Summer of Love (Supreme!)

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This summer, 2 weeks ago to be precise, I experienced my first music festival. Not a unique experience I know, but at the ripe old age of 57, I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve also been a “mature” student for the last two years, which makes me wonder if I’m going through another midlife crisis or joining a new trend. Whatever it is, I don’t care and I’m going back for more next year AND I’m going to camp so that I don’t miss anything. (Now I know I’ve lost the plot!) 

But no; it seems I’m in good company because there were people there much older than myself; in fact all age groups were enjoying themselves, from children to grandparents.

Picture the rolling hills of the South Downs as a backdrop, a majestic stately home on the periphery and thousands, yes thousands, of happy (some through drink, I’ll admit) people soaking up the atmosphere. I think this is the essence of festivals; the atmosphere.  Throw into the mix a traditional funfair, more food vendors than you could ever imagine, beer tents aplenty and you have a recipe for a great time. The weather helped by behaving itself; always useful. 

Love Supreme has been referred to as “Glastonbury for Jazz,” which I think is a good description and coming a week after it’s more famous cousin, I can see the similarities (even though I’ve only watched it on TV) Headlining this year were George Benson (who I’ve  loved for 40 years) Gregory Porter (who I’ve recently followed) Mica Paris,  the Jacksons (who did the same moving tribute to missing brother Micheal as they did at Glastonbury) and Herbie Hancock.

There were many more artistes that I didn’t know so well but enjoyed as much and found myself running between the Big Top, the main stage and the Arena, so as not to miss anything! But the highlight for me was when big George came on with his fancy guitar. It was a perfect setting; early Sunday evening, the sun still shining and by playing most of his popular songs, he took me back to all those years ago. And boy, he can still play that guitar seemlessly. All in all, a fantastic time was had by all and roll on next year.

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Write away week in Italy

imageIt’s almost impossible to imagine a more beautiful setting in which to let the creative juices flow. Picture the rolling hills of Umbria, with its medieval villages perched high and scattered about strategically for extra impact and you have the ideal landscape to capture the imagination.image

Arte Umbria is a retreat for artists for most of the season and it’s easy to see why people would come here to capture the stunning scenery. Once a year it’s booked for Sue Moorcrofts writing course and I have to admit; the scenery is a bit of a distraction! I had to keep reminding myself that I was here to learn and not admire my surroundings.image

But seriously, it was an extremely well run course, expertly led by Sue, who was on her fourth consecutive year there, and I learned so much. Both from Sue and my peers (some of which were already published authors) and I took away with me a wealth of tips and inside information (nod nod, wink, wink) from the writing world and came back home bursting with a new enthusiasm, confidence and determination.

The lovely Lorenzo looking very serious!

The lovely Lorenzo looking very serious!

It wasn’t all work and no play though; oh no, there was plenty of time to play and also a couple of trips were thrown in for good measure. So we didn’t get cabin fever, we were first let out on a trip to the local vineyard complete with a tour by the lovely Lorenzo (who got us all in a bit of a dither!) image

Then there was the day out to Orvietto on the train and the funicular up to the top where the most stunning Duomo outside of Florence stood in all it’s glory. We mooched about the shops, had a gelato and a coffee and found a delicious place to have lunch. image

Monday morning found us back in the jeep, down the bumpy track to our next destination La Scarzuola. A Fransiscan convent built in 1218 by St Francis of Assisi at the front; and at the back an entirely different world.  Tomazzo Buzzi’s “ideal city” which was quite surreal. image

After lunch on our terrace back at the ranch (or, rather, Hunting Lodge) it was back to workshopping and free writing time, followed by a dip in the alluring pool, which lay in the grounds of Arte Umbria and was just waiting to be taken advantage of! image

Even the pool had a view to die for and once I’d worked out how I could keep my iPad out of the sun in order to do some free writing down there; that’s where I made myself comfortable. It was a little distracting though, especially as Fleur the Spaniel wanted to have water splashed on her all the time! image

Meals were served al fresco and were absolutely delicious, made for us daily by the Leiths trained chef Mags from England. We really were spoiled every day by her culinary skills and I came home half a stone heavier and I know I’m not the only one! Our hosts Sara and David Moody joined us at mealtimes  and attended our every need. image

They chauffeured us around and David even let some us watch his “Game of Thrones” box set in the evenings.  I had never seen it before and wanted to know what all the fuss was about and I was joined by avid followers of the show who were happy to educate me regarding the plot. image

All too soon it was time to go home but I left with a set of new friends; all with the same passion in life and I’m certain that we will stay in touch and cheer each other on when we have a success and commiserate when we get the inevitable rejection from time to time.

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year?

OK, it’s exactly a month since New Years Day but I’ve been hibernating since December which was full to the brim with meals out, grand kids birthdays, concerts, pantos and back to back college assignments.

So in January, all that I had to look forward to was the dreaded Self Assessment form which was waiting to be dealt with. Last year I did it early because I was going to be away in sunnier climes having far more fun with my trip to Cuba to look forward to.

Having a Mojito by the pool in Santiago de Cuba

Having a Mojito by the pool in Santiago de Cuba

 

This year, however started with the shocking death of David Bowie (though sad, I’m not sure if it warranted 24hr coverage on TV and radio.) Swiftly followed by Alan Rickman two days later. I couldn’t believe it; the fact that they were both 69 and died of Cancer was even more startling because they had both kept it under wraps. image I was more upset by Alan Rickmans death because he was my favourite baddie in  films like Die Hard, Robin Hood Prince of thieves and many more. I also loved him in Truly, Madly, Deeply which I had to watch on YouTube because my old video was in the depths of the loft. Although dated, it was pure Rickman magic; the man was a genius and I’m very sad that he won’t be making any more films.           image

No sooner had we come to terms with the  death of these two legends, when less than a week later Glenn Frey passed away also, making it a hat trick. I really couldn’t believe it and he was just two years younger than the other two but he didn’t die of cancer. His music will live on, like David Bowie’s and though not an icon, he founded one of the most famous bands of all time (the Eagles, just in case you don’t know) and wrote some of the most memorable songs of the seventies and eighties. Although 67, I’m sure he still would have been playing into his seventies like the Stones and the Who. A sad loss for music.

The late, great Glenn Frey.

The late, great Glenn Frey.

On a lighter note, heaven must be interesting with all the celebs that have joined the big band in the sky. Let’s hope we don’t lose any more for a while.

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Paris in mourning

imageToday French citizens stood side by side to mourn the 130 dead from the horrific attacks on Paris two weeks ago, on Friday the 13th November. Who would have thought that this memorial would be necessary a few short weeks ago? image

The world is still reeling from the attacks that took place in the centre of a city, so vibrant and innocently unaware of what was about to take place. Who could have foreseen the carnage that was planned on an ordinary Friday night, the beginning of the weekend for most Parisiennes and the devastation it would cause? image

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It was one of those occasions when you will always remember where you were when you heard the terrible news. Me, I had just been to a Christmas party plan event in Woking and came back to watch Children in need on the TV. I was alone because my partner was on nightshift and was enjoying the sketches on the BBC program. I did my donation online, then as I was pottering about on my iPad, as I usually do in the evening, I saw a post on Facebook. Something about an atrocity that had happened. I immediately turned the TV over to Sky news, to be met with a scene that was still unfolding. This was about 10.30 UK time, so an hour later in Paris. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, even though the same scenes were being played over and over. At that time, there were reports of people being held hostage in a club. They said there were over a hundred in there. I don’t know why but I thought that they were just being held hostage and that nothing else would happen. There would be a stand off and the police or special forces would flush them out like they often do.

What happened next really shocked me, as the rest of the world. In front of my eyes, special forces were scaling the walls of the building, amid the deafening sound of gunfire. I couldn’t bear to think that inside that building people were actually being gunned down mercilessly. But they were. I watched until 1am but had to go to bed, otherwise I would have been up all night. It was the first thing on my mind when I woke and I really hoped it wasn’t true. But I turned on the TV again and in the cold light of day, it all became appallingly true.

The club Bataclan was where the most people died -89 young people. There were also attacks on the Stade de France, where Francois Hollande was attending a friendly football match. Luckily the terrorists didn’t gain entry but instead, two of them blew themselves up with subside belts. Also, there were attacks on diners in popular areas with Parisiennes, who were also gunned down with precision according to witnesses. This was no random attack; it was well planned. And who claimed responsibility next day? Why ISIS,  of course. Mr Hollande immediately declared war and in retaliation sent his planes over to Syria to bomb ISIS headquarters. I’m not sure if this was a good idea or not, but I can understand his reasons. image

The whole world wanting to show its support, did in ways unprecedented before. The Sydney opera house displayed it’s famous sails in the tricolour of France, swiftly followed by other worldwide monuments. On Facebook on the Saturday, an app appeared where you could change your profile photo to the tricolour as well. The world grieved alongside France, appalled at what had happen, secretly worried that it could happen in their own back yard. image

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Write Away weekend

imageNext weekend I will be treating myself to one of my favourite guilty pleasures; my third Write Away weekend ran by Ruth Brandt, tutor extraordinaire. The venue is a De Vere hotel – Gorse Hill, just the other side of Woking to where I live. I chose the residential option, as opposed to the non residential one because, well – I like to get away to immerse myself in all things writing. I come out of the closet, so to speak, as a writer because there are also other closet-writers there and we can join in solidarity! Feeling safe in the knowledge that I will be accepted as a writer (as opposed to an author because I haven’t had anything published yet) without the odd looks that non writers give you when you tell what you do in your spare time. Coupled with the fact that I would be in no fit state to drive home because a small group of us just don’t know when to stop enjoying ourselves!

Last year, as I got to the “class”, I recognised a few familiar faces from the year before, so knew that this was going to be a great weekend, for although they are good fun; they are also very good writers.

Don’t get me wrong; we are there to work and to learn but we also have a jolly good laugh.

I started writing with Ruth, first on a Saturday workshop in June 2011  and afterwards, I joined one of her evening courses in January 2012 and completed five terms. I have done the odd workshop, when I have time but Write Away is my favourite. Most of us on the weekend courses are students of Ruth’s and many of us have become good friends. I call us her “disciples!” I have “gone it alone” to work on an online novel writing course that I am doing through Writing Magazine, but I do miss class sometimes.

The lovely Ruth Brandt

The lovely Ruth Brandt

Ruth has had many successes with her writing, being shortlisted in many literary competitions, and published in magazines such as Mslexia, Litro, Ireland’s own, Candis, and Yours, as well as short story’s Published in Anthologies. She also writes plays and poetry, and is studying for her MFA in Creative writing at Kingston University, as well as being the Writer in residence at Polesden Lacey. What more can you want from a tutor with that pedigree?  And she is a very nice person as well, who joins in with her “disciples” at the end of a hard days writing. image

The weekend is well structured. We arrive to class on the Friday evening, after checking in, then we introduce ourselves and write our name on a folded over  piece of paper, so nobody can forget our names (this part always amuses me!) Ruth will go over the structure of the weekend, like what subjects we are going to learn about,  and then asks if we have any requests for areas we want to cover. We will do a couple of exercises where we will read our work to rest of the group ( I always cringe at this bit because I don’t write very well on the hop, I like time to think about it,) and then it’s time for dinner and drinks and a catch up with old friends. Those who feel virtuous will retire to their rooms and work on their WIP (work in progress) and the rest of us will stay in the bar till the early hours putting the world to rights!

Next day, we breakfast, and at ten on the dot, sit at our desks ready for the expert tuition of our leader and prepare for a hard days graft. This is the longest day; it is full on, even though we stop for tea and biscuits mid morning and afternoon, plus a delicious lunch midday, make no mistake- we are there to write our hearts out! And to workshop, even though I still get over anxious and forget to breathe when I am reading my beloved piece of work out! I nearly got used to not being nervous by the fifth term of evening class, but now I am out of practice and back to square one. There’s something very intimidating about bearing your soul and inner thoughts to a group of people; even though I know most of them. But we all have to do it and I really enjoy listening to other people’s stories, even though I always think they are better than my own. We wannabe writers are an insecure bunch! (Well, I am)

There are one to ones with Ruth, where she critiques a piece of work that you have chosen to share with her. I’m hoping to write a new short story for her, like I did last year; it all adds towards the “portfolio.” The part I really like though, is that you can have some free writing time to yourself, without any interruptions. This especially useful when if, like me, you are at the beck and call of family,  when you are around, and it doesn’t matter how thou dost protest; saying you are too busy for them because you are writing, doesn’t cut it.

I did take myself off to Wales last year on my own “writing weekend” (Am I there yet? Blog on WordPress) but it wasn’t quite the same. What would really float my boat and be the ultimate in indulgence is to have a whole week away in a beautiful place like Italy. There is such a retreat run by Sue Moorcroft called Arte Umbria. Set in the rolling hills of Umbria, in a rustic dwelling, surrounded by peace and tranquility, I can’t think of a more heavenly setting. Add delicious food, superb wine and the expert tuition of Sue Moorcroft, what more could you want?

 And the lovely Sue Moorcroft with a selection of her novels

And the lovely Sue Moorcroft with a selection of her novels

Sue has written several novels and frequently writes for women’s magazines (which is a difficult market to get into.) I have read and enjoyed two of her books so far and have attended a Short Story workshop that she ran at Guildford Book Festival last year which was excellent. She has her own Team Sue Moorcroft page on Facebook, which I am proud to belong to and has helped me with useful information regarding writing and some technical info on how to get post this blog on the Facebook page. Considering I am only a wannabe, I am very grateful for her time and help. I know we all have to start somewhere, but nonetheless.

Arte Umbria

Arte Umbria

So this time next week I will be at Gorse Hill, with my phone off and for that time I will come out of the closet and be the writer I wannabe!

 

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September in Brittany

imageSeptember is the favoured time for me and the other half to go on holiday. The kids have gone back to school and the weather is still warm enough to risk venturing to north west France and we were, indeed, very lucky with the weather – it was beautiful.

We took the overnight  ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, which takes eleven hours but the sea was like a mill pond and we had a cabin which although small, was perfectly comfortable. We arrived in St Malo at 8.30, in time for breakfast, taken outside in the sunshine in a typical French cafe. Then knowing that we had all day to explore the town, we took our time and found the Fort National, originally constructed by an engineer called Vauban in 1689 to keep the English and other marauders at bay! image

St Malo itself, is a very well preserved medieval walled town with ramparts that you can walk all the way around. We took a leisurely stroll around the whole city wall,  after an early lunch of crepes and Breton cider which to my amazement was served in cups from a jar! I later found out this is a tradition of Brittany. imageOur campsite was a forty minute drive from the port (because I knew the other half didn’t want to drive much on holiday) which would have taken less, if we hadn’t missed a turning. But all in all, the transfer was quite easy. imageWe were taken to our holiday home by a young Scots guy on his bicycle, who once we got to our Row, he forgot what number we were and had to go back to the office while we waited. We were happy once we got into our new home; especially when we found out that it had two bathrooms, so one each – pure heaven! The campsite itself was set in huge grounds with a Chateau, (Des Ormes) complete with its own helicopter and golf course. There was also a hotel, which we had a very nice meal in one night, as a treat. There were various eateries and a bar, which we frequented because it had free wifi (not being able to live without social media for a whole week!) which provided “live” entertainment (basically the staff) and live footy, whether you liked it or not. The best night for me down the bar, was the karaoke night; not that I embarrassed myself by participating  on the stage, but I did enjoy a good singalong from the comfort of my seat. Des Ormes also boasted an inside swimming pool and an outside pool with a wave machine, which I actually was able to use due to the lovely warm, sunny afternoons.

Pool area at Des Ormes

Pool area at Des Ormes.                                                                           

The main reason I wanted to visit Brittany though, was to go to Le Mont de St Michel. Since I first visited Normandy, 25 years ago, I have wanted to make the trip. And I was not disappointed. A new causeway has been built recently and strange shaped shuttle buses ferry passengers from the main car park across the vast expanse of sand to the mount. I was surprised that people actually live there; I thought it was just a tourist attraction, but no, there’s a whole community of restaurants, shops and homes.

The odd shaped shuttle buses at Mont St Michel

The odd shaped shuttle buses at Mont St Michel.                                                        

The view from the top of the Abbey, which you pay a small fee for, was stunning – just miles and miles of sand.

Le Mont de St Michel with its mikes and miles of sand

Le Mont de St Michel with its mikes and miles of sand.                                             

Another place we visited was the capital of Brittany, Rennes. It’s best known for its medieval architecture and we spent the whole day exploring the sights with a free map that we got from the tourist office. This is when I think my other half should have been a tour guide because he comes into his own and marches me around, not missing a single landmark! I got a bit narked when I got hungry, then he had to feed and water me before I would carry on!

The Medieval architecture of Rennes

The Medieval architecture of Rennes.                                                            

Some more random sights around Rennes

Jan in Rue Le Bastard!, a random astronaut and more buildings

Jan in Rue Le Bastard!, a random astronaut and more buildings.                                    

It wasn’t long before I missed the sea. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel I’m on holiday without the sea? So it was my turn to pick a place to visit the next day. As I knew there was a Saturday market on in Dol de Bretagne (and I do love a French market) we went there in the morning. I was a little upset to see live chickens and other birds in cramped cages for sale. Also rabbits and guinea pigs were available to buy in the market. I didn’t take photos, as I didn’t agree with the practice.

The Saturday market at Dol de Bretagne

The Saturday market at Dol de Bretagne.                                                         

After a very heavy lunch in a kebab, come Indian restaurant, we headed north towards Dinard and finally, the seaside! Dinard has a casino and also hosts a film festival every year, as well as having a rather large harbour. It was lovely to sit in a little promenade bar and sip wine, whilst watching children play in the sand and the locals playing boules.

The lovely beach at Dinard

The lovely beach at Dinard.                                                                      

On the last day, the weather was due to turn; in fact Saturday was also meant to rain but somehow, we escaped it. Jan wanted to visit a working windmill (or Moulin) that we had passed on the way back from Mont St Michel, and a chateau he had found on Google, that was meant to be the largest in Europe. Considering he didn’t want to drive much, he was really getting into it!

A working windmill (moulin) with the Mont St Michel in the background

A working windmill (moulin) with the Mont St Michel in the background.                            

I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting the tour was from the resident Miller. image

Last but not least, we visited the Chateau de Fougeres, where I sampled another Breton delicacy of Gallettes and Breton cider, in a cup again. We spent a few hours here and I have to admit, I was hoping it would be one of those grand chateaux that is home to the filthy rich. Instead it was a proper castle, although in good condition, wasn’t my cup of tea but I humoured him indoors, after all, it was his holiday too!

Château Fougeres

Château Fougeres.                                                                                

All good things must come to an end and the next day we made our way towards St Malo for the ferry home on the Brittany ferries ship Bretagne. The return journey was far from smooth and I was glad that we had booked some reclining seats. I was so glad I had a new book to start, so had a good excuse to stay seated, for when I did try to walk about, it was like walking on a waltzer! I don’t get sea sick, luckily,  but when I visited the ladies , there was a poor girl who was suffering badly from the Mal de Mer. I offered her some Kwells but she was too far gone!

The rocky ride home!

The rocky ride home!

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Time: my guilty pleasure 


I don’t know about you but for me, there never seem to be enough hours in the day, or week, to do the things I want/need to do. This could be because I take on too many commitments, or it could be due to poor time management on my part. I could be paranoid and worrying for nothing. Either way, I always feel guilty about the way I spent my time or waste it. I never used to be like this, so it could be symptom of growing older.

Here I am, on a Sunday morning, rising before eight, just so I can have time to write this blog. And I am doing it because it’s the only time I have and I feel guilty for not writing anything for three weeks as I have taken on the commitment. Crazy hey? I have been racking my brains about something interesting to write about and originally was going to rant about the lousy weather we have been experiencing this month of August, supposedly the height of summer. I even found an appropriate picture for the post, see below:


But then I felt guilty about that as well, in comparison to the awful news recently about the hundreds of migrants losing their lives in such tragic circumstances; it pared into significance. So I put my thinking cap on again and came up with with other things I felt guilty about. They culminated in the way I spend my time, my most valuable commodity.

The words above are from a post on Facebook yesterday and they really struck a cord in me. They are supposed to have been from the lips of Mother Theresa; I don’t know if that is true but they are very wise words. For if our time is valuable to us, then who we spend it with is important and we should choose wisely. This also applies to our hobbies and interests. My hobby/interest is writing but sometimes I struggle to find the opportunity  in the little spare time I have, to actually do any. I love my family but usually they take priority over my hobby.

I feel guilty about the time I had last week to do some writing for my novel writing course; I was just too tired and not in the mood. The other half was on night shift and usually that is the perfect time for me to write; when I can completely focus without any distraction, or guilt that I am ignoring him. And what did I do? I relaxed and watched TV. If he’s home and I have to go in the other room for peace, I feel guilty about that too.

Even worse than that, I ignored a phone call from my mum when I was sitting right next to the phone and listened to her leave a message for me. This probably sounds worse than it is because if you knew my mother, she expects me to stay on the phone for two hours talking about herself. She loves talking for the sake of it and I just wanted to relax after a hard days work. But I did feel guilty. I chose to spend my time the way I wanted to and prioritised. That’s what it is all down to really. If you are time poor; you have to prioritise, that’s the answer.

So here I am prioritising my time: not staying in bed to catch up with some sleep but doing the things I want to do. So the rest of the day I can do the things I need to do, like spending time with family which is important. I’m not the only person who has this problem; it’s a product of the world we live in now; we want it all. We just have to find the time to have it all. And if we waste this precious commodity that is time, then we only have ourselves to blame.

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My life as a Baby Boomer

imageI recently found out that I was born in the generation that is known as the “Baby Boomers.” This surprised me because I didn’t think I was old enough! Especially after watching the T.V series on BBC called “Boomers” last year, which portrayed three couples in their retirement and the antics they got up to. In the  first episode they were attending a friends funeral which was very amusing, even though you wouldn’t expect to find anything funny about going to a funeral.

So I did a bit of research into what constitutes being a Baby Boomer. I suppose the name gives a clue to the fact that there was a significant rise in births at some time in the past. To be precise, those  born after the Second World War or between 1946 and 1964, myself being born in 1960, fit the criteria. I logged onto Wikipedia (what would we do without them?!) and found out that Baby Boomers were split into two “cohorts.” Then I had to translate the term cohort for the purpose of explaining my findings. Cohort means “a group of subjects who have shared a particular event together during a particular time span.” The first cohort, or cohort 1 were born between 1946-1955 and cohort 2 between 1956-1964. At last, now I understand why I thought Baby Boomers were older than me because I fell into the second group! image

I won’t bore you with the figures but after further investigation, it appears the first group at least, are very affluent compared with their parents and are enjoying this wealth traveling all over the world, whilst still holding onto the lions share of the country’s assets. Those who had a good education, career and were sensible with their money surely? I’m sure there are plenty living on the breadline, on a paltry State Pension, so maybe they are talking about the majority?

Apparently  our generation have never had it so good.  We were the first generation to grow up with T.V (who would have thought that wasn’t a given?) compared with what this generation have today. But we’re not talking about them for once. I cast my memory back to life in the sixties (because obviously I can’t go back further than that) and I do remember quite a few things. The first memory was of where we lived in 1965. It was a prefab, a post war invention to help ease the housing crisis, in Balham, London. It was small but an improvement on living with relatives for the first five years of my life. The church school playground backed onto our garden but was hidden by a high brick wall. I remember going to Sunday school in the church of the school. I can smell the classrooms as I write this but it’s hard to describe; it’s a kind of food smell but I can’t distinguish it. image

I remember wearing a Liberty bodice (God knows why I had to wear one of those, I’ve never heard of them since!) I wore the most awful black tie up shoes that looked like boys shoes. I remember we had bottles of milk, a third of a pint if I remember right and I hated it. I can’t drink milk on its own to this day, I know I’m ungrateful because kids don’t get it anymore thanks to Maggie Thatcher “milk snatcher.” My mum also used to make me and my brother have a teaspoon of cod liver oil and malt extract, oh the good old days! Rose hip syrup was another healthy addition to our diet and I remember her getting it from the baby clinic. When I watch  “Call the Midwife” it makes me realise how authentic the makers of the programme have got it. image

We had a radio (as well as a TV) and I do remember the Beatles,  Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, The Seekers, Val Doonican, Cilla Black, Sandy Shaw and many others playing in the background . On the TV we had Pinky and Perky, Bill and Ben Flowerpot men, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Crackerjack and Top of the pops amongst others and only three channels. Food wasnt very exciting as I recall and we never went out for a meal like we do now. The closest we got was a bag of crisps with a lemonade on the way back from our aunties at the Toby Jug on the A3 at Tolworth!

Holidays were a simple affair as well. It would be a caravan at Bognor, Hayling Island or my favourite, Cornwall. We stayed at the Lizard Point one year, near a farm and I remember my dad getting some fresh milk from the local farm and it was still warm from the cow – yuk! We had a Cresta car to take us on these luxurious holidays and we never had seat belts and worse still, my dad used to smoke in the car. I’m so glad things have improved nowadays, when people look back on the old days it’s generally thought they were better. Maybe in some ways but we are definitely more safety conscious now compared with then. image

So to round up, being associated with a group of people born in a certain era of history doesn’t really make any difference to my life in general. I wonder what they will call the generation born since the turn of the Century? The technology generation? Those who can’t remember life without mobile phones, social media, Playstations, X Boxes and the like? A life fixed to one screen or another, instead of playing outside in the fresh air? Time will tell.

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Memories of Dad

Aged 18 yrs, in his National Service uniform

Aged 18 yrs, in his National Service uniform

This day, the 28th June in  2001 , my dad passed away peacefully in his armchair from aggressive  lung cancer. I know this because I was there next to him when it happened. We only knew he had the disease two weeks before he drew his terminal breath but I always had a feeling that his love of cigarettes would be the end of him.  It was a hot summer morning, the roses in his beloved garden were in full bloom and the world carried on as though nothing had happened.

He was only 65, young by today’s standards. He left a young family of three children behind; his second family by second wife Julie, love of his life. He and my mother parted long before, when I was eight, my brother six and my sister two. Julie was understandably bewildered; lost and the poor kids, well I don’t know what they must have gone through.

I was 41 when he died, going through a tough divorce and I felt like I had lost my footing. I regretted the lost time spent with him. Eventually I realised that it was even worse for my younger siblings, for although I hadn’t seen a lot of him since my parents break up, at least I had spent some time over the years until I was into my forties.

He was a good dad to his kids – both sets. Not many people get a chance to have two families, twenty five years apart. I guess it gave him a new lease of life! It meant though, that when I started my family, dad had started his new one at the same time. This came as a bit of a shock but once I had got used to the idea, it turned out fine. The two sets of children grew up at the same time and when we visited (they lived a long way away) twice a year, they got on like friends or  cousins. In fact, I only found out when dad died that his other kids thought I was an auntie or friend of the family.  They had no idea I was their sister. I guess he was a bit embarrassed.

Love this photo. 3 of my kids (before Tom) and dads 3 kids with him in the background . 1991

Love this photo. 3 of my kids (before Tom) and dads 3 kids with him in the background . 1991

The facts I know about our father are few and far between. I know he was adopted and this gave him a huge chip on his shoulder. I know he had to do National Service when he was eighteen and didn’t take to it very well. He served his time in Germany, grudgingly and couldn’t wait to get out. He met my mother soon after at Wimbledon race track, I think, and was pushed into marrying her by my grandmother. He was 21, her 17. A recipe for disaster.

This was taken around the time he and my mum were courting

This was taken around the time he and my mum were courting

We didn’t have our own home until I was four. We lived with both sets of grand parents, and a cousin. Eventually we got a prefab in Balham. I remember those days vaguely. He was always on a course during the week, learning how to be a computer engineer. He was one of the first engineers in this brand new industry. He was a pioneer! He worked for ICL – International Computers Limited (I think.) he used to go away Monday to Friday and when he came home, he would always have a present. Normally dresses. I don’t know why he always bought my dresses but he had good taste. Maybe he didn’t trust mum with his money; I will never know.

He enjoyed photography and turned one of the bedrooms into a dark room, I remember the red glow of the light when I went in and watched in amazement as the plain paper gradually revealed images as if by magic. He took many photos of us kids and our pets.

He liked beer but mum didn’t like him drinking. Up until the end, he always had a row of cans lined up in front of his chair that he had emptied over the course of an evening. (My brother has the exact same habit.)  I think that was one of their problems. Also women. Mum said he was unfaithful. I only have her word on that but there were quite a lot of photographs of different women from his photography days.

He was a handsome man!

He was a handsome man!

He was a keen fisherman and I remember fondly, family days out to Godalming and Farncoombe with my uncle John, grand dad and younger brother; they all loved fishing. One night I got up in the night to pee and found a tin full of maggots all over the floor. They had escaped from the tin and I freaked out! They were obviously bait for the next day. I will always remember that tin; it was a blue and yellow tube which originally held gingernut biscuits from Cornwall.

Me and my brother on holiday in Bournemouth, around 1965

Me and my brother on holiday in Bournemouth, around 1965

Another of dads loves was Cornwall. We had only one  family holiday to the Lizard Point. We left in the middle of the night and stopped at a petrol station in the dark and the car had over heated. All I remember was a huge stream of boiling water spewing out of the radiator when he released the cap, it was like a geyser! It was the place he took his new family as well; they used to go to Looe every year. After he died I went to visit Looe, on a holiday to Porthleven, as a kind of pilgrimage to him. I noticed it was a fishing port with plenty of opportunities to go sea fishing, although I’m sure he was a course fishing man.

In latter years he developed a love of cricket. His second son Chris, was also a fanatic and played for the local team. To encourage Chris even further, he took an umpires course so he could become more involved in the game. He was retired by now and it was around this time that he was taken ill. He wasn’t diagnosed at first but spent two weeks in hospital while they did tests. I was on holiday in Zante when I got a text to say he was in hospital and to give Julie a call. I sensed it was serious. I went to him as soon as I got home from holiday and a week later he had the diagnoses. He didn’t make a fuss, he never did. I rallied round and got my brother and sister, who hadn’t seen him for years. They hadn’t carried on their relationship with him, so many years had passed.  But they both went to visit him before it was too late and I know he appreciated it.

He died a few days after their visits and I was so relieved they got to see him before he passed and although it was sad, I was glad to be with him at the end. I wasn’t quite prepared for it but nor was anyone. His spirit will carry on in his six children and grand children and he will be remembered as a quiet, loving man.

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Storm Chasing in the USA

Storm Chasing Adventures

Storm Chasing Adventures

What do you get when you put 18 people together, including a Secret Millionaire, an Irish Priest, a Russian ice cream fan, an Australian Chemical Engineer, an Extreme weather enthusiast, plus 13 random people from different walks of life and put them into 2 white vans and send them 2625 miles around the mid west States of America for a week? A whole lot of fun, that’s what!

We met in Denver for the serious business of chasing storms, arriving on different flights and times, from the four corners of the Earth on a mission to witness some extreme weather. Some people were experienced chasers and came year after year. Others, like me, were Storm chasing virgins, not knowing quite what to expect and secretly hoping that we came home in one piece and not taken  by a tornado. I hadn’t brought my red slippers for one.

I booked this trip on complete impulse after answering an ad on Facebook from an ex- colleague that I hadn’t seen for thirteen years. All because Twister is one of my favourite films and I just had a feeling in my gut that I should go. I like to live dangerously, what can I say?

The tour was to start from Denver and as I came in to land, a magnificent display of lightening lit up the sky and on leaving the airport, torrential rain fell, which the gutters found hard to keep up with. A good sign, thought I. Tired and bedraggled, I was glad to finally get to my comfortable room, after 14 hours travelling.

The next day was spent at leisure and I was glad because all I wanted to do was relax and chill by the pool with my book, in the hot sunshine. I was excited about going to Walmart to stock up on goodies for the trip and couldn’t wait for the rest to join me (plus, they were nowhere to be found!) On the way back I spotted a Liquor store that I wanted to investigate, as I had never been in one before. It was much the same as our off licences, so I bought some wine (for night cap purposes.)

At six o’clock there was an Orientation meeting, to show us what storm clouds are all about but I’m afraid it went straight over my head and I decided to learn on the job, so to speak! As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. After the meeting, it was time to go to Famous Daves  rib shack for a well deserved meal to socialise with fellow chasers before our adventure ahead. I have to say, their Margaritas were superb. And so big! It wasn’t long before I got a reputation for being a lush, I only have myself to blame! On a positive note, it made me sleep well.image

The first day of Storm chasing finally arrived. It was a hot, sunny day in Denver when we left the snow capped mountains (and the rail track, with its noisy horn that woke us up 3 times a night) and headed towards Kansas, full of optimism after Todd (our leader) had consulted the radar on his laptop and assured us there were some good storms to be had. After a couple of hours driving, it was time for our first “comfort break.” It said in the info about the trip that, where possible, there would be stops every ninety minutes! I have to dispute this but it was very amusing to see who would give in first to a full bladder and dare ask Todd to pull over.

Life on the van!!

Life on the van!!

Let me explain. Our vans were travelling in convoy and the leader of the trip Todd, a man of few words and on a mission to satisfy his customer needs ( to find extreme weather)  wasn’t about to   Waste time hanging around Gas station restrooms at the drop of a hat. The consequence of this was that, when we did stop; it was best that you tried to “go”, even if you could only squeeze a teaspoon out because you never knew when the next opportunity would come. I found this out to my peril and learned my lesson the hard way, which meant I had to wait about six hours until I went, unless I wanted to squat behind the van in the middle of nowhere, whilst everyone else was admiring the storm clouds.

Experiencing downdraft from the storm, windy or what?

Experiencing downdraft from the storm, windy or what?

At the site of the first cloud formation, I had to admit, it was a sight to see. The clouds were indigo blue and brooding and you could see the hot air being sucked up into them in plumes, from a distance. This was called the updraft. (Learning on the job, see?) we took lots of photos and waited for some action. One of the group even thought they saw a funnel cloud (one that rotates and pokes through the main cloud), I think I got that right. But I missed it some how. Then, after a while, a strong, cold wind came from nowhere and this was the downdraft. It was very eery, I have to say. Then it was all over, the storm fizzled out (which they can do, apparently) and we moved onto the next one which was forming.

Dark, looming clouds

Dark, looming clouds

More or less the same thing happened but this time, the cloud sucked up a load of dust and as we were driving through a small town, it came down on us like a brown fog and we couldn’t see where we were going! American Aimee was a co driver (AKA Birdkiller because she managed to bump off some birds with the van earlier!) and was driving at this time. It was good initiation for her and she did a good job. We stayed in a Comfort Inn in Colby, Kansas that night.

Aimee driving with Chris next to her!

Aimee driving with Chris next to her!

Next day we moved onto New Mexico, where we chased a storm for nearly 500 miles. I loved the landscape of this state, it was green and lush before it became mountainous and we drove through a canyon. Ben found a scorpion; he was determined to find a dangerous creature, not wanting to be outdone by a previous chaser who found a rattle snake the  year before. Oh yes, there are plenty of dangerous creatures in America, which is one of the reasons I wasn’t going to squat behind the van! The storm was pretty much the same as yesterday’s; we were hoping for a Supercell with some large hail but it blew itself out again. We stayed in Clayton, where all the restaurants shut at 8 but we managed to find one that served mountain oysters (Bulls testicles) and poor unsuspecting Victoria from Russia was duped into eating them!! We stayed in the Best Western Kokopelli Lodge in Clayton that night.

Clayton fire station, New Mexico. The Stagecoach inn, Ogallala. Postbox somewhere!

Clayton fire station, New Mexico. The Stagecoach inn, Ogallala. Postbox somewhere!

The next day we had 9 hours driving, through New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska to “get into position” for the storms promised that day. By this time of course, the conversations in the van became rather interesting. It’s amazing how barriers are broken down when you are in a small space for hours on end with people you have been thrown together with. Let the banter begin, along with the toilet humour and you get a very amusing mix. We were literally rolling around laughing. About the “comfort breaks”, who could drink the most fluid and last the longest not wanting to “go”. The state of some of the toothless people in the Gas stations, resembling Hillbillies, to taking the mickey out of people in the other van (who shall remain nameless). When we arrived at our hotel, the Stagecoach in Ogallala, Nebraska (yes, that’s right) it was scorching hot – about 90 degrees and I nearly burnt my hand on the door knob to my room. We had a great night there, playing pool, drinking beer and playing with the monkeynuts that were left on the table. I thought Chris was joking when he said you throw the shells on the floor, for when I looked around, the floor was covered with them! They could be heard being crunched under foot. After the room party we would have gone in the swimming pool, fuelled with alcohol to skinny dip but they locked it up at 10.

Rainbow in Kansas (I think) 2 headed calf in Fort Cody trading post, North Platt, Nebraska.

Rainbow in Kansas (I think)
2 headed calf in Fort Cody trading post, North Platt, Nebraska.

After all the anticipation and driving for hours to get us in position in Nebraska, nothing happened! We hung around to North Platt to see what the weather was going to do. There was Fort Cody Trading post there which was filled with lots of goodies to buy and to look at. There was a stuffed calf that had two heads (?) which I had to take  a photo of and a Wild Bill Hickock show which entailed 20,000 hand made wooden characters re- enacting the battle of little Big Horn. Why, I’m not sure! There was plenty of opportunity to buy souvenirs, which we did to while away the time. As nothing was happening with the weather still, we headed for Applebee’s, which is a famous American eatery chain. And very good it was too. The only problem was that the weather decided to fire into action and we had to ask for doggy bags to take our lunches with us. There’s no hanging about when you are with Todd; when the weather dictates – you gotta go!

New Mexico, stopped at a canyon. Ben, Amy and Paul

New Mexico, stopped at a canyon. Ben, Amy and Paul

Apparently there was large hail where we were headed to but as we were travelling towards it, it changed direction and all we were left with was the tail end of the storm, so rain and a small amount of hail. A bit disappointing but I think that’s the name of the game. Weather is unpredictable. We headed for our next place to stay and it was a Best Western plus hotel in Kearney, Nebraska and very comfortable. The evening meal was nice too, in a steak house called Whiskey Creek, where there was a severe storm warning on the TV, as we were eating. There followed a lightening display which the more enthusiastic  of the group went out to see.

From Nebraska, we travelled through Oklahoma to Kansas again on the trail still of the Super cell. Was today going to be the day? Yes! Finally we were rewarded with magnificent Mammutis (booby clouds) and our first super cell. Things were looking up on the extreme weather front. Full of excitement we clambered out of the van for the hundredth time taking in the sight of the striking cloud formations. We stayed there for a long time and many photos were taken of the spectacle. It was a bit too much to hope that we would witness a tornado but we lived in hope. Eventually the storm dissipated but I, for one, wasn’t disappointed. After all, did I really want to see a tornado? Well maybe a bit! All in all, it was our most productive day and I was quite happy. I was even more happy when I saw my room at the hotel we were staying at that night. We ended up in Garden city, Kansas and in a Best Western plus again and it was like five star luxury. My bed was so big I had to climb up onto it and it was so wide you could have got four people in it (I didn’t try.) There were two TVs; one facing the bed and one in the sitting room area, a mere few feet away! Our evening meal was at Applebee’s again, so I was more than a happy bunny that day.

Supercell and huge Mammutis (booby clouds)

Supercell and huge Mammutis (booby clouds)

In the morning (our last day) we had the usual meeting with Todd and his laptop, which didn’t bode well. There was nothing to chase; just drizzle all the way back to Denver. This was good and bad news really because although we were not going to have anything to chase, at least we would be back early to Denver and could relax on our last evening. Sometimes on a chase, if it is miles from base, it would mean not getting back until very late at night before the long journey home the next day. We had a superb lunch at Oscars, where we had been on Tuesday and it also  meant we had time to have a cheeky drink by the pool, after a few hours in the van reading and watching films on iPads, so it was more relaxing.

In the evening we went to “The Mall” in Denver and had cocktails and a very nice meal in the Olive Garden (another American chain) and a singsong in the hotel curtesy bus on the way home. The bus driver wasn’t too impressed with our singing but we thought it was funny! A few more drinks in the hotel bar before bed and the next load of chasers were there for Todd and Chris to compare notes with.

In the morning, I arranged with my new friends to meet in IHOP for breakfast before the drive to the airport. Many of us had developed a love for IHOP (yet another American chain!) and I had blueberry pancakes this time, which were delicious.

Margarita at Applebee's. Blueberry pancake from ihop.

Margarita at Applebee’s. Blueberry pancake from ihop.

Back to the hotel and Chris was going to give those who needed a lift to the airport, a last ride before he took the van back to the car hire place at the airport. We agreed to meet in the back hotel car park but when I got there, there was no sign of the van or my fellow chasers! I was mortified! Turns out that in the rush, they forgot me, so I had to take the curtesy bus (it wasn’t really a trial) by myself and hope that I could see some of them at the airport. We all had different flights but I was lucky enough to find Ben and Amy and went through check in and customs with them and then once I had got through to my gate, I saw Aimee (AKA Birdkiller) waiting for her plane. We hugged and did a selfie and then I went to my gate. Then it was all over and time for the 14 hour journey home.

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