Happy New Year (almost)

Okay so the past couple of posts have been a bit dreary. We did this, we did that. The weather was blah and then we did some more of that. Sorry. However I’m not sure that this post is going to be any better. So much of what I write is underpinned by the weather, and with the arrival of Hurricane Frank this morning I surprised that I’ve actually got the energy to write anything all. At least we’re nowhere near flooding – you have to feel for the folk up north.

We have been based at Jen’s and really have just hunkered down for a bit. We’re both trying hard to shake off colds, but the dampness which pervades everything is not helping. Yesterday evening we popped down to Wells and had a lovely supper with E&A and picked up the keys for Chatel – so looking forward to that. We cleaned the car, which is already turning out to fabulous, cleaned Doris and helped Jen sort her car out so it can take four dogs.

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Working in the eye of the storm

We did all of that in the eye of Hurricane Frank (well not quite) and then went for a mammoth walk with Cassie still enjoying the rain. C and I had planned to move to a local campsite rather than stay outside Jen’s house, but the weather just said ‘no’. We’ve decided to stay here until at least Saturday when we’ll move onto Mary’s, a quick trip to London to see C’s cousin Eva and then off to Chatel. For NYE we’ve booked tickets for Star Wars, and if C’s in luck I might take her to Macdonalds for supper. I’d be surprised if we make it through to midnight, but you never know.

Finally I’ve had my first report back from Fuelling the Fire, which is v positive. I’m about to launch a rewrite of Unsuspecting Hero which I would hope to complete when we’re away. And then publish FtF and sit back and watch what happens. Who knows!
We both hope you have a fun New Year and make appropriate resolutions for 2016. We’re not sure what ours are yet – there’s stuff going on which I’ve not put into print – so we can’t make any plans yet. But you’ll be the first to know when we have some news!

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A good time was had by all

I realise that my last post might have been a bit on the miserable side. You know, damp, wet, moving about, small space, feeling unwell and all that malarkey – a glass half empty type of thing. Well I take most of that back. Yes the British weather has remained as miserable as it can be and whilst I am over the worst of my cold, that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about it, but we have had a really good family Christmas? Possibly the best ever.

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Bex, C and I descended on Mum and Dad’s and had as relaxing time as we could have. I had one of those colds where my eyes streamed continuously, not helped by the fact that they keep the average room temperature up in the 30s. But we chatted, watched some TV, C and I made the food, we drank and the four of them went to Midnight Mass; I was out of it by then, my nose and eyes leaking like a drainpipe full of leaves in a storm.

We left them after Christmas lunch and made our way to C’s sister’s in Lambourn. Steve, Bex’s boyfriend, joined us (Annie and her boys were in Newbury having Christmas with one of her boys) and opened pressies and went to bed early. I was shattered.

Boxing Day was fabulous. Jen and James turned up, as did Annie and her boys plus a couple of girlfriends. It was, I have to say, magnificent to get them all together. If they are all a sample of the youth of today then our future is in very good hands. We played games, chatted, kept an eye on the football (what is happening to the Premier League?) and watched the first three episodes of Game of Thrones which Annie bought for me for Christmas.

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And today Annie, C and I drove all the way to Dorset to visit the third sister (+ family), Joy. We ate them out of house and home, exchanged pressies and drove back again. What a life! Then more left overs and a couple more episodes of GoTs. Have you seen it? Sex and blood and some intrigue thrown in for good measure. Fabulous?

Back to Jen’s tomorrow and then a long prep for Chatel. There’s also some other stuff going on, but I’ll bring that up when it’s time.

Happy Christmas!

Don’t come too close, I have a cold. I caught it from my younger daughter Jen who I have now disowned. Living in a tin box in the mild depths of the British winter doesn’t help. What I would give for a beachside villa and more servants than you can shake a bell chord at. Anyhow, Merry Christmas to the lot of you.

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From Jen’s front door

It has all been a bit of a rush. The problem with not being static is that you have to find somewhere to live, you have to get to that place and then you have to set up. Actually none of that is a problem but, and I know I’m beginning to sound like this way of life is dragging a little, when it’s a continuous process and the weather forces you to stay in doors, it can wear. Thankfully we have lots of places to stay and lots of nice people to stay with, so it’s not always complicated. But…

The upside is we do see lots of people. I have spent more time with my Mum and Dad in the last 18 months than probably I did over the previous 18 years. That is obviously an exaggeration, but that’s what it feels like. I think we know how not to outstay our welcome so we seem to get invited back. And, at the end of the day, life is all about friends and family and not possessions.

Okay, dreary bit over with. What about the news? Well we finished with Jen in Bristol, bought a car, drove Doris to Bex and Steven’s in Penkridge and yesterday drove all the way east to Colchester to have Christmas with my Mum and Dad. Hang on, you bought a car? Yes sirree we did. It’s complicated and I won’t bore you with the details of why (not yet anyway), but we are driving to Chatel in France on 6 January for ten days to go skiing. We were never going to take Doris and looked over a number of options to get us there and plumped for £2200 on a 56 plate Ford Focus with 23,000 miles on the clock. It’s fab and hopefully will be our car when we’re in the UK from here on in. Hurrah!

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Bex made the Christmas cake!

Finally, we’ve made the decision to stay in the UK for a while. This is mostly because of my folk, plus some other draws. It might mean that I have to find some temporary work, or even a longer term thing. Fuelling the Fire is currently being read in draft form by a couple of friends of mine – initial reaction is good, but us authors have to be honest…realistically I’m not going to make a living from selling books. But my fingers are forever crossed.

That’s all from me. I can hear a couple of paracetamol calling and the sun terrace and masseurs are waiting for me.

Have a great Christmas.

End of a journey

Ahh, Mrs Sun. So that’s what you look like! We’d forgotten. I think she’s only with us for a short while, but it’s good to know that she still knows where we live. Whether or not Uncle Snow will make it as far as Chatel for when we get there on 6 January remains to be seen. I do feel for those people who chose the Christmas week for skiing in the western Alps. There is no snow?

It’s been monumental week for us. Mostly based on our Jen finishing eighteen months of therapy and coming out the other side a very different person from the one who went in. And I’d like to dwell on that, mostly for all of you, who like me, think mental illness is all in the mind.

Jen has been v open about her illness. It stems from a couple of dark incidents in her childhood which only came to the fore recently. Add to that boarding school, us moving around a lot, me being the worst Dad in the world and the outcome is a very anxious, but hugely capable young woman. At first, this is a bit of being the worst Dad in the world, I was all for a stiff upper lip, a 10km run in the woods and a cold bath. It always worked for me. But not for Jen. Although, to her great credit she did manage to get a couple of v decent A-levels and a very good degree. But full time work, all that being depended upon by your boss, working to a timetable and getting on the conveyor belt of life was too much. Add to that the big real world, where there is so much pressure on young people to be something special; it was all too much.

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At the end of the journey

The manifestation of the illness was a number of horrible incidences, and some v benign but ridiculous stuff like not being able to shop on her own – literally. That makes life v difficult for anyone. At that point I’d gone beyond giving Jen a good shaking and, thankfully, the professionals, South Gloucestershire Mental Health Services stepped up and took over. And some.

So an intense, twice a week process with a group session and an hour with an expert individually kicked in. Eighteen months later Jen is as fixed as she’s ever going to be. Engaged to James, she has her own business walking and boarding dogs (which she does extremely well) and can now shop on her own without falling over. She is now the rock for many of her friends who come to her with their problems and we have all learnt a great deal. By her own admission, she will always have anxious moments – as we all do – but now she can talk them through and pop out the other side.

It’s all been pretty amazing.

Why do I tell you this? Because we are immensely proud of her. And if you know someone who’s struggling with life, don’t dismiss it and expect them to necessarily soldier on. It doesn’t always work that way.

To finish, a bit of a diary. We have been doing admin based at Jens for the last couple of days. But this included a lovely trip to see our friends Seymour and Debbie (Hi Seymour!) and overnight with Alasdair and Annie, who have just returned from Riyadh having spent four years in Saudi working at the v top of the political structure, and doing great things. Like us, they’re not sure ‘what next’, so good luck to them.

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Annie’s home made gingerbread house

And finally, the news. Go to this link if you have time:My brother is a world champion It shows my brother winning the homemade sloe gin world championship, run from a pub in Kent. Brilliant, just brilliant. Well done Kevin!

Indecision…

What are we going to do about the weather? Doris is filthy, but with all the rain it just seems pointless to give her a wash. And, just imagine, when there are two of you in a v small space with not much chance to get outside (we are still running, so that’s a positive) and now joined by your Christmas pressies – plus we’re having to wear more clothes – and Doris lacks that ‘living outside feel’. But, she and we are holding up well. Under the circumstances…

For diary’s sake we came from Mary’s to Jens in Bristol and spent a day pottering, and yesterday down in Wells doing admin (C at doctor for check up – all’s well, and a haircut). This gave us chance to visit the new concert hall which our old school is building, whilst also meeting up with some of our old pals – which was great. We stayed overnight on Monday night in Nicky C’s backyard – thanks Nicky, and last night had supper at Weatherspoon’s with J&J and S&S, friends originating as work colleagues of C’s when she was a houseparent, but who we’ve both got to know well over the years. Spoons is the best value food and drink in the country, even if the one in Wells could do with someone mopping up the tables.

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Wellsls Cathedral School new concert hall. Impressive.

Our current thoughts are the next two weeks. We had originally planned to drive down to Dover to be with R&C for New Year (Christmas is fixed with Mum and Dad – I’m in charge of the turkey, so Colchester General should be in business on Boxing Day). But that would mean taking Doris down to Dover, only to bring her back up again to get into an, as yet undetermined car, to drive back down to Dover picking up Annie (C’s sister) on the way, to get to Chatel skiing on the 6th. The idea of doing (from Bristol) Colchester, Dover, Dover in two weeks in Doris got the better of us and we have decided to stay local for New Year, probably in Doris on a campsite somewhere. Ho hum.

But, of course, the bigger decision is: what about the Spring? Mum and Dad remain a draw for me, and bearing in mind we can push off anytime we want, I can’t yet see us heading off into the sunset for an extended period of time after skiing. If we stay in the UK for a bit (what, with this weather?) then I might have to get myself a job. I do have a two week slot in Oxford in the summer teaching leadership to an Oxford summer school “Oxford Future Leaders” (website here if you’re interested: OFL) and there is the stuff that Rich and I spoke about – so there are some threads. But I don’t know, I really don’t. Fuelling the Fire is being brushed up and I have started a proper second edit on Unsuspecting Hero, which should be complete by mid-Jan. You never know, I might be on Richard and Judy’s book list at some point.

Enough drivel from me. Jennifer has promised us a long walk in the rain today with her dogs. Hurrah!

You have a good one.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

The tour continues! We had a great time at P&K’s. Karen asked me to introduce Unsuspecting Hero to her book group, which was fun but did feel a little bit bogus. I’m still not used to being an author so encouraging people to read something which came from your soul is not without anxiousness. C and I have agreed to come back for their review in late January, which delays any potential Spain trip for a week or so and exposes my soul to further interrogation. But it’ll be worth seeing the reaction and getting further advice especially as UH is due an update.

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Should we stay, or should we go?

And having handed out (and signed – how exciting!) eight paperbacks, we got some immediate advice on what’s good (the cover) and what’s not so good (slightly larger font and maybe deeper line spacing). It’s all a journey.

Since then, having picked up Jen from Bristol, we have been at Mary’s for her 39th and holding birthday. We helped with a lunch party, I ferried Jen to and from the Sandhurst Ball where an old friend of her’s was getting commissioned in to the Royal Artillery, and critically we watched the Strictly semis! Loving it and loving Jay and the blond woman from East Enders. Fabulous.

We’ve also been planning Christmas and our skiing to Chatel early in January. I have to say the next six months are up in the air, mainly because of how my Mum and Dad are. I’m not sure that pushing off into the sunset for five months when they’re so fragile is the right thing to do. The question is, of course, when is it the right thing to do? They could be fragile for years… I don’t know.

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Easter bonnets for Christmas

Back to Jen’s in Bristol today and then down to Wells to meet up with a few people and do some admin. I guess, at that point, it’ll be beginning to feel a lot like Christmas (I’m expecting you to sing that clause out loud). I should know already as C is knitting for Europe. So if your friends or family, expect knotted wool for Christmas!

Have a great week!

On tour…

The problem with winter in the UK is that it’s not in any way photogenic. As a result I’ve put in some previous photos, which, with the new WordPress malarkey still means I can’t seem to alter the size. Sorry about that.

As a record we left Mum and Dad’s and trotted along to Suffolk to have coffee with Denise – now in their recently bought farmhouse, Phil still in the US handing over his job and retiring from the Army. Then onto Sandra and Steve’s for supper – an evening of great entertainment and food catching up on 18 months of missed stuff. And finally, via Peter and Penny’s for coffee yesterday morning onto Rebecca and Steven’s for supper across the other side of England. Great to see both of them and discuss Christmas plans.  (Below is me typing away in the South of France just ten days ago.)

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Phew. And that’s what it has felt like. It doesn’t settle either until the middle of next week, what with a number of v fine people lined up to visit. And then it’s Christmas. But C has continued to knit and I am up to Chapter 8/21 in second edit of FtF. I have two school pals lined up to read it over Christmas to test the market so to speak. It’ll be good to get their reaction.

Finally what about Donald Trump? I could go on about this for ages, but let’s be clear about the message it sends if you are completely parochial about it. He’s quoting some poll which says that 25% of American Muslims applaud violence against Americans. And you can’t disagree that, should that number be correct, that’s a sizeable minority that might be easily radicalised further to cause more harm than good. But have a guess what? The moment those words came out of his mouth 25% became 30%. Apart from being racist, phobist, anti-American and simply unhinged, it is also completely counter-productive.

We are at a watershed in our recent history. We have terrorists wanting to distribute their terror wantonly about the West. And we have right wing politicians wanting to fuel that fire – to add to their narrative. Those politicians might not be shouldering an AK47 or carrying some C5 plastic explosives around their waists, but the effect they’re having is just as debilitating to our mid to long term future. If Trump and Le Pen, and others like them, get into power, pluralism is the loser. And without acceptance of others’ beliefs, religions and ethnicities comes only one likely set of outcomes: fear, radicalism and conflict.

We are in danger of taking something which we can collectively beat and turning it into something which we cannot. It is a worry.

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Anyhow. Christmas is coming…where we celebrate, well, what exactly?

Sorry about that.