Monday, 28 December 2009

Bringing my house to life again

Thank goodness my house is alive again. Not that it was really dead - just in a kind of semi coma for a few days.
During the week before Christmas, none of my adult children were in residence,and Retreats for you had no guests. Bob and I were madly busy making and wrapping presents, and we both had bits of work to finish up before the holiday season - but those activities took up only a fraction of this rambling old house. I took my laptop into the kitchen and worked by the Rayburn, and in the evenings, Bob and I ate in the kitchen - and spent the evening there too. We were warm in there, and there seemed little point in heating the rest of the house.
Occasionally, as I whizzed through the gloomy sitting room and the deserted dining room, I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature. And as I whisked into the tv room one evening in search of a spare lightbulb, I felt a strange pull as I closed the door behind me. Almost as if it were pleading with me not to go. Big old houses don't like being empty, I thought. They need people, and warmth and life.
Three days before Christmas, two of the children arrived. One for a brief visit and one for the Christmas break. The walls of the house seemed to curve slightly, as the central heating cranked into gear and lamps flickered alight. Bob stacked logs into the huge fireplace, and the soft glow of the flames bathed the room in gold. Delicious cooking smells wafted gently from the kitchen, and noise and laughter echoed around the walls. Warmth and companionship filled the house again, and I could feel it start to relax around me.
Christmas came and went, as did the children - only to be replaced by guests. Retreats for you is buzzing again. And the house loves it.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Making Christmas great

Everyone's in the same boat, I'm told. Nobody, but nobody has any money this year. To clarify, we are all skint. So all the people milling in and out of shops in various high streets across the land must be spending money they haven't got then. Far be it from me to pontificate on other people's finances, but I decided that to make things easier for us this year, I would impose a ban on myself - from visiting any kind of shopping area. This is actually easier than it sounds, since the only shop within several miles is of the village store variety. A great little place but mostly stocked with food items, so unlikely to tempt me when it comes to presents.
Accordingly, we have taken a brisk trip down the home made present road, and the result, I have to say, has been deeply satisfying. Home made wine, jam and biscuits, all gussied up with pretty labels, ribbons and boxes, each a tasty reminder that lovely presents don't have to cost loads, or require an exhausting process of battling hordes of tired stressed fellow shoppers.
The tree is up, the presents and home made cards wrapped and delivered, and yes we are ready for Christmas. And while I'm on the subject of being ready for Christmas, I reckon I'm also ready for the aftermath of this one day. Which of course is the rest of the year, and the nice shiny new one waiting for us. It's going to be great.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Aren't we all put on this earth to look after each other? Isn't that the way it's supposed to work? It seems sensible to me - and it also seems to me that the world is divided - into those who do and those who don't.
We hear terrible stories on the news of someone being beaten senseless in full view of a crowd of people. Or a girl being dragged by her partner screaming through a crowded precinct, while shoppers stand and stare. But last time we witnessed a clearly violent man bullying his partner outside a pub, my own partner was only prevented from stepping in by the fact that three other people had got there first. One of them a woman. And when I saw a young girl go into an epileptic fit in the street, she and her carers were immediately surrounded by offers of help, phones and blankets.
There are those who instinctively help and protect their fellow man in this world and those who don't. But I prefer to think there are more of the former.

Monday, 16 November 2009

It's so easy to be sucked into that 'what do you expect at my age?' nonsense. The assumptions by condescending medical staff that if you're over 45 you must be on some kind of medication. The temptation to blame any kind of ache and pain on your advancing age, and worst of all the insiduous and extremely creepy sensation that you are slightly less important than someone twenty years younger.
However, you may or may not be glad to know that I have resisted all this, and am very happy to say bollocks to it all. Personally I intend to remain fit healthy active and presentable until I am ready to turn up my toes - which I shall do with grace and style. And looking around me at people two decades younger, I'd rather, dare I say it, look and feel like me at my age, than them at theirs.
Age rage? Too right.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Scamming the scammer

If the working day drags a bit, why not take a leaf out of my book, and, instead of cursing the scammers, have a bit of fun with them. Sadly, this one didn't go as far as I would have liked - I planned a lot more correspondence with this would be Russian agent. But as you see, our cosy chat came to an abrupt end. I haven't given up though - I'll be emailing him on a daily basis from now on....

----- Original Message -----
From: "TOM WEST"
Sent: Thursday, November 05, 2009 9:17 AM

How are you today?
I want to make a reservation in your facility for 2 couples from
on there forth-coming honeymoon.
Date :20th to 30th January, 2010.
There are 2 couples.
1. Kindly get back to me with your total cost for 2
couples for the duration of 10 nights stay.
2. So that i can send you my credit card for immediate
Arrival Date: January 20th
Departure Date: January 30th
Number Of People: 4
Number Of Room :2
Kindest Regards

On 11/5/09, Deborah Dooley wrote:

Hello Tom, how nice to hear from you. Yes, those dates are fine. Our
are £500 per person, per night (to include champagne in the rooms), and
would ask you for a deposit of 20%. If this is acceptable, please send
your credit card details and I will make the booking.
all best
The proprieter

----- Original Message -----
From: "TOM WEST"
To: "Deborah Dooley"
Sent: Friday, November 06, 2009 4:23 AM
Subject: UPDATE
Good day,
Thanks for your reply. I am glad to tell you that cost and conditions
of your offer are acceptable by My Friends and such, they are willing
to make a deposit payment immediately. Due to there acceptance of your
offer, I have concluded payment with them also.
I have been instructed to pay you for your services and provision of a
language translator whom would be able to translate every word to them
because they are Russians and do not speak your local language.I have
arranged this with a linguist who is willing to undertake these
responsibilities on their behalf. He would be with them throughout
their stay with you.I will send you my credit card details once I
receive your confirmation email so that you would charge as
agreed/authorized by my Friends.

However upon the receipt of my credit card, confirm you will charge as
follows:Take 50% for the cost of your services plus 7500euros for the
Translator who will also take care of their travel logistics like
insurance,ticketing etc.Then, deduct your deposit and send the balance
of 7500euros to the Translator.I really need you to make the charges
for the Translator as she does not have a POS machines to process her
charge and such all money for the tour has been credited to a credit
card.So kindly Confirm this and provide me with the following

Your Company full name/address
Name of the Manager/Owner
Telephone and fax numbers
Looking forward to your reply.

On 11/6/09, Deborah Dooley wrote:

Dear Tom, that's all fine, but how can I send the money to the
In cash, or by cheque?
And will he or she need a room here too?
all best
The proprietor


Thanks for the email please confirm below the translator also will
need a room and his funds will be wired to his account.i will send you
my credit card details to process on the reciept of the total i have
outlined below. I will send you bank details of were to transfer the
funds to the translator when you have charged the card . I will pay
for the charges of the 7500euros so please so confirm to me below.

1.Cost of your service = 50%
2.Translator Fees = 7500euros card fee = ?

I await the total in other to send you my card details now
Tom West

----- Original Message -----
From: "Deborah Dooley"
Sent: Sunday, November 08, 2009 12:23 PM

Dear Tom, thankyou so much for your reply. But I still don't understand
how I will get the money to the translator. Could you please clarify?
all best
The proprietor

On 11/9/09, Deborah Dooley wrote:

Tom, did you get my email below? I'm waiting to hear more details on how I
could transfer money to the translator? Or, maybe if he/she is coming to
stay here too, he/she can just collect it on arrival.
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.
all best

----- Original Message ----- From: "TOM WEST"
To: "Deborah Dooley"

: Monday, November 09, 2009 2:06 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: CONFIRM THIS

Hello Deb,
I tolsd you i will send his bank details for you to make the wire to
him to enable him book for there flights before then. Please send me
your number to call you and advise you my card details to process.


On 11/9/09, Deborah Dooley wrote:
Tom, one more thing - will the translator mind having a room with a single bed? I can reduce the price a little, but we only have a twin room left, so that's all I can offer him. And please advise me if any of the guests have particular dietary requirements. We can do most things, including vegetarian, vegan, Halal and kosher. Also, will they need collecting from the train station (included in the price.)
I look forward to hearing from you.
all best
The proprietor.

----- Original Message -----
To: Deborah Dooley
Sent: Monday, November 09, 2009 2:58 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: CONFIRM THIS

Hello Deborah,

Thanks for the mail, they are no need for dietary is okay. please make availabel the room for the translator and add it to the total bill to charge. They will be picked up at the train station also include the bill.

I thinbk i have answered all question please prepare the bill including the 7500euros for the translator and send to me now with your number for me to advise my card details.

Thank You

On 11/9/09, Deborah Dooley wrote:
Tom, that's all marvellous. One last question - you do realise that this is a naturist establishment? Accordingly we do require all guests to be naked. There are facilities for disrobing at the front door, the house is very well heated - and of course we are naked too, so no need for embarrassment!
If you could just confirm that's all ok, I'll go ahead and send you the number.
Have a good afternoon.
all best
The proprietor.


Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Nosey - good or bad?

I fear I may be suffering from small village-itis. (SV)Symptoms are a keen interest in the activities of one's neighbours - often to an unhealthy degree, a heightened awareness of anything even slightly out of the ordinary, and the ability of listen to more than one conversation at a time. Admittedly, I am self diagnosed, and have no confirmation from a qualified expert, but all the signs are there, and I can't help being worried.
Yesterday I was in the village shop, keen to collect my weekly veg box (brimming with veg from a local farm, all lovely and fresh out of the ground and covered in proper earth and everything). While I was waiting for the very elderly Mrs Heard to complete her purchases and finish discussing the relative benefits of gravy granules versus gravy powder, with the endlessly patient Roy, who was serving that day, I chatted with Arnie, from up the road. He was interested in my plan for the large green cabbage sitting plumply on top of my veg box.
'Let's see, I mused. 'I'll probably stir fry some of it tonight, in olive oil, with a few pumpkin seeds and a bit of Tamari.' Arnie frowned. 'Soy sauce,' I added helpfully. His expression cleared and he launched into a joyful reminiscence of his mother's bacon and cabbage, embellished with a rather lovely description of the pinnie she always wore when cooking. I rather enjoyed this mini trip down memory lane, but while it was going on, Anne, from round the corner popped in, closely followed by Lynette, from the other side of the square. They were talking earnestly about a planning contravention by a well known local resident. Fascinating stuff which made one of my ears lean well towards them, so that I wouldn't miss a syllable. In the meantime, Arnie and I had completed his journey into the past, and Arnie had nipped in front of me and asked for a quarter pound of boiled sweets. While they were being weighed up, I got the gist of the planning scandal -and also earwigged a couple of kids chattering just outside the open door of the shop.
'He had a right go at me,' said one. 'Silly old goat,' said the other. 'It's only a stupid car, after all. And you could hardly see the dent.' I had a pretty fair idea who they were talking about, and when I finally got served, Roy was able to confirm it.
So you can see that at that point I was already displaying classic symptoms of SV. But then, this morning, i behaved in a way that really has left me in no doubt at all that I have a full blown case. Every Monday to Friday, as my running mate and I pound our way back into the village square, several miles of countryside under our belts (OK, 3-4), we see one of the local chaps getting into his car and departing for work. 'Morning girls,' he cries, and gives us a cheery wave. 'Morning!' we reply, cheerily waving.
Anyway, this morning, no sign. Nothing. His car was still parked outside his house, and his curtains still drawn.
Mindful of the fact that he lives alone and is not in the first flush of youth, I found this strange.
'I expect it's his day off,' said Bob. 'But supposing he's lying unconscious,' I worried. Eventually, half an hour later, I could bear it no longer. I strode across to his house, and knocked loudly on the door. No answer. Panic rose within me. Clearly I would have to kick the door in - or rather Bob would have to. I knocked again - nay, pounded on the door, in a last attempt to evoke some sign of life, before I raised the alarm. There was a scuffle behind the door, and a bleary eyed person clad in a bathrobe opened the door. He blinked at me. 'Are you alright?' I asked anxiously. He stared at me. 'You woke me up,' he said sadly. 'It's my day off.'

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009
A place to go
When I was a little girl, I often used to pack a small rucksack with rug, book and apples, and carefully climb halfway up an old oak tree close to our house. I'd swing myself across onto a high wall running close to the house, and jump down onto the small section of flat roof above the utility room. It was flanked on each side by steep sloping roofs and there, in complete seclusion, I'd curl up on my rug, read my book, munch my apples and dream the summer afternoons away. Occasionally listening with some satisfaction to adults shouting my name in exasperated tones. Luckily my family were the type to shrug their shoulders when a child was missing for a few hours, rather than alert the authorities. And when I emerged, dozy eyed and flushed with sun, the answer 'nowhere really' always seemed to satisfy questions on my whereabouts.
In the winter, I scaled a high bookshelf in a little used end room in our rambly old Elizabethan house, prising open the 'secret' doors, which looked as if they were part of the panelling, and slid into the ancient hayloft, now dark and musty with years of dirt and cobwebs. But I didn't mind. A torch, a blanket and some cushions created a nest that endlessly beckoned me, and a haven that soothed, when my childhood world became uncertain and full of anxiety.
Everyone needs a place to go. A comfy windowseat with a view, a bed made plump and inviting with cushions and throws, or a well arranged study with a solid wooden door that firmly rejects the world beyond.
The other day I spent a couple of nights staying with friends, in their new spare room. A shepherds hut. Based on the traditional shepherds huts used for centuries in rural England, it is beautifully made, and about the size of a small caravan, on wheels. Its clean lines show off diligent craftsmanship, and create a cosy, light and draught free space, for spare room, study or children's den. A delight to be in, and, teamed with white cotton bedlinen, a recipe for the kind of sleep one usually says farewell to around the age of nine. The kind babies enjoy.
As I left, the son of the family confided that my room was actually his special place. I could see why he was so pleased to get it back.

Monday, 19 October 2009

My book

I started it with such enthusiasm and excitement. I could hardly wait to begin tapping away at my keyboard, watching in fascination as my new novel really did write itself. Characters took shape, personalities developed - often suprising me, sometimes horrifying me - and situations evolved, all coming together in a lifelike entity that, at times, seemed to have a life of its own. I wrote chapter after chapter, often hardly able to tear myself away from the creation that was so effortlessly taking shape. I called it Irish coffee.
And then, somewhere around the 5o,000 word mark, I lost momentum. An urgent and well paid commission distracted me from a planned novel writing session. A family crisis diverted my attention for a few weeks - in short, life got in the way. I know that many people will say that writer should have the passion and comittment to find to the time and energy to write what they love. But I do love my novel - even though I haven't been near it for over a year. Maybe I should get up at five am and write before the day starts proper. Or perhaps burn the midnight oil. I'd like to, but I get up early anyway, and I need lots of sleep - or I'm proper grumpy.
But it's still there - tucked up cosily in the deepest recesses of my computer. And I still love it. And one day I'll do the next 50,000 words, and finish it.

Friday, 16 October 2009

wheels go round

I have rediscovered cycling - with the aid of a £10 second hand bright red mountain bike, purchased from a local market. And I love it. How could I have forgotten how much fun it is to pump those pedals until your heart is also pumping, determined to get to the top of a particularly stubborn hill (there's a lot of them around us), clunking the gears gradually until they're all used up. And the feeling of huge exhiliration as you crest the hill, and finally stop pedalling as the downward gradient carries you along - faster and faster. Personally I like to scream a bit at this point. The few fellow cyclists I encounter seem to find this amusing....
Now that cycling and I have found each other again, our love affair is deep and intense. Nothing will part us again, and although Thelma, my bike is past her prime, this is no way detracts from her loveliness and her dedication to the art of two wheels going around and around. She's gorgeous. Solid, strong and dependable. Like me.
Now I am keen to open the doors of Retreats for you to other lovers of two wheeled beauties. So that we can share the joy. With this in mind, and also the fact that we are mid point on the wellknown cycle route, The Western Way, I have posted Retreats for you as likely cyclists accommodation on

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Proud proud proud

I feel as if I've given birth. Very happy and hugely proud.
The name of my new baby is 'How to survive the great recession. A resilient response,' by Dr Ed Deevy, a writer from Ireland.
Ed has made the trip from Dublin to stay at Retreats for you twice, the second time in order to concentrate fully on the final draft of 'How to survive the great recession.' Every day he rose early, put in a full day's work on the book - making sure he sensibly took time out for a walk and a breath of Devon air at lunchtime, and was always excellent company at dinner. His charming anecdotes and wealth of experience provided endless entertainment for us and other guests, and we were sorry to see him go at the end of the week.
And a few days ago, we were thrilled and delighted to receive a copy of 'How to survive the great recession' in the post. It's an extraordinarily positive and intensely practical book, which can't fail to provide inspiration and optimism to sustain us all until things get better and brighter. As they surely will.
I'm hugely flattered that Ed asked me to be one of the guest contributors to the book, and that my contribution on ways to maintain equilibrium when times are tough is now in print. And I'm enormously proud that 'How to survive the great recession' was born at Retreats for you.
A champagne occasion if ever there was one.
Cheers, Ed. Or rather, Slainte!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Couples retreat

You'll never know who thought of it first - Retreats for you, or the nice people bringing out the film, to be released on Friday. No matter - it's a great concept, and it's here at Retreats for you.
Couples retreat - the perfect pampering package for couples who need to get away from everything and focus on each other. And to be honest, quite often that's enough to heal an ailing relationship. Yes really. A couple going through a rocky patch may well not need counselling or therapy. A goodly dose of TLC - good food, good wine and comfortable surroundings with plenty of privacy, may be all that's required. A chance to rebond and rebuild their relationship while snuggling by a blazing fire, enjoying candlelit dinners and strolling through beautiful countryside.
And if a sympathetic ear's required - hey, I'm here. 21 years of mostly happy marriage must make me some kind of authority on the subject. Couples retreat. At a cinema near you from Friday, and Retreats for You right now.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


When the charming Judi Spiers asked me what we at 'Retreats for you' mean by the word retreat, I must admit that I hesitated for a second. Then I remember that long pauses don't work well on live radio, and quickly launched into my own interpretation of the word.
The freedom to concentrate on whatever you need to - whether it's writing, painting, reading, or just spending some time alone with your thoughts. The space to spend your time as you choose, with all the encouragement and support you require. An atmosphere of friendly welcome, and also a complete lack of pressure to socialise and converse, should you not want to. A place of safety. Plenty of good food, and no cooking or clearing up. A feeling of being nurtured and looked after.
That's what the word retreat means to us. If it means anything else to someone reading this blog, I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Sometimes the phrase 'everything happens for a reason', feels especially pertinent.I recently wrote a piece on how we all need to slow down. It covered the whole business of frantically needing to cram more and more into our days -and feeling guilty if we dare to take a breather. Of course it's good - and healthy - to be busy. But it's also vital to take time out for ourselves and not feel guilty about it. As I wrote, I remembered a conversation I'd had with my daughter Flo, when she was last home for a couple of days. We'd planned to spend a girly evening together, drinking Lambrini (secret vice - oh dear, the secret's out), giggling, eating sushi, which both us adore, and watching Mamma Mia (again). When I proceeded to drag out the ironing board, thinking I could multitask during the evening, I was met with a look of acute disappointment.'Why do you always have to be DOING something?' asked my lovely and sensible daughter. 'Put the bloody ironing away, and just come and hang out with me.' Needless to say I saw her point. A lesson learned - and reinforced when, a couple of days later I did an interview on how 'Retreats for you' came into being, for Radio Devon. The presenter, Judi Spiers was a delightful host, and the interview went swimmingly, until she asked me 'And do you ever go away on retreat yourself? You know, to recharge your batteries.' I think I winged it pretty well, and came up with a reasonable answer, but in fact the thought had never occurred to me. Now however, the idea was well and truly planted. Practise what you preach, I told myself sternly.Yesterday was a glorious warm sunny day. It was Flo's day off, and I drove into Exeter to meet her. By 9.30 am we were drinking frothy coffee in a little cafe down by the quay. I blinked into the bright sunshine, and watched the ducks cavorting on the water. 'I feel like I'm on holiday', I said. After a morning of light shopping, we picknicked on the Cathedral green, along with lots of office workers and students, the girls dressed in brightly coloured tops and dresses. Everyone was smiling in the sunshine. We talked and ate and relaxed, and then we shopped a little more.Eventually we wandered home, to find somebody else making dinner. It had been utterly delightful. And there was no guilt.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Yesterday was a perfect day, spent at the beach with family and friends in the sunshine. Along with a ton of fresh mussels, which we doused in wine and garlic and cooked up on the fire, in a huge cast iron saucepan. Said mussels combine perfectly with french bread and more wine - this time in a glass, and contributed hugely to enormous feelings of completeness.
Mental note to self to take next group of writers on a beach/mussel supper outing. Varied surroundings v good for creativity.
I think that when I am 109 or thereabouts and have finally tired of running about on this earthly plane, I will cast a benevolent eye over my life and see many snapshots of happiness. Yesterday will be one of them.

Monday, 21 September 2009

It was dark at 6.30 this morning as my fellow runner and I started reluctantly on our daily brain rattling, teeth shaking, boob joggling jaunt around the country lanes of rural Devon. We chatted to each other as we ran, and tried, as we always do, to forget the fact that our spouses were still tucked up cosily under the duvet - and the fact that, were it not for our devotion to the temples at which we worship daily (ie, our bodies), we would be snuggled up beside them.
Gamely we chatted as we pounded on and on, grimly ascending the hills, (of which there are many), seizing brief respite as we descended said hills, and desperately flashing our torches at one or two oncoming tractors intent on squashing us. (You can imagine the casual post mortems, held in local pubs. Well, ers shouldna' bin out at that time, runnin' round. Ah wouldn' let mah missis. Would 'ee?')
As we jogged up the final brutal ascent, two or three cars passed us, carrying locals on their way to work. Hearing them before we saw them, my brave jogging pal and I automatically straightened hunched shoulders, tensed flagging leg muscles, flung our heads back and pasted bright smiles on our faces - not forgetting to swiftly swipe a sweaty sleeve over our equally sweaty faces. Waving merrily, as they passed, we continued the enjoying the run charade until we reached the summit - and thankfully the end of the run.
I'd love to say that at this point, the adrenalin rush so apparently beloved by runners, (lies lies) finally took hold, and in a burst of endorphins, we strode glowing into our respective houses, ready to take on the day and all that it could fling at us. Sadly the reality was that our main feeling was one of relief that the entire bloody business was over - at least until tomorrow. There is a bit of a glow, however - of smugness. And I'm happy to report that it lasts all day...

Monday, 14 September 2009

I sometimes tire of the media's endless fascination with women's breasts. Helen Mirren's, gorgeously statuesque in THAT bikini, Ulrika's baggily adroop (thank heavens she's now had corrective surgery, and thanks too to OK magazine for giving us such a comprehensive photographic record of the results). And what one tabloid newspaper so charmingly referred to as Keira Knightly's 'fleabites'. Hard to know which is the greatest crime in celeb world. Too big, too small - or simply too saggy.
But of course breasts are very noticeable. Even covered up they are undeniably and obviously there. Unlike male sexual characteristics, which tend to be discreetly tucked away, for the most part.
This makes me wonder if one way of making sure male sexuality gets a fair look in when it comes to media scrutiny would be for men to put a little more of themselves on show. Nothing too obvious, you understand. Cut away jeans revealing a provocative hint of scrotum perhaps. Or a cheeky glimpse of foreskin.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Real life in the country

All freelance journos draw on their own lives for feature fodder now and again. Lets face it, when times are hard, it's a relatively easy source of ideas, and I've written about my husband, my kids and myself, in a pretty personal way.
Liz Jones takes this idea to a whole new level. In her strangely parallel universe - even for a daily mail feature columnist, no depths remain unplumbed, and no line uncrossed. We haven't yet been privy to the frequency with which she masturbates - but I have no doubt that day will come.
More disturbing however, than her regular bleatings about herself and her few remaining friends, and even her constant, personal and vitriolic attacks on women with children, are her recent and venom coated rantings about her countryside neighbours. Most of which are, if not complete fabrication, heavily embroidered.
What complete bollocks she writes - if you can really dignify her ridiculous wittering with that description. I've lived in the west country for 15 years, and I've never noticed a particular problem with dental health. And what on earth is Illey coffee anyway?
'I long to be clean and warm again,' moans Liz - from her filthy cave on Exmoor? The woman lives in a huge great house - which presumably has heating and hot water.
I know, I know, Liz Jones is paid by the DM to be controversial. But this is just nonsense. Don't shoot at her house. But in the name of common sense and half decent journalism, don't, for God's sake buy her book.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What is it with the shiny eyes? Up until about ten years ago, I prided myself on how rarely I gave in to tears. I scorned those who dissolved rather obviously into moistness at the merest hint of sentimentality, feeling that my rather tougher stance gave me the edge when it came to dealing with LIFE.
Now however, I find that a lumpy throat is almost part of daily LIFE. I don't think there's any more to cry about than there used to be -but good heavens, these days, the sight of a small child being cuddled by its large male parent is enough to provoke said lumpiness. And last Saturday when my gorgeous nephew married his beautiful girlfriend, surrounded by adoring family and friends, my supposedly waterproof mascara was thoroughly tested (and failed.) So is it an age thing? Are my hormones letting me down - or mucking me up?
Interestingly though, I find the whole filling up experience not unpleasant. It's sort of sweetly liberating. So much so that when a particularly moving advert came on the tv last night, and my eyes got really shiny, I allowed them to spill over - and rather wallowed in the sensation. Have I been missing something all these years?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Despite the sunshine, the gently lapping waves and the glorious golden sands stretching as far as the eye could see, I felt anxious. Uncertainty tugged at the corners of my wellbeing and my beach smile became shaky. I shaded my eyes with my hand, scanning the farthest rockpools. 'Where are they?' My voice was drenched with worry.
My husband looked up from the barbecue with a mocking smile.
'Over there you twit,' he said. 'For Christ's sake get some specs.'
The subjects of my angst strode merrily up the beach towards us, laughing and comparing seashells. Two middleaged women, relaxed and happy in the early evening sun.
Four writers and us - at the beach, for a barbie supper. Lovely, of course, and enjoyed by all. But I can't help feeling like a cross between a Jewish mother and a sheepdog. I must know where everyone is at all times. What if a big wave comes and carries one of them off? What if they tumble into a huge rockpool and get munched on by crabs? I worried about all this when my children were small, and while I may not love my retreaters in quite the same way, I feel the same responsibility to them. I even absent mindedly asked one of them if she'd been to the loo before we left. Luckily she thought it was quite funny.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I believe that good writing is like good acting. It comes across as completely natural. When you're watching a good film or play, you're not constantly aware that the people on screen or stage are actors. And in the same way, a good piece of writing draws you in, to the point where you become unaware that someone has crafted this prose for your reading pleasure. It's simply there, permeating your consciousness and illuminating your thoughts.
Therefore, writing in a readable way, should flow. And, for those of you who are familiar with the dreaded writer's block, here's a great way to beat it. Simply write. And before you turn away from this blog in disgust, crying 'shame on you for leading me up the literary garden path', it really is that simple. For example, we had a guest staying recently whose ambition it was to write about her extremely traumatic family history, which was intertwined with a recent and serious health problem. The problem, she explained to me, was that she was so emotionally involved, she found it difficult to take even the smallest step back from the story - and formulate any kind of coherent and readable text. Every time she came to a difficult memory, her emotions would overwhelm her, and she'd become unable to write
Accordingly, I watched as she scribbled up to the point where she felt unable to continue, and then, as she became anxious and tearful, I asked her to tell me what she was feeling. That was easy for her. In fact it was quite cathartic. And, when, after a few moments, I asked her to write down what she was saying, she found that easy too. Within ten minutes she'd written a page - and now the words were pouring out. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph, her emotions gave way to more factual descriptions, which, after being edited later on, when she was calmer, made great copy. Now, any time she gets blocked, she says what she's feeling - out loud. Then she writes it, and the block is cleared.
You see? If you're blocked, don't stare at your screen or notebook. Write. The rest will follow.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

There's something very satisfying about the phrase 'I don't know how you do it.' Someone said this to me yesterday, as they munched on my homemade bread and accepted my comments on their (very good) piece of writing. The implication, obviously, is that I am superwoman. I clean cook, entertain guests, turn out acceptable pieces of journalism, and exercise regularly. In short, I am female.
Of course the temptation is very much to blush prettily and say 'oh, goodness, it's nothing really...' But oh modesty, thy name surely is woman - and anyway on this occasion, I grinned and took the praise. Because I thought it might be quite good for my psyche to agree with her.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

weather watch

If the English are preoccupied with the weather, the inhabitants of small villages are nothing short of obsessed. It is barely 11am, and already I have had at least fifteen conversations on the subject. Comments range from a rather apathetic 'not very nice again' to an impassioned 'When will this rain ever stop?' But of course although the rain will - eventually stop, the weather conversations won't. And the amount of potential for comment is truly astonishing. Okay, our village does tend to get cut off by floodwater when the nearby river gives up the battle to contain the deluge. And that, I suppose is a viable topic of conversation - but there are so many others. There's the garden, obviously - which plants are flourishing and which drowning, and what kind of insects are thriving or not. There's the drains blocked, flooding -or not, as the case may be. Roofs are another big cause for concern - and the ones that allow rain to permeate them a particularly fascinating subject for lengthy discussion. Driving in the driving rain - that's another biggie, and of course our health. Rainy weather can cause every ailment known to man, apparently, from cough that inevitably goes onto one's chest, earache, and conjuctivitis, to aching bones, skin rashes and - most bizarrely, haemorrhoids.
But the most interesting part about this predisposition for discussing the weather is how infectious it is. I find myself greeting guests in the morning with the words 'Not a very nice one,' or, more positively, 'you've brought the weather with you!' As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I wish fervently that I could have thought of a more original greeting, but strangely people do seem to respond with alacrity to weather laden comments. 'No,' they agree, 'but the forecast is promising', or 'Yes indeed, and it looks set for the day.' Having commenced our discourse in such a lively manner we can then progress to more indepth conversation such as what they want for breakfast.
But the truth, I suspect, is that we all secretly enjoy it. Because the weather is a great leveller. It's something we all have in common, we all care about it, and it's something we can all share, whatever our age and backgrounds. Talking of which, looks like its brightening up..

Monday, 27 July 2009

Blowing in the wind

Yet again, I have not blogged for a while/ Where do the days go? Like clouds in a puff of a wind, they disappear in the great blue yonder of life. Talking of wind, I heard Bob Dylan on the radio this morning. (Bear with me, there's an - admittedly - rather tenuous link here). I was so enjoying his warblings about the answer, which was of course blowing in the wind - but as I crooned along, I was unsettled to find myself frowning, as I considered that most practical of problems - the washing.
After another enjoyable and busy Mummy Me Time weekend, our ancient washing machine was coping manfully with 17 loads of washing - but drying the stuff was another matter. There are only so many bannisters over which to drape sheets, and the airer was already full. And as Bob pointed out, we didn't want this week's writer guests to feel as if they were staying in a laundry type establishment. There was nothing for it. I had to grit my teeth and load the tumble dryer. This was only the second time I had ever used the thing and I wasn't happy. In the same way that I dislike microwaves, I have a deep aversion to tumble dryers. They seem strangely unnnatural. Yes, I know, washing machines are too, but I draw the line at taking a ton of white sheets and towels down to the river and slapping them on stones.
However, as I was pondering the tumble dryer dilemma, a wonderful thing happened. The teeming rain slowed - and stopped. The grey clouds scudded away, revealing blue sky and those lovely white fluffy clouds which look so cuddly, and a nice friendly breeze kicked in. Practically shrieking with joy, I rushed outside clutching armfuls of white laundry, and moments later, was happily surveying it flapping on the line. Very happy to report that three dry loads later, rain shows no sign of stopping play. Yes, I know you have your own problems to which you need to find solutions. But I knew you'd want to share my joy.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

One of my favourite films is Mary Poppins. I saw it first when I was seven years old and was completely enchanted by Jane and Michael's strict but magical nanny transformed their lives. I've seen it about seven times since, once quite recently - and was only slightly put off by Dick Van Dykes ludicrous yankney accent.
But my favourite bit of my favourite film is the part where MP convinces the children to play a game called 'tidying the nursery'. The phrase 'In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun,' has always struck a chord with me (worryingly, even when I was seven). And when the lovely Ms Poppins smiles enigmatically and pronounces melodically 'You find the fun - aaaaand snap! The job's a game!' I am, quite frankly, her slave for life. Because in fact she's expressing a sentiment that deep down, I have always felt must be true. That is, a spoonful of sugar really does make the medication more palatable - and you can at some point, have a bit of a laugh doing even the most tedious of chores. It's just a matter of approaching it in the right way.
Last week I had a big changeover to do. Five beds to strip, along with five towelling robes, ten towels, 2 handtowels. A veritable mountain of laundry.
As I divested each room of its used linen, I hurled it over the bannisters, until, when I was done, the entire stairwell was completely hidden under a sea of white cotton. I hesitated only a second at the top of the stairs before leaping into the air and surfing all the way to the bottom, cushioned beautifully and shrieking with glee.
Mary P made perfect sense.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Remedy for PLS

I've just opened my eyes - but they were only closed for around 10-15 minutes. (Hard to judge when you're asleep.) And as a result of my brief excursion into the land of nod, I feel rejuvenated refreshed, wide awake and smiley.
I get up pretty early, to get the often unpleasant but eminently necessary business of exercising out of the way for the day.. By 7.30 I am showered, dressed and lipsticked and ready for the delighful job of serving up delicious breakfasts to charming guests. But the downside of starting one's day at an hour that, for a lot of people (my 21 year old son included) the thought of which is enough to provoke mild nausea, is post lunch slump (PLS). By which I mean that around 2pm, both body and mind begin to behave as if it were close to shutting down time. 'That's a wrap,' you can feel them saying. 'No more cooking, talking, thinking, concentrating or moving around of any kind.' In short, as if it were time for bed. This is a less than ideal situation for most people, and if you have copy to file and guests to look after, it's clearly the exact opposite of what's needed.
The choices faced by someone suffering from PLS are a) to snort copious amounts of cocaine (expensive and bad for the health) b) swallow quantities of black coffee (liable to make you jittery and irritable and necessitate going to the loo every 20 minutes) or c) power nap.
Take it from me, the only sensible option for a PLS sufferer is c. I know, I do it regularly and it works. BUT, it must be done right. Do not, repeat not, don pyjamas, grab cuddly teddy and/or hot water bottle and snuggle under your duvet. When you emerge, bleary eyed and groggy, two hours later, your day and those in it, will have gone to hell. Instead, put your head down on your arms - on your desk, at the kitchen table, wherever. Or, as I do, curl yourself up in a big chair (my huge black swivel chair in my study is perfect for this), turn it away from the window so passers by can't see you snoozing and spread the word that you're only pretending to work (a damaging rumour for a freelance working from home) relax and close your eyes. As you give in to PLS, you will drift happily away, and when you wake, as you will only a few minutes later, you will feel rejuvenated, clear headed, sparkly eyes and ready for the rest of the day.
Lets hear it for the power nap.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A good blogger blogs at least 3 times a week. It's a week since I last blogged. I'm ashamed. My July 7th resolution is to blog more often.
Running a retreat is all about calmness. And last night one of our lovely guests told me that I have an aura of calm about me. What a delightful compliment. So why then, with a photoshoot for the potentially hugely successful iwalkdevon website/online mag looming, am I shaking so much that I managed to stick my mascara brush in my eye? Oh I'm calm alright - until you start waving a camera in my direction. Why? Why? After years of saying soothingly to reluctant interviewees, 'You'll look great in the pictures - you'll enjoy the shoot,' I am discovering that life on the other side of the lens can be uncomfortable to say the least. I loathe being photographed - and recently, it seems, I've done a lot of it. Call me a media whore, but in the last few months, I've been photographed for features in the Times, The Telegraph and The Express. Each was toecurlingly embarassing - and by the end of a 2 hour session of being told to lift my chin, move my hip further forwards, turn slightly to the left, to the right, look up - and of course smile smile smile - my body feels as if it doesn't belong to me, and my face invariably aches (and weirdly, quivers). I also now have a huge respect and admiration for professional models.
But, it's all for the good of the cause, so here we go again....clad in the brightly coloured clothes photographers love, wearing plenty of slap for courage. And of course a big smile..

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

I've come to the conclusion that I am never happier than when I am pottering.
It's an art, pottering. And one that I have more or less perfected over the years. People think that to potter is to do nothing, but that's not right. It's perfectly possible to achieve plenty while pottering, but in order to qualify as a potter, the task in question must be fairly low key -think making bread, making yoghurt, making wine - making stuff is good. Or perhaps a little light gardening - watering pot plants, deadheading, pulling a few weeds out of the herb garden, composing a poem, or the next chapter of your novel... you know the kind of thing.
The trick to a good and satisfying potter is not to move too quickly. Tasks should be done in a relaxed and calm way, possibly with a glass of wine to hand, and always to a pleasant background noise. Woman's hour perhaps, or Crooked Still (girl bluegrass band - excellent harmonies). Because the real joy of pottering is its strangely meditative quality, particularly when done in solitude. And if someone happens along mid potter, they are almost always drawn into the chilled atmosphere surrounding the potterer, which of course is highly beneficial to all concerned.
Yesterday I spent at least 2 hours pottering. I achieved lots, including a state of deep tranquility. This is indeed the perfect potter.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Food is a very important part of any retreat. Especially a writer's retreat. After all how can anyone possibly concentrate when they're hungry? It doesn't have to be cordon bleu or elaborate - melt in the mouth lasagne, bubbling with golden brown cheese, teamed with a crisp green salad and crunchy garlic bread does the job. Or sleek and flavourful cold chicken, anointed with home made mayonnaise, teamed with tiny new potatoes and firm green beans dabbed with butter. Simple is often best. Only last night we dined sumptuously on a salad of homemade bread pieces sauteed in olive oil and garlic, barely flashed in boiling water garden peas, a generous helping of flageolot beans, a chopped lemon and a handful of basil leaves. The whole thing was well tossed in a generous dollop of very good olive oil and a sprinkling of Thyme.
At the last minute I decided that more was needed, and stuffed some large flat mushrooms with a mixture of softened onions, tomato puree, a tablespoon of plain yoghurt (as if you'd use a fruit one) and some fresh Rosemary. They baked in the oven for 25 minutes, while the salad chilled in the fridge. A meal fit for a king and his queen. Who said life's too short to stuff a mushroom? Personally I think life's too short not to.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Expressing myself

As a freelance journo, over the years I have interviewed a lot of people. Most people are pretty good interviewees and seem to enjoy it - and now I understand why. Since launching Retreats for you, I've been interviewed a couple of times - and I have to report that talking about yourself while someone listens intently is very enjoyable. It's basically a license to unleash the narcissist that lies within us all.
Yesterday I was interviewed by the charming Sadie Nicholas, for a feature soon to come out in the Express - hooray! Chatting about how Retreats for you came to be, and how it works was huge fun, and I'm afraid I may have bent her ear for longer than was actually required.
The photoshoot, which is this afternoon, will be less fun, I fear. The brief is no black and plenty of slap. Smile please..

Monday, 15 June 2009

Suddenly all is revealed. My need to nurture and feed and - yes, ok, love. I am Jewish. In fact I am a Jewish mother. I always knew, of course that I had Jewish blood - but now I learn that because that blood is on my mother's side, it is all encompassing and total. To surmise, if you are part Jewish via your maternal line, you are in fact Jewish. I love it, because now I understand why I adore seeing people eat lots and frequently, why putting hot water bottles in their beds is a joy ( I can picture their expressions of bliss when they get into bed late, tired and cold, and their toes encounter warmth and cosiness) and why, whenever a guest leaves, I can't really relax until he or she calls or emails to say that he or she is home safe.
And now that everything is falling so beautifully into place, I intend to start learning to cook latkes, I already prepare lox and bagels - it;s just smoked salmon and cream cheese on bagels, isn't it -mmm, heavenly, challah (that gorgeous plaited bread) charoset -a kind of gorgeous cake thing made from chopped apples, nuts, cinammon honey and sweet wine, knish - a dumpling made from mince and potato, and of course baba ganoush - grilled aubergine dip, which I adore - great with pita bread. I can't wait to start feeding huge Jewish meals to my guests. Proper food for thought.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

happy campers

I love it love it when guests really connect and support each other in their writing. Then the entire atomosphere of the house becomes sort of wordy and long discussions are had in the evening by the fire.
I adore that feeling when people leave having achieved. It's a bit like the kind of euphoria you get when you've just given birth.
And when people compliment me on my cooking, I'm in heaven. Moussaka, baked potatoes and salad tonight, followed by chocolate mousse.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

I may be turning into a grumpy old woman. When I pass a car left with its engine running outside our village shop - presumably so that the driver doesn't have to perform the tiring procedure of switching the engine off and then switching it on again - I have to fight the urge to reach in, take the keys and pocket them. When people drive past with thump thump music blaring so loudly they must surely complete their journeys with bleeding eardrums, I shout swearwords at them. And when people send me emails offering me more than one of something with an in appropriately placed apostrophe - ie prize's, I shriek 'Prize's what? This apostrophe denotes the possessive!'
On the plus side, don't people go on tv and get paid for talking about this kind of thing?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Jenni Murray

I love Jenni Murray. Not enough to stalk her or anything, but enough to fantasise regularly about the rather wonderful prospect of being interviewed by her on that shrine of good sense and balanced wisdom that is Woman's hour.
'So, Deborah,' she'd say. 'Tell us why you decided to launch 'Retreats for you.'
'Well Jenni,' I'd say, basking in her mellifluous tones. 'It all began one day early last year when I realised four of out five of the bedrooms in our house were empty 90% of the time. This is clearly madness, I thought to myself as I wandered from room to room, idly folding redundant duvets, and fruitlessly plumping pillows that hadn't felt the imprint of a cheek in many months. These rooms - this house are/is crying out for life - preferably of the intelligent and sensitive variety.' And so the interview would progress. Jenni would nod encouragingly as she asked the kind of questions that simultaneously put someone at ease and draw out full responses. And I would not hold back as I described how Retreats for you came to be, in a manner that could only fascinate and draw the listener in.
Jenni, if you're reading this, give us a call.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

If someone said 'icky moment'' to you, what would you think of? Some spilt honey, or a blob of ketchup down your front? A baby spitting up on its parent's shoulder perhaps? Not, I'm guessing, anal incontinence. But 'icky moment'' is one of the euphemistic terms one website uses to describe this deeply unpleasant side effect of Alli, the recently launched otc weight loss drug. Another shows us pictures of happy healthy slim young people cooing over their apparent recent weight loss. And despite the fact that pharmacists are meant to establish that anyone wanting to buy Alli has a BMI of over 28, and is therefore clinically obese - it's ok if you don't fancy sharing that information with any stuffy old chemist person. Because you can just hop on the internet and buy it from Boots online, or another online pharmacy. Hooray!
A report in the British Medical Journal concluded that Alli didn't actually work any better than a low calorie low fat diet, and one journalist who tried it found that it worked through fear. She explained that having read the leaflet warning that the more fat you ate the more likely you were to shit yourself - sorry, experience an icky moment, terror of such humiliation made her reduce her fat intake to virtually zero. Funnily enough she lost a lot of weight.
But predictably the promise of a pill to make you slim, rather than having to diet and exercise, has had chubbies flocking to their local chemists. And the Glaxo Smith Kline executives chortling with glee. 'They stay fat - and poo their pants,' they laugh. 'And we get rich!'
Two of my children have always had to take handfuls of digestive enzymes when they eat, which have exactly the opposite effect to Alli. To put it another way, Alli creates the condition that they take pills to correct. Unsurprisingly they find the idea of this vaguely obscene. I share their view. Alli costs around £50 per month. That's a lot of salad, a monthly subscription to a gym, and (since they're not free) several prescriptions for digestive enzymes.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

I'm always amazed when women describe themselves as being 'just a mother'. Where did this trend for self belittling come from? This idea that being a full time mother is the kind of mindless activity that anyone can do well. When was the last time you heard someone describe themselves as 'just a secretary,' or 'just a taxi driver'? Have you ever heard anyone say 'I'm only a personal assistant'?
Being a mother requires all kinds of skills and patience, and mothers are on duty 24 hours a day. Good mothering is something that has to be worked at. It doesn't come naturally to most women, and it's a job that is although rewarding, exhausting and often thankless.
Mothering is a minefield of guilt, joy and fulfilment, and women who do it deserve our respect and admiration. Plus a break from it now and again. Try www.deborahdooleyjournalist/mummymetime.html

Monday, 18 May 2009

In praise of pyjamas

Everyone should have at least two pairs - but heaven forbid they should be the scratchy checked cotton variety. Pyjamas should be soft, warm - or cool as required, and caress your skin, without, in any way, judging you. Not unlike the perfect lover. Pure cotton or silk are ideal pyjama fabrics, and they should be lightly scented with lavender, and worn at least a size larger than normal day wear, to facilitate much lounging - usually on sofas in front of a tv or DVD player, and also the kind of snacking that can sometimes cause a bulging tummy. Pyjamas are the only item of clothing in a woman's wardrobe that can legitimately flaunt an elasticated waist.
I was charmed and delighted to see that some recent guests very sensibly stayed in their pyjamas nearly all day. It did my heart good to see their obvious contentment and reinforced my viewpoint that pyjamas were created in order to make our lives more comfortable and pleasurable.
But of course the test of a really pleasing pyjama garment is the noise made by the wearer as pyjama and skin first make contact. A kind of contented sigh - like the sound made in response to a lover's touch.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

This morning I woke up with a feeling of dread, and for a few seconds, I couldn't think why.
Did I have to travel to London to give a presentation on 'what journalists really want,' to a large group of eager PRs and their clients? Was the bank threatening to withdraw our sizeable overdraft facility? Had I had too much to drink the night before and promised to mow the village churchyard twice a week for the foreseeable future - starting today? All these dread provoking possibilities flashed through my mind before the grim reality of my situation hit me with the all the force of a large container of Ajax. Today I planned to clean the house in preparation for our next guests. From top to bottom. All five bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, dining room, sitting room, tv room, study, kitchen, boot room, utility room and hallway.
Mindful of the aforementioned large overdraft combined with reduced work opportunities and therefore income (hopefully side effect of the recession rather than dwindling journalistic capabilities), I had dispensed with the services of our lovely family friend and wonderful house cleaner, Linda. No more (or at least not until our finances improved - surely only a matter of time) would I sit happily in my office listening to the comfortable hum of the hoover and the swish of her duster as she rendered the house dog hair, dust and cobweb free. No longer the calm satisfaction of emerging into a veritable nirvana of shining loveliness. Now it was all up to me.
Gritting my teeth determinedly, I arose, pulled on jeans and tee shirt, downed two mugs of strong coffee and some fruit salad (vitamins and caffeine for plenty of energy), put on some red lipstick (in order to avoid depression when polishing mirrors), chucked the dog and my husband out of the house, hefted the hoover up the stairs and set to work.
For four and half hours, I hoovered, scrubbed, polished and washed floors. Over and over again, I fed sheets, towels and rugs into the washing machine's gaping mouth - and pegged the regurgitated results onto the line. Up and down the stairs I went, emptying bins, folding laundry - and finally checking all the rooms for creases, smears or missed cobwebs. At last it was done. The house sat silently, sweet smellingly thanking me for restoring cleanliness and order. The taps winked at me happily and the wooden floors gleamed under their newly freshened rugs.
All was in order, and I was tired but happy.
As I flopped down exhausted in a kitchen chair, admiring the sparkling worktops, my eye was drawn to a half full bottle of wine. Du vin, du pain, and a bit of cheddar, I murmured sexily to myself. Just right for a hard working girl.
Just then the front door opened and in came Linda. I was happy to see her. I couldn't afford her cleaning services any more, but I could still have lunch with her.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pigs that fly

Am I the only person that's noticed how the 'official' number of deaths from swine flu in Mexico has not so much plummeted as hurtled - from 167 to 7? Everyone else, including eminent scientists and highly credible news reporters and journalists seem to have accepted the quite startling and sudden discrepancy with not even a hint of a sneer. Call me a cynic, but am I right in thinking that the current swine flu 'crisis' has done a masterly job of deflecting public attention from the global economic situation?
Picture the scene. The powers that be are earnestly discussing ways to persuade the public that they're actually doing a fantastic job of safeguarding the public -and that they are truly a responsible and caring force for said public's wellbeing.
World leader 1: 'Hmmm. The obvious answer is a war - always gets Joe and Josephine Public fired up and brings out the old Dunkirk spirit.'
World leader 2: 'True, but it's a bit soon after Iraq - which backfired slightly if you recall. And where's Dunkirk?' (Makes mental note to fire personal assistant for not briefing him better.)
World leader 1: You're right. Well then, how about a global health crisis. Some sort of pandemic perhaps?'
World leader 2. 'Excellent idea. Plus it'll keep the pharmaceutical companies on side - always a good thing since they're so powerful. We can spend huge amounts of tax payers money on stockpiling antiviral drugs 'just in case'.
World leader 1. 'That's settled then. We just need to figure out a way to dump the last lot we spent huge amounts of tax payers money on. You know - for all that bird flu business. 'Course it's all gone off now.'

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Mars and Venus on the beach

Yesterday, we made the most of this glorious early summer and went to the beach. There, with the aid of new £3.99 darker than dark sunglasses, I was able to study the habits of the male and female of the human race when partially clothed. My findings are as follows...
Slightly Overweight Woman (SOW), when swimsuit clad, behaves in a rather covert way, slinking down to the water's edge, with sarong or towel wrapped around her which she discards at the last minute, hurling herself into the waves at top speed in order to prevent any glimpse of dimpled thighs. SOW on the beach only really relaxes when lying prone on back - hence illusion of flat stomach. Although she then has problem of bosoms intent on escaping off chest and hiding in armpits. SOW frequently attempts to remedy this by propping herself up on elbows and raising upper torso, which has effect of restoring boobs to rightful position. (Sadly, difficult to hold for longer than a few minutes due to neck spasm.)
The behaviour of Terribly Overweight Man (TOM), couldn’t be more different. TOM arrives on beach sporting huge baggy shorts, waistband perched precariously just below start of bum divide at back and just above penis at front. Top half is clad in small slightly grubby white vest, parted from waistband of shorts by about eighteen inches of bulging beer belly. (Tattoos may or may not be present). TOM then selects a spot on beach, arranges towel and beer cans, and proceeds to spend a few minutes eyeing up the selection of female bodies around him - all the while stroking belly rhythmically. Finally peels off vest garment and stands looking around for another few minutes. More stroking. Catches eye of young bikini clad girl and winks lasciviously. Divests himself of large shorts, by dint of a casual wiggle - which easily persuades them to relinquish their half hearted grip on groin area, revealing tiny purple/luminous green nylon swimming trunks. These, it is immediately obvious, conceal extremely small genitals. Adjusts penis and testicles carefully, looking down trunks to check all is well, and swaggers down to water's edge. More stroking and more looking around, in hope of catching eye of any passing attractive women - all of whom will, he is confident, find him irresistible.
TOM does not however enter the water, but contents himself with kicking water in small child's face, and swaggers back to towel, stroking all the while. Takes huge swig of beer and flops down onto front - having first scooped out hole for belly to comfortably rest in. Snores for two hours and on waking, doesn't mind in the least that skin has turned unattractive shade of puce, since feels that this only enhances his appeal to the opposite sex – and knows that suncream is for girls and poofs.

Friday, 1 May 2009

The book inside you

I know everyone's got a book inside them. I should do by now - I've heard it enough times.
I also know how lucky I am to be a writer - something else people are fond of telling me.
So, a couple of years ago, I decided to use my good fortune to unleash the literature that, like everyone, I had been concealing within. I wrote a book. Or, to be more accurate, I wrote half a book - around 50,000 words. As a journalist used to writing to commission, I drew the line at doing any more work with no guarantee of payment. Full of enthusiasm and hope I sent the first three chapters off to an agent, and waited with mounting excitement. Within a month, I got it back, along with a polite - and standard - rejection letter. Mindful of the fact that Harry Potter was rejected 6/12/150 times, depending on who you talk to, I reinflated my dented enthusiasm and sent it to a different agent. The same thing happened. 'Publishing is a subjective business,' I told myself cheerfully, (not realising that this phrase was written on both rejection letters and had now filtered through to my subconscious to become part of my 'try and try again' mantra).
When the bloody thing had come back seven times, and I was sick of counselling myself, I decided to put my book firmly on the back burner. I told myself that I would return to it some day soon, polish it and hone it and start the dispiriting round of agent badgering once again.
We recently had a guest at our writer's retreat who was also writing a novel, and clearly enjoying every minute of it. He had a refreshingly unusual approach to the entire business. 'My book has become my best friend,' he told me, 'and whether or not it is ever published is irrelevant to me. When life is tough, the characters I have created in it sustain me, and when it's good, they make it great.'
When he left, I was inspired to dig around in the darkest recesses of my laptop and dust down an old file. My book. As it emerged, I began reading avidly, and soon I found myself smiling. I was enjoying my book.
That day another couple of thousand words joined the 50,000 already there, and now the prospect of completing my book seems more fun. And finding an agent and a publisher, less important.
I suppose that what I'm really saying is that if, like most people, you've got a book inside you, why not let it out?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

I'd like to go on record as saying that writing is like any other craft in that if you study it and practise it, you'll improve. I'm tired of hearing people say writers are born, not made - that's nonsense.
I'll admit that a few have a natural kind of effortless talent for writing - in the same way that some people are born to dance, or have a glorious singing voice (isn't Susan Boyle delightful?). But most of us can, with time, patience and effort, hone and improve our writing, with results that range from perfectly acceptable, to work that is a pure pleasure to read.
The most important attribute for a writer is the desire to write. The urge and the need to get some words onto screen or paper - on a regular basis. The motivation to spend time doing that, even when they're tired, the ironing's piling up, it looks like macaroni cheese for supper again (chuck in a tin of tomatoes for variety and vitamins) and they haven't made love to their partner for over a month. And if people are driven to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in the face of all that, who is anyone to give them anything other than help, encouragement and support?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Retreats for you

Everyone's definition of being grown up is different. For some it's having a mortgage and/or a pension. Others see giving birth as the defining moment of adulthood (although this has been repeatedly disproved). And for some, a fridge that contains more than five different kinds of food of the non microwaveable variety, the total of which outnumbers the units of alcohol therein - plus fewer than three kinds of fungus - adds up to an accurate representation of the grownup state.
In some small way I suscribe to all of these viewpoints, although at 50, I'm sad to say I've never yet felt particularly grownup. But recently I was offered fresh hope in the growing up stakes, in the form of a small and appealingly neat machine, which politely but eagerly gobbles up bank card details and immediately cyber-spits relevant sums of money into appropriate bank account. It positively shimmered with financial promise. And as soon as I saw it, albeit in a photo, I knew that owning it would set the seal on my newly founded retreat business, and, perhaps more importantly, make me feel like a proper grownup business person.
I went through a lot to get this little gem. I filled in forms the size and length of a novella - wrestling with questions which appeared to be directed at people who inhabit some kind of curious parallell universe, and have a peculiarly skewed approach to life. I opened new bank accounts and closed old ones - something that, as most of us know, requires at least three days hard graft and another 3 days to recover from it. I had long telephone conversations with people who, although charming, had the kind of accents I struggle to understand. I found this stressful, as I dislike being rude, but found myself forced to repeatedly say, 'I'm sorry?' and 'could you say that again' to the point where it really did seem as if I was being just that. And finally, after weeks of all this, I endured a training session in the use of the machine, with a man who clearly found my lack of technical ability pitiful, not to say pathetic.
There were times during this period that I wanted to give up. I wanted to tear up the novellas, set light to them and shove them into our solid fuel rayburn, taking a cruel satisfaction in watching them crackle and burn. I longed to shout hysterically at the people with accents, and viciously slam the phone down before they could deliver yet more unintelligible responses. I longed to snap and snarl at the one who didn't understand that my technical ineptitude conceals many other qualities.
I'm monumentally glad I did none of these things, but chose instead to grit my teeth, clench my buttocks and soldier on to the bitter end and glorious climax. Which is the card machine that now sits smugly and comfortably on my desk. Waiting for the next collection of numbers to be tapped into its perfectly formed keypad, or a card to slide sensuously along its slit, effortlessly translating the results of either into real money, which it then deposits neatly in my bank account.
It has become my friend and ally, gently boosting my business, nudging my cashflow from the slow to the middle lane, and adding a crisp professionalism to the entire outfit.
I love my little machine. It makes me feel strangely grownup, and I've called it Dorothy.