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.