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Rain, Rain, Go Away…

At last April is here. Spring! Except here, spring is rather slow to get going, thanks to all the rain and wind and snow. Even this past weekend, Easter (I hope you all had an enjoyable one), parts of the UK experienced a white Easter, though not for the first time. Here where I am I the West Country, we didn’t have snow but it rained like it was never going to stop. Which means… (click here to read on)

 

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Making a Comeback

SURPRISE! Have you missed me? Where has the time gone? Actually, it’s gone so blooming quickly I can’t believe my last blog post was September 2013. So much has happened and gone on it’s difficult to know where to begin. I won’t bother you too much with details, suffice to say if you really want to catch up with what’s been happening in my world these past months, you are more than welcome to pop your head Over The Backyard Fence and read my monthly missives there.

It’s been a chaotic and difficult time, I have to admit, a few health issues, a major project that I’ve been working on and keeping under wraps, as well as a few problems and incidents plus a major, milestone birthday earlier this year, all of which left me feeling very depleted and down. I’m not by nature a person to succumb to depression but I did hit a low point, only to bounce slowly back. The warm weather now has certainly helped, and as I sit in the garden typing this, I can honestly say, “I’m back!”

Pink FlowersIt’s not been all doom and gloom – my life’s not like that. On the plus side, I’ve sold several paintings and, fingers and paint brushes crossed, hopefully secured a coCreek Cottagemmission for a large landscape, so watch this space. I’ve created a new blog/website for my art, due to go live in the next few weeks, and meanwhile have been working hard finishing a novel or two –  “Finishing”, being the operative word. The past few months have been a time for reflection, evaluation and redefining the path my life is taking and I am now at the point where I am moving forward, taking a different route, and getting back to enjoying life to the full.

You might have noticed I’ve dropped off the radar on Twitter too. I think I got bored with it, plus it takes up sooo much time and nothing achieved or gained. I mean, doesn’t anyone “talk” on Twitter any more? All I see is a constant bombardment of “Buy my book”, or words to that effect. What’s happened to all the jokes and fun and light hearted banter that used to go on? – which was why I joined in the first place. Okay, I’m a writer too and a book person, but I don’t want books, books, books 24/7. The same with Facebook. Okay, most of the changes there are FB’s own doing. They keep changing it, moving things around and, well, ruining what was a good thing. Not much I can do about that.

So, what do I have planned for my blog? A promise (to myself) to blog more often, to get back to writing about the things that are important to me and articles on any subject which I hope will be of interest to my readers. I’ve some recipes to put up, gardening features and, well, back to what it was when I first began.

100_6381I mentioned I’m in my garden. It’s had a bit of sorting out year, with many shrubs pulled out, plants divided and moved and it’s beginning to come into its summer glory thanks to a packet of wild flower seeds costing £1 from Lidl, and scattered all around the garden. I think every seed has come up and with a promise of much more to come. Will certainly buy that again. I haven’t done as much to it as I’d planned though – lousy weather and lousy joints have put 100_6380paid to a lot of that, and the cost of shrubs in the garden centres – extortionate this year! Still, there’s always next and I already have a lot mapped out for spring 2015. I’ve also got a new bird feeder which the birds are loving and I love because it brings them much closer to the patio and means in winter I won’t have to venture across muddy, wet, frozen grass to get to.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Hope you all come back soon.

Looking Back at 2012

Well, here we are again, another full year at home since being made redundant two years ago. And what a difference a year has made.

That first year I achieved exceedingly little, spending most of my time feeling guilty and unsettled, uncertain and unsure what to do with my life, knowing I was too old to find a good job again and, thanks to the Government, my pension pushed back even further to when I’m 65, which I’m not, not yet, I’m still in my fifties, all be it late.

So what has happened during 2012? Lots. Mega lots. The year started with my husband having his hip replaced, a long 14-week recovery at home with me wearing my matron’s hat. He’s made a complete and full recovery – a new man! Then there was the birth of another great niece, little Evie, such a cheerful, cute little soul and an absolute delight to her parents and grandparents.

I suppose the biggest change has been that I have set up a small business, working from home dealing with books, editing and publishing and creating book covers. It keeps me busy, and although I’m not showing any profit yet, that will hopefully come in time. I don’t want it too big anyway; my days as the dynamic business woman are long gone – I’ve been down that route before in a past life and much prefer to keep things small. At least for the moment.

What didn’t help was the dreadful, bad blip, when we were defrauded out of almost £10,000 in a car buying scam. Oh, the police and fraud squad were very helpful and supportive but I will never get my money back, the fraud squad deeming it was too little a sum to warrant them spending further resources on. Still, once bitten… and we have moved on from it, can even laugh about it now, at how my husband had been so gullible, and at how I should have done all the checks I normally do before handing over money. What it did mean was that I couldn’t invest more in my new business, unable to do all the advertising I’d intended, but hey ho, that will rectify itself as the business progresses and grows, which it is doing. And more to the point, I’m loving every moment of it.

April saw the publication of my novel, Every Step of the Way, both in paperback and on Kindle, and a booksigning in our local Waterstones. Not sure I would do it again, though. I plan to see at least another published this year, if not two. They are written, complete, it’s now a matter of finding time to work on them, what with the business.

The Bridge (1)In June, I took part in the Loveahappyending.com Summer Audience held in Tetbury, where I hosted two writing workshops and held my first “public” art exhibition, selling two paintings (surprise!). Everyone who came enjoyed the day and hopefully another will be planned. I’ve not done a lot of paintings this year, time is in short supply but I’ve managed a few, including this one, completed over the Christmas break.

view from villaAugust saw me take my last villa holiday with my sisters and our mum, going to Corfu. Mum has decided she won’t come away again due to her age (87 coming up) and the fact that both my sisters have retired (well, one has, the other twin finishes in this July), so our finances will no longer stretch to the expense of hiring a private villa abroad, although us three sisters do hope we will get away again sometime, whether to a hotel or descend upon my brother and sister-in-law in Spain. Who knows? Of course, if we win the lottery, then it’s a different matter … (Hope, Pray, Beg). Of course, nothing can match the beautiful view we had from the villa this year at Kassiopi. Pure Bliss

The King (1)Of course, there was one thing that virtually dominated all of last year­ – that was the massive George’s First Steps campaign to raise funds to send my great nephew to America for a lifechanging operation to treat his cerebral palsy to get him walking. We succeeded, and some, the £55,000 needed surpassed to the sum of £80,000, enough to look after his needs for many years and to allow his parents time now to enjoy life doing normal things a family does now the worry and pressure has gone. The operation was sucessful and George is progressing daily. One highlight this Christmas was George being a king in his school’s nativity play. He loved every moment!

So, all in all, it’s been a good year. A wet one, yes, but a good one nonetheless. Quite how 2013 will pan out is anyone’s guess but I think it’s safe to say I have moved on from the woman I was back at the beginning of 2011.

Birthdays Galore

I think I’m going to rename this month Birthtember as in my family, it is nothing but birthdays birthdays birthdays this month. Why so many in September, I wonder, the ninth month of the year. I can only think it must be due to Christmas and New Year celebrations and curling up under the covers to keep warm in the depths of winter and power cuts etc etc.

It’s my daughter’s birthday, both my grandchildren’s, a favourite aunt, our lovely little George’s, both my sisters’ (they’re twins!), both my sisters-in-law’s and several nieces and nephews on my husband’s side, as well as several other friends including my closest. You’d think with so many, I would remember them all – quite the contrary. There’s so many, I forget. In fact, one year I totally forgot my sisters’. Still, I was busy with all the planning going on at the time for my daughter’s wedding, and they have forgiven me.

I’ve set reminders on my computer and electronic calendar and on Moonpig, usually have a pile of cards tucked away in a drawer, but somehow the time slips by and hey ho, another missed date. Still, there’s always next year. Or is there? September was also the month we lost my father and thus this month is always tinged with sadness and fond memories.

I know I should have all my cards written out and ready to send, perhaps even send everyone’s at the beginning of the month, but is that tempting fate a bit? What do you do?

I’m also not a great believer in cards, especially Christmas and other “occasions” like mother’s and father’s day and granny’s etc. A card for everything and everyone. Hatched, matched and dispatched and all else in between. Nor do I worry or get upset if I don’t get cards from people but it is nice to be remembered and I know people do expect them. I have one family member who got quite shirty with my husband and me because we stopped doing Christmas cards.

So, dear friends and family, if any of you are expecting a card and haven’t received one yet from me, I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten/been too busy to remember/been away. Yes, feeble excuses, I know, but it doesn’t mean I love you any less or that I don’t care. It’s because I lead a busy life. I will still raise a glass to you and drink your health, even come to the birthday bash if invited. Remember, it makes any card you do get from me that extra bit  special.

And just to make up for it, here’s a little something from me: click here

Catch my recent interview on Author to Author with Elle Amberley: click here : and find out what inspires me most.

Delve further into my corner of the world on Loveahappyending.com:  click here

Silent Auction for George’s First Steps

Starting today, bidding on our Silent Auction for George’s First Steps (click on link below to open) for full details and instructions how to bid:

GFS Auction Brochure (2)

Autumn on the River: included in auction

Brochure includes instructions on how to bid. Some great items for sale and all for one very worthy cause. Please spread the word and the brochure.

Newsflash: Special Item now up for bidding – a signed Heston Blumenthal ‘The Fat Duck cookbook. Bidding starting at £10.

Click here to catch up with latest news on my Slimming for George Campaign.

Many thanks.

Happy Days

Chatting Over the Backyard Fence recently, the topic of conversation turned to childhood television. This prompted many memories of my own childhood. Although brought up in West London, we were surrounded by many parks and could play outside in the streets, thus we didn’t spend all day indoors watching TV except, of course, when it was raining or too miserable to be outside.

The Witch’s Hat
courtesy of Daily Mail newspaper

Close to where we lived were several children’s recreation grounds (the Rec) where we used to have a lot of fun. Most had Keepers, who used to maintain the equipment and keep us under control. We weren’t hoodlums, just a gang of kids who knew how to enjoy ourselves. We could stand on the swings and often did. The slides were high, scary almost. There were the long playground rocking horses seating at least six children, one behind the other or side-saddle for dares. My favourite was the witch’s hat roundabout. A tall conical ride that used to rock and sway as it went around and around, creaking and swinging until the wooden seat hit the central pillar with a loud clank. Brave kids would stand on the seat, braver ones standing on the bar meant for holding on to whilst seated.

These Recs were always full of children playing together, having fun, letting their hair down without adults fussing, telling us to be careful, to come away and generally spoiling our fun. There were always lots of us, all the local children played together and whilst a bit of bullying or fighting might have gone on, I was never aware or saw any of it. We just all seemed to get on, look out and after each other regardless of age or where in the town we lived.

The Pits as it is today.

Opposite our house was an area of waste ground called the Pits. A haven for wildlife as well as us. Ragwort and wild flowers grew in abundance as did the hawthorn, elderflower and brambles – great for picking to take home to Mum to make into jams. The trees and dense bushes made great hiding places and dens. In the middle of the Pits was a large, deep, steep-sided pit where we used to ride our bikes down, trying to see if we could make it back up the other side. Or we would run down one side, usually ending up on our bums and sliding to the bottom, and having to crawl and scramble on hands and knees back up to the top; scratches and grazes battle scars to be proud of. You had to be careful as either side of the narrow path were tall, spiteful stinging nettles. Ouch!

Alongside the Pits was the town’s centrepiece, Lampton Park, with beautifully manicured grass, colourful flower beds, tennis courts, cricket pitch, mini golf course, football pitch, a bandstand and disused air raid shelter. It boasted a large Sarsen standing stone, found locally when new houses were being built. On sunny days the park was lovely to have a picnic in, to ride around on our bikes and play games of hide and seek in the shrubbery and bushes. My favourite part was the rose garden, a circular sunken area full of sweet-scented roses and a shallow, circular fish pond at its heart. Surrounded by trees, it was a secluded spot in which to sit and reflect. Once I left school, I used to walk through the park most days on my way to work and always enjoyed its peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle going on outside its gates.

Near the main entrance grew a massive rhododendron bush, forming the hub of a turning circle for vehicles. As kids, we used to clamber inside, playing amongst its huge branches as we waited for the ice-cream van to drive in, or shelter in if it rained.

Lampton Park: sadly the roses have gone!

Today, the Pits is a shadow of its former glory, subsumed into Lampton Park, itself changed almost beyond recognition. A few of the flowerbeds are still there, but the rose garden is bare. The park has been turned in to a wide space of just trees and grass and in doing so, has lost much of its childhood beauty and magic.

Newsflash: Book Club Podcast: My book Every Step of the Way got a mention! Yay! http://staffordfm.com/stafford-fm-news/shows/bc-pod-29-apr/

Another Newsflash:  The Art Gallery in Tetbury, UK exhibits 3 of my paintings on its website. I would be so pleased if you would spare a moment to visit the gallery page, click on any or all of my paintings and click the “Like” button and share on Facebook. Why? They are running a competition for all their artists with a very worthwhile prize. Would love to be in with a chance. Thank you and hugs. 

SLIMMING FOR GEORGE

WILL YOU SPONSOR ME TO SLIM FOR GEORGE? YOU COULD WIN A COPY OF MY LATEST NOVEL OR A PAINTING! (SEE BELOW!)

With the fundraising well underway for George’s First Steps to get my great nephew George to the USA for a life-changing SDR operation (read about George), I have been racking my brains as to what I could do to help reach our target of £55,000. I had planned various bucket collections in a large shopping mall close to where I live. This has proved negative, as there is already a huge campaign in the region for a little girl for the self same thing as George.

Thus I have decided to do a sponsored slim, my “SLIMMING FOR GEORGE”. This is over a 3-month period, 5 May to 5 August 2012. I need to do this for George, and for me. For those that don’t know me, I am a very large lady, as those that do can vouch. I never used to be like this. Believe it or not, as a child I was skinny. Really skinny. The sort of child who, if she stepped on a kerb drain, would fall between the grilles. But years of good living, poor health and steroids, and a sedentary lifestyle have led to me being almost twice the woman my husband married (his words though he is inclined to exaggerate) some 30 odd years ago. You don’t get many chances in life to change things. This is my last chance to change me and help change George’s life too. That’s got to be good!

So how will I be doing this? Over the years I’ve tried WeightWatchers, Slimming Worlds, the Cambridge diet, the seefood diet (yes, see food and eat it – joke). I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt a size larger each time for my efforts. Doesn’t leave me much hope, does it? I will be doing this alone, at home, on my own, which makes the task even harder. You see I have so much to lose, and in return, little George has so much to gain – being able to walk.  Which is why am asking if you would sponsor me, even just a small amount, a pound even, it would help. Every pound helps us to reach our target. If you would like to sponsor Slimming For George please email mail@kit-domino.com with how much you would like to contribute, your details so I can add you to the official sponsorship form, and if needed an official  form for your use too. Perhaps you might even want to join me in Slimming for George? Now, that would be really marvellous.

Many of you have already contributed to helping George over the past few years by sponsoring me on our Walks for George each summer – which we are doing again this year – and many of you have this year donated direct to George’s First Steps, for which George and all the family are exceedingly grateful. So I’m not asking you for more, but perhaps you could still help me by asking your friends or family to sponsor me? It’s a big ask, I know, but George is unable to ask for himself so we have to do this for him.

My weight will be officially recorded at the start and finish and as I’m feeling brave, there will be photographic evidence of before and after. Don’t panic, you won’t be seeing me in a bikini, perish the thought. That would put you right off your breakfast! Nor will I be telling what my actual starting weight is; although for a donation to George’s First Steps, I will! (See Competition below) I will also be keeping a Diary on this blog site to track my progress.

Again, if you could sponsor me I will love you forever, and George will love you for even longer. Thank you.

Guess Kit Domino’s Starting Weight Competition

For a donation to George’s First Step, a prize of either a copy of my recently published novel Every Step of the Way (worldwide) or a Kit Domino painting (UK only) will be given to whoever correctly guesses my starting weight, chosen at random. To enter, make a donation to Georges’s First Steps (click here), ensuring to leave your name, then leave a comment below or on my Diary page with your guess weight, again saying who your are and your choice of prize. Note, your comment will not be visible immediately as all comments need to be authorised to avoid spam). If you have already donated and your name appears on the Thank You page (Click here), you are already entitled to enter Guess My Weight. A clue to help you: When I married my husband in 1979, I weighed 9 stone. Good Luck!

Does it Feel Good?

Over coffee and cake the other day, my publicity agent (aka best friend Jane) asked me what it felt like to finally be a published writer. “Not a lot different,” I told her. “A bit like having a birthday really. First, there’s the initial excitement over the fuss being made about you, the congratulations and hugs and kisses, the sense of relief that you’ve reached another milestone in one piece, then that deflated feeling when everyone’s left and you realise inside, you are the same person, just a day older.” But afterwards, giving the question further thought, I realised I do feel different, and began to analyse why.

Every Step of the Way had been ten years in the making. From the initial seeds of an idea to eventually seeing it on Amazon and physically in someone’s hands. It took about a year to write, the first three chapters in about three weeks but then came a period of intensive research when I learned so much fascinating stuff about the era the book is set in – the 1950s – to the extent the research overtook any writing. But I was on a deadline, a perceived one, of my own making, until in September 2004, it was finished. Or so I thought. During the ensuing years, having gone through many false starts and hopes and squashed dreams, an award ceremony, agent, editor, proofreaders, the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, being told there’s no market for sagas, turned down by publishers, and everything else betwixt and between, it needed many rewrites and more edits, to the extent I was so sick of the sight of my characters, I wanted to drown them all in the River Thames never to see daylight again.

So you can perhaps understand the feeling I had that, after all this time, I was glad to see the end of it. Any excitement I had hoped to feel now it was out in the big wide world hadn’t materialised. What I felt was liberation because at long last, I was free. The book had reached maturity, guided and fed, pruned and nurtured every step of the way (pun intended!). The strings were at last cut, time to either flounder or be a runaway success (hope, hope, hope). But in its wake it had left nothing but self doubt. Not over the novel itself but whether it could have been better written for I knew that, if I wrote the story now, I would write it another way. This is due to the fact that in the last ten years I, too have matured as a writer, learnt the many lessons needed to write a good book. I now know the various pitfalls and how the market works.

So, Jane, in answer to your question: It feels different – because I am different to the person who wrote it all those years ago. I feel proud – because all the mishaps and ups and downs experienced in the intervening years have helped to shape it into the creature it has grown into. I am also proud of myself in that I didn’t let the dream go, I didn’t kill it, I didn’t give up on it. I feel elated at the prospect of seeing more people hold my book in their hands and knowing many have already downloaded it onto their Ereaders. And more importantly, I feel excited by the prospect of going through the pains of doing it all over again with the next. Hopefully that one won’t take another ten years to appear.

In short.  It feels good!

Read extract from Every Step of the Way

Available on Kindle through ThornBerry Publishing via Amazon and as a paperback through FeedaRead and Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com, Waterstones Barnes & Noble

Have you got your ticket to our Summer Audience? See what it’s about at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApKgIG68jFY

George’s First Steps

Many of you will probably already be aware my family has over the last few years been fundraising to in order to help my nephew’s little 4-year-old boy, George, receive therapy and physio for his cerebral palsy through Brainwave and the Footsteps Foundation in Oxford.

News has recently arrived that he has been accepted to have a life-changing SDR operation carried out at St.Louis Children’s Hospital, Missouri as the NHS in the UK will not fund such operations despite there being two major hospitals here than have surgeons qualified to perform it. We can’t even get him on the waiting list yet and time is running out. George is a prime candidate but time is of the essence. If it is left too late, he will be too old for the operation to work.

To this end the family are now in full battlegear as we need to raise £55,000 by November this year in order to send George and his parents across to America. The hospital is confident the op will work and that eventually George will be able to walk with the aid of a sticks and lead a near normal life. It isn’t just George’s life that will benefit, but that of his parents too. This young couple has striven hard to help their son and George has defied all the doctors’ and experts’ opinions of his prognosis at birth. George is a real fighter, full of determination as well as being a happy and content child. You can never be sad when you are with George, his smile and laughter light up a room.

George’s parents have recently been interviewed by the local press and appeared on network TV and already, after just the first week, we have reached over £6,000.00. We’ve a long way to go but get there we shall. One lady living in Spain is being sponsored to have her head shaved in public with the press present, and many friends have already given generously and offered help, one small company has donated £1,000, a printer producing all our leaflets and posters and flyers free of charge many other events have been organised. For all that has been done so far I, along with George and his parents, can’t thank you enough.

If you would like to donate, no matter how small, click here to go to his website where you can donate or find out more about George’s and the fundraising progress. Below are also links to the recent interviews and press coverage reports (although I am aware the TV interview link doesn’t work outside of the UK – apologies).

North Devon Gazette click here            ITV West   click here

And as a thank you for bearing with me today, over on my Recipes page is an irresistible one for Doughnut Muffins. Click Here

The Hippy Hippy Shake

So, here we are into February already. A full 12 months of not having to the do the 9-to-5, and loving it. But what has 2012 brought already? Well, apart from the cold setting in now, quite a bit to the Domino household.

I’ve become a Great Auntie again. My niece, whose baby shower I attended at the beginning of the year, gave birth to a beautiful little girl – Evie Faith. I am so looking forward to my first cuddle.

Talking of the cold, New Year’s Day was greeted by the first of this year’s crocus in bloom on the front lawn. A few days later, several clumps of snowdrops appeared and now all along my drive is a sea of flowers which, with the sun on them, open out brightening the day and putting smiles on passers-by faces. The hellebores are about to open too, only today after last night’s heavy frost, they are hanging limp and forlorn. But they will pick up again. I hope.

I’ve managed to complete a few paintings over the weekends  For one, I tried something different to landscapes this time. I think Pink Flowers it came out rather well. 



I’m close to completing the final edits of one of my novels, ready to be published soon. It is actually quite scary after all this time to be on the brink again. Like being on the edge of a precipice – will I fly or will I fall? But then, that’s me … always nervous, always shy.

There has been one other major event in my household in January. On the 12th, my husband underwent a hip replacement operation. He’s doing okay now, but we did have a few “difficult” days whilst he was in hospital and shortly after he eventually came home. I won’t bore you with all the details as I don’t want this to be a moan, suffice to say one ward care assistant is no longer employed at our local hospital thanks to her lack of due diligence and neglect of care.

Today he managed to walk to our doctors and back on his own with the aid of only one walking stick instead of two, and yesterday was able to make us both a coffee and carry it through to me. He still needs a lot of help with washing and dressing and getting into bed, and still eating a lot of painkillers, but it is early days. Thankfully, he has been fitted with a ceramic hip joint, not a metal one like there’s been all the fuss about lately; you may have heard.  This because he is still relatively young, still working and very fit. (Time now to look away if you are squeamish!)

He did rather grin widely when he saw on the medical form he collected today what our GP had written beside Likely Date Fit For Work Again: June 2012. The smile soon fell away when I reminded him he doesn’t get sick leave pay from his company, only SSP. Apart from which, I know him only too well. Come March he will be itching to get out and do some gardening, and by then he will also be missing his job and friends at work. I’ll give it until April. You can’t keep a good man down for long!

Click here for my latest batch of household hints and tips.

Baby Cupcakes

This weekend saw me in Reading for what was my first baby shower party. No, not my baby (don’t be silly), one of my nieces, her second, due this month. Baby showers have crossed to the UK from the USA. I’d often wondered what goes on at these parties as we had no such thing years ago when I was expecting. I knew gifts for the baby were given; and that, I have to admit, was the hardest part. What to buy? The party, held at my sister’s home (the anxious grandmother) was to be a surprise. I was the excuse to get my niece there, on the pretext I was in Reading for a bookclub reading thingy and was stopping by to have lunch with my sisters and our mother and wanted Jenny to join us.

I arrived to a house of frenzied balloon blowing, hanging of banners and the making a “throne” for the pregnant mum, everyone trying to get everything ready on time. With the exception of my sisters, mum and me, everyone hid in the dining room when Jenny and her husband and daughter arrived, about twenty friends and family squeezed in including Jenny’s in-laws, who had driven up from Hayling Island, Jenny’s dad, and an excited 8-year old, ready to surprise Jenny at the given moment that never came. The 8-year-old couldn’t wait, bless him, and the sliding doors to the dining room burst open, too soon for my camera to be ready to snap the look on Jenny’s face. It was a picture sadly not captured for posterity in the family album.

Menfolk then making a quick exit (they didn’t take much shooing), a room full of noisy, laughing and chatting women opened more wine and attacked the nibbles, all eyes on the fabulous cupcakes so colourful, so cute, so very good to eat, made by a wonderful cake maker, Jane Swain. Then came the gifts.

My niece’s 7-year-old daughter took charge deciding the order of gifts to be opened and helping with all the unwrapping. The presents were lovely, from rattles and plastic bath ducks, to books, darling sleep suits that said “I ♥ My Mum” and “I ♥ My Dad” (I want one), a special scroll box for keeping the birth certificate safe, to pampering gifts for mum-to-be and a thoughtful one for Jenny’s daughter: a picture frame proclaiming “World’s Best Sister”. Asked what she would prefer, a little brother or a little sister, the expectant sister replied, “I don’t care. Whatever it is, I shall torment it!” And no doubt she will. Often.

Then came a version of Mr & Mrs. Jenny’s husband had been secretly asked ten questions about their relationship and forthcoming event, and mum-to-be had to see how many she could answer correctly. She got most right. One most of us got wrong. Do you know what sense a baby develops first? Apparently it’s hearing. We all thought it would be smell.

More refills before we were cajoled into teams and given cotton bibs and colouring pens, the idea being to decorate the bibs, the best would be chosen by Jenny and receive a prize. Jenny’s mum-in-law grabbed my arm. “You’re with me!” I think this was because I am an artist. “Kit, pair with me,” pleaded my sister, Jenny’s mum. “Too late!” Now, I can paint but I cannot draw, least of all with felt tips on cotton, but one did one’s best with pens that by the time they came round to me didn’t work very well (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). One team’s effort was a small pile of crushed nibbles splattered on the bib. “It represents sick,” being the explanation. If there had been a prize for artistic license, it would have won. The real prize? Oh, yes – sweets, which were given to the children.

After more refills, we were given cards on which to guess the details of the baby: date and time born, weight, sex, eyes, hair colour, etc; which Jenny will keep and let us know who came closest. Later, when her friends departed for the pub, poor Jenny looked forlorn, wishing she could join them. Asked what she was most looking forward to after the birth, she said, “Wine. Wine and cheese.”

So, that’s a baby shower. Now I know. A lot of fun and generosity, a lot of noise and laughter, and I think a jolly good idea. Then again, any excuse for a get together in my family is always a good idea. Now hurry up, Jenny, we are all waiting to see who guessed right. Boy or girl?

The Secret’s Out!

I’ve been tagged. Electronically. No, not around my ankle. I’ve been blog tagged. I’d never heard of it before. So, thank you Alison. Now I have to reveal ten random and unknown facts about myself, and then pass it on. Mmmm. Where to start? What exciting things would you like to know about me? Are there any? Any skeletons in my wardrobe lurking behind the clothes? Yes. One or two, but I’m not going tell you about them, I’m keeping those safely under lock and key for another day, another book.

Meanwhile back at the revealing, and in no particular order:

Fact No.1: My main ambition in life was to be a choreographer. I learned ballroom and Latin American dancing as a teenager back in the 1960s. Walter Laird, World Dance Champion way back then, was my instructor and my partner during my dancing exams but I gave it all up for a boy, well, a fella, actually. BIG mistake and my biggest regret. (Yes, that’s me in the photo aged 13, having just received my first medal and dipolma.)

Fact No.2: I learned to drive at the tender age of 15. Illegally, of course, on the main roads around my home town. This was way back in the 60s, the car an old Ford Classic. It all started as a bet that I couldn’t start the car and drive it to the end of the road without stalling. I said I could and I did, and so for the next couple of years learned to hone my driving skills in and around centralLondon.

Fact No.3: Clowns give me the creeps. Not sure if I hate them or spiders worse. Probably equally. Just don’t leave me in a dark room with either.

Fact No.4: I cannot sing. I wish I could. I do try, of course. In the shower, in the car, around the house, but only when no one’s listening (I hope!).

Fact No.5: I am not allowed to eat strawberries despite their being my favourite fruit. The drugs I’m on for a rare blood disorder prevent me from indulging in one of life’s sweetest pleasures.

Fact No.6: For a year back in the 70s I worked as a cook/housekeeper/mother’s help for a well-heeled titled family living in a Georgian mansion in Gloucestershire. Interesting, but not something I would consider doing again. The house became the backdrop for my novel Whitestones, not yet released.

Fact No.7: I appeared as an extra in one of the first episodes of The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin with Leonard Rossiter. A scene was being filmed at our local Carrefour supermarket; I had to stand at one of the tills paying for my shopping.

Fact No.8: I was a contestant on Channel 4’s TV quiz programme Fifteen-to-One with the lovely William G Stewart. I didn’t win but it was a lot of fun, especially the makeover beforehand. (Photo! I am in there. Honest! No prizes for spotting me, though.)

Fact No.9: One of my very best friends from childhood became a well respected poet, critic and playwright. We are still in touch and one of his books of poems he gave me containing a beautiful inscription to me is one of my prized possessions.

Fact No.10: I’m secretly in love with Ralph McTell, Kevin Costner and Christopher Reeve. One I have kissed (actually, it was he who kissed me), one I’ve no chance of ever kissing, and one, well… I can dream, can’t I? Damn! This means it’s not a secret any more. Ooops!

Phew! Enough said. Now time to pass the buck, or should that be button?

Ip dip, bird’s sh**, you’re It:
Tricia Jones: tricia-jones.blogspot.com
Janice Horton: janicehortonwriter.blogspot.com
Sharon Goodwin: shazjera.blogspot.com

All in good fun and may I be forgiven!

A Touch of Nostalgia: Part Two

In conversation with friends recently, the subject of things we miss arose. Not so much the people we no longer have with us, but those little things that shaped our lives, taught us values and respect for others, and helped make us who we are. From things we don’t see any more to the sweet confections and food of our childhood and places visited, always remembered. It wasn’t so much the things themselves we missed, we realised as we chatted, it was those days of families being together, sharing, and making our own fun and amusement in the times before computers and mobile phones and ipods and televisions in every room. Good days. Days of innocence, of security and comfort. Days of our youth. Here are some of the items that came up:

  • Roast chicken for Sunday lunch, a once-in-a-blue-moon, rare treat
  • Listening to the radio together. Family Favourites, The Navy Lark, Billy Cotton Band Show whilst we ate Sunday lunch; Children’s Favourites with Uncle Mac of a Saturday morning; and those we listened to on our own, usually under the covers in bed at night: Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline
  • Ice-cream soda in Rossi’s Ice Cream Parlour
  • Saturday morning pictures
  • Frost patterns on the inside of windows of a winter’s morning
  • Bricks of ice cream wrapped up in newspaper: vanilla or raspberry ripple, Neapolitan or tutti-frutti
  • Refunds on lemonade bottles
  • The blue twist of salt in a packet of crisps
  • Taking quart bottles to the off-licence in the pub to be filled with ale
  • My mum’s beer soup
  • Queues outside a phonebox
  • Saturday afternoon wrestling and Sunday Night at the London Palladium on television
  • Frozen orange Jubbly that needed two hands to hold
  • Coffee Crisp bars, Picnic bars, Spangles, Jamboree Bags, Peanut Treets and Sherbet Dabs
  • Rock cakes and Viota fairy cake mixes with red and green glacé cherries and butterfly cakes with buttercream icing
  • Loose tea and the only instant coffee powdered Nescafé in a small tin or liquid Camp Coffee
  • Sitting around the coal fire with the family playing cards or board games on a winter’s evening
  • The Sunday drive, perhaps to Leith Hill or Virginia Waters or Epping Forest or visiting relatives for tea
  • Games in the playground: British Bulldogs, Farmer’s in His Den, skipping games, rounders and French cricket or Two and Three Balls, in the air or against a wall
  • The all the neighbourhood kids playing ball games together in the street, games such as Queenie Queenie or hide and seek in the front gardens, go-karts and races on roller skates, skipping games, sitting on the kerb playing five stones or jacks
  • Autumnal walks in Burnham Beeches or gathering chestnuts at Box Hill
  • Summer days out at the seaside, the whole family piling in to a charabanc to go Margate or Bognor, Southend or Brighton or bilberry picking at Devil’s Punch Bowl
  • The Winkle Man on his bicycle calling out on a Sunday evening selling cockles and winkles and mussels and whelks
  • The rag-and-bone-man
  • Prawns sold by the pint
  • Pop concerts held inside in auditoriums or theatres where everyone had a seat and at least six top names were on the bill
  • When hot cross buns were a once a year treat and Christmas didn’t start until December.

Do you remember any of these things or have special memories of others? Have I rekindled a memory or two within you you’d like to share, perhaps? I do hope so.

Walk for George 2011

If we had planned to walk on the warmest day of the year to date, we couldn’t have chosen a better Sunday morning than dawned on Sunday, 26th June. Those of us hardy (or is that foolhardy?) enough gathered at the Cumberland Obelisk by Savill Gardens, Windsor Great Park  at 11 am. Once the hugging and greeting of family and friends, some not seen for 12 months, was complete, catch up chatter and coffee consumed, we were off, maps in hand, taking a different course to that walked last year. Left behind were several family members, including my 85 year old mother, volunteering to watch the bags and paraphernalia too heavy or hot to carry. Last year, Mother had completed the walk with me; this year she thought the heat would be too much for her. A wise decision.

The path led us alongside the polo ground before dipping down towards the beautiful gardens and over a bridge and alongside the lake. Ducks and swans followed, seeking food, birds darted and sang overhead and squirrels flitted across the paths, shimming up tree trunks, tails swishing as they watched from branches overhead. The gardens and lakeside, a glorious riot of colour from rhododendrons and carpets of bluebells in springtime, were not so pretty this year to an artist’s eye but they were nonetheless magnificent in their green splendour, the trees provided much needed shade as the thermometer rose. In a quiet glade we came across a refreshment stand with seating where we readily stopped, treating ourselves to an ice-cream or lolly and a well-earned rest before continuing.

We took our time strolling along, a motley string of adults, children and dogs enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, taking turns to push George in his buggy (well, not the dogs, obviously). We stopped by the cascade, a cool respite, a good excuse for a photo shoot, before moving on to admire the ancient Roman ruins from Lepcis Magna in Tripoli. Onward and upward we trod our merry way. The chosen route had been on the flat but now the ground rose, the path steep in a long, hard slog uphill in the heat and I fell behind, stopping frequently to rest and catch my breath. Above the treeline I could see the monument. Almost there, I thought, and pushed myself on. Only to find it was the 100 ft totem pole; I still had another half mile to go. This was definitely further than last year. Ahh well, quick rest, deep breaths and move on.

At last, I reached the meeting point. The last one back, much to the relief of my worrying mother (she’s a fanatical worrier, my mother). The route had been approximately 6 miles; I don’t think at that point I could have walked another step and fell into a proffered chair in the shade in need of a large drink. My niece had the foresight the night before to make up a bottle of squash and put in the freezer. What a refreshing, welcome drink to this thirsty walker that was. Baskets at the ready, we enjoyed a smashing picnic, although in truth, it was far too hot to eat much. Afterwards, whilst us old ’uns rested and chatted, the children played football, cajoled adults to take them down to the water’s edge to catch tadpoles or, more importantly, join the queue for another ice-cream.

The day was a great success, enjoyed by everyone. Over £3,000 was raised on the day and that, along with other donations still coming in, we have enough money to cover all George’s Footsteps and Brainwave therapy up to the end of 2012, which is just fantastic. He would not be able to do this therapy without everyone’s committment and so for that his parents, family and George himself thank you so, so much!

A Touch of Nostalgia: Part One

Demise of the Cigarette Vending Machine

It was with mixed feelings I read yesterday of the Government’s intended plan for removing all cigarette vending machines from pubs, restaurants and bars. Not because I smoke (I don’t), but for the fact the way cigarette machines have shaped and influenced my life. The article was even more poignant being Father’s Day, and I wondered what my father would have made of the whole smoking issue.

My father’s boss, Mr Weiss, a Swiss music box maker, developed the wooden mechanism inside these wall-hung machines of the 1950s and 60s and also made the outer wooden cabinets. It was Dad’s job to delivery and fit these across the whole of the UK, often away for days at a time. It was also his job sometimes to restock the machines in and around London with cigarettes and, in later years, machines dispensing stockings,  chocolate,  and a couple of other items as a child I didn’t understand.

To earn extra pocket money, my elder siblings and I would sit around the kitchen table with a pile of coins in the centre. It was our job to slit the cellophane wrappers with a razor blade and slide in the correct change, each of us having a different brand to fill. Weights. Senior Service. Capstan. Players No.6. Whatever money was left over at the end was divided between us. (If ever you were shortchanged in a packet years ago, please forgive us, it was never intentional!)

I believe Mr Weiss’s firm was the only one in the country at the time making these, if not he was certainly one of the biggest suppliers for his machines were in every pub, club, bar, restaurant and hotel in the country and regularly supplied television and film studios. As kids, we could often be heard to shout out: “There’s one of Dad’s machines” whilst watching Emergency Ward Ten, Z Cars, even Crossroads, and many, many British films.

Another customer was the The Golden Egg restaurant chain. One in particular regularly invited us as a family to have Sunday lunch there. It was, as I recall, either on, or very near to, Hammersmith Roundabout. We always had chicken and chips followed by little paper dishes of jelly with tinned cream. We were often the only ones there; having Sunday lunch out was not common practice then for most people.

Dad always bought his van home; a little grey Austin A40, Bedford dormabiles, a white Thames, later white or blue Transits. As a consequence throughout the 1950s and 60s, we were fortunate to have a means of transport always at our disposal. Not many families at that time owned a car. In the road where we lived, we were the first to have one, albeit a van, and the first to have television but we were by no means wealthy. Both my parents always had to work, my mother at one point holding down two daytime jobs and sewing at home as a third. But I do believe as children we were privileged in many respects, all thanks to the cigarette vending machine.

For special occasions, Mr Weiss would let Dad use his car for the weekend. I remember a green and cream Austin Cambridge, very plush, with green leather seats and a walnut dashboard, but most times we went off in the van. Back then, the engines of the larger vans were always housed between the driver and passenger seat. In each, Dad rigged  up a padded, wooden seat to go over this; where I sat. On long journeys it got very hot but I always had a good view. My brother and sisters sat in the back on old armchairs or settees or old car seats Dad put in. Seatbelts were unheard of! The Thames van had red rear seats running along the sides, and red and white gingham curtains at the windows which he pulled closed when on delivery.

During the school holidays we would often go with Dad on his delivery runs. He’d take us the “scenic” way, showing us pretty villages and unusual places, castles and churches, Stonehenge and many, many other places of historic interest and seaside towns up and down the country most children during that era never had the opportunity of visiting. We once came to Bristol, enjoying sandwiches beneath the Suspension Bridge, never, ever imagining I would end up living there. We visited a ferret farm near Lowestoft, to Newcastle where an aunt and cousin lived, then on to Gretna Green, across Shap Fell, travelling up the M1 the second day it opened, a private zoo with leopards and chimpanzees. We never went on summer holiday as such, but spent days away at beautiful Cornish or Dorset villages on the coast whilst Dad went on to make his delivery. We’d stay in a caravan or more often at a friendly B&B or farm.

Sunday afternoons during the summer we would often go to Devil’s Bunch Bowl in Surrey to gather bilberries for Mum to make into jam. In autumn, we would go to Box Hill to gather the sweet chestnuts for roasting back home on a shovel over the coal fire. Happy days climbing up Leith Hill or exploring places called Sunday Street or the Silent Pool, or visiting relatives in Hemel Hempstead, Watford or Ewell. We’d regularly go for days out to Margate, Southend, Brighton or West Wittering.

Dad never had to pay for petrol and when later, my mother got her first car, a red and white Triumph Herald, Mr Weiss insisted on paying for her petrol too. He was such a kindly man, to us kids more of an uncle than our Dad’s boss. When Dad went to collect his wages, he often took me with him to Mr Weiss’s home or to the factory across London in Leightonstone. Mr Weiss always gave me half-a-crown as pocket money. This was always appreciated and never, ever expected.

So for these things alone: the memories of family trips, places we visited, the fun, being able to see and enjoy the countryside, for the clothes we wore, food we ate, toys we played with, the humble cigarette machine paid. I mourn its passing.

The Good In This World And The Bad

The Good in this World

I have been overwhelmed by the generosity in sponsorship for Walk for George taking place at the end of this month (see earlier post). Many of you have already sent donations and I am truly grateful, as I know George and his parents will be. So on behalf of the family, a huge, big THANK YOU. There is still time to sponsor the walk if you wish. All money raised helps pay for George’s therapy and treatment. It is our hope that this time next year, this adorable 4-year-old will be able to take part in the walk too, even if it is just a few unaided steps.

And the Bad

I was horrified, as I am sure you were, to see and hear of the dreadful treatment metered out to residents at a care home near to where I live in South Gloucestershire, brought to the public’s attention by this week’s Panorama Report.  I am also appalled that despite complaints being made in the past about this home, nothing was ever done to stop their suffering at the hands of ill-trained, thoughtless bullies. What horrifies me even more is the thought that little George could have ended up in such an institution if were not for the love and devotion of his parents and the support of family and friends in providing the care he needs. Not all children are so fortunate.

Whilst I readily agree not all care homes and hospitals are the same, indeed many are run by dedicated trained staff who are committed to providing the best care and quality of life they can to their clients, it does beg the question: if it goes on here, where else is it happening? Because it does happen. It always has, from the days of Bedlam and beyond, but that doesn’t make it right.

So, please, dear friends, if you hear even a whisper of such goings on in a home or hospital near you, do report it. Blow the whistle as loud as you can. If we can prevent just one person being treated so appallingly, it will have been worth it.

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Tip of the Day: Always Leave on a Good Note – so here’s one!

I was delighted and thrilled at being asked to join the website community of  Loveahappyending.com, part of Writers Following Their DreamClub founded by the lovely Linn B Halton. This new website, launching on 29th June amidst strawberries and champagne, aims to interactively promote and support selected newly published authors in almost all genres, especially those published independently. We will also be following, helping, encouraging and sharing the journeys of “new faces”, unpublished authors on course to achieving their dream – that of being published. To learn more about the community of Loveahappyending.com do visit the website. And if you love reading, you may well be the kind of associate reader we are seeking to join our Associate Reader Club.

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Coming soon: my EasyPeasy Fruitcake recipe. No foodmixer or whisk required!

The Writer Also Paints

“What made you decide to paint?” A question I am often asked. “Quite by chance”, I reply. I came to painting through being a writer. Curiouser and Curiouser.

Wearing my writer’s hat (the one with the feathery quill), I have over the years attended many seminars, workshops, conferences, talks and parties, a favourite being the marvellous Summer Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon College organised by energetic Anne and Gerry Hobbs. When they put on the first Winter Writers’ Holiday at the Fishguard Bay Hotel, Pembrokeshire, I couldn’t get there fast enough. Enjoying unseasonably warm weather for February, delightful company, great workshops, good food and a room commanding wonderful views across the bay, I booked then and there for the following year.

The Bay Hotel, Fishguard

A close friend, novelist Avis Randall, accompanied me the second time. (Avis and her books will be introduced in a later blog.) On arriving we found, to our disappointment, the tutor booked to run our chosen workshop had been forced to cancel, another established writer stepping in, someone whom Avis and I were not enamoured with. Perchance, Gerry had the foresight to introduce, from the outset of these winter gatherings, art sessions run by artist Andrew Arney from the University of Wales. Gerry kindly obliged when we requested switching to Andrew’s class. I had studied art at school but never produced anything worthy, dabbled a bit in watercolours in intervening years but everything had gone into the rubbish bin. I was, quite frankly, crap!

Andrew Arney was an inspiration. A calm, quiet man, he started with the basics: drawing, perspectives and colour wheels, providing everything necessary and every medium except oils, helping and instructing us novices create on paper the beautiful seascape we looked out upon. I tried watercolours, pastels, charcoal. To no avail. All were a messy splodge fit only for being sunk without trace beneath the cold, salty water below the hotel. On the final day, he suggested I try acrylics. The first stroke of the loaded brush was like a light turning on. An epiphany. Acrylics and I were made for each other. The resultant painting, although only postcard size, was good. I was pleased, Andrew highly appraising. Consequently, I came away elated. I had found my painter’s voice and a new hat to wear.

During the ensuing months I purchased paints and brushes, countless how-to-paint books, watched a never-ending stream of art lesson programmes on TV, and stocked up on scrap hardboard which my husband willingly cut into smaller pieces as practice canvas. But the primed board in front of me remained blank. It wasn’t a case of painter’s block, more a stark fear of making a right muck up of it. Eventually I plucked up courage and plunged into the cobalt blues and cadmium yellows congealing on my homemade stay-wet palette. A bluebell scene emerged. “You never painted that, did you?” hubby asked, more surprised than me at the finished result.

My First: “A Brush With Bluebells”

Leaving for the third Writers at Fishguard, Avis persuaded me to take some of my paintings along to seek Andrew’s professional opinion. He studied each one carefully, pointed out where I showed a particular skill, where and how I could improve but all, he told me, were very saleable. Later, I created a gallery of the paintings on my website, and was thrilled when contacted by a lady in Germany who had fallen in love with my first bluebell picture. Could she buy it? Reluctant to let it go, after all it was my first “proper” unaided piece, in the end I gave in. Sold! I am glad I did. She commissioned three further pieces: two more bluebells and a winter scene.

So now I wear two hats. (Excuse me a moment whilst I find my beret. Arrh, here it is.) The pictures keep coming: landscapes and floral fields, winter scenes and lots and lots of bluebells. Many have sold. One painting, a large winter scene, was purchased by a couple in Spain through an auction, raising funds to help pay for treatment for my nephew’s young son who has cerebral palsy, as in my previous blog. Earlier this year I was invited to show two paintings at Yarm Originals, an art gallery based in the north of England. A public exhibition of my work is planned for hopefully the not-to-distant future. Perhaps one day I will write a book about my paintings. Who knows where the paths in the landscapes will lead.

Meanwhile, my work can be seen on my website: https://kitdominoart.com/

 

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WALK FOR GEORGE

I’d like to introduce you to George and tell about Walk For George 2011. 

George is a very special member of my family, the 4-year-0ld son of a nephew. When he was 3 days old a MRI Scan revealed George had suffered a major brain haemorrhage before birth. Doctors said he would never walk, never talk and have severe disabilities including but not limited to cerebral palsy, epilepsy and possible vision problems.  We were also told that he would never know his parents or understand the world or have a normal life. As you can imagine, that was the day life stopped for his parents. What makes this all the poignant for my family is the heartbreaking family history in the years before his birth, something not discussed here. But George has proved those doctors wrong. 

With courage and determination, the constant therapy and hospital visits have eased the stiffness in his limbs caused by cerebral palsy, his left arm and right leg being most affected. To everyone’s delight he can see, he recognises his parents and the rest of his family, he can speak words, learning more and more all the time, and do new things, things we never believed would be possible. What is all the more remarkable is that his is always smiling. His laugh is infectious, his smile so captivating you want to hug him to bits. And, although painful for him, he wants to walk, he tries constantly, pulling himself upright wherever he can. He’s come a long way since those first dark days following his entry into the world. We are so proud of all he has achieved.

No small part in this achievement has been the wonderful help and therapy provided by The Footsteps Foundation, a marvellous centre in Warborough, Oxfordshire that helps people such as George using a harness contraption known as a Spider. George thinks it’s wildly funny and laughs all the time he’s strapped into it. But the sessions at Footsteps don’t come cheap. There is no government funding for this. All his therapy there has to be paid for by his parents. 

Although something never openly discussed and agreed, my family and many family friends decided we would help George and his young parents as much as possible by raising funds to finance the much-needed therapy sessions.

Walk For George began in May 2009 with a sponsored walk around Savill Gardens, Windsor Great Park. Unfortunately I was not able to take part so instead auctioned on of my paintings and donated the the three-figure sum raised.                                       

Last year I did the walk. It was a beautiful hot Sunday in May, the bluebells and rhododendrons out in full glory. (A few photographs are included below. I hope you enjoy them.) My 84 year old mother and I might have been the last ones to complete the 4 mile route but complete it we did, flopping down exhausted but happy to join in the picnic and watch the youngsters enjoy a game of football. A fabulous day out enjoyed by young and old. Where do children get all that energy?

Walk For George 2011 takes place this year on 26 June, at Virginia Water Lake. I shall be taking part again, although mother has declined she’s happy to watch over bags and the food and the little ones. 

If you would like to sponsor me or perhaps make a donation to the cause, George and his parents, and myself, would be exceedingly grateful.

I make no apology for writing about this event. There are times when I truly wish I had a magic wand and could make it all better, not just for George, but for all children who live with this debilitating condition.

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