Here we are then – just about to come out of lockdown 2 with a mix of optimism and trepidation. Hopefully good news on the Covid-19 vaccine front but not before the prospect of a few tough winter months ahead.
The odds of a hard lockdown 3 immediately after Christmas? That’s down to how we all take care over the festive period but if we’ve learned anything since March, it is best not to rule anything in or out.
Still, for those of us who love the festive period, there is something to look forward to. Even if it isn’t going to be the same for family get togethers and social gatherings, we can still enjoy the decorations, celebratory food and drink. Then there is the prospect of a brand new year ahead with the hope that it has to be better than 2020. Let’s face it, most of us will be glad to see the back of this one.
If you had told us this time last year that we would be in the midst of a world pandemic, wearing masks and being locked down for months, it would have felt like something from one of those dystopian novels. Yet here we are and already the ‘old world’ seems a long way off.
Many of my friends in the world of TV production and live entertainment are struggling, not qualifying for furlough because they are freelance or self employed. Nearly three million people have fallen through the net and still don’t know when (or even if) they will be able to return to their jobs, a huge waste of talent and training. Hopefully in the longer term there will be such a pent up demand for live performances, theatre and events that most will be able to go back to the careers they love.
Meantime, this has still been a busy year for me despite the lockdowns. As someone who works largely from home, not much has changed there. Already I’ve been doing more factual writing, including an essay contribution for a book which is coming out in the New Year alongside various magazine features/review pieces. I’ve also collaborated with a company called Butterfly Boxes on a bespoke gift box with a book which is aimed at carers and care related workers across the board.
The latest short story collection book ‘Shorts and Thoughts’ is included in the box, along with various other goodies. Here’s a photo and a link for anyone who wants to send a gift to a care worker they know, whether it is for Christmas, a birthday, or just a thank you, while helping to raise some money for the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust charity – swbt.org. Covid-19 has shown us just how important our frontline social work and care sector workers really are, something we shouldn’t forget as we begin to emerge from this world wide health crisis. https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/903972491/social-worker-benevolent-trust-box?ref=shop_home_active_1&frs=1
My book of choice this time is Alastair Campbell’s ‘Living Better’ which deals with his own struggles with mental health. Alastair was best known for his role as former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesperson and strategist. While working in this high pressure environment, he was – and still is – living with severe depression, which he says at the start of the book led him to consider ending his own life. A bad ‘almost’ as he puts it.
He talks candidly about the effects on his family, friends and on his own everyday life which continues to this day. If there is one overall message it is not to feel ashamed or to remain silent. In the end he sought professional help, learning to understand his depression, what the triggers are, and crucially, how to live a better life with it.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the book is uplifting and informative, with some wry humour thrown in. There is also an insightful chapter from his partner Fiona about how to live with someone who has depression. Then there is the story of a Jam Jar but you’ll have to read the book to find out about that!
Finally, as we emerge from this latest lockdown there will be a chance to take our Motor Home out for another spin. Having spent most of this year with the MoHo parked up on the driveway, we are looking forward to hitting the open road again even if we keep the travel to within Cornwall. Afterall, there are worse places to live – just ask Bonnie dog! (Rocking that Cornish tartan bandana). Photo thanks to Russ Ahearne @hamiltonahearne photography.
Well September was supposed involve a motor home visit to the west coast of France but with the current Covid restrictions those plans had to be ditched.
So instead it was back to Wales and we managed to fit in our road trip just before a large part of that beautiful country also went into stricter lockdown. Which just goes to show how hard it is to make travel plans in these times. Or any plans come to think of it.
Still, we had a great time revisiting Cardiff and Aberaeron but also stopped over at Saundersfoot as well.
The Cardiff site has been a real find – adjoining the cricket ground with lovely parkland all around and you can stroll into the city along the river. Much of the city centre has been pedestrianised and although it was raining on the day we went there, we managed to find a dog friendly place to grab a bite of lunch, with the manager letting us sit in a quiet area inside. (Their usual practice is for people with dogs to sit outside at the umbrella covered tables but it was raining pretty hard!). So hats off to Old Havana in Cardiff centre where we had a great lunch admiring the Cuban wall photos and the fantastic vintage American Cadillac which graced the entrance.
While in Cardiff we met with a cousin of mine who I hadn’t seen for many years. It didn’t take us long to catch up on each others lives and it always amazes me how strong the connection is between extended family members. Something just clicks – a combination of shared DNA and history. We were so busy chatting that we forgot to take photos (no selfie sticks at the ready) but we’ll make up for that next time – my cousin has lived in Cardiff for a long time and has promised to give us a proper ‘locals tour’. Looking forward to that!
By the time we got to Aberaeron in Cardigan Bay, the sun was shining again and we were able to explore more of this little harbour gem. For a small place it has some great restaurants and is known for its honey ice-cream, one of the best I’ve tasted. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound the most promising of combinations and with a nod to Peter Kay’s garlic bread joke, ( ‘Honey- ice-cream?’), trust me it works. If you are in the area check out The Hive – a great eaterie and that honey ice-cream supplier.
After the road trip to Wales it was straight into writing a piece for a social work heritage book being published soon by the British Association of Social Workers. (BASW). My contribution looks back at social work over the decades and projects into the future as well – it is always hard trying to second guess what could happen in the coming years but I’ve given it a go. With my journalism background I enjoy writing for factual publications and was delighted to be asked to get involved.
More about that nearer to the publication date – the ambitious heritage project also features photographs, music and poetry. It is a testimony to a profession which is often both misunderstood and undervalued. Having said that, Covid-19 has also led to a greater appreciation of the caring professions across the board and not before time.
Some of you will have seen a selection of photos I’ve been sharing widely on social media. They were taken by my friend and talented photographer, Russ Ahearne and feature the latest book ‘ Shorts and Thoughts’ in beautiful settings across West Cornwall. We recently did some with yours truly, my husband Paul and Bonnie dog, which were taken at our home in Marazion.
I should have known from my time filming the TV series ‘Animal Rescuers’, that animals and photography can be a tricky mix! As someone who loves dogs, Russ finally cracked it – he got his fiancee Lucy, (also a dog lover), to get Bonnie to sit down beside her. When Lucy thought the time was right she signalled across, gently let go of the lead and moved sideways quickly. A few fast camera clicks and it was done. Here’s one with Bonnie looking straight on to the camera and rocking a Cornish tartan Bandana.
Finally, dare I mention Christmas?!
If you know someone who enjoys short stories then pop them a copy of ‘Shorts and Thoughts’ as a stocking filler. With half of all book proceeds going to the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust charity you’ll be helping a good cause as well. Here is the link https://amazon.co.uk/dp/B08B38YJNT
To describe last month as a ‘busy’ one is putting it mildly. A new book launch at the start of #Indie Author Week UK, a magazine anniversary feature, swapping interviews with fellow author Jude Lennon, research work and remote meetings – well all I can say is ‘phew’!
Now it is time to pause and take stock, as well as getting the Motor Home back on the road after lockdown. Like many we’ll be ‘staycationing’ this summer, so won’t be travelling far, but any change of scene after recent months will be welcome. Open road here we come!
Not usually a fan of looking back, writing a feature as part of the 50th anniversary of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), did get me thinking about my first job in journalism. At the time, way back in the 1980s, I could have gone quite another route.
Straight after graduating, there was the prospect of a research grant for a university post-graduate degree in social history. It would have meant a move to another part of the UK but I then decided that academia wasn’t for me. I’d always wanted to be a journalist and had even completed an accredited distance learning course in my spare time.
Spotting an advertisement for a trainee reporter in then weekly national ‘Social Work Today’ magazine, I winged off my application. With a journalism qualification already under my belt. (and some experience of working with children in care), the job seemed tailor made for me.
That still meant a tough two part interview, before being put on a three month ‘trial’. In the end I stayed there for five years, going from trainee reporter to chief reporter and feature writer.
During that time I covered everything from major child abuse stories, investigations into the social impact of mass unemployment in large parts of the UK, to high profile court cases and professional conferences. Subjects that I would then go on to cover for television documentaries and national newspapers/magazines,
Looking back over those early articles made me realise just how much things have changed – and haven’t changed – in the world of social work. By far the biggest scandal is the state of social care for vulnerable people, a can well and truly kicked down the road by successive governments. Covid-19 has laid bare the extent of this neglect and we can only hope that it will finally get the attention it so desperately needs. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
Writing the latest magazine feature also gave me the idea to link my new short stories collection, ‘Shorts and Thoughts’, to the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust charity.
Half of all book payments will go to the charity which is a small but much needed one. Sometimes those who care for others need help too and if you know anyone who likes short stories, then spread the word. I’m setting my sights high for this one as there is a charity involved.
This time around my book of choice is ‘Half A World Away’ by the talented Mike Gayle. I’ve read a number of Mike’s books over the years and this one deals with the themes of adoption, reunion and loss – subjects I’ve also covered in my own novella series.
Brilliantly written, poignant yet still uplifting, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Written from the point of view of the two main characters, the subject is dealt with sensitively and the story has you gripped from the outset. Yet another great offering from one of our best contemporary writers.
Finally, here’s to a more chill-out few weeks and MoHo adventures. Enjoy the summer everyone – after lockdown we’ll never take those small everyday freedoms for granted again.
You are best known for your children’s books but you have also written a short story collection ‘A Slice of Lennon’. How hard was it making the transition from children’s writing to creating stories for adults?
My writing group ‘The Revolting Peasants’ gave me an additional challenge one month – I couldn’t write for children. Since then I have rarely written for children as part of my writing group but I did end up with a collection of short stories, many of which made it into the book.
You are a bit of a social media star – tell us how you manage to balance that with your prolific writing…
Scheduling! I have a
spreadsheet (how unexciting) with my social media pages and key dates that I
want to post about. It makes it much easier to keep on top of it. Awareness
Days are my friend!
Do you have any writer ‘must-haves’ while you work – music, props etc?
I LOVE music but don’t write with it on. I am a pen and paper
girl so I can pretty much write anywhere and have done. If I’m in my office at
home a cup of Rooibos tea is essential and chocolate if possible!
A question that has to be asked – are you related to that other famous Lennon from Liverpool?
Ha, yes. My Dad’s grandfather and his grandfather were brothers. It’s not close enough for me to claim royalties!
What have been your lockdown ‘saviours ’? Ahem – the cover of ‘A Slice of Lennon’ might give a small hint about one of them…
The outdoors, my bike, laughing with my partner, reading and writing. The thought of getting away in my VW campervan Buttercup when this is over. And the odd tipple of gin – with that slice of ‘lemon’ !
Depending on whether you are an optimist or pessimist, the saying ‘May you live in interesting times’, is a blessing or a curse.
Well no-one could describe these lockdown times as anything but ‘interesting’ with commentators struggling to find distinctive ways to sum up this new world – ‘unprecedented’ has taken a pounding, as has ‘bizarre’ and ‘peculiar’. In short we are running out of words to describe this pandemic, with ‘stay safe’ being the current mantra.
How else do you sign off in the world of Covid 19?
Social media is awash with inspirational (or not!) quotations, conspiracy theories are flourishing, well known people are having words put into their mouths and then shared around as weird rants.
Meantime Gabby and her mates are putting themselves out there as the new ‘experts’ in everything from virology, public health management, to news coverage. Welcome to the ‘new normal’ – to coin another cliche.
During lockdown it is fascinating to see how we have retreated even further into our own ‘echo chambers’, sharing and agreeing with people who reflect our view of the world. This isn’t surprising – it makes us feel safe to surround ourselves with people whose views mirror our own – but it is still good to step outside your comfort zone and listen to someone with a different take on things.
That’s why travel can be so enriching but with that now out of bounds, the ‘I know better’ brigade are out there in droves doing what they do – tirading. (Ironically, some of the very same people were spreading the ‘be kind’ slogan just a few months ago).
Yet genuine day-to-day kindness survives against the odds. All over the country there have been numerous examples of people going the extra mile for neighbours, friends and family. People working away, making sure we are all cared for medically, are fed, able to get around and kept up-to-date with what is going on. Some of them losing their lives on this new battle field. The word gratitude barely does the job, yet another sign of how we are all struggling to find the right words.
Talking of gratitude…
Never in a million years did I think I’d get involved with a radio station when I moved to Cornwall back in 2012. Working in TV documentaries, current affairs and feature writing, my experience of radio was limited to the occasional interview on the back of a programme or written piece.
That is exactly how I first got introduced to Coast FM Radio, when the late Pat Quayle invited me to talk about my work. Not long afterwards, I found myself attending Board meetings, learning just how much hard work and dedication goes into running a local radio station.
In these lockdown times, the station has come into its own with presenters producing live programmes from home ‘studios’ and pre-recorded material too. Their shows keep people informed about home food deliveries, travel, health and welfare issues and much more. This alongside the usual dedications, music and occasional fun quizzes to lift the spirits.
Team Coast has certainly done it’s bit for the community down here and the level of commitment shown has been humbling. Just one small word here and again it doesn’t seem enough. Thanks.
Finally, with the Motor Home parked up for the duration – though we’ve been known to sit in there with the odd cocktail! – I’ve been reading a lockdown book courtesy of my niece Amy.
‘Crossing Places’ by Elly Griffiths features the fictional Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist who combines her academic work at a local University with helping out in crime investigations. Overweight and overthinking, Ruth lives alone in a remote house on the North Norfolk coast, the ‘Saltmarsh’ providing a menacing and eerie backdrop. The book was published in 2009, so some investigative references are of their time but the main characters are believable and give some intriguing insights into this specialist field of forensics. There is a great sense of place and atmospheric story-telling – the writing is good too.
That’s it for now. Cheerio – and dare I say it? Oh go on then.
PS: Photo of Bonnie dog guarding her well gnawed chew – just because…
To say that Motor Home ownership is a steep learning curve is putting it mildly. Just when you think you are getting to grips with all things MoHo, up pops another problem to get your head around.
Still, learning new stuff is good for the brain and there is nothing like being able to set off at a whim. (Or whenever there is a break in the rainy weather, as has been the case over the past few months).
One of the biggest challenges is using the MoHo as our one and only form of transport, with no extra car or bikes. This means pitching up at sites where you can walk easily to a nearby town – or at least to a local pub or restaurant – especially when you are staying for several days.
From this point of view, membership groups like the Caravan and Motorhome Club are proving invaluable. Joining up gets you some discounts and reliable information about the proximity of sites to towns, villages or eateries.
Recently we stopped over for a couple of days in Porlock, a lovely Somerset town and found a site which is just a five minute walk from the centre. Our pitch (costing £20 per night) included an electric hook-up and although we didn’t use the shower facilities – we have our own – they were there if you wanted them.
OK, the weather was what you might call ‘mixed’, but we still managed a good walk and a few visits to pooch Bonnie’s favourite places – the local pubs! (Well lets face it, we’re not averse either).
As you’d expect, Porlock is a dog friendly town – again we are learning that it is best to seek out places where you know mutts are welcome. So far so good on that score, given that Cornwall has set the – ahem – ‘bar’ pretty damn high.
Yet another lesson learned the hard way when MoHo travelling in winter. Relentless rain makes for lashings of mud on wheels, bodywork, boots and those dog paws! A decent foot mat sorts out us humans with Bonnie dog getting used to regular paw swills – safe to say not her favourite thing. Heading out this time of year really does mean leaving the clean up until you get home.
Muddy paintwork? Just embrace it darling!
My book on the move was ‘Summer at the Cornish Cafe’ by Phillipa Ashley. It was a Christmas present from my niece and a bit of summery escapism at this time of year.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect but found it a light, feel-good read from someone who knows (and clearly loves) Cornwall. The writer lists ‘watching Poldark’ as one of her hobbies and in essence this is a modern take on Poldark – the tin mine is replaced by an eco-friendly holiday business and Ross P is called Cal Penwith. Demelza keeps her name but it is abbreviated to a more hip sounding Demi.
Cal returns from a stint in the Middle East to the neglected family holiday business left by his late father and in steps young Demi. Bright as a button and in dire need of a job, she has a dog in tow as well. Meanwhile hunk Cal is still pining for his previous girlfriend, (now engaged to someone else), and you get the drift – damn it, we even know that he looks a bit like the actor Aidan Turner.
With the first person narration coming from the two main characters, the style takes a little while to get used to but overall it is an easy read and perfect for a holiday in Cornwall or just for a bit of chill out ‘me’ time. The door is left open for the next installment and on the basis of this one, I’ll be keen to read the rest.
Talking of books, I was delighted to give a recent talk at St Just Library and to get my publications onto their shelves, nifty plastic protective covers and Cornwall County Library inner bar-code included! Never mind all those TV production credits, and the newspaper/magazine bylines – having your own books in the library is right up there.
#Motor Homes # Book review # Cornwall # St Just # Porlock