Monday 29 February 2016

Time travel ~ in my dreams!

I had a dream the other night that stayed with me for ages ~ you know how some do?  Fear not, I know being told the plot of someone else's dream is one of the world's most tedious things ("then you changed into Paul from the office and we were running away from the Nazis - oh no, sorry, that was after the roof had fallen in but before I saw my mother laughing at me in the mirror...").  I promise I won't do that.  I'll just tell you why it stayed with me.

I dreamed that I travelled back in time ~ not very far, just to 1988, to Cromer in Norfolk where I lived during the last decade.  In the dream I met several people I knew when I lived there, and tried to tell them stuff like 'oh no, don't do that, you have no idea of the path it will take you down!', just as you'd warn the you of thirty years ago, if you had the chance (my mother used to say that we all needed two lives, the second one to get it right).

The dream was incredibly vivid, and I was right back there, in that cosy, pre-internet, much more simple life.  D'you remember how it was?
  • You wanted information?  You'd go to the library, or to WH Smiths to rifle through a few books.
  • You needed a practical service?  You'd ask people for a recommendation, or take pot luck with the Yellow Pages.
  • A new book or film?  You'd read reviews in papers, or just buy/see it anyway. 
  • You needed to get in touch with someone?  You'd wait until they were home, and ring them up.  Or drop them a line.

It's hard to recall, now, not having an endless source of information about every bloody thing in the whole world, at your finger tips.  As for that phone thing ~ one of the people I met in my dream was a girl called Claire, who shares my birthday (although she was born 22 years later).  In 2000 she was, like me, one of the last people to have a mobile phone, for the same reason ~ she didn't want to be constantly 'on call'.  I remember us both arguing with her mother about it; I only got one because my father didn't like the idea of me walking along crumbling cliffs on my own.

The internet has made us more informed, more wordly, ensures that we never, ever suffer a moment of boredom, or if we do we damn well shouldn't.  All the same, I did enjoy being back in that more innocent time, if only in the world of dreams.  It was kind of nice.  Easier.  

....which brings me to the other reason the dream has stayed with me.  For those few seconds, I knew what it was like to go back in time.  It was amazing, magical, fascinating, just as you might imagine, but so terribly frustrating, because I couldn't explain to everyone WHY some things they were worried about didn't matter, how life would just roll on and take its own course.

Have you ever dreamed an emotion or experience about which you know nothingOne that makes you think, when you wake up, 'oh, is that what it's like'?  Quite a few years back I dreamed that I murdered someone.  Taking someone's life made me feel as though I'd stepped outside the normal world, and was plunged into a terrifying dark realm ~ Hell, if you like, although no-one else would have seen anything different about me.  I knew that I would be living a nightmare for the rest of my life.   I wonder if that's what it really feels like.

The other experience was much less scary but equally powerful.  When I was eleven, I dreamed I was in love.  Obviously, at that age I knew nothing of such things past crushes on pop stars, and I remember waking up and thinking, 'so that's what it's going to be like ~ crikey!'  It was such a glorious, intense and all-consuming feeling, but not altogether pleasant, in the moments of doubt.  Oddly enough, the object of my affections looked rather like someone with whom I would fall in love some twenty years later.  I think that was probably coincidence rather than premonition, though!

My dreams are usually the predictable mish-mash of mild, long-held anxieties, random people I worked with twenty-five years ago, ex-loves, and bits and bobs that I can tell come from whatever I've been watching on telly ~ I doubt they mean much, and I can usually analyse them pretty well.  Only a few have stayed with me for years (though I have fond memories of the one on the Aerosmith tour bus!).

  I'd love to hear about anyone else's nocturnal adventures :)

Monday 22 February 2016

Climb Everest! Or just stay home...

.... because the top isn't called the Death Zone for nothing.

Last night we watched the 2015 film Everest; definitely worth watching, by the way.  I didn't realise, at first, that it was a true story, and Him Indoors and I did our usual thing with the plot, ie, saying things like "That one's bound to die, his story is the most moving" and "No, he's the stuff of the miraculous solo descent, saving the one-he-didn't-like-much on the way down", etc etc.  We both agreed that the kooky character played by Jake Gyllenhaal was not long for this world, to be outlived by the bolshy Texan who would, no doubt, grow less bolshy as the film progressed ~ do you do this, too?  Maybe we watch too many films and TV thriller/conspiracy/mystery series, and have grown too plot-cynical!  We're worst with TV whodunnits ~ we see how quickly we can name the killer, sometimes congratulating ourselves on correctly guessing 'he did it' within the first ten minutes of a four part series.  Prime Suspect was hardly worth watching....

Anyway, back to the film.  It is indeed a true account, and very well done it is too.  It's about several parties headed by experienced guides who take nutcases with more money than sense eager adventurers up the world's highest peaks.  First we had to get over the word 'summit' being used as a verb (ouch), after which I was engrossed.  You can read more about Rob Hall, the owner of Adventure Consultants, HERE.

Mountain Goat Rob Hall

Now, I've always been fascinated by polar exploration and have read loads of stuff about Ernest Shackleton in particular.  When I've read and watched documentaries about all the risks he took to go where he felt he must, I've often wondered if, when he and Franks Wild and Hurley were planning the expedition, any of them ever felt, even for one tiny little moment, like saying, "I've got a better idea.  Shall we just not go?", shall we stay here, safe and warm, have long lives with our families, rather than leave them alone and possibly heartbroken?  Shall we feed our hunger for adventure some other, slightly less perilous way?

Shackleton was actually warned that he'd left it too late in the year to go, but did he listen?

Rob Hall of Everest had a pregnant wife.  Okay, so she was a mountaineer too, so presumably she understood his obsession, and, okay, Adventure Consultants was his business, but one thing struck me all the way through the film: just how selfish do you have to be to do Everest when your wife is pregnant?

Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers, Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer, Jason Clarke as Rob Hall

I know mountaineers and other adventurers have an intense need to risk life and limb and cross terrifying boundaries (I wonder if they ever consider why?), but maybe if you have a spouse and children you should put them first, and come to terms with not being able to do absolutely everything you want in life.  As my husband said, when I was expressing this after watching the film, "Absolutely.  I've had to accept that I will never shag Angelina Jolie.  It's been hard, but I've learnt to deal with it."  

Angelina ~ the peak my husband will never climb

I love reading books and watching films about bravery in the face of great danger and adversity, but those who risk their lives in this way aren't so much brave as a tad foolhardy.  They're not like war heroes or rescue crews.  They don't have to do it.  All that is to be gained is personal satisfaction (and glory...).   They could stay at home and be parents to their children, partners to their spouses, children to their parents.  One of my best friends was married to a mountaineer.  She more or less brought up their son on her own, as hubby was never there.  He's still alive, but the marriage isn't, and I will not go into the problems his absences caused her son.

Perhaps the very bravest thing these reckless adventurers could do would be to sacrifice having the back-up of a family, or consider that they might have to temper personal desires for the sake of those they love.  On the other hand, adventurers and explorers add colour, excitement and discovery to human life.  I dunno.  There are two ways of looking at it, I suppose.  And Rob Hall's wife is still climbing away, along with her daughter ~ you can read about it HERE.  I now have to read the books about it, too; the first one I must get is Into Thin Air. 

(Note 24/2/16: Since writing this I've read Into Thin Air; my review is HERE)
Something he said really stuck in my head, which is that climbing Everest should not be compared or classed with adrenalin buzz giving extreme sports such as whitewater rafting or bungee jumping - it's quite the opposite, and more the ultimate endurance test.)
It's a great film; just a shame it's a true story.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

My Mum

... is ninety today.  

Me, Mum and Julia, 1987.  1980s big hair all round!
Julia, Mum and me
~ August 1959.  That's me in the shawl!

February 17th, 2016 ~ Mum is ninety today, though she won't know about it because she's had Alzheimer's for the past seven years.  Dad will take a card to the care home where she lives now, from all of us, but it won't mean anything to her; she hasn't known about dates and times for some years now.  Sometimes she thinks I am her sister Angela, who lived in Australia and died not so long ago; she has also asked me where she knows me from! :)

(Note from later:  Dad said she seemed to enjoy looking at her cards, even though she didn't understand what they were!  Or maybe she did ~ alas, we don't know)

Mum, bottom left, with her family, probably in about 1937, definitely pre-war anyway.  Her brothers at the top, Ken and Geoff, both fought in the war.  My grandparents, in the middle, were born in 1888 and 1891 - seems amazing!

Mum with Dad at her care home, a couple of years ago

Before crappy old Alzheimer's, Mum was a funny, witty, intelligent woman who was always more interested in reading books, doing cryptic crosswords (and learning her lines for various am-dram performances when she was younger) than doing domestic stuff - obviously where I get it from!  The house was always immaculate and we were wonderfully well looked after, but she wasn't a dedicated 'homemaker' and never encouraged me or my sister to be so, either.  She used to knit for us when we were children (because women just did, in the 1960s, didn't they?), but she only ever made a token attempt at things like dressmaking.  I remember Dad buying her a posh sewing machine once, and she stubbornly refused to use it ~ she was (and still is!) a very contrary Aquarian! 
Mum in the conservatory in her and Dad's house, about 12 years ago, I think

About twelve years ago, the two of them came to visit me in Norfolk.  It was bitterly cold, and we were walking round the lovely little town of Holt.  Dad wanted to buy Mum a nice furry hat to keep her warm, but she refused to wear such a thing, saying that she 'didn't want to look like some batty old woman'.  She was seventy-eight.  When she was over seventy and she and Dad moved into their village, she was asked if she was interested in meals on wheels.  She said that yes, of course, she'd be delighted to help out ~ not realising that they were asking her if she required them herself :) 

Mum and Dad in Portsmouth, 1955

Sometimes, when I go to see her, I see a little spark of the real her that still exists; she'll laugh about something in the way she used to, or even recognise me.  I'll be thinking of her today even though I can't go to see her - and now I'll stop before I get overly sentimental, or start blubbing!

Dad, Eddie, me, Julia and Mum ~ February 1999

In the care home, 2012
Mum, right, aged 8, in 1934, with her younger sister, Angela.

February 17th, 2021.  My parents are no longer with us, sadly; Mum died on March 28th, 2019, aged 93.  This was exactly 18 months after Dad, who died on September 28th, 2017, aged 88. I told her about Dad's death, and even though her Alzheimer's was more advanced then, she understood. I am so glad I wrote posts like these, while they were still alive.

Monday 15 February 2016

Amidst death, there is life....

Today, 15th February 2016, is my much loved niece Freya's 15th birthday.  I haven't got any recent pictures of her as circumstances have meant my not seeing her for a while, and she hardly uses social media (hurrah, good girl!) so there wasn't much Facebook/instagram selfie nicking opportunity!  Here, instead, is one of her with her dad, my dear brother, Eddie - taken about 4 or 5 years ago, I imagine.  I love it - Freya is a real batty Aquarius!

The day she was born, February 15th 2001, was a strange and kind of other-worldly one.  I had not long moved from Northampton to Cromer in Norfolk, with my then-husband, Alan.  We'd had a call a week before from Alan's brother to say that their 80-odd year old father, Jim, had just died, so we went back to Northampton for the funeral, to be held on the 15th.  

The morning was a beautiful one, bright and sunny, and the whole family was there, lots of relatives down from Stirling in Scotland, where they came from.  The funeral was a fitting tribute to Jim, a sweet man who'd had a full life with a wife he loved, four sons, grandchildren; he'd served in World War II in the navy for 6 years (yes, he had a war story or two!).  I remember standing at the graveside as Alan and his sons threw earth on the coffin and thinking that it was so sad, but, oddly, not a completely unhappy day.   Jim had liked a whisky and a good laugh, and the wake in the village pub was quite jolly; a few people remarked that Jim had brought them all together again, in a way that might not have happened otherwise.

Ex father-in-law Jim lives on ~ his grandson David, now 28, with his own daughter.

Afterwards, Alan and I went back to my friend Lesley's house, where we were staying, and found a note from my father, to say that my brother's wife had given birth just after midnight, and that they would be home that afternoon!

We went straight round to Eddie's house and found my parents there, too ~ and there was Freya, on the first day of her life.  The atmosphere in the house was so hushed and peaceful, with the lamps on and light beginning to fade outside; we were talking in very low voices so as not to disturb the tiny baby, and I felt a sense of beginning, of birth, as if Freya was a tiny plant just poking a green shoot into the daylight, from the dark warmth of the earth!  Standing at the bedside looking at her, I pondered upon the circle of life, if that doesn't sound too naff; all those people who had been involved in Jim's long life had said goodbye to him that morning, amongst good cheer, and now I was there with my small family, whispering hello to Freya.  

One of my favourite pictures ~ Freya with my dad, taken in 2012

It was a lovely day, and I feel a tear in my eye just thinking of it!  Happy birthday, Freya, and may your life be as long and eventful as Jim's. :)

Freya and Eddie, 2012

..... I talked to Freya a few hours after writing this, and have now got this updated picture of her - VERY different now!  Isn't she lovely?  And I daresay she'll grow out of the need to do duck face :)

Sunday 14 February 2016

Best Seller: my new book ~ that's the title, btw, but one can hope :)

So there I was, just writing the first couple of chapters of the first draft of the sequel to The House of York, when this idea popped into my head for a novella. I scribbled down a few notes for looking back at later, but then thought, perhaps I could just write the first chapter now... three months later, I'd written Best Seller ~ the tale of three writers :)

The Blurb in progress:

Three women, one dream: to become a successful author. 

Eden Taylor has made it—big time.  A twenty-three year old with model girl looks and a book deal with a major publisher, she's outselling the established names in her field and is fast becoming the darling of the media. 

Becky Hunter has money problems.  Can she earn enough from her light-hearted romance novels to counteract boyfriend Alex's extravagant spending habits, before their life collapses around them? 

Hard up factory worker Jan Chilver sees writing as an escape from her troubled, lonely life.  She is offered a lifeline—but fails to read the small print... 

In the competitive world of publishing, success can be merely a matter of who you know—and how ruthless you are prepared to be to get there. 

BEST SELLER is a novella of 40k words (roughly half as long as an average length novel), a slightly dark, slightly edgy drama with a twist or three in the tale.  Enjoy!

....well, it's back from its first test/proofread, and was given the thumbs up  - PHEW!!!  I hope it will be out around mid March, all going well, fingers crossed and wood touched :)  Now for the second proof/test reader.... 

Meanwhile, it's back to Elodie, the sequel to The House of York!

Tuesday 9 February 2016


Few things make you appreciate simple, everyday activities such as nipping down the road to the greengrocers, like being practically (and, I hope, temporarily) immobile, as I have been for the last few weeks and will continue to be for a while.

Me, hobbling up the greengrocers.  Oh, okay, it's not.

I won't go into detail as I don't want this post to be too much of a moan; suffice to say that it's probably a condition called PVNS in my left knee, and necessitates a leg brace, crutches, a biopsy in a month and subsequent operation that will mean another six weeks' recuperation.

The downsides?  Well, yes, they're obvious.  At first I thought 'yippee, good excuse not to do housework', and have adjusted my mindset to accept that living in a pigsty is the least of my problems, though I do manage to do a little tidying up by transporting items from room to room over my shoulder.  Most things have to be bought and fetched for me, and I find that hard.  The worst downside is the occasional, excruciating pain.  So bad that it causes sweating and yelling ~ last time, even huge doses of morphine didn't touch it.  The other night I was watching a documentary about Guns 'N' Roses, in which Duff McKagen said that when his pancreas burst after years of rock star excess, he too had the experience of zero effect from 'enough morphine to knock out a horse' (which is what the nurse said I'd had).  The TV interviewer gasped in awe; I merely raised a world-weary eyebrow.

Me and Duff McKagen: too rock 'n' roll for morphine

Only gas and air took the edge off it for me.  The last time it happened I lay in A&E practically delirious with pain for one and a half hours until an angel appeared in the form of a wonderful doctor whose name I didn't manage to catch apart from his being called Izzy or Ezzy, whose dear sweet nurse gave me much gas and air and wiped my sweating brow; Angel Doctor drained a cupful of blood from the football that used to be my knee.  He was one of those Africans who are so black that all I could see was the whites of his eyes and his lovely smile He had the most calming, beautiful aura I've ever come across, and I felt completely safe in his hands.  I dunno, perhaps the morphine did affect me after all, but I honestly felt that I'd been sent a divine being!  I've looked him up on the health authority website but can't find him... so perhaps he really was :)

At least it's winter; it's quite nice to have an excuse to stay inside, warm and cosy!  I like to think that I'm a fairly positive and contented person, and indeed my situation does have upsides.  I haven't had a cigarette for four weeks so may have given up (though I don't want to totally give up because smoking makes you look hard and cool, and non-smokers are girly wimps), but the main bonus is reading time.  Currently, I have hours a day for one of my favourite things in the world!  I read about fifteen books over the last four weeks.  I review for Rosie Amber's Review Team and am on the panel for a historical fiction award, so I have much time to give to both, as well as some of my own choices.  The TBR list is finally getting chopped down a bit!  
Five of Rosie's review team!

No domestic chores means I have more time to write, too ~ my new novella has been sent for proofreading (details soon), and yesterday I actually wrote a six page letter in longhand, to a friend I haven't seen for a while.  You know, like people did in the olden days! 

With reference to the first paragraph, about learning how to appreciate the small stuff, back in 1982 I shared a flat with my friend Helen, and we had no fridge.  When we finally got one we felt as if we'd been given some fabulous treat.  The joy of being able to have salad, and the milk not going off, was such a novelty.  I imagine I will feel the same once I can walk once more, and I hope I never take it for granted again!  In the New Age early 90s I remember reading a book called 'Flow', one of the many self-help books that were everywhere back then ~ it was leant to me by Jane with whom I shared a house at the time.  She was a great fan of the whole New Age scene, and was always feng shui-ing the downstairs loo and sneaking off to do Shamanic drumming.  The message I took from it was that happiness is derived not from having your dreams come true but from obtaining joy via the everyday things in life.  Tis true indeed, and I still try to live by that; I often think of that fridge :)

 Helen and me in 2015 ~ still proud fridge owners, 33 years on 😉

Just one last thing and very, very important thing ~ we've been so lucky with family and friends and all their offers of help and kind messages.  Real life, online, and online friends who've become real life ones too ~ you know who you are, and THANK YOU xxxxxx