Monthly Archives: September 2016



Things I don’t believe in. Superstitions. Old wives’ tales. Destiny. Fate. Water divination. Astrology. (Oh, and that nonsense about how ‘they’ve’ apparently been forced to add an extra sign to the Zodiac, on account of the celestial bodies all having moved so much, and had to move the rest up the charts as a consequence, including me – ME!! – from Leo to Cancer. On. Your. Bike. I am NOT having that.)

But sometimes life does throw up curiousnesses. In this case, very pleasingly (and for you too, if you like your columns less ‘ranty old bag’ and more ‘lighter slice of life’) because, having got down off my high horse the week before last, I found myself first bitten by an arachnid (more of which later), then home, only to be overrun with cat fleas. Brilliant synchronicity building here, don’t you think?

It’s brilliant, period. Because cat fleas absolutely do not like me. Don’t even go near me, let alone scramble in droves up my leg.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to Spidergate. And what a political imbroglio it turned out to be, when only hours after the Brown Recluse spider became number one suspect (scientifically arrived at, I hasten to add, on grounds of distribution, habitat, and modus operandi, not to mention a lengthy analysis of the horrors on, which website I promise truly exists) when my cousin Shelagh pops up on facebook to tell me that it probably IS a mosquito bite, and that other family members have been known to react similarly.

Hmm. On the one hand, I’m pretty solid on the sciency-researchy-search stuff. And a quick spin round confirms it. That’s a lie, actually. There is no such website. Don’t be silly. But neither can I find pictures anywhere of mozzie bites that look anything like mine do.

Still, Shelagh helpfully posts her own impressively grisly image, of two impressive red weals up her leg. Which I study at length, because I don’t wish to appear to be milking a common or garden mozzie nip, just for the instagram kudos. (hashtag ‘I’m hard me’, hashtag ‘trump this, suckers!’, hashtag ‘that’ll beat your photo of a cupcake’.)

But two things strike me. One being that her weals are much more weal-ish. Oozy, even. Wet-looking. Which mine’s definitely not. No, mine’s still definitely in the spider-venom ball-park – the neat circle, the subcutaneous bleeding action, the total absence of weal, weep or pus.

So I stick to my guns, and get busy spooking myself ( again) about the venom tracking inexorably to my heart. Till more research reveals that the Brown Recluse, bad-ass eight-legger that it is, won’t actually kill me. And as flucloxocillin is a drug of great wonder, cellulitis won’t see my lower leg off either.

So on goes the holiday, and though I keep a weather eye on it, my bite all too soon stops doing two things a bite should – 1, hurting. And 2, garnering sympathy.

So that’s that. And by the time we get home in the wee hours, all things small and bitey are forgotten. Till Georgie’s boyfriend Llyr makes a deep but anxious noise from the family bathroom, that is.

I initially decide this must be a heartfelt Welsh profanity, but it turns out to be a strangulated ‘arrrrrgh!’. And this on account of a new family having moved into the family bathroom – one of seven and a half million cat fleas.

They were contained at least. We keep almost all the internal doors shut when absent, mostly to spare us other cat-related horrors, such as wall to wall mud, drying slugs and bits of rodent. But it seems our space-related stinginess has saved us even greater horrors. Because, despite the cats being de-loused just a scant four weeks previously, that ‘up to four week’s protection’ on the flea liquid packet is clearly not one to play fast and loose with.

For they have sat on the bath mat, having clearly been riddled. And with the heat and humidity of our shut-up upstairs, the fleas have been having a field day. There was certainly a field of them up Llyr’s legs. A field big enough to man several flea Olympics.(I hear they’ve run away from the circus.)

And the upshot, of course, is that we’ve a mammoth task ahead. Four days in and the little sods are still pinging everywhere, despite a full four bottles of spray being deployed.

So once again, it’s a case of watch this space. Only this time, in trousers, from a distance.

First published in the Western Mail Weekend magazine Sept 24th 2016

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I am with bite. Yes, I know. Hardly an earth-shattering news item. But, trust me, this has so far been the story of our holiday. And not least because of the furore surrounding the identity of its perpetrator, who, naturally enough, has long since left the building. Or, indeed, hire car footwell, or terrace, or table at Mr Noodles, or last table on the left, just adjacent to the Epping Massive, in Slainte Irish Bar on Avenida Gladioli. (Such is the way of things when your flight lands at midnight. You have no choice but to cut your cloth accordingly.)

There was, naturally, little fuss on my part. Not originally. I woke up the following morning with a slightly tender heel and, echoing the clarion call of holidaymakers everywhere, said  “**** I’ve been bitten!”. Followed by, “why do I always forget about the bloody mozzie cream till it’s too late?” Honestly, it’s so reliable that you could set your watch by it.

The day commenced as per. Got some food in. Hired some bikes. Applied sun cream. Headed to the beach. And I didn’t fuss, even though it hurt. I never fuss. I’m not a fusser. But by early afternoon the tender heel was fast becoming a serious annoyance. So I took a proper look at it, and then I did fuss, because it looked like it had increasingly begun to feel. Like a series of small incendiary devices had been secreted just beneath my epidermis, operated remotely, and over-enthusiastically, by a leprechaun of little intellect, on minimum wage.

“Don’t keep fussing,” said Pete. (I was doing a lot of it by this time.) “It’s just a mozzie bite. Welcome to my world.” (Pete is to mosquitos as black truffles are to epicurean Gallic pigs. I have sympathized a LOT over the years.)

“Do I fuss?” I spluttered crossly. “Do I ever fuss? Have I ever been a fusser? If I fuss, let me tell you, it’s because there is something to fuss about! Look at my foot! It is being eaten from within!”

So we all cycled home – up a challenging hill or five (in my case, painfully) – where some proper professional looking then ensued. Then the ‘poke’ test – he poked it, and I screamed  the place down – followed by some consternation that the state of my foot (which was now getting irksome even to walk on) was quickly changing.

It was now hot to touch, swollen, livid and locally haemorrhaging – the harbinger, in fact, of that most ennervating of holiday hell-fests; the possibility of having to attend the local emergency walk in clinic, there to while away many a merry hour being misunderstood.

‘Now we’re talking!’ I couldn’t help but think, despite the agony. I was finally at the epicentre of the bitten-to-buggery universe, and I was milking it for all it was worth. After years of being saddled with the knowledge that bitey things didn’t like me (a curiously FOMO kind of thing with me) I had a bite like no bite that had ever troubled the family. And with the spectre of it perhaps even getting worse.

“It looks infected, too,” said Pete.” We’ll have to keep a close eye on it. Could get nasty.” My emergency stash of antibiotics were duly administered, right away. But it still didn’t look like anything any of us had seen before.

“I reckon that’s a spider bite,” said our resident globe-trotting nature girl, Georgie. “A girl I was travelling with in Thailand got bitten by a spider and it looked exactly like that.”

And needless to say (we’re on holiday, in a hot place, the imagination tends to wander) – the idea of attack by unknown arachnid took root. It looked nothing like a mosquito bite after all. And isn’t that the miracle of the internet? I typed in ‘bruised swollen painful ankle red bite?’ and did an image search.

And as quick as you could say ‘help! There’s a Tarantula!’, up came the results. And forget mozzie. I had fetched up at eepy-eepy central. And it looked EVERYthing like a bite from the jaws of a spider. Which I hadn’t felt, much less seen, so which one?

Another search, then. Of the spiders of Spain. And it turns out that there are two possible species in the frame. The Brown Recluse (so Brown and reclusive they named it, um, Brown Recluse) and, oh, lordy lord, the Black Widow. Could it be true? Had I been touched by the kiss of the spider woman? Rubbish film, yes, but, oh my, watch this space…

(*which we didn’t. Lots of them in Spain too. Just a nod to my fellow Alice Cooper fans, who will get this :))

First published in The Western Mail Weekend magazine, 17th Sept 2016

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I have been instructed this week to get off my high horse. By Pete, this is, obviously. Though not in a stroppy way. Simply because he’s noticed, these past weeks (past months, truth be known) that my recent modus operandi on waking every morning, has been to whistle a happy tune, yes, as is my personal genetic gift (the birds sing to greet the day, I simply sing to thank them), then to connect with the wider world and get in a complete huff-and-puff.

Doesn’t matter how – it could be television, radio, or the post-modern joy of social media – but there is always something going on that gets my goat.

(Apologies for over-extending the four-legged metaphor, by the way. If I wasn’t so fully in the get-off-my-high horse zone, I’d be inclined to bring sheep in as well.)

He’s right, of course. So much annoying stuff is going on in the world currently. Where do I start? And should I even try? Typing certain words these days almost guarantees annoying someone. So I won’t. If you read me regularly, you’ll already know them.

So to horses, and the getting off of them, particularly if they are high ones. Of which, luckily, I do have some experience.

I got on a very high horse once. In a bleak corner of Suffolk. (Nothing against Suffolk, mind, toward which county I bear absolutely no ill will.)

“Horse trekking!” someone trilled. And why ever not? What’s not to like about horses?

Well, nothing. Gentle animals. Black Beauty was a childhood favourite. And since we were on holiday – at Center Parcs, where such simple joys are relentlessly encouraged – there seemed no earthly reason why I should cast any aspersions on my (yup, name and shame) sister Sherrill’s notion.

They don’t actually keep the horses at Center Parcs. That would be foolish, not least because of the risk of them being mown down by bicycles, or being coerced into attending a ‘Lavender Relax’ class. So off we went, in the ‘transport ‘, to some stable in the middle of nowhere. (Where ‘middle of’ means ‘pretty much anywhere you might fetch up in Suffolk’ and ‘nowhere’, by and large, just means ‘everywhere’.) And the horses, by and large (where ‘large’ translates as ‘all of them’) were huddled disconsolately in the patch of dirt between their noisome stables.

I can gloss over the next part as it consisted of just the following – being hoicked onto a grey one, being briefly instructed in some ‘reins’ stuff, heading out in a clip-cloppy crocodile to a path round a field, walking excruciating slowly round another six or seven fields, spending several moments thinking ‘remind me again why we are doing this?’, having my hand spot-welded to some ‘reins’, by the bitter, bitter cold, putting on a brave face (where brave obviously means effecting an expression that said “no, not at all! I’m not bored!”), then returning, now as disconsolate as our steeds, back into the stable block. Slowly.

Upon which, to paraphrase no quality novelist who ever lived, all hell broke loose. This when my horse – the grey one of no discernable personality – decided, for whatever reason, to fight back. From its meaningless existence? From the pathetic, apologetic, guiltsome kicks I was administering? (Who ever wanted to kick a horse anyway? Not me.) From the existential angst that had plagued it since foaldom? From the tyranny of the Center Parcs-endorsed horse woman who had enslaved him? Who knows?

All I know – and will remember for the rest of my life– is that it broke into a trot. An actual trot. A trot that very soon coaxed itself into a full –on, rebellious canter, off out of the stable block, off out onto the lane, off out almost into the main road.

(Off out – had he been given the chance – onto the frigging M11.)

Which was, of course, thrumming with traffic. Which was where we’d still be now, for all I know, squished under a Transit, had the horse woman not intervened, with some swift, arcane command, which translates from the Equinianese as ‘oiiiiiiiiii!’.

Upon which he stopped. And, with the whip-smart intelligence for which I’m rightly famed, I pulled my feet out of my stirrups and promptly got (where got means ‘fell’) off my high horse.

Probably sensible, in hindsight, that I don’t get on another. What with Politics. State of the nation. State of the Hunt. State of the pound. State of the union. State of the States of bloody America.

Henceforth, I shall be getting high only on kittens.

First published in The Western Mail Weekend magazine,

10th August 2016 

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“We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” – Laura Stavoe Harm


You have to laugh, don’t you? At the ‘news’ about motherhood. That new mothers (old mothers, tired mothers, all mothers) are the main reason why the gender pay gap hasn’t yet shrunk enough. That motherhood confers not only new human life, but a 33% pay cut compared to men.

You have to laugh. This is news? This is new? This is inexplicable? How can it be, when you remember it oh, so well?

So there you are. 1987. Business Titan of Thatcher’s Britain. Enormous shoulder pads. Decent car. Going Places.

But the clock ticks. And one day the alarm starts ringing shrilly. You are in hospital. Clutching your husband. In a small amount of pain.

And then, suddenly (how come this part wasn’t explained, quite?) in a staggering amount of new and stunning pain. And then, somehow, to your astonishment, you are handed a brand new piece of you. And the pain disappears – poof! – and you are changed.

You remain astonished. Joyful. Tearful. Groping through a fog. “Work?” you think. “Work?” You are already toiling beyond memory. You are with baby. You are immersed. You are your whole family’s baby trailblazer! And you variously waft and trudge, blinking, through an unfamiliar landscape.

But two days in (three, perhaps – day and night have lost meaning) your business partner/fort holder phones you. Muttering “bank”, muttering “overdraft”, muttering “client”, muttering “help!”. And you struggle to process this evil crime against your very soul, and another clock ticks, insistently, and ‘proper’ work beckons once again.

You cry then, bitter tears, because no-one explained that either. That leaving your impossibly tiny 8 week old baby will prove so herculean a task. The sledgehammer of guilt as he wails his desolation, the painful squeak and tug of your newly-minted heartstrings. The sheer physical effort – like being  both a foot-soldier and general in your own personal war – as you dress your baby, oh-so sleepy, and gather baby-clothes, and nappies, and the special breast milk picnic, for ‘while you are away’, while a part of you screams ‘but you shouldn’t be!’.

Then commuting, by car, train and tube, to your office, and wondering how you are going to manage to do this every day without going insane.

Weeks later, you’re astonished to find you’re still sane. And the hated, fetid train is now your friend. The train gives you moments that you never thought you’d have again. To read, doze and study. To feel a bit more like the you that came before.

Yet you’re not. And the feeling is chargeable. It’s paid in guilt, when you get home and the childminder tells you that today – oh, so sweet! – he rolled over.

It goes on. The tooth coming. The shape fitted into the correct hole. The way he pointed. Said “doggie!”. The dark place, especially, when you come home to fetch him and he clings to her, sobbing, like a pale pink koala, and doesn’t want to come home. To you.

And so it goes, your new life, and you work it. Sponge the sick from your power suit before heading out. Mop the milk from it, later, when those heartstrings make you leaky. You in one place, your mind in another place, daily. But eventually you adjust. You make it work.

And the months pass, and the years pass, and you “man-up” to working motherhood – heck, mums do this everywhere, don’t they?

(And the odd father, sometimes, and they are cooed over warmly, a sweet curiosity in Girls’ World.)

But you live now on a knife-edge of necessary efficiency. A veneer of coping, as brittle and fragile as spun sugar. Which snaps in a heartbeat, when the system skips a beat. I don’t feel well. My tooth hurts. I need this for school. There’s nothing for packed lunches. A hamster dies. The dentist. The washing machine is broken. A friendship is shunned. A show’s on. A reading book is lost.

And you think – you can’t help it – that this is no way of living. The heartstrings, though stronger, still often twang and shiver. You rue the school holidays for their nightmare childcare logistics. You weep when you hear of trips enjoyed, outings had, memories made.

Without you. So much of it without you.

And you read about making choices. And how it’s mothers who mostly make them. To fit quarts of precious, precious time into pint pots. Is it any wonder you aren’t CEO of Glass Ceiling Smashers Ltd?

No. You are too busy being all things to everyone.

You’re a mother.

First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine 27th August 2016