Wednesday, 12 December 2012

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

Some much loved mementos of Christmas past!

Christmas is a time for children. A time for families. But also a time for memories .....

Oh, the Christmases of my childhood! I remember them so clearly - each splinter of time as clear and sharp as ever it was! If only I can close my mind - and my eyes - for a moment to the clamour of Christmas Present. To the lists of presents to be bought. To the cards to be written and posted. To the constant refrain of 'I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday' blaring from the supermarket speakers. To the endless queues at the check-outs, the problem of getting a space in the park-and-ride, the feeling of the days rushing past and being nowhere near ready .... If I can shut out all that, I can be a child again, on Christmas Eve.

We knew it really was "all happening" when our cockerel was delivered by 'Mr Young the Fowl Man'. He reared dozens of them, alongside his flock of hens, in a big open run just the other side of the road from where we lived, so we could hear them crowing for weeks before. The 'First Smell of Christmas' was my aunt, singing off what remained of the poor bird's feathers, which always notched up our excited anticipation. (Actually, I lie. 'The First Smell of Christmas' was much earlier - puddings boiling in the copper. A smell I detested!)

But back to that wonderful cockerel.

In my childhood, chicken was a once-a-year luxury, rather than the commonplace meat it is today. When it was gone we had to wait a whole twelve months to taste another. Oh, the wonderful aroma that filled the house as it was cooking! And it truly was the star of the show. We didn't have all the fancy accompaniments in those days - just brussel sprouts, stuffing, and - if we were lucky - roasted potatoes instead of boiled. But what a feast it was - even if I had to eat some of that hated Christmas pudding afterwards!

Then of course there was the excitement of waiting for Father Christmas to call. I remember looking out of my bedroom window when I was supposed to be asleep, ever hopeful that this year I might catch sight of his sleigh in the moonlit sky. But of course, I never did. I'd wake in the middle of the night, crawl to the bottom of my bed and feel the pillow-case that hung there - my sister and I always had pillow cases, not stockings - and it would be lumpy with a box that might be a jigsaw puzzle, and a couple of orbs that were probably an orange and an apple. I'd managed to miss him again! But at least he'd called and left me presents!

The family presents were always piled on the settee in the living room and covered with a sheet. We couldn't wait to remove it and hand out the assorted parcels to the adults, who sat in a circle as befitted the occasion, and we took it in turns to 'open'. Great merriment always ensued from the presents we received from one elderly auntie - they were always several years too young for me and my sister - I remember 9-piece jigsaws which we had races to complete, and when buying for my grandchildren and great nieces and nephews I live in fear of "doing an Auntie Pat". Her presents to my mother were just as uninspired - we took bets on whether it would be a peg-bag or a voluminous pinafore - each year it was one or the other. And on one memorable occasion a gift from us to them reapeared the following year in fresh wrapping paper ... obviously she was no more pleased with our offerings than we were with hers!

The present I will never forget is the one I got the year I passed the 11-plus to go to the Grammar School. A much longed-for bicycle! Too big to be put on the settee, it was standing in the hall when I came downstairs, also covered by a sheet, but an unmistakeable shape. The excitement I felt then has never been surpassed. It stayed with me as a warm glow for days, weeks, months, forever, really. That bike - a red Hercules with no gears at all - was my pride and joy and it still hangs in our garage. It might be a rusted wreck now that I will never ride again, but I just can't bring myself to get rid of it.

Oh ... those Ghosts of Christmas Past ... Happy, happy days, with memories time will never erase. And more happy ones to come, when I was a young wife and mother, and now a very proud grandmother. But that's another story .....

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

MY DAD, MY HERO


I mentioned in my last blog, RETURN OF THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, that the book (out in e-format on 1st November) was based around stories my father told me about life 'in the old days', but I think he deserves a page all to himself!

His name was Gerald Young, just Gerald - his poor mother had probably run out of inspiration by the time he came along, one of the youngest in a family of thirteen. His father was a miner, and the older boys had followed him into the pits of the Somerset coalfield; Dad was to do the same at the tender age of twelve.

I should explain here that he was almost fifty by the time I was born, and the early part of his life was a very different world to the one I knew. The school leaving age at the time was 13, but because Dad was clever enough to pass the 'knowledge test' at twelve, he was allowed to leave a year early. He went to work first on 'the screens', sorting coal above ground, but before long he was underground, working as a 'carting boy'. The Somerset coal seams were notoriously narrow and faulted, too low to accommodate pit ponies, so men and boys had to do it, crawling on hands and knees and dragging a 'putt' of mined coal from the coal face to a place where the roof was higher. A rope around their waist, then threaded between their legs, was attached to the 'putt'. It was hard, demeaning toil, and the rope rubbed their skin raw until they became used to it. But for all the infamy of the 'gus and crook' as the apparatus was known, I never heard my father complain about it. 'It's just the way it was, my dear,' he used to say.

What had made him angry was that he was blackmailed into continuing with the job until he was twenty-four years old. He 'carted' for his father, and carting boys were much harder to come by than colliers, so that when he wanted to leave he was told: 'If you go, you can take your father with you.' And so he stayed: he couldn't be responsible for his father losing his livelihood.

That story is one of the many that found its way into THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, along with the dreadful accident that nearly cost him his life. One day, taking his putt of coal down a steep incline, he misjudged the 'sprag' , a peg which was thrust between the spokes of the wheel as a way of braking. The putt ran down the incline, dragging him behind it, and at the bottom he was catapulted in an arc, taking all the skin off his back as he grazed the stone roof above. In those days injured miners were taken home by one of the carts that were waiting at the pit head to be loaded; that day there were no carts waiting, and Dad's brother carried him home on his back - a journey of the best part of a mile up a very steep hill. A story like that is better than any I could have invented!

Then there was the accident that happened to his little sister, Eva, who tumbled into a bath of scalding water. Lucky to escape death, she lay on her stomach for six months whilst her terrible injuries slowly healed, and had to be taught to walk again.

And more, so much more ... I think it will warrant another instalment ...

Though I used my father's family as 'pegs' for the characters in THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, and though Hillsbridge is a thinly disguised Radstock, the story is completely fictional, as I am always at pains to point out to readers who think they can spot the real villains. ( 'We all know who that was, don't we?' ....)

But one more incident is completely true. When my father escaped the mines he travelled the country, doing all kinds of different jobs. Whilst he was working as a deck chair attendant on the beach at Ramsgate, a local boy of 13 got into trouble whilst swimming - the currents were notoriously dangerous. Four men, including Dad and a lifeguard, went into the water to attempt to save him - one man drowned in the attempt, two were forced back - and my Dad got the boy safely to shore. He had never learned life-saving; he brought the boy in by his hair. For this he was awarded the Carnegie Hero's Fund Trust Award, a citation which hangs on my wall today, and £10 - a lot of money at the time! So you see, my dad really was a hero.

Unfortunately he died before THE BLACK MOUNTAINS was published, but he carried the piece of paper in his wallet on which I had written the dedication, and I'm sure he was pleased and proud. The dedication is this:

For my Father, Gerald Young

Who was a carting boy in the pits of the Somerset Coalfield for ten years and a collier in Somerset and South Wales for several more.

The stories he told me inspired this book. The plot and characters are fictional, but the way of life is as he described it to me, and I believe that he, and others like him, helped to write 'Black Mountains' with their lives.

Monday, 24 September 2012

 
RETURN OF THE BLACK MOUNTAINS!
(and the rest of the Hillsbridge books)
A 21st CenturyFairy Tale
 
Once upon a time there was a little girl called Janet whose father had once been a carting boy in the mines of the Somerset coalfield.  She loved to listen to the stories he told of those long ago days, of winters when he never saw daylight because he was underground from before dawn till nightfall, of the mice who would creep out for crumbs from the miners' 'cogknockers' - bread and cheese,  of a horrific accident that nearly cost him his life, and so on.  He also told of life in the little town.  There was the weekly market where Smasher the Chinaware Man would throw crockery into the air and let it fall to the pavement to attract customers, quack doctors sold their pills and potions, and a dentist would extract teeth on a wagon in the market square in full view of passers-by. There were the concert parties and fetes; and there was the notorious  'draw' when names were picked out of a hat to decide which previously exempt miners would have to go to war in the trenches.   And of course he told too of all the pranks he and his friends played as children - and later!!

Janet decided to use the stories her father had told her as the background to a novel, the story of a family who lived in the mining town of Hillsbridge.   THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, which tells the story of the Halls, opens in 1911 and spans ten years.  It was first published by Macdonald in 1980, and later in various editions by Century.  In the USA it was published as THE HOURS OF LIGHT. 
 

 
The original hardback version of THE BLACK MOUNTAINS
 
 
Everyone loved the story of the Hall family, so Janet wrote three more books about them, each following the next generation, and Charlotte, heroine of THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, appears in all of them, though no longer centre stage.  THE EMERALD VALLEY tells the story of  her daughter, Amy, who was just a little girl in THE BLACK MOUNTAINS.  Next comes THE HILLS AND THE VALLEY, set during World War 2, with Amy's daughter Barbara in the spotlight, and lastly A FAMILY AFFAIR set in the 1950s when Charlotte's granddaughter is a doctor in Hillsbridge.
 
Eventually the Hillsbridge quartet went out of print, but lots of people were still asking for them.  Janet had long since run out of spare copies in the loft, and most libraries had long since decided that their well-read and dog-eared copies would have to go, so she and all the people who still wanted to read about the Hall family were very sad.
 
 But then along came a kind fairy godmother who works for Macmillan Bello.   They publish out-of-print books in e-form and also print-on-demand.   They took a look at the Hillsbridge quartet and said they would like to make them available once again!   So, like all good fairy stories, this one has a very happy ending.
 
Janet has just heard they are due out on October 11th, and she is very, very excited!!
 
oooo-OOOO-oooo
 
Author's note:  Janet Tanner is my real name.   But of course I am also Amelia Carr!!
 
 
 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

SUPERSTITIOUS - ME?
 
 
 
 
Proof I love green!  But Mum didn't approve ...
 
 

Where on earth do superstitions begin?  Some are easy to explain - walk under a ladder and a pot of paint (or worse!) might fall on your head.  Some are symbolic - crossed knives equal crossed swords.  The rest, I imagine, started simply because something bad happened to someone and they associated it with an event that had happened just previously.  For example - Carols Should Only Be Sung at Christmas.  This was one of the things my mother was superstitious about, and she always warned us that proof enough, if proof were needed, was that after singing out-of-season carols when celebrating Christmas late with my aunt and uncle - 'Grampy fell down'.  Grampy was in his eighties and a bit tottery on his feet, but it was the carols that were to blame.  I must say that if there were any truth in this superstition everyone visiting stores and supermarkets between mid-October and Advent would be having very bad luck indeed!
 
I think my mother was the most superstitious person I have ever met, though she always claimed the dire warning she was issuing was the only thing she was superstitious about.   To the rest of us, though, the list was endless, and none of the portents foretold good fortune, always something dreadful.   She didn't like seeing the new moon 'through the glass', as she described it.  If a picture fell from the wall (which they sometimes did, since we had heavy old frames suspended on rope which was liable to fray) disaster would soon strike.  Even a black cat crossing her path was regarded as unlucky, rather than the traditional 'lucky'. 
 
But chief among her superstitions was a fear and loathing of the colour green.  To have it anywhere in the house was an absolute no-no, and as for wearing it ....  disaster would surely follow.  So fearful was she of the colour that she would even cut the green title block from the church magazines, saved because they contained details of family christenings or weddings.  My father frequently told her she was being ridiculous but went along with it for the sake of peace, as did my sister and I.   Though my sister finally flouted the 'green is banned' rule by joining the Girl Guides at school - their uniform included a green tie.  My mother did threaten to go and see the pack leader to ask if my sister could be excused wearing the tie, but I think she was eventually talked out of that.
 
For years and years I avoided green, partly because I didn't want to upset my mother, and partly because I was genuinely afraid of what might happen if I rebelled.  It was a bit like standing on the edge of the high diving board and wondering if I dared jump - except that I did used to jump off the high board, but was too indoctrinated to risk wearing green.   And then crunch time came. 
 
I wrote in one of my previous blogs about the meningitis my daughter Suzie suffered when she was a baby.   She was lying desperately ill in a sterile cubicle in the Children's Hospital, and each time we visited we were required to put on a gown, which hung on a peg ready for us.  The doctors' gowns were white, the nurses' were brown, and - you've guessed it - the gowns for relatives were green.  I was horrified, thinking it a very bad omen, and the first couple of days I asked for a brown gown instead.  But inevitably the next time the green gown was back, and eventually I made up my mind.  I would wear it.   What would be would be.  If something dreadful happened, which was a very real possibility, I would not blame the green gown.  And if Suzie recovered, I would know the whole thing was nothing but a ridiculous superstition.
 
Suzie made a miraculous and complete recovery.  And from that day on I have surrounded myself with green.  I love it!  I often wear it, and we decorated our house with loads of green - even painting the front door in a lovely shade of holly.  I never managed to convince poor Mum, though. 
 
So - am I superstitious about anything?  Well ... I like to think I'm an optimist.  So yes, I do turn over my money when I see the first sliver of new moon.  And yes, I do put on my right shoe before my left so I can put 'my best foot forward'.  But that's not superstition, is it?
 
I'd rather call it 'positive thinking'!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

 
 
 
TAKE HEART, ZARA.  THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS THAN ANNIVERSARY CARDS!
 
 
No anniversary cards, but still happily married!
With two of our lovely grandchildren.
 
 
So Mike Tindall is being castigated by the gossip columnists for buying Zara a last-minute wedding anniversary card in Sainsbury's.   The marriage will never last if he doesn't treat her with a better show of love and respect, is the message.  All I can say is - tosh!  And believe me, I speak as one who knows.
I come from a family who always sent one another cards on every possible occasion - goodness, my grandma even used to send my sister and me Valentine cards and pretend she didn't have the slightest idea where they had come from!  When I married Terry 46 years ago next month I fully expected the same sort of tradition.  The first Christmas after we were married I bought a huge card bearing the message 'To My Darling Husband at Christmas' and sent it to him.  His reaction when he opened it was not at all what I had expected.  Instead of delight, he looked dismayed.  'Does this mean I've got to send you one?' he asked grumpily.  Naturally, I dissolved into tears.  A couple of days later there was a huge card on the breakfast table with my name on the envelope.  I opened it, feeling vindicated, to discover a card identical to the one I had sent him, except that it was 'To My Darling Wife'.  He'd taken so much notice of my card to him, and the one he was buying he hadn't even noticed!  Yes, I was upset all over again, but then we laughed about it, and propped the matching pair up side by side under the Christmas tree.  I never expected a Christmas card from him again, and I've never had one.
I've never had an anniversary card or a Valentine card from him either, though, to give him his due, he is very good about birthdays.  Well, the cards, anyway.  My present has been known to arrive in the brown paper bag it was bought in.
As for bouquets ...  flowers bought from a garage forecourt would have been far better than no flowers at all.  For years and years, I never received a single bloom.  When I was in hospital having my second baby all the husbands were arriving with bouquets, and I mentioned to the girl in the next bed that I'd be lucky to get any from Terry.  'Oh, you're wrong!' she said, spotting him walking across the car park. 'He has got flowers for you.'  I was surprised - Terry buying flowers?  I couldn't believe it.  I was right to be doubtful.  The flowers turned out to have been sent in for me by our next-door neighbour.
I must admit there were times when I felt pretty miffed, but then I realised.  If Terry was the sort for the grand romantic gesture, he wouldn't have been the man I'd fallen in love with.  No use getting upset about it.  It wasn't that he wasn't generous, he was.  He never has begrudged me anything.  He just honestly couldn't see the point of that  sort of thing and he wasn't going to change.
Having said that, there have been occasions since when he has bought me flowers.  The publication of my second novel, Oriental Hotel, being a case in point.  I was doing in a signing in a local bookshop when the florist arrived with the most beautiful bouquet - for me, from Terry.  When I read the card, I was in tears again, this time of joy.  Because I knew he'd done it absolutely to please me and for no other reason, and because it was so rare, made that bouquet, extra special.   There were red roses too on our silver wedding anniversary, probably about the only ones in twenty-five years, and again, all the more special because of it.
We'll be celebrating our Golden Wedding in another four years - maybe, if I'm lucky, there will be flowers for me then too.  But I'm not expecting a card, from Sainsbury's or otherwise.  If I get one it will be a bonus.  But far better to have an unromantic man and a happy marriage than the other way around.   And that would be my message to Zara.

 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

It's twenty years now since I wrote this account, which was published in the Daily Mail, but it is every bit as fresh in my mind today.  To accompany it, I had a photograph taken with an enormous white cockatoo sitting on my arm!
 
 
 
 
HOW I BEAT MY TERROR OF BIRDS
 
'How old are you?' asked the hypnotherapist.  'I'm two.'  My voice sounded childish.  'What are you wearing?'  'My blue coat.'
            I wasn't convinced I was reliving this: I've seen photographs of myself wearing that coat.  Then I heard myself add, with a giggle: 'I'm not wearing my bonnet.  Mummy makes me wear it because of my bad ear, but Daddy lets me take it off.'
            That was disconcerting.  It sounded like a long-forgotten truth.  I honestly didn't know where it had come from.
            I was in regression therapy, trying to rid myself of a phobia that had haunted me for as long as I could remember.
            I fed birds in winter, adored my daughter's cockatiel and my mother's budgie, but the prospect of touching them or of them touching me turned me into a gibbering idiot. 
            As a child I woke sobbing from nightmares, paralysed by the terrible conviction that if I moved I would encounter … feathers.  I was once sick when I walked into a butcher's shop and found myself surrounded by unplucked Christmas turkeys.  I couldn't touch a picture of a bird; I couldn't even look at one.
            As I grew up the nightmares came less often but the terror remained, blind and unreasoning.  And the fear of knowing that I would lose total control if suddenly faced with my phobia only made things worse.
            Once, I found a dead bird which must have come down the chimney, and flipped completely.  All the use went out of my legs, I was screaming, hitting out blindly at my husband as he tried to comfort me.  For hours afterwards I snatched my hand away from everything I touched as if it, too, had become that bird.
            I was panicked by the flutter of wings, but it was the sight of a dead bird that touched the depths of my horror and brought the most extreme reaction, and especially a black bird.
            I consulted a local hypnotherapist, John Hudson, who said my terror was probably rooted in something that had happened when I was young.  If I could remember it as an adult, he said, there would be no phobia.
            Often people think they recall the traumatic incident which was to blame, but almost certainly what they are remembering is the earliest occasion on which they were confronted with the trigger.  The true cause is buried deep, resulting in a reaction irrational to an adult, yet impossible to control because subconsciously we are programmed with the emotional response of a child.  What we had to do was find the incident and allow me to relive it as a grown woman.
            My mother always said my phobia began when I was frightened by a pheasant while walking in the woods with my father.  But this didn't explain why I was more afraid of dead birds than live ones, especially black birds.
            My hypnotherapist put me into a light trance, having attached an electrical skin resistance meter (the old fashioned lie detector).  I felt relaxed and in control.  I didn't believe I'd been hypnotised at all and , when I began answering his questions, I was convinced my answers were coming from a desire to co-operate. 
            He persuaded me to describe the scene.  I was in the wood. It was a bright, cold Sunday morning.  My father was wheeling the pushchair along a path.  I was running on ahead.  Then, nothing.
            'A bird flies up in front of you,' the hypnotherapist said.  'It startles you, but it won't hurt you.  There's nothing to be afraid of.'
            But something was desperately wrong.  Suddenly I was crying and shaking.  The hyphotherapist told me later the monitor had shot off the top of the scale.
            'I don't think we've reached the root of the problem,' he said.  'We need to try again.'
            At home, I kept remembering the session, and something more.  It was as if I was watching a photograph develop in my mind, snatches of something I could almost see.
            A week later the hypnotherapist repeated the procedure.  The barrier – apprehension – was still there, blocking my memory. 
            This time I had a hazy impression of branches cracking in a tangle of trees. Someone was there.
            'I am going to snap my fingers,' my hypnotherapist said. 'When I do, you'll remember what happened.'  He snapped his fingers.  Suddenly I heard the crack of gun shot.  And then a violent fluttering in the undergrowth beside me and a bird, large, black and broken, anguished in its death throes, at my feet.
            I was screaming.  And a childish voice sobbed: 'It's dead!  I don't want it to be dead!'
            Tears were streaming down my face.  At last I had remembered the horrific incident which had been buried deep in my subconscious. 
            My parents had no doubt encouraged me to forget.  And the bottled-up horror had remained with me, out of reach, but overwhelmingly powerful.
            The hypnotherapist advised me my fear may not go all at once.  'You have a lifetime of terror to overcome.  But now you know the root cause you will soon learn you don't have to be afraid.'
            I could hardly believe it.  As I left his surgery I saw a pigeon on the pavement and decided to put it to the test. I couldn't bring myself to walk close enough to make it fly, I was tense and nervous.  But my skin didn't crawl any more.
            Today, my phobia is totally cured.  I no longer fear the flutter of wings which in my experience had preceded a horrible death.  And my memories of that long-ago have gradually developed into a clear photograph.
            I remember just what it was like to be a child, but I remember with the understanding of an adult.  Hypnotic regression exorcised my demons and opened a new world for me.  And my freedom from fear is wonderful.
*****
 I was photographed with a cockatoo on my arm!
 

Monday, 25 June 2012

MY SEAFARING ADVENTURE
 
When I first got the idea for the book that was to become THE SECRET SHE KEPT I realised I knew next to nothing about sailing.  Yes, my sister and her husband used to have a boat, and yes, I have friends who sail, but it wasn't nearly enough.  I needed to experience it for myself.  But how?
Trawling the net for information, I came across the Jubilee Sailing Trust.  They have two tall ships, the Lord Nelson and Tenacious, specially equipped so that the wheelchair bound and the blind can enjoy being part of the crew of a sailing ship and anyone willing to be a 'buddy' - i.e a carer - can book onto one of their voyages.  Feeling adventurous, I decided to go for it, and in May, 2008, I sailed out of Portsmouth as a crew member of the Lord Nelson.
I was able to draw on some of the things that happened to me as fiction in THE SECRET SHE KEPT - out in hardback and as an e-book early next month.
It would take far too long to relate the whole of the experience here, so for the moment I'll just give you a taste by reproducing the blog I wrote on behalf of my Watch on Day 3.  Names have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent!  (Not that they need protecting - they were all absolutely lovely!)
So - here goes!
 
Me at the helm!
 3.40 am, and I'm awoken by someone shaking me, gently but firmly.  i can't see who it is, all I know is they are wearing a woolly hat pulled well down and carrying a torch.  A cat burglar?  Hardly, since we're in the Alderney Race, heading for Jersey.  So it must be the Press Gang waking me for my watch.
I pile into layers of clothes, including my husband's motor-cycling long johns, and stagger up to the bridge.  Fortified by hot coffee, the members of aft starboard team begin work.  In spite of the cold, it's great fun.  As we're very close now to Jersey we have to keep a good look-out for fishing buoys.  Peter takes the helm, with audible guidance (Peter is totally blind), and then I get my first turn, which I really enjoy.  It's daylight now, and Jersey is on the horizon.
Relieved of our watch, we have a very welcome breakfast, and then it's all hands on deck to stow the sails and get the 'Nellie' into harbour.  It's a lovely day, blue skies and sunshine.  And time for my next great adventure - climbing the mast.
Most brave souls had already been up the mast before we left Poole; not me.  I chickened out, but I can't lie low forever.  This is something I've got to do - or at least, try to do! 
Kitted out in my harness - about the only thing holding my shaking body together - I go to the fore mast.  The lovely bosun's mate (I think I'm in love!) has assured me that if I freeze he'll bring me down in a fireman's lift.  That's quite a tempting offer, but when he tells me he'd have to knock me out in order to do it, I decide maybe it would be better to come down under my own steam.  After all, what point is there in being carried by a hunky fireman if I don't know anything about it?  I'm attached to a line (to give me confidence - some hope!) and our incredibly patient bosun encourages me to step over the rail.  Then, step by slow step, I set off skyward.  I can't quite make it onto the fighting top; going over the ledge is a step too far.  But I am so glad I've made it this far - a memorable (if terrifying) experience.   My pride is short lived, though, for the totally blind Peter is going up nimbly, two of the other girls, who had also confessed to being terrified, have made it to the fighting top, and another is on the cross tree.   Not to mention 5 wheelchair users have made the ascent on the main mast and are enjoying spectacular views of Jersey Castle.  My only excuse - unlike me, they don't have their bus passes yet!
 
Just to prove I did it!
 
Lunch on deck in the sunshine - French onion soup and salad.  All the food is incredibly good.  Then most of the crew go ashore to explore St Helier.  Some visits are paid to the duty free shop, though nobody is readily admitting what they have purchased.
Late afternoon, and once again almost everyone goes ashore.  One restaurant in particular must be seeing its takings soar!  By 8.30 pm I'm flagging.  I leave more resilient souls tucking into delicious-looking puds and make my way back to the ship.
To bed.  To sleep.  Do I need it!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

JUBILEE MEMORIES
 
Nothing like celebrating the Queen's 60 years on the throne to make you feel your age ... if you can not only remember the Golden and Silver Jubilees, but also the Coronation!
 
I have two abiding memories of the Coronation.  The first is of sitting on a hard chair in a packed Miners' Welfare Hall near our home to watch the ceremony on a black-and-white television.  The television was the great attraction - we didn't have one of our own, nor would until several years later.  But it was a bit of a disappointment to a child used to going to the Palace cinema every Saturday afternoon to watch two films (which had been shown in the morning at The Paladium, Midsomer Norton, our neighbouring town, and couriered over) - even the biggest set available to the organisers was pretty unimpressive companed to the big screen.  I also remember being rather bored and feeling guilty about that, because, after all, I was watching history being made.  To me, it all seemed endless!
My other memory is of the relentless rain.  There was to have been a big 'tea' for the children in the square outside our historic Victoria Hall, and a fancy dress parade.  I was got up as Sir Walter Raleigh, and very proud of my jaunty hat and knee breeches, and my younger sister was going as Queen Elizabeth.  Anxiously we watched the skies - not a crack in those lowering grey clouds, and still the rain came down in sheets.  We had to wear our school macs to walk down the hill to the town centre, all the glory of our costumes hidden beneath navy blue gaberdine, the parade was cancelled, and the tea party had to move indoors,  All together, I felt the day had been very much a damp squib.
 
 A pretty indistinct pic of me at about the time I was Sir Walter Raleigh!   It's my first attempt at using my new scanner!
By contrast, my memories of the Silver Jubilee are very happy ones.  For the actual day of celebration we (Terry, myself and our two daughters) were in Cornwall, staying at Henscath House in Mullion Cove.  It was a regular haunt of ours, and we had become friendly with the owner, Pearl Cameron, her significant other, Stan Hardy, an art dealer from London who later opened a gallery in Bath, and his business partner, the lovely and aristocratic Dobbie Adeane.  I could go on forever about the wonderful holidays we spent there - everything was run like a country house party, Pearl and Co always ate with the guests, who then helped with the clearing up before Stan would get out the brandy and the tequila and we (well, the adults, anyway) would sit drinking, chatting, and playing games until the wee small hours.  I can claim the honour of having washed up with Jonathan Pryce, who was staying there once when we were; it was long before he was famous, and all we knew was that he was an actor.  But I digress.  In the morning we went as a party into Mullion to watch the procession, armed with union flags supplied by Pearl, and cheered as the town band and so on marched past.  In the afternoon Pearl and Dobbie raided the dressing-up chest for fancy dress for all of us - Terry, I remember, was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in a Mexican hat and poncho, my elder daughter, Terri, wore an oriental dress and Dobbie made her up and did her hair accordingly, I had a red, white and blue striped vest of my own, which was deemed to be suitable.  The weather was wonderful - blue skies and sunshine all day, and we were able to have a barbeque on the terrace and champagne to toast the Queen.
 
Back home, the celebrations continued.  We and our neighbours had a street party for all the houses backing onto our cul-de-sac.  Again there was fancy dress and bunting, and our garage was turned into a bar, besides housing the stereo equipment for the music.  A wonderful party that went on all afternoon and evening.  Happy, happy memories of the happiest house I have ever lived in - most of us in those two roads were of an age, as were our children, and the comradeship was amazing.  Lovely parties, always someone to chat to, and, when someone's car wouldn't start on a frosty morning, half-a-dozen men would emerge from various houses, the kitchens of which overlooked the close, to push!  There was certainly no frost when we held that wonderful Silver Jubilee party, though.  Just sunshine, laughter and a lot of noise.
 
Strangely enough I have very few memories of the Golden Jubilee - probably because by then we had moved, and no longer have close neighbours to party with, and our children had grown up and flown the nest.
 
What will I take with me from this Jubilee?  Well, apart from tremendous admiration for the Queen, of course, one of my abiding memories will be of those brave girls belting out Land of Hope and Glory on their barge with the rain streaming from their hair.  A bit like the Coronation really - except that no-one made them put on gaberdine macs!
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Gypsy - Our Beautiful Rescued Dog

We've rescued dogs for almost forty years. Apart from Kim, a golden labrador. whom we got as a puppy when living in Minehead, all our dogs have come to us from one rescue centre or another. So when we lost dear little Millie back in January we knew there was a space in our hearts and our home for another dog who desperately needed a loving family.

And Gypsy found us.

The volunteers from the German Shepherd Rescue organisation were due to visit us on a Saturday morning for a 'home visit' - checking that we are our house and garden were suitable for an adopted dog, but they called us to say they wouldn't be with us until the afternoon, as they had to do an emergency visit to a dog in urgent need of rehoming. When they arrived we sat around the kitchen table over a cup of tea and they told us about the dog they had just taken into care. Apparently she was so emaciated that every rib could be counted, and she had scratched her back raw because she was infested with fleas. I think we knew in that moment that she was the one for us.

Gypsy had been taken to a kennels only about ten miles from us, so it was easy for us to visit her.

'She's very nervous,' the handler there told us. 'Just let her come to you, but be warned, it will take some time.'

So we sat in the little office and he brought Gypsy in. And what happened? She went straight to Terry, my husband, and licked his hand, then jumped up with both paws on my knees - which made her taller than me - and licked my face.

We went home, absolutely torn. On the one hand we knew nothing whatever about her - what she would be like with children and other animals, or even if she was properly house trained. We were worried as to how her nervousness would play out - though malnourished she was already a big and very strong dog. And of course she was on a special diet of three small and highly nutritious meals a day because her starvation had meant she could only eat a little at a time, though that wasn't really a problem - we have rescued dogs who needed special diets in the past. But whatever problems we foresaw, we couldn't forget her. Every time I closed my eyes I could see that big, gentle face close to mine as she jumped up and licked me within the first seconds of meeting me.

Our minds were made up. We couldn't turn our backs on Gypsy. We visited the kennels several times and walked her in their training paddock. At first she pulled dreadfully on the lead - she nearly pulled me over - but she loved playing with a ball, and we could see she didn't have an aggressive bone in her body. I didn't think we should take her home until after Easter as we had both daughters and their husbands together with four children visiting, and I thought it would be too much for her. But on 2nd April - Terry's birthday - Suzie met us at the kennels with Dan (8) and Amelia (6) and they all fell totally in love with her. Suzie persuaded us to get her in time for their visit, so on Good Friday, with some trepedition, we collected her.

On the first day she was a bit unsettled, but she went to bed with no fuss at all, and we didn't hear a sound from her all night. The following day she had settled in so well it felt like she'd been with us for ever. She barked madly at all the family when they arrived, then licked them happily. She's really obedient and eager to please, loves being fussed, adores the children, and likes us to be together as a family.

Gypsy has now put on a good bit of weight - I think she's pretty well up to what she should be - and her coat has grown back beautifully. She's an absolute delight, though she is still a bit of a nightmare when she meets other dogs whilst on the lead. Terry is taking her to training classes to try to socialise her - in fact, he's there now.

I'm just so happy that we took her in, but I'm still convinced it wasn't us who chose her - she chose us. And I look forward to the happy times we will have together.



Amelia took these pictures of Gypsy while she was still in kennels

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Bishopston Mini-Triathletes!!!

I was rubbish at PE and games at school. Well, actually I was most rubbish in PE - I couldn't clear a vaulting horse to save my life, though unbelievably I could climb a rope. My hand/eye coordination was rubbish too, so at an early age I discovered having to play rounders equalled an hour's torture - I don't think I ever managed to hit the ball with that silly little stick. Later, at Grammar School, I was full of admiration and envy for the lithe girls who captained the hockey and tennis teams, and competed on Sports Day in all the field and track events. I so much wanted to be like them - I wanted to BE them! To me, they were the epitome of glamour.

And then came marriage and motherhood. Terry, my husband, was very sporty. When I was expecting our children, I knew he wanted a boy to play football - and the rest -with. Two girls came along, but joy of joy, both were really sporty like him. They both ran, Suzie was in netball, hockey and tennis teams, and both excelled in the swimming pool, Terri as a high-level synchro swimmer, Suzie speed. Our sideboard groaned under all the cups they won, and I could have taken out shares in a firm selling silver polish. As I had pointed out, a boy might have taken after me and not been sporty at all.

Oh, how proud of them I was! The pleasure that came from seeing them do well at something I had always wanted to do but never could was immense, far outweighing the fact that neither of them seemed the slightest bit interested in 'my' things - drama and writing.

And now I'm proud all over again. This weekend my two youngest grandchildren, Dan (8) and Amelia (6), together with a group of six of their friends did a mini-triathlon in aid of Sport Relief. The Bishopston Mini-Triathlon, they called it - a swim, a half-mile run and a 4-mile bike ride. And between them they've raised over £1000 for the charity!


Didn't they do well?

Congratulations to the Bishopston Eight!!

Monday, 5 March 2012

NOT REALLY A BLOG .... AMELIA MAKES THE DRAW!

Recently I've been running a competition to win one of five copies of A WOMAN OF SECRETS. It's been great fun, and a huge learning curve for me. When I made the first announcement on Twitter, a manic ten minutes followed as I darted around my websites and Facebook pages making sure I was giving the right details in all the right places, checking links and begging help from my lovely nephew Richard, who acts as my web master and mentor. When it comes to all this technology, I'm an idiot - my grandchildren were better at sorting these things out than I am even before they started school! - and I think I must have tried poor Richard's patience to the limits that morning with my frenzied cries for help and lack of understanding of instructions unless they came in words of one syllable. Helena at Headline was there to help too, and eventually all was running smoothly.

Apart from the last day, when I began getting e-mails telling me the link was taking people to a weather forecast for Chile .... Apologies for that! Still don't know what happened, but I extended the competition for an extra day to compensate.

Then came the big problem. How to choose the winners. More than anything, I wished I could send everyone who had entered the competition a prize and hated the thought of disappointing anyone. But I guess the whole point of a competition is that there are winners and losers, and the fairest way to pick the winners was the good old-fashioned one - names in a hat. And who better to make the draw than my youngest granddaughter - the real Amelia Carr. (I borrowed her name!) So, folks, here she is, taking the whole thing very seriously.







And the full list of winners is : Georgine Price, Sarah Chapman, Heather McWilliams, Zoe Corbin, Tracey Anne Berry.

Once again, thank you to everyone who took part, and I'm really sorry if you weren't a winner. If it's any consolation I'm never lucky in a draw either. Except once. Many years ago. When I won a magnum of malt whiskey. But that's another story ....

Thursday, 1 March 2012

MENINGITIS - MY BABY'S BRUSH WITH DEATH

Meningitis. The very word is enough to strike terror into any mother's heart. Today it is a well-publicised disease - we all know about 'the tumbler test' for instance. But forty years ago, when my baby became ill, it was a very different story. I'm happy to tell you, here and now, that it has a happy ending. But if it can help one person to recognise less well-publicised symptoms, and save one child's life, then I think it is worth the telling.

Suzie, my daughter, was seven weeks old. I'd had a week's confinement after my waters broke before she was born, three weeks early, and I sometimes wonder if the fact that I was open to infection during that time had any bearing on what happened, but I shall never know. She was a happy, healthy baby, growing steadily from her birth weight of 7lbs 4 oz.

One day when I fed her at midday, she immediately vomited it back, then fell asleep again. Strange, I thought. A hungry baby should be crying, but she wasn't. Just sleepy. The same thing happened each time I tried to feed her, and I became very worried indeed. In fact, almost right from the start, though in every other respect she seemed fine, I absolutely knew she wasn't. This was no longer the anxiety that afflicts all of us at times, it was an absolute, deep down conviction. I KNEW she was desperately ill, and when she vomited again at 5 pm, this time flecked with blood, I sought help. Luckily, our doctor lived only just down the road; we took Suzie to see him. He examined her, and could find nothing obviously wrong with her. He said he thought she had an infection of some kind, and didn't think it was serious, but to be safe we should take her to the Bristol Children's Hospital and let them check her out.

Before leaving for the few miles' drive, I took Suzie home to change her, and here is the next clue. I was feeling horribly guilty that my baby was ill, as if it was somehow my fault, and when I changed her nappy, I noticed that her little bottom was completely smooth and very pale. I didn't realise the significance at the time - my only thought was that the doctors would know she was well looked after because there was no sign of nappy rash. In fact, that unnaturally pale bottom was a sign that her white blood cells were all up, fighting the infection.

At the Children's Hospital, the doctor who examined Suzie told us that he found the same as our GP - nothing obviously seriously wrong, but they would keep her in overnight to keep an eye on her, and we would probably be able to come and collect her in the morning. That doctor's decision, without a doubt, saved Suzie's life. When I rang the hospital next morning it was to be told that the infection had developed at about 11 pm the previous night, and my baby was now critically ill.

We hightailed down to Bristol to find Suzie lying naked in a cubicle with all the windows open - this was mid-October - because it was imperative her temperature was lowered. There were tubes everywhere, and she had been started on a wide range of antibiotics as the infection had not yet been identified. They could give us no reassurances as to the prognosis. For more than two weeks we did not know whether she would live or die, and it would be much longer before we could ascertain whether she had suffered any brain damage, blindness, or loss of hearing.

It was six weeks before Suzie left hospital. The nurses were the ones who saw her first smile - "We all love Suzie", they said. "She's such a happy baby". (Those were the days before parents could stay with a sick child, though we could visit - and did - any time). The nightmare was not quite over - Suzie had to return to hospital on two occasions before her first birthday - and the drugs she had been given had made her allergic to milk. She had to be fed with a powdered product which, to me, tasted absolutely vile, but was the only food she could - or would! - have. Weaning her off it was a huge problem. But she was not only alive, but healthy, thanks to the prompt medical attention she received. Had my GP told me to take her home and see how she was in the morning instead of having her admitted to hospital, I'm sure it would have been a very different story.

Today, Suzie is a mother, teacher, swimming teacher, and triathlete. A miracle, who was saved in an age when meningitis had little or no publicity - thanks, mainly, to her doctors. But also because I recognised that my awful gut feeling was right. There's a huge difference between worrying, even fearing, and that KNOWING that will not be denied. If you feel that KNOWLEDGE - act on it. I did, and I'm sure it helped to save my child's life.


My two lovely daughters - Suzie is on the left.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

JACOB



I've just spent a week cat-sitting for my daughter and her family whilst they have been in France, skiing. Now I'm a dog person, always have been. We've had three German Shepherds, a Goldie, a yellow Labrador, our dear Italian dog Millie, who we sadly lost a couple of weeks ago, and as a teenager my family had a sweet little Heinz 57 who was uncannily like Millie both in looks and temperament. We've also had an amazing house-trained rabbit, a cockatiel who actually belonged to my daughter but ended up living with us, a budgerigar inherited from my mother, and several hamsters. But I've never had a cat, though Terry and I did make quite a pet of one who was the mouser for the shop over which we lived in a rented flat in the first months of married life. I've always shied away from getting one of our own, for all sorts of reasons - not least that I like to know where my pets are when I go to bed at night, and wouldn't sleep easy if one of them was out roaming heaven-knows-where.

But Jacob is a joy! Suzie, my daughter, rescued him from the RSPCA home last summer, a pretty little tabby with only half a tail - he had been involved in an accident when he was brought in to the home, and had to have the damaged part amputated. He is also the friendliest little chap, who rarely goes out of the garden and spends most of his time lying on the patio in summer and on the back of a chair from where he can look out of the window at this time of year. And for the whole of the week, he followed me around like a shadow.

I'd intended to make the most of a week with no interruptions to do lots of work, and I did manage that - with difficulty! Every time I sat down to write, Jacob was there, clambering onto my lap or the computer keyboard, or settling himself down to lie on my writing pad and pile of paper. And does that cat talk! I never knew what a variety of 'miaow's there are in a cat's vocabulary! Loud and insistent when he wants attention or to be fed, soft and purring when he's contented, and all stations in between. At night he'd come into my room, jump up on the bed and begin prodding my nose with his paw, then settle into a hollow and lie for a while padding at me rhythmically before falling asleep. If he wasn't still in my room in the morning, he'd appear, mewing, at the first sound of my feet on the floorboards.

He can be a bit naughty - one day, eating lunch in the kitchen, I thought I saw him on the other side of the frosted glass of the back door. Wondering how he had come to go out without me seeing him, and also why he didn't just come in by the cat-flap, I got up and went to open the door, just in time to see puss streak away down the lawn and over the fence into a neighbouring garden. I followed - as I said earlier, I like to know where my charge is! - but puss had completely disappeared. Resigned, I returned to the house, only to find Jacob toying delicately with a slice of the ham from my plate! The cat I'd seen wasn't him at all - but he certainly took advantage of my absence to make off with a tasty snack! He also ran off with the very expensive piece of digital engineering that is my hearing aid, which I'd put on the dining room table. Luckily that happened on the first day when Terry, my husband was there - he saw what Jacob was up to, chased him and recovered it unharmed. Thank goodness! If he hadn't witnessed the theft I doubt I would ever have found my hearing aid - unless I'd heard it whistling inside Jacob's tummy!

I left him yesterday evening after feeding him with a double portion of Whiskas and felt bereft as I drove away. Suzie and family were due home in just a few hours and I told myself he'd be fine. Which, of course, he was. But I'm left missing him dreadfully.

A dog person I might be, but that little cat has certainly found his way into my heart and filled a corner of the chasm that dear Millie has left.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Millie

I always loved Peter Sarstedt’s hit song, Where Do You Go To, My Lovely. But I never imagined that one day I would have my very own little refugee from the back streets of Naples.

No, not a film star or a top model with humble origins. An adorable little dog.


Monday, 9 January 2012

VANITY, VANITY!!

A New Year, a new book coming out - THE SECRET SHE KEPT  - isn't it time I got a new author photograph?  I've had the current one since my first book with Headline - DANCE WITH WINGS, three years ago.  Used it on my Facebook page, my web sites, even as my avatar on Twitter.  Because I actually rather like it, even though it is a bit too glam with arguably a bit too much cleavage ...