Friday, 4 November 2011

Check this out!

Fellow aspiring author and RNA Member, the lovely Laura James, starts a new feature - 'Find out Friday' on her blog today, and I'm her first guest interview! It's my first interview too, so go and see what I have to say! Until another day Bye for now xx

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

We interrupt this blog with an announcement...

Apologies for anyone expecting to read the 'coping strategies’ I promised in my
previous blog but I have an announcement to make, a rather significant announcement for a wannabe writer…

Last weekend at the inaugural Festival of Romance International Convention I was awarded runner up in the New Talent Award. As someone who doesn’t normally like to sing my own praises, I’m sure you’ll allow me, just for this once to bask in the glory, especially given the year I’ve had.

Only a few weeks ago I didn’t even know whether I’d attend, having booked the weekend on a whim during one of my fight back moments. For aspiring author's to attend, one of the conditions was entering the New Talent Award. Back in August when I (somehow) managed to complete my first novel, 'Mother's Love' for the RNA New Writer’s Scheme, I received some excellent and encouraging feedback, but with everything else that has gone on over recent weeks, I haven’t got round to starting the suggested revisions. And so I duly emailed the required first chapter and synopsis of ‘Mother’s Love’ to Kate Allan, delightful author and organiser of the Festival without another thought.

And what a Festival it was! Superbly organised and executed by everyone involved, it was a joy to mingle with, and learn from established authors, agents and publishers, and to get to know better some of my AA (Aspiring Author) counterparts. What a lovely bunch of Romantic Novelists.
The backdrop of Hunton Park couldn’t have been a better setting, and I almost expected Mr Darcy to come romping across the lawns in my direction. He didn’t, alas, but I got my kicks elsewhere; in particular the session on Erotica versus Erotic Romance, which I’d never dared to even think about but now, especially as I’m a singleton, I may consider ;)

Dressed in my best Audrey Hepburn style posh frock, by the time of the evening dinner, Ball and award ceremony, the residual nerves and lack of confidence were banished by the half bottle of red wine I drank before going out. Thank you to all who kept me company throughout the weekend, and for those I didn’t manage to meet, we’ll hopefully get together at the RNA Winter Party

The awards ceremony commenced – a glitzy, glamorous affair with top talents in the Romantic Genre and Historical being recognised. Then it was onto the Festival’s New Talent Award, with agent, Jane Judd presenting the awards. (I’ve long had my list of top agents and Jane features in my top three.) Looking round the table of talent, I wondered which of my fellow rookie writer’s names might be called. And the first name out…

‘Debbie White receives the commended award for her novel, "Tough Love."’

I don’t know whether it was the fact that the title of the novel wasn’t mine, or that I was so stunned to have a 'commended' that made me freeze in the chair.

‘Go on, that’s you.’ Celia Anderson gave me a little shove, encouraging me to get up and shake hands with my heroine agent.
3rd place – the lovely Sarah Callejo
2nd Place – Rosemary Dun’s name was read out but the title of her novel was mine, ‘Mother’s Love.’Poor Rosemary had had to go home early with dreadful earache.
1st place and winner of the coveted New Talent Award - went to Henriette Gyland Congratulations Henri!

There was evidently some kind of a mix up with the author’s names and titles but it didn’t matter to me. I’d been commended, and for the next hour or two my emotions leapt somewhere between giddy excitement and pure emotion at how I’ve never given up my dream, and at last, irrespective of the eventual outcome with my first novel, I’d had some ‘proper’ official recognition that I can write. I DO have potential. The reason I attended the weekend was to kickstart my badly neglected writing career after events of the last few months and health problems, and this couldn’t have been better incentive.

Late in the evening I saw Jane Judd and her husband look as if they might be making a move, and fuelled by yet more red wine and the knowledge that if I didn’t properly introduce myself I’d always regret it, a wave of courage suddenly gripped me and catapulted me into her path, blocking her exit.

I shook hands nervously, bumbling that there had been a bit of a mix up with the titles, but thanking her for giving me the commendation for 'Mother’s Love.’

‘Is that the one about the Grandmother?’ Jane asked.

‘Yes that’s mine.’

‘No, that was definitely second,’ she said. ‘And it was a close second. I voted for yours to win…’

Second, fourth, I genuinely don't care. I'm sure my fellow AA's will agree, to be able to reach the top four in any kind of contest when you crave publication is massive achievement and big boost of confidence. For me, hearing Jane's comments and to get the opportunity to submit to her is prize enough. Needless to say the rest of the evening passed in a bit of a blur, not only because of the red wine.

Indeed I’ve been pinching myself ever since. I emailed Jane yesterday, saying it was good to meet her, and thanking her for the opportunity to submit the full MS which I will do once I’ve made the RNA NWS suggested tweaks. (I was also trying to prove that I could be professional and not a complete drunken buffoon.)Twenty minutes later she emailed back, not only confirming that I hadn’t dreamt Saturday night, but also giving me her feedback and the constructive feedback from Donna Condon, Senior Editor at Piatkus publishing.

With that invaluable advice, the hard work really starts for me, but bring it on. Everything happens for a reason. I always knew writing would be my salvation, and as I look back I see that booking the Festival of Romance weekend on a whim was not just a fightback moment, it might well be a defining moment. Life will get better from this point onwards, I just know it…

Until another day

Bye for now

PS - Click here - for full details of the nominees and winners of Festival of Romance Awards. In particular, splediferous well done's to:
Sue Moorcroft - winner of Best Romantic Read
Jean Fullerton - winner of Best Historical Romance Read
Henri Gyland - Winner of best New Talent
Carole Matthews - Outstanding contribution to Romantic Fiction

PPS - All photos are courtesy of the wonderful talented Liz Crump - thanks Liz, and great to meet you!

Monday, 10 October 2011

It's a battle of heart and mind...

"It’s hard to tell your mind to stop loving someone when your heart still does."

I’ve read some great quotes lately, and another which particularly resonated was, "The pain of having a broken heart is not so much as to kill you, yet not so little as to let you live.."

When the main holidays were over and the children went back to school, I was smacked in the face by reality, hence the lack of posts. I know you'll understand. Thank you for your lovely messages. They are a huge comfort, even if I don't always reply promptly ;)

Much of my limited free time I've wandered aimlessly, daydreaming, over analysing, and in between devoured the occasional self-help book as I tried to pick my way through the mess which had become my life.

But here I am, The Queen of fightback, sticking my head above the parapet to write this. As I type, outside there's a solitary swallow – probably the last of the summer, balancing on the telephone wire in the garden as it prepares to leave for a different climate. And as summer wrings its last few weak rays from the sun I’m struck by the parallels between the swallow and me. The summer has gone, and now it's time to move on to the next stage...

I’ve accepted my marriage is over, as surely as I concede that autumn means that most trees and plants die off to preserve their energy for the long winter months and to re-generate in the spring, anew. Start afresh. After the baby step progress I’ve been making, my epiphany feels like an empowering leap into the abyss that is the future. No more numbness; clinging and fighting, stumbling through the memories that are the past, searching for answers or to turn back time. It’s time to stop. Enough. I’ve had enough.

Six years ago, when it happened first time round I thought it was the end of my world but now, in between the emotional turmoil, I know it’s not. And occasionally I glimpse the fun-loving girl I used to be.

I realise I want to look forward, and grasp the future.

It doesn’t matter whether or not I still love him. I love myself more, and actually, if I’m being honest, I don’t love who he is now. The love in my heart is for the man I thought he was; the man he used to be. I’m tired of fighting for something that doesn’t exist any more; of analysing and second guessing what my ex is really thinking. With this realisation, I also see I’ve been clinging onto the past and to things that are out of my control. Any wonders it felt like I was trying to clutch for water flowing down a river. It's impossible to hold onto. The only control I have is over myself and my own actions, and its time to get a grip.

I still understand him, despite everything. Whether it’s just a temporary interruption – that normal service will be resumed soon – or whether he’s lost forever, I don’t know, and I can’t waste any more time waiting to see any more.I don’t want a man who lacks integrity, who isn’t as loyal and loves as unconditionally as me. I want inner peace and happiness back in my life. Its been missing too long. Every moment spent stuck on the past and him, trying to figure it all out is time wasted on re-building my life and future. No one else will do it for me. I need to champion my own cause, for me and the boys, so we can all strive to live, and move on.

We’re getting divorced. End of. I've filed the petition. I had to admit defeat. An unknown future is unnerving, but I'm not frightened of it any more, and I'd rather be alone forever than spend my time constantly looking over my shoulder, being second best, or waiting for it to happen again. It probably would. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, and having been here twice now, the chances of him changing and doing the right thing are pretty slim.

I'm brave enough to face it and who know's, it may even be exciting. In a few days when I have more time, I’ll share the coping strategies that I’m learning along this rocky path. Hopefully they may help someone else who may be in the same position as me if they are stumbling the same route and find my blog.

Until then I’ll leave you with a few more of my favourite quotes about moving on and letting go:-

"If someone you love hurts you cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it."

"If you can’t save the relationship, at least save your pride."

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

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”
~ Hermann Hesse

One final one:-

"No matter who broke your heart, or how long it takes to heal, you’ll never get through it without your friends."

Thank you all for being there.

Until another day

Bye for now


Image Kate Hudson Blogspot

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I want more than this...

It’s been a tough few weeks of firsts and facing things alone.

One of the hardest aspects is fronting people but it has to be done. It’s sad - terribly, unbelievably, gut wrenchingly sad - but as the old saying goes, “Life moves on,” and I have to do it some time. The boys need me to keep going. There’s no chance to curl up under a stone to hide away, however tempting the prospect so I have to overcome these events and push through the pain.

When things first kicked off I managed to keep a distance from the bus stop parents by dropping off and picking up whilst remaining in the car, waving and forcing a smile. However, the school summer show was less forgiving. Only a couple of days after I'd found out, I had to brave the other mums and dads, and watch them walk around hand in hand with their eyes twinkling and smiling faces, I couldn’t help comparing their happiness to my life a few months ago, wondering what might be going on behind closed doors, and whether any of them were betraying their partners.

Walking into the school hall to see the judging of the Home Entries was tough. Neither Quiet Mousie nor I had entered anything this year. Despite our good intentions, we didn’t feel like it once events took over. Child sized tables displayed the categories; best home produce, best half dozen eggs, best teatime fancies, best flower arrangements etc…

I glimpsed the entries for the men’s cookery section but couldn’t bear to look at the scones on display remembering the hysterics of some of hubby's attempts over the last six years and the caustic criticisms from the judges; “Lacked presentation,” “Too much butter,” “Should have been placed on a doily instead of straight onto the tray…” His cookies were sublime and I'll never forget how we all cheered when we went into the hall and spotted the gold 1st rosette next to his entry. He feasted on his success for weeks but there will be no more domestic chaos on the weekend of the summer show in future with our family stressing and rushing to pick all the flowers, do the displays, bake the cakes, make the jams and finish all our entries to get them to the hall for the cut off for judging in time. And Quiet Mousie only has one more year of the summer show before he goes to secondary school.

Despite the emotion and spending all day with my sunglasses on to mask my eyes, I did well considering, and lasted an hour and a half then slipped away and left Quiet Mousie to go home with our lovely neighbours.

Two days later, sports day was slightly easier. I only cried three times and lasted the duration, although I chose not to partake in the refreshments afterwards.

A couple of weekends ago was the first time of facing the other mum’s and dads from QM’s footie club. I couldn’t let him down as he’d been looking forward to a night camping with all the kids and parents.

If I'm very honest, it was horrendous and I spent most of the weekend trying to keep my face from crumpling, especially when someone’s sincere words and good wishes touched me, or as I watched QM stop playing with his pals to check his mobile phone and see if he’d had a message from his Dad. A year ago I would have abhorred the thought of my ten year old having a mobile phone but hey, he’s over the moon with it and is in more contact with his dad now than he was before with him being in London through the week. QM is doing remarkably well, considering.

To him the weekend was a huge success and that's all that mattered. The people were wonderful and protected me throughout, and as they detected my fargile mood, they left me to my thoughts and solitude and let me continue to gaze into the flickering, leaping flames of the camp fire. And they understood when I chose to sleep in my car alone rather than in the dorms with two of the other mums.

Last weekend was the hardest hurdle so far. The annual village party, the one time of year when everyone in the village gets together, we all hire a marque and bouncy castle, each bring food and drink and have a merry time. News had travelled through the village grapevine apace and I’d had many sincere offers of support and help, but so far I’d managed to avoid people (other than my nearest and dearest neighbours) by simply driving through the village, giving a wave and a weak smile as I passed them in their gardens, walking their dogs, or in their cars.

As I pulled up at this year’s host’s garden and saw the melee of people and children, the kids on the bouncy castle, I felt physically sick and wanted to turn on my heels and run but my neighbour, who had followed me down in her car so we might arrive together geed me up.

‘Come on, or I’ll grab your hand and drag you in!’ she said, guiding my arm with her hand. Then Quiet Mousie spotted me, beamed and waved frantically, happy to see me and there was no choice but for me to go through the gate to join them all...

I’d planned to stay an hour then go and collect Idle Jack from work, drop him there and make my excuses to go home (knowing my neighbours would bring the boys back up the lane.) But once I was there and felt how my wonderful community wrapped me and the boys in their warm blanket of friendship and care, I actually ended up being one of the last to leave.

Along with me at the end of the evening were three good male friends who sat at a table, merrily tittering, drunk, cracking their juvenile jokes as their wives stood opposite, smirking at the state of them, knowing they would suffer in the morning and rolling their adoring eyes in feigned annoyance. If recent events hadn’t happened, my hubby would have been there, ‘one of the lads,’ his humour more juvenile than them all, and I would have been crying with mirth at the scene.

As I sat there smiling at their antics, I remembered the words that he said to me when I first discovered the affair;
“I don’t know when, but at some point in the last year I realised I wanted more than this…”

I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve replayed those words in my head over the last couple of weeks. And I wondered, how could he possibly want more than this?...

Until another day


Tuesday, 12 July 2011 love...

"Living well is the best revenge," according to George Herbert.

I’m not there yet. It may take some time, but I will, one day, before too long. I hope.

Those of you who know me know I've been here before, and from a previous post will see I’m rather a master of resilience and overcoming adversity. Thankfully, this time it doesn't feel quite so much like it's the end of my world. I know I'll survive. It’s what I do best, and boy, after everything I've had in the last year - in the words of Monty Python, 'Tis but a meagre scratch.'

I jest. Oh, that what I’m going to go through in the next few months would be quite so painless. I’m all too aware, after twenty-two years with someone, this is going to hurt.

I don’t want to put on the worldwide web the innermost details of my personal life. You'll understand and read between the lines. Suffice to say; over the last two weeks my life has crumbled, and it’s nothing to do with cancer…

But hey, I have the best friends and family a girl could wish for - and you good folks - although I know you'll forgive me for saying that despite all this wonderful support, I can be in a roomful of people, yet still feel like the loneliest person in the world.

The reason for this is because I lost my truest, bestest friend about six or seven years ago. We never truly recovered first time round. It's not all his fault. I played my part, and I appreciate I've never been quite the same since. Then last year, with my jaw problems, I know I was a grumpy bitch being in pain. And this year with the cancer scare (although happily it turns out I'm simply a menopausal old bag.) What I'm trying to say is I know all the things I did wrong. It's just that I always believed we had a love that was so special, it would conquer anything.

But I see now, sometimes, love alone is not enough. Naively, I believed the amazing friendship we’d had (and overcome everything thus far) would win through every time. I presumed it was a deep bond that only soul mates have. I took that for granted. Our friendship wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t enough

I’m not often wrong about affairs of the heart. I was this time. However, I gave it my best, for the sake of me, and my children. Even writing this I'm pricked by the knowledge that if I hadn't have had children, I might have made different decisions a few years ago and been through to the other side, onto a happier life by now.

I doubt it. I have no regrets. I truly loved my husband, with all my heart. I/We tried. It wasn’t to be, and perhaps, the one crumb of comfort I have to keep me warm at night in the vast space of bed beside me is that having been there before, I know I will get through this time even though it feels as if part of me has died. I don't have to go through the pain of giving him a second chances this time, no begging him to stay, fighting for him - none of the endless months of torture and heartache. Once I’m through the shock and initial panic of sorting out and unravelling twenty two years of marriage, I will bounce back in my usual, inimitable fashion. That doesn't stop me finding writing this hard, feeling so very sad, knowing how final things are and that my future will be alone. It's a good job I like my own company ;)

I’ve had so many people asking where I am. Thank you for caring. Those who knew what has happened have sent wonderful messages of support, and reading your comments on my last post, I felt I had to post this.

I’m not sure when I’ll surface again. I know I’ll miss the deadline for the RNA New Writer’s Scheme now. But I will most definitely be back…

Here's a quote I made up which maybe I should enter into the google archives:

"Don't despair when the person you love leaves you. The truth is, it's not your loss, but theirs, for they have left the only person who loves them unconditionally, and wouldn't have given up on them..."

See you when I see you

Until another day

Monday, 6 June 2011

Positive vibes welcome. Please

Tomorrow, Tuesday,7th June,I find out whether I have Endometrial cancer.

I tell you this because earlier this week, I watched a documentary about Joseph Merrick, better known as Elephant Man, and how he lived for his short twenty seven years with the terrible affliction of Proteus Syndrome. Speculation still surrounds his death and whether it was accidental or deliberate on his part. And as I listened to the programme it struck me how his infirmity must have affected him, living with it day in, day out, and I found myself empathising, understanding if he did stage his own death why he might have done so.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never encountered anything like the physical difficulties or prejudices Merrick had – in fact, the outsider would never know from first glance anything was wrong with me. But living with Behcets,an auto-immune disease means there’s always some new health hurdle to contend with and I can totally understand how someone who lives with terminal illness, or chronic pain or illness might decide they’ve had enough.

Pain has been my lodger, my cross to bear (or ignore) for the last twenty five years. There's always something. Usually it's arthritis but I also experience colitis, ulcers (mouth and vaginal,) or some other aspect or by-product of the treatment for my condition. I've had septicaemia, avascular necrosis, miscarriages. The latest development is some sort of vascular problem with my hands, feet and head which I'm seeing my Rheumatologist about in a couple of weeks. Six months ago, I thought I’d tackled the biggest obstacle with the jaw replacements and hoped there might be a little respite for a couple of years. However, it seems Mother Nature has other ideas.

I’d ignored ‘women’s problems’ (constant, heavy bleeding and niggling stomach cramps) for months and put it down to the stress of the surgery, perhaps my system lashing out, or maybe being forty four years old I was simply a menopausal old bag! Eventually, I relented to hubby's badgering and went to see the GP. As a result, for the past few weeks I've had all sorts of investigations which have found an enlarged uterus, abnormal blood and smear tests, and in between, you may recall we had to cancel a trip to New York in March because two days before we were due to travel, I ended up in A & E with crippling stomach pains. As I lay in that A & E bed, I turned to my hubby and meant it when I said, ‘If it is cancer, I don’t want to have treatment. I’m weary. I’ve had enough.’

To be fair the hospital has moved quickly and after more delving, a couple of weeks ago I had a biopsy to test for Endometrial cancer, the most likely cause for my symptoms. In my heart, I don’t think it will be and even if it is the ‘C’ word, the prognosis is good if I have a full hysterectomy and chemo/and/or radiotherapy. But do you see what I mean? I thought I’d come through one big, bad lot of surgery; of life being on hold, cancelling holidays and experiencing pain so bad, I literally used to writhe in agony on the sofa. If it's not cancer, months of treatments may lay ahead and if none of them work there could be the same end result - a hysterectomy. And what really peeves me is whatever the outcome, as sure as night follows day, something else will come along. It's the nature of the beast that is 'auto-immune disease.'

Hubby and my boys have years ahead to enjoy their lives. Do they really want to carry this sickly, relentless burden around for the next thirty, maybe forty years? And am I not entitled to decide when I've had enough?

NO. As one of my best friends pointed out, I’m a mother and with that role, there is obligation and responsibility to my children. There isn't just me to think about. I have to carry on doing what I do best - fight - whether this is cancer or just another manifestation of the Behcets.

I’m in a perfectly lucid and rational mood - I promise - so please don’t think this is me being depressed or feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want tea and sympathy, although some positive vibes for Tuesday might help ;)

I suspect only those who live with chronic pain or illness will truly understand what I’m alluding to in the above. Perhaps if you read this and it means something you might leave a comment so that those close to me don't think I've gone completely bonkers, and that I know I'm not the only person who wishes in today's modern world we had the right to choose when and how we might turn the lights out.

We all deserve to be able to say, 'Enough is enough,' don't we?

Until another day

Bye for now

Thursday, 19 May 2011

My name's Debbie, and I'm an alcoholic...

Photo: Jocelyn Durston
Or at least I will be, if I keep drinking wine like I do.

What’s the big deal I hear you ask? It's only a couple of glasses of wine at night. Where’s the harm?

I’ve been drinking at least two or three glasses of wine every night for maybe a year, and what I don’t like is that my little habit has turned into a battle of wills, with wine winning more often than not.

Like most women, I'm always trying to shift a few pounds. Following my recent health problems and surgery, in January I made a decision to get back in shape and thought giving up alcohol for a few weeks was bound to help the waistline. Easy enough, yes?

No. I made the decision mid-week but by Thursday my resolve was weakening.On Friday when hubby poured himself a glass and asked if I fancied one, I found myself justifying the craving. "It's only one glass. It’s your only vice. You deserve it” ‘Oh, go on then.’ The words were out before I could stop them and I caved. A few weeks later in March I tried again. I lasted two weeks, and actually, every day since, I’ve told myself I won’t have a drink, or I’ll only have one glass, but every evening my willpower ends up round my ankles, not to mention the guilt, the castigating, and disappointment with myself.

This realisation of my unhealthy relationship with fermented grape juice has crept up on me. I don’t remember exactly when the penchant began. Like many people, when I worked, I liked to come in from work at night and pour a glass of wine while preparing dinner. After the kids came along, it was "wine o'clock," that magic ‘me’ time after the little blighters had gone to bed and calm was restored chez nous, and I’d sit and watch TV, or read, with a glass of wine clasped firmly in hand. When I retired from work on ill health grounds, I carried on the habit. Hubby would come in from work - I’d already have a glass on the worktop as I prepared dinner - I’d get him a beer and pour myself a top up as we chatted and ate dinner. After clearing up, I’d pour another glass as the family sat down to watch TV. Three or four glasses said in context doesn’t sound excessive, does it?

The trouble is, then there's the occasional glass of Dutch courage I need if I'm going somewhere and feel unconfident, like one of hubby's work parties. Or the habit I've developed of having one while I do the ironing in an evening. And there's nothing like sitting on the patio, admiring the view and watching the swallows while sipping a cold glass of white...

These little associations to alcohol aren't healthy. Don’t get me wrong, drinking doesn’t affect my day to day life. I’m not out of control or a binge drinker. I rarely get drunk. Two or three bad hangovers in my early years of drinking are deterrent enough to stop a desire to get blotto. And unless we’re having Sunday dinner or on holiday, I can't stomach a drink before tea-time.

But am I the only woman, who around the time of 'The Weakest Link,' finds themselves watching the clock, waiting for the magic moment when it will be six o’clock somewhere in the world so I can get the corkscrew out and open the next bottle?

Evidently not. When I speak to my friends, some of them share the same habit. And according to several articles there's a growing trend for middle-age women to hit the wine bottle in the evening, not falling down drunk, but a glass or two at the end of the day. Every day. That's me. Who would have thought about the 35+ units it adds up to.

Photo:Luis Rock

As many as 1 in 6 has a problem with alcohol dependency. More than 1 in 3 women over 35 drinks more than they did in their teens. And 1 in 5 women over 35 admits to regularly binge drinking.

It’s a standing joke in our house about "Mum and her wine."
Even the kids see the association. It was funny at first but now I’m starting to feel it’s all a little sad. I don't want to turn into a bag lady. I started buying boxes instead of bottles. It didn’t look quite so desperate (or was it because it hid how much I was drinking?) But then I realised I could get through a box of wine in three to four days. It’s too easy to keep topping up with a box. And it was even more of a shock when I calculated how many units are in a box. Mum’s psychological crutch had increased to a bottle of wine a night. How shocking is that?

The fact that I've been able to stop in January and March without any ill effect shows I’m not physically addicted as such. However, I don’t like the thought that psychologically, my drinking habits are hooking me in, as alcohol insiduously teases me towards the slippery slope. It might be a way of helping me to wind down, but is the increase because it takes more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects, as your body becomes used to it. Because eventually alcohol might become the only way to wind down...

Am I over-analysing? Do I have a drink problem? I should be the one in control, not the wine, so I guess that makes it one, if it’s a problem to me.

I'm not addicted, but it's a habit which is starting to make me unhappy, and therefore one that needs breaking. Besides anything else, I take a lot of medication already for my Behcets disease – Methotrexate (an anti-cancer drug,) Sulphasalazine, (an anti-rheumatic,) Celecoxib, painkillers (sometimes morphine based.) I won’t bore you with them all, but you can see the amount of toxins my system has to cope with. I really shouldn’t punish my body by adding more.

And also, I have a new set of health worries to contend with - more about them in another post - but I need to make sure I’m strong and able to cope with whatever the outcome. Time will tell. Perhaps it's this scare which has given me the jolt I need, and to this end, I’ve stopped drinking. No wine has passed my lips for...err... forty-eight hours... but it's a start, and giving up for one night was the first psychological hurdle.

I won't set myself up to fail by declaring I'm going teetotal. For the time being, I’d like it to stop for longer than the two weeks I managed earlier in the year and to show I’m serious, I’ve posted this blog for the world to see and that I can re-read it as a reminder to look after myself better.

Right, it's your turn to be honest. Do you drink more than is good for you? And if so, have you tried to stop? Or if it's not the booze, what habit would you like to break?

Until another day

Above statistics and information obtained from:
NHS live well
Alcohol Substance Abuse
The British Liver Trust

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Have I got news for you!

No, I didn’t make it onto the Times Rich List. In fact, not many other writer’s made it, except the Great JK Rowling (and her literary agent, Christopher Little,) Jeffrey Archer, and Jamie Oliver (Chef, author, restaurateur. But most writer's I know are realistic, and don't expect to make much from their chosen profession. For me, I have something far more valuable. While I was away I was awarded another three blog awards! I am honoured. A thousand thank you’s to:

The super Elizabeth Mueller for recognising that I’d finished the A-Z challenge.

The lovely Cherie for the Blog on Fire award

And, the splendiferous, Anita who has awarded me an Inspirational blog award.
Oh yes, and not forgetting, I won a prize - a free 2000 words critique from writer, Jeffrey Beesler. Cheers Jeff!
Thank you all for your support and encouragement. It has been great to make your acquaintance over the A-Z challenge, and beyond…

Well, I’m back from the caravan after waving my little arm off flying the Union Jack flag for the Royal Wedding. And what a glorious and memorable day it was for me (hopefully the happy couple enjoyed it too.) I cried, I laughed, I ate salmon and strawberries and sipped Bucks Fizz. And that frock… (sorry, that’s a ‘dress’ for American reader’s) was divine! I thought everything was spot on – just the right amount of pomp, ceremony, and intimacy, considering millions were watching around the world. Most of all, it wasn’t too ostentatious.

Now I’m home, it's time to knuckle down to the WIP for the NWS, but not before I post this newsy, finger on the pulse blog.

Unfortunately, a gagging order prevents me from disclosing the latest line up of celebrities who have been caught, metaphorically speaking, with their pants down and in flagrante. But the question is, do we really care? Or am I the only old fart to ponder where the insatiable feeding frenzy for celebrities and the interest in their prurient, trashy lives comes from? I don’t give a stuff who’s made it big, despite their poor, troubled upbringings. I have no interest in vaguely famous people's stretch marks, their unsightly facial hair or latest drug,booze or shag-fest? Premier league footballers and their antics - pah! - I couldn't care less!

Photo: P A Wire

I don't do politics in my blogs and won't go on about the Lib Dem massacre in the local elections but I had to mention that it hasn't been a good week for Mr Clegg, seeing his electoral reform dream crushed. And it will be even worse if he happens to spot my blog because seeing a photo of him last week, I couldn't believe how much he's aged. They say a week is a long time in politics. But it's only been a year...

May 2010 - baby-faced and handsome Photo:Angela Harbutt

You wouldn’t catch me being a politician or Prime Minister, not for a squillion pounds! What a thankless job. And it wouldn’t be much better if I were still in banking.

I see in the last few days Lloyds Bank has set aside 3.2 billion for claims likely to arise from the incorrect selling of Payment Protection Insurance (although City analysts think the actual figure will likely exceed £10bn!)
Conditional selling, mis-selling - how underhand and unethical, I hear you shout! And you're right. There is no denying today's sales culture is about greed; banks make bigger profits, shareholder value etc. But having been on the 'other side,' I also understand why it's happened, because I have to admit, the news didn't surprise me.

In the early/mid 90’s before I joined Lloyds Bank as a Manager, I was Sales Manager then Regional Training Manager for Lloyds Bank Insurance Services – a wholly owned subsidiary of the bank. In essence it was my job to sales manage (and train) branch staff, from counter and enquiries staff to Senior Managers, how to sell insurance.
Branches had targets for everything; Overdrafts, lending, mortgages, numbers of personal loans, amount of loans, insurance take-up for mortgages and loans, freestanding insurance products, credit cards, bad debts... I won’t go on - you get the message.

Much time and training went into maximising every customer interaction, face to face and phone call, or ‘opportunity.’ Monitoring of leads, interviews and results, making sure staff didn't miss anything and were proactive. I observed interviews and coached. Staff sat in my interviews so I could demonstrate techniques. What I’m trying to show here is how sales and revenue were part of the culture and way of life. Back then, it was a struggle to get some of the old dinosaur staff to sell, especially the Senior Managers but slowly it dawned on people that working in a bank was no longer a ‘job for life.’ Everyone had to share in the sales effort, including cashiers and enquiries clerks who were expected to pick up snippets in conversations with customers, to identify leads, introduce them to an 'advisor.' There was constant resistance from staff who walked the fine line between providing customer service and giving help and advice, whilst at the same time increasing sales. Many staff hated the changes but their jobs depended on it. If you didn’t adapt to the changing ethos, you wouldn't survive.

As the pressure to grow sales revenue increased, targets got higher and higher, and everything and anything was tried to improve results; Competitions, rewards, tickets for sports events, holidays. Other gimmicks like ‘points made prizes’ (the more you sold, the more points you got, the bigger the prizes.) Clever incentives introduced a competition element, playing people off against each other. Successful individuals were hailed saviours; talisman of success, to be admired, and to aspire to. Branches were revered as the chosen ones, their methods studied, simulated, and best practise ideas spread across the network.

Nowadays, there can't be anyone who works in a branch who doesn't accept sales and targets as part of the job (even if they don’t like it.) In some cases branches have been de-skilled to the point that there are few skills left at all, only sales people. And I'm not knocking this. Being of this 'new breed' was the reason I was recruited all those years ago. It hasn't got any easier over the years for staff in branches. It doesn’t matter that times are tough in the economy, jobs are insecure, money is tight, customers don't have the disposable income etc etc. Branch targets are still there. In fact, more than ever there is huge pressure to increase sales revenue. Overdrafts and financial worries facilitate loans, and ‘talking up’ loans to increased amounts. Further advances may need to be secured against property, and re-mortgages. With an increased chance of redundancy and stress-related illness, there’s never been a more necessary time to have insurance. So the demand for loans won’t diminish. However people must see that when jobs, careers prospects, salaries, bonuses are inextricably linked to performance and achieving targets, it's going to be open to mass mis-selling. If a failure to meet targets means bank staff lose take-home pay, is it any wonders misconduct is widespread, and systemic?

The debate will continue to run but I wanted to show you a slightly different perspective and that you might see how hard it must be, trying to do what’s best for the customer, selling to their needs, when you have to balance reaching targets and surviving in a dog eat dog world.

I don't see obvious solutions. The above is the reality and unless banks stop the hard sell culture and have a major about turn on targets, bonuses, prizes and other incentives for staff to meet sales targets and shift the emphasis back onto customer service, I don’t think it will ever improve.

Sorry, I’ve got on my soap box a little there but with the recent revelations it gives a chance to voice something that's been glaringly obvious to me for years! I won't say any more as I have some very dear friends who still work for the bank;)

Anyway, I hope you liked the newsworthy blog. Let me know your news. And for now, I'd better get back to the novel...

Until another day

Bye for now

PS - As most of you may know, Google's Blogger platform went down for a day. It erased most of my Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning comments to this post - at least twenty of them, and I can't remember for the life of me who you all were. Sorry ;)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

'X' is for ... eXcuse me

I deliberated how to do this; my final post of the A-Z challenge. I’m sorry fellow bloggers, but I have the chance to go away to the mother-in-law’s caravan in Wales today, and after two weeks of kids and Easter Holidays, and ongoing health problems, I need a few days out.

‘Me’ time. I've been likened to a hermit in the past. It's a good job those close to me understand. Hubby is home for the double bank holiday weekend and able to manage the boys, domestic chores, and animals. I shall be tucked away at a quiet caravan park that nestles between the Welsh hills, somewhere between Devil's Bridge and Aberystwyth and has no internet connection or mobile reception. Peace and quiet. Solitude. Most importantly, there's a TV set, squidgy sofa and no interruptions so I may watch the Royal Wedding coverage to my little hearts content without fear of depriving the boys of SpongeBob SquarePants or playing the Wii!

In between waving my Union Jack, I have plenty of time to reflect. Plan. Write. I’ve hardly done anything on my current WIP and time is running away until the deadline for the Romantic Novelist's NWS.

For those who may have been interested in my last three A-Z posts:

X … was going to be for - X rated. Is it just me, but I blush at the mere thought of writing sex scenes? Notoriously difficult to write, I have managed a few saucy lines in my current WIP although I'm not brave enough to share them with you at the moment. I may post them when I return, to see what you think ;)

Y ... was for YOU.

It’s funny how you meet people. I’ve said it many times over the years. A few weeks ago I was lethargic and struggling with confidence, motivation and health problems. Feeling particularly lack lustre, and defunct of mojo, I made my usual visit to the lovely Talli Roland’s blog. She always cheers me up! I saw the A-Z challenge was starting the following day and from somewhere, someone enthusiastic (and a little bonkers) whom I recognised as me in a past life waved madly in the background, and urged, ‘Yes, I can do that!’I dared myself to do a blog every day, to get me back in front of the laptop every day, focusing instead of drifting aimlessly day to day, achieving nothing and increasingly frustrated that my novel was not progressing. Writer’s write. It’s as simple as that. I see that now after meeting all of you; listening to your tips, ideas, work ethic, and receiving your words of support and encouragement have made me feel alive again. Seriously. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did the A-Z challenge.

Thank you to Arlee Bird and all the other hosts for your efforts.

This brings me to...'Z'
'Z' is for … Z end…

It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of 'Z' words. I could think of several, but when I considered that this would be the last blog in the A-Z challenge, nothing made the grade for ‘Z’ - the final letter, the end, the finale - and so seeing the significance, it seems appropriate that’s how I finish.
I got to the end.

I had a little goal when I started to get over 100 followers… and hey, look at me. That’s not really important. What I love about this challenge is that I've met some new and really diverse, versatile, funny, thoughtful, quirky bloggers, and some cyber friends to remain with me as we continue our journey, together, to publication.

So there you are; one post that covers the last three letters of the A-Z post. I may be bending the rules to suit myself but I don’t consider I’ve failed the challenge by posting my last two days in with this post. Looking back to a month ago, I wasn’t sure then I would even get past the first couple of days. Who’d have thought it, eh? You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

I'll be back very soon but in the meantime, think of me, dressed in red, white and blue on Friday. The rain will no doubt be banging down on the roof of the caravan, and sheep bleating away in the distance, drowning out the trumpeting of the Blues and Royal Dragoons. But I’ll be waving my flag madly, and toasting a mug of British tea to you all…

Until another day
Bye for now

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

'W' is for ... writer, and whether I'm one

I don’t suppose I’ll be the only blogger participating in the A-Z challenge that will post ‘W’ for ‘Writer's,' but am the only one who has a slight niggle inside about calling myself a writer?

It's hard to call yourself a writer when you don't have anything published.
If we're going to be precise, I suppose I'm a wannabe writer. I write, that's what writer's do (granted, I might be doing more blogging than writing at the moment - lol) but as a rule, I write every day. In fact,my family will tell you I'm a full time writer and sit at the laptop 24/7. That's not strictly true. I sleep in between. And eat. I just don't get paid for writing, yet, although I can't think of a writer I've met yet, who does it for the money.

I've written a novel. It wasn't good enough so I've re-written it. Three times at the last count. And I've started another. Well, I have the first couple of chapters. Then there are the jotted ramblings, characters, settings for another, I don't know how many, novels.

I can't tell you how frustrating it was when I had my latest flare up and subsequent surgery and couldn't write. There were times when I thought I might go seriously mad! I have to write or I become irritable and grumpy, and bored, and my brain won't shut down when I go to bed.

There’s nothing I prefer to do than write. If I was shipwrecked on a desert island, I'd need my laptop. Me and my best friend.

But then I can never be lonely while I have an internet connection, and the company of all of you lovely people, and most of you, other writers. You're the only people who really 'get' me. We get each other.

Writing is not just about being published. It's about a way of life - living, breathing, and sleeping writing. That's why I was up at 4.30am this morning, typing this. Sometimes, you have to give in to the inspiration for the next blog, or the next few paragraphs of the book.

Whenever I meet anyone and they ask me what I do for a living I rush to tell them that I had to retire because of ill health and I don't work. Sometimes I add quietly that I write, I'm working on my novel. I usually have two responses. 'Oh, I've always wanted to write a novel,' is quite common. I smile inwardly when I hear this, and ponder whether they've ever sat, day after day, night after night, typing, editing, crafting, toiling, all for a few sentences, which if they're still not good enough will be cut anyway.

The other comment I get, fires my belly, and spurs me on.

'Good for you,' they'll say. 'I wish I could write. Let me have a copy when you're published, will you?'

At this point, I'll relay the tale to hubby.

'Well, I'm not a writer, yet,' I say.

'Yes, you are,' he responds, then he rolls his eyes at the dishes stacked up on the kitchen worktop, and turns the oven on to make his own tea...

Until another day
Bye for now

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

'V' is for ...Versatile Blogger

Wow, it’s busy doing this A-Z challenge! But what a lucky blogger I am.
I've been given some awards.
A new blog pal,the vivacious Siv Maria has handed me the Versatile Blogger Award.

I’ve also been awarded the Stylish Blogger award from the vibrant Katie O'Sullivan

And in between, I picked up a tag from a blogger who's always full of vitality, Anita Grace Howard

Thank you to these super talented bloggers for your awards and cyber friendship. Check them out if you don't know them already for some inspiring posts.

At the end of this post are my choices for who I'd like to pass the awards to. I've also shown the rules, although don't feel obliged, or try to kill yourself doing everything if I've picked you. We're all busy people and you'll see that I had to bend the rules slightly, combining the awards and tag or I'd never finish the A-Z challenge, make any progress on my current WIP, and bore you all silly repeat myself - I'd never be able to come up with twenty one points that are interesting enough about me!

So, here goes…

Seven things about me you may, or may not know.

1. When I was a little girl I played for hours alone in my bedroom with my teddies and dolls. My favourite game was libraries and sometimes I would pretend to be a writer, doing book signings. day...

2. I won a competition for poetry when I was ten but haven't written a single word of poetry since.

3. I had music lessons at the Yorkshire Academy of Music in Leeds and achieved Grade 8 recorder, Grade 7 Violin and Grade 6 Piano by the age of fourteen. Despite having the opportunity to stay there and study music, I stopped playing all instruments when I was fifteen and only re-started the piano ten years ago when my hubby bought me one.

4. I was the youngest member of the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra when I joined, aged eleven.

5. I left school when I was sixteen to work in my uncle’s hairdressing business but quickly went off the idea. Having no idea what I wanted to do, I decided to apply for a job in a travel agent's I heard advertised on our local radio station. Little did I know, but over three hundred others also heard the advert and applied, and when I arrived at the interview I had never seen so many people! But I got the job. It was my first lucky break in life.

6. When I was seventeen, I was approached in a pub by a man and woman who asked if I’d ever done any underwear and jeans modelling as I had a very good bottom! They left me their business card and needless to say, thinking they were a pair of weirdo’s, I never rang. But it transpired months later they were from a top modelling agency.

7. I've always harboured a secret dream to go on 'Stars in Their Eyes' and say, "Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... Karen Carpenter."

So, has that enlightened you?

It was an interesting exercise. What struck me as I wrote my seven things is how we can waste the gifts and talents we are given, and how different life might have been if I'd taken slightly different paths...

I'm sure none of you have ever wasted any of your talents!

Thank you again to my new blog friends for the awards and your cyber friendship. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to a long and happy association through the blogosphere. In the meantime, to find out more about my other bloggers, here are my choices for the awards. I haven't made it particularly easy by combining the awards - some bloggers have one, some have the other. I think I've got them right and cordially invite you to accept the one you don't have yet:

Versatile Blogger Award

Spirit Called, Jenn Johansson, JolenesbeenWriting, Charmaine Clancy, Anne N Kenny, Ali Cross, Luana Krause, Misha, Corner Cupboard, City Views Country Dreams, Josh Hoyt,
Romy Gemmell,

The Stylish Blogger Award

Tara Tyler,
Anita Grace Howard
Carole Anne Carr,
Ally Harris
Helen Leathers

If you wish to accept the awards, it is not compulsory, but there are a few basic guidelines to follow. The rest of the rules, I shall leave with you ;)

- Right click on the award and save picture as.
- Thank and link to the person who gave you the honour in your post. You will see I've also linked the giver on the awards on the right hand side of my blog. If you're on blogger, from your dashboard go into 'design' and 'add a gadget' and add the picture/link.
- Divulge 7 things that your reader may not aready know about you.
- Here's the catch...
For the Versatile Blogger award you should contact 15 bloggers. For the Stylish Blogger award, it's 5 bloggers.
This is the part I shall leave to your discretion ;) because you need to check the recipient doesn't already have it, and contact them to let them know they've received it and explain the rules.

Like Siv, I've spent a few hours doing this, so I share her philosophy. I don't know who made up the awards and their silly rules but I like the idea, even though it is rather time consuming when I have a million other things I should be writing! We're all in the same position so do with the rules as you see fit. I'm sure no-one will mind. As Siv say's, The best kind of award you can receive is one that is sincere and has no strings attached. I love all the blogs I've awarded, and to me, you're all versatile, stylish and simply super bloggers! If you do decide to go ahead, I look forward to catching up with your posts very soon!

Until another day
Bye for now

Monday, 25 April 2011

'U' is for ... Miss Universe

When I was deliberating my posts for the A-Z challenge, I thought about doing ‘W’ for the Miss World pageant, an event I used to love when I was a little girl in the 70’s. Then, while I was researching I came across a story on the BBC website about Shanna Bukhari, a British Muslim who wishes to represent Britain in the Miss Universe contest despite a huge furore and backlash against her involvement.

Shanna has received racist and abusive messages from:
- Muslim groups claiming she is denigrating the name of Islam.
- White supremacists - saying that an Asian cannot represent the UK.
- Women - who range in their condemnation from those who believe beauty pageants are an affront to feminism and she is demeaning all women, to more vocal shouts of, 'Shame on you, and rot in hell!' - an opprobrium from feminists.

The backlash from women’s groups is nothing new. The decline in popularity and subsequent televising of such pageants was as a result of many women finding the competitions degrading. One of the main reasons some Muslims are angry is that Shanna would have to appear in swimwear in one round of the competition. Islam is clear that a woman should dress modestly and it is not thought appropriate for her to parade herself in a bikini, although I understand she intended to wear a one-piece and a sarong.

Shanna has many supporters from Spain, the Middle East, Pakistan, India and China. Most women supporters say she represents not just a role model for Muslim women, but all those who refuse to be cowed by bullies. ‘Good for you, stand up for yourself, and don’t let anyone dictate what you can and can’t do.’ Why shouldn’t Muslims in the UK be allowed to have a western lifestyle? Why can’t she represent Britain when she was born here and is proud to be British?

It’s a complex issue. And I'm not even going to try and pick apart the arguments as apparently she had had death threats and had to hire a private security firm to protect her. But what strikes me is that society has not progressed since my childhood days when I used to watch beauty pageants. This story highlights the state of multiculturalism in modern Britain and the divisions that still exist along with the lack of social integration, and lack of adhesion between white and coloured people.

During last month's semi-final for Britain's Miss Universe, Shanna Bukhari received the most public votes. Britain has never won the title. It is increasingly possible that its first victor might also be its first Muslim representative, and if she wins, I suspect you will be hearing a whole lot more of her name as the arguments and debates rumble on.

There’s my ‘U’ – Miss Universe.

All I really wanted to know was if you ever watched these pageants in the past?

Until another day
Bye for now

Saturday, 23 April 2011

'T' is for ... TIME

Do you ever wish there were twenty five hours in a day, or better still, thirty?

When I worked full time in a demanding role and had a small baby I was far more organised and in control than I am these days, being at home all day.

Some days I get up at 4am in the vain hope I might achieve everything, as if stretching a few extra hours will suddenly turn me into a domestic goddess, worlds best mother, and booker prize author, chef, olympic athlete, etc.
I don't ask for much. Only that as well as my domestic and mummy duties, I can get squeeze out all the other things I like to do - writing, baking, swimming, reading, playing my piano, meeting friends...

It's no surprise I don't quite manage it all. In fact, it's as much as I can do some days to get dinner on the table and the family in clean uniform. It must be true what they say about time going quicker as you get older.

As for doing my nails, putting a face pack on, simply sitting and watching TV, well, I have to prioritise. There’s never enough time to do everything. Something has to give. Am I a good mother? Maybe not, but I'm good enough.

I've learnt to prioritise. I try to focus. Conscious of not wasting a precious minute, I naturally gravitate to doing what’s important to me, and what's essential.

I appreciate a large part of my problem is the debilitating effect Behcets disease can have on my health and well-being, and there are times when I’m really fired up and motivated, and can move mountains. However, never quite everything gets ticked on my ‘things to do’ list.

You might say that you find time to do the things you love. But that can’t be strictly true. I crave to play my piano and bake. I’d love to go swimming every day. I’d like to get on with my non-fiction book idea, perhaps write a short story or two, but I can’t seem to do it all. For now, my biggest priority (as well as completing this A-Z challenge) is finishing my current WIP for the
RNA New Writer’s scheme.

So I’d like to ask you – how do you manage your time? Do you get everything done in the day?

And, if there were such a thing as a twenty-five hour day, what would you do with the extra time?

Until another day
Bye for now

Friday, 22 April 2011

'S' is for ... Simba

Some of you may not have been acquainted with the yellow, hairy member of our family. No, not the husband. Our yellow Labrador, Simba.

Twelve years ago, and after much deliberation we decided we would like to get a black female Labrador. A friend of a friend told us about a farmer friend of theirs whose gorgeous Labrador had just had pups. The next day we went to see them. Somehow the fattest pup, a yellow male 'found' my son. They have been inseparable ever since.
We named the puppy Simba, after the Lion King Disney film (son's favourite film at the time.) Simba is Swahili for Lion and it seemed rather appropriate.
When he was five months old, Simba nearly died after eating slug pellets in the garden. A few months later, he went terribly lame. Despite his pedigree certificate, low hip score and none of his brothers or sisters having it, after expensive investigations, we found he was riddled with arthritis - hip dysplasia, both hips and elbow dysplasia, both elbows.

The vet told us he wouldn't reach three years old and I sometimes wonder with my health problems, whether it was 'meant to be' that Simba ended with us. I know all about the pain of arthritis and living with chronic pain. He's been on medication ever since. We have to limit his food and exercise, he now has cataracts and can only see shadows. He's deaf and can only hear claps and follow hand signals. His breathing alternates between shallow and raspy and deep and laboured - sometimes I think he's having a heart attack
as he can't catch his breath. Yet despite the prognosis, Simba is still with us, even though every winter we say, 'I don't think he'll last another year'...
He has to twist and distort his body to lie comfortably, as you can see.
These days, he spends most of his time asleep. As I type this, he's laying at my feet, snoring like a trombone, his body twitching as he dreams of the rabbits he used to chase...
There you have my 'S' word - 'S' is for Simba, our very special, faithful, wonderful family member.

Until another day
Bye for now

Thursday, 21 April 2011

'R' is for ...Royalty or Republican, depending on your viewpoint

Millions across the world can’t fail to have noticed that in a week’s time, our future King, William and Kate Middleton - Queen Catherine, as she will be known, are getting married.
Photo - Reuters

For many of us it will be poignant, watching young William go down the aisle with the woman he loves; a middle class girl with no title or aristocratic background.

The marriage of Diana to Charles was about providing an heir to the throne, not about love, but as an impressionable, romantic fourteen year old, I was swept away by Diana’s ‘common touch' and compassion, and her beauty. To me, she was the epitome of a princess - how she went into the church a ‘commoner’ and came out a Princess, and future Queen - or not, as fate decided.

Some republicans believe the House of Windsor will collapse after our current Queen dies, or they certainly wish it. As well as the threat of terrorist attacks, it is understood that in the middle of the celebrations and led by the British group Republic, campaigners from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are coming to London on April 29 to protest against the cost of taxpayers bankrolling European royal families.

There’s a big difference between indifference and activism. For some, disapproval only stretches as far as a complaint about some of the Royal ‘hanger’s-on and I can agree with some points. Plenty has been voiced about Prince Andrew - how worthwhile his role is in view of recent allegations and associations. Other Royals are a waste of time and add nothing to the cause. The perpetual royal scandals haven't helped. Some Royals have become part of the celebrity culture and it has had a damaging effect.

I’ve always loved royalty. Yes, I admit it. Perhaps it’s a side effect of being brought up by my Nan who was a huge royalist, but I think our country is better off for having a Royal family.

When the (then) Princess Elizabeth married Phillip in the forties, she revived our war torn nation, providing a little light relief, a sign of hope, and something to celebrate amidst all the gloom and troubles. And to her credit, our Queen has selflessly served our country ever since. She is a wonderful ambassador.

Is it just me being sentimental and old-fashioned, perhaps naïve in my views; but are things so very different today as they were then?

It’s been a miserable few years. We’re still a nation gripped by unemployment and huge financial hardship after the deepest, darkest recession since the 1930’s. Our troops are still in Afghanistan, we’re under constant threat of terrorism, and then there’s the NHS… I won’t go on. All I wish to illustrate is that life is more depressing and frenetic than it’s ever been. It’s a proven fact that more people today suffer from depression, cancer or other illnesses - possibly as a result of increased stress and lifestyle factors.

Some people claim it's only the press who are foisting the Royal Wedding on us - creating a false impression and positive imagery - when the reality is, many Britons are far less excited and enthusiastic than press coverage suggests. However, I know of people coming from America simply to be in our country, watch it in our TV’s, and be part of the atmosphere.

We say there’s no community spirit. Street parties will be thin on the ground. Is it apathy, lack of funds, the challenges of Health & Safety requirements when organising such events? Here we are with the opportunity to embrace a little piece of history, and join together as a nation. We used to like a good excuse for a knees up!

This wedding will cost millions in pomp and ceremony (and security) but the UK will benefit from a huge increase in visitors, especially to London. The main reason foreigners give for travelling to the UK is because of our history and the Royal Family. Think of all the revenue that gives us, the jobs, and let’s not forget the memorabilia; celebration mugs, plates, etc. Many a pottery in Stoke or Worcester might have been closed by now. Royalty is one of the things that make our Nation special.

And with all the gloom around us, isn’t it nice to have something to cheer about for a change?

There you have my letter 'R' - Royalty or Republican?
Do you care one way or another? Or will I be sitting there, glued to the TV commentary on 29th April, wearing red white and blue and waving the Union Jack flag by myself?

Until another day

Bye for now

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

'Q' is for ... Quiet.


Can you hear that?
Listen, carefully.
Aside from the twittering radio interference garble of swallows, and two buzzards circling, mewing high in the sky...

...Amidst the frantic bleating of a lamb that momentarily loses sight of its mother, and above the deep hum of two tractors a few fields away as they plant potatoes, I can hear…

Oh, no, now there’s no chance…

Hubby’s car roars up the lane amid a cloud of dust. I wait for the crunch of gravel, for him to turn into our courtyard, and the thump, thump sound of music vibrating from the car radio. He slams the front door behind as he comes in and dumps his bags on the hall floor. Black brogues clip clop over the steps, and onto the slate tiles of the kitchen floor. Before he’s even kissed me, he flicks the radio in the kitchen on, plugs it into the extension lead, and brings it outside.

'It’s like a morgue in here. I don’t know how you can stand it this quiet.’

He plants a wet kiss on my cheek and goes through into the living room, grabbing the TV control as he passes the coffee table, and presses the green button to watch the news. I know it’s only a matter of time before tinny 80’s music will blast out of the Ipod speakers in the study.

Hearing him, the boys rush out from the bedroom. The sound of guns shooting and a Sergeant Major barking orders emanate from the X-Box they’ve left on. Before I can tell them to go back and turn it off, they yell to greet their dad and charge outside to bounce on the trampoline. Springs creak, fabric stretches, squeals of laughter peal out, and my young bucks vie for top dog position, wrestling in between their ‘I can bounce highest’ competitions.

Next door’s toddler pokes her pretty, strawberry blond head under the fence. ‘Hiya! Hiya. Hellooo.’ She’s impossible to resist. Her elder brother - who’s only five - bounces his football loudly, hoping to attract the attention of my boys so they'll give him some attention and play.

In the field across the lane, the farmer on his quad bike and his dogs send the ewes and lambs into automatic frantic mode. They give chase, baaing and bleating for the feed and supplements. The neighbours horses and donkeys decide to join the mayhem and hare across the field in pursuit of each other. By the time they have run a few feet, they lose track of who’s chasing who.

My youngest gets bored on the trampoline, finds the football and starts kicking and kneeing ‘keepy uppies.’ Without his younger brother to torment, the eldest loses interest too, and tennis racket in hand starts batting a ball against the house and on the decking. Next doors puppy yaps at our cat and gives chase. On the drive over the other side of the barn, I hear the neighbours pull their bins across the gravel, ready for the morning bin collection.

Hubby comes outside with a beer and sits down. The dog lollops towards him, panting and sneezing in excitement.

‘So how’s your day been?’ Hubby asks.

‘Quiet,' I say, and groan inwardly.

I do love them all. But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish they would all go away and leave me in peace.

Am I the only one who feels like this?

Quietness is not only a lack of noise, but it’s a state of mind. No agitation, excitement; with quietness comes calmness and tranquillity, a peaceful contemplation.

Quietness is underestimated and undervalued. Except by me.

For now, I shall have to wait until next week, when the Easter holidays are over. Then I might snatch some quiet time again.

Until another day
Bye for now

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

'P' is for ... Progress and Positivity

I haven't blogged about my progress for a while so when ‘P’ came up, I thought it would be the ideal word.

For anyone new to my blog, nearly five months ago I went through major surgery - total jaw joint replacements (both sides) caused by arthritis, one of the manifestations of my Behcets disease.
Did this really happen to me?

Was it really the 13th October that we drove to the hospital - me taking deep breaths, in, out, puhhhh, blowing away, like I was in labour - trying to calm myself, and not panic, and hubby kept reaching for my hand, covering it with his and crunching it tight as he tried to reassure me. 'It won’t be long now. Soon be over.'

Nearly seven hours of surgery later, and I came round in ITU and was sick, sick, sick - not good when you have two new jaws. Hubby was beside me. I couldn’t see him but I could hear his deep, booming voice. ‘It’s all done – it took six and a half hours. You look incredible. Well done, darling.’

On the one hand it feels as if it was yesterday. On the other, when I see the photos, it might have been ten years ago. When I did my last blog about progress, I think it dawned on me then that it was going to be a long, long road. And it has been.
I will always remember that first glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror after surgery. It wasn’t me. It didn't even look like my eyes. Tiny, tiny eyes filled with pain stared back in horror. Mrs Doubtfire was the first person to spring to mind. My face was an enormous pastry, doughy mixture. My neck, more swollen than when I had mumps.

Feeling as delicate as bone china for weeks after the surgery, there were times when progress stopped, ir it was so painfully slow, it was undeterminable. The pain was brutal. Everything hurt above the neck. Parts of my face wouldn't do what I wanted them to do. I developed a new party piece - I could only lift one eyebrow. The other sat like an overstuffed caterpillar about to fall off a cushion over my eye. My brain played silly buggers with my nerves for months. I couldn't stand noise. For weeks, every small step was progress; a shower, washing my hair, brushing my hair, pulling a top down over my head.

Now I am me. No more Mrs Doubtfire. There has been so much progress, although I still wonder if there will ever be a time when my jaws feel as if they are mine, rather than mechanical.

The most significant progress, is I have no TMJ or jaw pain. I stopped taking morphine months ago, and don't take any pain killers for my jaws.

The scars have healed wonderfully. The two on my neck are still pink, deep and painful - they feel sore and sometimes pull, although it helps when I rub in copious amounts of bio oil. And the ones in my head ache but otherwise, the scars around my hairline and ears are barely visible. I can turn my neck and drive without thinking about it. Sometimes it feels a little sensitive if I wear a scarf as it rubs, but nothing much.

There are tender patches on my head that feel as if been scalped – hair might have been yanked from my head - and it still feels tender, almost bruised on parts of my forehead and eye socket.

I still can’t sleep on right side as it hurts to put my head and ear down. And if I turn on my left, I have to lay with my head angled on the pillow so that my ear sits below the edge or between a gap to cushion it.

Most of the feeling has now returned to my face but all around my hairline, the scars are still numb. The tops of my ears have feeling but the lobes could be pierced without any feeling.

My mouth opening is about 2.5 - 3cm, a huge improvement from the 1cm opening pre-op.

My bite isn’t quite right - it's still tricky to bite spaghetti or salad but that's no big deal in the scheme of things.

I can just about brush the backs of my teeth.

I can eat crusty bread. And sweeties.

When I use my jaws there is always the sound of a quiet rustling, like fabric or newspaper if I tune in to it. They squeak if I eat an apple or anything that makes them work hard. But there is no longer a clunk or click when I talk or yawn.

I can sing, laugh, yawn, and talk. Oh, I can talk! By the end of the day when I'm tired my cheeks ache, as if I've been laughing too much. And I'm not sure whether others can spot it but when I'm tired I also develop a slur or lisp and my words don't come out quite so easily. If I get too excited and want to speak too quickly my brain stops me, like I’ve had a stroke and slows me so I sound like I'm drunk. Or imagine a ventriloquists dummy. Sometimes it feels as if someone has their hand stuffed up my back and is making me speak, forcing the words out, yet all the time, my mouth won't co-ordinate with it and my face feels taut and stiff.

However I look normal. I go to the shops, the bus stop, the school playground, and to people who don't know me, there is nothing untoward except a couple of scars on my neck if you look up close. Strangers would have no idea what I've had done.

I learnt the hard way that with this surgery there would be no day on day improvement. It was no good getting frustrated or trying to push progress. My consultant told me it might take six months to get my jaws working to capacity. It's still only five months. When I see him in a couple of weeks for my check up he'll be delighted with my progress. Looking back at the photos, it's clear how amazing it's been. A lot of that has been my mental attitude but staying positive has not always been easy. TMJ replacement surgery is complex and the recovery is a slow process. Patience is not one of my virtues.

We still don’t know the life expectancy of the jaws and being realistic, it's inevitable I shall have to go through the whole thing another once, twice - maybe three times in my life time. But after eighteen months of the most debilitating, all consuming TMJ pain, I am free of any. And for now, I can't tell you how good that feels.

Until another day
Bye for now