Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Progress Report.


It still feels presumptuous to talk about ‘the book I am writing’ but what the hell! I now am up to date, in that all the episodes of ‘Past Imperfect’ are on one document and I have done some preliminary editing – for example - deleting headings which are episodic (what a nice word that is) instead of chapter headings. I have done some revision and find – to my delight - I rather enjoy it. I am fumbling with chapters - where, how long, how many? My total word count so far is 97,000 but how many pages is that? I know - if I count the words on a page of the autobiography I have just finished reading and multiply by the number of pages… but then there are lots of half pages which affect the calculation. Bother!

It was a comfort to read in The DT’s Review that when , after writing two successful books about the death of her husband and then her daughter, Joan Didion on being asked to write a play said, ‘I did not want to write a play. I had never wanted to write a play. I did not know how to write play.’

On meeting David Hare, who was to direct it she asked him how ‘long’ a play should be. ‘He did a word count on his own Via Dolorosa: 15,000 give or take.’

The point being that even someone as gifted as she is, feels uncertain when tackling something new.

Vanessa Redgrave is to play the lead and I’m sure – as she did in ‘Atonement’ – will shine like the candescent star she can be. ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ opens at the National on April 25th.

Back to the book, it’s clear I have a lot of work to do with regard to continuation and cohesion, to say nothing of coherence, conciseness and clarity. I need to read the manuscript from beginning to where I’m up to. I’m not done yet, so possibly there will have to be massive cuts. That’s much less daunting than having to pad it out. Onward and upward! I have a theory that post natal depression sets in after publication – I can comfort myself with that if nought comes of it. Meanwhile agents and publishers please form an orderly queue.

Vanessa Redgrave
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Sunday, April 27, 2008



It sounds ungracious but I wish MTL weren’t given silk ties; it’s such a fag taking them to be cleaned (and expensive) and the only way one can tell them from their cheaper washable rivals is by reading the label. Even more difficult are the Scottish wool ones which we are both fond of. I have just risked washing quite an old one; gently swishing it in special stuff for delicates, and then had the brainwave of wrapping it round the towel rail heater in the bathroom. Not a bad result.

Karen, our gardener suggested Top Rose for the garden roses. At the nursery I asked a female assistant,

P ‘ Excuse me - where will I find Top Rose?’

FA ‘ Who?’

The trouble with having been a war child one hangs on to anything with a spark of life in it. As a result most of my tubs are full of half dead plants, so today I am being ruthless and starting afresh. I still can’t actually consign them to the garden bin so am tossing them in wooded bits where, at least they have a chance to recover and flourish amongst the ivy and periwinkles.

On our return we were amazed to see a new gate in place. Seems we have actually found a work-man who does what he says. Next week the sun room roof. – after he’s painted the gate. And I get to choose a house sign. It never has had a number and we had to choose a new name when we came 27 years ago. I think a simple white on black probably.

It was so lovely having an evening drink in the garden today; perfect temperature and a divine zephyr which stirred the bronze grasses in time to the birdsong. Priceless.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Garden April 2008


After our hairy week-end I turned to the garden for solace and here's what I found. Quite surprisng for April. If I haven't put the name it's because either I don't know or I can't remember, but I'll bet you can.


Special wallflower?


Acer - Blood Red and pink Camellia
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This is a thornless rose
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A favourite clematis which smells of vanilla.

Bluebells and a plant in the wrong place

Bay tree blossom - another lovely fragrance
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The first rose

Hosta before the snail' onslaught

The bees love this berberis?

White camellia
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Instow April 2008

I regret the paucity of photos - if you read below you will understand. I hope to visit you all soon.
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The kindness of strangers.


On Saturday morning we drove westwards to Instow in grey rainy weather and in just over 24 hours we were driving eastwards home. When we left our hotel the weather had improved with faint sunshine but when we hit the moor we were enveloped in thick fog. Why did we come home after only one night?

Eager beavers that we were, we had arrived early but our impeccable room was ready, so we dumped the luggage and went to have a light lunch in the bar. Once I had unpacked, feeling smug that I had managed with one suit-case instead of the usual two, we chilled and read the papers until it was time to get ready for dinner. The weather precluded a walk on the beach.

After a leisurely dinner the hotel owner/manager who I will call S, said he would take our coffee to the lounge. Just as we were going to leave the table MTL said he thought he would go to our room and I noticed his colour had changed and he looked unwell. Almost immediately a woman introduced herself, she was the daughter of the golden wedding party that the hotel was hosting, she was a doctor and as MTL was in her eye-line had noticed his change in colour. S appeared and we decided to take MTL to our room with the help of the doctor’s mother’s wheelchair. Fortunately we were on the ground floor.

S thought MTL had just got too hot and opened the French windows. I told the doctor that MTL had atrial fibrillation and the same thing had happened three years ago. She said she could ring for an ambulance if we agreed, and we decided it was safer to get him checked over. Within a very short time two paramedics were with us and shortly afterwards another one turned up having seen the ambulance, to see if he could be of further assistance. They decided to get MTL in the ambulance and give him further checks before deciding whether to take him to Barnstaple hospital or not.

I changed into trousers and an anorak and as I walked to the ambulance S gave me a card with his telephone number and said he would come and pick us up if we were coming back that night. I said we could get a taxi but he insisted it was no trouble. By now it was between 9pm and 9.30pm. After various tests it was decided to take us in to hospital. It’s really weird riding in an ambulance as you have no idea where you are.

When we reached the hospital the paramedics asked me to book MTL in and I noticed the receptionist was protected by thick glass with microphones you could speak into. When that was done I found MTL, ensconced in a cubicle, on a trolley propped up with pillows and wearing an oxygen mask. His colour was back to normal and he said he was alright now. We said good- bye to the cheery paramedics and were very grateful for their efficient help and support.

Then MTL was surrounded by female nurses in their dark blue trousers and smock tops – so different from the crisp uniforms we used to wear - but perhaps more comfortable and practical? When they had completed their tasks, another nurse came and started asking MTL questions - presumably to establish how confused he was: what was his name, what year was it, what day was it. When MTL said Saturday she said ‘NO!’

‘YES!’ we chorused. A welcome moment of levity.

MTL – when we were alone – said there would probably be a few drunks around as it was getting near closing time on a Saturday night – but fortunately we were spared that. Eventually a young doctor appeared and introduced himself. There didn’t appear to be anything to distinguish him from the nurses. After his examination and reading the charts he thought we may be able to go home but was just awaiting some results. Later he said he’d like MTL to stay, so the consultant could see him in the morning. I asked if it were possible for the consultant to see him now, he said no but then he phoned the consultant who apparently said we could go, dependent on one final result.

Then to my delighted surprise S appeared to see how we were getting on and insisted on waiting to take us back to the hotel. Finally at midnight we were allowed to go, with a letter and all the results for our GP, who we were told to see on Monday. We had already decided that after a night’s sleep we would pack up and go home. On the drive back S told us about his late father; we had met him on our first visit, and the family were devastated when he died after a gallant battle with cancer.

S delivered us to the night porter telling him to see us safely to our room. I couldn’t find words to thank him, so gave him a grateful kiss. We had a reasonable night’s sleep and when I rang the desk to tell the receptionist we would leave that day she asked if we would like breakfast in our room, which was a great comfort.

‘What a good job we didn’t unpack,’ said MTL.

‘Oh but I did.’

I had managed to keep it together until I went to the desk to pay the bill, and found they had only charged us for one night and none of the extras. I tried to say we expected to pay for the whole holiday but I couldn’t speak Later MTL went and paid them more as he said if they didn’t let the room they would lose out. You see why it is such a special hotel and why we go back.

On Monday we saw our doctor with all the results. After scanning them he reassured us that all was well and we should carry on as normal. We decided to take it easy for a while and yet again have cancelled our trip to see my younger son this week-end. In to every life a little rain must fall, and we are thankful for the kindness of strangers and our good fortune.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We’re Off!

Fare thee well, for I must leave thee

Do not let this parting grieve thee. Anon

Parting is all we know of heaven,

And all we need of hell. Emily Dickinson

Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow

That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow. William Shakespeare

If we do meet again, why, we shall smile!

If not, why then, this parting was well made. William Shakespeare


Just for a few days we are going to our favourite hotel (at time of going to press) for a welcome break. It would be lovely if the weather were fine and I could do more of the Tarka trail, so fingers crossed. Back on Wednesday. P’raps.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Great Phil Harris. MTL remembered. I can't fine 'Woodman spare that tree.' but this illustrates his thing.

The Axe –man cometh.

Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot:
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!


The song above was written in the eighteen thirties but was revamped years later and was spoke/ sung by a chap with a dry, laconic voice which was mesmerising. I hoped to find it on You Tube. Does anyone remember it?

For the last two days our peaceful little lane has been shattered by ear-splitting noise pollution. The first sign of a clear day, and all the lawn mowers and hedge cutters start their monotonous cacophony, which builds up to a horrendous crescendo when the tree trimmers join in. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any louder the machine that devours the branches starts up. I guess part of me is relieved as the tree overlooking our garden looked pretty scary during the gales we have had recently. Not a day for my PCAs I think. See pics below.

Our vis a vis has his trees lopped

I have only just finished cleaaring last year's leaves.
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View from guest room balcony

Branch devourer

Finished product
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Monday, April 14, 2008

Pride goes…

Story contd

Now that both boys had left home (the younger got a job and a flat in the town) we both became very busy trying to fill the gaping hole we felt in our lives. William’s brother had got his own boat and was happy for William to crew for him and I spent most of my free time at the theatre club. Some time ago I had done a club production of ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ which was a great success and now the committee asked me to do a public production which would be performed at the Oast Theatre and be a more ambitious show.

The play is a famous, shocking, black comedy by Edward Albee. It is a four hander and requires very strong actors – especially George and his wife Martha. It is set in an American campus and the main theme is the love-hate relationship between George and Martha. There are savage verbal attacks against each other and the two younger ones.

When I first produced it I was asked if I had based the interpretation on ‘Games people play’. In fact I understood the whole spirit of the play without any aid from books and derived great satisfaction in seeing such feelings and emotions put into such telling dialogue. I suppose it was a kind of therapy. I was lucky that the actors realised the importance of the rhythm and flow, and it was great to see audiences in thrall and hanging on Albee’s words.

“Separate Tables” ” The Deep Blue Sea!” and “Restoration Riot” were also productions I was proud of. My favourite acting role was Beattie in Arnold Wesker’s “Roots”. Beattie was a simple Norfolk girl who left home and met Ronnie, who fell in love with her and tried to infuse some aspirations in her bucolic complacence - to no effect apparently. The irony is that just as she gets the message and even tries to convert her lumpen family, she gets a real message from Ronnie - dumping her.

I got great notices for these and then it all went horribly wrong and I got my come-uppance. It all started with the best of intentions. One of the actresses – who was also a friend – was heartily sick of character parts and longed for something more dramatic. I discovered a new play about a well- to-do family and the king pin was the part I thought would be right for Anona. I asked her to read for it, which she did. She effortlessly exuded class - which was essential for the play and I told her the part was hers and she seemed very pleased.

The rest of the actors were experienced and I felt we had a good team with a new set designer who had done some great drawings of a large old fashioned kitchen, full of family memorabilia and stuffed birds. The first snag I hit was when I tried to soften Anona’s appearance, which was a bit school- marmy. She needed to have a less severe hair style but when I suggested having a little cut off so it could be loose and pretty, she dug her heels in. I decide not to press the point and concentrate on the acting, but I soon realised that she was suffering a confidence crisis and that I would have to do everything I could to boost this.

I loved the play and the rest of the cast were steadily building a team spirit, but I felt I was walking on egg- shells with Anona and was nervous of giving her any direction. I couldn’t understand what was happening; we had been good friends for years and I was desperate to help her enjoy what could have been a great performance. Meanwhile the set designer had gone completely mad and filled the stage with wonderful nostalgic furniture and bits and pieces - all of them worthy of a show case for themselves - the only thing was -there wasn’t room for the rest of the cast. I had to rein him in quite forcibly. Fortunately he took it in good part but I had to check each night that he hadn’t sneaked something else back on the set.

On the day of the dress rehearsal I got a phone call to say Anona was ill and wouldn’t be able to come to the rehearsal, and it looked unlikely she would be better for the performance. Bloody ‘ell!

I did what I usually did in a crisis and got on the phone to my friend and mentor Julia. Not only was she a published writer and playwright she was also an excellent actress. There was no time for her to learn the part but she had the aplomb to read it, so cleverly, that after a few minutes the audience wouldn’t notice the book. Some time later I was able to return the compliment.

During the dress rehearsal everybody concentrated on making things as easy as possible for Julia and she really rose to the occasion – as I knew she would.

On the first night the theatre was full and we made a brief announcement to warn the audience. Julia was magnificent. She owned the stage and waltzed around it as if she knew the play backwards. The trouble was there was a lot of business and moves and I could sense the terror of the rest of the cast as they tried to sort themselves and their many props whilst this virago acted her heart out.

I think it must have been the fact that son # 1 was home for the week-end that I decided to have the end of show party on the Saturday night. A fatal mistake! We were all so unnerved - except Julia - that we all drank far too much and my second lead – Pamela – a new member, who I didn’t know very well, wasn’t used to drinking and through sheer nerves had drunk – not that much - but more than she was used to.

The next day – Sunday I got a phone call to say that she was ill and couldn’t make the performance. I rang the chairman and that was it. He and I greeted the would-be audience with the news that the play had been cancelled. My son said

“Next time Mum – I think it would be better to have the party on the last night.”

Thanks son!

Anona became very ill and I’m sure it was the onset of this that was the problem.

I decided I needed a rest from humans. Dumb animals were a much safer bet and I took up horse riding again
The set of 'Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?'
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I took up riding again

My favourite horses - Bridie in the foreground and Shane in the rear
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Friday, April 11, 2008

Brief encounter


We only part to meet again.

Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be

The faithful compass that still points to thee.

John Gay


When Lois Daniel took her creative writing classes she would give her students headings to inspire them to write their recollections and one of them dreamed up for herself ‘Brief encounters.’ This resonated with the period I am writing about at present in ‘Past Imperfect’.

It was holiday time and the shop had been crammed with mothers trying to kit their children out for next term. Finally I closed the shop for lunch and realised I was ten minutes late for my lunch appointment with my friend Doreen who had a very short fuse. I locked the shop door and gave it the obligatory three rattles to make sure I had locked it properly (the shop was loaded with cash) and ran off down London Road. I had to get to a restaurant on the High Street so shot round the corner and ran full pelt into a man.

I lost my balance and he grabbed my arms. I hadn’t seen anyone quite like him in the town before; he looked like a diplomat; beautifully dressed and the sort of tan you get from living abroad. His hair was immaculate- silver at the temples - and his eyes were crinkled in a gentle smile and were dark blue.

He gazed down at me and said,

‘I’ve been looking for someone like you for the last ten years.’

I spluttered apologies and said I was very late and ran off absolutely certain I would see him again - perhaps after I had explained to Doreen. That took rather longer than expected and over lunch I told her what had happened and we speculated about what had happened ten years ago.

I looked and looked but I never saw him again.

How about you? Have you had any brief encounters?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Choo choo Party


Saturday - the day of the party - was bitterly cold and as we lined up on Minehead station lots of people were wearing anoraks, except yours truly. The one concession I made for the weather was smart black boots – comfortable – fortunately, as we stood quite a while waiting for our steam train. I should have got a superb photo as it chugged slowly towards us on the very long, flat approach, billowing clouds of steam, but the result is disappointing and my camera case seems to have got in the way.

It was good to see the birthday boy determined to give everybody a good time and I’m sure his late mother was looking on approvingly. Drinks were served on the platform and we were told the name of our carriage and our table numbers. Oddly the people we were sharing a table with were the very same we had shared a table with five years ago – and we hadn’t seen or spoken to them since. There were lots of camera enthusiasts so there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and shooting out of windows.

The train was warm and it was pleasant watching the changing scenery – at a sedate rate - whilst we were served a four course meal. Extraordinary to realise that our smartly dressed waiters were all volunteers as were all the staff except the catering manager. Our host has been a volunteer for over twenty years. It reminded me of when I was an occasional bar maid at our old Oast Theatre, where the odd person would treat you like the hired hand, so I remembered to be especially appreciative.

We reached our destination – Bishop’s Lydiard ( we long for the day when BL is linked up with Taunton) before dessert was served and were able to stretch our legs in the wintry sunshine. The train had travelled backwards, I was told, as the latest acquisition – a train turn-table - isn’t yet commissioned. MTL and I particularly enjoyed the trip as it brought back memories of taking all our ten grand-children on the train, when they came to stay, and the boys were smitten with Thomas the Tank engine.

On the way back everyone was in good spirits and it was fun to drift round and chat to people. Someone said the food was better than the Orient Express. The party was to continue the next day in a marquee in the garden opposite us and from the sound of it, went with a swing. We chickened out but as there were 64 guests, approx, we wouldn’t be missed.

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Watchet Marina - Williton below.

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Our Vis a Vis

Journey's End
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