Feel A Fool and Do It Anyway

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My mother used to serve us a particularly interesting (shop bought) frozen pudding. She would valiantly saw through the resistant confection using an electric knife. A modern day warrior woman; wielding her way with a menacing bone cracking implement. My Neanderthal mum, wild eyed and resplendent with sophisticated hair do, setting upon a prone offering, fresh from the kill. Only this was just ice cream.

One day I looked at the simple cardboard box that contained this delightful frozen fancy. There, in fairly bold letters, were the words; “Defrost for three hours at room temperature.” I suggested that maybe, it might be fun to actually try following the instructions. By adhering to this simple guideline, the almost impenetrable boulder became a crumbly carapace of meringue, and its interior a melting mélange of cream and silken toffee. What a delicious discovery. To this day, I still tease my mum (well so would you) and of course we all laugh, and the product still sells in quantities at you your local M&S store.

When I was very small, perhaps no more than three or four, I remember taking a train ride across Europe. Our final destination was to be the delightful coastal resort of Rimini in Italy. I can still picture my mother and her friends enjoying a picnic, someone spilling red wine, hoots of laughter, and then everyone going to bed in the various couchettes. In our particular cabin, my sister chose the top bunk. She became quite convinced that a small bird had got trapped inside the cabin at the end of her bed. Understandably terrified, she spent the entire night at the far end of her bunk. There she stayed, as far away from the creature as possible; her knees pulled up so tightly to her chest. It was almost impossible to unfold the girl in the morning, when daylight revealed the “trapped bird” was no more than a soft leatherette window handle, flapping against the glass.

On the last day of a recent business trip, I realized that I had been drying myself every single day with a floor towel. I couldn’t work out why it was a little on the rough side, and so teeny weeny, or what I was supposed to stand on. The larger towels were right up on the top shelf. Perhaps my slightly sheltered upbringing had preconditioned me that nice girls never look up there…

Ah, so when do we stop making mistakes or feeling a fool? The thing is, we don’t. We will always make mistakes, we will always get things wrong as we go along. That’s ok. What we need to do is to learn from them. The biggest mistake you could ever make is being afraid to make one. I don’t know who said that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried, but I wish it had been me. 

Still not quite feeling like the Star in your own story? Perhaps its time to give me a call. 

Decisions

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Last week, a difficult choice had to be made between two alternatives. We are not talking Craig or Connery. The dilemma was not chocolate or pistachio. No, this was serious grown up stuff. The absolute decision process weighed heavily on my mind; this was sort that we have to make from time to time, the sort where there is no option but to choose a or b, and even though the outcome will have major life affecting consequences involving several people, I alone had to make the final call, and abrogation from the process was completely impossible. A timely conclusion was necessary, and although plenty of advice had been sought, the responsibility for this onerous task laid squarely at my feet.

The Artist, aware of my imminent responsibilities, reminded me of the need for an ultra clear head in order to achieve the best possible conclusion. This he said, was no time for mulling things over indoors, this was a time for striding out, into the spring sunshine. He declared that the only way to get to an end result was to pull on designer wellies and get outside. Actually, I think he was just bored and wanted to go for a walk.

It is so easy to stop doing the things that help us when we are pushed up against it. We all know that we function best on a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and exercise, and exposure to the open air and sunshine. Ironically, the first thing that usually happens when we feel overwhelmed is to let these things go.

Most people use comfort food or alcohol as a buffer to stress. It’s often considered easier to reach for processed snacks than to shop and prepare fresh food, especially when the pressure is on. But the easiest way to feel great and in control is from within. A diet packed with nutritious fruit and vegetables makes a massive difference to mindset. Sinking a bottle of wine won’t help either. It may help take your mind of the dilemma at the time, but that situation is going nowhere, and the next day, you still have the same thing, only now you also have a headache.

Absorbing Vitamin D from the sun enhances well-being and positivity almost immediately. The process of walking allows thinking time. It is the most effective tonic for the soul I can possibly think of, and all that it costs you is your time.

So there I was, reluctant to leave the important thinking I had to do, harrumphing into my hat and coat and bundled out the door by the kindly Artist, keen to point out the masses of snowdrops, wild primulae and narcissi against the huge camellias at the end of my very own garden, just before the little gate that leads to farmland beyond. These are the flowers of optimism, the first we see after the barren winter, and we do nothing to encourage them; they simply arrive, brightly and generously, forgiving lack of attention, unlike their demanding summer cousins who insist on diva like maintenance, spring flowers just appear because they want to. I beamed at the sight of this utterly joyful display; taking in the bobbing heads of the snowdrops and the acid yellow of the daffodils like the gifts they truly are.

The giant waxy buds of the magnolia present a salient reminder that perhaps we should give the best of ourselves first; precocious blooms poised to burst into life among bare branches. I love the pared back elegance of delicate flower contrasted against gnarled bark. Bold can indeed be beautiful, and the toughness and resilience of these spring flowers makes them all the more so. The end of winter tends to drag, and despondency may creep in, but just at the point that it is felt most keenly, the emergence of perfect blooms on weather-beaten trees perhaps brings to mind that there is always another chance, and always another spring. 

We passed through the little gate, and continued down the path, towards the farm. I was starting to feel much better, and began to enjoy the brief hiatus from the burdensome responsibility of my decision-making obligation. I allowed myself to unwind, and delighted in the gloopy earth squelching beneath my rubber boots. Onwards we went; following the tractor marks in the mud, concentrating on staying upright.

We talked of this and that, and that and this, and then turned a corner to find a field full of steers! There must have been at least thirty beasts, and they were all looking in our direction. Now for those of us who are not country-born, these are young castrated bulls, their destiny to become beef. “I cannot go there!” I declared. This was one of the easier decisions I had to make that day. “Why ever not?” said the bewildered but patient Artist, who is used to my strange superstitions and has more than enough of his own. “Karma!” I cried. “They are all staring at me! They know!” I was not feeling the guilt of one too many burgers, but the fact that my family are butchers, and I was quite sure these babies knew it. “They can sense it!” I wailed. “It doesn’t matter that I have a chakra-aligning lentil and goji berry salad waiting at home for lunch – these guys want revenge!”

The unflappable Artist pointed out that we both had sticks, and that all we had to do was wave them about a bit and they would go away. I decided (again without much agonising) that I could detect bovine malevolence in their eyes. They wanted to make an example of me; retribution for several Sunday roasts. Payback for eagerly consumed prime rib. He said the cows/bulls/steers/oxen (delete as appropriate, I remain unconvinced) knew none of it. They were not interested in my carnivorous past, or the family trade. I was almost convinced, I mean, he IS from the country after all, so I went on a little further, only to find TWO more, lurking behind a tree, with obvious intent. No. The only thing to do was to slowly but purposefully cut back and then across the perfectly un-sinister field of harvested barley.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderfully mood uplifting it was, walking across a field without cattle. Soon I was almost skipping to keep up with the long stride of the Artist who didn’t mind a bit that we had to change course. I even spotted wild pansies growing against all the odds. All experiences are stimulating, and this one was exactly that, and helped me to get a very clear head and enjoy a most productive afternoon. 

As for the big decision?  I got there in the end. I wish to give thanks to those who love me and have been there for me. Some of them are very close indeed although they are actually really quite far away.

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Horsefly

Have you ever been captivated by a pair of beautiful eyes? I have. They were golden and deep and full of meaning. And they held my attention, as does a Catherine Wheel, or a bolt of lightning, or the sun setting over the sea. Those sorts of eyes can change your life. They certainly changed mine – well perhaps not forever, but at least for a while. One minute I was sitting in my garden, under the copper beach tree that had been planted with almost Greek foresight for the shade that it would provide for a future sultry Cornish summer. The next moment I was on my feet all in a whirl, and running for the antihistamine cream. The most beautiful eyes that I had ever seen belonged to tabanmorpha; the common clegg or Horsefly.

Why nature chose to give eyes that can steal a girl’s soul away to a stealthy predator that sucks your blood – and in some quantity; if you (purely accidentally of course) squash the little brute when he has finished his dinner, you will see a good half-thimble full of your best red claret sploshed down your charming summer ensemble. Not only does this unwelcome and unqualified phlebotomist take your sanguine fluid uninvited, but he also leaves you bruised and sore for a considerable length of time. So why give this freeloading insect such beautiful peepers? It is a mystery, yet it’s a leitmotif that is used elsewhere.

The Bentley Continental is parked on the curb. The dinner jacket is tailored to swooning perfection; the shoulders beneath the immaculate barathea support a muscular pair of arms that suggest hours of honing in the gym. The tanned skin of the firm jaw acquired from Cap Ferrat via Bali via Las Vegas. The teeth are expensively flawless, and the smile melting. The salt and pepper hair is distinguished, the nose noble, the brows wide and symmetrical but oh, the eyes! In an hour or even a minute, you are whisked off to Paris, and checking in at the George V, as if lost in a perfect reverie of Ultimate Cloonydom.

In the morning, you sleep off the champagne and the cognac until late. Very late. Indeed you sleep until a knocking on the door discloses not just the sniffy chambermaid on unpaid overtime, but the duty manager who enquires whether “Madame eez over ‘er leettle ‘edache?
Monsieur left and there eez zee matter of zee rrrroom bill, also Avis has come for the car.”

You know, you’ve seen the movie; in the next scene, you find your Louboutins discarded in the bathroom, your knickers flung over the bedside table lamp and your dress artfully draped over the ice bucket. Then you pull you and your thumping head together into the one body to take care of a Life Lesson Bill. Your blood has been sucked, and you are lastingly bruised with hardly a word spoken. Those beautiful eyes told beautiful lies.

If this sounds like someone else’s beautiful, but far-too-far-fetched dream gone wrong, then swap the Bentley for a VW Golf GTI and have Barry derive his tan from a solarium down the Mile End Road, and stick him in a FCUK tee shirt. He can keep the arms and the jaw. Now have him bat those baby blues at you while he gets you to write out a Gregory for a grand because he owes his mate Pete. He’ll pay you back soonest, promise…

My grandmother who we nick-named G’Ma Malaprop, would often whisper in hushed tones to be extra nice to Mrs. So-and-So because she was just recovering from a “Hysterectamon” and it was her first visit to the “Shopping Precept.” She had a almost hear her saying it right now. They were “Confidential Tricksters.”

Not long ago, a pair of beautiful eyes did draw me in, instilling in me a sense of confidence, and a belief in their solidarity. I trusted the keeper of the peepers. They turned out to belong to a wicked and heartless character, devoid of compassion and hell bent on greed. Those eyes camouflaged a demonic personality within.

You see? It’s all in the eyes. I remember watching Dallas and Dynasty as a child knowing I could never be a TV star. They all had piercing blue eyes. It’s funny, because these days I think greeny-grey far more captivating…

So beautiful eyes tell beautiful lies. But when, if ever, are lies ok? I think there times when they are absolutely fine, and in fact, very necessary.

When my friend found that her marriage was over and she cried into several tea cups accompanied by chocolate digestives followed by glasses of wine accompanied by tortilla chips and guacamole. Eventually we did away with tea and went straight into wine, and she would often ask me if she was going on too much. Of course she was not. My poor dear traumatised friend repeated the same facts to me dozens of times. Am I boring you? “NO, of course not. Please tell me more…” Now in truth, that was a lie.

You see a friend halfway through chemotherapy treatments and he asks if he looks all right. “Of course!” You say. Way to go. Now those are beautiful lies.

At Christmas/Chanuka/Diwali/Chrismachali, we hide gifts in wardrobes, under beds, in garages and on top of kitchen cupboards. Now you know all my hot spots <>, you are banned from my house from November onwards. What about the biggest lie we tell our children? You know the one: artfully sprinkled talcum powder, perhaps a footprint or two, a glass of sherry, maybe a mince pie, and definitely a carrot for Rudolf…

My children couldn’t wait to pluck out their tiny milk teeth, sometimes still obstinately hanging on to swollen jelly gums, and would often resort to the cotton-thread-trick of one end around the resistant squatter, and the other around a door handle to be bravely slammed shut, all for the sake of a shiny new pound coin. Ah, but it was all about the Tooth fairy…

She would only visit in the darkest dark, and only if the child was sound asleep, and only if the sweet little tooth was wrapped up in tissue and placed under the pillow. She used the teeth to build walls around her house, and in exchange, she paid handsomely for her aggregate. There was nothing sweeter than the gappy smiles of my wide-eyed children on discovering in the morning that a visit really had taken place that night.

So why are we so taken in and beguiled by beautiful eyes? If they really are the windows to the soul, how can these exquisite attributes also belong to predators? How can we tell, just by looking, what is behind them? The answer is; we cannot. We must rely on our instincts for insects, and a good old-fashioned fly swatter.

 

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What Do You Keep?

As a serial collector of all sorts of things, in fact anything and everything, I am always quite fascinated by those with similar interests to myself, and in contrast, those with the ability to cull their possessions, and to do so with an almost ruthless disregard for their value, be it monetary or sentimental.

So is the point of a collection simply about the acquirement of interesting objects? And at best, do these things have sentimental value, or perhaps do they resonate at a deeper level, and represent comfort? Clearly there is some significance that a high proportion of people who have experienced any sort of trauma or loss tend to hold on to possessions, as they appear to engender a feeling of security.

Children have always been greatly encouraged to start collections. At first, these had no monetary value; things like pressed flowers, pinned up butterflies, owl pellets (yucky but true) conkers, fossils and shells. What kid do you know who has not at some time filled a bucket with beach treasure? I added to my own collection only yesterday, when I was presented with a rare and very beautiful heart shaped sea urchin.

Somewhere down the line came the actual parting with hard cash to build a collection.  Early examples were series of stamps, and sets of cigarette cards, like sports and movie stars, or cars and airplanes. The realisation that each component of a collection may cost very little, but would mean the purchaser would develop a loyalty to the brand, and return week after week, meant that an entire industry was created to extract pocket money from the sticky hands of young children who would bypass their piggy bank in favour of purchasing the next Dinky car or china Whimsy.

Matchbox cars were brilliant at this, and could easily be blamed for creating an obsessive collecting streak in several generations, but the last laugh is with the collector, as we see time and again. That lucky guy who is middle class enough to have kept each car in its individual box, and stored the entire set; bubble wrapped and hermetically sealed in his temperature-controlled attic. With great anticipation, we get to watch him roll his eyes, and exclaim “Goodness!” when Fiona Bruce and the Antiques Road Show rumbles into the charming grounds of his local stately home, and he is publicly and dramatically informed that the collection should be insured for five thousand pounds, but because he once opened the Mark 1 Cortina door, and the wing mirror’s now a bit bent, they’ve had to slash the value of the entire set to £58.70.

So kids go on to amass all sorts of things; stickers, rubbers, Hello Kitty evertything, keyrings, snowglobes, fridge magnets, pin badges, , Kicker shoe tags, teaspoons, baseball caps, dolls, theatre/ballet/opera programmes, football or pop band memorabilia, Pokemon cards, Go Go Crazy Bones, and my current favourite; Lego Minifigures.

Adult collections include pipes, ashtrays, all sorts of smoking related accouterments like silver and mother of pearl cigarette cases and holders, lighters and, (OMG, just had a memory of a childhood friend whose mum smoked like a chimney, and had a giant brandy glass filled with books of matches). Grown ups get into all sorts of stuff like taxidermy, beer mats, champagne corks, and all sorts of china. They go on to save their children’s school reports, and their drawings and paintings. I for one have saved the cards and letters my kids have written to me.

Regrettably, there are the odious collectors of ivory, game kills, and trophy heads of wild beasts. They are not much easier to stomach than the tribes who shrank the heads of their enemies, and displayed them for all to see.

Of course, we have the “Investor Collector” who amasses things like wine, whiskey or paintings, but who sees these objects as collateral, not for personal consumption, but for them it is more about making money.

But think of all the kitch things we can amass; Baby George on a plate edged with genuine 24 carat gold, a figurine of the late Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta in Perfect Porcelain, the six wives of Henry the Eighth in tapestry kit form (everything you need to create six cushions is included, plus a free bonus kit of Henry himself to be fashioned into a padded loo seat cover). Franklin Mint have found the best copy writers on earth, and resisting the temptation to purchase the entire series of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves cruet set was almost beyond me.

It would seem by far the sweetest collections are those with little or no value other than sentimental. I discovered a dear friend of mine has kept over a thousand letters from a past lover and I think that is really special. Of course, photographs fall into this category too, but that’s not quite the same.

It would appear that there is quite a bit of emotional attachment to certain collections, as well as value. Certainly, records, musical instruments and autographs would fall into this area.

So, when do collections become obsessions? Why are some collections are considered to be more acceptable than others? And, is it Collecting, or Hoarding?

I had a conversation about this very subject on Wednesday at the Seed Pearl Breakfast and one of my guests eloquently stated that we must control possessions, or the possessions will control us. I think he may well have a point.

Look at the shock we felt when we discovered the 3,000 plus shoe collection of Imelda Marcos. Now please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way justifying her insane dictatorship and epic consumerism, but I suppose the question is, would we have quite felt so repulsed if her collection would have been antique fans or china teacups? I mean Martha Stewart has an entire warehouse filled with various sets of china for any and every occasion…

In the sixties, a rather grand, tophatted and bekilted  book dealer haunted Portobello Road and its environs, buying up various volumes. He stuffed his flat with so many books, that it became uninhabitable, so he moved onto another and did the same, in fact several times over, until he ran out of flats and so stuffed the weighty tomes inside his other collection, vintage Rolls Royces. The cars became so heavy; he was unable to actually drive them. It makes my own sizeable library, clung onto through good times and bad, packed and unpacked, in and out of boxes relocated and rehoused to eventually reside at times in both flimsy Ikea bookcases and bespoke joinery seem really quite trivial in comparison.

Poor Mr. Trebus was featured in a television documentary some years ago; he lived in a large house in Crouch End, and was pushed out room by room, because of his refusal to throw anything away, particularly newspapers. He had collections in every room of his four-story house; vacuum cleaners, cameras, washing machines, Elvis Presley memorabilia, all stacked in great piles. These finds also filled his garden. In the end, he lived in a small corner of the kitchen, boxed in by literal towers he couldn’t and wouldn’t discard. In the end, the council had to come and take care of his vermin infested home. He really didn’t see what they were taking away as rubbish; he regarded each paper as his possession, and it was pitiful to watch, as the man fought to retain what he felt was his right to keep. He was Pomeranian Pole who had experienced the tragic loss of his father in an accident, and then the Nazi Occupation of his home, forced conscription to the army and then was captured in France. Later, he chose to settle in London after the war.

For me, one of the most sinister literary characters of all time is Frederick Clegg, The Collector in the brilliantly written John Fowles debut novel. The lonely man, previously interested only in pinning down petrified butterflies, picks up his new obsession, a girl called Miranda Grey, and drugs her with chloroform before locking her in his basement. He hopes if he can keep her long enough she will learn to love him. Chillingly, life imitates art, as we have discovered, with several poor girls finally seeing the first light of day in years, following their release from captivity.

Lastly, on a lighter note, there are finite collections; like my children’s milk teeth. In no particular order, once the Tooth Fairy had exchanged her coin for the little enamel-coated-treasure, I would pop them into various pillboxes dotted about my home. I know this is slightly bonkers, but they are very dear to me, and without wishing to be over-sentimental, when the last baby tooth leaves my youngest son’s mouth, that part of our lives will be gone forever.

Alan Titchmarsh

Plato or Cohen?

Plato said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

The poet William Stafford said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”

Before I gained enough confidence, I can remember being afraid to say things because I worried they might sound stupid. So how many times have I missed out on engaging with others because of my own self-doubt? But does it really matter if the things we say or write are not grammatically correct; as long as those thoughts are original? Ideas well expressed, even if clumsy, are courageous, especially in this day and age, when we are so easily criticised in the public forum.

But surely it is a mark of respect to the intelligence of others if we take the time to craft a well thought through presentation? Listening to a poorly crafted speech, or reading a badly written essay where it is clear that little effort has been expended, is a waste of people’s time. I have forgotten how many boring talks or crummy films I have endured, and said to myself, “That’s another ninety minutes of my life I will never get back.”

Careful planning and diligence will almost always result in work to be proud of. But on the flip side, how do we get going, and improve if we are too scared of achieving a poor result? Most people do nothing when faced with this dilemma. They think about writing a book, or executing a business project, but instead of getting on with it, they are too afraid of the inevitable criticism, be it bad or good. Sometimes, it could be the belief that committing to paper (or kindle) the rest of the world might not think the author is the next George Orwell after all. So they conclude it is best never to begin…

So just what should we do when we find ourselves in a state of inertia? Do we sit in silence because we have nothing clever or interesting to say, or do we just get on with it, and hope that in the action of doing, we may perfect the thing along the way?

Does this theory apply only to writing, or to everything we do? I knew a girl who was reluctant to invite friends over to her home, because she had not completed the décor. But how many happy moments might she have had, just sitting on packing cases, and drinking out of paper cups?

Imagine your life was like a gardening project. Will you wait until everything is complete, or invite others to come and give you a hand?

You will obviously want to design the layout, although it may well have to incorporate existing trees, shrubs or structures. These immovable objects are like your past, and there is no point trying to yank out the big stuff. However, if those things are unpleasant, or could do with improvement, you can always grow climbing roses over an eyesore you would rather not look at. This is a bit like accepting there will always be “stuff,” but we can learn to live with it, and indeed we can enhance what cannot be taken away. Picture a wisteria in full blossom, rambling over a shabby old shed, and you’ll get the idea.

If you have a blank canvass, or a big plot to fill, you will be grateful for the cuttings that friends bring you, and although you might not know how these things will turn out, there is always a corner to accommodate a new plant, and the thrill of anticipation, as you watch your garden develop through the seasons, and inevitably through the years. We should always be open to new ideas and ways of looking at things, in order to stay fresh.

There may even be the gift of a sapling. To this day, I wonder how the silver birch is doing, planted in a garden I left ten years ago. I could be sad about that, but this Greek Proverb comforts me; “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Flowers feel a bit like fair weather friends to me. They are so colourful and attention grabbing, but with their constant need for water and dead heading, they are exhausting, can never be relied upon, and they are so fleeting…

Evergreens are like your stoic and constant friends and family. They provide the backbone in your life. Ignore them at your peril, for your garden will have no substance, and when the pretty flowers have gone, there will be huge unsightly voids. The loneliness of absent friends and family is also keenly felt when those pretty flowers are not there to camouflage this difficult truth.

The arrival of spring bulbs, those bright pops of daffodils, tulips and boldly scented hyacinths are like people we love, and who we don’t see often, but when we do, there is a familiarity and an established affection that feels as strong as it did the last time we saw them. We know they will go again, so we enjoy the time spent in their company, and keenly look forward to the next.

Oscar Wilde said, “Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and a richness to life that nothing else can bring.”

When we let people into our lives, and allow them to see our imperfections, we give them a chance to share their knowledge and love with us. There is no point in knowing everything, or owning everything if you keep it to yourself, so by allowing others to help, you are actually giving them a chance to share. Showing your vulnerability allows those closest to you to demonstrate their kindness and generosity, whether spiritually or materially.

As an inspirational and motivational speaker, I talk about Right-Now-Ness, the art of taking action, because nothing can be perfected until we put things into motion. This obviously goes against Plato’s words and those of Stafford.

So I am going to end with another quote, this time by Leonard Cohen.

“Ring the bells that you can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”

So I am Plato or Cohen? Neither. Just call me Alana Titchmarsh x

Buffet

Do you ever feel like you would prefer a buffet meal to a sit-down three course one? The option to try a little of this and little of that, rather than be faced with a large plate of one kind of food?

This is the blog version of a buffet – although just as you can have breakfast buffets or desert buffets or Chinese style buffets, there is a theme; Things that have drive us a bit mad during the summer holidays, together with things that have annoyed us, and peppered with things that always have irritated me a little, but until now, I’ve had nowhere to include them in my writing. So do have a look and take your pick.

Back to the buffet. Have you ever watched certain people load their plate to resemble a terrifying tower of too much? What was once food, carefully prepared and appetizing, is now plonked on a platter, and becomes an indistinguishable and repulsive hogfest. Do people actually want to eat that much?

Serving spoons used for the wrong dish. Get your cauliflower cheese spoon out my roast potatoes please. It’s yucky.

Oh, and while I am on that subject, here comes a matter that some may feel is trivial, but along with others, I am quite convinced it is the end of civilization as we know it. Butter knives. For goodness sake, is it so difficult to take a portion of the stuff and put it on the side of your plate? There is nothing quite so unappetizing as a butter pat laced with the crumbs of someone else’s toast. As for using the same implement for both marmalade AND butter – I am wincing as I write, and dialling the breakfast police.

A few days ago, I found myself at the self-service checkout of my local supermarket. I say I found myself there, because household shopping sends me into a trance, and it is unusual that I queue up with anything less than a very full trolley or two, having gone wild in the aisles, stocking up with this that and the other, in case we get snow in August. But on this particular day, my needs were modest, and I stood behind the man with only a string bag of lemons in his basket, holding my own containing simply bread, eggs and milk (the wherewithal for a Bacchanalian feast) and became incandescent with fury when I saw a woman with a loaded trolley loaded with comestibles commander – not to say hog – a “Ping ping ping unexpected item in bagging area” machine. Surely this was unacceptable? Garish orange signs hung above our heads, and showed pictures of baskets. Was this an instruction or merely a suggestion?

When the weather was much warmer, I accompanied the Artist to the beach, while he painted en plein air and I thought about writing a story, which is almost an achievement, although in truth, it is nothing of the sort. But it felt quite good at the time, and far less painful than actually writing, especially for a commitment-phobic procrastinator of a novelist.

The cove we visited was particularly pretty and welcoming, even if it was accessed by an extremely steep descent; this is challenging at the best of times, and almost foolish while carrying two folding chairs, an easel, a paint box, a canvas and…well enough about the Artist. I had to carry a whole bottle of water AND my laptop. Sigh.

Because of this natural wonder, the only conveniences were at the top of the cove, so people generally ignored the course of nature until they were really quite desperate before climbing back up the Megaslope. Now, we lasted for ages. I do not tell you this to boast of bladder capacity; I wouldn’t be that vulgar and you should know me better… however suffice to say, having hung on for as long as possible and feeling it was time to probably give in and attempt the ascent, we felt the first drops of rain. As a result, a large proportion of sea bathers decided to make tracks at the same time. How silly, I thought, as they were already wet…

The queue for the lavatory was as long as one for Immigration at JFK International Airport. As I waited, I wondered why I had always scoffed at the idea of a Shewee, however novel. At length, I was third in line and wondered why the cubicle on either side of the middle one were vacated after reasonable periods of time, but the central lavatory was firmly closed with the occupant’s feet strangely close to the door. Outrageous woman; while we were all hopping from foot to foot, the selfish madam was getting dressed!

Incensed, I said loudly; “Lavatories are for performing natural bodily functions. We are all waiting outside to do exactly that. Occasionally, for the desperate or the deviant, they provide a semblance of privacy for illicit sex and or for taking drugs. However, they are unsuitable for anything else and they are specifically not changing rooms!”

I got a little cheer from my fellow ladies in the queue, and even a high five, and felt quite pleased I had at least provided some entertainment while we all tested the tolerance of our bladders versus our tempers. The woman emerged, red faced and rather disheveled, then scurried away in shame. She had totally missed the point. Half the fun on a Cornish beach is watching lobster coloured sunbathers help their pale spouses in and out of wetsuits. It provides hours of harmless fun and charming entertainment.

There now. I think that’s everything. Phew. Apart from a polite, if slightly embarrassing, request. I have a charming metal replica of it hanging on the door of my guest cloakroom. It was originally used in the conveniences provided in the waiting rooms of the Victorian Southern Railways. It would seem that the advice is still necessary. The sign reads; “Gentlemen, please adjust your dress before leaving.” Guys, you know what I’m saying…

Chameleon

No doubt you have gathered, I am a new resident of Cornwall, and have lived here permanently for over twelve months. That’s a Whole Year! My boys have settled into their schools. They have confidently forged ahead with social lives, developed a taste for Surfing and Pasties (but obviously not together) and on occasion, there is even an audible and delightful twang of West Country in their intonation, which serves to inform me of their love for their new home, and their palpable desire to fit in and belong.

It is an endearing case of the Chameleon meets Parrot. Strangely, I find it charming in my young sons; in fact it’s cute in most children, but grating in grown-ups. You see it and hear it on Parky-Norton type late night chat shows. There would be some rock star, or MTA (Model Turned Actress) who had suddenly developed a West-Coast-Drawl, and a “healthy” tan to disguise the grey pallor beneath, caused by lack of sleep, and vitamin deficiency on the “C”Plan diet. Promoting their latest album or film, the Morphing Megastar would be gnashing their expensive new teeth, fidgety, and lolling about on the sofa. But fast forward another year or two, and they quickly realise that this dangerous lolloping about in No Man’s Land had almost lost them their unique identity. Oh yes, once you’ve made it big, there’s nothing more cool than being British again, and getting back on that sofa to reminisce about your humble background and the fact you are really Reginald Dwight from Pinner.

And in reverse, my old mate Gwyneth couldn’t do British. It’s not that she hasn’t got the accent all right – she does it brilliantly; just check her out in Sliding Doors and Shakespeare in love. So, the Parrot bit is perfect, but the Chameleon? Nah, not a bit. Place one Vibram Five Finger clad foot (with optimum flexibility) out of Primrose Hill, and she’d lose all cover. Nowhere else, not even in Notting Hill, do they colour co-ordinate their nanny’s organic baby sling with their Personal Trainer’s Bikram Bottoms.

And that is why I love my new home. The Chameleon bit is dead easy; just grab your Hunter Wellies, and ideally, but not essential, try to make sure they are a matching pair. Don’t worry about hair, teeth or bras. No one here bothers.

The truth is, there is more pride and joy per square inch in this corner of the UK than I have seen anywhere in the world. That is why my boys want to be Cornish. We are not alone; in the last census, 84,000 of Cornwall’s half million residents defined themselves as Cornish. It is this sense of regional pride that really does make the Duchy quite unique. So congratulations Cornwall, on being recognised as a National Minority. Thank you for welcoming me into the heart of your Celtic Bosom. I bloody love you.

There is always something fun going on; the Furry Dance in Helston takes place on 8thMay every year and is one of the oldest customs still observed across the entire land. Nowadays, it is all about dancing in pretty dresses, and men in top hats and tails, however, the event dates back to pre-Christian times, and originally was a celebration of coming of age, in let us say, a recognisable way…

Of course, the Victorians soon made a respectable event out of it, so I shall just leave it at this; the origins of the dance maybe all about celebrating something we now take great pains to whisk away, but Chameleon or not, I am very London, and you cannot take the Hollywood out of Helston 😉

Ponydog

About a lifetime or so ago, when I had just one child and not three, I bought a little house with a long back garden and a flat red brick drive. It took about six minutes to walk from mine to my mother’s house. Mum’s was slightly less chaotic, definitely cleaner, and she always had better food in her fridge.

When I first moved in, I observed that every morning, rain or shine, and without fail, my elderly neighbour would place two fluorescent orange bollards at the edges of the driveway to his house. I thought this to be a little pedantic; he wasn’t going anywhere and I reasoned that blocking his drive for a minute or two shouldn’t have been such a problem. Until, of course, not long after, it was done to me, and a car completely blocked my drive, trapping me in my home, and preventing me from getting on with my own fairly urgent business.

I hopped about from foot to foot in foul temper and fettered frustration, and unable to do very much about it. I marched across the road to the enormous pre-school, and asked if anyone knew who owned the car blocking my drive, but the building was vast, and no one could help me. All I could do was return and wait.

After a while, the driver came back and apologised profusely. Of course she did. When I eventually arrived for my appointment, I too apologised profusely. Ah, yes the Domino Effect of selfish parking behaviour…

Tanya, I would like to tell you that this was a one-off-occasion, but during the time I lived there, it was an almost weekly occurrence, until I was almost at the point, but not quite, of enquiring from my neighbour the exact location of the Orange Bollard Emporium. I also seriously considered purchasing an air-rifle.

One very wet day, I looked out my bedroom window at the world dashing about below. It was a sweet sight; watching the little ones rush towards the building opposite in colourful wellies, wearing shiny little raincoats, and holding up their teeny Postman Pat and Hello Kitty umbrellas.

I went downstairs to find my coat and keys, opened my front door and POW ZAM! There was a car, a four door saloon of unremarkable manufacture IN MY DRIVE! There. Was a CAR. In my drive!

It’s one thing to edge a little over a drive, it’s yet another to blatantly park right over one, but to actually steer a vehicle OFF the public highway and INTO a PRIVATE driveway is more than just a little cheeky.

I stood in my drive. Of course, I asked myself all the normal questions. “Do I actually know this person? Perhaps it is a delivery? Maybe they think the old occupants still live here?” The rain kept lashing down, and I was soaked through to my gazunders.

Eventually an unattractive and portly man ambled towards me. He didn’t look overly concerned as he reached about in his pocket, presumably for the keys. I tried not to do the hopping thing again, I was aware I may look a teeny weeny bit like Rumplestiltskinella…

With a careful and most measured tone, I enquired, “Excuse me, but do you know me?” He replied that he did not. “So we have never met?” He affirmed we had not. “May I ask why, if indeed we are not acquainted with one another, you have had cause to park in my drive?”

He fiddled about in the pocket of his trousers. Eventually, to some great relief (on both our parts) he pulled out his hand, holding a key. “Well,” he offered; “There was nowhere to park.”
“I am sorry, I do not understand. Do you mean that there is some sort of parking ban on all the surrounding streets, and no car may stop anywhere, so you are required to hurl your precious toddler from a moving vehicle in the general direction of the nursery unless you park your car in my drive?” The poor man looked confused. Clearly he was not used to anything more challenging in the morning than the wordsearch on the back of a packet of cornflakes. “You do realise that this is a private drive?” He fumbled with the key, trying to get into the car as quickly as possible. The rain lashed down. “Well of course I can see that,” as he heaved his considerable bulk behind the steering wheel, and turned on the engine. He backed away, and all he offered was, “But it’s raining!”

This is about recognising when you are wrong, and having the decency, the confidence and the good grace to fess up.

Yesterday, the very kind and most patient Artist came over with a carrier bag filled with various cables and an External Disc Drive. His objective was to make a particular thing (not details please) work, or play. Funny how those two words mean completely opposite activities, until you apply them to CD Drive thingemies. Now all this makes me wince. I do not know how my IT functions, and rather obstinately, I have no desire to learn.

I drive fairly competently, but would not know my valves from my carburettor, or my gasket from my crankshaft and I don’t even know or frankly care, if I’ve used the right terminology.

I quite happily take food from a fridge with inner workings that are a complete mystery to me, and cook that food in an oven that gets hot enough only because I know it is plugged in and I have to turn a dial and the light comes on.

Anyway, after supplying the Artist with coffee from a machine that works simply because I switch it on and fill the tank with water, he fiddled about, phoned a friend, faffed and fuffed and then finally, got a disc to “open” and magically play.

I waited patiently while all this went on. I was a bit useless really. I made lots of coffee. I looked at a book. I noticed a scratch in the oak floor. Well a couple, for the purpose of accuracy. I expressed this out loud, more as an observation, and to prevent further wounds to the wood by examining what might be the causation. This, on my part, was simply a preventative measure and really quite sensible, but clearly bad timing. Just for me, the Artist had just driven across the Duchy and back again in extreme heat, in order to install the spinning disc machine thing. Understandably, he received my comments as an accusation. But he responded a bit like Just William, “Those scratches were there last time. They couldn’t have been made by me.” Then he found a little bit of what looked like a stone chip. “Here! This must be it!” But the potential gouger crumbled between my fingers like chalk. I sighed. It really wasn’t about apportioning blame, but finding out how to prevent further damage.

Earlier, we had been to the Gylly Beach café on Gyllyngvase Beach. IT stuff is hungry work, and the morning was beautiful, and they serve such delicious Eggs Florentine… We sat down at one of the large square tables, surrounded on three sides with sofas. It was a prime position for people watching.

The waiter brought our drinks and cutlery, and placed them on the low wooden table in front of us. In the centre there was a plastic container with communal condiments. We looked out on the view, spotted a dolphin (admittedly inflatable) and talked about babies in papooses, like you do…

A lady arrived with a large dog. I say it was a dog, and it probably was, but it may well have been a small pony, cleverly and cannily clipped, and fairly well trained. Anyway, Robinson Morse lolloped about the place, doing that slobbering panting thing they do on a particularly hot day, and practically sent my cappuccino into my lap with a swish of its Ponytail.

“Excuse me, I’m sorry, but I am quite scared of large dogs. Would you mind moving it further away from me?” I felt this was entirely appropriate. We were not out walking, or on the beach or in a canine compound. We were about to consume comestibles. Immediately, the woman jumped to the Ponydog’s defense. “But he’s lovely! I assure you he is a very friendly dog.” She left out “Pony” (but she may have just been a bit forgetful) “Madam,” I said, observing the Ponydog smearing its bum along the edge of the table, and I WAS so looking forward to receiving my brunch; “Madam, that may well be, but I know a man of six foot three, who runs screaming at the sight of a house spider. We really cannot rationalize phobias.”

The lady took her Ponydog away to the next table, our eggs arrived, and all was well. Back at home and following Floorgate, the Artist looked me very kindly and confessed he felt he had behaved just like the silly lady at the café. I expressed my gratitude for him spending so much time staring at the spinning beach ball of doom on the computer, when he could have been outside looking at real ones. Not doomed ones, of course… in return, I should have let him know my floor timing could have been better.

It would be nice, when we feel brave enough to say what is bothering us, for the other person to have the grace to understand our discomfort, acknowledge it, respect it and most of all, simply do something about it AND apologise. This lesson also applies to the author, who is grateful to be reminded of this by those who do it with great love. In that spirit, I hereby apologise for my timing. It is one of my FLOORS.

Urchin

I blinked into the blankness. Once again, the Milky Way came into view, as carnage gave way to calm, and chaos had been exchanged for clarity. The glass revealed and displayed neutrality and nothingness, just stars in a pleasing swirl. No, I had not been filming the remake of Alien, but it was just as dramatic, as I witnessed tumult to tidiness in one click, and the murderous mouse was not to blame. The Desktop Destroyer was my friend the Artist, and this annihilation was all for My Own Good.

Like opening a cupboard to cascading clutter, my friend had noticed one of reasons for my staggeringly slow desktop computer was my seeming inability to trash or file images. He kindly set to work, and I dutifully provided coffee in little cups, though on reflection, it may have been less wear and tear on the staircase to have done this intravenously.

My beautiful screen of memories had been neatly filed into uniform sized and utility styled brown envelopes. The Artist, delighted with his wholesale sweeping of my photographs, showed me how I could name the files, and even bespoke them with pleasing personal images. It felt like that last look you have around your home on moving day, when all the things you have spent years amassing have been put into packing cases, and you stare at the blank walls and vast areas of emptiness that was once a haven to so many stories.

Now the cyber dust has settled, I am of course extremely grateful. But that afternoon, I struggled to deal with the overwhelming loss of my comfort screen; “No no dear, it has not gone! It is merely FILED.”

I admit that there was more than a little reluctance to absorb yet more boring IT information – I felt myself morphing into a recalcitrant teenager, and for that, I can only apologise. My mind couldn’t help but wander…wondering how long it would take before I could once again fill the screen pretty bespoke files, each containing an entire screen’s worth of clutter…

Currently we are enjoying such a seasonably good climate, dare I say it is almost un-British? For weeks now, we have almost come to expect fine weather, but can you recall a time when this was not the case, and the first few sunshine days were as fresh as new paint or a just sharpened pencil or newly mowed lawn?

Just before the giddy height of summer was upon us, there was a short time when we were grateful for scant hours of merely thin sunshine, and the small window in which to shed some winter layers, providing an opportunity to feel the rays warm our skin. The slightest suggestion of sun would have us outside, topping up with Vitamin D.

On possibly the first of those days, I found myself with the Artist who declared it was time to get toes into the sand. On a Mutual Bunbury, we went off to Maenporth, and before paddling in the warm shallows, discussed why Margarine should be pronounced with a hard G – oh but that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation…

Anyway, we wandered along the beach, and looked out to sea, spotting what looked like a Pirate Ship in the far distance, and saying how we really should get back to work. The Artist looks and sees all, even a flailing Weaver Fish just under the sand, and ready to stick its mean spines into some poor unsuspecting foot, was kindly picked up and chucked back into the sea. We reflected on whether we thought that was a good idea or not… but then! He spotted the empty shell of a Heart Urchin! To find one intact is rare and it is indeed a thing of exquisite natural design.

I picked it up, and turned the translucent treasure in my hand. It was as delicate and beautiful as anything I had ever seen. Perfectly spaced punctures like tiny rivets traced a star on the oval carapace. I declared it a welcome addition to “Beach Finds on My Bureau.” I carefully wrapped up the fragile find, and when I got home, arranged it with great care amongst the shells and pebbles, driftwood, plastic skull and Minnie Mouse in a cloche – don’t ask…

I kept saying I should find a safer place for it…You know where this is going… but just in case… Johnson, our very dear And playful And perhaps a tad too inquisitive Siamese Lilac Point kitten, took it upon himself to explore the bureau and now, the Urchin is in fragments.

I tried not to be sad; a shell is simply a transient home, and things do come and go, but its abrupt departure from my collection and irreplaceable aesthetic played on my sensibilities. I mean, you can’t just go and pick up another at Sainsbury’s, I moaned to the very patient Artist.

Imagine my delight when he consoled me with a perfect little drawing of the very same, made just days before it shattered. It has now gone of to the framer and will be far more robust than the original, and though I would have dearly loved them both, we must not be greedy.

I often take the Night Riviera to London. Believe me, this Ponced-Up-Name does little to manage the traveller’s expectations. The beds are clean and comfortable enough, and the staff are charming, but the quality of the sleeper train from the Duchy to London is only adequate at best, and hardly deserving of a name more appropriate for an Agatha Christie Novel.

I always choose to travel solo. That way nobody has to put up with me… Anyway the cabin is spacious enough, especially for someone who is um, compact.

But on this occasion, I boarded my train to find the top bunk turned down as well as the lower one. I called the porter and said there must be some mistake as I fully intended to travel alone. I was reassured that I was not about to be joined by a stranger, even if it was George Clooney, but that it had to be like that for reasons too boring to go into.

I fully admit to harrumphing in private. I didn’t like the inconvenience of the upper bunk turned down. It felt oppressive, and when I got into bed, I imagined it to be an overlarge and poorly upholstered coffin.

The cabin temperature was cold. This was galling, when outside, it was hot, but the railway service had decided we must freeze. I turned the control dial from blue to red, but nothing happened. It was just like those toy ovens; you flick the switch, and a little red light comes on, but nothing actually heats up.

It was almost too frustrating. There I was, in leggings, two tops (one thermal) and socks! While the rest of GB was languishing in bedrooms too hot to sleep in, I was almost shutting down in hibernation mode! AGGGGHH. Then I got it. I GOT IT!!!

I yanked down the duvet from the empty bunk above and became a joyful and very happy little black pearl, snug in my very own tiny house, beneath a cosy covering of two pure white duvets. So the upper bunk became the lid of my shell, and all was well with the world. I slept deeply, and awoke in Paddington fully recharged and delighted with the world.

My computer is running at lightning speed; I’ll navigate my way around the files in no time. The pictures have not gone, but have been kindly tidied up and organized. My cabin became a perfect little haven; I’ll now ask for one with an extra bed, just because I liked it so much. And what of my broken Heart Urchin? Ah, the most valuable lesson of all. Well, said the Artist. “At least now, you can see what it looks like on the inside. Had it not broken, you would never have known.”

I cannot help but envy those who live in a state of Zen like order.

What Are You Waiting For?

Why are we always looking for perfection? Isn’t it hugely subjective anyway? My idea of perfect certainly isn’t the same as everybody else’s.

I’m a little preoccupied with getting my book finished, and have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about the concept of taking action, or getting on with it, or what I call, “Right-Now-Ness.” It seems to me, that one of the big reasons why people don’t get on with things is because they don’t feel their “thing” is good enough. They hide behind the excuse that they are just not ready, or they are waiting to make it “perfect.”

But isn’t perfection is simply a point of view? Think of a movie. The filmmaker may think he or she has created a perfect representation of a particular story but it is the individuals in the cinema audience who will form their own opinions, and they are based on their own experiences. Everyone will come away with a different viewpoint of what someone else considers to be perfection.

Let’s take the idea of a perfect home. To some it may be a handsome Georgian villa right in the centre of a busy town, or it may be in a characterful cottage in a charming village, or it may be a cabin in the Australian outback, without a neighbour in sight. You see? Although none of them is wrong, and each of them is lovely in its own way, we all have a different idea of what is perfect.