Monthly Archives: May 2014

New potatoes and lentil curry

It’s one of those days. A wet one half way through the school holiday. House full of bored children. No more telly till teatime. Playschool and Rainbow are finished. We’ve spent the morning painting. It was going well until my friend’s daughter fell off the chair. With the black paint in her hand. Black’s the absolute worst. It’s labelled ‘washable’. In reality it’s indelible.

The kids have eaten. Finished with the home-made play dough. Piled upstairs to play hide-and-seek. I can hear them stampeding round the bedrooms. I crawl under the table. Scrape green play dough off the floor. The odd bright orange Noodle Doodle. Scrub ineffectually at the splashes of paint I missed earlier. The paintings are hanging on the clothes’ horse in front of the boiler. One or two so thickly slathered they’re still dripping. The doorbell rings. It can’t be three already. I haul myself off the floor. Brush the fluff off my knees. The voices overhead are rising. Intervention will be needed soon.

Veronica’s an old-school social worker. Brogues. Tweed suit. She sits down at the table. I push aside a pile of plastic pastry-cutters. A letter from the Inland Revenue. Daubed with red paint. I offer her tea. It’s a three-sugar day. I’ve been a foster carer long enough to know what that means. Two four-year-olds poke their heads round the kitchen door. Veronica waves. They run off. Giggling. The incipient fight’s obviously fizzled out. As I pour the tea, I start apologising for the mess. She holds up her hand.

“I love coming here. It’s so lived in. I always worry about houses that are too tidy.”

Fast forward thirty years and more. We’re on the allotment. Digging up what’s left of the early potatoes. The woodlice have had a field day with all the rain. We loosen the plants with the trowel. My grandson pulls them up. After one or two he’s got the idea. Can’t be fussed waiting for us any more. He yanks at the next plant. It’s loosely rooted. He flies backwards into a heap of mud. It’s a soft landing. A messy one though. He rinses his hands in the water butt and carries on.

I’m not sure where we lose that easy acceptance of the messiness of life. How the grown-up need for everything to be ‘right’ starts to seep in. I grew up believing there were two ways to do everything. My parents’ way. Or The Wrong Way. To take half a dozen freshly-dug new potatoes. Let’s say. Cook them in a lentil curry. Never. Not in a million years. New potatoes were boiled. With mint. Dished up with butter. No gravy. Period. Any deviation was sacrilege. Punishable by extreme disapproval.

The same disapproval we mete out whenever anyone doesn’t Do Things Our Way. The celebrity who has / doesn’t have cosmetic enhancement. The overweight / too skinny woman. The guy with too many / not enough tattoos. Those kids in designer label / charity shop clothes. The rich. The poor. The person who doesn’t know how to slice bread properly. Did you know there was a right way to slice bread? Trust me. There is.

We feel safe when we can pigeonhole people. Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. Us. Them. Simples. Never mind there are seven billion different Right Ways to do most things. And counting. Truth is life’s messy. Complex. Breathtaking. Hair-raising. Wonderful. Things that seem ‘right’ can turn out to be horribly ‘wrong’. And vice versa. Children never come in designer packaging. They’re often covered in paint. Play dough. Flour. Soil. Sand. And that’s OK. Potatoes always come caked in mud. But we don’t always see it. And it’s fine to put them in a lentil curry. Really it is. Even … especially … when your grandson dug them up this afternoon.







I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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Sewing with attitude

The pulse of the needle stops as I set the cup on the table.

“Thanks,” she says, without looking up.

She pulls out another pin. The machine rattles on. Not the smallest deviation from the straight and narrow strip of binding. Stop. Pin. Start. I’m mesmerised. Holding my breath. Afraid to break the thread. I’ve always been in awe of anyone who can use a sewing machine. She comes to the last corner.

“Oh, I’ve finished. I thought there was another side to do.”

She sounds disappointed. I’d be punching the air if I’d done what she has. She runs the needle back and forth a couple of times. Cuts the thread. Shakes out the quilt.

“Another one done. Two more and we’ll have the money for the new machine.”

Susie’s been quietly making quilts for a couple of months now. Fund raising for a new sewing machine. Today, her determination reminds me of something Maya Angelou said. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain. She didn’t like the fact we had only one sewing machine. She complained at first. Then she realised she had the power to change things. She and the late, wonderful Maya Angelou have a lot in common. Survivors of rape and abuse. Remaking their lives, in different ways. With attitude you get only when the world’s done the worst it can to you. And you’re still on your feet. Sticking two fingers in the air at the ones who tried to crush you.

In the week since Elliott Rodger went on a killing spree in California the internet’s been buzzing. The #YesAllWomen hashtag has trended on Twitter. Giving thousands of examples of harassment and abuse perpetrated by men. Darker, on Tumblr, is When Women Refuse. A rolling litany of violence toward and murder of women who refused the sexual advances of men. That Elliott Rodger had mental health issues is beyond dispute. It’s also beyond dispute that the society he lived in nurtured those issues. Fed and tended them. Gave them form and substance. A voice. And ultimately a horrific denouement. No doubt the whole saga will end up on the silver screen one day. An ironic twist. Since Rodger’s father was assistant director on The Hunger Games.

Now here’s a thing. A young man. A victim. Rejected. Turned down by the women he desired. Deserved. Filled with self-pity. Nursing a deep and wounded sense of entitlement to the sexual pleasure he thought everyone was enjoying. Apart from him. Woe was he. In fact he produced a lengthy manifesto detailing his woe. How does this happen? He had all the privilege that goes with being part of a well-to-do California family. A loving family by all accounts. Yet he acted as if he were the most hard-done-by creature on all the earth. And he felt he had a perfect right to do so.

I’m not planning an in-depth analysis of his relationship with the PUA (Pick-Up Artist) community online. Or its extreme misogynistic wing. I might take a brief diversion though. Seems this community gives advice to men on how to get sex. Without commitment or having to pay for it. We women are often given advice on how to change, to find the man of our dreams. The PUA community tells men it’s all our fault too. They’re entitled to sex. The only reason they’re not getting it is that women are depraved monsters incapable of rational thought. Scary stuff. Especially if you happen to be a woman. No wonder one tweet on #YesAllWomen quoted Margaret Attwood. Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.

No matter which way you dress it up, men are primary holders of power, privilege and wealth in the world. Yet they paint themselves so often as victims. There’s even a Men’s Rights movement, dedicated to removing female oppression of men. How do these people get it so wrong?

I’ve never been a driver. My life is tailored round how long it will take me to walk to an appointment. Bus timetables. The time of the last train. It’s become a lifestyle choice and I’m happy with it. I have the greatest respect for anyone who gives up a car when they’ve had one for a while, though. That’s hard. Most people can’t imagine life without their favourite tin box on wheels. The loss of freedom. Lifestyle overhaul. It’s unknown territory. In the space of my lifetime, car ownership has moved from the preserve of a minority to something we feel entitled to. And I’ll admit to feeling underprivileged at times. Usually when I’m walking home with two large bags of shopping. In the rain.

It’s odd how we take things for granted. Start believing we deserve them. We’re entitled to them. Once we feel that way it can be really hard to let go. Frightening. Bankers with obscene salaries think they’re entitled to six or seven-figure bonuses. Major corporations believe they’re entitled to tax breaks. Some British MPs have been genuinely shocked to find they’re not entitled to claim expenses for anything they happened to fancy spending the money on. Despite David Cameron’s denunciation of the culture of entitlement among the poor, it seems to me the rich, privileged and powerful are those most prone to it. They feel entitled to things the rest of us can only dream of. They have no insight into their own privilege. They’re terrified of losing their entitlement.

Maybe this was Elliott Rodger’s problem. Poor little rich boy. Brought up with privilege. Steeped in entitlement. He looked around. Thought he saw everyone getting the one thing he wanted. He was entitled to sex. He coveted. He killed. Nobody told him relationships don’t work that way. Women are people too. Entitled to respect. Seems the world is full of men who’ve never been taught this basic fact. Men like the ones who abused Susie and Maya.

But here’s another thing. Maya grew to be awe-inspiring. My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style, she said. Mission accomplished, a friend posted on Facebook the other day. Susie’s attitude takes my breath away. To borrow Maya’s words, she’s a Phenomenal Woman.

A privileged man goes on a killing spree fuelled by hate. Two women with every reason to hate bring blessing to the world. He’s always had everything. They’ve had what little they could call their own taken away. By force. He thinks the world owes him something. They know every breath is a gift from God. They’re thankful for life itself. They’ve been to been to hell. There’s nothing left to fear. That’s how Susie sews with such delight. How Maya wrote

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.



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That poor man wants your biscuit

The last couple of weeks’ de-cluttering have brought me face-to-face with an inconvenient truth about myself. I’ve been pulling stuff out of cupboards. Off shelves. Stacking it on the floor to be sorted. The piles have grown. Multiplied. I’m fairly certain they’ve been breeding behind my back. Work’s been hectic for the last few days. Available time short. I’ve started stepping over the piles. Negotiating routes round them. I’m getting used to living with the mess.

I hear the house-proud gasp in horror. How can she? I could never live like that. You’re right. I’m a slob. Over years of living with difficulty I’ve learned to shift my boundaries to accommodate inconvenience. I’ve begun to be able to ignore things I don’t like. I’ve grown good at tolerating the intolerable.

It’s happened in the public sphere too. When did I stop caring? How am I living in a world like this and not making a fuss? Human lives are worth less than fashion clothing. Quality of life for workers is less important than quantity of goods for consumers. Profit matters more than the environment. And it’s acceptable to consider making money out of vulnerable children. How come UKIP even got a look-in at the polls? Have we forgotten the lessons of history? Don’t we remember what happens when ethnic minorities are turned into scapegoats? Did I fall asleep on a space shuttle? Wake up in an alternative universe. One where good and evil have been reversed. How come I didn’t notice? Why didn’t I start shouting sooner?

We love to think of ourselves as victims. It’s pretty easy to find someone who’s better off than we are. You only have to trawl a tabloid. Root through a mag. The headlines scream celebrity lifestyle. You can have it all. We compare. Covet.

Once upon a time I used to speak in collective worship in school. One of my favourite visual aids was a cake. Round. Sponge. Full of jam. Usually still warm. Leaving things till the last moment was always my specialist subject. I used to ask for six volunteers. It was the one time I never had a shortage. The volunteers stood in two groups. Four in one. Two in the other. Then I cut the cake. Two-thirds. One-third. Everyone happy. Until I handed two-thirds to the two.

“That’s not fair!”

I never had to prompt a response. The cake was redistributed amid a short reminder that we’re pretty well-off here in the UK. We’ve got clean water. Electricity. Free education … that didn’t go down so well. In those days we also had an adequate benefits system. Nobody had to go hungry. There’s been a bit of slippage since.

The problem is I got the proportions wrong. I was far too generous to the group of four. I don’t know what the figures were back in those days. I do know inequality is on the increase. These days, the richest 1% of the world’s population is estimated to own 46% of the wealth. I’m not sure how that would work in terms of cake. They seem aggressively determined to defend their privilege too. By setting the rest of us at each other’s throats. Exploiting our victim complexes. Divide and rule. You’d think we’d be wise to it by now. We’re still falling for it.

I’ll finish with a modern parable. I’ve stolen it shamelessly from Facebook, but I can’t find the source. I apologise. A rich man. A middle-class man. A poor man. A plate with twelve biscuits. The rich man pockets eleven of the biscuits. Turns to the middle-class man and says.

“That poor man wants your biscuit.”

Now ain’t that the truth?



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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Of fish and feathers

Generations of my family have played The Drawing Game. Christmas, birthdays, any family get-together is a good time to play. What you do is draw a small picture at the top of a strip of paper. Then you pass the paper to the person next to you. She or he writes a description of your picture, folds the paper to conceal the drawing and passes it to the next person, who attempts to draw what they’ve described, without looking at the original picture. The game goes on until all the strips of paper are full, then you unravel them and marvel at the results. It’s actually a lot more fun than I’ve made it sound.

I have one major issue with The Drawing Game – I’m really bad at drawing. I’m so bad that after a couple of rounds of captioning my pictures one Christmas, my daughter was driven to despair. She wrote ‘one of Mum’s rubbish drawings’ under a particularly hopeless effort. The person who had to draw what she’d written was understandably nonplussed.

Undeterred by my failures, I decided a couple of years ago I’d get in touch with my artistic side, or at least try to find out if I had one. For years, people have told me that anyone can draw, but I’m still not wholly convinced. I bought a sketch pad, some pencils and a large rubber. I decided to start with a feather I’d found in the garden. I’d not got more than half a dozen lines on the page when the phone rang. Forty-five minutes on, I put my pencil down beside a passable drawing of a feather. My friend had described what to do, step by step, and I’d followed his instructions to the letter.

Now that’s what I call talent – not my drawing, his teaching. To get me from ‘one of mum’s rubbish drawings’ to an identifiable feather in forty-five minutes, without being able to see what I was doing, was nothing short of genius. The trouble was this particular genius had a strong preference for large amounts of vodka.

Chronic alcoholism is a pretty effective strategy for wasting your talents, and it’s one that’s likely to earn a fair amount of disapproval, should you happen to opt for it. But it’s by no means the only way to avoid making use of human potential. The world is brim-full of wasted talent. Over the years, I’ve worked with a remarkable artist who collated statistics at a dusty desk. I’ve chatted to musicians while they flipped burgers, and met a percussionist pounding the street as a postman. I’ve taught English to a poet who pushed pallets in a warehouses, and an economist who washed up in a pub kitchen. I was once rescued from a cascade of wine bottles by a fully-qualified property manager, with two degrees, who worked the checkouts in Tesco’s. We live in a society that ignores inconvenient talent. Instead, everything we do has to feed the economic sausage machine, otherwise it’s considered pointless, unproductive or unrealistic, head-in-the-clouds, or a pipe dream.

Our education system doesn’t help. It values academic ability more highly than creativity, and the ability to regurgitate facts above all else. If you excel at mathematics, English grammar or science, fine. If your genius is for art, construction, drama, sewing, welding, baking, motor mechanics, caring, hairdressing, music, plumbing, or anything creative, practical or people-centred, the likelihood is you’ll emerge from your school days feeling more than slightly useless.

I worked in schools for many years. Behaviour management they called what I did, but it was more like firefighting. I spent my days battling to force square pegs into round holes. One afternoon a frustrated teacher asked me to take a disruptive student out of her class and listen to him read. It was a fruitless exercise from the get-go. He was severely dyslexic. So far as I know, he still can’t spell his own name reliably, twenty years on. After the third tortured sentence of a book intended for a child less than half his age, he looked up.
“Do we have to do this?”
I couldn’t see the point either. I asked what he’d be doing if he had a choice.
“Stripping down an engine.”
“Really? How do you do that?”
My knowledge of the infernal confusion engine is zero, and my interest even less. Nevertheless, he was able to explain in detail how to dismantle the engine of a car, and to hold my attention while he did so. His enthusiasm caught me up and carried me along. I could almost picture it all in my mind’s eye. It was pure genius. Yet a few weeks later he walked out of school for the last time. A stressed out teacher had called him ‘pathetic’, and it had proved the last straw. We found him a placement with a local mechanic. A few weeks later, his boss told me he was the most naturally-talented apprentice mechanic he’d come across in twenty years.

I’ll never understand why we want everyone to be the same. People are created with an infinite variety of gifts and talents, yet we want them all neatly hammered into identical holes, no matter how much damage the process causes.
‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid’.
Regardless of what Facebook tells me, I’m pretty sure Albert Einstein didn’t come up with that one, but whoever did hit the nail firmly on the head. Why do we want our children to grow up believing they’re stupid?

I’m a lost cause. I’m an idealist, an ageing hippie. I cling stubbornly to the outdated principle that human beings matter more than money. I still hold the wild belief that education should enable human beings to develop their individual potential, rather than squashing them into boxes. I have this revolutionary idea that you and I are more than economic units, that we’re here to explore, to discover, to develop our gifts and abilities, to value ourselves and other people, and to care for this amazing planet we live on. I don’t any of us were born to spend our lives striving to be what someone else wants us to be. I told you I was a hopeless case.

In that past life of mine, I sometimes used to tell frustrated students the problem wasn’t them. It was the system.
“If school was all about artistic talent I’d have special needs,” I used to say.
But given the right conditions, even I can draw a feather…

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A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

It’s been said before I don’t doubt. If you insist on pissing off a writer you’re going to get written about. Not in the most flattering terms. Do it really well and you could get a whole novel. Best seller. With you as the star of the show. Thinly disguised. Just so you can’t be sure. A slow, messy, richly-deserved death perhaps. Written with relish. Less proficient efforts might get you a short story. A poem. Your most irritating quirks laid bare. Do it half-heartedly or bungle the attempt. You’ll likely wind up in a blog post.

The great thing about this from the writer’s perspective is there’s always a get-out clause. All characters are fictional. Any resemblance … purely coincidental. Blah-de-blah. Etc.. Unless you’re foolish or egocentric enough to write an autobiography. In which case, on your own head be it. A blog’s more complicated from this point of view. A blog is not usually a work of fiction. More an online diary. Confessional. The poor woman’s autobiography. Which makes me both foolish and egocentric. And on my own head be all of it.

A while back I decided to give internet dating a try. Despite two spectacular relationship failures. Major bestsellers. Possibly trilogies. With film rights. Sequels. Maybe even prequels. I was getting tired of the single life. Or so I thought. I decided I liked the idea of a significant other. One with a volume control. Who’d let me talk from time to time. Thought of me as human. Could remember my birthday. That kind of thing.

The internet is not the place to look. Especially at my age. First you need to crack the code. It’s a bit like supermarket labelling. If you have to tell the customer something tastes good it’s probably because it doesn’t. Take ‘Flavourtop’ tomatoes. The most tasteless I’ve ever eaten. Or ‘Golden Delicious’ apples. There’s a misnomer if ever there was one. Neither golden nor delicious. Unless you stuff them with dried apricots. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in a hot oven … woah there. This is not a food blog.

Similarly, if someone has to tell you they’re honest. Run a mile. Likewise kind. Considerate. Thoughtful. And my pet hate. What you see is what you get. How wrong can you be? If he’s tactile, his hands will be in places you don’t want before he’s memorised your name. Open-minded? He’s read Fifty Shades. Wouldn’t mind a bit of it.

Then there’s the descriptions of their ideal woman. Most won’t consider anyone less than ten to fifteen years younger. On that basis I’d end up being a carer rather than a partner. And forget compatible personalities. It’s all about looks as far as they’re concerned. Long-legged. Slim. Blonde. Elegant. Stylish, but not afraid to wear jeans and hiking boots when the occasion demands. For the occasion read the man. I’ve seen them all. Comfortable in her own skin is one of my favourites. This means no more than size 10, with the body of a yoga instructor. Or no more than size 10 with effortless botox /spray tan / bikini body. Real women need not apply.

I signed up to a dating site associated with a well-known broadsheet newspaper. I didn’t have a photo at first. I had some great conversations. They all went the same way, with a kind of weary inevitability. After half a dozen emails the man would suggest coyly that he needed to see a photo before taking things further. The photo appeared. The man disappeared. Did wonders for my ego, I can tell you. Do I look like some kind of monster? Please don’t answer that …

My first date (yes, I finally got a date) was one of the most boring men I’ve ever met. And that’s saying something. We arranged to meet in a city-centre pub. 10 o’clock at night. Frankly, he was more interested in the beer than in me. Probably because he’d drunk quite a lot of it before I arrived. He was pretty keen on the barman too. No. Not in that way. Although I could be wrong. He kept wandering off to chat to him about the latest ales. He did have the grace to offer me a lift home at the end of it all. I declined. I wanted to get there alive.

The next one seemed better. We used to chat for hours. He sent me slightly-drunken text messages. Late at night. OK, he banged on about geeky stuff. A lot. He’d been something technical in media in a past life. Made sure I knew how much he’d been earning before he was made redundant. Name-dropped. All the time. Told me how wonderful Vanessa Redgrave was. He was planning to set up a film school. I’ve often wondered if he ever did. Or was it talk? Like all the rest. I refused to sleep with him on the second date. Never heard from him again. Shallow creatures, the other half of the human race.

Coffee in St Albans was next. I hoped for cake too. It wasn’t to be. Saturday afternoon. We sat outside the café. The pavement was narrow. The street was busy. It was windy. I couldn’t hear a word he said. He wasn’t spotlessly clean. The conversation was all about his ex. So far as I could make out. I sent him a polite text that evening. Thanked him for a nice afternoon. Washed my mouth out with soap and water. He replied that he hadn’t felt we had much connection. Maybe because I wasn’t his ex.

The last straw came one Saturday night. It was a second date. I thought the first had gone well. Just goes to show. The pub was packed to the gunwales. Any sound below ninety decibels was inaudible. We stood between two rows of tables for twenty minutes. Clutching our coats. Why anyone would have wanted to spend more than twenty seconds there was beyond me. Conversation was hopeless. But the beer was cheap. And he had money-off vouchers. What more could you want from life?

We finally bagged a table. We’d been shouting inanities across it for ten or fifteen minutes when he announced he was going to have to leave. He needed to get to his local before it closed. To pick up a crossword puzzle. No. I’m not making this up. The last bus was in half an hour. Why didn’t we buy another pint? Split it between us. I fought my way to the bar. We barely had time to swallow it before he was on his feet. I have to be fair. He did offer to walk me to the bus stop. In a kind of I-will-if-you-insist-but-I-might-miss-my-bus way. I didn’t insist. I’ve played second fiddle to a lot of things in my time. Never a used crossword puzzle. I waited forty minutes for a bus. I haven’t heard from him since.

So here I am. Miserable. Embittered. Alone. Having failed to secure the one thing every woman needs to make her life complete. Contemplating decline into a lonely old age … Like hell I am. That forty minutes at the bus stop was time well spent. I made a decision. I would never sell myself short again. Anyone who’d dump me for a crossword didn’t deserve me in the first place. Same went for those whose preference was beer. Botox. Vanessa Redgrave. Vodka. Skinny blondes. Cheap sex. A defunct marriage. Or the sound of their own voice.

And so what if I spend the rest of my life alone? Their loss. I’m busy discovering the delights of my own company. Relishing my freedom. Running life my way. Instead of running round after someone else. I don’t need an ‘other’. Significant or not. Far from completing my life, any of those men would have diminished it. Because they didn’t value me enough. If that makes me foolish and egocentric, I’m guilty as charged. After all, I’d raise hell in support of any other woman diminished by a man. So why should I wish it upon myself?



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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Wild dreams and unexpected changes

It’s just as well none of us can see into the future. We’d bury our heads under the duvet every morning and refuse to come out. It seemed like such a straightforward decision at the time. I’d always wanted to be a writer. Why not give up NOT being one? After all, it was only for 125 days. I could raise some money for One25. Get a taste of the writer’s life. Lay the urge to rest once and for all. Then come the middle of July I’d be able to go back to normal. Fait accompli. Simple.

One of the things about embarking on a major life change is you never quite know where you’re going to end up. I realised I’d be spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen. I thought I might have to adjust parts of my normal routine to accommodate this. Maybe I’d do a bit more reading. Observe the world with a writer’s eye. So far so good.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming a writer would impact my life in the way it has. There are days when I eat, sleep and breathe writing. A story. A blog post. A poem grabs me by the throat. Won’t let me go until it’s written. Edited. Polished. Two in the morning I’ve been here wrestling with words. Other days my mind’s a total blank. Emptier than the page in front of me. I write my five hundred words in deleted opening sentences. Drink so much tea I’m in the loo every ten minutes.

But that’s not the end of it. For the record, and because today has been a very long day. Here is my list of the biggest changes so far.

I’ve given up watching telly. I don’t mean I haven’t got time at the moment. That I’m going back to it when all this is over. I mean I’ve cancelled my monthly donation to the Rupert Murdoch benevolent fund. Disconnected the box. Unplugged the set. Life’s too short. There are books to read. Stories to write. People to meet. Open mic poetry nights. Yoga classes … I’m looking for a new home for a well-loved telly. One careful owner. Any offers?

Talking of finding new homes for once-prized possessions. I’m in the midst of a massive de-clutter. This is doing my head in. My flat’s compact. Bijou. It’s now more or less impossible to see the floor. Much less walk on it. There are piles everywhere. Books. Clothes. Bedding. How I’ve managed to accumulate so much junk, heaven only knows. And how the hell am I going to get rid of it all? Nothing to do with becoming a writer you’d think. But you see there was this book I read while I was researching for the blog …

Research is another thing I don’t recommend. Unless you’re up for challenge. Or impervious to the impact. A couple of weeks ago I visited the RSPCA website. To find out more about how the meat we eat is slaughtered. All I can say is, try eating meat with that stuck in your head. So … I’m going back to being vegetarian. After more than 30 years. And I’m thinking about the vegan option.

An upside of vegetarian food is it’s a deal more eco-friendly than meat. Just as well. Writing’s kept me nose-to-nose with the havoc we’re wreaking on this fragile planet of ours. I’m working on reducing my impact on the environment. I’ve bought an Ecoegg laundry egg. Reviewed my cleaning materials. I’m trying to waste less. Recycle more. Signed up for updates from the Green Party.

When it comes to getting more involved in politics, I’ve neither the time nor the space to go into it here. I thought I’d given up in despair. Years ago. I’m back in the ring now. Even if it’s only a rant on the blog from time to time.

So what about that yoga class? How can that possibly have anything to do with being a writer? Well, it’s the best cure I can think of for the stiff shoulders. And all those new people. Just think. I’m bound to find some fresh ideas for writing …




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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Side-servings of cyanide

Two hot and hectic days in the community café. My brain’s turning into a cheese and ham toastie. White bread. No salad. Funny how people react to salad. Some look at you as if you’ve offered them a side-serving of cyanide. Others say yes. Then return it untouched. I could write a whole post on the amount that goes in the food waste every day. A few actually eat the stuff. One or two even ask for extra. And eat it.

From observation, the Great British Public divides into four broad categories when it comes to salad. Fruit and veg in general. There are those who hate it outright. All of it. Wouldn’t be seen dead eating anything that looked as if it might once have been attached to a plant. And are not afraid to say so. Aggressively. They’re comparatively rare. Much more common is the second category. They feel exactly the same way about plant-based food. But they know they’re supposed to eat it. And they’re too polite to say no. They’re the ones who poke their mixed leaves with their forks but don’t actually put any in their mouths. They’re also the reason we’ve halved the size of our salad portions. The third group quite like salad. In moderation. With plenty of mayonnaise. Or at least they like some elements of it. Probably not radishes. Beetroot. Or anything a bit out of the ordinary. The rest of us can’t get enough of the stuff. However, we’re often obliged to play this down. After all, we don’t want to look too much like goody-two-shoes.

I sometimes wonder whether politicians and health experts have the smallest understanding of human psychology. My guess is sales of fruit and veg rose briskly when the five-a-day campaign began in 2003. I wouldn’t mind betting a whole lot more started going in the bin too. Now they’re making noises about seven-a-day. Trouble is we get all in a tizzy when someone tries to tell us what to do. Especially if they use thinly-veiled death threats to enforce compliance. We don’t like being pushed around. But we feel guilty.

I love fruit and veg. I could live the rest of my days on avocado salad and olives. Washed down with red wine of course. I’d be in seventh heaven. But now I hear they’ve decided red wine’s not good for you after all … My doctor once told me most patients deliberately underestimate their alcohol consumption. Hardly surprising when fear and guilt are such major components of our national attitude to drink. According to a World Health Organisation report around a third of those who drink in the UK sometimes binge. It’s a habit that can be very harmful to health. We have relatively high taxes on booze. Controls on who is allowed to buy alcohol, and where and when they’re allowed to buy it. Yet our rate of binge drinking is around five times that of Italy where the attitude is far more relaxed.

Coercion in relationships never works. You might use emotional blackmail to hold onto your partner. But you’ll never have her heart that way. You can’t build a sound relationship on a foundation of fear. Likewise, government-sponsored guilt trips will never make us change our ways. We might buy more vegetables. If all they do is ferment in the fridge we might as well have bought booze in the first place. We might give up drinking from Sunday to Thursday. If we blow the whole thing on a bender at the weekend there really wasn’t any point. Far better to admit the truth. We don’t like salad. We’d be happier with a couple of beers and a rare steak. And if we didn’t feel so bloody guilty about it we might not want to get hammered every weekend.




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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Live life in colour

A year or so ago. I’m walking through Queen Square in Bristol somewhere around lunch time, when an earnest young woman with a clipboard approaches. I try to avoid eye contact, but she’s not having it.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Yes I do. I’m in a hurry. And you probably want money. I’m too polite to say it of course.

“Do you have any regrets?”

Wow. Didn’t see that coming. I gawk at her for a moment. She must get that a lot. Then I hear myself say.

“You know what? I don’t think I do.”

It’s her turn to gawk. In the ensuing confusion I head off to my meeting.

Regret’s a funny one isn’t it? If I said there was nothing about the past I’d change in an ideal world I’d be a liar. But some of the things you might think I’d want to change I really don’t. Being married for example. It was unpleasant for all concerned, but my children wouldn’t be who they are if I’d married someone else, and I really wouldn’t want them to be different. Likewise my subsequent relationship. It looked like an utter disaster. Worse than the first, if that’s possible. But so many good things came out of it, both directly and indirectly. How can I regret fleeing half way across England to escape Charlie when I found so many wonderful friends in my unexpected home?

The older I get the more I question the value of regret. If only … The truth is I can’t change what happened even a split second ago. It’s over. Gone. I’ll never get it back. There’s no point in trying to grab it. Change it. Mould it to the way I think it ought to have been. All the time I’m doing that I’m missing what’s happening now, and building fresh regrets for the future.

Today has seen the passing of Stephen Sutton. Described as inspirational, Stephen spent most of his teenage years battling terminal bowel cancer. As good a reason as any for regret you’d think. A short life filled with bitterness and if only … Like hell.  Instead he went for packing a punch. He crammed as much as possible into the short time he had. Did as much good as he could. Measured his life by achievement rather than time. Quality rather than quantity. I’d rather measure [life] in terms of making a difference, he said, and I can’t help but wonder how the world might look if more of us thought that way. What if …?

What if … The art of the possible. The dream. The inner voice. Asking if the dull and reasoned life we live is really the only way. My beautiful niece Michelle lost her life in a road accident almost two years ago. She’d packed more into twenty-one years than many people do into three times as long. She had a what if … approach. Live life in colour, she said.

So … what if I let go of if only? Stop clinging to the past. Seize the present with both hands. Live it to the full. In colour … Who knows? Not one of us knows how long we’ve got. So what do I have to lose? Thank you Michelle. Thank you Stephen. For the reminder. For the inspiration. Life is precious. Glorious. Fragile. And uncertain. Measure it in terms of making a difference. Live life in colour.


I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.

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Bleeding the system

Saturday afternoon, and a hot one in the middle of June. It’s the school fête season, and this must be the third one in four weeks. The kids are pleading for money for ice cream, crockery smashing and win-a-goldfish. Sally does just that. She skips and laughs with excitement, and we get a few funny looks. That goes with the territory. In an hour’s time she’ll be full length on the hearthrug in my friend’s living room, refusing to speak or eat, and all because I told her she was old enough to walk the two hundred yards from the school playground without me. She’s fifteen, and big for her age.

Sally’s spent most of her childhood in the care system. Her father thought smashing her brother’s head against a wall was a good way to discipline him, but apparently there was never enough evidence for a successful prosecution. Mark will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, so I suppose Sally’s lucky. She’s spent most of her life in an institution for disabled children. The matron took a shine to her, and resisted all efforts to move her on to a more appropriate home. She was finally fostered when she was almost twelve. Her social worker found a family that promised to adopt her. It was a dream come true for Sally, and after all that time without a family, how was she to know normal fathers don’t do that to their daughters?

She spilled the beans in a sex education class. They hurried her off the premises, straight to the nearest police station. There they cross-examined her until two in the morning. Small wonder she didn’t want to talk to the police again. She’s fourteen with an emotional age of eight. She’s naive, immature and childlike. She’s been with us three months now, but we’re just a stop-gap. She’s so damaged that her next placement, with the ‘forever family’ she’s dreamed of so long, will last less than two weeks.

Almost thirty years on I still wonder what happened to Sally. It’s not her real name of course. Back in those days I was a foster carer, employed by the local authority. I made the mistake of being able to cope with massively damaged teenagers like Sally. For the privilege of doing this, I was paid an allowance which barely covered the expenses. When Sally arrived, I signed an agreement to care for her as if she was one of my own children. I guess her previous foster-father had to sign that one too.

I didn’t go into foster care for the money. Looking back it might have worked better for me if the value of what I did had been acknowledged, but the unspoken assumption was there’d be something distasteful about lining my pocket this way. It didn’t feel right to make money out of Sally’s misfortune. My, how the world has moved on.

In a world driven by profit, even damaged children are an investment opportunity. An abused or multiply disabled child can be worth up to £5,500 a week to investors in a private residential care home. That’s nine times the fees for Eton, according to Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian. That’s a pretty impressive figure. But we’re living in an age of austerity, right? So where’s all the money coming from? More importantly, where on earth is it going? Because it sure as heck isn’t being spent on the children. No matter how good the care they’re receiving. If it is, why do statistics still show that a quarter of all prisoners in the UK have spent some time in the care system?

The stark truth is the money comes from you and me. We’re the ones who foot the bill for this insane abuse of public funds. The media love nothing better than to pillory a hard-pressed social worker every time a case of child abuse hits the headlines, but the privatisation of care services makes the job nigh on impossible. How can you balance the budget and meet the needs of the child when costs are so prohibitive? Is it really over 70 times more expensive to raise a child now than it was in 1989? Of course not. The costs may be three or four times what they were. Perhaps ten or fifteen times, allowing a reasonable salary for the carer. Not seventy.

A few weeks ago Gordon Gillick, a UKIP councillor in Cambridgeshire found himself in hot water for asking a group of young people in care how it felt to be ‘takers from the system’. I’d like to pose the same question to those who are lining their pockets with money from the care system, the leeches who profit from the suffering of children. What’s it like to bleed a public authority of cash needed for vital services? How do you sleep at night when you bought your new BMW with money that could have paid for therapy for an abused child? How does it feel to be a taker from the system?

I lost touch with Sally many years ago. The world’s not kind to damaged and vulnerable children. It’s even less kind to the adults they become, so I hope she’s been able to find peace, and at least some of the love she craved. Above all, I hope no-one has ever treated Sally as a commodity, because no human being deserves to be used that way, especially not a wounded child.


I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.

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Songs of freedom

If there’s one thing I’m certain of it’s that I know far less about the world than I used to think I did. Take human history, for example. It’s less than seventy years since the end of a major war against fascism. Yet we’re living in a nation where the police can turn up on your doorstep and demand that you take down something you’ve tweeted. Even though no actual crime has been committed. This can apparently happen simply because a particular political party, with no democratic mandate, objects to the views you’ve expressed.

As a dedicated blogger, a Twitter songbird and a lover of free speech I’m more than a little concerned by the implications of this. If someone from said political party chose to trawl through my tweets or the annals of this blog they’d find plenty to object to. Am I going to be be woken at dead of night and told to take down the blog? Over-dramatic at the moment I realise. But if they can wield that much influence already, who knows?

My mother used to tell me when I was a child that if Hitler had won the war I would never have been born. She’d have been locked up or shot rather than submit to the loss of freedom. I think many of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations felt the same. How quickly we’ve forgotten. I’m not suggesting their opinion was based on sound historical analysis of the causes of the war. But there was a definite sense that they’d battled a force of evil and prevailed. I don’t mean by that the nation of Germany. It was rather the political philosophy of fear, expressed as hatred and control, at the root of Nazism. Yet here’s the same force rearing its ugly head again in a surprisingly thin disguise.

Fear is an incredibly potent political tool. And a very dangerous one. Hitler drove a nation to its knees by instilling an irrational fear of a small minority. And devastated a continent as a result. Fear can turn us against our neighbours. Our friends. Even our family. Anyone we perceive as different. A threat. It’s been wielded as a weapon of control by governments. Dictators. Corporations. Religious institutions. Bosses. Sergeant Majors. Rapists. Abusers. Anyone who thirsts after power. All down the ages. We seem to fall for it every time. We go running to the dog with the loudest bark. Pleading for protection.

But here’s the twist. Fear’s the thing that makes that dog ferocious in the first place. If you see someone strutting and posturing. Telling you they know all the answers. You can be sure they’re scared of something. So we end up with a political and economic system that’s founded on fear. And greed of course. But what is greed if not the fear of missing out on something someone else has?

So what’s the antidote? As I said, I know far less about the world than I used to think I did. I’m not about to come up with a magical solution. But there’s one idea all the world’s major spiritualities agree on. I say ‘spiritualities’ rather than ‘religions’. Religions have a very unfortunate record on the abuse of fear. I used to teach this ‘golden rule’ as the definition of respect when I worked with primary school children. Always treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. Or if you prefer it the other way up. Never do anything you wouldn’t want someone else to do to you. It works just as well either way.

Of course if everyone followed this path there’d be no room left for fear. As the Christian bible says there is no fear in love (1 John 4 v 18). The same book teaches its followers to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5 v 44). I think we’ve got a way to go on that one before we can call ourselves a Christian country.

Tonight I’ve made a decision. I’ve signed the Charter for Compassion. I don’t know whether it will make a difference. I do know something has to change. In our country. In our world. But the first step towards any change is always in ourselves. As for those who want to suppress free speech. To promote fear. Hatred. Suspicion. I’ll be praying for you. But this songbird ain’t gonna to stop singing. Songs of freedom. Loud and long. Not now. Not ever.



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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