Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Devon photographer

Brindle, photographed by Sam Baker

You may remember a post of mine about the life and death of Brindle, one of our dogs. At the end of this I included a photograph of Brindle taken (in about 1997) by Sam Baker, a friend who was just out of art college. Sam is now a professional photographer, specialising in 'photographs with personality'.

She still lives in Devon and still does animal portraits. In addition she now photographs events - including sports, parties and artistic performance.

She has a new website www.sambakerphotography.co.uk . Do check her out.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Holiday snaps

We went to a Greek island but you'll have to work out for yourself which one as we don't want everybody going there.

I remember when I first saw the Mediterranean - in my teens. I just couldn't believe its colour. I still can't.

It is actually a long long way down to the sea from here and the cliff on the right is a geological fault line. An earthquake in (I think) 2007 sent tons of rock down to the sea to form a new beach. On the left you can just see a swimming pool. This belongs to a new complex of villas. Would you want to stay in a villa on a geological fault line in an earthquake zone? No, neither would I. A path winds round the cliff face. Needless to say, we didn't take it. I had to sit down after taking this picture, I felt so dizzy.

Most of the island is covered with trees, either woods

or olive groves

often terraced.

Ancient footpaths traverse the island

and where there are steps these are shallow so that donkeys can use them (not that anyone on the island uses donkeys any more).

These footpaths have been mapped by an Englishman (www.iankbleasdale.co.uk ) over 15 years and 26 visits but sadly many of them are now becoming overgrown or blocked with new villas. Frog and I took secateurs so that we could do a bit of clearing while we explored. Ian (as we call him) suggests a pruning saw as well, but we thought this was going a bit far.

While new villas spring up all over the place, old houses are left to fall into ruins.

I wonder why.

Spring is the time for wildflowers in Greece but we still saw quite a few.
Wild carrot

Wild hollyhock
Chaste tree

Fragrant clematis

And, as well as walking, we did lots of swimming (in warm transparent sea), sunbathing, eating in tavernas and lazing around on our shady terrace. But that probably doesn't make for very interesting pictures.

The skin underneath

On the second day of the holiday
I tripped on a protruding drain cover
and gashed my elbow.

For over a week since then
the wound has oozed
blood and pus.

(That’s what wounds do, says Frog.
Stop worrying about it.
Why did it happen? I wail.
What is its metaphysical significance?)

But today it started to dry
and bits of scab
are cracking off.

(That’s what scabs do, says Frog.
You don’t have to pick at them.)

The skin underneath is tender.

(New skin is like that.
I remember now.)

In five days’ time
I will have to go home.

The skin
is tender.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Embracing the inner artist

This morning while walking the dog – or rather while sitting down in the corner of a field out of the wind to ‘meditate’ (my version) and watch the dog excavating a rabbit hole in the hedge – I had another thought.

    I need to give more weight to my creative side.

My father was a businessman who didn’t have much time for art unless it made money whereas my mother’s family includes artists, writers and a musician, and I don’t think I’ve ever reconciled the two. Both sides are strong in me but I think the business side has always dominated – to the detriment perhaps of my health (migraines causing – among other symptoms – one-sided headaches).
    I allow myself to be creative in the spaces left over from all the ‘serious’ stuff of my life – checking bank statements, juggling money, writing shopping lists for Frog, organising – and all the time I’m being creative (be it writing, sewing, taking photographs, or simply doing nothing and letting my brain run free) I’m in a rush, knowing that my time is limited and expecting the business side of me to swoop down at any minute and tell me off for wasting time.
    So, the next step is to work out how to resolve this conflict, how to stop my business side being such a bully and embrace my inner artist.
    Writing this post (while I ‘should’ be hoovering the sitting-room/ pulling up nettles, filing, clearing mud out of the utility room . . .) is a start.
    All other suggestions gratefully received.
And while I’m on the subject, here are two of my birthday cards, one made for me by a niece (on Frog’s side) who is both a photographer (www.kimwhitworth.co.uk  www.facebook.com/kimwhitworthphoto ) and a banker, and the other a drawing by my mother’s brother who used to be a businessman.

copyright Kim Whitworth

copyright Herbert Despard

Saturday, 25 May 2013


About ten or fifteen years ago (dates aren’t my strong point) I saw a healer about my migraines.
    ‘There’s a difference’, she said, ‘between triggers and cause. What you need to do is find out the cause of your migraines.’
    I agreed with her. The triggers for my migraines seemed too numerous even to list and I was blowed if I was going to limit my life any more than I did already as a result of the migraines – an almost-vegan diet, minimal social life, working from home. I’d never been to a doctor about my migraines. I didn’t want to be tied to some drug for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be a ‘patient’. I preferred exploring complementary therapies, doing something for myself.
    Over the last few weeks however – ever since I had my ‘dead dog dream’ (see previous post) – something strange has been happening. In spite of my lovely birthday (because of it?) I’ve been feeling ill most of the time. The only days I’ve woken up feeling well are the days when I had no wine the night before (and before you snigger knowingly, let me tell you that I only ever have one glass – any more and I know that I would be violently sick) and the day I felt worst was the day after the day I’d had some chocolate as well. It was as if something was pinpointing my triggers or as if my triggers were narrowing themselves down in an effort to tell me something.
    ‘Right,’ I said. ‘I shall do without both alcohol and chocolate between now and our holiday in four weeks’ time (and maybe cheese as well as that might be another culprit) and see what happens.’
    I’d been wanting to lose a few pounds before the holiday and this way I could kill two birds with one stone (not that I’d ever want to kill a bird, or anything for that matter – except perhaps a dying dog). I’d been battling with causes for thirty-five years. Just for once, I would concentrate on triggers.
    That was Wednesday.
    It’s as if something fundamental has been snatched from my life. I feel stunned. And yesterday afternoon, as I lay on my bed recovering from the shock, I had a thought.

    Life’s not about doing as much as possible. It’s about giving yourself what you need.

That may not seem earth-shattering to you but to me it was a revelation. Alcohol and chocolate had been part of a lifestyle that was toxic to me. They had propped it up and, without them, my whole life was going to have to change. I could no longer race through the day, struggling to get to the end of a never-ending ‘to do’ list, denying myself what I really wanted (not even eating) and compensating at the end of the day with ‘treats’. Those treats had gone. I was going to have to replace them. I was going to give myself what I really needed instead. And those things were:

    Food and rest.

And I have a feeling that’s just the start. Fun and real pleasure could be added to those two items in due course.
    I want to cry.
    It’s great being sixty.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Dead dog dream

The mangled and bloody remains of what I think is a dog lie in a mound of freshly turned earth. I think the thing is dead but suddenly it starts twitching and writhing. I can’t bear the thought of the pain the creature must be going through but I don’t know what to do. I want to pile earth on to it so that I don’t have to look at it any more but I have a feeling that might be cowardly. I have to kill it outright, but I can’t. I don't want to and I don't know how to do it.

I wake, and realise that the creature is my past – the things in my past that still give me pain but which I can’t give up.

(And thanks to Trish Currie's brilliant blog which gave me the idea for this post.)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Now I am sixty

I do things because I want to, not because I ought to

I am grown-up so more than a match for anyone or anything (even other grown-ups or stroppy spaniel/collie dogs)

I focus on being myself, not Ms Perfect

I leave the past behind

I look forward to a glorious future

I embrace the possibility of change . . .

. . . In other words, I live every day as if it was my sixtieth birthday. And yes, I had a wonderful time. Thank you to everyone who helped make it so.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sewing B

A couple of months ago I said to Frog, ‘There are all these cookery programmes on television but why is there never anything about sewing?’ And then, lo and behold, a few weeks ago, ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ appeared on BBC2.
    I’m hooked. Although the programme spends too much time on the sewers and not enough on the sewing (of course), it’s giving me ideas, revealing to me just how much I don’t know, and legitimising a passion that has long been one of my guilty secrets (‘clothes are frivolous’, ‘colour and texture are women’s things and therefore not important’ etc etc).
    Strangely, at around the time the programme started, I had decided to stop writing for a while. It was too difficult to find the time and the space. The dog hated me doing it. I was worn out after eight months of intense concentration. Sewing raced to fill the gap, albeit largely in its ‘making do and mending’ guise – which is something else that has the function of legitimising my passion (I’m ‘saving’ money, not spending it on unnecessary things like clothes). As follows.

We are lucky enough to be going on holiday to a Greek island in the summer and an Ikea bag, I have discovered, makes an ideal beach bag, as it’s a good colour and big enough and light enough for all those essential items for a day walking and beaching – mat, towel, swimmers, book, water, suncream, map. Its straps unfortunately have Ikea blazoned on them and I’ve never liked that. Then I came across some webbing that I’d used many years ago to turn a shop-bought hand-bag into a shoulder-bag. That bag is now defunct but the webbing lives on.

My sunhat is too big. It slips over my ears when I get hot (and sweaty). While going through my drawer of bits, I came across the ties from a long-dead linen skirt. Here is one of them trimming my hat and tightening the brim.

I made a shirt in which to travel (hot ferry but necessity for modesty) but decided it was boring. I’ve tried to cheer it up with some material left over from a dress I made last year. I still don’t like it.

And then I splashed out. I bought two lots of Indian cotton from the newly expanded (and recommended) Exeter Fabric Shop with which to make beach dresses.

One of the patterns I’m using is thirty-five years old. I last used it the year Frog and I married and I wore the dress until it fell apart. Frog has persuaded me to use the pattern again, even though I wondered if it was too young for me (but then of course reusing patterns is so thrifty . . .).

So there you are. B and her sewing. Where it’s all leading, I have no idea. I'll never make my fame and fortune this way. But, then again, I'll probably never make it writing either. And at least the dog's happy now.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Signs of the times

Although late, primroses are putting on an extra-special display this year:

Last year it was the turn of celandines to excel – in both size and quantity – but this year they’re back to normal. Don’t you love their tiny heart-shaped leaves.

The ditch where I saw the frogspawn seven weeks ago (goodness, how time flies) has now dried out. I fear the tadpoles have had it.
    (When I passed by this morning a toad was sitting in the mud. I wish I’d taken a photograph then. What do you think she/he was doing?)

Stitchwort is always the first of what I call the ‘hedgerow’ flowers to appear. I saw this lone clump beside the road on Friday, shivering in the Siberian blast (me and the plant) - hence the slightly blurred picture:

The magnificent shiny trowel-shaped leaves of wild arum (lords and ladies) which are popping up all over the place. Some of them look to be about a foot in length.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

What I'm reading

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

Other than the fact that (as my sister Anna said) this book comes alive when describing adolescents, it’s hard to believe it’s by the same author as the Harry Potter series, so different are both the style and the content.
    It’s set in a small West Country town and deals with the fallout from the premature death of a member of its council. In some ways it reminds me of Dickens – lots of characters, social comment and long (500 pages), but so far (and I’m only 100 pages in) I’m missing a central character with which to identify. In fact, most of the characters are pretty ghastly (or, at least, portrayed without sympathy), but my sister assures me this changes as you get further on, so I will persevere.

How do you scan paperbacks?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I first read this a few years ago – probably in 2004 when it came out – but, having discovered it’s being made into a film, I was motivated to pick it up again.
    I remember being quite baffled by it first time round, although I loved it, and it certainly makes more sense this time, but whether that’s because it needs two readings or because our (my) conception of plot has developed I don’t know.
    It consists of six stories connected in different ways (including perhaps reincarnation) ranging from the nineteenth century to the future. First time round I was fascinated by the  story about a grim future where human clones do all the boring work and most of the globe is contaminated (by nuclear fallout?). This time I enjoyed the two stories set in the near-present, one in thriller genre about a woman journalist trying to find out about safety problems at her local nuclear power plant, and the other a semi-humorous autobiography by an ageing publisher.
    As you will have realised by now, the style of each story is different, and this is intriguing. I have a feeling I didn’t read the central story before as it’s done in a futuristic dialect and, as I’m sure you’ll agree, dialect is hell to read. However, it is worth making the effort (and you do get used to the dialect) as this section explains the title and gives the book its point. (What that point is, I won't say or comment on as that might spoil the book for you.)

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

And here’s the latest book by a new author. If you want enjoyable, easy, murder mysteries set in the Norfolk countryside with a delightfully fallible, female, forty-something, forensic-archaeologist heroine, this series is for you too. But do read it in order, as there’s a love story that runs through all the books. There are five in the series so far and the first is called The Crossing Places.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


I’ve always been a sponge. I find it all too easy to understand other people’s points of view. Other people's emotions wash through me. When talking to people I put myself in their head. I see me through their eyes. I’m them talking to me, not the other way round. This has caused serious problems in my life, not least with my family, and means that I now do everything I can to avoid human contact. Human contact is painful for me. It knocks me off my perch. (Except for Frog. With Frog, for some reason, I’m OK. Just about.)   
    Last weekend is a case in point. I decided a month or so ago that as my mother is 85 and not in the best of health and that as I hadn’t seen her since November it was time to pay another visit to the South-East where she and my four siblings live. Rather than stay with any of them however in their valley village as I usually do, I booked Frog, Dog and me into a cottage high in the North Downs above. I was thinking of them as well as me – we’re quite a handful to have to stay – and they all thought it was a good idea too.
    It worked well. It was a lovely spot – in spite of dubious neighbours. Rumour has it that all the villains-made-good retire there and judging by the plethora of expensive-looking properties guarded by six-foot-high metal fencing, CCTV and outsize dogs (two of which leapt over their fence and tried to have a go at me and Ellie as we walked past*) that could well be true. I saw almost everybody in the family, some more than once, but nobody for too long, and on Saturday it snowed and Frog, Dog and I had a magical walk. (I mention that so that I can include a couple of the photographs I took.)

    Nevertheless I arrived home in my usual ragged state and it’s taken me several days of solitude to recover my equilibrium.
    Lately however, with my sixtieth birthday looming and now that I've started to apply myself to writing fiction, I’ve realised that empathy does have a point and that in fact for fiction writers it’s absolutely essential. Putting ourselves into other people’s heads is what we do. And thereby hangs another tale.
    Ellie and writing, as I’ve said before, are incompatible. She does not settle between walks when it's just her and me in the house. (When Frog's around, she's a different dog, but when Frog's around I don't usually write.) She whines, she barks, she paces, she races up and down the garden chasing cars and people on the road. And for the last month, as the dogminder reorganises her business, I’ve been dogminder-less. Ellie and I have been alone at home together for three to four days a week.
    It’s been hell.
    The problem is, I so want her to be happy. And Ellie knows that. ‘Entertain me,’ she says. ‘Feed me, walk me, play with me. Pay attention to me, not that silly old screen.’ I can feel her pulling at my life essence like a dementor.  
    ‘She’s a control freak’ said the trainer.
    ‘Shut her in her crate’ says Frog.
    But I can’t.
    Yesterday I thought I was going to have to give up writing.
    Today I’m looking for a new dogminder.
    So, even though I’ve at last found a way to make good use of empathy, I haven’t yet got to grips with its downside.
    I need the mental equivalent of six-foot-high metal fencing, CCTV and outsize dogs.

*By some extraordinary stroke of fate, the owners drew up in their 4x4 as the lead Alsatian's teeth were a foot away from my calf. They (the owners) were charming and couldn't have been more apologetic.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Friday, 22 February 2013

And on the coldest day of the year so far . . .

Ploughing. I love the seagulls and the contrast in colour between the ploughed and unploughed stripes.

A lamb keeping warm. As soon as I tried to get closer it jumped off but I think the picture's worked out rather well as it is.

And just so that you don't think country life is all sweetness and light here is a dead animal (lamb?) that I discovered because Ellie was rolling on it.

And here is another dead animal (rabbit?) that Ellie is tearing to pieces and devouring.

This day two years ago I started this blog and this day two years ago I wrote about hearing the first yaffle (green woodpecker) of the year. As I walked home today I heard a yaffle in the weeping willow beside the lane, the first of the year.

Love is . . .

When I first met Frog thirty-five and a half years ago I’d renounced deep human relationships, especially those with the opposite sex. They were too complicated, too painful. My life had fallen apart because of them – or perhaps because of one in particular – and I was concentrating on putting it back together again. I wanted to get my degree and then a proper job, and live a sensible, ordered life. Meeting Frog put paid to all those plans, much to my chagrin, and I gave him a year.
    Ellie is unlike any dog we’ve had before. She doesn’t lie at my feet in a companionable doze after our walk together so that I can get on with some writing. She flops around my work-room sighing, making it perfectly obvious she’s bored, or lies up against the wheels of my chair so that I can’t move for fear of running over her, making as much of a nuisance of herself as possible so that I have to notice her. If down in the kitchen/conservatory she whines for me to join her or barks loudly out of the window at anything that moves (insects, thistledown, birds, aeroplanes, rabbits, the horses in the field opposite, cars in the lane, clouds). She won’t go out in the garden without me – not because she’s frightened but because it’s boring on her own.
    The only way to get her to relax is to shut her in her crate in the alcove under the dresser – if necessary with a towel over the front so that she’s in the dark. I feel cruel doing that for long periods so, when Ellie is at home and I want to write, my day is a constant battle. I am up and down every hour or so, walking her, taking her for trips in the car to the post office and the farm shop, taking strolls round the garden with her, playing catch-the-bouncing-ball or tug-of-war.
    Recently I’ve been leaving her with the dogminder two days a week instead of her usual one in order to have some peaceful time on my own and really get into my writing. Unfortunately The Novel (and the blog, as you may have noticed) began to gutter and die. Last Sunday I had one of the worst migraines I’ve had for a long time and on Wednesday when Ellie went to the dogminder I missed her.
    Yesterday, when Ellie was at home, I planned a day of writing but I didn’t hold out high hopes. We went through our usual restless rigmarole but because I was still feeling the effects of the migraine I wasn’t strong enough to kick against it. And suddenly I found that The Novel was taking off again. Rather than interfering, the breaks were doing good.
    This morning at breakfast I was trying to explain this to Frog.
    ‘She keeps me human,’ I said. ‘She makes me laugh and she makes me cross.’
    ‘When I’m not around to do the job you mean,’ he said.
    How I laughed.
    Love’s never how you expect, is it.

Ellie as a puppy, two and a half years ago (and Frog, of course)

Monday, 18 February 2013


What can you say about spring – about the light, the sudden warmth of the sun, the breakfast birdsong, the uncomfortable stirrings that make you want to do more with your life than eat, the fact that the ground no longer feels like a sponge and the mud doesn’t reach to the top of your wellies – that hasn’t all been said before? So perhaps I won’t say anything and simply show you these pictures of the first frogspawn that I spotted in the ditch up the lane about ten minutes ago.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Several shades of yellow

Fields and trees near home, waiting for spring to green them up


Ivy in a hedge. Are these flower buds or immature fruit? Does anyone know?

Gorse flowers in the snow a few weeks ago


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Writing binges

Goodreads is a social networking site where people share opinions about books. At least, I think that’s what it is. I find it very confusing. I’ve joined in order to support Patrick Newman (mentioned in a post a few weeks ago in connection with his new book Tracking the Weretiger). Pat has been assiduous in posting book reviews and one which caught my eye was about Buzz Aldrin’s Magnificent Desolation, in no small part because of its magnificent title. I found it in the library and am reading it at the moment.
    I’d heard about the trouble astronauts have adjusting to life back on Earth and I’d always thought that was because they’d had such a profound spiritual experience while in space that normal existence paled by comparison. For Buzz, it wasn’t quite like that.
    The title is his description of both the moon and his reaction on returning. Having achieved in his thirties something as momentous as walking on the moon, something for which he’d been training all his life, he didn’t know what to do next. He began to suffer from depression and he began to drink.
    His description of the moon voyage is technical rather than emotional. As he says, they were trained to get the job done, not have feelings about it. (And with typical modesty he suggests that a poet, musician or journalist should go to the moon so that they can describe it properly for the world.) But it’s interesting nonetheless because of the detail – about the suits, the food, the metallic smell of moon dust, the fact that you can't stop dead when walking on the moon, the dicey machinery. (He had to replace a broken switch with a biro in order to take off from the moon.)
    What’s really struck me about his experiences however (and I’m only halfway through the book) is how secret he felt he had to keep his illness and how, once he did come clean and ask for help, his career in the Air Force was finished.
    Aren’t we all sick, to a greater or lesser degree? Health is a process, a process of experimentation and of adjustment to changing circumstances. You can always have more. And I think it was Jung who said that his patients never actually recovered. They just learnt to live with their condition and moved on.
    This morning at breakfast, I was trying to explain to Frog my current mental battles. (Breakfast is a good time to catch him. He’s half asleep and not distracted by all the things that usually distract him, like music, radio, practical tasks, television, books.) I was talking about the way I go into inspiration overload, how I seem to have to work myself into a frenzy in order to write, about how unpleasant that is, and about how unpleasant the comedown is (exhaustion, depression, migraine).
    ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Writing binges.’
    Wow, I thought. He was listening, and he’s encapsulated in two words everything I was trying to say. And, having been in the doldrums since Wednesday (‘I'm bereft of inspiration. I shall never write again’), I thought ‘blog post’.
    Whenever we have a strong wind our broadband disconnects. I reconnect it by clicking on a button labelled ‘connect’ on my computer. I find that incomprehensible. How can something physical – the effect of wind – be remedied by something virtual? Don’t I have to climb on to the roof and fiddle with wires?
    As I reconnected this morning, I thought - if only I could do the same with my brain. Why can’t I switch on the inspiration when I want to write and switch it off when I want to relax? Why does it all have to be so painful?
    Perhaps it doesn't. It's not as if I've been to the moon or anything.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Two more snowy pictures

I like this picture because of the view. We're on the hill behind the house and the grey smudge on the left-hand horizon is Dartmoor

'I can roll in this stuff AND make tunnels in it with my nose. It's SO exciting.'

And now I really will stop (unless we have any more snow). As you might be able to tell, I like the stuff too.