Posted in Family, Personal life

A Shout-out for Life Kitchen – Catering for People with Cancer

A serious post about an important new cause

Life Kitchen logo
A new initiative to tempt the appetite of people with cancer

Driving to hospital for a routine rheumatology appointment this morning, I heard a moving interview by on BBC R4’s Today programme with Ryan Riley, a young man who has set up a new initiative in memory of his mother who had died of lung cancer. It is called Life Kitchen and aims to help people whose tastebuds and appetite have been adversely affected by chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer. The interviewer Nick Robinson recently had lung cancer himself, and although he barely mentions it, the project clearly resonated with him.

Why It Resonated with Me Too

It hit a nerve for me as well because seventeen years ago my first husband died of leukemia after a brief but brutal illness (seven weeks from diagnosis to death) in which one of the first and lasting characteristics was the change of his attitude towards food and drink. Losing his desire for both, he rapidly lost weight and with it his physical strength and mental resilience.

I tried to tempt him with various foods in his hospital bed – he was an inpatient for virtually the whole time – with no success. It wasn’t that the hospital food was bad, but it wasn’t great either. Because of the inevitable lag betwteen ordering and eating it, he often didn’t want the dishes he’d chosen by the time they arrived.

There was one memorable evening when I was visiting, as I was every weekday and twice a day at weekends, when he was delivered a pork pie, still in its wrapper and as solid as a brick. He could barely stand to look at it, and was about as likely to eat the plate as the pork pie, indigestible as they are at the best of times. I assumed he’d ordered it because it was something he’d enjoyed eating in happier circumstances, but as an invalid food, it was, er, invalid.

Giving up on hospital food, he would ask me to bring things in that he thought he might fancy, despatching me to a supermarket or takeaway to fetch whatever his whim of the moment was. And whatever it was, he would practically never eat it, his palate reduced to intolerance of just about everything.

I remember him clutching my arm in real distress at one point and saying “What if I can never eat more than five different foods again?” (I forget now what those five tolerable foods were, but he wasn’t eating much of them either.) I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was the least of his problems.

At that point I was myself living largely off food from garage forecourt shops bought on my journey to and from the hospital, apart from whatever was on the lunch menu at my workplace. I’d therefore end up eating his rejects to avoid waste. I’ve never felt as conspicuous as when surreptitiously eating Kentucky Fried Chicken out of a cardboard box in the middle of a hospital ward surrounded by seriously ill people, trying not to let its spicy, fatty fragrance waft around the ward.

Of course none of this was his fault, but it was enormously upsetting for us both. Already exhausted and stressed out, I felt terrible for feeling cross and resentful and anxious about the cost. I wouldn’t have minded if all this effort had made him eat, but the weight just fell away from this man whose body had always been strong and healthy and more than adequately covered with flesh. It was like watching him dissolve.

How to Support Life Kitchen

Whether Life Kitchen would have made a difference to him I will never know, but surely it is an idea worth supporting and exploring. I’ve just made a small donation to its crowdfunding appeal, and if you’d like to support the cause, you’ll find more details here, along with Ryan’s own moving story: https://www.gofundme.com/LifeKitchen You can also follow its progress on Twitter at @LifeKitchen.

Full marks to this young man for dreaming up the initiative. I am sure his mother would be very proud of him. 

Ryan Riley and his late mother
Life Kitchen founder Ryan Riley with his late mother Krista

 

 

Posted in Personal life

For the Love of Yoga

My column for this month’s Hawkesbury Parish News

Gromit statue
Not your usual dental assistant

Having achieved a miracle cure for fall-induced back pain at a yoga class in January, (something clicked back into place during a floor exercise), I turned to yoga techniques again this month to counter my fear during an emergency tooth extraction.

I lay in the dentist’s chair breathing deeply, body relaxed, palms facing upwards, while the very pleasant dental surgeon went about her task. With the added distraction of pictures of Minions and Gromits on the ceiling, (something our yoga class at the Methodist Hall doesn’t have), I got through the procedure unscathed. What with this and my back pain cured, I was feeling positively smug until I caught up with the international news.

That same day, an Australian man had used yoga to escape death by drowning. Trapped in a pool of mud by his overturned mechanical digger, he adopted the Cobra position to keep just his nose above the waterline until rescue arrived… six hours later.  That put my triumphs into perspective.

But it just goes to show that whatever the source of stress in your daily life, yoga can help make it better. Though I’ll still be giving muddy pools and mechanical diggers a wide berth in future.

You can find out more about the Australian man’s story on the BBC website here

(If you’d like to join the fun of our weekly yoga class, taught by Joan Boulton, come and join us at 10am every Thursday morning during term-time in the Methodist School Room.)

Posted in Personal life, Writing

How to Excite an Author (It’s Not Obvious)

An insight into cover creation for my books
plus the chance to download 12 free ebooks,
one of which is my short story collection Marry in Haste

wedding topper figure
Looking forward to meeting these old friends in real life

The things that excite authors are not always the most obvious. Today for me it’s the imminent arrival of a package containing the wedding topper figurine featured on the cover of my short story collection, Marry in Haste.

To create the cover design I used a stock photo, which for me summed up the tone and attitude of both the title of the book and the tone of the stories in the collection:

proceed with caution

cover of Marry in Haste
“A book for women that every man should read” – reviewer

I loved the way the bride is apparently having second thoughts about tying the knot, leaning back from her husband’s over-enthusiastic embrace.

Wanting to freshen up the cover with a slight redesign of the typography, I discovered the proportions of the original image were too restrictive for what I wanted to do, and I wished I had the original statuette so that I could take my own photo.

Money for Old Rope

Cover of "The War of the Peek Freans Light Wounded" featuring toy soldiers
A single short story, first published decades ago in “Woman’s Realm”

Then I remembered a conversation with my ever-entertaining hairdresser Tasha in which we established that you could find anything on ebay – she regaled me on how she’d won a bet that you could get “money for old rope” on ebay by finding lots of “old rope” for sale.

I’d pursued this avenue once before, buying a handful of vintage metal toy soldiers for the cover of my single-story ebook, The War of the Peek Freans Light Wounded, about a child at the start of the Second World War. They’ve lived on my desk ever since, alongside three small plastic gold Daleks and dwarfed by a three-inch-high Snowy dog from Tintin. I’m still awaiting the inspiration to bring them together in a story.

Another statuette of a wedding couple
Future cover stars for “Repent at Leisure”

Ten  minutes later, I’d found not only the precise statuette featured in the original photo, but also a companion piece to use for the cover of my planned sequel, inevitably entitled Repent at Leisure. I’m not ruling out a Happy Ever After to turn this into a trilogy in due course.

We Meet At Last!

I can’t wait to get my parcel and meet what seem like old friends to me now. It’ll be the equivalent of seeing Facebook friends in reali life for the first time, from all angles, in three dimensions, and finding out how tall they are.

It beats me, though, how anyone could want one of these less than enthusiastic plastic couples on their wedding cake. Neither of them look like the ideal representative of a happy couple.

A Model Couple?

My wedding cake topper showing a more enthusiastic couple
Note the direction of the lean, but disregard the hat

The one on my wedding cake was nothing like either of these, having been handmade for me by my talented friend and wedding witness Jane at her pottery class. She’d been with me when we bought my dark green wedding dress, and I’d described my husband’s tartan to her, but his hat was a figment of her imagination. She also didn’t foresee the motorbike, on which he arrived at the Register Office, kilt flying as he tore down Chipping Sodbury’s high street. Nor did I.

Me and my kilted husband on his motorbike
Enough to startle the old ladies in Chipping Sodbury’s high street

We are still married, approaching our fifteenth anniversary, although the motorbike is long gone. (“It did the trick,” he told me later when about to dispose of it. “It got me the girl.”) I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope of the longevity of either of my little plastic statuette couples. I’m also now trying to erase mental pictures of Melania Trump leaning away from her husband’s embrace…

FREE EBOOKS – Marry in Haste plus 11 more!

New cover of Marry in Haste
Available for free till the end of today (28 February 2017), or to buy from Amazon and other retailers worldwide

If you’d like a free ebook of “Marry in Haste”, you’ve got till the end of today (Tuesday 28th February 2017) to download it via this offer, along with 11 other free books by some of my author friends.

WHERE TO BUY

It’s also always available to buy from the usual places – order from your favourite local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223016, from ebook retailers, or order from Amazon

 

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Youthful Treasures

My Young By Name column for the February issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

Cover of February 2017 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser
I’m glad to have caused Ian Carmichael, who played Lord Peter Wimsey on telly, to appear on the cover of the February “Tetbury Advertiser” (bottom right inset pic)

With 2016 behind us, and with it, we hope, the relentless string of premature deaths of national and international treasures, I was startled to spot on social media today what struck me as a desperate headline:

See Cliff Richard live through 2017!

Good heavens, I thought, are people now so paranoid that they’re publicly rooting for the survival of their favourite celebrity? Could such an appeal really enhance one’s chances of escaping the Grim Reaper until 2018?

I can think of more constructive tactics to keep a person feeling young and full of life, and I’m happy to share them here.

 Age is Relative

First, hang out with old people. By old people, I mean anyone who is at least twenty years older than yourself (because we’re all in our prime, aren’t we?) Accompanying my eighty-year-old aunt to my 100-year-old cousin’s funeral not only reassured me of my family’s strong genes but made me feel positively youthful.

Secondly, marry someone older than you. My husband will reach his three score and ten a year before I have to start to wonder whether, in Paul McCartney’s immortal words, whether he’ll still need me when I’m 64. (Which echoes point #1 – hang out with Paul McCartney.)

Thirdly, if you plan to change your name when you marry, pick a spouse whose moniker offers subliminal powers of rejuvenation. Theoretically I’m now forever Young, at least till the next time around. Just joking, Gordon, honest – but any Mr Old who has me in his sights should give up now. (My fictional idol Lord Peter Wimsey got crossed off my theoretical “marry” list when I discovered one of his middle names was De’Ath. What were his fictional parents thinking?)

 All in the Mind

Cover of notebook with slogan "Careful or you'll end up in my next novel"
A favourite birthday gift from a friend who knows me well…

Finally, if you’re a writer, on the same principle that you can put someone in a novel and kill them, you can assume a younger persona and, in your head at least, spend quite a lot of your life pretending you’re them. I’m currently writing a series of novels, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries (yes, the name’s a tribute to the late great Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey), in which the eponymous heroine is 25. The stories are narrated in her voice, and I’m rather enjoying being 25 again. Naturally her love interest is 32. (The first book, Best Murder in Show, will be launched in April.)

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Click the image to read the opening of the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, to be published in April

By the same token, do you think Ian McEwan, who in his latest novel Nutshell has made the central character a foetus, has a secret whim to rewind his own age? Whatever next – a novel starring the glint in the milkman’s eye?

From one extreme to the other, back to Sir Cliff: I now realise that the slogan I saw was not an appeal to spare Britain’s answer to Elvis, but an advert for the singer’s new year concert tour, with “live” to rhyme not with “give” but with “hive.

All the same, I bet his promoters have got their fingers crossed…

 

Posted in Family, Personal life

Just Rewards – A Proposal for a New Way to Keep New Year Resolutions: The Resolution Calendar

A calligraphic card of a traditional New Year's Resolution from 1915

My column from the January 2017 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Given that change has become the new normal in the last twelve months, at least in terms of politics, I wonder whether New Year’s Resolutions will prove easier to keep this month? Research shows that it takes twenty-one days to establish a new habit, so if you’re struggling with your resolutions by the time you read this, don’t give up. I have a new invention that might help you: the Resolution Calendar.

A slightly smaller cousin of the Advent Calendar, it should contain twenty-one little doors, one for each day until your new habit has taken hold. Behind each door would be a suitable small reward such as the traditional chocolate, to be redeemed only if you get through the day with your resolution intact. (Unless of course your resolution is to eat less chocolate.)

Alternatively you might take my husband’s unusual approach to what was his first ever Advent calendar last month. Rather than opening a door each day, he saved them all up for Christmas, announcing throughout December as my daughter and I ate our daily chocolates just how many he’d had left on Christmas Day when all ours were long gone.

Whatever your New Year Resolutions, I wish you a happy and healthy 2017.

Smiley face made of empty Lindor wrappers
All that was left of my Advent calendar by Christmas Day