Monthly Archives: July 2016

Since I’m writing this week from the glorious alps again, I had thought I’d immerse myself in nature. The natural world – winter fading, spring rapidly burgeoning – is, after all, very giving with its gifts. What were once winter trickles, often hidden beneath the snow pack, are now beginning to appear from beneath their white duvets and rush, gurgling, to join the swelling river. And all around, shocks of green join the growing brown expanses, fertile mud – be it still damp and claggy from its hibernation – from which summer’s rampant growth will soon begin.

Oh, but Glastonbury, dearest Glastonbury, how you’ve brought my mood down. Yes, it’s certainly true, since this is the world of humans, that other enervating ticketing systems are increasingly available – but this, hippest (or hippy-ist, or hipster-ish) of all events? So disappointing.

I refer, since I’m sure there will be many who are not aware of it, to the business, this week (last week, as you read this) of it being time to pay our festival-ticket balances. Yes, the reality following the excitement of paying last autumn’s deposit has finally arrived in tens of thousands of email inboxes.

And what a dispiriting process it all is. Ticket price – check. No problem with that. A slight frisson of irritation at the ubiquitous booking ‘fee’, obviously, as if being allowed to do so was some sort of privilege.

But there you go. Such is modern life, and few seem to question it. As with premium rate phone lines, and a seat on a plane, these anomalies in logic have simply slipped in. And as to parking, well why NOT charge £35 to allow your guests the privilege of parking in a field? (Which, by the way, is the only option for those not going via coaches, and in possession of many kilos of camping gear.) Hell, you have the land sitting there – why not make it pay?

And there again, why not sling in – or, more accurately, have your ticketing partner sling in – a handy-dandy £5.25 per ticket ‘optional’ insurance, and ‘strongly advise’ festival goers to pay for it? Because, naturally, should you suddenly not be able to make it, it’s clearly unreasonable to expect a refund. What are the chances, after all, of selling that ticket to someone else, given that the event is so routinely under-subscribed? And so what that you can insure a fortnight in Spain for just a couple of quid more? £5.25 is such a nice-looking number.

Hey, and why not refuse to accept credit card payments? After all, those nasty, capitalist-society credit cards are just SO non-festival-ethos, with all their grubbing around, making money out of not terribly much. But of course, they offer all sorts of handy user-benefits, like travel insurance, and cancellation insurance, which means – hmm – no £5.25 extra per ticket required.

But, as I say, hey-ho, that’s life. Even festivals, green and of-the-people as they are, have to move with the times. Which is why I presume (I’m nearly done griping here, I promise) there’s the final £7.75 ‘administration fee’ per booking – which pops up, like a marmot from a hole on Mont Blanc, and apparently covers the expense of producing and posting your precious tickets, and which (to my admittedly untutored mind) seems one heck of a lot of cash.


Of course, this is normal in the 21st century. This is the price we pay for going out, doing stuff, having fun. This is the remit of the modern-day profitable middle-men – the unseen human army whose business it is to charge to ‘administer’ our pleasure.

And it’s unfair of me to single out a single festival. In fact, almost every event putter-on-er works to roughly the same principles. This is what it costs and, later, this is what it REALLY costs, once the various fees and oh-so-vital insurances have been figured in, and we realise that the best things in life are often not free – not when there are easy co-lateral profits to be made (signing up for PPI, anyone?).

Though it does leave something of an acrid taste in my mouth as I tick the box to sign the Glastonbury Pledge and promise ‘not to pee’ in their field, because it brings me back to my beautiful, not-for-much-longer-alpine playground. To nature and nurture and to the whole idea of Glastonbury, which I still so fondly cling to, along with the fervent hope that the best bits of the festival WILL still be free.

No charge for mud, after all.

*The author would like it recorded that since going to Glastonbury she wouldn’t hear a word said against it, its children, its pets, its wider family and/or any of its – lovely – associates. And would very much like tickets for next year. AT ANY PRICE. 🙂

First Published in The Western Mail Weekend magazine April 2016

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I think I am all angered out. This is probably only temporary (there’s no ‘probably’ about it) but, for now, I’m back to instagramming kittens.

How has it been for you, seriously? I mean, everything. This tsunami of foundation-rocking stuff, collectively. From the first wave of pre-EU Referendum shilly-shallying, to the State of Emergency that has, as I write, just been announced in Turkey.

I could see it. Well, at least some of it, way back. Regular readers will already be aware of my pointless but impassioned plea not to even HAVE this referendum. Surely this was too big, too complex, too constitutionally life-changing to be decided with a simple yes or no? Surely no-one could possibly know enough about global economics to even begin to know where to put their cross?

I fretted big-time about that, I can tell you. Whatever the outcome, about the massive ramifications for our national cohesion. About the outpourings of lies and bile already spewing from the internet. And remember, this was back when I thought we remainers would ‘win’ – and how pyrrhic a victory it might be.

And what powerfully emotive words ‘win’ and ‘lose’ have become. Because this firestorm of argument was just a rehearsal. Turns out it would become even more bitter and divisive than I could have imagined, with the orchestrators of 48% of the voting population’s current misery either betraying, being betrayed, or waving ‘bye-bye, I’m getting my life back’, while their lies were exposed even before cock-crow.

Emotions, running high, both inside and out of Westminster, like the engine on a boy racer’s Fiesta. And down on the farm – I was at Glastonbury – that sense of complete unreality. That bleary-eyed, astonished, ‘what the **** just happened?’ mumblings. What was going to happen to us all now?

And, ‘remain’ or ‘leave’, once the initial incredulity had died down on both sides, we all duly fell into step with our so-called (transient) leaders – becoming grubby, sharp, mean, aggressive, rude.

It was as if the lunatics had taken over the asylum. Whichever way you voted, didn’t you think that? Protests – of course, protests – protests about the protests, previously mild people screaming at eachother from their respective virtual terraces, as if this really was something that lent itself to a primitive ‘you lost, we won!’ rhetoric, or – to provide balance – the similarly reductionist ‘you voted ‘leave’ because you didn’t think!’ response.

I have engaged, even if at all times politely. I’ve signed petitions, written to my MP, done my fair share of questioning our collective ‘wisdom’, fielded too many impassioned cries of ‘****ing grow up! Get over it!’, watched from the sidelines as wars have raged – bloody wars, taking no prisoners – down those same dark virtual alleyways I alluded to back in May.

I’ve heard and believed the warning that here be the seeds of civil war. The 52 versus the 48. The nearness of the numbers. The enormous, scary societal gulf now exposed.

Emotions, running high. Like the boilers in a racing warship. Feeling too much, about too much, a thousand times a day. Feeling the veneer of social cohesion to be worryingly fragile. Feeling the imminence – taking the lead from our imploding political parties – of naked hate. Of violence in the streets.

And into this, violence in the streets. Pre-referendum – remember those days? – it was Florida. Those exasperating, genocidal, bloody gun laws. Another swathe of young lives taken. RIP.

Then Istanbul Airport. Barely a ripple on the argument-filled post-Brexit virtual landscape, but a dagger through the hearts of another swathe of innocent humans. RIP.

And then Nice. Which left everyone stunned into virtual silence. Not in the sense that the communities stopped talking – but that, for a moment there, we were all just too stunned to know what TO say. Except RIP.

How was it for you? This too-close-to-the-bone show of terrorist ambition? How on earth do any of us process such carnage? How do you square the circle, and arrive upon some sort of helpful equilibrium between the part of you that rages, and the part that tells you (ad nauseum, it’s sometimes seemed lately) that only love can conquer hate? That to refuse to engage in hate is the only way to proceed?

Emotions running high, like an overflowing storm drain. And still, despite the sun, the storm clouds keep amassing. My MP says he’ll  meet me. I’m wondering if it’s wise. Or if, for the moment at least, I should pass, get some space. Instagram some kittens.

Quiet the anger. Don’t you feel that too?

First published in The Western Mail Saturday Magazine, July 23rd 2016

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“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

– Isaac Asimov



I did something terrifically avant garde the other day. I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote a letter. Yes, wrote it, with a pen, not a keyboard.

Some of you will find this declaration risible. People have been writing letters to each other for centuries, after all. But, for me, this development is – ahem – noteworthy.

In this case, it was in response to another hand-written letter. I’ve had a few of these in recent months, since the publication of my novel Able Seacat Simon, which, as some of you know, concerns a famous naval incident that happened almost sixty years ago. So as well as the usual tweets and emails, I also get letters, because many of the readers of a book set in the late 1940s grew up in an age when penning them was the norm.

And up to now (to my shame) I’ve been a tad slack in my responses, eschewing the traditional in favour of the modern typewritten missive, on the grounds that my writing is so creative, and so idiosyncratic, and…. Oh, alright, then. Such a scrawl.

Last week, however, finding myself on a long train journey, I decided to fill the time by catching up with correspondence and, without my laptop (left at home because of my irritatingly cronky shoulder), was compelled to go old-school.

And what a revelation the exercise turned out to be. First selecting the paper and matching envelope (I am a martyr to my stationery addiction), choosing the pen (no real choice there; I have a Silver pens in boxBic Crystal fetish) and then the biggie, as I watched the verdant pastures rolling by – selecting what to say and how best to say it.

Again, you might think this is all so much nonsense. I’m a ‘lady of letters’, albeit of narrative ones mostly, which means perfectly formed sentences ought to positively drip from my pen.

But, you know what? It’s not that simple. There is a definite rhythm to hand-writing anything, which is quite different from creating sentences on a screen – or, indeed, for any other form of ‘written’ communication.

When you handwrite, as an adult, there are standards. It’s imperative the words come out perfectly. If I make a mistake in something another person is going to cast their eye over, there’ll be no scrubbing it out and writing the correct word above it. I have to rip it up and start all over again. (Which is why I have such a huge box of unaccompanied greeting card envelopes.)

So ‘think before you speak’ is the order of the day. Think your thought, then spend time pondering how best to convey it – how it sounds in your head, how it flows on the page, how it relates to what’s gone before and is probably coming after. Only then, as with a chess piece, do you commit.

If you write letters often, this process probably happens subconsciously. But it’s a process, even so. And vital, because unlike most screen-based creative processes, there’s no handy cut and paste option.

And isn’t that what makes a hand-written letter such a thing of beauty? That it’s considered. That, assuming it’s not a rushed, ranting missive (which it would hardly ever be these days, because we have so many other tools for that purpose, don’t we?), it’s entirely what it was intended to be.

Which is precisely why it’s so singular and worthwhile. Because, oratory and CVs and suchlike aside, we mostly don’t give our personal thoughts such careful buffing and polishing before sending them out into the world, do we? We ‘fire off’ angry emails, we ‘bash out’ skeins of texts, we tweet (or, rather, dance to someone else’s tedious linguistic tune), and our face-to-face encounters are, by their very nature, often impulsive/reactive in the extreme.

A handwritten letter neatly avoids all those communication complications, which is why psychologists often suggest it as therapy. It reaches its recipient fully-formed, fit for purpose, and, at a time when the click-sharing of ‘facts’ is such a blunt and divisive global instrument, doesn’t lend itself to casual dissemination either.

A hand-written letter has integrity. It is timeless. It is precious. It is sensual. And better still, because it requires effort, it makes you smarter as well.

Better with words. Better at thinking. Fleeter of thought. More creative. And it’s definitely a corresponding workout for the wrist.

Best of all, though, is that receiving one such an unrivalled pleasure, don’t you think?

Answers on a sheet of pristine aqua vellum.

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We’re having a football-themed magazine, they said. We’d like you to write your column about football, they said.

A football column? Me? Don’t I get enough of that at home? And at a time when there is so much else requiring my attention. The ongoing soap opera that is the state of British politics. The ongoing stress that is the disaffection of our precious junior doctors. The ongoing destruction of our NHS.

But I’ll try to, because, if nothing else, I’m always keen to please. Plus it’s not like I don’t know a little bit about the beautiful game, is it? Though, as I’ve often been moved to comment down the long-suffering decades, what’s beautiful about it, I don’t know.

So, having established my credentials as someone amply equipped to say nothing of any note or expertise about football, I shall endeavour to deliver.

But what’s to say? It’s often mooted, disparagingly, that football is nothing more than a bunch of grown men kicking a ball around a patch of grass and that there is little in the way of fun in that. It’s not like there’s any particular point to it, is there? It’s also said (in some quarters – I’ll keep mum to protect the innocent) that a slavish devotion to a football team (yes, that’s you, men) is one of the key precursors to relationship disharmony. And don’t we know it? Women everywhere (well, bar that curious minority who would be watching football even if they were all alone in the house and Sewing Bee/Brian Cox/Downton Abbey was on the other channel) will know precisely what it’s like to get growled at for standing in front of a television set during a goal. (Like – durrrr – we could actually predict such a random event? Seems the teams can’t even do that half the time.) They will also know – this is a cert once you’ve reached a certain age, ladies – the extent of the opprobrium that can be heaped on a fellow human for arranging a wedding, a birthday party, or – heaven forbid – your anniversary, during a key footballing date.

But there’s nothing big and clever about coming over all big and clever. As a gender, we women like decorative cushions, after all. And if you do count a football fan in your circle of loved ones, you will understand that there is no point in even thinking about making changes. As with puppies, a fan’s for life, not just for Christmas.

Unless the fan is made of plastic, that is. This is a new one on me, learned just this very week, and refers, as you’d expect, to the fair-weather fan. To the lightweight. The one who wouldn’t dream of owning a season ticket, much less endure the privations of true football-fandom, such as twenty-seven hour coach journeys, lubricated only by blind faith and Doritos and lager, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous football fortune. The one – oh, the shameless affrontery of such people – who supports a team that’s based a LONG WAY AWAY. Manchester United, for example, when you live in Tunbridge Wells. Or Liverpool, from a small gite in Deauville. The one who pops up, like an opportunistic weed beside a motorway, when conditions look reliably set fair.

Such fans, I’ve observed lately, are currently in abundance. Appearing right, left and centre. Wearing red, clearing diaries, and rearranging their entire schedules, in their zeal to get involved in the action.

Involved in this, the Most Amazing Welsh Moment of Enormous Sporting Historical Significance and General Wonderfulness (or something) in which a modest team of men from a small unassuming country have just proven – so emphatically – that certain things we mostly doubt, given the events of the past fortnight, might still just be true.

That team work, and commitment, and kinship, and courtesy, and hard slog, and talent, and self-belief and respect, have the power to not only prevail and inspire, but to transform the mood of an entire society.

So if you are a true fan, and you’re niggled by all us Johnny-come-latelies (with our pub-clogging, name-muddling, tickets-to-the–capital’s-Fan-Zone-gobbling ways) consider this.

That to unite an entire country, to have strangers hugging one another in the street, to invoke a pride that is national, without being destructive or aggressive, to inspire patriotism in such a way that it’s our hearts, rather than our chests, that have been beating – now THAT’S something to be cherished.

Well done our Wales Team. You have made everyone so proud.

And you have made football beautiful after all.


First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, 9th July 2016



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It’s Friday evening on the Canterbury Estate in Bradford and Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 12.01.41Christine, who’s been rushed to hospital by her friend Josie, is on the maternity ward, giving birth. She’s seventeen and Terrified. Not just of the pain, which is ripping her body in two, but because she knows that once the baby arrives, her mother is never going to speak to her again.


Her beautiful baby boy is about to set off a chain of events that can only lead to tragedy.

‘Gritty and authentic. A cracking read.’  Kimberley Chambers

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Given the above title, You’re probably expecting me to talk about the referendum. Let’s face it, it’s pretty gloopy, and who isn’t?

But I’m not. Couldn’t begin to. If I started, I wouldn’t stop. And I’m not going to drone on about Glastonbury either. All that over-excited ‘I was THERE!’ stuff people yell, while you had to make do with watching it on the telly, despite the fact that your view from the sofa was probably considerably better than theirs, given that they were standing on a small hillock three quarters of a mile from the stage.

No, this week I’m going to talk to you about my new fitness regime – which is called Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud.antique mud

I’m an expert at Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud now, having started Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud at 6.30 am a week ago last Wednesday, and continuing to do so till roughly 3 am last Monday morning, apart from the odd mud-scented slumber.

That’s a great deal of Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud, by anyone’s standards. Indeed, a fellow TAIALOMer (I’ll have to work on the acronym for the DVD, obviously) has been on facebook to share his impressive Trudger stats, and in the four days he was Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud, like we were, he walked a cool 102 miles.

I don’t want to crow (I was that woman on the small hillock, after all), but since we were at that place that I’m not going to bore on about for FIVE days, I reckon we’ve topped even that.

Ah, I hear you say. But so what? Of what possible interest can your Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud be to me?

Well, I’ll tell you. Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud turns out to be one of the most life-changing experiences a person can have, particularly when done in tandem with a selection of enhancements, in the same way that you might use weights doing aerobics, say, or those giant elastic band things during yoga.

Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud while dragging a weighty trolley that contains an imperfectly balanced, poorly bungeed cache of everything you need in order to survive for five days, for instance. It burns fat. Engages glutes. Achieves thighs of burning steel! And if you do this as a warm up, in the rain, through a haze of astonishment and consternation, the benefits can be enormous. No matter that the road to nirvana is paved with exploded flagons of cider, disintegrated wine boxes, and the mire-splattered shards of a million broken promises – you are at finally at one with your inner-dream-catcher. Booooooyah!

Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud in the company of forty seven million other people all trying to go the other way is also particularly effective, bringing into play muscle groups you never even knew you had, let alone ever considered planning a workout regime for. And for extra effectiveness, try doing this while carrying a brimming cardboard cup of warm wine, while all about you are smoking the mood-enhancing substance of their choice.

People often underestimate the many benefits of Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud in order to get to a distant bank of long-drop toilets which already have a queue of thirty seven people. One of my personal favourites (ladies! Work that pelvic floor!), this singular form of Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud has much to commend it, not least (assuming you ARE wearing wellies – and, frankly, if you aren’t, you are probably still buried somewhere on Worthy Farm), that, if nature calls, you can just let your wee run down your leg, because the air already hums to such an extent that not a soul will even realise.

The best kind of Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud, however, is that which you do when it’s dark. Trudging Around In A Lot Of Mud in the pitch black is especially thrilling, adding a little extra frisson of excitement to the already clear and present danger of finding yourself unexpectedly sans boot. No, it’s obviously not for the fainthearted or feeble, but, trust me, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. And remember – a mud pack is one of the finest beauty treatments there is.

So there you have it. And yes, I know, it might not SOUND especially pleasing. And, yes, other ways to spend five days of precious time are available.

But would I do it again? In. A. Heartbeat.

First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine July 2nd 2016

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