Free gifts

I’m getting a start on one of my NYRs on NYE. Yes, WRITING. It’s 23:27 and outside the fireworks are just getting going. (We always joke that it’s the town’s education budget going up in smoke). Indoors, it’s just me, F. and E., quietly watching TV – the way I like New Year to be these days.

Just watched the end of Season 2 of ‘This Is Us’. The one where _______ ________s. (Spoiler avert). And it happens in such an ordinary domestic way, making it more shocking. And before it happens, everyone is taking their home and family for granted, the kids all want to be somewhere else, they are bored and restless and want to go out. Not knowing that this was the last day of the rest of their lives.

I was telling a girlfriend today that at fifty-something I am all passion spent, that it’s too late and I never really ‘made it’ as a writer and why bother now. So every time I sit down to write, huge resistance sits facing me with a sneer. It is hard to avoid her eye and push through. I get bored putting down what I already know inside out, and I don’t want anyone I know to see what I am writing. Age has made me more private or more paranoid.How will I share what I feel and know, and who with?

But in the past few weeks, four friends and one angel have told me, out of the blue, that they think I have a special gift for writing. That I should continue, write poetry, fiction, memoir. Of course stupid me then thinks I hear ‘the call’ again, and puts me here at 23:40 on 31st December 2018 to get a head start on my ‘write every day’ item.

It has been a good, social, connected Christmas . Reading my 2018 diary, the recurring sadness was of isolation, alienation and the lack of community (which I created as much as anyone else) in our previous location. When we came back to this small village, we just wanted to downsize. We didn’t know that so many gifts of friendship, so many opportunities for engagement and re-engagement would be under the tree.

You can’t go out to buy apples next door without bumping into someone you know. My progress along our home street is like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, kissing the plumber’s dad, hugging the greengrocer, waving at a writer’s group buddy, murmuring greetings to dogs. Which is great on the days I can face myself and the world. The other days, I put on dark glasses and hat, wear black and do my best to avoid eye contact. But I still love being in the web of connection.

OK, I think I earned my last chocolate before Easter Sunday. Wishing whoever is out there whatever you want to happen for you in 2019. Thanks for reading.







Into the Blue

Wes Somerville’s sculpture: “Ancient or future memory of a place I’d like to spend time in’

Community writer and ANA member Jayne Skellett invited writers and artists to two dynamic writing workshops last month. Our playground: the newly-opened ‘Invierno Ardiente’ (Hot Winter) 2018 exhibition in our home town.

I wasn’t sure I should attend this workshop. After all my clients don’t pay me for playful language and I get put on the professional naughty step if my copy veers to purple. Which, unchecked, it does.

But once there, Jayne’s enthusiasm warmed the chilly November evening. “Are you a rock crumbler? Do you see straight circles, can you feel the gentleness of spikes?” she asked us, and went on to show us how we could.

Jayne asked us to pick an artwork that attracted us, and to describe our chosen piece, with synonyms, antonyms, contrasts, oxymorons and antitheses! The diverse and vibrant artworks on show offered exciting possibilities, objects on which to focus and language we could frolic with.

The show’s opening the previous week had been crowded, loud and bright. I’d walked around dazzled by the lights, by faces and voices both familiar and new, by everything that vied for attention with what was on the walls and on the stands.

Now I had the time, space and a mission to pay attention. And so I was drawn to Wes Somerville’s sculpture: “Ancient or future memory of a place I’d like to spend time in.” (Plaster, Perspex, LEDs; 60 x 40 x 23 cm).

On a plain black stand, its luminosity invites. Pure white curves soothe the eye and the sapphire glow through the arched entrance draws you irresistibly inside. I stood there for ages, just bathing my eyes in its tranquillity and simplicity, its gentle light. Like a visit to the hammam, “Ancient or future…” soothes and calms the troubled eye and brain, laying to rest all clamorous impressions and bathing the viewer in a liquid silence.

This is the beginning of a poem I scribbled after the workshop:

I swoosh into your
cooling smoothness,
blueminous pool

and lose myself

Slip into your freeze-flame lake
Like diving through a jewel…

Thanks Wes, for giving my senses a mini-break, and to Jayne Skellett, for creating this delightful workshop.


Daybook: 24 November 2018

24 November 2018
When Fred mentioned an acquaintance’s latest blog, it stung me. And her blog is very good, with observation and great photos and a touch of humour and irony. Damn the woman! Bless the woman! Got me writing again.

After a week of sunless days, this morning the skies are blue and the genial sun sets off a million carats in hedgerows and orange groves and everywhere there is green. Everything rinsed and quenched in a week of steady healing rain. Not the usual big storm with rushing streams of rain damaging trees and tracks.

I try to channel the joy I feel from Eddie, snorfling along in damp leaves and worse, the sun on his white back, enjoying this very moment. Find the joy in this life right now, not in some other where or when that is always just behind or before.

In the high street, a coachload of Cordoban elders have just disembarked. They stand outside waiting for their friends, faces turned to the sun, drying out damp bones, simply drinking in the light and warmth. Others linger over café con leche and their morning tostada, yet others stop and chat to friends in the street. It’s like a theatre stage where the lights have come back on. And even I, always a fugitive from the summer sun, even I walk on the bright side this morning.

30 November 2018 – MADRID
I’m at Starbucks Café, Principe Pío rail station (think Liverpool Street as a London equivalent). Munching a modest turkey sandwich and crisps, sun shifting in the skylight above. A notebook, three 0.7 tip blue pens and a renewed faith in the joy of purpose.

Divine intervention? Reading Anne Morrow’s diaries and letters (her beautiful mind and great heart on every page). Carlos surely channelling an angel to give me new energy as we talked. He is pursuing his dream of professional football coaching – at 57 years old; while doing right by his 90 year old Mum and even by the sad old dog he is caring for.

People pass my table in a constant stream. Many are dressed in drab navy, grey and black on this cold Madrid morning. Some are elderly and infirm. Younger people hurry past, still living in the world of hustle and have-to – what keeps them from despair?

Maybe now, with different eyes, I can see better. Maybe each of these commuters has a dream. An elderly woman next to me in the newsagent was looking for a particular type of goody-bag, one with the right cards her granddaughter needs for her collection. She found the right one, and smiled at me. Purpose doesn’t have to be heroic! She was anticipating her granddaughter’s joy at getting the cards. Suddenly the busy mall seems not tense, but jolly.

As the world’s troubles darken and deepen, I have been seeing through dark glasses too, all doom, all downhill. But just for today, I will allow myself to believe again, in friendship, joy, fun – and the pursuit of dreams.




Out of Darkness: Miners celebrate

A simple tribute to the miners of Orgiva on Santa Barbara day, 1 December

The first explosions went off at 9.00 am, while we were having breakfast. The dog leapt onto one chair and I fell off the other, then we clung to each other for comfort.

In town, police cordons festooned the street in front of the cathedral. In the Plaza, a huge tent was setting up lunch for around 100 diners. Had Christmas come early? For a select few, yes.

The 1st of December celebrates Santa Barbara. She is the patron saint of miners, and anyone who works with cannons and explosives. And at one time, half the men in our mountain town of Orgiva, south of Granada, worked in the nearby mines of the Sierra Lújar. They were continuing a tradition that stretched back 3000 years to Phoenician times, and only ended in 1989.

In his informative and entertaining blog, “Because They’re There” climber and muser Alen McFadzean writes about the history of the mines, and shares copious photos from his exploration of the area. Once yielding lead ore, silver and other minerals, the mines have now reopened to liberate the fluorospar, used in the Basque steel industry.

Alen went up to around 3,000 feet so you don’t have to, and I warmly recommend reading his account and seeing the photos.…/the-high-and-mighty-mines…/

Anyway, on our way back through town, we asked the growing crowd of bystanders around the church, whether the saint was coming out for a procession. “No,” said the elderly lady next to me, her eyes shining with anticipation. “They’re going to let off a socking great pile of firecrackers now.”

Fred and I made a run for it as the explosions began, and just reached our front door in time for the dog to hurl himself into my arms again.

Still, a happy day in Orgiva, for the remaining 30 or so miners and their families to reminisce about the joys and sorrows of mining life, and we wish them many more Sta. Barbara celebrations!

Photo: (With thanks to Fred Shively)

America the bountiful

IMG_1658Can a cookbook be righteous? Can right-minded recipes make all things well, and all manner of things?  Am I enjoying my TGIF G&T?

Yes, yes, yes.

I’m deep into the pages of ‘Glorious American Food‘  (Christopher Idone, [1985, Smithmark); a $50 book that I bought for a song in a bargain book store at the beginning of this restless century. Probably the shop in Bethesda, MD, where I solaced myself every Friday after a week of agency agony with some hardback treasure of photography, biography or foodography for myself or Fred.

Idone, an NY-based restaurant and catering consultant all those 30 years ago, worked with photographer Tom Eckerle to produce this beautiful book. It’s dedicated to “the farmers, the fishermen, the ranchers and the vintners who love this land.”

Together with Eckerle, Idone went on a pilgrimage around America, finding out and celebrating real food, soul food, food that comes straight from the air, land and sea and is dressed, cooked and presented in ways that have evolved from the time of the first settlers. Food with story.

Each region of the States is introduced with the story of how its classic dishes developed, from seasonal and available food, and classic dishes come with their own creation story. The writing is never flashy, but as real and true as the ingredients and dishes Idone celebrates.

‘Glorious American Food’ reminds us that classic American food originated from thrift, a sense of place and season, authentic ingredients, pride in good housekeeping and open-handed hospitality. In spite of Trump, police brutality and corporate callousness, I think and hope that this essential goodness can still be found all over the States.

A new edition of the book, as well as the 1985 original, is available on