Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Carpe Natalis (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


So that was Christmas. Little G got the bicycle she desperately wanted, and has spent a lot of time riding round the small grassy island outside the local cathedral. A few falls have also occurred, but give her her due, she has got up and got straight back on.

Mind you, she has a helmet to protect her, as they all do nowadays. I remember 'back in the old days' one fell off a bike, bashed various body parts, and that was life. I still carry the scars of a very nasty fall, age 7. Meanwhile, Small loves watching her ride, and gets very excited and wavy as she passes him, feet pedalling furiously.

But Christmas has been, and it has gone, and any sensible small person fixes their gaze upon the next big event. So it is with Little G, who is now eyeing up the approaching celebration of her fourth birthday. Actually, the next big event is You Must Be Mad's birthday, but apparently that is of secondary importance.

'It's my birthday soon,' she tells me when we pop round to see them, post Christmas.
'I think it's your mum's birthday first,' I say.
Little G waves this irrelevant information away with the contempt it merits.
'Yes, but I'm going to be FOUR!' she tells me earnestly.

She also informs me that she is having an 'Alice in Wonderland/Princess' Party. The second was what she originally wanted. The first is You Must Be Mad's idea. The usual hard won compromise has been reached. We have been given our orders: L-Plate Grandad will make his famous egg sandwiches, and I will try to stop Small from messing up the games, and getting trampled underfoot.

At some point in the proceedings, Little G will ingest too much cake, morph into Sugar Baby and stomp upstairs in tears ~ mind, this assumption is based purely on the past three birthdays.

'What happens after your birthday?' I ask her.
Little G ponders for a nanosecond.
'Small's birthday,' she says. 'Then it will be Christmas again.'
That's how we roll.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Living in Interesting Times

Harpenden in the Snow (pic. Alison Woodley)

We live in interesting times, as the saying goes. For some of us, the times are slightly more interesting that we'd like. Last week, a few days before Christmas, FIVE letters arrived from the two hospitals who are dealing with the aftermath of my cancer operation. Cancermin gone mad.

Before we go there, a piece of advice: Do Not Research Cancer Causing Symptoms on the Internet. Apparently my cancer could have been caused by: cigarettes/weight/age/coffee/alcohol/salt/red meat/smoked food/air pollution/stress. No mention of the current government, but I'm pretty convinced they must be part of it.

Briefly, I shall be spending most of January shuttling between the Luton & Dunstable Hospital (checkups, follow on checkups, bone scan etc) and Mount Vernon Hospital, where I am slowly going to morph into Radioactive Woman. Stand next to me at bus stops at your peril. In preparation for this, I have now been CT scanned and Marked In Indelible Pen. After a while, you just withdraw into your head and let them get on with it.

To add to the fun, the dumbphone has packed up. It started a while ago when it kept locking me out. Then it refused point blank to send any texts. Cue taking it into a local EE shop, where a pair of twelve year olds in blue overalls with the yellow EE logo took it apart, re-assembled it, and informed me that there was nothing more they could do.


Thus acquisition of New Phone. Luckily, the other Grumpy Old Sod is a big fan of Classic FM and knew immediately that the right phone for the non-techie-with-tendency-to-shout-at-and-break-phones was the one they've been pushing as the ideal Xmas gift for the over 80s. So while he has a brand new white Apple iPhone with gold edges, I have a black one with BIG keys and SIMPLE instructions. Happy? Yep, though I'd have preferred a red one.

Life is all about survival in one form or another, isn't it? Sometimes this means adopting a different strategy, sometimes it means adapting to a new one. As the days lurch unsteadily downhill towards the gate of 2018, I'd like to wish all the readers of this blog a Happy New Year. Resolutions? I don't make them. Let's just say that if I and the mobile phone haven't packed up by December 31st, 2018, I shall chalk it up as a success! Cheers!





Sunday, 24 December 2017

It's Party Time!


What is Christmas without a P*A*R*T*Y? So step inside the writing garret, gentle reader, and help yourself to a party hat, a handful of poppers and a tinsel wreath. This party is for all of you - 2017 has been a momentous year for many reasons, and it is time to celebrate!

BANG!!

Ah, you found the box of crackers. No, I don't know what Vampires sing on New Year's Eve..... ''Auld Fang's Syne''. Haha - love it. OK, while you're attacking the sausage rolls, grabbing a drink and introducing yourself to the other guests, I'll just run through some of the events that made this year so special for me. Please share your special events later.

In May I started minding Little G and Small when my daughter returned to work. We have had a lot of fun and adventures and in honour of their dual presence, I re-started The Adventures of L-Plate Gran to tell you all about them.  Here's the first *new* post

The PINK SOFA has played host to some lovely writing guests over the year, including: Jonathon Fletcher, Jan Ruth, Kelly Florentia, Shelley Wilson, Ian Wilfred, Amanda James and Jo Carroll.

The MOST popular blog post, with nearly 6 thousand views so far was this one. http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/once-upon-nightmare.html

All the Victorian Detectives books were re-issued with brand new covers, designed by Gina Dickerson (@GinaDWriter ). The fifth Victorian Detectives book, Wonders & Wickedness was published in September and has been on several eminent book bloggers' Best of 2017 Book Lists including @CathyRy  and @MrsBloggsReader  @TerryTyler4  Thank you ladies. I am honoured.

I'd also like to thank everybody who reads and comments on my blogs, and chats to me on Facebook and Twitter. You know who you are. I know who you are. In the dark times when staring at a blank computer screen and wondering why I have the effrontery to call myself a writer, YOU have encouraged and cheered me on. Especial affection for all my mad fellow #thearchers Tweetalong mates.

I see someone has opened the PROSECCO! Excellent! And if one of you can sort the play-list, let's start celebrating!

On behalf of the SOFA and myself: A Very Happy Christmas to One and All!!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Cheek to Cheek (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Christmas preparations are underway at You must be mad's house. Little G and Small  have helped to lug home a very big tree which looked a lot smaller in the market, and then helped decorate it. Small's contribution has been to pull off all the decorations within reach on the lower boughs, so the tree now has a rather lopsided look.

Little G keeps dropping hints about my present in a 'not-telling-you' sort of way, eg:

Little G: What is your favourite colour?
Me:        Orange.
Little G: That's the colour of your present!

Meanwhile, Small is starting to push the boundaries, as those books on child-rearing put it. The pushing involves things like dropping food off his highchair/being told to stop/doing his sad 'lip' gesture/ then dropping more food .... slowly and deliberately .... while staring at you. He has also mastered the art of reaching out behind his back to touch something that he has been told not to touch. He is turning into a cheeky little monkey, as the books on child-rearing don't put it.

You must be mad and I are the discipline duo. We absolutely refuse to be defeated by an under-two on a wind-up mission. Small, on the other hand, clearly sees our reactions as part of the game. Neither of us have any experience in raising boys, and the sort of brisk telling-off that would reduce Little G to floods of tears, washes off Small like water off a seal. Frankly, my dear, he simply couldn't give a damn.

We are both hoping it is a phase. Like Little G's phase of ritual burping. She rarely does it now. Meanwhile we continue to admonish Small, and he continues to run rings round us. You can see him sizing us up behind his innocent 'what, me?' face, while L-Plate Grandad (Small's favourite person out of the two of us) tries not to laugh.

It's a battle, that's for sure. But we all love Small too much to let him win. On the plus side though, I am mentally stocking up on a lot of 'when you were very little' stories to use as embarrassing ammo when Small turns into a teenager. My day may not have arrived yet, but it will surely come.
Oh yes.







Saturday, 9 December 2017

Spreading Myself Thinly


WARNING: This blog post contains strong language and scenes of a surgical nature that some readers may well find distasteful. Don't say you weren't told.

It is Saturday, and I am back home recovering. Partly from the mastectomy itself, but mainly from 48 hours in hospital. Do not get me wrong: The Luton & Dunstable Hospital is brilliant. The NHS is the greatest invention since sliced bread. But.

They keep waking me up. The first night, they come round every hour to see how I am. Sometimes I am asleep, in which case they wake me up to check if I was asleep. When I  am not, they stick things in various orifices, on various fingers, and mutter to each other. I've been given a nice green buzzer attached to a morphine drip. Somewhere in the course of that long dark first night, I lose all sense of reality, and just empty it. Which kind of accounts for the next day.

I am labelled. My left leg has a label, as does my right arm. Presumably on the basis that if they go missing, they can be reunited with the rest of me. My left hand also has a large blue arrow pointing upwards, allegedly indicating where the sentient bit is. Every time anyone enters my room, they ask me my name and date of birth. After a while, I stop waiting to be asked, and tell them anyway. This means the cleaner, the menu lady and the patient next door who forgot where her room was know who I am and when to send birthday cards.

Hospital time is different from everywhere else. There seems to be an awful lot of 4 am and most of the time it is Thursday. Little G and Small come for a visit the day after the operation and instantly manage to locate the device that raises and lowers the bed. So there is a great deal of 'bed UP - bed DOWN.' They get plied with biscuits and cooed over by the nursing team, which they thoroughly enjoy.

The thing with the drainage bottle honestly wasn't my fault. (The drainage bottle, which contained  me in liquid form, follows me round in a nice green bag.) Look, I just stood up and it somehow became unattached and ended up on the floor, so that there I was, briefly, spread thinly over a wide area.

They load you up with pain relief in hospital. Unfortunately, even though all the drugs say they may cause drowsiness, the staff don't like you lying around in bed, so I spend a lot of time sitting up fast asleep. I have to say, however painful the operation was, the most painful event occurred when they removed the surgical tape attaching the cannula to the back of my hand. Words of an unladylike nature were shouted and I had to apologise.

I have now been sent home with something called Tramadol, which I gather is one of the opiate based pain-killers currently responsible for the majority of drug-addicted deaths in the US. Luckily, this isn't the US, so I reckon I might be OK.

But at the end of the day, whatever day it is, it's great to be home. I have drugs, I have an exercise chart, I have a cat who missed sleeping on me and is now making up for lost time. And, as I keep reminding myself, in Victorian times, my operation would have been performed minus anaesthetics, and my survival rate would be practically nil. Plus I'd have had to pay for it. I could make a political point here, but I won't. You know what it is. I'll just keep taking the Tramadol.








Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Big C & Me


As regular readers of this blog know, 4 years ago, I was diagnosed, via a routine screening, with ductile cancer, and underwent an operation to remove it. You can read about it HERE.
Unfortunately, it appears that me and the Big C have not finished our relationship. I now have Grade 2 breast cancer, and in 4 days' time (Wednesday 6th) will be going into the wonderful Luton & Dunstable Hospital to have some more of me chopped off.

It is quite a major op, and like most major ops, it has generated an incredible amount of paperwork (known, rather wearily, to us sufferers & survivors as Cancermin).This week alone I have received:

* A BIG booklet on primary breast care
* Results of my biopsy
* A letter explaining about my healthcheck, pre-op
* A report of my 2 meetings with my Macmillan nurse
* Letter from the Photography Dept re appointment to take pics
* A form for the Implant Registry
* Info about the above
* A questionnaire to fill in post op
* A survey to fill in about Breast cancer and 'older women' (optional)
* A report on my initial diagnosis and meeting with consultant, sent to my GP cc. to me
* Information about my Outpatient Department appt. post-op
* A treatment plan outline sent to my GOP cc. me
* Various leaflets about stuff

Worried about the operation? Heck, I don't have time. Too much reading and box-ticking to do!

Last time I was chopped, I noticed a few people backing away into the undergrowth. They have not re-appeared. So, in the interests of being helpful, here are some things to say/not say when a friend/family member or work colleague announces they have breast (or any other) cancer.

* 'Aren't you lucky you don't need chemo': yes, probably I am, but I'm not feeling lucky right now. Why not ask me about my treatment instead?

* 'Let me know if I can do anything' (I had a text that said this). Translation: Don't let me know, please. Better to say: 'Can I cook you a meal? When shall I bring it round? Can I hoover the house for you? What would be a good day?' Most treatment involves being unable to lift anything lighter than a feather for weeks, so cooking/cleaning is a bit of an no-no.

*  How are you? If you can add 'today' it helps us respond. Today, I am feeling tearful. Yesterday, I was fine.

* But PLEASE PLEASE ... at the end of the day, the worse thing that one can do is to ignore. I have been told several sad stories of women taking cakes into work, to get colleagues to speak to them. If all else fails, drop round a card. With a nice Boots/Space NK/MS voucher inside ... 'to treat yourself when you are better'.

And finally, coz I want to leave room for other far wiser people to pile in with their words of wisdom: to my fellow cancer friends: Whatever your deeply held beliefs, if someone offers to: pray, light candles, send blessings, plant a tree, or ritually sacrifice a politician, be grateful (especially the last one). It shows they care. xx



Saturday, 25 November 2017

Cold Comfort (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


It is nearly the beginning of December. Everywhere is gearing up for Christmas: lights are being strung between High Street lamp posts, Christmas goods are enticingly displayed in windows, shops have placed twinkly trees in pots outside their doors in precisely the wrong place for a passing double-buggy, and we have all gone down with coughs and colds.

Small brought it back from nursery first. Little G then caught it, and with the loving generosity displayed by all small children towards their adored grandparents, they gave it to us. We are both fuzzy-headed, bleary-eyed, badly-slept, runny-nosed, coughing and generally under the weather.

Meanwhile Little G and Small, perfectly accustomed to living with a wide variety of minor ailments, forge through the day, mopped up at intervals, waiting expectantly for us to provide the next entertainment. All we want to do is curl up under a duvet without being used as a slalom or a trampoline. It doesn't happen.

L-Plate Grandad has cunningly mastered the ability to sit with his eyes closed and zone out for 5 minutes, but I am too worried about Small's ability to run amok to relax. I am like a coiled spring, constantly monitoring him for incipient catastrophes involving stairs, drawers, plugs, doors, small found objects on the carpet, the cat, sharp objects, or cupboards, for which I will be held accountable by You Must Be Mad. I do not remember feeling this heart-lurching sense of responsibility when she was growing up.

In an effort to corral the wagons pre~CBeebies time, I sit them both at the kitchen table, give Small some crayons to eat, and help Little G compose her letter to Father Christmas. I write to her dictation: ''A crown, a wand, a dressing-up box and a police outfit.'' She signs it. I am impressed. Little G is clearly going to rule the world when she grows up.

If she could also find a cure for the common cold, that'd be great too.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Jan Ruth


The PINK SOFA is a great celebrant of Christmas, and has already laid in stocks of food and bottles of mulled wine for its Christmas guests. Here is the first of them: Jan Ruth lives in Wales and has horses, something the PINK SOFA envies to the ends of its little curved wooden legs. She also has a new book out just in time for the festive season. So, sit down, grab a mince pie, and let's find out all about it:

The Story behind the Story...

"Away for Christmas is a novella about the joy and pain of fractured relationships, the joy and pain of Christmas itself – because the festive period is not always fun for everyone – and the joy and pain of publishing books! But perhaps most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter.

Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn't always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds.

And finally, the joy and pain of publishing books. There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.

It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. After several years of agents and self-publishing, a turning point came for me when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.


And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts. This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered (and so does my poor character Jonathan Jones) that this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!


The process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’

These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage. Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. We perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect.

Worryingly, new authors are often excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…

Away for Christmas is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure you’ll be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, I can assure you that there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017."

Jan's book can be bought at: myBook.to/Away4Xmas
Find her on Twitter at: @JanRuthAuthor 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janet.wilkin

Monday, 13 November 2017

A Girls' Night Out (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Now that Little G is three and a half (or as she puts it: nearly four), our relationship has moved to a new dimension. While Small potters around finding stuff and transferring it elsewhere ~ spoons, a glove, the cat tray shovel, we get on discussing the Big Things in life, like What is Friendship? (it's being nice and sharing your toys) & what Little G would do if she met someone who wasn't friendly (I'd tell them to be exactly like me, because I am a good friend).

As a reward for being exactly like herself, Little G and I recently decided we needed a Girls Night Out, because Small was going to the football with the rest of the family and L-Plate Grandad. Little G was most excited about the concept of a 'Night Out', and in the weeks running up to the Saturday when it was going to happen, she referred to it frequently.

Saturday finally arrived, and I rocked up at You Must Be Mad's, to find Little G waiting impatiently for me on the sofa. She was wearing her best little black sparkly dress (what else?) and her boots with sparkly stars on. We spent some time perusing and selecting appropriate accessories, finally coming down on the side of a silver sparkly bag and some sparkly clips. You may detect a theme here. I cannot comment.

Sparkling and excited, we walked together into town until we reached Wagamama's  ~ a place we used to go regularly when she was tiny. We selected exactly the same meal, as a homage to those far-off days, opting for spoon and fork rather than chopsticks. We know our limits. Once again, some adult diners regarded Little G's presence with antipathy, and once again, I remarked LOUDLY on the mess they were making with their chopsticks, as opposed to the neat way Little G was eating.

After dinner, happy and replete, we strolled along the high street, just two girls on the town, footloose and fancy free, pausing at intervals for Little G to re-apply her lipstick (a scented lip balm). As you do on a night out. When we'd seen and been seen sufficiently, we went for ice cream at a local coffee-shop, then home in time for bath, story and bed.

OK, maybe it wouldn't have score highly on your scale of nights out, but as the song says: 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. And we did.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Armistice Day 2017


 'No shelter from the kniving wind
                                                       No solace from the driving snow. 
                                                       No warmth, no comfort or bright cheer 
                                                       In heav'n above or earth below'
                                                               from 'Trench Winter. November 1916' by Noel Clark 

If you read my books, you'll know that lines from this poem feature in Jigsaw Pieces , my YA ebook . Noel Clark is a character from the book and his short life as a soldier poet in the first World War makes up one of the story strands. In a few days, we will mark the anniversary of the end of  that so called 'War to End all Wars', and there must be very few UK people who don't have some link back to the 1914-18 conflict. My link comes via my late father-in-law, the wonderfully named Herbert Inkerman Hedges.

My father-in-law was the youngest of twelve brothers. The eleven older ones joined the East Riding of Yorkshire Regiment and marched away to fight the Hun. They were all killed at the Battle of the Somme. He recalls his parents telling him how the telegraph lad kept cycling up to their house day after day, until the news of the last son's death was delivered.

I'm always intrigued by the way wars throw up poets. It's not just World War One, though that cohort are probably the best known. Poetry was also being written during World War Two, on both sides, in the Iraq War and is still being produced in Afghanistan today. I think the proliferation of soldier poets during times of conflict is directly related to the situation they find themselves in.

Poetry demands an inner ordering, a precise selection of vocabulary and structure - it's the verbal equivalent of piecing together a complex jigsaw - the picture only emerges when all the pieces are correctly placed. The control needed to make a poem is in direct contrast to the chaos that soldiers live in daily. Poetry is a way of containing their world and making sense of the senseless. It is therefore both therapy, and a psychological outlet for feelings and emotions too horrific to be dealt with in 'normal' prose.

Those who have read Jigsaw Pieces know the story of Noel Clark an imaginary World War One poet who died tragically at the age of nineteen, is closely linked to another soldier from that time: Billy Donne. What you do not know is that Billy was an actual person. I came across him quite by accident in a small article in the Times in 1997. It was headlined 'A happy 100th for man with mysterious past'. I used his story almost to the letter: Billy Dunne (the correct spelling of his surname) couldn't speak, and drew pictures of battlefields, just like his fictional counterpart. He was placed in a mental hospital in 1923 for unknown reasons, and no family had ever claimed him. His story touched me so much that I felt I had to write about him. The link with Noel Clark is where fact and fiction elide.

During the upcoming commemorations for the anniversary of World War One, we shall no doubt re-read many times the 'big' soldier poets: Owen, Sassoon and Brooke. But actually I find just as much pity and pathos in the work of the women poets of that time, who did not share in the fighting at the Front, but shared in the suffering, and the changed lives.

It is their sense of loss, their attempt to learn to survive survival, that makes their verse so poignant. One of the best is Margaret Postgate Cole.
This is her poem:


Praematuri:

When men are old, and their friends die 
They are not sad,
Because their love is running slow, 
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.
But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
- But there are years and years in which we shall still be young.