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"writing, not drowning" - 5 new articles

  1. On pesky viruses and perfect companions
  2. Where is love?*
  3. Changing
  4. Break, Break, Break . . .
  5. Is it safe to . . .?
  6. Search writing, not drowning
  7. Prior Mailing Archive

On pesky viruses and perfect companions

Hmm; no sooner do I take to the blog again than I am knocked almost hors de combat by a virus that has been unpleasantly similar to the one that arrived last September and took nine months to shift. And I don't mean a computer virus. This time, however, I have taken homeopathic action sooner rather than later and, three weeks on, I think the virus has got the message.

So where were we? A month ago - the last time I posted - I was about to fly to Madeira, courtesy of the Grown-Up Children, which I did. It was a delightful, happy week, with the sort of temperatures I love (35 degrees Celsius or thereabouts), and much swimming, a huge amount of reading, and generally relaxing in the sunshine. It was just what we all needed.


We did a memorably unenjoyable all-day mountain trek; unenjoyable owing to the weather (it was the one bad day, rain and mist, so no views) and a rather strange guide, who made us listen (more than once) to his birdcall impersonations in the pouring rain, and who told off-colour jokes. We knew the experience would eventually turn into a family joke, as these things tend to, but at the time . . . 


When I left Funchal, I was still warm and glowing from the sun; I arrived at Bristol Airport in the middle of the night, to be greeted by howling winds and torrential rain. Oh, British weather, what would we do without you to take the shine off things?

As a result, I have been doing only the essentials, that is, walking the dogs twice a a day and trying to remember to keep up my intake of fluid. It was while I was sitting around doing not very much that I found myself missing my dear old cat, Mr C. I didn't write about it at the time but he died of heart failure in March of last year and I still miss him, not least because this has been almost the first time in my life that I have not had a cat or three as part of the family. I thought how comforting  it would have been, when I was at my most under the weather, to have had Mr C sitting on my lap, purring away. He was the most affectionate of cats.


I was very taken with the resident hotel cat in Madeira - a tabby, like Mr C. He (or she) was very popular with the guests on the sun terrace, overlooking the sea where the Walnuts (a term coined by the Son-in-Law) could be found stretched out on loungers every day. (I was with the Walnuts; the Grown-Up Children preferred the more exotic palm tree shaded Garden Pool area.) Hotel Cat was very savvy and absolutely knew how to work a sun terrace. Every evening, one of his (or her) band of devoted admirers would appear with a dainty dish of sardines. Hotel Cat would scoff the lot, lick his paws, then execute a rather fine curl of the tail and stroll off.


At least there were two very special dogs waiting for me when I got back to England; I never under-estimate their importance in my life. As all my viral symptoms have been better in the fresh air and even better by the coast, we have done plenty of walking and, for a few days, when the sun shone last week, we even managed long walks by the seashore.


These days, only one of my dogs, Miss P, does long walks. The Edinburgh Boy is now the Venerable Old Edinburgh Gent and he is 13 today. He is taking it easy, as befits a very elderly Labrador, but there have been a few extra treats. He spends many, many hours asleep and  I often see him doing that doggy dreaming thing, his paws moving as if he is running, accompanied by a series of quiet, breathy 'woofs'. Perhaps he is remembering what life was like when he was in his prime and he too could run along a shoreline and race in and out of the waves. He is the very dearest of dear old boys and I love him more than words can say.



Where is love?*


I have been thinking about my mother a good deal in recent days, not because there has been a significant anniversary but because I have found myself longing to discuss with her the plight of the Syrian - and other - refugees.  

My mum was the most compassionate person I ever met. She didn't judge people on the grounds of their gender, sexuality, race or religion. She was forever helping people in distress, often simply by listening to their stories. Listening without judging, she believed, was one of the most compassionate things we can do for another human being.

There certainly was an absence of compassion in some of the posts I read on Facebook this week. To be honest, I'm a relative newcomer to Facebook, having been put off by much of what I read about it, and having therefore resisted for several years. But, eventually, it became apparent that this was probably the only way of keeping in touch - and keeping in touch simultaneously - with many members of my large, extended, and international family, not to mention several friends. Today, however, I came very close to leaving Facebook; instead, I simply 'hid' posts and 'unfollowed' people. 

I'm not sure what my mum would have made of Facebook; she would have been shocked and saddened by the vitriol and ranting that was pouring out this week but gladdened by the positive connections that people were making, sometimes with complete but like-minded strangers. She would have been moved, this week, by the kindness of strangers. She would have loved looking at photos of family and friends and hearing their news but would have had no hesitation about deleting anything that distressed or disappointed her.

My mum loved reading, wrote brilliant letters, and never had any difficulty finding the right word at the right time. If she were still alive, I think that these are the words she would have chosen to put on Facebook today:


*My mum, who was a professional singer and dancer when she was young, loved musicals; Oliver was one of her favourites and this, one of her favourite songs.

(And I put this post on Facebook . . . )




It's been a long, long time.

I had to have a break from blogging - a six-month-long mutating virus, followed by weeks of post-viral fatigue. It was very tedious and would be even more tedious for me to write about and for you to read. But I'm better now and decided that it was time to come back. So here I am.

It is, however, time for a change, or changes even, the first of which will be the title of this blog. When I started writing it, almost a decade ago, 60 going on 16 as a title seemed like a good idea. Lighthearted, fun even. And I was still two years away from 60. Now, 70 is on the not-so-distant horizon, to the extent that I am contemplating what 70 - and beyond - will be like.

With a bit of luck and a fair wind, my seventies may be as full of pleasant surprises as my sixties have been, apart from that brief brush with cancer five years ago. But we change, or at least evolve, and the one positive aspect of being in the grip of a stubborn and energy-zapping virus over the past year was that it forced me to slow down and spend time quietly. So, I did only those things that absolutely had to be done and things that I knew were truly good for me. There was precious little gadding about; there was an enormous amount of reading, thinking - and more reading. And writing; there was always writing, just not on the blog.

All of which led me to the thought that 60 going on 16, as a title, had run its course. So, this will be the last time that it appears at the top of this blog. If you already subscribe, you need do nothing; I am assured that each blogpost will appear as before in your email in-box or list of RSS feeds, under its new name.

If you don't subscribe and want to find me on your preferred search engine, here are the magic new words:

Writing, not drowning

See you there, very soon! Meanwhile, I'll leave you with David Bowie c1971. Seems fitting . . .



Break, Break, Break . . .


I cannot tell a lie, it was not Tennyson's rather gloomy poem that came to mind when I stood on the South West Coast Path and looked across the rocks and the sea into the distance to this - the lighthouse (yes, that one). Godrevy, off the coast of North Cornwall, is said to have inspired Virgina Woolf, although she chose to set To the Lighthouse in the Hebrides.


The only sort of break that I was thinking about was my own - an almost spur of the moment affair, travelling solo and on a very tight budget (which is far better than not travelling at all). I simply slipped across the county border from Devon into Cornwall, with the aim of visiting places new and others that are close to my heart. And I had the most excellent time, of which more anon.

But Godrevy captured my heart and mind; I could quite see why it had done the same for Virginia.     It's a little off the beaten track but, if you are driving as I was, there's a National Trust car park and then it's just a short walk to the South West Coast Path - and all this natural beauty. Below me: rocks, crashing waves, seals splashing in a turquoise sea . . .


and there, across the water, cloud white in the sunshine - Godrevy Lighthouse. I spent, oh, who knows how long, just sitting on a flat stone at the highest point of the coast path and looking. With time out for the odd photo. It was the perfect spot in which to be absolutely still and in the moment; designed by nature for Buddhists.


Which made me wonder why so many of the people in the car park had set up their folding chairs and picnics in the car park, looking away from the sea towards . . . all the other cars. Why would you?


Is it safe to . . .?


. . . step out from behind the curtain, after such a long absence?

Of all the events that might have caused me to scurry back to the laptop, the one that I would not have predicted was the reappearance of someone else - Kate Bush, to be precise.

The Dear Daughter had tried to get tickets for Kate's re-emergence. I tried to get tickets. No joy; sold out in just 15 minutes. We had to settle for the Guardian live-tweeting throughout the opening night and watching old video clips on YouTube. 

And then, a couple of days ago, the DD sent me a link to an eBay page, where someone was selling a poster advertising Kate's first tour in 1979.

'Remember this?' said the DD.


'Would you like it for your birthday?' I asked, in a moment of madness.

'I've already got it,' she replied. And so she had. It had once adorned a wall of her bedroom.

'I think I've got one of these too.' Attached was a copy of a 1978 Christmas card, courtesy of the Kate Bush Fan Club. 


In the 1970s, Kate was a significant presence in our house; well, her voice was, along with various Kate-related stuff.  The DD was a HUGE fan; I was pretty much of a fan too. So we could not possibly miss going to see Kate on that first tour and we did see her - at the London Palladium. No frustrating hours spent endlessly reloading internet pages in those days; it was all very civilised: a phone call or a trip to the box office. And affordable tickets.

We loved every minute and, 35 years later, I was amazed at just how much I could remember of that concert. It was one of the high points of a year during which other things in our world were beginning to unravel.

'I think I've still got my ticket,' said the DD. 'I just have to find my Kate Bush memorabilia . . .'

I spent the rest of the day playing four of Kate's early albums (vinyl, of course). They belong to the DD but live here because I am the only member of the family who still possesses an ancient hifi with a turntable, so that I can play my substantial and much-cherished collection of LPs and 45s, not to mention EPs. I was transported back to our flat in Marylebone, still young(ish) at 31 - which seems very young when one is nearer 70 than 60 - and the mother of a daughter on the cusp of her teenage years. As Sandy Denny once sang, 'Who knows where the time goes?'

But I couldn't find Hounds of Love. I searched everywhere. I could see the cover. I emailed the DD. 

'I think I had it on cassette,' she answered. 'What year was it?'


'Oh yes, I already had a Walkman by then.'

Ah, the refuse heap of technology.

But the disappointment of not bagging any tickets this time round in no way detracts from the wonder of being there the first time and seeing my daughter's face light up when Kate appeared. It was, almost, unbelievable . . . 


There was one final email from the DD, normally a very private woman. 'You can blog about this, if you like.' So I did.


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