Wednesday, 23 November 2011


The following is a slightly edited extract from my autobiography. It's about Brindle, our first dog, a spaniel/labrador cross ruled by her stomach and virtually untrainable.
    I’m not sure why I’m publishing it here, now, but it came to me while I was showering this morning, perhaps as a result of yesterday’s post (in which I mentioned the words that arrive in the head, seemingly automatically).
    Anyway, for what it’s worth, here it is.

 ‘In front of you,’ said Cheryl, ‘you will see some stairs. Climb the stairs and you will see a door. Your spirit guide is waiting for you the other side of the door. Go through the door . . .’
    Cheryl was leading half a dozen of us through a visualisation in order for us to meet our spirit guide for the first time.
    Nothing much happened to me that evening but the next day when I was out walking and sat down for my usual meditation I decided to try the visualisation again on my own.
    To my astonishment, even though I had no vision of a person, information flooded into my mind in response to my questions. I asked questions about everybody – Frog, me, my parents, friends, relatives – and about Brindle.
    ‘She was human in her previous life,’ said my informant, ‘but reincarnated this time in dog form in order to learn continence and obedience.’
    I couldn’t keep up with the information, I started to doubt it, I grew a little alarmed at what was going on, and the communication stopped. When I got home however I passed on to Frog the news about Brindle. I wasn’t quite sure how he would take it, whether he would scoff, but he surprised me, accepting it without question and summing up the situation in his usual pithy way.
    ‘Well, she hasn’t learnt much of either,’ he said.
    The year before Brin died I was working frantically on New Age Encyclopaedia. The project was much bigger than I had anticipated and I’d had to ask the publisher to extend the deadline by three months. Even so, I was still pushed. Then Brin fell ill. She looked drunk. She couldn’t walk straight and she kept being sick.
    ‘A stroke,’ said the vet.
    'Please, please, don't let her die,' I prayed.
    I didn’t have the time or the energy to deal with her death at that moment.
    She rallied, climbing the stairs with her legs collapsing underneath her, getting back to her normal routine within a few days.
    Her last few months coincided with a foot and mouth outbreak when the countryside was out of bounds. She and I trudged the lanes. She was deaf now as well as disobedient so I had to keep her on a lead. If she had run into a field I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting her back and she might have been shot.
    She didn’t like the situation any more than I did. She would stop in the middle of the road and look at me.
    ‘Why are we doing this?’ her eyes said. ‘I’m an old lady now. I’d much rather be at home.’
    ‘I’m sorry,’ I would reply. ‘We’ve got to get our exercise and it’s as far now to go home as it is to go on.’
    Frog and I went on holiday to a Greek island, leaving Brindle with neighbours. Because of a storm we couldn't get off the island at the end of our holiday and it looked like our return was going to be delayed at least three days. Ben, our neighbour, sounded worried when I phoned him.
    'I just hope Brindle will last,' he said.
    Eventually we made it home and the next day Frog and I took Brindle out for a walk. This was most unusual as normally I went out alone.
    Halfway up the steep lane behind the house, she collapsed. She couldn’t move, her tongue was hanging out and she was panting. Frog raced back down the hill to get the car so that we could take her home, while I waited with her by the side of the road.
    Thank goodness Frog had been there, I thought. What would I have done on my own? I had no phone. I couldn’t carry her. I would have had to leave her alone in order to go and get help.
    Back home we laid her on her bed and called the vet. Because of the panting we thought she was hot so we put a fan on her while we waited.
    When the vet arrived he looked serious.
    ‘It’s a pulmonary embolism, I’m afraid,’ he said. ‘There’s no hope. She’s slowly suffocating.’
    Brin got up and staggered outside only to collapse again on the grass. We followed her and watched the vet administer the injection. As the plunger went in I saw her spirit burst from her body like a puff of steam and streak away northwards over the shed. It couldn’t wait to leave.

She had waited for me to finish my book. During the foot and mouth crisis she had walked round the lanes with me even though she hadn’t wanted to. She’d waited for Frog and me to get back from holiday. She’d made sure we were both there when she collapsed.
    Perhaps, in the end, she did what she came here to do.
Photograph by Sam Baker

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


I wake as it gets light, feeling refreshed and relaxed. I have nothing planned for today, nothing I have to do. I didn’t have to lie awake in the night making lists. I don’t have to leap out of bed, already worried about how I’m going to fit everything in. Daytime doesn't stamp on Dreamtime and tell it it's worthless. Instead, it wraps itself around Dreamtime, keeping Dreamtime’s riches safe.
    I put on my fluffy pink dressing-gown and go down to the kitchen, Dreamtime's secret warmth inside me. Something good is going to happen today but I can’t remember what it is.
    Frog and I have breakfast in bed as usual but today we take our time, chatting about Life past, present and future.
    Ellie is now perfectly trained. She doesn’t whine at the bottom of the stairs, impatient to be off out, expecting me to entertain her every moment of the day. She doesn’t chase sheep either or jump up at people and cover them in muddy paw prints. I can walk where I like and meditate while I walk and think about my writing rather than about her and the mischief she might be up to.
    The wind is westerly today so I don’t hear or smell the motorway. Actually, now I come to think of it, the motor car is defunct. Vanished. Gone to meet its maker in the sky. Silence reigns and the air smells sweet.
    Much of the countryside has reverted to nature and Ellie and I ramble freely through woods, beside streams, along overgrown hedgerows, across heaths and moorland, past ruined cottages covered in ivy. We meet plenty of animals but none of the human variety.
    My mind takes off, a hot-air balloon released from its moorings, and words start to clatter into it like telex messages. I get out my notebook and pencil and write them down as I walk. I don’t judge them and I don’t panic when they stop. I know that I only have to take a few more steps and the next lot will be ready.
   Because I myself am creating, I feel part of the creativity all around. The Great Spirit is speaking to us all. I can hear it in the birdsong, see it in the wind that moves the grass. I am not an alien any longer, an interloper who can only destroy. I belong. I am good.
    When I get home it is dusk. Frog has lit a fire in the sitting-room. We sit beside it and watch the sun setting behind the hill. We know that we will live forever.

Me (right) and two friends, all dressed up.
(Thanks to Chris for unearthing the picture.)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

My big fat Greek cardigan

This post is for Nina ( ) – and of course for anyone else interested in the minutiae of customising clothes.
    About fifteen years ago while on holiday in Greece I bought a cardigan, hand knitted in wool from Greek mountain sheep with wooden – olive wood? – buttons.

I loved its colours – bright purple with emerald green – but not its shape. It stopped in tight ribbing just below stomach and bum, and made me look as if I was about to give birth. Never mind. I could probably alter it.
    If I’d been my sister or my mother I would have unpicked the bottom and reknitted it but knitting is not my forté and I didn’t have the confidence. I could see at best an awful ridge where I’d tried to pick up the stitches or at worst the entire garment unravelling. Over the next few years I tried various other solutions, like stretching the ribbing or knitting an insert for the sides, but nothing worked. I was going to have to be brave.
    All the way round the cardigan above the ribbing I sewed a piece of tape, and above that I sewed another piece. I then cut between the tapes all the way round. Phew. The ribbing was off.
    I then folded up the bottom of the cardigan, using the tape to make a neat(ish) hem, and tried the cardigan on. Wonderful. It fitted much better.

It was still lacking around the neck area however. I like interest in the neck area. It disguises the fact I have no bust. And I still had a long strip of ribbing that I didn’t want to waste. Brainwave. I would use the ribbing to make a collar.
    I did, and it worked. The tape already along one edge of the ribbing disguised the join. I used the whole length of ribbing and it fitted around the neck perfectly so you can see how tight it was around the hips.

I wore the cardigan every day during the cold spells of the last two winters. As well as being wonderfully warm and cheering, it felt just right, like mine now, and every time I put it on I admired my handiwork.

Afraid I'm not going to pose with the cardigan on.
I haven't got the hang of self-portraiture yet and my hair needs washing.
Sorry, I’m sounding smug. Perhaps I’d better tell you about the chest I have of sewing that didn’t work. But at least the material can be cannibalised and used to adapt other garments.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mr and Mrs Duck

In my neighbour's wild garden this morning: the ducks who have made their home there.
They didn't want to be photographed and kept hiding round the other side of the pond's island then peeping round the corner to see if I was still there. I still was and eventually they got used to me.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Significant moments

Karma is a funny thing.
    Forty (blimey) years ago I was in my first year at Exeter university and struggling. I had spent much of my adolescence in my bedroom filling out my chart of food-and-drink-consumed, in the grip of anorexia. I was not equipped for being thrown in with several thousand of my contemporaries.
    Now my lovely niece, who spent much of her adolescence languishing at home with ME, is going through the same. And not only is she studying at Exeter, she is in the same hall of residence that I was (and the chairs in the television room haven’t changed).
    These however are kinder times. She has changed her course, she may change universities, and her family are making frequent visits to keep her spirits up. With any luck the next few years won’t degenerate for her into the disaster that they did for me.
    Yesterday my niece and I went for a walk by the sea. She borrowed my camera to take photographs. Actually, as I’ve explained before, it isn’t my camera. It was chucked out by my brother – my niece’s father – because it didn’t work, and repaired by Frog. The photograph above is one of hers.
    Trish Currie in her blog ‘What’s cooking?’ ( writes about significant moments, the moments of each day that you remember and which in her case she turns into her exquisite almost-daily posts.
    I have many lovely memories from yesterday but one stands out from the others. Ellie playing in the waves with her new friend, a chocolate spaniel called Indie. Me talking to Indie’s ‘owners’. And my niece smiling in the sunlight.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Here goes

‘You try too hard,’ said my hairdresser Michelle as she worked something called ‘craft clay’ into my hair and mussed it all up.
    She was talking about my hair, but I haven’t been able to get her words out of my head.
    I’m terrified of doing anything to The Novel (always in capitals, note) in case nothing comes to mind. In case I can’t do it. I try to impose words on to the page. I don’t wait for them to come. I try too blxxdy hard.
    The paralysis has even extended to The Blog (as you may have noticed) – something which came so easily to start with.
    Yesterday I had my once-every-three-weeks collapse in bed – not quite a migraine this time – nausea and headache, yes, but not quite the black pall of all-over wretchedness that signals migraine – so today I feel good, back in touch with myself, liberated from the ‘to do’ list. I spent a day in bed and the world didn’t collapse. Maybe I could do more just for myself.
    Writing – when it works – gives me the same feeling. So here goes. Blog post first (good or bad) and then Novel.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

My weekend

Yesterday I drove for half an hour into the wilds of Mid Devon and went for a walk along a wooded river valley protected by the National Trust.

I needed to get Ellie away from all possible sources of illicit sport so that I could have a peaceful walk for once (Ellie’s illicit sport being one neighbour’s pheasants and another’s rescue sheep and chickens, as well as all the children on bicycles who appear at the weekend).

Apart from one family also out walking their dog I saw no one all morning. The river burbled and the leaves drifted down like snow. Ellie ran free.

In the words of Van Morrison, wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time.

The enchanted wood

My poetic aunt Annabelle has recently had her autobiography published in Norway where she lives to rave reviews. Partly at my insistence, she has now translated it into English, and Frog and I have been reading it for the last two days, riveted. It is called The Girls’ School (Pikeskolen in Norwegian).

She has so much to write about – what it’s like to live in two cultures at once (English and Norwegian), losing her mother at the age of six and her current battle with an obscure illness called myasthenia gravis to name but three of the themes.

Please, English publishers, take hold of this book and give it the attention it deserves.