Saturday, 10 December 2016

Christmas is like haemerroids

God is it really that long since I found the strength to come here. I was away for most of November, let that be my excuse.  And now, deep breaths like in meditation, now it's Christmas. Christmas is like haemorrhoids, bloody, uncomfortable and always there. I used to love that saying, Oh God, it can't be Christmas already, I haven't finished paying for last year yet.
There we are queueing in shops,buying hundreds of things we don't need, watching the Salvation Army on telly scraping up the homeless, folk in Australia sweating over their barbies and then I hope for snow while I slosh around in the endless rain and the last of my roses gives up and makes a mess in the front garden.
Meanwhile we empty our bank accounts, buy a succession of baubles and wrap stuff and wrap stuff and wrap stuff. There are lunches and dinners and all those people who keep away from alcohol during the year think they are doing you a favour by giving you disgusting concoctions like sloe gin and ginger wine and they crowd into the bar swhile the serious drinkers stay at home, with endless cups of tea and take a few sighs of relief as new year retreats and the rest of the world goes on diets, exercises and gives up alcohol as though it was some kind of new hobby or golden life when half a bottle of wine would get them under the table on Boxing Day.
Morning television is debating whether people still make decorations. Excuse me?  When was this?  And whether we have traditional Christmas dinners and whether we like to snooze afterwards. Still, it's better than the alternatives, watching Donald Trump blow up the world and Nigel Farage with that smile which looks like glue has run out of its tube.
I talked to a woman in the co op yesterday who had spent £43 on cards. She could have gone to Spain for that price and sat by a pool for a week. Only indoors I suspect but still. I have whittled down my Christmas card list and now sit by the letterbox as the postman never stops because people have sussed me and think  If that bitch isn't sending me a card she ain't getting one. Okay. I don't care that much.
The trains are full of fat guys with big luggage ( and I don't mean Santa ). The toilets are blocked because people spend the journey drinking lager, the trolley has gone walk about and the seats are filthy when folk have apparently thrown up on their way back from yet another bloody party.
If it snows for Christmas I might forgive it at least for a few days but as one friend pointed out to me the other night it never snows at Christmas, whereas it always does at Easter when I'm trying to open up the caravan and sit outside contemplating the joys of sunshine.
I went to Nova Scotia in November and had thought they might have lovely sunny cold weather instead of which they appeared to be having a heatwave and I was sweltering. Meanwhile at home in Stanhope there were lovely snowy scenes. Now I'm at home its 13 degrees and minus 6 in Nova Scotia!!
I shall toddle off and heave sighs of relief as I wrap my last Christmas gifts and hope no enthusiastic bugger starts singing in the Bleak Mid Winter or I shall cry this afternoon. And a merry Christmas to you too.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Goats , Stirks and Beehvies

When I came to write my new book, Nobody's Child, it was all about the things I did as a young woman, how I lived on a farm and kept animals.My husband was a the kind of man who looked on the world as something to be enjoyed and if not that at least started on . He was a lover of new ideas and doing things he knew very little about and had not come across before.
So he bought a goat.Not being one to do things by halves we ended up with several goats. I suppose it was the age we were. Things like that make me want to run back to the city now but we lived in an old farmhouse seventeenth century and had a lot of room, five hundred acres which nobody told us we couldn't move across ( we bought a trials bike and rode up and down the fields on it), huge buildings with nothing in them, so many that if the house took up one side, the buildings took up the other three sides. It was a complete square with a huge duckpond out the back.
I loved it right from the beginning. it was the happiest time of my life. When I was twenty nine Richard's father died and that was when things changed.  He had adored his father and found him dead in his workshop. He had been having heart problems but neither of us had lost anybody we loved up to then. It made us into adults. It also made us want a house of our own and a child of our own and things became very complicated.
We were happy after that but we had lost the innocence of youth. We also, I think, lost a lot of the ineptness of youth. Thinking back we made horrible mistakes with our animals and put them through pain through ignorance but we also tried to give them a good life in the country.
In my new book there is a big scene where Jake and Kath, the two main characters, acquire beehives which I knew a lot about because that was another of our ventures. They put them in the garden in the right spot ( it was so long since I had kept  bees that I had to read up about it ) but then a stirk leaps over the fence and knocks them over. In our case it was a goat and it was our own fault because she was on a long rope, as far as I can remember, and she managed somehow to get near the hives and knock one of them over.
We laughed about it so much later but the scene in the book is exactly what happened. She has long hair and the bees get caught up in it. He runs to the river with the dog, she goes after him and they have to wade through to the other side to get away.
The bees have to be brushed, dead, from her hair and for several days afterwards nobody can go anywhere near the beehives because the bees were so cross with us they would sting us.
It was difficult, we were living in a big caravan, building a house and couldn't leave the caravan for days. For the people in the story it was less serious. They managed to get the hive turned upright again.
Writing this was such joy. Also in the story they take the bees to the heather and we did this, we took them right up to the top of Weardale so that they could make heather honey. These are joyful memories and although I'm not taken to reading my own books I do like to remember where these  scenes came from and how happy we were and how much we had. We were young and rather stupid but our lives were filled with joy and goats and bees, ducks and sheep, pigs and hens, dogs and cats.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Fit and Sober, Dear God!!

I decided the time had come to stop drinking so much and start exercising more and I have and I feel better, and I've lost a little bit of weight and my shape is starting to change though obviously at sixty five, nearly sixty six I'm not going to achieve a great deal. But the worrying thing is that I have obviously not just lost four pounds and half a tummy but my entire bloody mind!
Tonight at a quarter to eight there I was out there in jeans ( which now fit me ) and a nightie which I put on earlier when I got changed and I was kneeling down on a tea towel clutching great handfuls of leaves so that the guttering would not get clogged and then staggering off to the green bin with them. I kid you not, who does that? I weeded and weeded. The pots look amazing.
At eight o' clock I decided to clean the top of the cooker with Brillo pads to the shiny bits. This is really sad. I never do such things. I have help. I have other people, lovely people who give me time to write but at the moment I am restless. Early in the morning - this is seven, I kid you not - I am in my trainers and off up to the wilds of Weardale or into the town and round the river.  It's exhausting. In town I talk to all the shopkeepers like a desperate old lady and they smile politely and think 'what the hell'.
Also now that I'm not drinking as much I have moved my addictive tendencies into shopping. Yes, I am the woman who this week has bought three pairs of shoes, a dress, a bin ( that's for the caravan and it needs it ) a radio - I already have two - three bottles of expensive olive oil, three lots of tricoloured pasta, ( lovely from TKMaxx), a new coat for the autumn, another dress,  forgot about that one, green and very nice. I suit green, it was goes with my eyes.  I bought a lamp because two had gone off, probably fuses but I didn't look, I put them in the cupboard so I couldn't see them, nine pens. They were on three for two in Smith's. My favourites, they are black ink, very important.
I must try to remember not to buy a house which I desperately want, preferably in Cow's Hill. I have visions of owning collies and mewing kittens and finding a man who smells of manure.  I want to live on a hillside and have the co op deliver and have smoke coming down the chimney when I put logs on to it. I'm going to make my own bread and keep chickens and have a shotgun behind the door.
The trouble is that that was where I started out, well, less the man who smelled of manure of course. I lived in the country and had chickens and dogs and cats and a small child.
The child is grown and the husband is long since dead and all the cats and dogs too and I don't really want the country, I want to want something I can't have. I love the city and my life but also I love to go up there on the tops where the wind tries to knock you over and the birds are circling overhead because they are afeared for their chicks. My family on both sides comes from up there and I can have it for mine and I can still come back here and and buy all those things I don't really need and stay mostly sober and fit but still essentially very greedy and very needy and very addicted to the cathedral and the pretty house where I live and the theatre and the cinema and all the lovely restaurants.
But up on the tops is my favourite place of all and I have to battle the wind to get there so I'm glad that I'm fitter and  more able even though I strive ever for perfection. The trouble is that when you write you never get anything close to perfection and that's the point. If you got it right you wouldn't ever do it again but you never do and I suppose if you did you wouldn't recognise it. You hope not to recognise it so if I'm having a good day when I think I m right have written something which is okay I know that tomorrow it will be another battle and I will not be happy about it and I will go up against the fierce wind in all kinds of ways and love my life the more because of it.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Goodies, Baddies and Assassins

 I hate baddies. I mean I don't believe in baddies.  Doesn't everybody do their best? Doesn't everybody think they are right? I know I'm always right. The trouble with writing fiction is that we are supposed include nasty people but I don't seem able to manage it. Take my present book. I really wanted to have this horrible bloke come up to Stanhope and upset everybody but the trouble is I quite like him.
I like reading about horrible people.  I love Mrs Proudie in the Barchester Chronicles because she is horrible to everybody but when you are a writer like Trollope you can make somebody fascinatingly vile and give them certain qualities which redeem them and this is always the way he does it. Mrs Proudie managed to get a good job for Mr Quiverful and his wife when there was little chance of it and Mr and Mrs Quiverful had fourteen children and badly needed the money. Go Mrs Proudie.

But my man Luke is proving to be rather nice and anyway he had an awful childhood. I haven't quite worked out what happened to him but oh dear me, poor lad. Try as I might he's up there doing his best.
In the book which has just come out I had a gorgeous traveller called Will Hern and he was absolutely ghastly to the two sisters but I did redeem him. I couldn't not. He got himself into all kinds of trouble and really was the pits but he learned his lessons and I was so relieved when I didn't let him die.
I remember in my first saga,The Singing Winds, I had the two main men die at the end. My agent was horrified.  She said, 'you can't kill them off, after all they've been through.'  I am notorious for despatching my characters. So many of them hit the ground that you stand there in awe and desperation. Has the whole of the north east been done in by a Liz Gill novel? By the way I resurrected them, the two guys in the Singing Winds. Phew.
In Snow Angels, my sixth saga there are so few people standing at the end that my friends took the mickey. I hadn't even noticed and yet carnage everywhere!
I have given up trying to make Luke the villain. I am trying to make him difficult and that's easy. We are all difficult so no doubt Luke will have many adventures before he gets to where he's going. In the meanwhile when I was walking in Rookhope this morning, ( I have become addicted to the app on my phone which tells you how may steps you are doing!! ) I found the perfect house for  Luke. It stands about three quarters of a mile beyond the village, halfway up toward the tops. It has a road to it but in those days it would have been nothing more than a track. It's a long house - the barns and outside buildings are attached and it's beautiful and white and it looks down over the dale sideways, no doubt it was constructed with its back to the prevailing wind. I can see Luke going there on his horse late at night in the winter when it's snowing and everything has gone wrong.
For some reason there is nobody there to look after him and since he's thirty, good looking and rich I'm not quite sure where he went wrong. So he gets there and since he loves his horse he looks after it. There is a moon of course, the snow has stopped, he needs some light, so he feeds and talks to the horse and stables it and makes sure it is comfortable for the night and then he goes inside.The house is freezing because he has not been there in months and up there it is silent. There is no sound like the silence of being alone in a house in the middle of nowhere. Luke is alone there. That's why I feel sorry for him and redeem him at least for the time being until I discover other things about him which may make me change my mind. He's going to cause trouble I can already see it but I haven't worked out what kind of trouble yet and that's the joy, the complexity of what Luke has done, what he may do, what he will do and how it will be received in Stanhope. He is needy and lonely and conceited and I do love him!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Somebody's Great Aunt Lives Here.

I got  myself into a radge this weekend. Is that the right spelling?  Do I care?  I went into Marks and Spencers yesterday and storked round the food hall thinking,
'Do they have any decent food in here?'
That's when I know things are in a bad way.  I finished my book and now I'm waiting for my agent to pronounce it a load of crap. Of course she doesn't say but that's what it amounts to. When you have spent a whole year dedicating yourself to producing what you think at the time is the best thing since Georgette Heyer it's a nasty shock to hear it pulled to pieces and have to be put back together again at great cost to my ego and pain of all kinds.
The book before it is due out and now I'm not happy with it. I think it could have been so much better which is why I keep doing it again.  I look at it and think a ten year old could have done better.
So, I went out to the garden searching for the odd weed which Howard might have missed. Fat chance, he was here  yesterday and even the garden hose is neatly placed over the outside tap.
I moved books into different bookcases and I tidied the cupboards. I did the hand washing and hung it outside since it was such a beautiful day and then I got dressed and ventured into town.
Whittards is one of my favourite shops and the lovely young man in there is smashing and they are clever. They had teas to taste. Now I always think I don't like green or white tea. There is something about it which shrieks 'good for you' but this was the real thing. I bought extravagant Earl Grey, Goji Acai which is green but don't let it put you off. If Brad Pitt was a tea he'd be this one. All different colours and the lovely young man tipped it out, weighed it, put it in wonderful packets. It's the tea ceremony thing and it works. I bought a lovely see through tea pot and a warmer for if I want to strain and then leave it. I was in heaven. He gave me free samples and I thought this is what real shopping is all about. We chatted, he didn't try to get me to buy anything and I came out of there with the same feeling my lovely hairdresser Julie gives me. A new woman.
Okay, so it's a bit extravagant but I work hard and it's so nice to have things which aren't really necessary. I think I may be turning into the great aunt of Wooster fame who had no weeds on her drive.
I'm sure married people don't go on like this but when you are single ( and I've decided to call it that ) you have to create your day. It doesn't just happen.
I bought fabulous cheese, jambon ( or whatever the equivalent is here ) and garlic olive oil on a deli market stall and then to Body shop for stuff to pamper my feet. Lastly to M and S, and I'd sort of got over myself by then, I bought a newspaper (another addiction but hey, it's cheaper than cocaine), raspberries to go with cheese for lunch obviously, rye bread and then eggs. I did remember that Andrew Marr was on holiday so the start of my Sunday was ruined. I usually have bacon and eggs while he interviews the political world. Damn. Must he take holidays?
When the bus came I was very surprised for the driver to tell me that he had to go round again because he'd taken out the wrong bus!  The lady behind me was very upset and moaned and moaned and bloody moaned. I did feel sorry for her husband. He looked like he'd had forty years of her moaning. If I had a week of her I'd strangle her. Poor bloke. Anyway, back to North Road and the other driver was waiting.  Later we met up and he shouted at the first driver,
'Got the right bus then?' and we all had a laugh except the grumpy lady behind me who obviously laughs at nothing.
I came home very sweaty, went into my summer house with a large glass of ice cold fizzy and the I newspaper and was very happy.
Later I had the bread and the oil and the cheese and a small glass of sauvignon blanc and retired to bed to listen to Miss Marple solving stuff and I fell asleep.
This evening I have watered my pots. Very calming and then sat in the summerhouse and listened to Classic FM. Radio 3 in the late evenings tends to be very wordy.
I have made a list for tomorrow of the things I might do.
There was a big to do this week about how people living alone grew more. If so I should be an enormous tree. It's no worse and no better than any other way of living.  Sometimes I would really like somebody there but it would depend on the somebody. In the meanwhile  I'm very lucky in so many ways. I'm not like that poor man on the bus with a wife who never shuts up and I don't have to worry about the bills because I work and can afford daft things like white tea so I don't feel quite so arsey now. I feel that the gods have shone on me and grateful for it.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Pat, the party girl and Liz, the dancing queen

It's true what they say, I am turning into my mother. My daughter always points out that I could be turning into somebody less attractive, less likeable. It was anniversary of my mother's death this week and I went to her grave to leave her a claret coloured rose. She loved flowers but she once had a gardener who was addicted to fuschias and he put hanging baskets everywhere. She cursed him as the summer went on and she went around watering the damned things every day.
My mother unfortunately was a lot better looking than I am, I have the broad flat face of the Gills and my mother was Irish looking, we have Irish ancestry, so much so that when she was born her dad said, 'What a little Pat,' and she remained Pat all her life even though she was christened Bertha Anne. She had waving black hair and keen blue eyes whereas I have brown hair and green eyes, just like my dad.  It was like the old song, 'your Daddy's rich and your Mamma's good looking', we were lucky that way. I blame my mother, if she'd given me a hideous childhood I would have been a better writer but the trouble was that we had such a good childhood the rest of my life hasn't really lived up to it and I go around grumpy and resentful, that I don't have a rich respected husband, a beautiful house with lots of help and I can remember when my parents went to dinner dances, my father wore tails and black patent leather shoes and my mother wore glorious glittering dresses.
Those were the days. People don't dress up nowadays. I do. I find it fun to wear pretty dresses and coloured shoes and if I stick out from the rest well, all the better. It was good for my  mother and it's good for me.
My mother was a party girl. Her favourite saying was, 'Let's have a party.' She loved gin and tonic, she smoked cigarettes in the evenings and would sit on a bar stool or lean against the edge of the bar and I can remember my Dad winking at her from across the other end of the bar.
She got her own car when I was quite small. It was green. I don't remember my father ever driving it. It was hers alone.
One of the things I hate about my life is that for years now I haven't been able to go dancing. Like my parents I love to dance. Nobody dances any more, nobody dresses up, nobody drinks gin. It's all about giving up things and keeping fit and my God, it's dull.
There aren't many things that used to be better, I know that, but things like dinner dances, drinking, getting dressed up and all those beautiful cars are several things that didn't improve. What a sorry lot we are, going to the gym and drinking green smoothies.
I suppose that if you go through a world war you don't worry too much about dying, your priorities are not about living forever and being nine stone when you're seventy. To my wonderful mother each day was a party and lived her eighty five years like that. My God, I miss her.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Men of Harlech

For years and years I haven't liked Wales. Isn't that ridiculous?  I think I had very bad memories of a three storey cottage in Dolgellau and the enormous spiders who lived in the loo. There was a small spade in there to kill them with. Also I had the idea that the cottage was haunted and if I wanted to go to the loo in the middle of the night I would wake up my poor husband and make him come downstairs with me.
After that I do remember how beautiful Conway Castle is, one of my favourites and then I have visited friends in the same area but still I persisted. I think it's because one of my best friends went to live in Wales and I was so miffed she had moved that I took up against it.
So when my daughter decided she wanted to go to North Wales for a week and wanted me to come with her all I could think was that I didn't want to go.
For a start it's a helluva long way from Durham and there are all those signs that I don't understand.
So three hours on the train, Saturday, packed, everybody coughing, squashed in before I got to Knutsford so I was already in a bad mood. My daughter and her ever eager labrador picked me up at the station and we set off.
That's when it started to get better. We had lunch at KFC on the way and on the way to Wales from Cheshire is so blindingly beautiful that I was really happy and after that the happiness became a sort of tidal wave falling all over me all week.
I hadn't been to Porthmadog before, couldn't spell it or pronounce it. My daughter had found a cottage in a tiny village on the sea a mile outside the town.
It was a bit like Staithes, you came down this bloody great bank and there it was, perfect and stunningly beautiful. Borth y Gest.
We had had a slight argument about the whole cottage thing. I don't do scrubby. I don't do cheap. You get too old for these things. She said the good places were too expensive but I held out and boy, was I glad. Right on the front, just across the road from the sea was this great big house. We had floors one and two. The rooms were huge and the sitting room took in the whole bay. The kitchen had everything, we had a bathroom with a shower I wanted to bring back home, I had a king sized  bed next to the bathroom, Katy had a gorgeous room upstairs. Even the dog had her own room which meant that she slept all night.
Oh boy, that dog found paradise on the beach and we also found Black Rock Sands, fifteen minutes on a coastal path. Long, wide and nobody on it. She swam for the first time.
Borth y Gest has a wonderful cafe called the Sea View Restaurant. First of all we had lunch there, then after a trip to Black Rock Sands, we had breakfast. Later in the week we had take away afternoon tea and twice that week we had dinner. The wine was incredible, the scones too and Izzie was happy sitting outside on the decking, barking at anybody who came near her restaurant.
Porthmadog has a fantastic bookshop called, The Browser's Bookshop. We had a lovely time in there and I bought several history books about the area and could bore for England - well, or Wales now, as I am here. There is the Big Rock cafe where the pastries and the bread make you weep with pleasure. The department store lets labradors inside and it has very good chocolate and the guy on the market sold us gorgeous dresses which we wore to the Sea View restaurant. I haven't bought a red dress in fifteen years.
And I must mention The Australia, where Eddie, the Scottish barman, reigns. They sell local Purple Moose beer and we bought beer from the Purple Moose shop. The story goes that it is called the Australia because a locally built ship went there and the crew didn't come back ( possibly from an Aussie night out ) and Australians crewed it back and went to the pub. Isn't that lovely?
The beer was fantastic and Izzie had her own lunch.
Borth y Gest has become ours. The people there were just great. Everybody we met was kind and friendly and so many big blokes kept coming over and cuddling Izzie.
On our last day we went to Harlech. They began letting dogs into the castle at the beginning of the year. So I sang Men of Harlech and Katy and Izzie peered down at the village below the castle. Perfect.
I have promised that we will go back. Sometimes you need new places to go to so that they become yours and this is definitely ours now.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Do You Eat a Lot of Fish, Jeeves?

That's P.G.Wodehouse on brains. I began eating fish when I was in Majorca. It was warm of course but everything at the wonderful hotel was freshly cooked so I had fish for lunch and fish for dinner and veg and salad practically coming out of my ears. When I came home I mostly went back to my normal diet which included a lot of meat but I've lost the taste for it. I'm sixty five and things are changing. I started drinking coffee this week. I haven't drunk much coffee since I went on to tea when my daughter was born thirty five years ago. Isn't it odd?
I think also you become more discerning, I taste things differently now and wouldn't be seen dead eating a sausage. The only processed food I eat is Marks and Spencer's Hollandaise sauce which comes out of a bottle and is irresistible. I told the lady on the check out I was addicted and she said it was cheaper than cannabis. I panic if I don't have Hollandaise sauce in the larder.
Getting older does make you odd. Or me, anyway.
Less is of course more. I had steak this week, perfectly cooked. I haven't had steak in months and it tasted divine.
I rarely eat pudding but also this week I had elderflower pannacotta with raspberries. Wow, it was good.
I've started going to a little diner in Durham called The Kitchen. Last time I was there the lady who runs it offered me a taste of the quiche she had just baked. I never eat pastry, it gives me terrible indigestion but I didn't want to upset her. It was possibly the best quiche in the history of the world, the pastry ( which my father always referred to as timber. Too thick ) was thin and light. It was wonderful and my stomach was perfectly happy with it.
Also sometimes I can't eat eggs but last week at a lovely pub, The White Horse and Griffin in Whitby, I had a pheasant egg on asparagus and then a full English breakfast at the B&B and I was fine! So you obviously had to keep giving things a go.
Cheese is my downfall. If I gave up cheese and wine I'd be nine stone. Less in not more with these things. I can't do without lots of both.
Also I love rye bread. I used to make it. I still make bread sometimes but I've become slightly idle about these things. What smells better than  baking bread. Last time I made it I went outside a couple of times just to come back in again.
On my kitchen windowsill I have various pots of rocket and other salads that I am growing and it's just great to chop at them for lunch. I'm growing mint - yes, I've got lots of it in the garden now but in the winter it was just lovely to have for fresh mint tea. And, very proudly, I'm growing my own basil, it's shooting away in my little garden room. Also oregano. I love the smell. Delia Smith used to say it made your kitchen smell like Greece.
My parsley will go into the garden when the frosts are over which is any time now, followed by the mint, repotted since it's going mad and the basil will be left on the kitchen window ledge unless we have a hot summer.The first year I lived in Durham I grew African Grey Basil outside. It must have been a hell of a summer. It was two foot high by July that year.
Apparently keeping a pot of rosemary on your desk makes you think better so I must try it. Rosemary is my middle name and I have lots of it in the garden. Goes well with lamb. I'm not eating lamb any more, having had a bad experience. It was me, not the lamb, panicking but the association is too Best of all perhaps I had gin this week.  I never drink gin but it was a special evening. It was Durham gin and the gin and tonic was mixed by an expert hand and he put into it mint, coriander, cucumber and three juniper berries. I could have died quite happily after that. And juniper berries are great crushed with pork chops, which I don't have any more but just in case you like pork chops ...
I am now going to have rye bread, lovely butter and Cheshire honey for brekkie. Eat well.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Failing to Buy a Washer and another Hundred Practical Things I can't do

My washing machine who shall remain nameless has been on the blink ever since its guarantee ran out two years ago. Basil Fawlty like I threatened it until it managed the washing more or less but it kept flashing up various 'codes' at me and in the end I was taking sopping wet knickers and vests, squeezing them dry and hanging them up outside in the maiden.
I searched in vain for a guy to mend the damned thing and the company wanted £159 to send out an engineer.
'Buy a new one,' my daughter said, 'it's easy.'
So I did. How simple, I thought, you choose the model ( not as easy as I had imagined ), you ring up ( since I had tried to buy it online and my bank refused to let me have the money. I had the fraud squad on the phone ) so spent ages on the phone buying it, assuring the guy I had measured the space. They would install it, take away the old one, bingo.
But it would take a fortnight to arrive. In the meanwhile I had taken to wearing old ball gowns because they were all I had left with tiny knickers I had long since grown out of and attempting to match socks which were so far down the sock drawer that they had not been worn since Victoria was on the throne.
I spent a fortnight sweating in case I had chosen the wrong machine, that it wouldn't go in, that it would spend the next six months sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with the old one still inside its cream cupboard.  Finally the great day arrived. I got a four hour slot and sweated even more and then the machine came and with it the kind of engineer who shakes his head.
He looked at the space, he shook his head.
'Is it too big to go in?' I ventured. This would be another of the hundred and one practical things I couldn't do, FAILING TO BUY WASHER.
He got down, he looked at the cupboard door.
'It's been put in really badly,' he said.
He got right down on the floor.
'Where does the pipe go?'
'What pipe?'
'Where the water comes in and out.'
'Under the sink.'
I duly emptied the cupboard under the sink.
He shook his head.
'No, that's the tap that turns the water off.'
I carried all the stuff ( where was it all coming from, I hadn't seen most of these cleaning products since mangling was in fashion ) into the little back room where I write.
'It won't come out.'  This is the old model. I stand looking at him while he tugs and pulls.
I offer him tea thinking it might help. He shakes his head. His mate, his driver, says he will have tea. I woo him with KitKats and wonder afterwards why he left his tea when I had to step back and forth over the engineer to get the tea, the sugar, the milk, the chocolate biscuits, the kettle and a cup.
I had given him Roosbos by mistake. I wouldn't care, I didn't realise I had any left. Damn. Last teabag and my daughter doesn't drink any other.
They tug and pull at my nasty defunct washer and I worry for  my lovely grey floor. They land it on the floor in front of the hole. He gets back down on the floor.
'I can't see the pipe anywhere. Can't fit the new one if the pipe isn't long enough.'  He sighs over kitchen installers while I malign the lovely kitchen men who fitted my glorious Mary Berry happy kitchen, complete with bottle washer and fish slice.
I retreat into the little back room, with a pen and a notebook, hoping I look efficient and unconcerned. I pick up a fascinating volume called  Mines of the Lake District which I have been going to read for almost three weeks, it's due back at the library any minute. Yep, there's a book which will set the visitors on fire.
'I'll have to take the dishwasher out.'
By this time I am almost past caring and tell him tersely that I don't mind as long as it puts it back in again before he leaves and I retreat to the little back room and learn that quartz, silver, copper and lead, have all been mined in my beloved Lake District, some of them since Elizabethan times, that's the last one so that's sixteenth century. Hm.
Various noises from next door. I try not to think they are demolishing the kitchen.  A whole set of tools crashes to the floor. I spend the next twenty minutes dreading the words 'you've chosen the wrong machine. It won't go in.'
I am asked for kitchen roll, I have to get the hoover. I wish I was somewhere else.
Half on hour later there it is installed and he proudly tells me that the door is a  much better fit that it was and I agree.
They leave. All is peaceful and then I open the cupboard door and before me stands a gleaming monster which has so many instructions on it that Dr Who would run away so I make some tea and sit and watch and I think tomorrow I will read the instructions. Tomorrow is, as Scarlett said, memorably, 'Another Day.'  And no workmen.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Third Wave of My Backlist!! Out on May 5th

I've already written in the previous blogpost about this book. I don't think I should add anything other than I say this is my favourite book but it's a case of wind me up and let me go. I can talk forever about all of them but try not to bore anybody rigid. Anyway, you're here because you want to be and not because I've asked you. You can always think what a clot this woman is and go and make a cup of tea.

I get very enthusiastic about John Wesley who is one of my heroes. What the hell he would have made of me, atheist and wine swilling, is another matter but since we haven't met and aren't likely to it's okay. I also adore his brother's hymns. I love chant and hymns and psalms and everything associated with decent Christianity, especially Bach ( they do organ recitals in the cathedral during the summer months) and wouldn't have missed it but I love that you can hate it too and that the cathedral is always there for me and for you. When I go up the dale to my caravan there are chapels all over the place and I especially love the chapel next to the Weardale museum. Near it Wesley preached under a tree. It's one of my favourite places so I wanted to have a man in one of my books who was a Methodist minister. It's also my grandparents' story because my grandfather was the son of a Methodist preacher and my grandmother was the daughter of a publican. Can you imagine coming home to your dad and saying, "by the way, I've agreed to marry Elizabeth Ellison/ Anthony Gill?  Must have been a corker of a day.

In my story the lad goes away to train and the girl stays behind and guess what?  He falls in love with a Methodist minister's daughter. And guess what?  She is difficult, spoiled and rich. And he has to come back to Durham. Whoa!!

This is a difficult one because I wrote the books the wrong way round so they don't actually go in sequence. I know it's stupid but there you are. This is the book which follows Shelter from the Storm. the other book in the threesome is  When Day is Done which was written last and goes in the  middle. This about Joe's son who has a horrible beginning. The man he thinks of as his dad shoots himself and he is put into the kind of orphanage which has always existed, I fear where the children are abused and starved. There he meets Bridget and although the other girl in this is also important I love Bridget, she's a fighter. She opens a whorehouse in Newcastle and Niall goes with her.

Okay so this is my favourite of my books!!  It took me months to research rallying, cars I mean and I wrote this really big book about them and then my agent didn't like it but in the end the original publisher, Severn House, wanted another book quickly. I was in the middle of moving but my agent rang me and she said,
'You must have something.'
'Everything's packed.'
'What about the car book.'

So this is the car book cut in half and rewritten. Perhaps I like best the books that cause me the most problems but they're all hell so what am I saying? It is a better book for having been cut in half and I love the characters. The main guy, Jack is me, he's impossible, selfish, creative, imaginative, he's also brilliant, so excuse me for making him more intelligent than I am. I had to, he invents a car. It's actually the mini which to me was the best car ever invented. It's set in London mostly but when grief comes to the three main characters the story comes back to the Durham fells. Run for Home.  Lindisfarne.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Where Curlews Cry - coming out on May 5th

All the books that I write have a huge part of me in them but none more so than this book which was written in 2004.
During the first years of the new millennium I had a really tough time. First of all I got breast cancer, after that my beloved mother died and then I lost my job with Hodder and Stoughton. I think all of that, plus the rubbish in my life which had preceded meant that I began to have depression, I just didn't know it at the time.
Depression is something which writers seem to have very often, perhaps it's something to do with the amount of time we sit staring out of windows and not doing anything but this book which I wrote amongst the heartbreak of that time is the most important book of all. My daughter disliked it because it is my own story and a lot of the incidents in it have been played out in my life with heartbreak.
I recalled I think with a little detachment the time that my husband died and the women in this book are all parts of me and the different things I went through.
Some of it's funny, most of it's true.
At the beginning of the book three women lose their partners in a train crash. The book is set in Hexham, one of my beloved northern towns. My mother and I used to shop there and I knew it very well.  The main male character is the solicitor, Sam Browne, who is friends with all these families and who tries to sort things out when tragedy strikes these people.
The woman most like me is Caroline. Unlike me she is left penniless and has to move in with her mother. Her daughter is like an earlier version in some ways of my own very precious child and I enjoyed that but Caroline joins a singles group. I took all of this straight out of life, the dreadful parties, the way that the men her age are talking to women ten or fifteen years younger, the appalling dinner she goes to.
'There was dancing. At her table was a tall, fair,  handsome man. He leaned over and Caroline waited for him to ask her to dance.
'You ought to get yourself a man and quickly,' he said,'by the time you're fifty there are twice as many available women as available men,' and he turned to the woman on his right and asked her to dance.
This finishes Caroline off, it didn't do me any good either.
Well, you know what they say? When you have a lemon you make lemonade. I have made money out of the horrors and heartbreaks of my life.

The other two women are young. One of them is a deceitful cow who is sleeping with one man while married to another which makes things interesting when they both die on the train. There isn't much of me in her but there are bits which are like me. And I like her. She's gutsy and modern and doesn't care.

The other young woman Jess, I think she has the worst time of all and again I used direct experience.

'A man with a van brought videos to the door. He was Jess's saviour, her Jesus, her Messiah, her Buddha. He was Santa Claus, a chubby man with a van load of goodies. She could be somewhere else, she could be somebody else, she could be a story.'

'Safe and warm, Jess listened to her favourite sounds, the ocean, the wine as it poured into her glass. On her television screen, Bruce Willis was saving the world and she could help him By the end of the afternoon they had put everything back to rights. It was so satisfying. The baddies died, the goodies were saved. Bruce Willis's character went home to his wife and children . Jess watched him, she watched his car as it got smaller and smaller on the screen. He and his wife, sitting in the back seat, going home to their children, their house, their Christmas.'
Jess has no husband, no child, no Christmas. And worst of all because she is young people tell her that she will get over it. When people said that to me I wanted to kill them.

There is also a lot of deceit in this book. Deceit isn't actually something I know much about personally. When people have hurt me they have done it directly but somehow I can transfer the pain of what I interpreted as other people's betrayal, of how they didn't care about me, to deceit.
My mother used to say I had become a bitter woman but bitterness and anger are very useful for writers. All that pain gets translated on to the page and it pays the bills and buys the wine and sees me on a Saturday night taking my children out to dinner. Loss is never total. There is always something left and I like that people read it. That's the most important thing of all to me. That somebody out there thinks I have written something they want to read. It means the whole world to me.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Second wave of my backlist!!

It may seem to some people that I am trying to take over the whole world single handedly but I have waited a long time to see my backlist published as ebooks and now they are coming out in March April and May and so the list for this month to be published on April 7 are  The Secret, Snow Hall, When Day is Done, and Sweet Wells.

 This is Dryden's story and is one of three. The first is Shelter from the Storm and the third is The Homecoming. This is going to sound ridiculous I know but I didn't write them in that order. This story comes after Shelter from the Storm but was written last. I can't help the way that my mind works but I thought I was finished with Drdyden, whom I adored and didn't want to part with but as I prepared to write a fourth my agent cut in and said hadn't I done enough. I always regretted not doing another because I thought there was mileage left in it so regretfully I had to move on. The title came from the idea that when the work is finished it is the most beautiful thing in the world to go home to the woman who loves you. It was a saying that my wonderful father in law, Francis Hankin used. They had a glorious, old fashioned marriage. She stayed at home with the children and he worked. He was a very clever skilled man, a cabinet maker and one of the handsomest men in the world world. Apart from which he was a great father and a great father in law. I still miss him.

 This is the second book in a series of three and follows Paradise Lane. It's best to read them in order because the characters from the first book, Ned and Annabel, appear largely in this book which tells the story of a poor girl who lives with her aunt in a little pit village where they repair hats and how she comes into an inheritance, the lovely Snow Hall near Durham City. There Lorna meets her unscrupulous cousin, Ralph, who expected to inherit the hall and now seeks to take it by other means. 
This story stands alone and is of a family tragedy.  During the second world war my father's sister, who lived in London, died when the house was hit by a bomb. She was in the kitchen and died, her husband, two children and the dog were in the living room and survived. I badly wanted to write about this because her two children came to the live in the north with their grandparents and I wanted to find out what that was like for them and for the family. I couldn't write the book at first, I couldn't get it to work so I changed it around so that the man died and the woman and her two children came back to their roots and what happened after that. I do like the young people in the story.
This is the third of the Black family series, which was set around a steelworks in Durham City. The steelworks was actually in Tow Law and was owned and run by my father. The books revolve around his wife in Swan Island, his sister in Silver Street and his secretary which is the final story. I took the name from a farm in Weardale where the girl lives. My father's secretary actually lived in Stanhope and was well ahead of her time. She would trundle down the dale every day to run my father's office. She was the only woman in the works. Obviously the stories are at least half fictitious and this one especially. I called the little town Sweet Wells and like to think that when I drive up the dale to my caravan the town and the story are waiting there for me.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Bank holidays. Bah humbug and all that other unmitigated shit

Why is it that I dread bank holidays? Especially at this time of the year when they come with appalling frequency. It can't be that the road to Sainsburys is full of other people, that Marks and Spencer's is awash with daffodils. I hate daffodils. Bloody pathetic. All they need is a good wind and down they go.
Our expectations are huge.  And now the government thinks we should all get on our bikes. Well all I can say is you try getting to St John's chapel on a bank holiday Sunday without knocking some daft bugger off his bike because there are three or four them in line around a bend. There should be a law against it.
And they want us to start walking. When did we stop walking?  I certainly didn't.
Living on your own is hell at bank holidays. Actually it's hell all the time. Why do you think I drink so much but bank holidays are the worst.
Christmas is six weeks of people sending you cards with pictures of their grandchildren you have never met and in my case hope never to meet. Buying presents for people who don't need anything but don't want a share in a goat. Worrying whether the car will slide into another, hoping for snow which does not turn to dirty slush too quickly and whether the heating will go off in January.
January is that most awful of months when we have no bank holiday and people don't drink and don't eat and become even more miserable than they were when they were stuffing themselves with Thorntons and cheap champagne behind the kitchen door because Auntie Mary was regaling them with stories of how good things used to be.
Dry turkey and tv cooks showing you how it should be done,
New Year? Who thought that was a good idea. Let's really cook our livers. And the cost, dear God. Do you remember that saying 'it can't be Christmas. I haven't finished paying for last year's.'
Easter then is upon us. We've got through Valentine's Day without socking somebody in the chops because they have someone else to hold, Mother's Day without saying yet again to our children 'please don't buy me anything' and now we have Easter.
Deep breaths everybody. I have gastric flu. I have spent my weekend watching Inspector Lynley patronising his female partner and playing Angry Birds, Star Wars. I was supposed to go and visit my children. Left to themselves they can't get through it without throwing peanut butter at one another. I wish I had somebody to throw peanut butter at. No, actually amend that. I don't.  I keep telling my daughter how other people fight. One of my aunties used to throw whole dinner services at my uncle.Another aunt threw a frying pan at my dad. I don't think it was on a bank holiday but it probably was. I used to fall out spectacularly with my husband on Christmas Day because he liked shooting the following day and I thought it should be family.
May should be stay in bed month. It's full of bank holidays. By then I shall be taking the road more or less travelled by every bloody cyclist in creation up the dale and there I will hide in my caravan and read on my balcony and ignore everybody and drink lovely wine and read great big books that I can't see past and that nobody can see me over my sun glasses and my foul temper and my hopefully soon to be finished novel. That's the thing really. I have worked. I have got myself together and put my characters into awful situations. They even have to face bank holidays but those days, in 1820, people didn't have holidays really and they didn't have decent medicine, or good housing for the most. They had poverty and no contraception and no good education.
So there, I feel much better now and will go back to Inspector Lynley and on the way I will turn on my little laptop and kill a few pigs and I will open the bottle of champagne in my fridge and be glad for all my blessings. Wishing you all a very happy Easter.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

My Backlist

A long long time ago, in another age, I published my first sagas. Now, many years later, my current publisher, Quercus, are publishing my back list, the books I first wrote for the hardback publisher, Severn House, on kindle. They can be pre ordered now.

The first one is about men returning from the first world war, trying to pick up the lives they had left behind them, probably not knowing at that point that you can only live your life forwards. It's also about the families they left and how people managed and didn't manage. I tend to write more about the beginning of wars and the result of wars rather than the war itself. The main male character - I don't call them heroes, they are just people - Allan Jamieson, a barrister, comes home to find that his wife no longer seems to want him. He ends up defending the woman he is having an affair with. She is accused of killing her husband. In those days the chances of her getting off would be less than slight.

One of my few shots at a fairly modern novel. This is set in 1970 when footballing turned into glamour and money. The lad, Ruari Gallagher wants to be a top footballer, the girl, Jemma Duncan, wants to get married and have a child and live in a little terraced house across town from her parents. Her dream is so small. His dream is so big. When Ruari lets her down everything begins to go wrong and when he asks her to go with him when he leaves for stardom, it's too late. So, what have you left when you sacrifice a person you say you love for your dream?

This is my aunt's story to begin with. She was a nurse in the second world war and came back to her hometown and tried to pull her life together. This is also one of three, the Black Family trilogy. Very close to home this book is because my father had the foundry and I've put a lot of him in the books. My mother had her own story, Swan Island and his secretary had her story, Sweet Wells and this is the story of what might have happened to his sister. They are all fiction of course but underneath them lie the facts of what war costs and how people try to get beyond it.

Another one of a trilogy. This is the first of three books set in Durham and is the tale of an upper middle class London girl who comes north to find out about her mother. She meets with a young man who owns a newspaper and together they go on this quest to find out where Annabelle's mother is, if she is still alive.

So these are my first four books which come out in March. There are another four in April and then another four in May. I love the covers. I hope those who haven't read them will like the stories.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Robert Hale, publisher

Sorry to hear from one of my writing friends that Robert Hale, publisher has closed. I have very fond memories of being published by them and can honestly say that if it hadn't been for them I would never have made it as a writer.
My first book was published by them in 1981, three weeks before my daughter was born. I was thirty and so excited. I found a copy of it in Chilton library a couple of years back and it was the copy I had given to my husband. I could have cried. He has been dead for twenty seven years. How it got there I have no idea but it was the most wonderful time of my life when I was being published by them, I had a lovely husband and a little girl. We lived in the country and the house had a paddock and I remember when they sent the letter saying they were going to publish my book I ran round and round the paddock screaming,

'I'm a writer, I'm a writer.'  It was the fulfilment of my dreams. I'd wanted to publish a book all my life. They gave me a hundred and fifty pounds for it and nothing was ever the same again. Talk about making a woman's dreams come true.

I  made a lot of mistakes but they put up with me and if I misunderstood John Hale would write me polite letters. I did make the mistake of telling them about one book that I didn't want to alter it and then I got desperate and offered to alter it but they wouldn't take it. I was never that precious again!

They published twenty books and I learned a lot. The first ones were awful, dreadful historicals in the main but somebody must have read them. The libraries, God save those that are left, where would I ever have  been without the libraries. Since then I've written and written through despair and grief and huge loss and happy times watching my little girl grow up and although I have done other things with  my life my writing saved me from ever having to do work I didn't want to do. I didn't have to go out into the snow to work, I was always there for the sports days and the school garden parties. I was always there for my kiddie and my animals. It was the perfect job for a stay at home single mother.
They published fourteen Rainbow Romances and six short dreadful historicals. I did my apprenticeship with them.

I used to get letters from Betty Weston, lovely letters telling me that she had sold one of my books to France or to Germany or Italy and as a paperback for Woman's Library stories. I still have copies of all these.  Her letters meant we could go on holiday or afford a better Christmas. Times were tough but I felt I was really contributing. I would walk the dogs up the old dismantled railway line to the village of Ramshaw and sort out my writing problems.

When my husband died I was in the middle of writing a Rainbow Romance.  I can remember a year later, when we were living in a caravan in Weardale, sitting down at my portable typewriter and finishing it and after that I wrote my first big book for Hodder and I found an agent and moved on. There were no more Rainbow Romances but Robert Hale had done it for me and I will always remain very grateful to them for giving me the chance and fulfilling my dreams.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Olive Oil

Since I began writing for Quercus I am making more money than before. At one point it was getting to be difficult. I needed a loan. If you do need a loan go to Tesco. I got my loan free. Anyway, it wasn't much and I paid it off and kept the purse strings tightly clasped. I still managed the things I wanted most but when you are a bit tight money wise there are so many things that you really would like if only you could afford it.

So for the past two or three years I've started making a bit more and thinking I really can afford certain things. I love olive oil and good olive oil is mind blowing, it tastes and smells amazing and different areas produce different kinds. M&S do beautiful olive oil. It comes in different shaped bottles. It comes in different colours. It comes from Greece and it comes from France and it comes from Spain and it's all very exciting for those of us who are addicted.

I blithely went into M&S and bought the most exquisite bottle I could find. When I got to the check out the lady looked at it and then she looked at me and then she leaned forward and she said,
'Eh, love, are you sure you want it? It's awfully dear.'

So, I look like I can't afford expensive olive oil. I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or not.
I did notice, the last time I went to a wine merchant, that I was with my daughter and she drives one of these git flashy cars, all new and white and Mercedes and it was big and brash and wow!  It filled most of the window.  Now my little car, Pumphrey the Panda, was very cheap and is sort of cream mucky coloured since his colour has faded and he's little and narrow and ordinary and I swear to you that I never had the same attention when I came in Pumphrey as we did when we turned up in this giant white splodge.

So I look like I can't afford Moet. This unfortunately is true but I will keep you up to date.

I have been thinking lately that I would like a  new bathroom. I have been wanting a new bathroom for a very long time and imagining what it would be like when I had a separate shower room and how much easier when there were two bathrooms, so to speak.

Now I am thinking that if I'm careful this year I can afford to have new bathrooms. For a few hours I was all ready to go and look at these, I got quite excited. And then I remembered what it was like having men in the house day after day pulling furniture out and the idea of having my beautiful cast ir on bath lugged down the stairs. I thought of the mess, the dust, the way that I wouldn't be able to write and how I would have to buy new carpets and possibly after that I would need to have the inside of the house painted and then I would need new towels and I certainly need new bedlinen. It was like a nightmare.

So, I am not having a new bathroom, or new bathrooms or anything beyond the expense of good soap and well laundered towels. I have almost everything a woman could want money wise. They say that if you think money can't buy happiness you are going to the wrong shops and I'm sure it's true. I wouldn't change my Apple computers, my recently restored diamond ring or my library of Trollope novels which enrich my days.
If I could have things otherwise I would like to be able to feed the birds in the garden without the crows running off with everything. I would have the mice there sufficient to eat over the winter so that they don't chomp on my crocuses. But I feel lucky, I have the spring and my caravan to look forward to and my afternoons on my balcony there with Anthony Trollope to keep me company.
If I make a lot of money I think I will probably give it to Water Aid, my favourite charity. I'd like to think I was doing some good. And Guide Dogs for the Blind which is my local favourite charity. In the meanwhile I did go to the Co op earlier and buy some very nice wine which was in clearance and I shall enjoy that and my chicken dinner and my writing and my back garden, where the sun sets and the moon puts in an appearance. Lucky me.

Thursday, 14 January 2016


Talking to my daughter first thing this morning we started discussing how people often don't understand how much work goes into a project, especially when you have to do do it all by yourself. As somebody who feels she has been holding up the world single handedly forever I agreed that nobody understands the sweat, hours, solitude, boredom, sheer bloody hell of doing what my writing friend, Leah Fleming calls, 'turning up at the page.  The terror of the computer screen, those nights when you wait for an idea to end up with sleeplessness. That morning when you know that you may have 80,000 words but as James Joyce said 'I have no idea which order they should be in.'  He was talking about a single sentence but you get the drift.
My daughter was organising a huge party at work and in typical family fashion she wanted it to be perfect and had knocked her socks off for it. This on top of her usual work.
And people won't appreciate or even see the effort and then I realised that that is the point. You don't want to watch Andy Murray practising.  What you want is the performance, not even to think how easy it was for the person involved, you want to see the shine and the polish, when it is so well done that it's a treat to watch, to listen to, to read, to view, that every polished performance is those years and years of sheer unadulterated work brought to a fine hone has nothing to do with you.
I always admired the effortless performance of Jimmy Connors, or watching McEnroe serve, seeing Stephen Hendry or Ronnie O'Sullivan making snooker look like a child's game.
It's for all of us to strive, to want to be the best, to dazzle with our brilliance or as my agent says, 'to write the book that only you can write.'
It's the only way to perfect performance though we are all very slightly short of perfection and even though we know that Shakespeare is the most brilliant writer who ever lived he didn't always get it right. i.e.  at the end of The Winter's Tale everything appears to be all jolly hockey sticks but you can't think beyond the fact that the king had his young son murdered. I know Will used other people's plots but I think if he had looked at it again, beautiful though the language is and choice the characters, the plot doesn't quite work and even if the original story ended that way he could have changed it suit himself.
Is there another way to look at this?  It's nice to know that none of us is perfect, that even Will's work could be improved or is it that, like the monks who wrote the Lindisfarne Gospels and left a deliberate mistake on each page because only God is perfect, William Shakespeare deliberately did that sometimes so that forgetting the work and sweat we would be able to say afterwards, perhaps smugly, that even Shakespeare didn't get it right all the time, that even Ronnie O'Sullican has bad days and the joy of it is when you see him on a good day. That is when you marvel and rightly so at the performance.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

When I'm old and Grey

My mother used to sing that song and I keep thinking when I get old and grey I'll move up to a remote part of Weardale, a gorgeous stone cottage and have dogs and cats and an open fire and drink lots of whisky. This was such a lovely dream except for several things.

Firstly, I would be grey if it wasn't for Julie at Saks in Durham.

Secondly I live five walking minutes away from the hospital, a mile from the fire station and just up the road from the police station. Five minutes from the train station and the bus station.

Thirdly, I don't want cats and dogs. I keep forgetting how much work they are, how much they cost and how generally fed up I would be at having to make extra plans every time I wanted to leave the house.

Fourthly, I love all the restaurants, the gala theatre, being ten minutes walk from Chiquitos and all the student productions, and the concerts and the Shakespeare, NT live.

Fifthly, I wouldn't be able to see the cathedral every day.

Sixthly I do have my caravan and go walking up in the dale and since I'm only there in the summer I feel as if I have the best everything.

After that, there isn't  a Majestic wine warehouse up there or M&S food or New Look.

I can remember being desperate to live in the city and I have a beautiful house with original fireplaces and lots of lovely stained glass. I have a gardener, a lady who sorts out the house and the window cleaner turns up once a month. The Rington's tea man would keep leaving tea by the door even after I moved because I never seem to be in when he calls.

Also I have very good neighbours.

My friends live here.  That's it. Town Girl Wins!!

ps I am writing  a series of books about Weardale!!!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Charity Begins Where?

I give to charity, I like to think freely. Over the years I've been involved in various kinds of fund raising and volunteering to help other people and I like giving, it makes me feel good to benefit other people so it isn't all one way traffic, how could that ever be but I am so tired of being besieged on television by famous actors showing me horrific scenes of children dying on cancer, dying of lack of clean water, dying of cold, hunger and poverty and abused children lying in corners.
Yesterday over about an hour and a half I got oxfam, British Red Cross, NSPCC, dogs chained up and skinny or being put out of cars and left by the side of the road.
Must I be made to feel guilty because people abuse their children and turn out their pets? The fact that we are dropping bombs on Syria ( not in my name or my MP's ) and an advert is asking me to help the children there seems such a stupid contradiction and although I have given to all of the above charities and dozens more in the past and will in the future I am so tired of watching children huddled in corners, crying and dying and the looks in their mothers' eyes.
Communication has never been so good. I have to save the planet, I know. I am giving as much as I can. I recycle, I hardly go anywhere, I walk places. I eat locally grown vegetables, locally caught fish, local butchered animals though less and less meat being now aware of the energy and food it takes to get that far though I eat lamb because I'm surrounded by farms and if I don't eat the bloody lambs half the farmers in the dale will go without.
My car runs on unleaded fuel. I give away books, clothes. I keep a lawn at the back of the house because it's better for the air than paving.
I am becoming more and more aware that the narrowness of religion has meant that contraception is unavailable to millions of women, that war which men create causes huge problems, that women in most countries have very little voice and no power and the world around me allows white middle class men to get fat and own big houses and their own jets and because there is never enough to go around they are so greedy, so proud of themselves or too stupid to think that they can only sleep in one bed, eat so much, drink so much, their insecurity causes division and yet I know that it is a silly argument in many ways. We have to make money, we have to trade, we have to let people go ahead and try to make us richer, I just want there to be a fairer way to go, that there is no corruption in the churches and in the industries and that people will be employed because of the ability they have and not because of their background, their colour, their gender or the way that they speak.
Power without morals is corrupt and causes huge problems and I will not solve them by donating three pounds for a hat and gloves to a child in Syria though I have already given such a thousand times.
I am sponsoring a guide dog so that a blind person in my area can take a job. That's what I like, an object, a future of some kind for somebody who  needs this help. My guide dog's name is Goldie. It will take two years and £30,000 before she is ready to stop somebody stepping off a curb and being run down by a motorist because the disabled person can't see or can't hear or can't understand.
I  have given extensively to Water Aid, which is my favourite charity because if you have no clean water it doesn't really matter what you do have.
I give to people who live on the streets in Durham. I give to the old man who limps and plays the penny whistle so beautifully in the town. I haven't seen him in ages. Perhaps he died. I miss him.
I give to the accordionist who plays on Framwellgate Bridge because he can't play and was mocked by local young idiots. I wanted to smash their teeth in so I helped him.
I give to Christian Aid and the British Red Cross and Help the Heroes but I know that I cannot save the whole planet and I do wish that people would leave me my choices, impossible though they are, between hunger, pain, abuse and neglect. I am doing what I can and almost everyone I know does the same and we can do without the adverts on  television. They would do better to give that money directly to those who need it. We can all do without any more guilt, we feel bad enough as it is.