Last week Big and my son Callum went off on their annual boys holiday to Bavaria. They stay with a German family in Wallgau. They climb mountains, ride trains and embark on epic car journeys across numerous borders into countless countries. They bond bloke-style over salami and cheese rolls and local beer. They bring home bags of delicious speciality chocolate.
I stay home with the dogs and enjoy my own company, I’m a cool person to be around after all! This year though my daughter Shauna decided to come and stay for a few days. She has not lived with us for a few years now and sometimes I only see her every couple of weeks when she has a day off work so I was really looking forward to spending some quality time with her. We have a close relationship, the bond between a mother and her daughter is so special and I miss her. She has been dealing with some personal issues recently so we talked a lot, I think it helped her to get it all off her chest. I still have a temporary kitchen so we ate takeaway food and stayed up late, it was wonderful. I told her all my plans for my new business and what I hoped to achieve for the future. Being in her twenties, she understands the complexities of social media and the power it has to influence people so when she offered to help me with my business pages I jumped at the chance. We spent an evening photographing some of my china and making little videos. Then she spent ages editing them so they looked amazing. I’m not a complete dinosaur when it comes to technology but I could definitely learn more! She also understands clever use of hashtags so her Instagram posts attracted so many more views than mine. She has done wonders with my website, it is so much more attractive and user-friendly now. Because she works in retail she also had endless ideas for marketing and made me an extensive to-do list which I am now working on. I am planning to incorporate my love of baking into the business so there is a lot of work to do. I have signed up for a food safety course later in the year and I’ve registered myself with the local authorities. I’m learning all about allergens and how to properly label things. In short, I am fired up and buzzing with excitement for this new venture.
The boys are back now and the house has already returned to its chaotic, messy state but I really did miss them. Hopefully my kitchen will be finished in the next few weeks and I will be able to catch up with some baking. I have a special tasting menu planned for friends and family to try. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes.
Our bespoke sofa arrived last week from Italy. It took about three months but it was well worth the wait. It finishes the room off perfectly. The kitchen project is coming along nicely. My new oven and proving drawer went in today which was so exciting. I’m now planning what to bake once I can get back in there. I’m definitely getting bored of microwave meals and toast!!
Someone once said to me “Any man can be a father but it takes a special man to be a dad”. A deep and meaningful observation which struck me as particularly poignant because I have had two fathers but I have never had a dad. My biological father walked out on my sister and I when she was a newborn and I was a toddler. Mum struggled to cope with us on her own and eventually met the man who later became my stepfather. My father visited us occasionally and sometimes we would stay at the house he shared with his new girlfriend, however, he was away every weekend racing cars so we were always left with this strange woman who didn’t like us and resented having us there. Visits were strained when mums’ new man was around, so my father, encouraged by his girlfriend, decided to move to Australia and make a new life. They later got married and he fathered two more daughters. Ironic? Probably.
While my sister and I struggled to comprehend why our father would go and live on the other side of the world from us, my mum and her new boyfriend were making plans to get married. This was mainly a financial decision, pushed along by the discovery that she was expecting our brother. I remember being unimpressed by this news and resisted any attempts to involve me in the wedding plans. Back in the seventies, on the rough council estate where we grew up, if your surname was different to that of your mum you were singled out for special treatment which involved being called a bastard at every opportunity. Confused, I asked my mum what this meant and was even more puzzled when she said it was a name for someone who didn’t have a father. This made no sense to me at all as I had two!! My awkward questions prompted some heated discussions between mum and her husband to be, after which my sister and I were sat down and asked if we would like to change our surname to that of our stepfather so that we all had the same name. We were both horrified at this suggestion, neither of us had any warm and fuzzy feelings towards him and we certainly didn’t want to share his surname. I never knew how my stepfather felt about our decision and to be honest, I didn’t really care!
My little brother was born and my mum was over the moon to have a son. He was her beautiful blue-eyed boy, a symbol of her rising from the ashes of her terrible ordeal and making a new life for herself. She enjoyed her status as a newly married, respectable woman with a baby. She lavished love and attention on our brother (he was nicknamed The Golden One from an early age) but my sister and I loved him dearly too. He was not an easy child. If he had been born later he would possibly have been diagnosed with with an Attention Deficit disorder and, in the absence of love or respect in their relationship, mum and Clive’s marriage collapsed. They probably should have parted ways back then but they stayed together for the sake of their son, not wanting to cause him any unnecessary pain. This was discussed openly with my sister and I which, as you can imagine was a bit of a kick in the teeth for us but we had learned to be resilient. Eventually they separated years later, after my brother left home and my stepfather had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It might sound callous but after receiving counselling, where I discovered that I could allow myself to be angry about the way I was treated as a child, I have not wasted a single moment thinking about either of my “fathers”. I see my biological father once in a blue moon, if he decides to appear on my doorstep but I don’t seek him out. I have set myself free from them both.
I never really felt that I’d had a remarkable childhood until I met my husband. After our first date I knew that he was The One. It really did hit me like a bolt of lightening. He was the man I wanted to share my life with and I told my family this, much to their chagrin. I had not long come out of a long term relationship and they naturally assumed I was rebounding but I knew my own mind. When I met Vern’s family I was amazed at how close they all were. I was welcomed into the fold immediately, they were warm, genuine and lovely and I was so happy. We had only been together about six months when I fell pregnant with our daughter. It was a bit of a shock and tested our relationship but once we got our heads around it we were excited. We were already engaged so we decided to get married once the baby was born. The birth was traumatic and I was quite unwell afterwards so Vern had to help out quite a bit. This meant that he developed a special bond with her which was so beautiful to witness. I marvelled at his patience as she cried night after night. He would lie on the sofa with her nestled into the crook of his arm, singing softly to her as she screamed relentlessly. I would often come downstairs to find them both crashed out, exhausted after the long night. Our three children had a positive and loving childhood, sure there were trying times, especially during the teenage years but their dad was the rock who anchored us all to the bottom of the sea. The complete antithesis to my fathers, he is loved and cherished by them all and has passed on to them his generosity, his wacky sense of humour and his strong work ethic, all of which has turned them into fine young adults. I hope that I have been a good mum, however, my childhood experiences mean that I always hold a little bit back. I overthink every cross word, every difficult decision. I lack the warmth which comes naturally to some people but I try my best to let my children know I love them at every opportunity. I hope they realise that I do. Best of all, now our son is a dad to our grandson, I see the same paternal qualities in him. He is a patient, hands-on dad and his baby son adores him. It is heartwarming to watch them together.
So the point I’m trying to make is that just because you don’t have great parental role models doesn’t mean you won’t be a brilliant mum or dad, but it certainly helps! Happy Fathers Day to all the wonderful dads out there, you are amazing.
Last year I launched a little business. After planning and hosting a spectacular birthday party for our mothers’ 70th birthday, my sister and I came up with the idea of doing something together, a joint venture. Although organising the party had been stressful at times, what we found most frustrating was waiting for the china to turn up. We had booked some vintage china from a local company and had found the whole process unsatisfactory. The owner was very difficult to get hold of before the event and despite having paid a deposit, we got no confirmation from her beforehand. On the day of the party we worked tirelessly for hours preparing the venue, catering everything ourselves and putting out signs to ensure all the guests could find us. The only thing missing was the china! I rang continuously without success and, with less than an hour until the party was due to start, we began to panic. What would we do if she didn’t turn up? When we were supposed to be glamming ourselves up, we were instead making an emergency plan to dash out and find tableware before the guest of honour arrived.
Eventually the china arrived with moments to spare. The owner was unfazed by our panicked faces. Apparently she’d had car trouble but had not thought to answer my calls or let us know she had been delayed. When we explained that we hadn’t known if she was going to turn up she simply laughed it off. Her china was beautiful but we found her customer care lacking. Once she had left we raced around like headless chickens setting the tables and had to lock ourselves in the bathroom to change once everyone had arrived. The party was a great success but afterwards my sister and I realised we could do so much better ourselves. I immediately set about building up some stock. Luckily Big agreed to fund me and I had great fun sourcing gorgeous cups and saucers, teapots and cake stands. I trawled charity shops for pretty pieces and searched sales ads for bargains. It quickly became an obsession as I researched makers and patterns. Once I had a good amount of stock I made an inventory of everything, took photographs and checked out my local competition. I registered a domain name, built a website and launched a Facebook page. Then I waited for the enquiries to come in. It has been about eight months and so far I have had a few bites but nothing has come of them. I have showcased my china at charity baking events and people are intrigued for sure, but I have never been very patient.
I’m desperate to show people what we can do. I want to do it right, provide excellent customer service and get glowing feedback, it just hasn’t happened yet. I was reading an article yesterday which said that on average it takes two years to get a business up and running. I designed some gorgeous watercolour graphics and had them made into eye-catching business cards which I will leave in local coffee shops and cafes, subject to permission of course. I’m doing everything I can to get some bookings so fingers crossed I guess. Does anyone have any tips for me they would be willing to share? All suggestions gratefully received.
Last time I wrote I had just been on a lovely short break for my birthday and all was well in my world. As the great Ricky Gervais says about the ups and downs of life, “You can be having the time of your life, and then you find a lump”
Fear not, I haven’t actually found a lump, but my world was rocked slightly when my beloved French Bulldog Wilson suddenly became ill. A few weeks ago I noticed that he was not his usual bouncy self. He refused to eat his breakfast but I assumed he was having a diva day so I sat on the kitchen floor and offered him morsels from my hand. He ate a little but reluctantly, so I put it up to offer again later. During the day Wilson was clingy but, again, I put it down to the fact that I had been away recently and he was making sure I didn’t go anywhere again. Big was away on business and when he phoned I told him I was worried that Wilson seemed off-colour. He thought I was being neurotic but told me to make an appointment to see the vet in the morning if I was still concerned. A few minutes later I let all three dogs out into the garden to play and noticed that Wilson had vomited several times earlier. When we came inside he was breathing strangely and I immediately knew that something was wrong. I called the vet and they told me to come straight down and that they would put me in as an extra consult at the end of the day.
In the waiting room, Wilson sat on my lap and shook. He hates going to the vet and is usually quite vocal while waiting but this time he was too quiet. Eventually it was our turn. The vet, Claire, examined him carefully as he trembled on the table. He let her put her thermometer up his backside without the usual resistance so I knew then that he wasn’t feeling well! She was concerned that there was noise in his lungs and he had a slight fever so she wanted to admit him to the hospital for X-rays, blood tests and fluids. She whisked him away, leaving me with a form to fill in detailing his normal routine, food, sleeping and toileting habits and as I wrote down all the things he liked and disliked the tears came. I felt bereft leaving him there but I knew he was in good hands.
Later that evening Claire called to say that he had undergone a chest X-ray under sedation and there were early signs of aspiration pneumonia, meaning that when he had vomited he had inhaled some into his lungs which was causing inflammation. Because this had been caught early it was easily treatable with IV antibiotics but Claire was still anxious to find out what had caused the vomiting in the first place so they had taken bloods as well to test for various different things. I couldn’t relax so I ended up calling the night team after midnight to see if he had settled. They assured me that he was quiet and that he had eaten a little so I went to bed, although I didn’t get much sleep.
The following morning I phoned for another update and was told that Wilson was much brighter, he had apparently chewed his drip up and had destroyed bits of his kennel in a bid to escape during the night, so they were happy to let him come home with antibiotics in tablet form. Wilson and I were overjoyed to be reunited. After settling a rather huge bill we left with some special tins of recovery food and an appointment for a check up in a few days time. He certainly seemed much better, although he was still quiet and climbed into my lap every time I sat down. He really seemed to like the bland food though, lapping enthusiastically at it and making a proper mess on the kitchen floor. It was a relief to see him enjoying his food again and I relaxed enough to jump onto the treadmill for a bit of a workout. Just as I was cooling down, a call came through from the vet. Claire explained that she had done a snap test that afternoon with some of Wilsons blood and it had come back as abnormal for pancreatic enzymes. The test does not give a number and can sometimes give a false reading so she wanted to send some blood off to the lab to get a more accurate picture of what was going on. I agreed with her that it would be better to know for sure what we were dealing with, even so I was worried.
Two days later we returned to the surgery for Wilsons check up. Naturally he was not happy to be back so soon but he bravely tolerated another examination. Claire was happy that his breathing had improved and that the meds were doing the trick and we agreed that he would stay on the prescription diet, at least until the test results were back. Another large bill for all the extra tests and more food was waiting for me at the desk but I was just so relieved that Wilson was recovering.
A few days later Claire phoned again. This time she was not so upbeat. The reading for enzymes had come back at over 500. Claire explained that anything over 200 was considered high. This meant a definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis, simply meaning inflammation of the pancreas, which can be serious but will hopefully be controllable with a strict low fat diet. Although I knew it was a bad idea, I began to research the condition. I soon realised that Wilson had been displaying some of the symptoms a few days before he went to the vet. He had been stretching and bowing down during mealtimes as if he had a stitch, a sign that eating was causing him some discomfort, and had been more tired on walks than usual. It all started to make sense now that I knew what was wrong! I have always been very strict with all the dogs, feeding them good quality dog food and minimal treats to ensure that they stay slim so I was dismayed that this had happened but apparently some breeds are genetically prone to certain conditions and French Bulldogs are unfortunately prone to more than their fair share. Wilson has always been a small, slightly built dog but he has lost just over a kilo, which is a lot for a dog his size. He is looking a bit skinny but we are hoping he will fill out again once he adjusts to his new low fat, and very expensive specialist food. I have managed to source it more cheaply online but it is still going to be three or four times to cost of his regular Bulldog food. However, he is worth every penny and we will all be doing everything we can to keep him as healthy as possible. Heres hoping for a less eventful few weeks so that we can all recover!
21st birthday cake for my son Callum. Chocolate fudge cake with clotted cream fudge flavoured buttercream and chocolate drip. Topped with doughnuts, fudge, Freddo biscuits, Munchies, Lindor truffles and Kinder Bueno sticks!
Just returned from a four day break spending quality time with my sister Em in Devon and it’s safe to say it was an eventful trip! She arrived to pick me up in a headscarf and sunglasses combo, a tribute to Thelma and Louise on their road trip, but hopefully without the tragic ending. The journey was an easy one, even the tricky bit getting past Bristol, with no hold ups and we were soon on the A roads. We tend to chat pretty much non-stop when we are together so it seemed like no time at all had passed when we reached Ilfracombe. Excitement was at fever pitch as we parked up on the seafront. A feeling of peace always descends on me when I’m in this sleepy little place, which I know like the back of my hand. After a stroll around the harbour with its tearooms and gift shops, we stopped for lunch in Dolly’s cafe. It’s the perfect spot for people watching and the jacket potatoes are legendary. We stopped briefly for some supplies before heading to Hele Bay, the home of our grandparents for many years. I am instantly transported back to my childhood self in this environment. The beach here is by no means the prettiest in North Devon, it is an unspoilt cove with basic facilities and is unforgiving in bad weather with no shelter from the elements but to me it holds wonderful memories of long summer days spent fishing for crabs in rock pools and splashing in the paddling pool. Em had booked us into one of the pretty pastel wooden chalets on Beach Cove Resort which sits directly above the beach. Our cabin was towards the back of the park and had its own hot tub. The interior was small but beautifully done and we quickly settled in with a cuppa, happy to just gaze through the window at the beach and reminisce.
Within about half an hour it started to rain and soon the wind picked up. We knew the forecast wasn’t brilliant but we weren’t quite prepared for Storm Hannah! By the evening our little chalet was being battered from all sides and we were frankly thankful that we were not right on the cliff edge at the front. We went to bed and my bed was moving with me in it! There was no chance of getting any sleep as the wind roared around us and the rain lashed the windows. It was pretty scary. By the next morning it was still windy but the sun was shining. Our outdoor table and chairs were in a heap and many of the other guests were outside checking for damage. Feeling groggy, we had some breakfast and decided to brave the hot tub. Although it was cold outside we enjoyed a relaxing soak and felt more human. We walked into Ilfracombe, feasted on delicious toasties and milkshakes and visited the famous fudge shop Roly’s for gifts for the family. Of course we bought some for ourselves, lemon meringue fudge for Em and peanut butter fudge for me and sat on one of the benches overlooking the harbour to eat some of it, under the beady-eyed watch of several seagulls. Needing to walk off all those calories we took the Tarka trail back, the coastal path which winds up and over Hillsborough and down the other side into Hele. The walk takes about an hour, with various viewing points where we could stop and catch our breath. Right at the highest point the wind was so strong that we had to hold on to a signpost as we feared we would be blown off the edge! We had a table booked at a local fish restaurant for dinner and got back to the chalet with just enough time to change and head off. Later we watched a movie, both of us were exhausted and barely able to stay awake until the end.
By Sunday morning the wind had dropped but rain had set in for the day, still we made full use of the hot tub, who cares, we are getting wet anyway. We braved the drizzle for a stroll to the old water mill where the owners of this beautiful iconic landmark mill their own flour and serve the most divine homemade cakes and cream teas. We shared a combination of the traditional cream and jam variety and their savoury version, a fluffy, warm cheesy scone with cream cheese and homemade caramelised onion jam which is, dare I say it, even better than the sweet version. The little tea room displays local art and sculpture and this year they even had lambs and rabbits in a little petting zoo, much to the delight of my animal-mad sister. Later, hoping the rain would ease off we drove to Woolacombe but it was too wet and cold to go onto the beach so we settled for watching the surfers from the car instead. We stopped off in Ilfracombe on the way home and bought fish and chips for dinner.
Monday morning and time to go home. We were late getting up and had to rush around packing so that we could vacate our chalet on time. After a final stroll on Hele beach we headed off to Woolacombe again for some last minute shopping and breakfast before heading home. Em was disappointed that the weather hadn’t been too good but I honestly didn’t care, for me it was enough just to be there, to get away from the routine of my daily life and visit my favourite place in the whole world. I don’t think I will ever feel differently about Devon, it has featured so heavily in my life and always will hold a special place in my heart.
Please tell me in the comments if you have a special place you love to visit and why. I’d love to hear from you.
That good old Ronan Keating song accurately describes my life at the moment. Up and down like a whore’s drawers, as my stepdad, God rest his soul, used to quip. It’s the reason why I haven’t been able to post for a while. I have so many stories jostling around for space in my head, I just need the time to be able to get them written down! So much of the time my life just bumps along the dirt track, occasionally dipping into a pot hole but mostly staying upright. At the moment though it is careening downhill with dodgy brakes and I am struggling to control it.
Depression. The big black dog some people call it. I am a dog person so I don’t liken it to a dog. Dogs are happy creatures, always obliging, always loyal. Mine are the reason I get out of bed some mornings. Although they are all happy to lay beside me for hours on end, they do have basic needs which require my attention. It’s not always obvious when I’m depressed. Some days I can function perfectly normally even though I feel like I’m wading, knee-deep, through treacle. It’s exhausting. I get up, see to the dogs, spend an hour or so in the gym, have a shower, make lunch, take the dogs out for a walk, make dinner. All on auto-pilot. If someone speaks to me I can hold a conversation, smile, joke, but all the time I feel hollow. If I was to be tapped with a hammer, my outer shell would shatter into a million pieces and there would be nothing inside.
It’s not as dark as it sounds. I’m not about to throw myself off the nearest bridge, I have a phobia of heights for a start. I don’t want to exit this beautiful life. I have an awful lot to be thankful for and, hopefully, many more years of riding this glorious roller coaster with all its thrills and spills. I just sometimes get tired of the sameness of it all. Perhaps, inside my head, as my hormones and brain cells rapidly deplete, I am becoming aware that time is running out. I’ve lived longer than I have left, if you know what I mean. My bucket list has hardly been ticked at all and I want to do it all but I’m just so tired.
I will snap out of this pity party, I always do. On Friday my sister is taking me to Devon for four whole days. It’s her birthday present to me. She has booked us into a luxury holiday chalet, with a private hot tub no less, in Ilfracombe, our favourite place in the whole world. We try to get there once a year. When we were kids there was a clutch of battered old caravans on the cliff edge, overlooking the little beach. Our grandparents lived in a house further up the hill and when we visited in the summer we would make friends with some of the kids who stayed in the caravans. Often the same families would come for a holiday every year so we got to know them well. One year there was a terrible storm during the night. By morning several of the caravans were in bits on the beach, having blown off the edge in the high winds. Miraculously no one was hurt, but the site was condemned. About five years ago building work began on the old land and the following year a luxury park appeared with little pastel coloured wooden buildings, pretty gardens and a rooftop bar with seating overlooking the bay. We were staying in a B&B nearby for a few days so we walked up to take a look. The chalets were so sweet, some of them had hot tubs outside and all were kitted out with the latest gadgets. We popped into the onsite office to enquire about them and were absolutely gobsmacked at the prices. It was easily more than triple what we would normally pay for a few days in the guest house but we still gazed wistfully at them on our annual visits. And finally, in a few days time we will actually get to stay in one! I’m beyond excited. My birthday was about a month ago and the wait has been agonising but it’s nearly over. We will be doing lots of walking, visiting our favourite haunts, lots of eating (cream teas are a must in Devon) and we will be sitting in the hot tub, putting the world to rights come rain or shine and I will return to my home rested and restored. There is nothing more miraculously healing for the soul than some time away with good company in a place you love. Let’s just hope we don’t get any storms!