged by my success I try a second cake. It’s a tad more complicated and so Mr A is called in to help with the decorative bits.

This goes into the oven and *izzy wizzy*...

...we have a Danish Apple Cake. There's only one thing left to do. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Delicious!

Talking of yummy food, I’d like to send a great big THANK YOU to one of my Twitter friends, Keris Stainton, for the lovely box of chocolates which is in the post to me as I type. I won her recent blog competition and the prize was a box of Hotel Chocolates from the Chocolate Tasting Club. I can recommend a visit to her blog post of a hilarious Strictly Come Dancing extract. [And yes, I'm still missing Strictly.]


Friday 17 December 2010

My Little Nut Tree – a warning about wishes

The other week I heard that children’s rhyme about nutmegs and golden pears. It goes like this:
I had a little nut tree. Nothing would it bear,
But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.
I thought how lovely it would be to have a tree that was covered with silver nuts and laden with golden fruit. Wow! But then I had another think and I wrote this little rhyme:

It all began one winter. I was sick of nuts to eat,
So I asked my little nut tree for a very special treat.

When spring arrived my garden was all lit up with the glare
From a shining, silver nutmeg and a gleaming, golden pear.

‘What luck!’ I thought but people came from miles around to stare
At my super, silver nutmeg and my gorgeous, golden pear.

Some of them were greedy and I knew I must take care
Of my solid silver nutmeg and my great big golden pear.

So I hired guards with snarling dogs and a sign that said, ‘Beware!’
To protect my lovely nutmeg and my precious, golden pear.

But the guards gave me a bill and said, “You know it’s only fair.”
I couldn’t pay. I only had a nutmeg and a pear.

They shouted and got angry and it gave me quite a scare,
So I paid them all I had… which was the nutmeg and the pear.

That winter I was hungry. I’d not even nuts to eat.
So I made a wish and asked my tree for yet another treat.

It worked! I have a nut tree and lots of nuts it bears.
Not a single, silver nutmeg and no silly, golden pears.

I guess we should think carefully before we wish for things.


Tuesday 14 December 2010

Why I’m obsessed with Strictly Come Dancing

(Dancing with the Stars for those outside the UK)

I’m usually uninspired by the television schedules but I only have to hear one bar of that music and I’m racing for my armchair with a virtual ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign above my head. I’ve even been known to switch off my phone while I watch!

Maybe it’s to do with timing. Just as the nights draw in and the weather becomes dour, Strictly Come Dancing provides glitter, glamour and bling by the bucket-load. I know that I’ll never get the chance to dance like those couples but I can dream, and I do. Every time they glide, chasse or do neat little heel turns, it’s me out there wearing a beautiful gown or skimpy cat suit, with the audience admiring my every move.

Strictly is different from most reality TV shows. The contestants are celebrities. They know how to entertain. They have camera presence and charisma... well most of them do, anyway. Of course they want to win but it doesn’t ‘mean the whole world’ to them, unlike those reality contestants who sob with utter desperation because this is their ‘last chance to make it’.

It’s not only the contestants and their sexy, slick professional partners who provide quality entertainment. The Dave Arch Band are am-az-ing (said in Craig Revel Horwood’s fabulous accent, dahling). The Band can play and sing any style of music the dancers choose. Such talent! What a shame we don’t get to see more of them. They may be tucked away at one end of the dance floor, but Strictly certainly wouldn’t be the same without them.

This is not just a weekend obsession. I’m also hooked on Strictly It Takes Two and so every evening there’s a scramble to prepare supper and be sitting in front of the telly by 6.30. I can’t miss Claudia.

Strictly Come Dancing keeps me going throughout the autumn and right into December, but what will I do with myself in January? I can feel a dose of the mulligrubs coming on already. I suppose I’ll have to make do with You Tube extracts until next autumn comes round again.

[For those with especially large birthdays looming, please note that Pamela Stevenson, who is dancing in this clip, is 61 years old. If I can dance like that at her age I’ll be a happy blogger indeed!!]


Friday 10 December 2010

My Award Acceptance Speech...

... and some awards to be awarded too.

A great big thank you to the lovely Pauline Barclay for awarding me the Versatile Blogger Award and as a mark of acceptance I understand that I now have to list out seven interesting facts about me. It’s not easy doing this. I’m more comfortable writing interesting facts about others but these are the requirements of the award and so, here goes:

1.      There is a musician inside me struggling to get out. I’ve had a go at playing the oboe, recorder, mouth organ, bodhran drum, classical guitar, folk guitar and piano. I still have the drum, two guitars and a piano around the house so visitors beware!

2.      For the first 45 years of my life I had a recurring dream that I was swimming with dolphins and I’d always wake up disappointed. At the age of 45 I learnt how to swim and I haven’t had the dream since.

3.      I didn’t go to University until after my children started school. I got a degree and trained to be a teacher. Before then I was a secretary, but not a very good one. I never did like being told what to do.

4.      When I was 13 I won a medal for amateur dramatics. I was the leading lady in a play called Dark Brown. (If anyone has a copy I’d love to read it again.)

5.      I have a secret stash of chocolate (Green & Blacks, dark, 70%) hidden in a cupboard but I’m not going to tell you which cupboard.

6.      I long to be able to dance like they do on Strictly Come Dancing. If only they would phone me... but first I’d have to become a celebrity. Bother! 

7.      I meet with a group of writers twice a month. One of the monthly meetings is for a writing workshop. The other is for an ‘everyone bring a dish’ lunch. It’s an excellent way of keeping your writing going through the hard times and it’s also an invaluable support network. In fact, everyone should try the lunch thing and so I end this list with a toast. Here’s to ladies who lunch.
Finally to my award presentation. I’ve provided seven interesting facts and so I’m going to pass the Versatile Blogging Award on to seven bloggers:

Amie Kaufman at

And I’d like to present the Laid Back Ladies Award to:

Friday 3 December 2010

Do you remember when cars were fun and quirky?

Every now and then I get an attack of nostalgia. I yearn for the way things used to be before the modern world came along and ‘spoilt it’. I’ve already blogged my rose-tinted memories of post-war food and those 1950s holiday-camp holidays and now I’ve come over all nostalgic about cars. It started the other day when I saw a classic car chugging down the road. It was a Ford Popular and it reminded me of Dad’s little car that he had when I was young.

This is me a long, long time ago sitting on the bonnet of Dad’s little car with my sister and mum.

The car looks so small and basic. It’s hard to believe how much they’ve changed. Surely they were better then than now... weren’t they? They were fun and quirky with things like:

•  Indicators that pretended to be little orange arms. They popped up from the side of the car and when they got jammed you had to bash the door to knock them back in again. They were to replace hand signals, I suppose. When I took my test you still had to show you could give hand signals. I had to demonstrate a signal for slowing down, a circular backward movement with the arm held straight out of the window. You’d get your hand chopped off by overtaking cars if you tried that now.
•  Bench seats in the front as well as the back of the car. When the car turned right the passenger would slide into the driver as, of course, there were no seat belts. This was particularly good for courting couples but not so exciting if you were taking your granny out for tea.
•  That big yellow AA badge fixed to the front grill of the car and whenever an AA man drove by on his motor bike he would salute you. I seem to remember that this happened a lot, especially when Dad took us for a Sunday afternoon ride into the country.
•  No wing mirrors but you could buy clip-on ones that were supposed to fit onto the window. They never did and they inevitably fell off if you opened the window... which you had to keep doing to give hand signals.
•  No in-car music, not even a radio. I used to hold my tranny (transistor radio) up to my ear and shuffle it round to try and get some sort of reception every time Dad turned a corner. Listening to your own music in the car was a non-starter. Can you imagine playing vinyl records with a stylus?!
•  The crank handle - talking of non-starters - which was kept under the driver’s seat in case the car wouldn’t start with the key, which in those days was most of the time, especially early in the morning, and there was the choke button which you pulled right out when the car was cold and slowly back in again as the car warmed up. If none of that worked we had to push and then run and catch the car up before Dad chugged off without us.

Oh yes! Those were the days!


Wednesday 1 December 2010

Was this the last train out of London?

It was going to be a bit of an outing… well not much of one to be honest, but two days of tests for Rod at the National Amyloidosis Centre, at London's Royal Free Hospital was as good as it gets these days. It was the first time Rod had been out since his stem cell transplant four months ago and so, if nothing else, we were planning to include a bit of window shopping in the new, shiny St Pancras Train Station on the way home. 

Fortunately the consultation at the end of Rod’s two-day test marathon was good. He is progressing as well as can be expected. The statistics show that the stem cells have just about done what they were meant to do. All we need now is for him to get stronger and put on a bit of weight which will, the consultant assured us, happen all in good time. 

There were light flurries of snow as we shivered our way from the hospital but at St Pancras 'cancelled' signs screamed at us from the departure boards. This was no time for window shopping. We joined the mass of panicky travellers and wedged ourselves onto what, according to the information displayed, was the only train heading to the East Midlands. It was going to Sheffield to be precise, with Leicester as its first stop. 

The journey was beautiful, white fields lit by dazzling sunshine, but by the time we reached Leicester it was snowing and as we alighted from the train we heard the announcer breaking the news to the remaining travellers. The train was no longer going to Sheffield but would terminate at Derby. We’re home now, heating on full blast, cuddling hot mugs of tea, but I keep wondering what happened to all those people who thought they were on their way to Sheffield.


Friday 26 November 2010

What exactly is sparkle anyway?

I arrived home from the shops yesterday to the sound of hammering. It made me smile. Rod was repairing a stool. In the afternoon, while he pottered in his potting shed, I settled down to work on some picture books. Life is slowly returning to some sort of normality.

It’s quite some time since I worked on picture book fiction so I dug out some of my guideline notes from way back. In amongst all the bumf about double-line spacing etc it said to make sure the story had lots of sparkle. I had no doubt faithfully written this from a book I was reading or a talk I attended but I don’t think I stopped to analyse it. I mean, what exactly is sparkle anyway? And never mind getting sparkle into picture books. If it’s so important, then I need to know how I can get sparkle into my life.

In my last blog post I talked about how we felt about ourselves on a scale of one to ten, ten being fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I was a ten. A number of you said the same in your comments. If we could work out how to get sparkle into our lives would it increase our scores? An eight would be good.

As far as writing picture books is concerned I reckon that the way we can add sparkle is to write with an easy-to-read rhythm, to include a fine sprinkling of alliteration and inner rhymes, and to feed the illustrators with many and varied spreads so they can add sparkle too....

Hang on a minute! Maybe I can do the same with my life. Maybe it’s all about an easy-to-live rhythm or maybe I have an inner illustrator who needs to be fed? Now there’s a thought.

p.s. I tried to take a photograph of the sun sparkling on the frosty grass but it wouldn't show. However many times I tried and whatever setting I put the camera on, the grass and frost were there but the sparkle wasn't. Sparkle is elusive - official!

Saturday 20 November 2010

What Not To Wear

On Friday I went to a big, 'dressy-up' do - a charity lunch in aid of Rainbows Children’s Hospice. I know that all charities are worthwhile causes but I do believe that Rainbows Hospice is even more worthwhile. I can’t understand why the hospice receives hardly any government funding. It provides such worthwhile services to ill children and their families... but don’t get me started on these injustices. Visit Rainbows’ website and see for yourself.
All morning I moaned, ‘I’ve got nothing to wear!’ which was especially pertinent as the topic of the after dinner talk was ‘What Not To Wear’. I rummaged through my row of impractical, outlandish outfits bought in the misguided belief that they would make me feel good. I finally found an Adini skirt and top accessorized with silver dangly jewellery and I was ready to face the world.

We were treated to a complementary box of chocolates (which I took home for Rod, of course!) 

...and a big goodie bag. What is it about goodie bags? Everyone dives in, dabbing lip gloss onto lips and moisturiser onto hands as if we’d never seen such luxuries. 

We ate and drank and ate some more and finally the after dinner speaker was announced. I have been known to doze off during after dinner speeches but not this time. Pippa Rees, style consultant, certainly knows how to keep her audience entertained. The BBC featured her in their 2009 ‘The Speaker’ articles and in her Style Boutique she offers one-to-one advice on how to discover our own personal style. [Sadly I can’t include a link as her website is displaying a malware warning.]

She began by asking how we felt about ourselves on a scale of one to ten, ten being fantastic. Some people put their hands up for ten. Wow! When was the last time you felt like a ten? And what were you wearing? Pippa believes there’s a connection, the outfit is crucial.

She asked what we said in the morning when we opened our wardrobe door. She received a chorus of, ‘I’ve got nothing to wear!’ It’s not just me then. Why do we keep clothes that don’t fit, are far too loud/dull or just plain uncomfortable? Her advice was to get rid of the items that we know we’ll never wear again and go clothes shopping with a list, just like at the supermarket.

But when I’m standing in a clothes shop I never know what style to go for. Pippa’s advice is to take a good look at those few clothes that we wear regularly and go for more of the same. It doesn’t mean we’re boring. It means that we’ve found our style. It would be good to think that I could find mine. I’ve spent long enough looking for it. I suppose it’s never too late to try but I know I’m still likely to buy something impractical and outlandish in the misguided hope that it will make me feel like a ten.


Sunday 14 November 2010

Good Old Leicester

The proofs of my latest book have arrived. The book is called Hometown History Leicester and it’s a children’s history book. It’s exciting to see how the editor has converted my plain text into brightly coloured spreads. She has made my words come alive and it was a delight to check them...

...but the editor has also presented me with a tough task. I have to write a biog in no more than 30 words explaining why I enjoy writing about local history for children. And there’s the problem. Where to start? How to get it all squashed into 30 words?

I’ve lived in Leicester all my life and I’ve always been fascinated by its history. My favourite outing as a child was to the Newarke Houses museum and it’s still a great place to visit. I used to teach history and I love writing for children. That’s forty-six words. I have some editing to do.

Researching and writing this book was a pure delight but I fear I’ve become an LHB – a Leicester History Bore. In fact here are just five of my many fascinating facts.

Fascinating Fact No. 1

Leicester (or Ratae Corieltauvorum as it was once called) was important to the Romans. It was a strategic point where the River Soar could be crossed without drowning in mud and so well worth defending.

(This picture shows the Roman Jewry Wall and remains of the Roman baths.)

 Fascinating Fact No. 2
The Anglo-Saxons established a market in High Cross. We now have a new and glitzy High Cross Shopping Centre not far from that original site. 

 Fascinating Fact No. 3

AND the Vikings, who preferred to set up a market of their own, did so on the same site where our Leicester market is today. 

(This is Leicester Market, the biggest covered, outdoor market in Europe.

Fascinating Fact No. 4

The Guildhall was built by the local religious guilds. When Henry VIII abolished them, the Leicester Corporation bought it for their town hall.

It’s still in use today. You can visit the Victorian cells or stand in the Great Hall where the Tudor Mayors held huge banquets where indecent amounts of food were served up while the Leicester poor were most likely starving in the streets.

 Fascinating Fact No. 5
With the Industrial Revolution came a need to improve our transport system. George Stephenson attended a meeting at Leicester’s Bell Hotel. (I remember that pub. It was opposite Lewis’s.) His son, Robert Stephenson worked on The Comet, Leicester’s first steam engine, and George brought it to Leicester on a canal boat and then drove it on its maiden journey from the brand new West Bridge station.

Are you asleep yet? There’s more and if I’ve wetted your appetite then the book will be out in May/June 2011. (Watch this space. I may mention it again!) It’s aimed at 8 to 10 year olds but it makes a good read for any age (a completely unbiased opinion!)

And now I’m off to edit my biog. “I’ve lived in Leicester all my life and...


Tuesday 9 November 2010

Save the Words

90% of everything we communicate is done with only 7,000 words. I just read that on a fascinating website called The screen is filled with words that are slipping out of usage and in risk of disappearing altogether. The words are animated and keep calling out ‘over here!’ and ‘choose me!’ It's hilarious but you'll have to visit it for yourself to obtain the full amusement value.

The Guardian Newspaper ran an article about the site this week. They urged us all to adopt a word, slip it into our conversations, emails, letters, reports, blogs and all manner of places to save it from extinction. 

It’s not hard to see why some words are on the way out. They’re not exactly relevant. [If they’re relevant to you then apologies but please start using them!] Here are just a few:

Stiricide = falling of icicles from a house
Sevous = like tallow
Frutescent = looking like a shrub

On the other hand, there are many words that deserve to be rescued. Here are three of my favourites:

Blateration = blabber or chatter
Woundikins = mild profanity
Piladex = a game where an inflated bag is hit with the hand across a table

Of course, it’s us lot who make it difficult for people to use obscure words. We’re apt to make fun, tease, say,
‘Oooooh, get him! He’s swallowed a dictionary for breakfast!’ 

As I write this, BBC Radio 2 is playing in the background. The language used by the DJs is simple and uncomplicated. It’s the sort of language that the majority of us hear and use every day. We have not only allowed, but have played a significant part in the dumbing down of our own lovely language. Isn’t that a shame?

I think we should join forces and try to turn this trend around. I’m going to adopt my three favourite words. Blateration describes the way I talk on the phone – I know it does! Woundikins is so cute even if it does mean a mild profanity, and piladex sounds like my type of game, not too energetic but with a bit of competitiveness to spur me on.

Anyway, enough of my blaterations. I do hope you’re all going to visit and adopt a word or I shall have to resort to woundikins! And now, anyone for a game of piladex?


Wednesday 3 November 2010

I'm a writer not a teacher

I dreamt last night that I was still teaching. I’d made the decision to hand in my notice but had left it too late and would have to wait until the following term. I should (and in real life would) have been devastated but I wasn’t. In my dream I was worried about:
  • losing my identity
  • the absence of a daily routine
  • What would I say when people asked, “What job do you do?”
That third point is one that really hits home. People treated me differently when I said, "I'm a teacher." I get such varied and strange responses now when I say, “I’m a writer.” Why is that? I've been asked all of the following questions, some many times over.
  • “Why are you a writer?”
  • “How do you write a book?”
  • “What do you do with yourself at home all day?”
  • “Where do all your ideas come from?”
  • “Aren’t you ever going to do a real job again?”
You wouldn’t dream of asking a teacher questions like that. Why should writing be so different?

I've been a writer, not a teacher, for many years now and yet fragments of that dream won’t leave my head. It’s made me feel flat. I guess I miss the companionship of going to work and the rhythm of a working week, but I’m writing this with the radio on in the background. The London Underground is at a complete standstill due to strike action. There are severe hold ups on all roads in and around London, and even though I don’t, and never have, lived in London, it reminds me how lovely it is to get up and ‘go to work’ in my comfortable, warm home and if I need companionship I know I can chat with all of you, even if some of you live over ten thousand miles away... especially as some of you live over ten thousand miles away!

[Example of me chatting with people who live over ten thousand miles away!] One of the comments to my recent blog about bird feeding got me thinking about whether there are different varieties of birds in gardens around the world or do you all have sparrows, blue tits and pigeons like here in Leicester?

Talking of bird feeding, my good friend, Pippa Goodhart, popped round the other day. [You can find Pippa’s website here and the interview I had with her is here.] She's bought me a fabulous present, a super-gourmet bird feeder. It contains every nut and seed the local birds could possibly want and my Yew tree is now a regular pit stop for green finches, chaffinches and a beautiful thrush, as well as the usual flocks of tits and sparrows. It’s brilliant and I certainly wouldn’t be able to enjoy it if I had to dash off to school every day.

Rod update: Rod is home from hospital yet again. Hopefully he’s going to stay home this time. He’s certainly eating better and, although he’s very weak and suffering from flu and virus infections due to his reduced resistance, he’s starting to look more like my lovely husband again.


Wednesday 27 October 2010

Feeding the Birds

Many years ago I tried to set up a bird feeding area in the garden. I even wrote an article about it. In fact, that article became my first ever published piece of work. It was called Birds’ Eye View and was in the August 1999 edition of The Lady magazine. It was a proud moment and a new path for me. It marked the beginning of my transition from a teacher who attended creative writing classes to a writer who does a bit of teaching now and then.

You may have noticed that I said, ‘tried to set up a bird feeding area’. I had to abandon the project because my lovely old cat, Rosie, was far too interested in the birds and my darling dog, Josh, used to eat all the seeds that fell to the ground, but now they’ve gone. For the first time in my life I have no pets and with Rod still in hospital this is not the time to even think about it... but it is the perfect time to resume my bird feeding attempts.

I thought it would take weeks for the birds to notice a new food supply but not a bit of it. With nothing more than a new seed holder and half a coconut of fat/seed mixture the birds are back. I hung the feeders up two days ago and already I’ve seen coal tits, blue tits, dunnocks, sparrows and a robin, not to mention two hefty pigeons who are eating all the seeds that are falling to the ground. I’m enjoying their company. In fact, I may even write another bird feeding article.

There were loads of birds there when I started to take the photo. Really there were!

Rod update: Following a bronchoscopy (camera investigation of the lungs), the doctors have identified a specific flu infection. This is what has been causing the fluid on the lungs and heart and the high temperature. They’ve changed his antibiotics and say that he may be able to come home within the next few days. I must rush off to clean the house!

Wednesday 20 October 2010

What if...

What if I’d made different choices when I was younger? Where would I be? What would I be doing now? I don't think I'm alone with such thoughts. Robert Frost wrote about two roads diverging in a wood in The Road Not Taken. He took the one ‘less travelled by’.

I marked the first for another day.
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

But what if he’d taken the first path instead? We’ll never know.

The song Crossroads, sung by Don Mclean, has a different take on this idea.

...there's no need for turning back
`cause all roads lead to where we stand...

The song implies that it doesn’t really matter what choices we make, life ends up pretty much the same anyway. We'll never know if that’s true either and it reminds me of the storyline for Gwyneth Paltrow in the film, Sliding Doors, but of course that’s a film. This is real life.

I often think ‘what if’. What if I’d never joined Val Moore’s creative writing class at Writing School Leicester? I’d still be teaching. I was never happy as a teacher but wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do. Creative writing was the answer but what if I’d never discovered that?

Then there’s the time I posted off a manuscript called Bathtime Rap. I almost didn’t bother. I’d received a few rejections that month and in my notebook I wrote, ‘posted off picture book ms to Franklin Watts today. What a waste of time!’ But it wasn’t a waste of time because it was accepted and became my first children’s picture book. What if I’d never sent it?

There’s a fine line between ‘what if’ and ‘if only’. When I was a teenager I was seriously thinking of moving to Israel when I met the man who became my first husband. I abandoned the plans and I often think ‘what if I’d gone?’ But I’d never, ever think ‘if only’ because then I wouldn’t have my two wonderful children.

There's no harm in the occasional 'what if' thoughts and I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks 'what if'... am I?

Rod update: Thank you so much for all your kind wishes. Rod went back into hospital last Thursday with a high temperature, shortness of breath and chest pains. He has fluid on the lungs and heart. The doctors think this is due to an infection that could have been there for the last month but wasn’t picked up when he was readmitted a few weeks ago. The positive thing is that they’re now doing a whole battery of tests to identify the type of infection and hopefully will be able to eradicate it before they discharge him once more.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Small portions

When it comes to writing I love small portions. My favourite genre is children’s picture books. This is not simply because of the size, of course, but I do enjoy being able to hold the entire story line in my head and reworking it in the middle of the night without the need of pen, pencil or keyboard. The same is true of my blog posts. I always try to keep them below 600 words. They’re more manageable that way. Unfortunately the opposite is true when it comes to cooking. Quantities seem to expand in my saucepan but this is not good.

At the moment I’m trying to adopt the style of shopping and cooking that would have been more familiar to Mum’s generation than to my own. When I was a kid Mum went to the shops every day. She bought just enough for that evening’s meal and there was rarely anything left over. Of course, Mum didn’t have the luxury of freezers or supermarkets plus she had no microwave to reheat food... and now neither do I. 

While Rod’s resistance is so low following his treatment there are a lot of restrictions on his diet. He’s not allowed anything raw so salads are a big ‘NO’. He’s not allowed soft cheeses, lightly cooked eggs, pâté, but the most debilitating rule of all is no reheating of food. I had never noticed how much reheating I did from chicken that becomes chicken soup to vegetables that turns into a tasty curry. The rest would be thrown into the freezer and packed in little bags with twist top ties. Nothing was wasted. 

Now when I make a soup I have to use half a carrot. Half a carrot! It’d be quicker to munch a quarter of a raw carrot each and be done with it. I only need to add one potato and a mere handful of assorted vegetables. All that chopping and cooking and swooshing up... it hardly seems worth it. Soups in my house have always been grand amorphous affairs, growing ever more voluminous with each extra carrot and leek that I chuck in... and, before my kids log on to comment, yes, my soups are usually a strange orange colour and just a tad gloopy but they’re always very tasty and highly nutritious [at least, that’s what I always used to tell them.]

My problem extends beyond soups. I seem to be incapable of buying and cooking the correct amount of meat for two portions of stew. Stew should be cooked long and slow in a vast pot with herbs from the garden and root vegetables for flavour. Who wants to do all that faffing about for one meal? 

And as for puddings! I’m now mixing 2 oz flour with 1 oz butter and 1 oz sugar to make a crumble which is sprinkled over one cooking apple. No more left over crumbles for lunch next day.

I know this stage of Rod’s recovery won’t last forever and compared to the fact that he’s still neither allowed nor strong enough to go out and about and mix with groups of people, the food issue is a minor irritation, but right at this moment it’s driving me crazy. 

So has anyone got any bright ideas for small portion cooking? All recipes and helpful suggestions gratefully accepted.

Monday 11 October 2010

Positive Thinking

I have often blogged about therapeutic writing and I do believe in the power of positive thought, and yet, as my sister recently pointed out, I have taken on a negative title “Writing in the Rain” and a negative tag-line “It hasn’t stopped raining yet” for my blog. She thinks I need to be more positive. Even my frilly umbrella is trying to get the message across. Last week it broke. I think it’s time I took notice of the two of them (my umbrella and my sister, that is, but not necessarily in that order!)

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year and I don’t want to change its title now. Besides, there will inevitably be rain in my life and I will, no doubt, continue to write in the rain. We all have to write in the rain sometimes, but I hope there will be sunny writing days too. And so I’m going to change my picture from


just to prove that I can and do write in the sun too.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Friends in Need

The last few weeks have been horrible. It will take me a long time to get used to not having Josh in my life. He was such a lovely and lovable dog but I scarcely had time to mourn his loss before Rod’s health deteriorated again. Last Wednesday night he collapsed. I called the emergency ambulance but he was in so much pain they called the paramedics. It took over an hour of ECGs, inserting lines and administering morphine before they took us to Accident and Emergency. By now it was 1 am. I was trembling, frightened and confused but thankfully my friends followed the ambulance. They sat in a drafty, drunk-strewn waiting area until 3 am, then they drove me home and calmed me down.

Over the last few weeks friends have brought in meals, done my shopping and generally been there for me. One friend took all of Josh’s food to the Huncote Kennels (Leicester Animal Aid where we first met Josh as a three month old stray). Another friend took the wormery away. It was a responsibility too far and an unnecessary risk of further infection for Rod.

After lots of tests and high-dose antibiotics and antifungal treatments, Rod was discharged yesterday. He’s able to keep proper food down for the first time in over two months so I’m hoping that life will start to return to normal, although it will never be quite the same as it was. I can never replace Josh. He was truly irreplaceable but with my friends there to support me I hope that very soon life will start to hurt a little less.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Sad News

Last week my darling dog, Josh, died. He became ill very quickly. He spent three days at the vets on a drip but he didn’t respond to treatment. I miss him very much. It still hurts too much to talk or even write about him. I need to take some time out to get over this.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Talking to yourself...

... what’s so wrong with that?

She wears fluorescent green wellies, her jeans are turned up a little too much to be fashionable, and her blue waterproof coat is one size too large. Her dog trots along beside her and she is talking. She could be talking to the dog but, as he never appears to reply, she is in effect talking to herself. The writers among you will be preparing to use her as the batty lady who inadvertently becomes a key witness to a crime in a who-dun-it, or as the under-cover witch with awesome magical powers in a children’s novel, but before you unashamedly include her in your next piece of creative writing I must warn you that the lady is me.

I often talk to myself. It’s not a new phenomenon brought on by the recent stresses of an ill husband. I can clearly remember many years ago a teacher colleague looking round my classroom door, her brow furrowed at the sight of me chattering away to a pile of Year 3 artwork and an emerging wall display.

But why is there such a stigma in talking to yourself? I bet loads of you have done it in private and would happily do so in public if it wasn’t for those worried glances from passers-by in the street. Even in a crowd I’ll bet you’ve muttered things under your breath, keeping the tone way down low so others won’t hear, but why should you keep the tone low and why shouldn’t you talk to yourself?

Talking to yourself can clear the mind. When you read a manuscript out loud, you get a better awareness of the lumps and bumps that need ironing out. It’s the same with your thoughts, concerns, plans for the day, anything that’s going round and round in your head. Say it out loud and you can more clearly see what the problem is and what needs to be done. It’s also an excellent way of letting off steam, like shouting out ‘I don’t believe it!’ (or similar phrases) after running for a bus only to have the driver pull away as you reach the door?

Even if you’ve never, ever had the slightest desire to hold a conversation with yourself, there is one thing that I would urge you all to try at least once. You see, it is possible that when people thought they saw me on the park talking to myself they were mistaken. I was probably singing. I wouldn’t suggest trying this in a crowded street. If my voice is anything to go by it could well offend, but when I’m on my own I stride across the field in my fluorescent green wellies with my jeans turned up high enough to avoid the long wet grass and I sing to the birds and the trees, to the bushes, even to the rising sun. What's so wrong with that?

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Apple and Honey

It’s tradition. Pass round the apple and honey at the time of the Jewish New Year for a fruitful and sweet year to come.

Every year I chop up apple, pour out honey and wonder if it can possibly make a difference. I know that eating apple dipped in honey can’t change my future life but it can change the way I view life in general. It makes me think of that lovely holiday in Bruges, those atmospheric early morning walks with the dog, that morning coffee and chat with a good friend. This has not been the easiest of years but it has been a fruitful one and there have been sweet times. My beautiful new grandson was born. I had my children’s history book accepted for publication. I’ve make a lot of lovely new blog friends.

The sun will be setting in a few hours time. I’ll soon be getting out the pot of honey and selecting the rosiest of apples, only this year I’ll peel them and chop them into thin pieces so Rod can manage them, and together we’ll look forward to a year that’s not only fruitful and sweet but full of good health too.

Happy new year  

Sunday 5 September 2010

Writing or cleaning – what a choice!

Five weeks ago, when Rod went into hospital, I was chasing a deadline for my children’s local history book (There'll be more details about this when I get the publication date, final title etc from Hometown World Publishers!). I’d been working on the book for about two months. The research was fascinating and the writing was keeping my mind off the inevitable worries of Rod’s illness and treatment but it was a relief to submit it. I needed a break from work... or so I thought. Unfortunately this left my brain with no distractions, especially in the middle of the night. You know how it is. It’s 2 am, you’re wide awake and dark thoughts are hanging around your mind. That’s when I try to think about my current writing project. It’s a strategy that I’ve developed and it’s one of the reasons I love/need to writing, but I couldn’t be creative with Rod in hospital and, now he’s home, I’m struggling to find the time. I’m too busy cleaning!

As a result of the chemotherapy treatment Rod has profound neutropenia. This means that he has no resistance to the everyday bugs that the rest of us live with quite happily and so I have had to develop a coping strategy. I vacuum, mop down, disinfect handles, sinks and toilets and change the towels every morning before he gets up... that’s the theory anyway! His food must be prepared fresh each day. He’s not allowed to have anything reheated. He mustn’t eat raw food which includes those lovely tomatoes that he’s been nurturing all year, although they’re still delicious skinned and fried (if only he could taste them above that tinny taste in his mouth). Of course, surfaces and utensils need to be extra clean and food must be well cooked through and through. I have to admit to always having been a bit obsessive about this sort of thing and so now that I’ve been told by a doctor that I HAVE to do it... well, let’s just say I’m trying not to become too paranoid.

So it’s all the more important that I have some writing to occupy my mind. Many people have asked me if I’m going to write Rod’s treatment into a story. I know that writing is therapeutic. That’s why I write this blog, but it feels too immediate and raw to turn it into fiction just yet. Maybe I’ll do it one day but for now I’m going to return to my short stories and children’s writing and banish those night-time panics... if only I can grab the time in-between the mop, bucket and disinfectant wipes!

Saturday 28 August 2010

Almost home... but it’s Bank Holiday Weekend

Rod is recovering from his stem cell transplant. He’ll soon be discharged from hospital but not while he has a Hickman line in. It’s yet another source of infection and this is something he must avoid with his present low levels of resistance... but it’s Bank Holiday weekend which means that the lines can’t be taken out until Tuesday so they allowed him home for the afternoon as long as he was back by 8 pm, a bit like being a prisoner out on licence.

Rod’s resistance is so low that I’ve been given a long list of dos and don’ts regarding cleanliness and food hygiene. It’s scary but when I got up this morning I only had to disinfect the door handles and brush the dog to put the finishing touches to my newly super-clean house. All was going well until I stepped into the downstairs toilet. Water was dripping from the hand basin. I tried to phone the plumber... but it’s Bank Holiday weekend and there was no reply so I decided to tackle the leak myself. How hard can it be to tighten a nut under a tap? I found the nut. No problem. I turned it and... OK, so I turned it the wrong way and once the water started to pour it was impossible to get a grip on it with wet fingers. Thankfully a kind neighbour came round with his toolbox, fixed the leak and I was able to finish my cleaning and get to the hospital in time for Rod's 'day-release'.

Rod is very weak and has by no means recovered from the treatment but today he had two good meals, he sat in the conservatory and admired his garden (which fortunately is still surviving) and he was reunited with the dog. Josh-the-dog has a manic streak. When the kids come home to visit he does crazy circuits, the sort of circuits where back legs overtake front legs with hilarious consequences. It’s been almost four weeks since Rod went into hospital. When we arrived home we braced ourselves for a daft dog explosion but Josh didn’t move. He stood and stared and then he pressed his head against Rod’s legs. Rod sat on the stairs. Josh laid his head on Rod’s lap and there they sat. If dogs could cry Josh would have been shedding tears of relief. Dogs can’t cry but we can... and we did.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Hospitals and Wormeries... Aaagh!

Rod will have been in hospital for three weeks on Tuesday. They said it would take three weeks for the entire stem cell transplant procedure, but they didn’t reckon on the chemotherapy sending his kidneys into hibernation. It would seem that the kidneys are lazy organs. That’s what the specialist said, and now they need to be coaxed into working again. The doctors are hoping to avoid dialysis because of the risk of infection but the machine is all set up and ready beside his bed just in case.

While he’s in hospital I’m in charge at home. I’ve managed to get the recycling sorted. The composting regime is easy but I made the mistake of buying Rod a wormery for his birthday earlier this year. A colony of worms is one responsibility too many. Those who know me well, know how much I loathe worms. If I touch a worm while I’m gardening the entire street knows about it but I overcame the fear. I had to. Rod’s wormery was letting in water. Some worms have drowned. I was mortified. I may not like them but I didn’t mean to kill them. The main problem is that it will not stop raining! So I’ve turned the mixture to let in some air. I’ve stirred in paper and oats to dry them out. Today I moved them all into the shed... without screaming once. Who’d have thought it?

Not all of my additional responsibilities are yuk, for example taking Josh-the-dog for his evening walk. The evening walk was always, always Rod’s job but I’m starting to quite enjoy it... if only it would stop raining! It hasn’t stopped raining since the day after Rod went into hospital. He’d set up an elaborate array of watering cans etc to make it easier for me to water all the pots but I haven’t had to use them once. I’m starting to wonder if someone up there has noticed the title of my blog and decided to be ironic!

Rod is still not able to eat solids, his kidneys are still struggling, his resistance is rock bottom because of the high-dose chemotherapy and he’s very weak but he is really hoping to be home by next weekend or the beginning of the following week. I hope he’s not disappointed. I guess you’ll all be relieved too because it’ll mean that I’ll stop moaning on about hospitals and treatments and start talking about something more interesting instead so, for all our sakes, here’s hoping.

Sunday 15 August 2010

...and now I’m writing in a downpour

I may have mentioned before the reason for the name of my blog. Bear with me if I’m becoming repetitious. It’s not old age so much as stress... I hope. I’m writing in the rain because Rod has been heading for a stem cell transplant since I set this blog up last year, but right now the blog should be called ‘writing in a downpour’.

This week has been grim. Rod has been on morphine most of the time. Visiting times have consisted of me sitting staring at him... but yesterday when I arrived he was sitting up sipping a cup of tea. He asked normal questions like ‘Has the Bank Statement arrived?’ It was brilliant. He’s not through the worst quite yet. They’re concerned about his kidneys and he may have to go onto dialysis for a few days but he’s talking and thinking. He’s more like my Rod.

I’m feeling overloaded at the moment. I’d like to wrap myself in fluffy pink candy floss and not have to face the world but it looks like the world needs me. Josh-the-dog had his stitches out on Thursday after a lump (a nasty one as it turned out) was removed from his thigh. It’s healing well at the moment but he’s still consigned to the bucket when I go out and at bedtimes because he wants to pick the last few scabs off. You can’t blame him. There’s something irresistible about a crunchy, black scab. But he’s happy and eating and roaring round the park after his ball so fingers crossed...

What’s more I am truly writing this in a downpour, not just my metaphorical one. I now know why my dog-walking coat is called shower-proof and not water-proof. It’s a horrible feeling when icy rain trickles down your back. Still, at least the weather has provided me with one positive. I’ve not got to water the garden while Rod’s in hospital. In fact, it’s all looking green and lush and I know he’ll be delighted when he’s sitting right here looking at it... and so will I.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Hospital Visiting is Exhausting

Having someone ill in hospital is hard enough without having to find your way to the appropriate ward, work out what you can and can’t do as a visitor and then, having got all that sorted, you have to think of interesting, uplifting things to say. Parking the car is yet another problem. Our hospital has an almost permanent queue of cars attached to it. With Rod undergoing a stem cell transplant this is affecting me on a daily basis. But here’s the twist. The queue has become a source of fascination and a useful discussion point. Before I explain I’ll give a brief Rod Report for those of you who have kindly been asking after him.

Rod Report: He’s now in isolation as the high-dose chemo (Melphalan administered on Wednesday) has upset his digestive system badly and his blood count is dropping. I’m allowed to go in and see him but I must wash my hands and gel them before I go into and when I come out of his room.
They reintroduced his stem cells on Friday but the doctor did warn that this procedure would feel like an anti-climax. Three bags were removed from a huge tank with liquid nitrogen floating around (as I had imagined). Each bag was placed in a warm bath and as soon as it reached body temperature the liquid (red with tiny white dots i.e. the baby stem cells) was fed in through his drip system. They are helping him to fight the chemotherapy but he won’t feel the benefits for some time.
He’s very uncomfortable and is on a saline drip because they’re concerned about his lack of fluid intake and the condition of his kidneys. He’s likely to be in the unit for at least another two weeks. We’ve been warned that during this week the symptoms will get steadily worse. I’m trying to busy myself with writing so I’ll get back to my blog now.
Talking is making Rod feel sick. I’ve never had a problem generating idle chatter so as soon as I arrive, I start chatting to him... but I keep mentioning food. This is not good. Fortunately I’m sitting on a chair beside the window overlooking the queue of cars for the car park and I can give Rod a running commentary about the many and varied quirks of queuing drivers.

Here are just a few:

‘Swap the driver’ These people must be first-time visitors. The regulars know that the one with the appointment needs to be in the passenger seat so that, after inching along the road for half an hour, they can jump out of the car and run into the hospital (health permitting) to avoid being late.
‘The crawler’ Some drivers won’t pull forward when a car goes through the barrier. They try to play the ‘let’s see if I can keep moving very, very slowly’ game. Please don’t. For those people behind you it’s highly irritating.
‘The entrance blocker’ Most drivers leave the orange box areas free for delivery vehicles to enter other hospital gates, but just a few steadfastly don’t. It causes chaos.
‘Alternative pick up point’ I’ve done this for quick treatments like blood tests. Rod gets out of the car as I join the queue. I crawl along and before I reach the front of the queue he’s finished and rejoined me. We pull out and the driver in the car behind thinks I’m great.

‘The ignorants’ Every so often a car speeds down the outside lane and swerves into the car park when it reaches the front of the queue. This has happened in front of me on several occasions and it’s infuriating. There’s nothing you can do about it because they’ve got through the barrier by the time you’ve decided to get out and tackle them and you’re left with high blood pressure. At least the hospital has an A&E Department if it all becomes too much.

I know that the official line about hospital parking is that it’s preferable to get the bus but it isn’t, truly it isn’t. When I get out of that hospital all I want to do is to climb into my car and drive myself home. Hospital visiting is exhausting.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Bruges, Blakeney and Holiday Snaps

Do you remember when you had to wait at least two weeks for the holiday photographs to be ready and then when you went to collect them most of them were duds? Well mine were anyway. Now I can look at a photo instantly, take a whole stream of shots until I get it right, email that perfect picture round the family at the press of a button. It’s clever stuff.

Dad used to have his snaps developed onto slides. When guests arrived he would draw the curtains, set up the screen and get the projector out. Mum always complained. She wanted printed photographs to hold in her hand. She makes the same complaint now when I get my mobile out or sit her at my computer for a photo show. Some things never change... including the post-holiday blues.

It’s always difficult when you get back from holiday, washing to be done, food to be bought and you’ve even got to cook the stuff yourself, but this time we topped all the usual problems. We arrived home to hospital messages calling Rod in for extra tests before next week’s stem-cell transplant and, something we weren’t expecting, Josh-the-dog was rushed into the vet’s to have a lump removed from his thigh. We’re hoping it’s going to be ok. We’re hoping it’s from the fox bite he had a few months ago. It never really healed properly.

But this blog is meant to be about holidays not illnesses. 

Two weeks ago we went to Blakeney in Norfolk. I enthused at length about Blakeney here so I won’t bore you with repetition but it is my all time favourite holiday resort and this time we treated ourselves. We stayed at The Blakeney Hotel.

I could get used to living like that. We lounged in their lounges and Josh-the-dog walked all his favourite coastal-path walks. The restaurant overlooks the creek and we watched the tide rising and falling while lovely young waiters served up three-course meals every evening, followed by coffee (or mint tea in my case) and home-made chocolates.

Talking of chocolates, last week we visited beautiful Bruges. It’s a place where the sound of bicycle bells and horses’ hooves on cobbles merge with the aroma of artisan chocolate. Bruges has managed to retain its old-world look unlike any other place I’ve ever visited but I wouldn’t have been able to say exactly why until our tour guide pointed out that there are no aerials, no satellite dishes, or electricity wires. All the 21st century services, including internet connections, are ducted beneath the cobbled pavements...

...and there are very few ‘impossible to walk over’ cobbles. They’re mostly modern ones which are easy on both the feet and the eye. Why can’t our pavements look as good at that?

Bikes seem to be the favoured method of travel for the locals. For the tourists the horses are continually ‘doing the circuit’.

Our guide was keen to impress upon us how well these horses are cared for, never working more than one day on and one day off, and having numerous rests and meal breaks.

The canals contain very little traffic as only the local tour boats are allowed to navigate them...

...along with the swans which, our guide assured us, are almost as well looked after as the horses.

And so we move on to next week and all the hospital treatments but we have these lovely memories, not to mention megabytes of photos, to remind us... and I don’t even have to warm the projector up to view them.