|Holidays in the garden
Wednesday 9 December 2020
I'm in a retrospective mood. December is a month for sorting through our photos and thinking about the year that has passed. It's no surprise the events of 2020 will stand out in my memory. A few years ago it was a road-trip through California that dominated; this year our holidays were equally unusual but somewhat closer to home (literally).
Scrolling through our archive, the photos reveal a few other themes too: fun in the garden during lockdown-lite (summer), new crazes for paddle boarding and home-decorating, as well as an obsession with food (homegrown veg, homemade sourdough, celebratory cakes). Towards the latter end of the year, it was the new kitten who stole the show - romping with the dog, curled up in my son's hat, or perched nonchalantly on the roof of our house (three storeys up 😩).
Wednesday 11 November 2020
I'm feeling happy today. Naturally, I'm unable to be happy without taking time to analyse why. This is the ideal state we all aspire to, the holy grail of modern life and a prized commodity during these quiet lockdown days.
I read recently that believing we can achieve happiness is a misguided notion. Better to live a useful life, where happiness becomes a byproduct (if we're lucky). This was said by somebody famous, though I can't remember who (possibly a former American president or First Lady - I've overindulged on US politics recently).
|This makes me happy
Tuesday 13 October 2020
An intriguing nugget I've learnt from my two weeks of #litfest indulgence? The novelist Ann Patchett slipped into her favourite ballgowns during lockdown to promote new books on Instagram. She runs her own bookshop in Nashville, Tennessee, and was forced to get creative to sell some books - it's heartwarming - go take a look at @ParnassusBooks on Instagram.
My attendance of the Henley Literary Festival has been a bit different this year - for obvious reasons. Instead of strolling around picturesque venues in Henley (and feasting on Gower Cottage brownies), I've been sat at home watching various sessions via Crowdcast.
|Lots of bedtime reading...
The 2020 festival has been as stimulating as ever, bar a few interruptions as people wandered into my viewing suite (aka kitchen): Mum, what's for supper? or Has anyone seen my wallet? In response, I've had to ramp up my particular superpower, an ability to zone-everyone-out while I'm focused on something more interesting (a skill usually only deployed on long car journeys).
Wednesday 30 September 2020
Someone sent me a polite message via Twitter earlier in the summer. He introduced himself as Aidan Martin and said he wanted to flag up a book he had written - Euphoric Recall, a memoir of his childhood and journey through addiction. Because of my recent work on childhood trauma, he piqued my interest.
Aidan's book fulfils his dream of becoming a writer; a dream he nearly gave up on when he was an addict. It took two decades to conquer his addictions to hard pornography, alcohol and drugs. His book, which publishes tomorrow (1 October), refers to a higher power that helped him overcome his demons. "I am not an airy-fairy guy in the slightest nor am I religious," he tells me. "But I do believe I am on a journey and am being guided and protected on it."
My own book about the toxic impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) was published in May by Public Health Wales and is freely available. The book consists of interviews with practitioners - who help others to overcome adverse experiences - as well as people with lived experiences of trauma, like Aidan.
Wednesday 23 September 2020
Hubby and I nipped out for a walk first thing yesterday morning. The mist hung over the green hills of Turville while the sunlight was so piercing I could barely keep my eyes open. It felt like the last breath of summer... a chance to wander through the fields, past hedgerows and along chalky banks with the sun's warmth on our skin. We even spotted a some ragged purple flowers - a flash of floral excitement late in the season.
Tuesday 7 July 2020
|Hoping for a sweet summer
Wednesday 10 June 2020
The Black Lives Matter protest came to the small market town of Henley yesterday, a mark of how widespread the movement has become. We were late to the protest - only hearing about it by chance - but managed to make the tail-end, joining a crowd of students, families and older couples in the main square.
There was a small police presence (a rare sight in our law-abiding town). Earlier, I was told, the officers had shown solidarity with the crowd by kneeling in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds - a tribute to George Floyd, whose neck was knelt on by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, for the same duration of time. Long enough for George Floyd to plead for his mother and long enough for him to die from asphyxiation.
|Protesters in Henley-on-Thames
Wednesday 27 May 2020
Throughout the coronavirus lockdown, there will be children stuck at home who have suffered emotional or physical abuse; kids who've witnessed the painful breakdown of their parents' relationship, or watched a mother/father spiral downwards into depression.
These experiences are not uncommon and sadly it has become clear that they can have a long-term impact, affecting not only children's mental health into adulthood, but also their physical health. For example, people who have suffered trauma in their early lives are more vulnerable to strokes and heart disease.
|The book: how we can help people
who have suffered childhood trauma
Wednesday 20 May 2020
The first time I ever sampled sourdough, I was at a business lunch with a contact in New York during the late 1990s. Mid-conversation, sitting in the chichi restaurant, I remember picking up my diamond-shaped bread roll and taking a nibble. My goodness, I thought to myself, that bread has gone off!
Perhaps I didn't hide my grimace well enough because my companion smiled and told me that 'sourdough' was a New York speciality. I felt a pang for the French-style bread I might have been given in a London restaurant back home...
|Sourdough: 'bread with an old soul'
Picture credit: Will Lam
Wednesday 6 May 2020
The depressing thing about getting older is that you'll never be young again. Yes, an obvious point (but bear with me). I look in the mirror every morning and I think, Rats - is that really me? What happened to my skin? Then I reach compulsively for my anti-ageing face cream...
The other day, I was flipping through old photos and observing how youthful I used to be. But then it struck me: it's likely, when those snaps were taken, I'd already started worrying about my wrinkles.
|My glory days in NYC - boating in Central Park
Wednesday 8 April 2020
We got our letter from Boris yesterday. Poor man - I'm sure he didn't imagine he'd end up in hospital himself when he was sitting there, chewing his pencil and wondering what to write. His words - we must slow the spread of the disease and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment - are steeped in irony.
Instead, Dominic Raab is left in charge. Two nights ago on the BBC, he looked faintly queasy at the prospect. Incidentally, he was in the year below us at university so it feels rather odd that he's now our de facto PM - like our generation has come of age. Or a bit like my friend Sarah or Cathy running the country, except Sarah is too busy looking after the children of key workers and Cathy is reading the news.
|Tending to our new vegetable patch
Wednesday 1 April 2020
Ever since I gave up full-time work to look after the kids, I've resisted - whisper it - becoming a housewife. The plan, back in 2003 when my daughter was born, was to raise the kids, write novels and freelance. On the whole, things turned out pretty well. Most of the time, I buried my neurosis that I had opted into domestic service. Writing books has brought me fulfilment while also affording me the flexibility to spend lots of time with my kids. As they got older, I've taken on more work.
Then along came the Coronavirus. For the first time, our home became both the centre and the outer edge of our world. And who rules over this dominion? Me. During the past few weeks, I have flexed every domestic muscle in my body to keep my family fed, healthy and occupied.
|Sun therapy in the garden helped me feel better
Tuesday 24 March 2020
So it's Day One of social isolation. I feel like I can hear the Big Brother voiceover ringing in my ears, giving a running commentary of life in the 'house' so far. On the plus side, online school seems to be going well for the kids this morning, barring a few technical wrinkles. And the dog has enjoyed more walks than usual as we take turns to sample the sunny freedom in the fields behind our house.
My God, was it only a week ago that we had friends round for Sunday lunch? The last eight days have felt more like a month as we've watched our freedoms fall by the wayside, felled by an unremitting virus. It is incredible how the apparatus of our society - the education system, our economy, basic human rights - can be dismantled so quickly. And in the end, all it comes down to is life itself, the battle to preserve our little flickers of being.
|Coronavirus haircuts in the kitchen
Tuesday 17 March 2020
What strange times we live in. I walked into a petrol station yesterday to fill up my car and got terribly excited when I noticed multiple packs of loo roll in the aisle. A rare sight these days. In our household, a shortage had been looming after several visits to my local supermarket last week proved fruitless. I had to resist the urge to buy up more than my fair share.
Our days are weighted with an underlying sense of dread as we wait for the coronavirus to unleash its full force on our shores. Yesterday's restrictions on social contact - recommended by the prime minister and his advisors - will change our lives in immeasurable ways. For me, the consequences of these restrictions are only just sinking in. Can I still meet a friend for coffee? No, not really. Will book club get cancelled? Yes. And what about Pilates?
|Even the dog's worried about food shortages
- he raided a food bin this morning
Monday 2 March 2020
It turned out to be quite an eventful holiday. At the beginning of half term, as I finished zipping up the suitcases and disposing of the dregs in the fridge, a text popped up from Easyjet:
Gee, thanks, Storm Dennis. After a few hours of high stress (12-year old hid in his room), we finally managed to book ourselves onto another flight to Gran Canaria, our holiday destination, three days later - yes, three days later.
We are sorry to inform you that your Easyjet flight xxx has been cancelled. You can transfer onto a new flight or get a refund...
|Blue sky, sunshine, RELAX
Tuesday 11 February 2020
This one is about friendship. The long-lasting kind. I've just got back from a reunion weekend with my university besties and I'm still basking in the after-glow. We drank too much champagne/wine/gin, ate too much chocolate/cake/canapés and contended with Storm Ciara, but my goodness it was worth it!
So often we take our friendships for granted, particularly during the decades of parenthood and middle age. Even the early narratives of our lives are spun around meeting a romantic partner, or having a child... and yet in the background, friendships run deep like a rich seam.
|The journey's more fun with friends
Picture credit: Harriet Bell