Monday, 23 February 2015

Yorkshire: a foreign country.

Yorkshire, like the past, is a foreign country. That's what I've decided. We just got back from five glorious days there and while sitting in the cosy lounge of our gorgeous little hotel on the edge of the North York Moors, taking afternoon tea, I overheard someone quizzing his son-in-law about his new life in the dangerous metropolis of York. "So," he said, "what's it like in York then? Do you have parks and that to go walking in?"

York! If you've ever been to York, my lovely home town, and even if you haven't, you'll probably know that despite being officially named a city, York is a compact and quaint little place compared to London. You can walk right round the centre in half an hour, that is if you don't find yourself lured into one of the cosy tea shops up one of the cobbled lanes first. Gritty urban sprawl it is not. So the idea that someone might regard it as such, from the distance of some 20 miles away, living as he does, it turned out, in the beauty of the surrounding Howardian Hills, is rather extraordinary.

But Yorkshire folk can be like that, so blessed are they by the stunning countryside around them they can't fathom why anyone would want to live anywhere else, even in one of their own county's most picturesque and comfortable cities. So it struck me that the man who was doing the questioning, a GP, I later found out, wouldn't think much of where we live in south London if he thinks York a bit too big and built-up for his liking. Urban sprawl just about sums up the geography around here, interspersed with the odd park or common, which is why it's so important to escape from it from time to time. And it is important.

I know this because for some reason or other we haven't escaped London for a break of any sort for five long months, which must be something of a record, and not one I want to repeat in a hurry. So when Middle One complained that he didn't want to go away over half-term and why did I want to leave our lovely home now I have a wonderful new kitchen? I had my answer ready: because I want to see the sky, because I want to see the land of my birth stretching away to the horizon on every side, because I am beginning to crave views like a glutton craves cream cakes. I want to stuff my eyes with scenes of spiky trees against empty fields, virgin woodland, crystal streams, unsullied moorland devoid of road or house or pylon. I need to see it and I need to be in it, and come to think of it there might be another reason I need it so badly after so long in the big smoke: because it's in my blood.

What was the first thing I saw as a baby, aside from the inside of my home and my parents' doting faces? Trees. Three massive beech trees, which dominated our back garden. And what else? A river, it ran at the bottom of the garden there. And when I got bigger, what did I do then? Played with my brother in that garden for hours and hours, and when I was bigger still I walked out of that garden and out of our cul-de-sac, turning right down the lane to the pond and the medieval church at the bottom of the hill and scared myself silly creeping around the desolate grave stones by myself, once finding a hedgehog there and running home to get a neighbouring older boy, Gregory, to come and catch it for me and put it in a cardboard box (it escaped). And then when I was grown still more I jumped on my gold-coloured Raleigh bike and peddled the lanes around the village for miles by myself, occasionally stopping and propping that bike against a fence post and venturing into a newly-ploughed field and steeling myself to go into an old abandoned barn and explore…

Those sorts of childhood adventure have all but disappeared for this generation of British children, and probably every generation to come, and I am too old now to ride bikes alone down country lanes, but something from that experience does remain, apart from the memories: the landscape. It's still there. The ponds and churches and lanes and fields and enormous skies of my childhood. So I go back as often as I can and walk in it and drink it in, trying to fill something that has emptied in the weeks and months away. Is it my soul I am filling? My memory bank? I don't know, but for the last few days I have had a dose of it again which should keep me going for a while, until the next time I visit that foreign land of Yorkshire and my past. I hope it's soon.

Love E x


As you can see from the photographs we were incredibly lucky with the weather. We stayed with my parents for two nights and then left the boys with them to stay at The Pheasant in Harome again and go walking. We ate there and at The Star Inn 2 minutes away.

View of the village pond from our hotel window.

The lounge at The Pheasant.

The Star Inn at Harome at night.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Read, Write, Walk, Cook.

What's the point of February? Can someone please tell me. Every other month has a reason. January is about beginnings. March is spring, and more importantly my birthday. April is Easter and lambs. May has the promise of summer. June marks the middle. July is warm. August is holiday. September is back to school. October: Halloween, mists and mellow fruitfulness. November: bonfire night. December: cold hands, hot fires, loud crackers and Christmas, but February has no point at all that I can see, except to draw out the winter. And don't tell me there's Valentine's day tomorrow because that's a load of old - or rather new - commercial claptrap. The days might be getting noticeably longer and there's a definite whiff of things on the turn in the air, but I can't see the point of February and think we should scrap it.

Maybe this is because I don't have much work at the moment. Okay, scratch a line through that, I don't have ANY work at the moment, not of the paid variety, and it being February is not helping with the whole 'try not to slip into a mental abyss' thing, that lurking black fog which I refuse to let encircle me, although I'm sure it's a battle I'm destined to lose, one day.

For the time-being I'm purposeful, resolving to spend the short days when not searching out gainful employment of the directing or writing variety, by reading, writing, walking and exercising generally as much as possible ('GPs to tell patients: exercise, it's better than many drugs!' The Guardian Friday 13th February 2015) and cooking tasty meals for my family in the evenings, and I'm doing pretty well on all fronts, thanks for asking.

This week I read To Kill A Mockingbird in less than two days (I know, I know, I don't know how I ever missed it either, I'm trying to fill a few whopping literary gaps while I can), made a chicken and leak pie, which Eldest declared my best ever, a cod, prawn, spinach and pea concoction, which Middle One said was "delicious", and a spicy bean stew to go with some tortillas that induced Husband to remark: "why have we never had this before, it's fantastic?" and then later admit he hadn't realised it didn't contained any meat. In addition to which I am on top of the washing (a miracle) and have started to clear out old books and toys, taking a rucksack full on my back to the charity shop down the hill in dribs and drabs - that's part of the walking and exercise bit, see.

On my list for today, after I've written this, is to crack on with some more writing of a more creative bent, book a mini-break, put another wash on (hey ho), buy food for tonight, have lunch with some friends and then start on the The Great Gatsby. I KNOW! I KNOW!

Love E x


Blog stats say 65, 870 with readers from all over the world from Australia to Poland so where ever you are in the world thank you for reading and here's the blog's Facebook page -

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Not going out.

Old friends are like buses: you don't see any for ages and then two come along at once. Well that's our local 319 for you anyway, and it was our weekend just gone as well when we saw two sets of very old friends on consecutive days.

On Saturday a couple from our uni days, who now live in Oxford, travelled to see us with their two lovely children and their enormous dog. And then on Sunday we had our friend from France - from Husband's  French degree days, who lives in Arras and was in London on his school exchange programme - along for lunch. We were a bit catered out by the end of it tbh, but it was fun while it lasted. Actually it was lots of fun.

After they had all gone on Sunday evening Middle One declared: "I really like your old friends! A lot." Why might this be, I wondered?

Could it be because they politely sat and listened to his guitar playing and declared it amazing? Could it be J's hair-raising tales from university that made him sound like Vivien from The Young Ones? Could it be that they really are lovely? Whatever it was they should consider themselves honoured, and it made me realise that there's something fantastic about your children liking your friends and your friends liking your children and all sitting around together at the dinner table chatting and socialising together.

Perhaps part of the reason Middle One liked them was because he was able to see us - his crusty, boring old parents - as the young students we once were. Or perhaps it really was because J told him he drove a hearse when he was at uni and rigged up the electrics in their student house so they never paid a penny and walked around in t-shirts ALL THE TIME even in winter. In Norfolk. And that they drove motorbikes up and down the stairs. In fact his antics were so apocryphal that when he went back years later someone accused him of being 'that guy who slept in a coffin'.  

And maybe it was also because his partner, the lovely M, talked about how she teaches children with SEN as a volunteer (despite being a qualified teacher) and does amateur dress-making and Tai Chi and is learning Chinese because she recently went to China and thought it was amazing and would love to live their one day. How could you NOT like such a person?

And maybe it was because Middle One recognised in our lovely French friend that he is a kind and gentle soul, very knowledgeable, who patiently listened to what the boys had to say and then invited them all to come to France and stay with him and his family anytime they wanted. 

Socialising with your children included, I decided, is the best sort of socialising there is. To be honest we hardly want to go out without them anymore because we have a party at our house most nights already, one with all the best party ingredients on tap: usually some alcohol (for us only, I hasten to add), a nice kitchen to hang out in, lots of silly jokes and most importantly of all the best most charismatic, witty, lovely people in the whole wide world. Ours.

Love E x


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Beware - too much reading may damage your health.

It's very cold outside but I don't know this because the central heating came on at 6.30 am and as I get up from my pocket sprung mattress (Vi-Spring) an hour later, from under my two-seasons duvet (Guardian reader offer), I immediately throw on my fluffy dressing gown (White Company) to cover my just-cooling flesh and slide my feet into a pair of downy slippers (Accessorize), before shuffling across the thick-pile bedroom carpet to the bathroom - with its underfloor heating and warm towel rail - to turn the shower up hot before gingerly stepping beneath.

Then at breakfast I sit at the table with my feet nicely warmed by the underfloor heating, after I have made my Nespresso coffee with warm frothy milk and read an article from one of the two newspapers that is delivered daily to our door, which says: "You're a comfort addict, you just don't know it!" (The Times 20/01/15). 

Yes, I think, I may well be.

The article goes on to tell me that we've all gone soft. We can't bear even the slightest hardship. We're pampered to death with warm houses, soft beds and heated car seats (just so you know I don't have one of these, our car is knackered and I can't persuade Husband that we need a new one).

Maybe we should go camping again this year, I ponder, so I can come home and marvel at my comfy bed? Or maybe I should take more extreme measures and hot-foot it off to Ghana for a second time? The one and only time I went to Africa I returned determined to appreciate everything we take for granted here. You know, hot and cold running water, enough to eat, basic medical care, that sort of thing, (and incidentally the most incongruous experience of my life was taking a call on my mobile phone, as I stood in a dust-red school yard 500 miles north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, near the Burkina Faso border, and a man on the other end telling me that my Ocado order was about to arrive and there were no substitutions), but anyway back to that article...

Apparently some new book suggests that excess comfort is lowering our immunity to almost any discomfort and "damaging our psychological health". It suggested, among other things, that we resist the temptation to reach for our mobile phones to distract ourselves in a queue and just embrace the boredom for once. Which brings me to yesterday when I took my iPhone into the Apple Store on Regents Street to have the screen mended and had to hand it over. Yes, HAND IT OVER.

"Being parted from your iPhone leads to anxiety!" (The Times 14/01/15), is another article I read recently, which I don't think requires much further explanation, and it certainly did lead to anxiety in my case. As red-t-shirt-clad Apple Store Girl (who looked about 12 by the way and was able to navigate her way around my phone in a manner I found not only astonishing but also just a little humiliating), reached out to take my phone from me, I suddenly realised that from thence forth I would not know the time, would not be able to contact Husband about our plan to meet for lunch, would not be able to check my diary about a meeting later on, would miss the text from a friend I was expecting, and that Apple Store Girl would, in fact, in taking away my phone, be taking away my WHOLE LIFE. Oh, and also I would not know when Apple Store Girl had just emailed telling me to come back to the store to collect the phone, which seemed like a bit of a flaw in her plan to me, Miss-I'm-so-clever-and-young-and-all-in-red-and-able-to-use-your-phone-far-better-than-you-ever-will.

So, I wondered somewhat aimlessly around central London waiting for my phone to be ready and having to resort to sitting in John Lewis actually reading the book group book I was meant to be getting on with for book group that night (The Narrow Road To The Deep North, bit harrowing for me, I am SO going to get thrown out, or blackballed or something), and when I got back to the store, three and a half anxious hours later, I was told by Apple Store Girl that all the data had been wiped but not to worry because you did back it all up on iCloud, didn't you? 

Yes I did. Ha.

And you can remember your iCloud account name and your password, can't you?

No I can't. Boo.

Which brings me to: "Say no to the nightcap if you want to sleep soundly!" (The Times 17.01.15), which went on: "… if sleep is being disrupted regularly by pre-sleep alcohol consumption, particularly over long periods of time, this could have significant detrimental effects on daytime function such as learning and memory process." Memory process.

Okay, so I've been cutting back on the booze, as you know, and now I need to also avoid becoming too pampered, lest I lose all immunity and turn into a loon, and to try not to allow myself to become too dependent on my mobile phone, and to try not to drink too much to preserve what little memory I have left. I think I can remember all that. 



And then today I read: "A daily drink cuts risk of middle-age heart failure!" 

So I think I should just stop reading.

Love E x


P.S. I got all the data back because clever clogs Apple Store Girl could look up my iCloud account details for me. They really were rather helpful in there. Drat.

Friday, 9 January 2015


I don't know about you but I'm struggling a bit with this back to routine malarky after the Christmas break. It turns out it's because I've got "social jet lag". I thought I was just being lazy but I read about it in the Guardian Pass Notes so it must be true. 

It's when "your bodily processes - metabolism, sleep, alertness and so on - run according to a daily timetable controlled by the hours of sunlight. These are called your circadian rhythms."

You know how I'm always going on about circadian rhythms? Well I am. And no they are not an Indie band. I go on and on about it to the boys - "it really is important to get out of the house and into the daylight, blah, blah, blah" - what little there is in South London in January - "to regulate your body clock and your mood and all that," I tell them. And now The Guardian agrees with me. So I must be right. Anyway, in Pass Notes it went on to say…

"During a period off work, such as over Christmas, the lie-ins may even settle into a new routine… but then it takes a while to shift your rhythm back again, and during this period people become tired, irritable, clumsy, disorientated, ill and generally not much use. hence: social jet lag." 

Got that? So while I just thought I was being a bit useless, falling asleep after lunch on the sofa and not getting anything proper done, spending hours faffing on Twitter, not ticking enough off my hefty To Do list or concentrating on pitching for more work, or finishing that novel, I have actually being suffering from a proper medical thing. So there.

Also, and this may in some way be connected, I have been trying not to drink alcohol since I read another article - this time in The Observer - about women my age slipping into bad habits and drinking too much and therefore banding together in sobriety clubs to try not to. 

Tbh I'm mostly just trying to cut back after the Christmas excesses, no booze for several days at a time in a bid to give my liver a break and feel a bit fresher, which I would have done, I think, had I not had that pesky Social Jetlag to contend with.

I managed Sunday through Wednesday without a drink, which I think is quite good. It's all about breaking that daily habit, isn't it? But then I went to see The Imitation Game last night (really good and Husband actually stayed awake, which he thinks they should put on the poster) and had dinner with Husband at a place called The Dairy in Clapham afterwards, which was lovely and you really can't be expected not to drink while having a lovely dinner with your lovely husband now can you? And as you know, if you are a regular reader, which I hope you are, I went 31 days without a drink back in August, so I can do it when I try. Honest.

And because of the social jet lag and the not drinking and general back-to-school/work inertia hanging over me like a pall, and probably over you too, I've not got much done this week but have resolved to get on with that novel next week, well to revisit it anyway. I've had an agent express a mild interest (but I've been here before and it led to nothing and was deeply disappointing so I need to manage my overactive, imagination-fuelled expectations). 

I do have, as I may have mentioned before, 90,000 words of mum lit hanging around, finished off in a mad frenzied hurry because I was spurred on by a high profile literary agent who, after reading a couple of chapters, invited me to his office and asked that I finish it, all the while playing my emotions like a puppet master dangling his writer-marionette with well-practiced ease. And then he rejected it. The bastard. 

I need to lick my wounds, reread it, decide if it's any good, does it need revisiting? Rewriting? Reordering? Tweaking? Binning? And I'm finding it very hard to do that at home where the washing/cooking/filing/tidying and most of all, napping, constantly threatens to intervene.

So I checked out The London Library in St James's Square yesterday. I have a writer mate who works there, has worked there for years, and so I thought I might have more luck knuckling down in such a scholarly environment with other writers around.

The plan is to go there sometime next week. If I can get out of bed.

Love E x


 #Socialjetlag #TheImitationGame #TheLondonLibrary #TheDiaryClapham #Writinganovel

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

God bless us, everyone.

How to combine an anecdote about my parents climbing into bed with us on Christmas morning, going to see some French Canadian acrobats with beards and banjos who throw axes at each other, some skating at Somerset house, a Christmas party for a much-loved, retiring head teacher, making a video with 26 kids in my kitchen, wrapping 73 presents, going to a concert at Wigmore Hall, to the theatre to see Horrible Histories, to the flicks to see Paddington, and lots of drinks parties, into a gigantic catch-up mega-blog?

I don't think I can, so suffice to say it's been an eventful few weeks which has kept me from blogging but here I finally am, sitting at the kitchen island on my laptop, watching the wood-burning stove devour a couple of logs, drinking Nespresso from the machine Eldest just bought us for Christmas, and in lieu of inspiration here are some titbits...


It's tradition in our family for the boys to bring their stockings into our room on Christmas morning to open their presents in front of us. We coo and ah and take photographs and express surprise at each gift they unpeel, which is totally genuine on Husband's part because he's had no hand in it at all, and totally fake on mine since (cover your eyes here if you're under 12 years-old) I buy and wrap everything. In this case all 42 things because each boy received 14 presents. Some of them are on the prosaic side, I'll grant you, such as chocolate or socks, but others are much more glam, such as CDs or books, and that's BEFORE the main present which is sitting under the tree to be opened later. Which is how, once other rellies are included, I arrived at that figure of 73 presents wrapped in total. And by the way, to save my back from total festive meltdown, I wrap them all at the ironing board while watching It's A Wonderful Life...

And I don't know why my parents climbed into our bed this Christmas morning, I guess it's because they like to watch the present opening too and there aren't any chairs in our bedroom. They took Husband's side. He had to perch over on mine. We were squashed. We looked like the four grandparents from Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Eldest took a photo. And I would include it for you here to laugh at because we all had Santa hats on and looked ridiculous, only I didn't have any make-up on at the time, it being so early, and I wouldn't want to frighten the horses. Or you.


Timber! is the name of the thing with the French Canadians with the beards and the axes that we saw at the Southbank yesterday. They do acrobatics and stuff. I liked their arms, the men's arms that is, there were a couple of chicks in the show too but I really didn't notice them quite so much, I was too distracted by the arms, lumberjack arms, big ones, like hams. I like arms. Did I say? We took the boys. Last year we saw something there called Folds, which was acrobatics with paper and which defies description. To be honest the memory of Folds kind of leaves the French Canadians with axes in the shade. The shade of a big tree. Possibly a Redwood. Even if they did have lovely arms, and played banjos. 


Every year we go skating just before Christmas and I think someone will end up in A & E. A friend of mine went with her niece last year and some maniac skated over the little girl's hand and severed a tendon. Blood all over the snow-white ice. For someone with a vivid imagination (me) and an almost constant sense of impeding doom (also me) skating is not a relaxing occasion. Think about it, we strap boots to our feet, which have murderously sharp thin blades on the bottom of them, and then slip about on a glass-like substance with little or nothing in the way of preparation, talent, or instruction. God knows how we don't all kill ourselves. At least Eldest didn't come with us this year, we had a ticket for him but he had to go to work. As Youngest put it "And he's the one who's the maniac, Mummy!" Too true.


A week or so ago I was going to write a blog called Dancing With Tears In Our Eyes, something a bit familiar there for the older reader, like me, who found that their formative and developing years coincided with the 80s. We threw a party, you see, some parents and former parents from the boys' old primary school, all of us 80's throw-backs to a leg-warmered man, for the much-loved, retiring head teacher, and it was a bitter-sweet occasion. Sweet because there we all were again, the class of 2000/1/2, those of us who met through our children at the school gates and forged life-long ties, hugging and chatting and laughing together again, and bitter because it was the last time we will all dance together like that (like idiots, that is) in that school hall with that beloved head teacher. There were musical tributes and speeches and a little film that I and some other parents made in my kitchen, from when I invited some pupils and ex-pupils round to share their memories. Twenty-six kids took part in all and the resulting film is on Vimeo if you want to click the link there on the top right of the blog and watch it. Anyway, as I say, we danced the night away, and there definitely were some tears in some of our eyes.

Twin Peaks

Eldest and I have been staying up late watching the Twin Peaks box set I bought him for Christmas because I somehow managed to miss it in the 90's and thought it was high time I caught up, and he is a David Lynch fan. Can someone please explain just what is the matter with that lunatic director? Oh and I also finally made Eldest watch American Werewolf in London with me. It stood up surprisingly well. And do you know Rick Mayall is in that movie? When we googled him he co-wrote it as well! Talk about 80's throw back. Dear old Rick.

God bless us

And finally there has been all the usual Christmas stuff that you and your families will have been indulging in too: food and drink and telly and theatre and games and music and whatnot. Husband played Christmas carols on his euphonium as my mother and I drunkenly sang along, the boys jammed almost co-operatively on their guitars, Middle One played a bit of piano. I shopped and cooked and wrapped and lit the fire and made everyone watch A Christmas Carol again, and felt tearful when Scrooge lifted up Tiny Tim onto his bony old shoulder and the little crippled child exclaimed: God bless us, everyone! Freeze the frame. End Christmas. Re-set the whole jolly lot for next year.

Love E x


Here's our table set for Christmas tea. I thought it looked rather like something from Ideal Home. Good job there's no sound on a photograph and you can't hear the arguing in the background and me just out of the frame there shouting that it's definitely not my turn to take out the rubbish. Again. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The quiet coach.

I'm going to York for the day to surprise my mother because it's her 75th birthday. I have to get to King's Cross for 10.00. 

Middle One comes downstairs for breakfast. He has just had a whole week off school with tonsillitis, but he seemed completely better the night before. 

"My face hurts," he says, clutching his face, "a lot."

Husband walks into the kitchen. "Eldest has done something to himself," he says, "he is writhing around on the bathroom floor."

"What has he done?" I ask. 

I am sorting out my train tickets and trying to track down my Oyster Card in the bottom of my handbag.

"Somehow he appears to have impaled himself on his door handle as he went from his bedroom to the shower," says Husband. "There's a door-shaped mark on his body and he's broken the skin."

I leave my handbag and go up to Eldest. He is indeed writhing around on the bathroom floor, clutching his side and complaining that he feels sick. I look at the wound. 

"I think you should go to A & E," I say, "in case you have done some damage inside that we can't see."

I go back downstairs and start stacking the dishwasher.

"I'm in agony," says Middle One, "I've just googled it and I think I have a secondary infection."

"It sounds like a sinus infection," I say, leaving the dishwasher and walking over to Middle One, "you had better start taking those antibiotics, and you need to stay at home. I won't be here, I'm afraid. I'm going to York." 

I write out a list of when he should take the antibiotics and then a separate list for when he can take the painkillers and how to alternate between ibuprofen and paracetamol. 

Youngest goes to school. Husband takes Eldest to A & E. Middle One goes back to bed. I go up to his room with a glass of water and the tablets and a hot honey and lemon drink and then I finish tidying up and head for the Tube. 

When I get to King's Cross I ring Eldest as I'm walking across the concourse, and just as a loud alarm starts to go off with an accompanying even louder announcement.

"How are you!" I shout above the sound of the alarm, and the even louder announcement.

"Please ignore this alarm!" says the announcement.

"I'm okay!" shouts Eldest.

I go into Pret A Manger.

"This is a practice alarm!" says the announcement.

"What did the doctor say!" I shout.

"It's bruising and muscle damage!" shouts Eldest.

"Would you like anything else?" says the girl behind the counter, as I pass her my smoked salmon sandwich.

"Pardon?" I say.

"DO YOU WANT ANYTHING ELSE!" says the girl.

"Do you have any miso soup?" I say.

"What?" shouts Eldest.

"Nothing!" I shout back.

"I have to rest!" says Eldest.

"Pardon!" I say to Eldest, "there's an alarm going off!"

"Yes!" says the girl.

"One miso soup as well then, please!" I shout.

"No action is required!" says the announcement.

"I'm going to stay at home today!" shouts Eldest.

"That's a good idea!" I shout back, "you haven't had a day off since the beginning of September, and you have worked evenings and weekends, you are very tired."

Eldest says nothing. I think.

"Is that all!" shouts the girl.

"Yes!" I shout back, "thank you!"

"Well at least you will be there with Middle One so he won't be by himself!" I shout to Eldest.

"What!" shouts Eldest.

"Never mind!" I shout.

I hang up and head for the train. I have to walk the whole length of it because I have booked a seat in coach B. 

It's the quiet coach.

Love E x