As 2013 closes…

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I’m amazed that we’re actually looking at three more days before we’re into a new year.  It hardly seems possible that twelve whole months have gone.  This time last year I had five more months at work to complete before waving goodbye.  What lay beyond May 31st was totally unknown territory and quite exciting. Since I was 18 I’ve been at work and at one time for me there was nothing better than the world of work.  In the early days of my working life I looked forward to progressing up the ladder.  If I came to a stage where I found I wasn’t going anywhere, that what I was doing was not rewarding or stretching enough  I simply jumped ship and found another job.   Those were the days when you could walk out of a job one day and into another the next – something which does not happen anymore.  Years ago, for the average woman, work was seen as something they did before marriage and children came along.  Once the first baby was on the way they disappeared from the workplace only returning when their children had reached senior school age.  In the first company I worked for there were no women in senior management, in fact the most senior post a woman held there was Technical Librarian.  How things have changed – and for the better!

I have to say by the time I was looking at the end of my 9 – 5 working life I was glad to go.  I’d been unsettled for quite a time, wanting to become a full time writer but knowing the moment was not quite right for me to part company with my current employer.  When June 1st came it was like a breath of fresh air.  For the first time in my life I was answerable to only me.  No more meetings or deadlines or being the wind beneath other peoples’ wings (apologies to Bette Midler!).  No, now everything I did was for my benefit.  Since I’ve become a full time writer I have never felt happier.  I guess I always wanted to do this but my parents had more traditional ideas about where my future lay – secretarial job-meeting the man of my dreams-marriage and children.  And yet strangely I felt there had to be more than this.  I worked, OK I got married, but the children didn’t arrive .  So I studied instead, eventually moving from secretarial into management.  I’ve had some fabulous jobs and met totally amazing people over the years – some real characters.  And this must have been part of a grand master plan somewhere because if this had not happened I would not be able to write the way I do today.  I have to thank my time at work, the things that have happened and those I met for  my stories and character creating.  Yes my working life has been a strong influence on my writing.

I guess looking back on 2013 I also have memories of some wonderful holidays and breaks.  In February when we usually go down to Dartmouth to celebrate my husband’s birthday we decided instead to go to Oxford.  We had a wonderful four days;  an amazing city and a great boutique hotel – but it was SO cold!  I remember sitting in All Bar One on one particular morning with my hands around a large mug of hot chocolate wondering if the weather was ever going to get any warmer. In April we had a short break with friends in Chester.  The Cross Country train which takes you from Newport to Chester revealed some beautiful Welsh countryside with the hills still topped with snow.  Again we had fabulous hotel but the cold stayed with us.  We walked the city wall one morning and despite being well wrapped up I was absolutely freezing!

In May it was my turn for a birthday break and eight of us went down to Lynmouth.  A couple of years ago we found this wonderful 5* B & B called The Heatherville.  Richard and Kay who run it are such amazing people, nothing is too much trouble and the breakfasts are to die for!  Four of us went down on Friday with the remaining four due to arrive sometime after lunch on Saturday.  I remember coming down off Exmoor and taking the road along the East Lyn valley.  Hardly any of the trees were out as we had had such a cold spring and I remember wondering at the time whether there was ever going to be a summer in 2013.

On the Saturday morning we took the cliff railway up to Lynton and walked to the Valley of the Rocks.  More hot chocolate was needed by the time four rather wind battered walkers reached Mother Meldrum’s tea room.  Fully revived we then took the cliff path back to Lynmouth with gale force wind at our backs to help blow us back there – luckily we did not run into any goats!  The next morning (Sunday) after breakfast we all walked up the East Lyn to Watersmeet.  The river valley was sheltered, the sun was out and it felt much warmer – thankfully a happy ending to our long weekend.

June saw us in Kingsbridge at the Crabshell Quay apartments overlooking the estuary.  I love this place; we have been here many times.  Being beside the water is for me very restful and I took my laptop with the intention of catching up on my latest WIP in quieter moments.  When we arrived late afternoon on a damp and drizzly Saturday there was a music festival on.  We walked into town and booked a table in one of the restaurants then returned early to listen to the music before going in to eat.  Despite the unimpressive weather the place was packed and everyone was having a great time either joining in with the music or dancing.  There was a huge variety of really good music going on, from folk to rock plus food galore with stalls offering beer, wine, local cider and deli food.  There was even a converted Citroen HY van selling hot dogs.  The rest of the week I remember was pretty grey, although we did have a couple of days when the sun decided to put in an appearance – sadly not the June weather we’d been used to!

The jewel in the crown as far as holidays for 2013 were concerned was Lake Garda.  We returned to the Regina Adelaide Hotel after an absence of 12 years.  We weren’t sure whether this was a good move, after all things might have changed but we need not have worried.  It is an amazing place with a great welcome and fabulous food and eating breakfast outdoors on the hotel terrace was a great way to start the day. We had brilliant weather all week and visited several of the towns on the lake. Bardolino, within walking distance of Garda where we were staying, was one of my favourites as was Riva Del Garda at the very top of the lake.  We flew back to the UK feeling we’d had a wonderful week and we would definitely be back again.

In October a friend’s birthday had us bound for Bruges via the Eurostar.  The Pand, an amazing boutique hotel with champagne breakfasts set us up for walks about this beautiful city. We also  shopped and ate out at some amazing restaurants.  And then finally at the end of that same month we found ourselves in York, another fabulous city.  The apartments at The Laurence were a great find,  only a short case tow from the train station.  If you don’t want a hotel stay then these apartments are just right and only five minutes from the centre with its tourist attractions, shops and restaurants.  Despite some rain the weather was generally kind to us, making up for the horrendously cold months earlier in the year.  There had been quite a lot of rain prior to our arrival however and the River Ouse had burst its banks with the Fire Brigade on regular standby while we were there.

So where to next year?  Well, only two trips are planned at the moment.  We’re flying to Guernsey in March and have a week in Dartmouth booked for June.  As for anything else, well that’s still under investigation.

Now back to the end of the year. Have I made any New Year’s Resolutions?  Well no actually.  It’s dangerous to set in stone something that you may well drift off course with only weeks into the New Year.  So instead I’ve decided to keep positive, to coax off the unwanted pounds from Yuletide and get my latest novel The Other Side of Morning out for public view and purchase as soon as possible.  In the meantime while I’m awaiting final editorial scrutiny, I’m pushing on with my new WIP.  I’m 40,000 words in and currently on a roll, everything is falling into place very well.   Jane Dixon Smith my amazing cover designer is about to deliver another inspirational cover which will act as an incentive to keep writing as it did for The Other Side of Morning. So at the moment life is good and hopefully will get better as we launch into 2014.

Here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year and that 2014 brings you everything you hope for.  I’ll be back again next year!

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We’re Almost There…

My Book Covers2

Funny the title of this blog is also the title of a sixties song I remember by the late Andy Williams.  And we are of course, nearly at the Big Two Five.  Not sure if you’re all sorted present and food-wise but I always think by the time we’ve reached Christmas Eve what I haven’t got I won’t miss – and I have to say it usually works.

I’m on a tight time line tonight.  I’m planning to watch the second part of BBC1’s Great Train Robbery dramatization this evening.  Last night we saw it from the gang’s viewpoint and tonight is the turn of the police and the story of tracking them down.  I was a child when this robbery took place and nothing like it had ever happened.  £2.5 million was an amazing amount of money (£40 million in today’s terms apparently).  Of course when you live and event through the news it’s pretty one-dimensional.  It was only with the advent of films like Buster in the late eighties did we begin to get a feel of the more human side. In 2012 there was a really good drama – Mrs Biggs – which told the story of the robbery and its aftermath from Charmaine Biggs viewpoint.  And how spooky that the end of Ronnie Biggs’ life should coincide with the film being shown.

This week my writing has sort of skidded to a halt.  I’ve been dipping in and out of the draft and am currently working on Chapter Seven but have had so much else going on that the opportunity to sit for anything more than an hour in front of the PC screen hasn’t been possible.  There’s been lunch, a double dose of the dentists (hygienist plus dentist), food shopping and to eclipse all of that my OH has gone down with flu and has been pretty poorly.  I guess at the moment I don’t really have the drive I need to be getting on with it.  My current book is waiting on final editing and I think until this comes back and goes for publication I’m going to be distracted.  However, I have made progress from that daunting first blank screen so there is a positive vibe there!

This week has also been one of interruptions.  I had one phone call from a call centre informing me that I had money coming to me from an accident I’d had within the last three years.  Money waiting for me I was told.  You’ll be wanting my bank account details then?  Oh no, no they didn’t the woman back peddled furiously. ‘We just want to make sure it gets to its owner.’ she assured me.  The fact no one in this household has met with any accident was something she didn’t seem to be able to deal with. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked.  However when prompted by me for more detail she was not about to reveal exactly what sort of accident had taken place, who had been the victim and when it had actually happened.  Needless to say the phone went down pretty quickly.  Then this afternoon Talk Talk phoned.  I took the call because they are my phone and internet provider. First the girl at the call centre asked me if I’m happy with the service.  Well yes I am I told her although a reduction in the monthly cost would make me even more happier.  Well she said, ignoring my request, in appreciation of being a long-term customer they wanted to give me a viewing box – free!  So this really is the season of goodwill – people on the phone wanting to give me presents.  Only thing is we’re sorted for TV and don’t want this at all.  I tell them this so you would expect them to thank me and terminate the call wouldn’t you?  Oh no, I’m practically put in a verbal arm lock.  The parting shot was that I should think of the gift as something personal from her to me and Merry Christmas.  Some way of reducing my monthly bill for my loyalty would be even more appreciated I say again – obviously to deaf ears.  The phone went down again even as she was trying to find another reason to foist this box onto me!

I actually got into a face to face situation like this on Tuesday (it must be my week to be pounced on by these people).  I’m in town on my way to meet a friend for lunch.  A very pleasant individual whose badge declares he is Ryan, wearing a high viz vest for some or other charity and clutching a clipboard ambushes me as I’m walking through.  ‘Sorry,’ I tell him, ‘I’d love to stop but am on my way to lunch.’ That doesn’t cut it with him.  He starts to tell me about the charity he represents which works all over the world helping out in deprived areas. I’m edging away all the time but it seems he’s coming with me as if we’re tied by some invisible thread.  It struck me during the short conversation we had that these guys look very personable and innocent but boy are they primed well.  Every and I do mean EVERY answer you give is countered by something from them which is guaranteed to hold you there.  I usually ask them for information I can take away but of course this guy didn’t have that because they have to keep their costs down.  The crunch is he’s after money to support this charity, not just a couple of quid out of your pocket but a standing order for regular support and he thinks you’re going to be dim enough to sign up there and then and hand over your bank details.  In the end without being rude I turned the tables on him by saying it was nice talking to him but I was actually meeting someone and I was sure he wouldn’t want me to be late and keep them waiting.  Yes I really am polite aren’t I?

Woodborough SchoolSomething really interesting turned up on the net this week.  I was having a bit of a nostalgic moment and typed the name of my old junior school into the search engine.  Well, what a surprise.  I found they have a quite impressive website.  I also found a photo of the school.  No I’m not in it, it was taking way back in 1880 (a bit before my time).  But it was lovely to see the old building which hadn’t changed very much by the time I was being educated there.  Woodborough C of E Primary School is still very much attached to the church.  It has been extensively expanded over the years and bears no resemblance to the photo here.  Years ago most of the villages around were too small to have their own school and so Woodborough became the educational hub.  Where I grew up in nearby Beechingstoke we had no pub, no shop or post office – a farm, a church and three substantial houses which the few cottages surrounded and that was it!  We had two nearby stations within a 45 minute walk (before Dr Beeching of course) and the daily bus service ran to four trips a day into the nearby market town of Devizes.  So Woodborough which was around a twenty-minute cycle ride away was where us kids went.  In those days you could actually cycle to school unsupervised by an adult and be safe.  This makes me realise how much the world has changed.  What has also changed is the fact that we had three teachers in the school.  Miss Lloyd took the Infants, Mrs Stanton the Juniors, and Mr Turner the headmaster looked after the most senior pupils, guiding them through their 11+ examination year.  Now the school boasts 20 teachers and as I mentioned above the original building has been the subject of a huge number of extensions.

Sunday 22nd December, 2013

Well, I had every intention of completing this blog on Friday morning but that just did not happen.  Very much the road to  hell is paved with good intentions where I’m concerned. So here I am sitting in front of the PC on Sunday morning to finish off before we leave to lay wreaths, deliver presents to far-flung friends and meet in a local pub for lunch.  Blue skies today and a respite from all that rain and wind which according to the weather man will be back again tomorrow.  How I long for summer!

Since my original Thursday evening entry, my writing has picked up again – I should be wise to the fact by now that this will happen.  Anyway the story is now flowing onto the screen and going very well, I’m 32,000 words in and counting.

Oh and by the way, the Great Train Robbery two-parter was great!  Another example of how the BBC do drama so well!

Right that’s it, I’ll have to leave you now or I’ll never make the pub in time for lunch – table is booked for 1.15 and there’s a lot to do before then.  I will catch you all again before Christmas.  In the meantime have a good Sunday everyone.

It’s Friday and it’s wet…

My Book Covers1Yes I guess we’re being treated to the edge of the very blustery front which is currently snuggling up to North West England and Scotland.  It started off with a very light drizzle just before lunch and worked its way up to an incredibly black sky (cue lights on in house) and lashing rain against the windows.  Now it’s down to a few blustery showers but I guess it will soon decide it wants to be off elsewhere!

I’ve had a busy week.  Earlier on I posted about my Tuesday blood test (heavens did I really write about something so mundane?).  Wednesday saw me at lunch with my editor going over one or two things on my current to be published novel and discussing my new project – I’m actually on chapter six already and motoring – it’s going very well.  Then yesterday there was Winchester.

Now I absolutely love this place.  For me it’s on a parallel with Glastonbury.  Not that the two are anything alike.  Glastonbury is mystic, there is definitely something in the DSCF2855 (480x640)air there, besides the odd waft of wacky baccy.  It’s amazing to think that at one time Winchester was the capital city of England.  King Alfred still proudly stands on his plinth with sword aloft where the High Street and Eastgate Street meet although today he presides over traffic rather than troops.

We came for the Christmas Market and were not disappointed.  After a two hour journey (with a short comfort stop in Salisbury) taking in open countryside (the scenic route) we arrived just after eleven thirty and after a short wander returned to one of the local pubs for lunch (including that all important large glass of wine).  My Christmas shopping had already been done, this trip was essentially an opportunity to browse and maybe buy without the pressure or hassle of Christmas gift purchases.

DSCF2841 (480x640)After lunch I set off for the Great Hall where the Winchester King Arthur’s Round Table hangs.  I’d been here back in the summer but our stay had been short and I wasn’t able to visit.  This time, however, I wanted to get in a shot of THAT Round Table.  We arrived just after two only to find they were closing to set up for a carol service.  However the guide let me in and I took my pictures quickly and left.  Unfortunately I didn’t get close enough to achieve the shot I really wanted – either that or I’m a little ambitious regarding what my camera can or cannot do –  but never mind, we will be back and maybe it will be third time lucky!

Winchester is well laid out for shopping with everything fairly close, including the Cathedral where the Christmas Market was being held.  The venue was ideal, scoot down a small side road from the main drag and you are in the Cathedral precincts.  My home city of Bath has an excellent Christmas Market which is situated around the Abbey.  However, the geography of the city means browsers are also mingling with those who are merely walking on their way to somewhere else with no intention of looking at the market.  Now in one sense this is good as you trap all potential custom and maybe pull in people who would not otherwise have stopped.  However, from my past experiences, Bath Christmas market can be a real rugby scrum.  Winchester I have to say was a good deal quieter, although I read on line that the local paper had previously reported the city  inundated with traffic and coaches and querying how it would cope with the huge influx of people .  However on Thursday afternoon when we wandered there most of the crowds seemed to have moved on to the adjacent open air ice skating rink.  This was absolutely packed with all the hourly booking slots full right into the evening.

Winchester Christmas Market had the same format as Bath (I guess they all do) – chalet type wooden cabins and I would guess similar items on sale.  It had a designated food area with everything from assorted sausages (aren’t they always a favourite), burgers, mulled wine, cheese, roasted chestnuts, fudge and even candy floss (which is something I was never allowed as a child – what spoilsports parents can be!).  There was a trio of young women singing swing numbers which was very good and drew an interested crowd and then to one side accessed by a small flight of metal steps, a whole section given over to local artists.  Such a wonderful selection of glass, metal and wood items, knits, jewellery and ceramics.  I doubt if you were shopping for Christmas gifts you would have come away empty handed, there was something for everyone.

The pick up for the return journey home was at 4.30 just as the daylight was fading.  It’s a strange thing coach travel in the dark.  If you’re in a car at least you can see the road ahead and get some indication of location and direction.  On a coach six seats from the rear, however, everything goes by in a dark blur.  It also has the habit of making you feel sleepy although maybe the fact we’d waited for an hour in the pub drinking more white wine may have had something to do with it!

So to anyone within striking distance of Winchester before 22nd December, please do make that trip and take a look.  You won’t  be disappointed.

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Oh and that rain?  Well it’s gone and left us with this:

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A Day in the Life…

This morning I had a 9.20 am appointment for my annual fasting blood test at our GP’s surgery. Back in August I’d been required to attend for a separate blood test and the nurse decided she could do the December test earlier and I would not be required to come in at the end of the year.  Therefore when I received a request in the post to make an appointment I called the receptionist to explain what had happened in August and she said she would let the nurse know.  The next thing  I received a posted compliment slip from my doctor saying yes actually I did need to make an appointment.  You can imagine therefore when I got to the surgery this morning and the nurse called me in (not the one I’d seen in August), stared at her screen and then asked me why I was there I was not particularly amused.  I did actually have my blood pressure taken which I was told was fine – surprisingly I thought after feeling rather hacked off at having to trek into town for nothing,  Then on checking the screen she decided oh yes I needed a follow up test for one of the August results.  I presented my arm, blood was taken, a plaster stuck on and I departed. Years ago my arm warranted a proper plaster, today I received small pad of cotton wool and a sort of material based cellotape which it seems I’m allergic to as now it’s off I’ve a red rash on my arm! Cue another doctor’s appointment! Argh!

Changing the subject to all things gastro (one of my favourite topics), Tuesday for us means lunch out.  Always something to look forward to with the huge variety of excellent pubs around.  Today we decided on the New Inn at Lower Westwood just outside Bradford-on-Avon.  The food is good and it’s very friendly – they’ve a lovely Border Collie too, a real character!  Today surprisingly when we arrived there were no Christmas party lunches going on as in some of the local pubs.  Nevertheless the place was quite busy and there were a few local drinkers at the bar but plenty of spare tables meaning I need not 58215679have bothered to book- never mind, no doubt if I had not the place would have been full – life’s like that!  Anyway the meal as always was great but not too overpowering – nothing’s worse than eating lunch and feeling overstuffed – they have the balance just right!  The New Inn was one of our regular watering holes in the 1980’s and is now completely changed, both bar and lounge having been knocked through into one big room.  It’s a very old pub with a lot of history, beams and oak and flagstone floors.  We had the benefit of a real blazing log fire too – much better than the pretend gas ones – and more in keeping with the tradition of such an old pub.

As we were eating  I was remembering back in December 1981 that I’d organised a Christmas meal for the girls in my department.  We were booked at a local steak house and I’d gone home, had a bath and was getting ready when the phone rang.  It was the steak house to say our table had been cancelled because of the weather.  Weather?  What weather? I’d walked home on a dry dark evening only two hours img035ago, what was she talking about?  When I got to the front door and pulled it open I found myself looking at around three inches of snow!  I couldn’t believe that had happened in such a short time.  The steak house was about five miles away and tucked into the side of a hill. There was quite a stiff wind and they were almost snowed in already!  Anyway I rang round and told everyone sadly the evening was cancelled but one of the girls whose husband ran a small holding was determined we’d have our night out and picked us all up in their Land Rover.  We ended up in The New Inn, which was her local, and had a great evening.  That was the year of all the snow over Christmas and the New Year and freezing cold temperatures.  I remember a water main bursting in the next road and the water freezing as it came out of the pipe and hit the road.  Boy was that was extreme weather, don’t think we’ve had anything quite as cold or lasting so long since.

Anyway back to the present.  Returning home from lunch this afternoon we parked up and walked down to our local garden centre organise a Christmas tree.  It was fairly busy and overrun with trees so fairly easy to find what we wanted and have it netted for us to make it easier to carry home.  It’s now resting at the rear of the house and decoration will commence tomorrow evening once my OH has retrieved the decorations from the loft!  I do love Christmas but I don’t love the crush in the shops. So much energy and stress for two days!   In my organised world I like to get things done as early as I can and then sit back.  I’ve one last gift to purchase and hope to get this on Thursday when I’m off to Winchester Christmas Market with one of my girl friends.  Of course as always it’s all about having a browse and a girlie lunch with lots of wine (we’re going by coach so no driving!).  The market is in the grounds of the Cathedral and there’s an ice rink there too – not that we’ll be giving that a go after our liquid lunch – far too dangerous!I also hope to get up to the top of the city to see The Round Table in the Great Hall.  I missed out when we were there back in the summer as we ran out of time, but this time it’s going to very much be a must see and a photographing opportunity.

And now I must get back to my writing.  My sixth novel already 12,00o words in and going well.  Every time I get in front of the computer to continue the story I realise how very lucky I am.  Writing is my one great love (next to my OH of course) and I’ve now been able to finish work and concentrate on it full time which is amazing!  I don’t miss my old nine to five at all and only wish I’d given it up long ago.  Speak to you all again soon!