“Winter forms our character and brings out our best.”

I keep hearing that we’re in for a bad winter here in SW France. Apparently locals are beginning to have feelings in their bones/waters/guts…The old saw about the profusion of berries in the hedgerows being the harbinger of this terrible winter-to-be is frequently mentioned despite the fact that, logically, it is the result of the earlier good spring and plenty of blossom.

The miserable wet weather of late resulted in my having a clear-out on my computer. I came across the files for a book I wrote about my life as a hill farmer in the Yorkshire Dales (never to be published). I skimmed through it wondering whether it was worth keeping and came across the chapter about the winter of 1978/9. I thought I would share it with you and give you some survival tips. Admittedly some might need adapting for those who pursue a suburban lifestyle!

I moved to the Dales in spring 1978, to a small isolated cottage in the middle of an old stone quarry, 900 feet up a hillside and a mile off the tarmac. It had land with it and I had been bitten by the self-sufficiency bug induced by too much reading of the books by the then s-s guru, John Seymour.

  • Tip 1 – do not believe a word the so-called experts say. It is likely their ‘wisdom’ comes to you from an armchair and a book they once read or read once.

Christmas 1978 approached and whilst inside my cottage I made merry with friends and family, outside, winter stole in. The sky grew leaden and heavy. By dusk snow was falling; light, fluffy, twirling flakes like you see in a Walt Disney movie but without the singing. My sheep were already covered in a fine dusting of snow.


Ah it won’t last’ I said to myself with the confidence that comes from sheer ignorance.

  • Tip 2 – do not fall for the schmalzy snow stuff they put in the movies and remember that innocence is no excuse for ignorance.

In the morning it was a changed world, a dazzling white scene. There were none of the familiar rocks and hummocks to be seen. All was a smooth icy white sheet. The sheep – my Hells Angels – (they could go very fast; over, under or round any obstacle and made a lot of noise) found themselves well and truly blocked in down the hillside. They bleated and blared, marooned up to their bellies in snow. The Great Winter was beginning.


  • Tip 3 – keep your sheep close (or anything else you value – car, spouse, partner, kids, Fred the Ferret) and your shovel closer.

Looking back, I shudder to remember how unprepared I was to face the 78/79 winter. Fuel stocks were low; the freezer nearly empty; dwindling hay, straw and feed for the animals whose appetites seemed to double overnight. The relentless white stuff just kept coming. My little lane filled up and I spent most of my time dragging a sledge with hay bales, sacks of coal or whatever was required. I dressed in treble layers of woollies and a large shovel became my new best friend.


  • Tip 4 – take the mattresses from your beds – you will not have time to sleep. Turn them into sledges for all the family. Be careful any broken springs do not cut you. However if they do, the cold will keep the pain away.

Everything was held in a painful icy grip. The hens kept to their hut. The few eggs that came usually cracked in the cold. Even the geese the most hardy of creatures, sought shelter. In the metallic half-light of morning, Gulliver goose and Mrs G would waddle out from under a gorse bush and follow me to the feed store. He would tap angrily at the door and hiss.

Hello ugly” I would greet him

Shiss, shiss” was the invariable reply, before spitting rudely at me and rattling his feathers, coated with ice droplets like a thousand tiny sequins.


  • Tip 5 – Do not piss off your goose, just cook it for Christmas instead. Better still, be resourceful; hide your own and nick your neighbour’s.

In the garden all the winter cabbages and broccoli disappeared under the snow. I’d netted them against the rabbits but times were so hard for them that they tunnelled under the snow, nibbled a neat hole in the net and then chewed their way through the frozen leaves. When, eventually, the thaw came, all that was left was a tangled collection of holey netting, rows of smelly cabbage stumps and suspicious heaps of round black pellets.


  • Tip 6 – Be kind to the wildlife; they have to survive too. Nor should you eat your pets or family members. However you may wish to take the opportunity of ridding yourself of some of your less-than-satisfactory neighbours – although long, slow cooking is recommended.

After about a month of this hard freeze, it started to blizzard again and the east wind howled bringing down a maelstrom of swirling snow and ice.


By this time I had managed to get my car to a neighbour’s house where I parked it. Foolishly I decided to try my luck at driving it home along the lane. Halfway, I ran out of luck and straight into a massive snow drift. I pushed, stomped, crawled for half a mile to reach the cottage, carrying a precious bundle of supplies on my back. (You have to remember this was forty years ago. I wasn’t as doddery as I am now!). It was a complete white-out; road, walls, fields and the sky itself merged; no boundaries, no landmarks to guide me. Sharp spicules of ice cut my face and the shrieking wind deafened me. Sheer stubbornness and bad-temper kept me going (and still do) until I finally made it to the cottage. In my kitchen warmth enveloped me, steaming up my specs and melting the snow and ice from my clothes. I staggered to the nearest chair, dripping pools of water and too exhausted to care.

  • Tip 7 – cultivate the right attitude. Bloody-mindedness is always of benefit. The deeply philosophical phrase “Oh bugger” uttered at intervals is also most helpful.

The arctic winter dragged on well into the New Year 1979 and the lane to the cottage remained impassable.


There was a savage beauty in the surroundings but for those who had to get to work and earn a living it was a very difficult time indeed. I became accustomed to floundering through the snow and ice, carting supplies, cutting logs and on one or two occasions helping to dig neighbours’ sheep out of drifts or fodder their outlying cattle. Anyone foolhardy enough to want to visit this winter wonderland, was press- ganged into carrying small parcels of vital supplies such as chocolate or ciggies.

  • Tip 8 – Make an unbreakable rule: all visitors must come armed with luxury goods as defined by you and must bring their own shovels and snow-shoes.

The weather did bring out a sort of community spirit. My nearest neighbour lived about a mile and half away alongside a cleared road. He took in deliveries of feedstuffs for all the cut-off outlying farms. The telephone kiosk at the side of that road became the location for a drugs drop whenever the vets could not get to a farm.

  • Tip 10 – only make use of your neighbours if you can be sure they will not run off with the stash.

The icy surface of the snow could be positively dangerous. Once as I made my way across the sloping side of a drift at the top of the quarry, I lost my footing and began sliding helplessly towards the quarry edge and a seventy foot drop. I thrashed around helpless; dug my heels into the frozen crust, but to no avail. It was sheer luck that at one point the drift did cave in underneath me bringing my slide to a snowy stop and I was able to creep away to safer ground.


  • Tip 11 – ‘Exercise’ is unnecessary. It is a much over-rated activity and you will get enough of it just trying to get through the day.

By March cruel, icy winds swept across the lying snow and the water supply to my cottage and barns froze. The water came from a spring a little way up the hillside. My days were filled lugging water to the animals and into the house. Inevitably, I slipped on the ice. It was three strikes and I was out. Legs shot out in front, head shot back and the precious water shot all over me. Result – concussion and a chipped elbow bone.

  • Tip 12 – fill whatever you have with drinkable water to tide you over. If you have paddling pool fill it – ignore the kids’ protests. Fill every possible available container you can find. Store outside and you will have ready-made ice to act in lieu of your freezer when the electricity is cut off. Be frugal – the less water you have, the more you will want.

Eventually, in early April the icy grip on the land began to loosen as a westerly wind gusted in. It was still cold; hailstorms and showers pelted down with monotonous regularity. But the snow drifts shrank and retreated from the milder air. Most welcome of all was the return of running water. The days of a discreet tiddle in the bushes were over. The old familiar landscape re-appeared, washed-out and drab and I picked up the threads of a more ‘normal’ life.

  • Tip 13 – Run away! Run away! Find somewhere warm to hang out until it is all over. You can send postcards to all your friends saying how hot and sunny it is. They will not be delivered of course. But think of the smug satisfaction that will envelop you.

That was my first taste of a Dales winter. Now, some forty years on and armed with this experience, if there is to be something similar as the Jeremiah’s predict, I shall do things differently. I shall turn my back on it all, lock the doors, close the shutters, put on numerous layers of mismatched garments, get under several duvets and hibernate. Possibly I may see you all when spring is sprung. Possibly you may think I am dead but more likely I will just smell funny.

The Pirate Queen

You can’t expect me to have a week in Ireland without coming back with some stories that intrigue me and although the tale of Grace O’Malley is not a spooky one, hers is a story that captured my imagination.

5th September 1593 a strange meeting was taking place between– Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley, the Irish Pirate Queen – both in their twilight years yet still fiery and not to be trifled with. Grace O’Malley had sailed from Ireland to England to plead her cause with the Queen directly.There must have been something about Grace that appealed to the Queen – perhaps because she was a bit of an adventurer at heart herself – but whatever the case she listened to Grace and granted all her requests much to the dismay of the Queen’s counsellors.

Grace O’Malley was born around 1530 to clan chieftain Owen O’Malley. The family was a seafaring one, trading from the west coast of Ireland to Spain, Portugal and Scotland. Legend has it that the young Grace was keen to sail with her father’s fleet but with true sailor’s superstition, it was held unlucky to sail with a woman on board, so her parents tried to keep her at home. In response, Grace is said to have cut off her long red hair, dressed as a boy and stolen on board one of the ships proving she could handle the life of a seafarer. From then on she was a regular member of the crew and became a skilled sailor and navigator.

When she was 16 she married Donal O’Flaherty, a good match strategically and politically. Donal was heir to the chieftain of the O’Flaherty clan and owned the castles of Bunowen and Ballinahinch. He appears to have been an angry and violent man with a quick and wicked temper. Throughout the 16th century Ireland was wrought by inter-tribal branglings, politics and power struggles – Grace’s marriage strengthened both family and tribal ties and protected their interests.

Grace bore three children by O’Flaherty but never settled for the life of a “good” wife. The following years saw her taking over the fleet and managing the business and political dealings of the clan. Her ships were banned from Galway, a major trading port at the time and Grace was forced to take her cargoes directly to Spain, Portugal, Scotland and Ulster. Not one to be coerced she developed what she called “maintenance by land and sea” – an early protection racket. In other words she would have her ships lie in wait off the coast and on the approach of the slower merchant ships, she would bear down on them to offer the captain safe passage with a pilot in return, of course, for a suitable wodge of cash. If her protection was refused then she simply denuded the ship of everything of value. The protests of the merchants of Galway went unheeded.

In 1560 her husband Donal was killed in yet another clan spat and Grace dealt with her husband’s killers … in a very permanent way. Under Irish law she was unable to inherit her husband’s goods and chattels which peeved her majorly, she returned to O’Malley land with her followers and established herself on Clare Island in Clew Bay. It was from there that she could extend her operations – the three P’s –pilots, protection and plunder. She and her followers became wealthy.

Clare Island

Clare Island

Before long before most of Clew Bay was in Grace’s hands. To secure a foothold in the remaining part she married Richard Burke of Rockfleet. The marriage was arranged on a trial basis – each party agreed to give it a go for a year after which either party could divorce (under Irish law at the time). Grace duly gave it a year, moved her fleet and her followers to the castle at Rockfleet and gave Richard his marching orders… although afterwards she did help him several times to get out of sticky situations of his own creation – he seems to have been a bit of a thickie – and to achieve his succession as clan chieftain.

Rockfleet Castle

Rockfleet Castle

Ireland was a hot brew of rebellion during the latter part of the century and was a cause of anxiety to the English especially as many of the Irish nobles had links with Scotland (also in ferment) and Spain. Clan chieftains swore allegiance to the English throne one day and then joined the rebels the next. The English were systematically trying to Anglocise (is there such a word?) Ireland by changing the laws and outlawing the age-old system that the clans used to elect their chieftains. Gradually though, more of the clan chieftains bowed to the inevitable and submitted to Elizabeth I and the English throne.

During this time Grace moved carefully, picking her way through the turmoil, joining the rebels then swearing loyalty to the English Crown when politic to do so. She survived the threat of the hangman’s noose after being arrested for piracy and insurrection. Why she was freed is a cause of speculation. Some sources suggest that Grace was actually in the pay of Francis Wolsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster and that her knowledge and insight about movements of ships particularly the Spanish fleet were too valuable to England to lose.

When Richard died Grace, remembering that she was robbed (as she saw it) of her inheritance from her first husband, took matters into her own hands and made off with around 1000 head of cattle and her followers to take possession of Rockfleet Castle.

The arrival of Sir Richard Bingham in Ireland as Governor of Connaught started a new chain of troubles for Grace and he became her chief enemy. Here was a man, ruthless, cruel and full of guile who was totally dedicated to wiping out the old Irish laws, customs and way of life. It was he who took Grace prisoner and appropriated all her cattle and lands leaving her destitute.

Her response was to muster new forces and join the rebellion that was now well and truly on the boil throughout the west of Ireland. She attacked Bingham’s army, carried soldiers to join the rebel forces, raided seaports and generally made a serious nuisance of herself. Bingham tried all he could to dislodge her from her power base by using a scorched earth policy – indiscriminate killing, destruction of land, livestock and shipping until Grace finally had enough and wrote to Elizabeth I about the injustices done in her name. In the letter she requested that the Queen give her freedom to attack all the Queen’s enemies. In return the Queen sent a number of questions to Grace regarding her life, politics and activities. Whereupon, perhaps fearing he was being outmanoeuvred by Grace, Bingham arrested Grace’s son and brother and accused them of treason. That was the final straw. Grace upped anchor and sailed to Greenwich to see the Queen in person. Furious, Bingham dashed off a letter denouncing her as a traitor…”the nurse of all rebellions.”

And so Grace, the Pirate Queen met Elizabeth I the English Queen and it appears that the two ladies got on well together. It must have been a strange meeting – the elderly regal Elizabeth and the weather-beaten Irish pirate, yet there were common strands in their lives; both knew power and how to use it; both had spent much of their days fighting for their rights and their lives. The outcome of the meeting was a letter from Elizabeth to Bingham ordering him to release Grace’s son and brother and restore all her property. Furthermore she informed Bingham that Grace had the Queen’s permission to “fight in our quarrel with all the world” without let or hindrance as it were.

With the security of the Queen’s letter behind her Grace resumed business as usual, eventually dying in (it is suggested) 1603…coincidentally the year of the death of Elizabeth.

The Quotation Challenge

Today I have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Half-baked in Paradise to share three quotes, meaningful for me and perhaps for others too. I fear they may reveal the true depth of my character – as Oscar Wilde said: “Only the shallow know themselves”. (That’s a bonus quote; now engaging smug mode).

So quote number one will be familiar, or at least the first words will be. They are chanted like a mantra by just about every personal/life coach and self-help book on the planet. However, it is what follows that has more impact for me.

“When one door closes another door opens but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.” (Alexander Graham Bell)

In my occasional reflective mode I look back over my life and see a pattern of doors not opened through fear – of change; of the unknown; of lack of ability. Sadly in the past, I have fallen into the trap of gazing wistfully at the closed door but I’m making up for it now! A door opened, I stuck my foot in it, burnt all my boats and bridges in the UK and, voila, here I am, in France, loving life and learning to become the best writer I can be – which brings me neatly on to my second quote.

When I started to write, I mean seriously write, I plotted, planned, characterised my characters within an inch of their lives and read every “how to write a best-selling blockbuster in 24 hours” book. In doing so I accumulated more scrap paper (yes I still write longhand, I’m an old-fashioned kinda gal) to replant a rainforest. Then I came across this, from poet Ted Hughes (Poetry in the Making):

“Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.”

Something just “clicked” for me and this is how I try to write now. I let the story roll through my mind like a film, fuzzy at first but eventually coming into focus. I let my characters take me over for a while. I can be seen flitting distractedly around the garden grizzling to myself like a demented bumblebee as I develop one of my characters. My upcoming book of short stories represents the first dip of a toe in the water of this Hughesian philosophy… it’s much more relaxed and fun to work this way.

So, my last quote for day comes from Zen Buddhism:

“Tension is who you think you should be; Relaxation is who you are”.

I have spent the greater part of my life, stressed and uptight, trying to be who I think I should be – conscientious student, good wife, dynamic business-woman, empathic coach blah, blah, it is only now that I’m discovering who (and what) I am. The tragedy for many of us is that this awareness (and the time and space to sit back and breathe again) often comes so late in life.

It is never too late.

In France, I have learned to relax and reacquaint myself with myself. I still “work” hard but at something I really love so it doesn’t count as work and I remember now to value the little things of life – watching the lizards playing tag on the sunny courtyard wall; treading barefoot on squishy turf that sparkles with dew, listening to an irate blackbird defend its territory and wanting to tell it to ‘chill out man there’s room for everyone.’ It is these little things too, that remind me to walk softly and thoughtfully on this beautiful planet that struggles so hard to combat the depredations we inflict on it.

That’s it folks!

The Adventure Begins…well almost

So, the big day dawns this week and I’ve packed and re-packed. My dreams are filled with cardboard cartons and the squeal of  brown sticky tape as it comes off the dispenser. This is my last post for a short while as I discover the delights of a left-hand drive vehicle and wend my way to SW France.

I wonder what I’ll really find when I get there. How close will vision and reality meet? but, more to the point, I wonder what my new neighbours will make of me? Hopefully they’ll not find me quite as amazing and outlandish as Colonel Harrison’s Pygmy Troop when they turned up in England in the early years of the twentieth century.

Whilst moving to France is nothing unusual these days, (may even be de rigeur), the  story of the Pygmy Troop is totally out of tune with today’s attitudes and culture. However back then curiosity, ignorance, imperialism and a general sense of superiority over the rest of the world all played a part in bringing this type of entertainment to England. Oh dear that does remind me of some expats I’ve met!

Moving swiftly on, here’s the story.

In 1904 Colonel James Harrison of Brandesburton Hall in the East Riding of Yorkshire was travelling through the Congo river basin. This was not as odd as you might surmise since he was not only a soldier but also an explorer and big game hunter. Travelling in darkest Africa is what explorers are supposed to do.

There in the remoteness of the Congo he made the acquaintance of the Pygmy tribe of the Ituri forest. No doubt after a deal of huffing and puffing he persuaded six of his new “little pygmie friends” to return to England with him. So it was that Bokane, Quarke, Mogonga, Matuka, Amurape and Masutiminga arrived in 1905, to take London by storm. Appearances at the London Hippodrome, Olympia and even the staid old House of Commons were followed by a tour of the whole country when all and sundry could pay up and gawk at them.

In their “down” time the group stayed at Brandesburton Hall and went hunting in the parkland there. They made appearances at various venues in East Yorkshire including the coastal resorts of Hornsea and Withernsea where they met with much interest…to put it mildly. During their stay they made a record of their stay, speaking in their native language – I intend to do something similar in writing. Watch this space.

All six survived their English tour and returned to their homeland in 1907/8. Whether I shall eventually follow their example is in the lap of the gods.


The Desperate DoZen

Only twelve desperate days to go before the BIG MOVE. I wish I could say I was in a state of grace and serenity as I glide from my English life to my new French one.  Did I say glide – I mean stagger, lurch and stumble.  The awesome bureaucratic machine that is French administration with its insatiable appetite for papers (preferably bearing the expensive insignia of a notaire or English solicitor) and requests for documents that are currently unobtainable, has already given me a couple of hors d’oeuvres to swallow. I need to open a bank account? I need a utility bill to do this. I can’t have a utility bill until I’m sent one. When will that be? Oh a couple of months and then I must pay by cheque. But I haven’t a bank account. Open one. Need a utility bill. Soooooper.

Still it’ll give me the opportunity to practise for my Zen mastership.

Actually so much is happening at once that I do need that inner calm. My local history book “Close to the Edge” is completed, edited and just awaiting a few permissions for some of the older photos. One of the publishers I approached is making all the right noises but is still havering so I’m looking again at self-publishing, Print on Demand and all that jazz. If anyone who reads this has any experience of using Lightning Source I’d be really pleased to hear from them. The idea of marketing a book from 1000 miles away seems a little daunting but since I’ve got to come back to the UK for day job work every now and again, I’m sure it’s possible.

In the meantime I’m moving on to my next keep-me-in-Blanquette (fizzy wine, local to my new home to those that don’t know) book. I enjoy writing these short quirky history books. My original idea was to develop them alongside fiction that I want to write to help pay the bills. It’s a bit of a cop out in some ways because the non-fiction is easier to write and sell, although not in huge quantities. But I do think that maybe I’m avoiding something here. My track record in fiction writing is limited to a few short stories and a radio play.  Lurking in a drawer I have four half-finished novels where I’ve run out of steam or gotten a bit bored with them. Basically I think I’m a coward and won’t face up to the possibility that I’m a crap fiction writer. My head teems with ideas and I’m pretty good at visualising scenes and situations; dialogue runs well for me too. I often walk on the beach, in character as it were, creating pretty good dialogue (to the amusement of many a dog walker) but the minute I try to write it all down, pouf! The gremlins that live in the dust balls under the bed steal it all away whilst I’m asleep.

So do I take the easy road and conjure up a few more eclectic histories or do I bite the bullet and finish off one of the four unfinished opusses (yes, pedants, I know it’s not the plural of opus)? Perhaps the change of scene will do the trick. There again, perhaps the warm spring airs, the lure of the mountains and the scent of the garrigue will do for me entirely.


A little peep at the new des.res.

Stranger in a Strange Land

It’s getting nearer to the first day of my French adventure. Every room in the house is littered with cartons, tape and squidgy bubble wrap that I spend hours squashing, row by row with obsessive neatness. Here I sit like Dido in the ruins of Carthage amidst this devastation and wonder what the hell I’m doing, where I’m going and where I’ll end up. Well actually I know the answer to that – a tasty lump of worm food…but hopefully not for a good while yet.

These last preparations are all about decisions, what ifs, why not try…and any variation thereof.

There’s a period of limbo to deal with whilst I’m between houses and waiting for the money to transfer. Where do I go? Hotel? Friend’s sofa? Back seat of the car?

Do I take my car with me? Sell it here? buy a LH drive here or in France -where used cars are expensive?

How can I open a French bank account as soon as I get there when I won’t have any utility bills to brandish?

What if I…It goes on…and on.

There are so many decisions, choices, options and what-have-you that when I try to draw little coloured decision trees I end up with a London Underground map gone haywire.

Add to all that the realisation that what is known and familiar as a holiday destination suddenly becomes rather weird and foreign with bureaucratic dictats in a language so unlike the friendly “Salut, bonjour Toto, ça va?” of camping holidays. For a while at least I’ll be a “Stranger in a Strange Land” (thank you Mr Heinlein).

It’s only pre-emigration nerves I know that. As someone once   said “it’ll be alright on the night” although whether it was stage   or wedding-night fright I have no idea. Does anyone suffer from wedding-night fright these days I wonder? How  deliciously old-fashioned.

But all this palaver reminds me of the writing process (as I know it). All these ideas jostling for space in your head; characters half-forming and then disappearing without as much as a by-your-leave; plots that could go this-a-way or that-a way and, in my case, no-a-way and the minute you try to write anything down the ability to put pen to paper or digits to keyboard becomes unaccountably difficult, nay impossible until at the very least you’ve cleaned the car, re-decorated the house, ironed everything that could be pinned down and scorched and circumnavigated the globe twice. Displacement activity? What displacement activity?

However, to be serious a mo – you’re not getting rid of me. I’ll still be blogging here and will dazzle you with tales of the conquest of France – Sheila’s revenge for 1066 and a certain Duc de Normandie.

Now please excuse me. I have an article to write but I dropped a whole bag of birdseed on the drive this morning and I have to go and pick it all up, grain by grain…with chopsticks.

I Blame the Merlot

Now the Humbug of Christmas is over (sorry, still unrepentant) I can indulge in one of my favourite sofa exercises – R & R – reflecting and reviewing of course. This requires some preparation viz: –

– A full log basket so I don’t have to move again for at least…ooh, lets say three hours;

– A large quantity of high calorific comestibles to stoke up the r & r levels;

– A bottle of something suitable to quench thirst and stimulate creative thinking (last time I did this I found 17 different ways to fall off a sofa);

– A large notebook, a flipchart and quantity of coloured pens (never try to separate a coach and trainer from the flipchart and coloured pens…it’ll end in tears).

Once assembled it’s time to light the blue touch paper of my frontal lobe and we’re ready to begin our dialogue. It goes something like this.

Um, err, well …what’s happened this past twelve months?

Oh bugger I can’t remember, that’s last year, so long ago.

Fool, it’s only three days ago. Think.

You think, you’re the brain.

Well what about your book?

Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that. Time for Your Life it was called.


Didn’t set the world alight. Everyone was too busy living their lives to stop and read it. Paid the bills for a while though.

Thanks to my inspirational idea to licence it.

Ok, Ok, don’t brag. You’re the brain after all; you’re supposed to give me inspirational ideas and come to think of it, you’ve been slacking off in that department recently.

Slacking off! Who came up with all those ideas for mags and rags?

I think you mean magazines and newspapers; don’t be derogatory about a source of income that keeps us in peanuts.

Pays us in peanuts I think you mean

How dare you! Editors everywhere forgive my grey and wrinkly friend here. The Merlot is reaching places where it didn’t oughta go. Moving swiftly on…

If you must, but if you think anyone is going to read your jaundiced maunderings you’ve got rats in your attic.

Ha! Ha! Since you’re the attic…

Oh shut up and get on with it. What else?

There’s Close to the Edge – a sort of ‘Orrible ‘Istory of ‘Olderness for adults wot is languishing in a publisher’s in-tray as we speak…

The adults are languishing in an in-tray?

Gawd, you’re a pedantic git sometimes. You know what I mean. Then of course there’s the French adventure…

That’s for this year; you’re supposed to be looking back – r and r …remember?

Well I can’t remember anymore, except it rained a lot and I grew some fantastic veggies.

How wonderful! Your readers will be riveted…fantastic veggies indeed!

Yes but, if you’d done your job properly I’d be popping with ideas and inspiration. As it is…


And so it goes on until the bottle is empty, the fire burned out and the carpet awash with Quality Street wrappers.

The result?

A blank flipchart, a few doodles in a notebook and the bathroom scales recoil in horror every time I approach them.

So let’s not bother with the who, what, when and why.

Suffice it to say I made it through the year in one piece even though the world didn’t fall at my feet in awe of my limitless talent. Through this blog, I found  a whole lot of lovely people out there who, damn them, are far more talented than me…or should that be I? My grey and wrinkly friend is AWOL this morning.

Oh and of course, blogging opens a whole new motorway of opportunities for being a smart-arse. So to those of you who can and do read this – I hope your New Year brings you all you deserve…did I really write that? It’s a typo, I mean desire…you knew that didn’t you?

Bah Humbug!

I shall be AWOL for a while as I lurk in the deepest bat cave I can find to avoid the stuff-yourself-silly and declare-yourself-bankrupt season.

In my persona as old-trout-on-the-beach one of my most favourite hates is the adverts that herald the arrival of the big event. In particular those that seep nostalgia  with mumsy laden like a pack mule with food and last-minute guilt presents wandering home staring up at a starlit sky as snow begins to fall and little children with rosy-noses play joyfully in the street throwing snowballs .  But their iniquities fade to nothing when put up against those  arty-farty perfume ads featuring guys with chiselled chins and soigné stubble and women with improbable pouty puff-adder lips. Do they really think that if we douse ourselves in eau de comeandshagme that we’ll all be walking bow-legged by New Year?

And the food and drink?  At my local supermarket I watch in awe as not one, not two but three trolleys, linked in a chain and stuffed way beyond the Plimsoll line, are manoeuvred and docked at the checkout. Have these people been on bread and water all year just so they can gorge at Christmas? Or is it pay-day loans all round?

As for me, well I have a love-hate relationship with food. But Christmas food? Oh no thanks; turkey’s boring, stuffing and sprouts turn me into a trumpeter royal and I loathe Christmas Pud having been scarred for life by THE Pud incident when I was an infant.

It was my kindergarten year and the whole class trooped into the school kitchen to watch Mrs Dixon making the Pud.  Each of us, in turn, was invited to approach the huge kitchen table and give the gloopy yellow mix, spotted with what to my simple mind looked like something out of my pet rabbit’s backside, a bit of a stir. Unfortunately quite a few of my classmates were smitten with snotty colds and the sight of Anne Throstlethwaite (name changed for libel purposes) sneezing over the pudding basin, stirring with one hand whilst wiping her nose with the back of the other created such an impression on my unfolding psyche that I have never been able to watch the march of the cannon-ball Pud to the table with anything other than revulsion.

I’m sorry to sound like such a grouch.  I know there are some of you out there – people of faith- for whom Christmas has real meaning and I can respect that. Others seem to embrace the spirit of Christmas sans religion and bring a certain joie de vivre to the season and yet others just embrace the spirits. Whatever your preference, for those of you who read this blog (yes, you three, I know who you are) I just want to wish you Happy Festivities whatever you are doing. For those who don’t read this blog…well there’s no point in making a witty if somewhat cutting remark is there?

Have fun (no I don’t need the gory details) and I’ll be back in the New Year.

Creativity, clichés and All That Jazz.

Those of you who follow this blog  (all  five faithful souls) will have noticed a gap in your life, felt a certain unease perhaps, over the past few weeks. No doubt you will have been asking the question where is WriteontheBeach and her riveting words of wisdom and cheer. Well, I would like to reassure you that WriteontheBeach has not become WashedupontheBeach – it’s just that life, as it so often does, has interfered with my plans and the impending move to the shores of La belle France has become…well…more impending. The sale of my house happened so quickly. I had barely cleaned the oven of its liberal helping of gunk before a charming couple fell in love with place, said “We do” and the race to clear two years of unpacked unsorted unbuggered about with “stuff” was on and, in the process, giving the lie to the words of wisdom scribed in my book Time for Your Life. Ah well, I was so busy helping others to find time for their lives, I didn’t have time to perform the same offices for myself.

Be that as it may (and you may now start to count the clichés) a week ago, I was several thousand vertigo-inducing miles above planet earth staring out of an airplane window idly wondering what would happen if it cracked and whether my somewhat stout corporeal form could actually be sucked out through it (a la some film or other that I once watched) when I noticed the clouds. Soft white, puffy, cotton wool clouds; bubbling up like pristine white mushrooms in the blue sky; twirly like seaside candy floss; a white wonderland world floating above the…er…world; a glittering snowfield punctuated with candysoft moguls. Enough already. Have you any idea how difficult it is to describe flying above the clouds without falling into a crevice of clichés? I spent nearly all the journey trying to think of something original to say about the puffy white stuff and an hour and a half later, after a smooth landing in Carcassonne, I had found precisely nothing, zero, zilch to say that was remotely original.

Then I remembered some of the feedback I’d received over the years about stories I’d submitted to competitions when that treacherous word cliché made its appearance. “Cliché –  you should find a more original way to describe this…” sticks in my mind or do I mean gullet?

In the fullness of time, ie walking from the plane to the terminal, this train of thought began to get up a head of steam. Am I a cliché-ridden old hag (rhetorical question thank you)? Do I have an original bone in my body…not that I mean to infer that I’m in any way bionic or the product of an alien planet keen to infiltrate earth with human look-alikes…no I just mean am I capable of original thought…original sin yes, maybe (wait for my memoirs), but original thought, genuine creativity? In the final analysis methinks not.

Then again what is original thought or creativity? Is that what we call genius? In which case I fear I will soon be shown the door of the writers’ room and have my temporary membership withdrawn. However, I comfort myself with the words of Mark Twain:

For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

Now, having touched base with you all and cast my bread on the waters, I anticipate a debate of ginourmous proportions as to the necessity for originality in the writer’s toolkit. Marks will be deducted for unnecessarily long sentences, over-use of triple dots (…) and, of course, the deployment of clichés with malice aforethought.

The Return of the Native

I’m back. Did you miss me? The party’s over and I’m here at my desk with a head buzzing with a swarm of ideas, what-ifs and can-I-really-do-its. I had a great time in France renewing my acquaintance with the language, the food and, of course, the wine. This morning I’m putting in an offer on an eighteenth century village property which provides a self-contained rental apartment plus living quarters for me together with the most magical gardens and the whole embraced by glorious mountains. The property is somewhat shaggy round the edges but then who wouldn’t be after three hundred years? So, hopefully with a bit of goodwill, compromise and luck, the offer will be accepted and this time next year I’ll be moving to France – one more item to tick off my Bucket List.

On the writing front, editing of my Irreverent History of Holderness continues slowly and I realise how many bear pits I’ve tumbled into both in terms of content and the boring but essential grammar stuff. Just putting some distance and time between me and my manuscript has highlighted the problems and I have a screed full of to-do items in relation to checking research facts and figures. However, the biggest issue is one of structure and this is really taxing my ingenuity. At the moment the book is organised into chapters chronologically with each chapter covering a century and marking key events, people and places. However, this makes some chapters very fat and chunky and others rather emaciated. It might be better to organise by topic…I don’t know the jury’s still out. I think I will have to get some readers next to give me their views. So still a mountain of work to do yet with it but also a slight feeling of satisfaction too…or do I mean smugness? No please don’t answer that.

Oh yes and finally, whilst I’ve been away a surprising number of folk have kindly signed up to follow this blog. I’m gradually working my way through the emails to thank them. If I’ve not got to you yet I will but in the meantime thank you for your interest.