There is no getting away from it, Moho travel and relentless rain do not go together – hence the gap from my last blog post. As soon as we got a break from the rain we were off, this time staying in Cornwall with trips to the fishing villages of Polperro and Mevagissey.
As a test of winter resilience, we opted for parking without an electric hook up and just rocked up to the main car parks at both places. Not that we were slumming it with gas heating and use of our own roomy shower! Polperro was the more expensive place costing £25 for a 24 hour stay whereas Mevagissey was less than half that price.
At this time of year, both locations were quiet and we were able to choose our own spots with just a short stroll into the respective villages. Polperro is one of those scenic places loved by tourists, yet still manages to keep an authenticity despite the hordes of visitors who flock at the height of summer. Yes there are the mandatory gift shops – but not too many – and we had a great lunch at ‘The Three Pilchards’ pub where the staff were friendly both to us and our pooch Bonnie.
A doggy welcome always a bonus!
Mevagissey is a bigger and busier port, more ‘touristy’ but like Polperro still retains a strong sense of community. The main car park is a family run place and good value for an overnight Moho stay. We found a level spot (no stabilisers needed!) and can recommend the ‘Sharksfin’ restaurant for great seafood, wine and that all important dog friendliness.
My ‘on the go’ book for this trip was Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’, covering her childhood growing up in Chicago, her journey from a secure, loving but relatively poor working class-family, to studying law at the Ivy League Princeton University.
She went on to have a stellar career both as a lawyer and in the public sector, meeting her future husband, Barack, when she was assigned as his mentor at the Chicago law firm where she got her first job.
The rest is history. She became America’s First Lady after Barack won two terms as the US President and during that time Michelle made her own mark especially in the fields of childhood well-being and nutrition.
What comes over most is her honesty about her struggles adjusting to the relentless public scrutiny, especially with two young daughters, and the constant monitoring from close protection staff. She writes candidly about the attempts to retain some sort of individual and family normalacy in a situation which is far from normal.
I loved the book both for its humanity, humour and her willingness to open up about the one thing that affects many people from working-class backgrounds who smash the ‘class ceiling’ and enter the highly competitive professions.
That niggling inner voice sometimes saying ‘not enough’. In other words the imposter syndrome that many people, especially women, feel when they have stepped outside the confines of the social groups they were born into.
Michelle certainly is enough and more. It is no surprise that ‘Becoming’ has resonated with so many and that she is an inspiration to those young people who see her as a fantastic role model. It is a book that stays with you long after you have finished reading it and the writing is good too.
While on the subject of books, in the new year I will be re-launching the ‘Dilemma Novella’ series, (I haven’t done any significant marketing for a long time and it shows!), along with a new compilation of short stories. In preparation there is a batch of nifty bookmarks designed by Spencer Smart and they will come in handy as I’ve just been invited to give a talk at a local library. Some radio advertisements are planned too, with input from a clever copywriter. So watch this space.
Finally, as it is nearly Christmas, here is a festive photo to be going on with and hope 2020 proves a great year for you all.
Well then – what are the main differences between Motor Home travel in France and the UK?
First of all space and lots of it. France is a bigger country and as such the roads are less busy – you can travel miles outside the major towns and cities without seeing too many other vehicles. As it was our first MoHo trip abroad, we played safe opting for the larger and quicker toll routes but even the non-toll roads were refreshingly quiet.
On this occasion my husband Paul did the driving while I acted as a back-up to the Sat Nav (!) and ‘toll-payer in chief’ – with our vehicle being right hand drive, the ticket/pay machines were conveniently on my side. On this subject there is one useful tip we wished we’d been given.
If your vehicle is over a certain height, your toll ticket and pay request can be issued from the top of the machine supposedly to make things easier to reach. At our first toll stop we couldn’t understand why we were pressing a visible ticket dispenser button and nothing was happening. Doh – the reason was that we hadn’t cast our eyes upwards. Ah well, one of many lessons learned but just to out-fox you, not all the pay machines are the same. C’est la vie.
The French campsites are also more spacious and in most cases have better facilities on offer. Our trip was for two weeks travelling from Calais to the French South West, so we stopped at three sites on the way down – in St Valery; Fresnay-sur-Sarthe and Chateauroux – before staying with a friend at her beautiful home in Caumont. All the sites had decent shower facilities, areas for laundry and even outside the main season, you could still pre-order bread, breakfast pastries etc for next day delivery. Site prices averaged around £17 in equivalent euros and the individual pitches were mainly larger than in the UK, some with neatly hedged borders. It was like having your own private garden!
If you don’t want to stay at a main site, you can prop up for a night at one of the many road-side ‘Aires’ which often have water top-up and waste disposal, toilet areas, with some having the equivalent of motorway service eateries only better. We only stopped overnight at one Aire in Honfleur. Less private space but within walking distance of the town and run by the council. so there was a small charge of £10 (11 euros) for 24 hours. The place was packed but many of these Aire users went out to local bars and restaurants, giving a boost to the local economy.
Could we have similar arrangements in the UK? France has the clear advantage of space and a long history of Motor Home/Camper Van travel. On this side of the pond, an Aire style system would only work where the surrounding roads could cope – yet there is still plenty of scope to make things better for UK MoHo visitors and users.
We had our pet dog, Bonnie, with us and thankfully most of the local bars and eateries we visited were dog friendly, almost as much as Cornwall. The Pet Passport was straight forward, as was the compulsory visit to a French vet to get the required worming treatment and health check before heading home. (Pooch Bonnie that is – not us!).
To sum up our first trip? As the French say ‘tres bon’ and overall, it was a lot easier than we expected. Let’s just hope it stays that way, given the current ‘B’ situation – on that score, not a single French person we met even mentioned it. A refreshing reminder of life before June 2016. Remember that?
My book choice for travelling this time around was Eric Idle’s ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ which is described on the cover as a ‘sortabiography’. Whether you are a Monty Python fan or not – Eric was one of the Pythons along with John Cleese et al – the book is a roller coaster read taking us from Eric’s childhood, through to his time at Cambridge University, the birth of the Monty Python gang and the start of a stellar career spanning television, film, musicals, screenplays – the list goes on. You are never far from great tales of mischief making, fall-outs, celebrity shindigs, friendship and love. In fact the stuff of life is packed in there but with far more bells and whistles than most people will ever experience. With the song ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ played at funerals, weddings, football terraces, graduations and the like, you would expect Eric to have his own tombstone epitaph planned out to the last word. Well he has:
It’s been just over three months since we got our Motor Home, (or MoHo to use the trendy abbreviation), and yes, still loving the freedom it brings with the ability to set off at a whim.
So far we’ve kept within the West Country, exploring other parts of Cornwall, with the occasional foray into Devon. Due to work and other commitments, our trips have been between one and two nights, staying at sites in Widemouth Bay, Tintagel, Colliford Lake, Minions and Mevagissey in Cornwall and Brixham in Devon.
In most cases we have opted for so-called ‘hook-ups’ which include electricity supplies along with other on-site shower/toilet facilities – in our case the last two aren’t needed, as we already have these on board. We’ve also had limited experience of so-called ‘wild camping’, with no available facilities, though with a gas fuel option and self contained water supplies in our MoHo, you can hardly call it ‘wild’!
The average cost of a site hook-up has been £20.00 for 24 hours but some sites charge more in the busy summer months with a minimum stay of three nights and upwards. Compared to other European countries like France and Spain, this is expensive but some public houses, (for example the ‘Jamaica Inn’ Bodmin Moor), charge £10 to park up overnight with no requirement to eat at their restaurant. Other public houses will allow you to stay in your MoHo for the night as long as you spend some money on drinks and/or food.
However you look at it, the UK has a long way to go to be as MoHo and Camper Van friendly as our European neighbours but with more people opting for this form of travel, I think things will start to change. Meantime, we’ll be heading off to France shortly, travelling from Dover to Calais, and then making our way to South West France to visit a friend in Caumont.
It will be fascinating to see how much the experience differs from this side of the pond and yes, our Bonnie dog is now the proud owner of her very own a Pet Passport. How cool is that?
As for my latest book choice – and with the ‘B’ word continuing to drive the UK crazy – I’ve just finished Jonathan Coe’s novel, ‘Middle England’, which deals with a divided and angry Britain tearing itself apart over Brexit. It’s funny, acerbic, beautifully observed and witty – all the things you expect from the writer of ‘The Rotters’ Club’ and ‘What A Carve Up!’.
Coe is one of our best contemporary writers and his snapshot of Middle England, (literally as much of the action takes place in and around the Midlands including Birmingham), is both affectionate and exasperated. Old friends from ‘The Rotters’ Club’ appear and the main character, Benjamin Trotter, now in his late 50s and living on his own, finally gets his long awaited novel published. With themes of death, marriage, friendship, loyalty, tribal politics and everything else in between – oh, not forgetting Brexit of course – the novel has some laugh out loud moments as well as the more poignant ones.
And the least good bit?
Without doubt the ending, which is always hard to get right. A bit too pat and predictable but overall ‘Middle England’ is a great read. Don’t be put off by the Brexit backdrop – or should that be ‘backstop’? Enough. In future years we’ll look back at Coe’s novel as a time when the UK had a collective nervous breakdown and an identity crisis. How long the road to recovery will take, heaven only knows.
Back in January I joined the Board of a local radio station in West Cornwall, Coast FM. wanting to use my national broadcast experience in a local community way. While there are some obvious overlaps with TV broadcasting, radio is a different beast and mostly in a good way. Things can happen more quickly, interviews are more personable and people are generally less intimidated about taking part in radio chats.
My first experience of helping to get together a live radio event was at July’s ‘Live at the Lido’ pool re-opening party at the magnificant Art Deco Jubilee Pool in Penzance. The weather was kind, the pool packed, and there were talented musicians and dancers. The Coast FM broadcast team did a superb job and we are looking to work with the Jubilee Pool team on some future events. All in all a great community atmosphere and a chance to show off a snazzy new radio Gazebo too!
After a six month blog break – well it’s certainly been a busy period – I’m blogging well back!
And this time the focus will be a wee bit different.
As me and hubby have just acquired a Motor Home, (or MoHo as we like to call it), we’ll be hitting the road and I’ll be using some of the time ‘out and about’ to fine tune a forthcoming compilation of short stories. There will be eight stories in all, so a little way to go, but hoping that regular escapes from the distractions of a home based office will get those creative juices flowing.
So watch this space with a combo of MoHo travel and writing updates, including reviews of any great books I happen to be reading on the way.
On that score, have just finished reading ‘Common People’ – An Anthology of Working-Class Writers – edited by the inspirational and award winning author, Kit de Waal. As a proud supporter of this publication I love the idea of putting emerging writers alongside established ones – sharing the same book space as well as broadly working-class backgrounds. It’s empowering, uplifting and there is some great writing.
You could argue that in all walks of life ‘cream rises’, that real talent punches through and why bother with the whole ‘class’ thing anyway? Well here’s why – the print medium and publishing, like broadcasting and a raft of other so-called ‘competitive’ professions, are still dominated by well-connected and self-perpetuating groups. They are confident in their place, understand the rules and of course rule the roost. By and large, nice enough people but it can all feel – well – a bit ‘samey’, clubby even.
As someone from a second generation Irish working class background, (who managed to push through the ‘Class Ceiling’ of national print journalism and TV broadcasting), I do believe that with enough resilience, hard work and ability it can be done.
‘But’…and it’s a big one.
The barriers remain much higher for those where nepotism, help from the bank of mum or dad, (let alone the added advantage of having the same accent and language of commissioning or recruitment people), aren’t there.
That’s what I love about the ‘Common People’ publication and the publishers ‘Unbound’. It is about opening doors, giving a chance to writers who might otherwise never get to see their work in a bookshop or library.
As it says on the book cover, ‘Working Class stories are not always tales of the underprivileged and dispossessed’. Amen to that. There are strong communities in Tower Blocks. (Loretta Ramkissoon’s ‘Which Floor?’ has one of the best opening lines ever); Cathy Rentzenbrinks celebration of the game of Darts; Eva Verde’s memories of hours lost in Forest Gate Branch Library reminding me of happy times spent in Birmingham’s Moseley Road and Yardley Wood libraries; Paul McVeigh’s ‘Night of the Hunchback’ which is both funny and haunting; ’The Things We Ate’ by Kit de Waal is a beautifully written evocation of childhood food – and so much more. I could go on as this book has some cracking contributions, a genuine celebration of talent.
Recently I’ve been back up to Birmingham – I now live in deepest West Cornwall – to see some friends from Central TV and in particular, one of my closest pals, photographer Pogus Caesar. Actually, he’s Dr Pogus Caesar now, having been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University.
Like me, Pogus was a Birmingham B12 postcode kid, and his family came over on the Windrush in the 1950s from St Kitts. We both met at Central TV where we were working as programme producers and our paths there were quite different – I came in through the journalism route whereas Pogus arrived via photography after an earlier stint as a chef. (His food is still dead good by the way!).
A few weeks ago we were reflecting on our professional journeys and how we got there. Resilience? Yes. Luck? A bit but we made sure that we grabbed the opportunities on offer. Hard work? Bloody hell yes, yes and yes again. Focus? Yes a lot of that too and we’ve always tried to make the most of any gifts we’ve been given. We also had mentors and supporters, people who were successful and prepared to share that with others along the way.
To quote Dr Pogus Caesar : ‘I hope that my backstory can inspire others. I’ll keep on this journey as who knows where the road might lead.’
I’ll raise a glass to that and to all those people out there who think that getting their words published and on bookshelves is beyond their reach.
Stick at it folks and check out ‘Common People’ for inspiration. Now back to the MoHo for more exploration and reading.
Sometimes in life things happen out of the blue – when you’re not looking, yet somehow the timing feels right.
With lots of talk about getting more women represented on company Boards of Directors – the latest figure is still a pretty poor 25.5% of FTSE 350 companies – the chance to join the Board of a west Cornwall radio station, (Coast FM), seemed to land at a pivotal time.
It all began after I did a number of interviews for the station and in the course of one conversation, the idea of getting more involved came up. With a well established national TV production/journalism background, my broadcasting experience and industry contacts can be put to good use locally – while (yeah!!) adding to the growing number of women represented on company boards.
It’s early days. and I still haven’t met everyone connected with the station, but plan to do so over the coming months – and at a Coast FM festive party at the end of December. (Squeezed in nicely between Christmas and New Year). There are lots of ideas about how the station can go forward and grow, and it’s great to be a part of that.
So watch this space!
This latest move has been a good thing in an otherwise difficult 2018 for our family, something which I have touched upon in the previous blog. Occasionally there is a year where you just want to it to be over, and in many ways it will be a relief to draw a line under this one.
Despite this, 2018 has also seen happier times, including reconnecting with some old friends and work colleagues . Recently, I met up with a former Central TV colleague, Tony Biggs, when he was visiting Looe wth some friends. Even though we hadn’t seen each other since the 1990s – yes, the last century! – we picked up as if twenty plus years hadn’t whizzed by. This is one of the great things about living in Cornwall, and having a steady stream of visitors. The perfect excuse to hook up with friends from all over the country and to show off those beautiful locations.
So with only a short time to go before we leave 2018, with all the political turmoil both here and abroad, let’s hope 2019 is a better year all round.
And that’s the thing about New Year celebrations, isn’t it? Optimism for the future with the prospect of positive change.
Happy Christmas everyone and here’s to the things that really matter – friends, family, community – oh, and not being afraid to grab new opportunities when they present themselves. Also to all those people who are facing their first Christmas after losing a close family member, when happy memories will be tinged with sadness that they are no longer here. Although it will still be a poignant time, try to make those good memories the dominant ones, to talk about them and celebrate their part in your life.
As the Irish greeting goes, Slainte!
Now over to Bonnie the very Cornish cockapoo for her 2018 message…
A short and sweet message from little ol’ me this time. Just enjoy yourselves because to quote someone called Noddy Holder (who’s he?) it’s C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S!’
And to all my fellow mutts out there, steer well clear of those chocs, nuts and raisins lurking around, as they aren’t good for us pooches – nobody wants to be stuck at the vets over the Christmas period, least of all the two legged lot. (Lol).
That’s it – off now for a romp on the beach because I ‘m a Cornish gal and I can.
It’s been a while since I last posted a blog and that is because the past six weeks have been a sad and traumatic time for our family.
After a long hard battle with Vascular Dementia, and more recently, the devastating effects of a stroke, my mum Rita passed away on October 7th. Her quality of life hadn’t been good for some time and although we are all devasted by her passing, there is an element of relief that her suffering is over.
Inevitably the death of a parent causes you to re-evaluate your own life, to look back to your childhood and beyond, to examine your relationship with your parents, and to face the stark reality that you are now the older generation within your immediate family.
So here’s my personal tribute to mum, the feisty Irish woman who kept that fighting spirit right up until the end.
Like a lot of her generation, mum devoted most of her life to bringing up her four children, while my dad worked as a carpenter. They were private, modest people who came to Birmingham in the mid 1950s to find work. Mum was born in Belfast and dad in Dublin and for them family was everything.
After dad died at a relatively young age, mum’s life revolved around her five grand children and every so often she would make the journey ‘back home’ as she still called Belfast, to see her northern Irish family.
Like many daughters, I had a complicated relationship with mum and when my all consuming career in journalism and TV production took off, I have to admit that family priorities were given a back seat. While working long hours, travelling across the country and on a number of occasions to the USA, visits to see mum had to be squeezed in around these commitments. For a number of years work became the main priority and although loving what I did, at times it felt like living to work rather than the other way around.
I also (wrongly) assumed that mum took no great interest in the stuff of careers, not really understanding why anyone would put so much time and effort into the world of work. Then, just before I headed off to Bermuda in 2011 to join my husband who had been offered a forensic post on the island, mum handed me a large package. Inside she had collected a mass of magazine and newspaper cuttings, going right back to the start of my career. I was taken aback and extremely touched by this – although she never really said much, she had read all of the features and had hung on to them. I must admit to shedding a few tears that day, realising not for the first time how I’d misinterpreted her views.
Looking back, there were signs that mum was becoming ill a few years before her diagnosis. Little things that in hindsight all add up. She would often ask the same question over and over, would forget what food she’d bought, stocking up on stuff she already had in, calling at odd times of the day and then forgetting why she had rung in the first place. Without knowing the cause, this behaviour seemed bizarre and sometimes annoying. Once it became clear that her illness was causing this, the shutters came off and perversely my own relationship with mum improved. What I’d seen as a failure to listen, someone who was calling at the times I’d asked her to avoid, suddenly had an explanation. Mum wasn’t being difficult or awkward, she was simply showing the signs of the cruellest of illnesses. Yet another misunderstanding.
Despite everything mum kept the essence of her personality up until the end. Well into her illness, she could still remember her Irish dancing steps and the lyrics of songs. She would point to the map of Northern Ireland on her nursing home room door and until recently, could still recognise us when we made our visits from Cornwall. She was surrounded by photos of her family and had a regular stream of visitors from my siblings and her grand children.
Today, we all are trying to remember the happier times before the illness took hold. Her love of sweet foods, probably caused by rationing during the war. Her constant quest for bargain deals at the Bull Ring market – often turning out to be anything but. Her turns at Irish dancing at family parties, the Catholic icons dotted around her house, (some of which frightened her grand children when they were growing up!), and the feistiness which never left her.
So RIP mum Rita. It took a few years, but I now realise just how strong you were and that you did your best for all of your family. Thanks to you, I still have those early cuttings too – a part of my own history that you saved up specially. You will live on in your children and grand children, all of us the keepers of your memories.
One little postscript. Animals, especially dogs, can be incredibly attuned to emotions and moods. In the past few weeks our dog, Bonnie, has realised that something was amiss and that we were feeling sad. She followed us around the house, constantly checking that we were OK and cosying up to us at every opportunity. She knew we needed some extra affection and like all dogs, gave it unconditionally. However sad we felt, we had to take her out for walks and exercise is a great mood enhancer. So thanks Bonnie dog, you’re a little star.