I’d Write a Novel Too, If Only I Had The Time!

The title of this blog is one of the phrases which make most authors want to reach for the nearest automatic firearm and ammo clip and let rip. ‘Oh well, writing comes so easy to you,’ being another to ignite the flames of murder in an author’s eyes. And, don’t even let me get started on ‘you’re so lucky’!

So, let me tell you a little about my own personal journey into print just to balance the scales a little. It starts in Kildare, where I was born, in a large, reputedly haunted house on the edge of the Curragh plains. I was the fourth child, second girl, in a family that would eventually swell to six children – an evenly matched three boys and three girls.  Six children?! Gasps of horror. But, in fact, that was a fairly  standard size Irish family at that time. It wasn’t uncommon to find families of 10 + and I personally knew one family of 24.  Contraception, other than by the rhythm method was verboten by the Catholic Church.  One can only assume, therefore, that many Irish couples were completely tone deaf.

I didn’t excel at school, although I was bright enough. The only subjects to light  my fire were English and History, though the nuns lit many a fire underneath my backside!  Most of my time was  spent day-dreaming, gazing out the window and writing stories in my head. I was a voracious reader who wanted nothing more than to be a writer . My reading tastes were truly eclectic, anything from the Brontes and Austen, to Steinbeck and Solzhenitsyn. Still are! My teenage years were documented in poetry, the majority of it absolutely awful.

Still, I wanted to be a writer and that’s all there was to it – or so I thought.  My mother soon disabused me of the notion and informed me in no uncertain terms that lofty literary ambitions were all well and good, but first there was a ‘real’ living to be earned. Thus, my glittering career got off to a less than glittering start with a job in an insurance company, followed by a job in a bank, followed by a job in an accountant’s – are you getting the picture here?  Still, as I schlepped back and forth on the 9 – 5 treadmill, there, burning bright as Blake’s Tyger at the forefront of my mind, was the lure of the pen.

I got engaged, lovely guy, lovely ring.  Bought a house, lovely house, in lovely suburban Dublin. Lovely future planned. Then it all came crashing down!  Why? The lure of the pen! In my heart I felt as though I was suffocating and my dream of being a writer was suffocating right alongside of me.  So, I hightailed it off to London in search of ‘a larger life’. I found it too and had a whale of a time hanging out with musicians, artists and writers and dating all sorts of ‘unsuitable’ exotic men, including an Arab prince and a Spanish bullfighter. Dawn became the signal that it was time to kick off the dancing shoes and go to bed! Sadly, it all came to an abrupt end when I met and fell head-over-heels in love with my first husband, a tempestuous Spanish Moroccan. Within the space of a year we had plighted (or, more accurately, blighted) our troth and settled down in a state of domestic non-bliss. In rapid succession, I shot out two boys, the younger of whom suffered from a severe blood disorder. Prince Not-so-Charming soon fell in love all over again, only not with me.  The lady/ladies he cheated with were all in the region of 14.5% proof and beautifully adorned in green or brown bottles with fancy designer labels.

Money became an issue. There wasn’t enough to feed the children, pay the bills or keep the roof over our heads.  I was practically living at the hospital with my youngest child, so utterly dependent on my husband to provide for us all. He, in the meantime, was out buying bespoke Italian suits and shoes, bling watches and rings –  one Christmas I considered sticking a fairy on top of his head and standing him in the corner in a bucket.  I, on the other hand, became a charity shop botherer and developed an expert eye for a bargain. Yet, even then, as I lay listening to him fall down the front steps and knock on the door with his head, I still dreamed of writing. ‘This Too Shall Pass’ became my favourite mantra and, eventually, it did.  My son grew stronger, strong enough to go to school all day and I went back to work, this time for a firm of solicitors.  I bought an old computer – one that typed in bright orange – and started work on my first book, (although, third to be published), Sunshine & Shadows (newly rebranded for its ebook incarnation as Once Upon A Time In Galway).  He stood by, laughed and mocked. I was promoted at work and, suddenly, the hitherto parlous coffers were glowing with promise. I paid the bills, took charge of the mortgage and booted him out! The real icing on the cake came just after – a three-book publishing contract!  Did I crow? Darn right, from the rooftops!

So, to revisit the top of this blog – did I have the time? Yes, but only because I MADE time, despite all the odds and no matter how exhausted I felt.  Was I lucky? Yes, in the sense that my hard work paid off after TWENTY ODD (in every sense of the word) years.  Did writing  come easy to me? No! Writing never comes easy. It is  hard work. It takes perseverence, bucket-loads of stamina and a skin like a rhino’s hide to weather all the rejections that come winging their way in the post.

So, please, if you are ever tempted to issue any of the above innane statements to a writer, think twice, then think twice more.  She, or he, may kill you horribly in their next book.

A journalist once concluded an article about me with the phrase, ‘You have to stand up to live, before you sit down to write, and Moore has certainly done that.’

Yes, I have. But, en route, I fell on my backside more times than I care to remember. And, each time, after snivelling and turning the air blue, I picked myself up and carried on. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not setting myself up as a paragon of virtue. I have no nice shiny halo. It was the dream that kept me going. Nothing and nobody was going to stop me. Several books down the line, I think I might safely say mission accomplished. And if I can do it, so can you. No matter how busy your life. No matter how complex. Do yourself a favour and MAKE THE TIME!  Even if it’s only 30 minutes a day.

For the want of a screw – don’t let a marriage be lost!

At a recent girly evening with two friends my heart sank when one, fuelled by too much Sauvignon Blanc, disappeared to the loo, and the other leaned across with that confidential look you know is going to land you in the brown stuff draped across her face.  Please, I begged mentally, please don’t make me the recipient of secrets that should never be told. Too late, her mouth was already flapping!  ‘I,’ she announced brazenly, ‘am in love with Loo Friend’s husband.’  My jaw dropped. It’s one of the expressions I use to express disbelief.  When really staggered, I blink furiously too and make mad mewling noises. In this case I did all three. Try it; it’s harder than you think. Anyway, the reason for this breadth of staggeredness is that Loo Friend’s husband could easily pass for the lovechild of Les Dawson and a pot-bellied pig, whilst she of the adulterous heart is married to nothing less than a Clooney clone. As my jaw reached the point of dislocation, she took pity on me and wafted a casual hand. ‘Oh, I don’t mean like that! What I mean is that I am in love with his manual dexterity.’ What on earth had she and Pot-belly been up to? I could feel the sweat start to bead my brow.  ‘His DIY skills, idiot,’ she clarified and it all began to make sense.  This woman, you see, has lived minus a staircase for, oh, something approaching five years now.  Since her house is on three floors, this presents something of a problem and the rope rigged up by the Clooney Clone, whilst doing wonders for her bingo wings and inner thighs as she shimmies up and down, is not entirely practical. The children and her eighty-year-old mother ascend and descend in a wicker basket, and the Zimmer frame is a very tight fit. The Clooney Clone has every intention of getting round to it, just as he has every intention of getting round to plumbing in the bath, at present in the garden and serving as a herb garden, as well as finishing the 101 other DIY jobs commenced with great enthusiasm and abandoned with even greater enthusiasm.

I began to feel the first stirrings of envy in my own heart and, you know, there’s something endearing about pot-bellied pigs, though nothing will convince me of the merits of Les Dawson.  I too am married to a man to whom DIY is a foreign body. Oh, he can walk the walk, especially up and down the tool aisles of Homebase and Wickes but, when you come down to it, he doesn’t torque the torque. His interest is more in the acquisition of said tools, than in the usage and all too often they lie abandoned and rusting, through failure to PUT THEM AWAY. Even though he has a toolbox. Several, in fact. On the other hand, if you want to know the in’s and out’s of the Hadron Collider, the strategies used in every naval or military battle since God was in nappies, or obscure facts generally known only to eggheads in top-secret Russian laboratories, he’s your man.  But DIY? I write this whilst balanced precariously on a chair, the seat of which has long since parted company with the frame. The three matching chairs match, alas, in every way. The 1930s front door acquired recently and which I hoped might lend a semi-respectable appearance to the exterior of the house, has been painted with royal blue metal paint and is a right royal mess.  A neighbour, giving it the once over, was reminded of the fact that she had forgotten to buy bubbles for her son’s birthday party.  In our living room, the wallpaper folds gently across where the walls intersect, a magnet for small fingers feeling the urge to poke their way through and create a nice big hole. A tap bought three years ago to replace the leaky kitchen model has not yet been unwrapped. The leaky tap, in the meantime, now gushes from several places like the Trevi fountain, making me thank God that water meters are not yet compulsory.

The scales pinged from my eyes (not properly screwed in, you see). ‘I fancy Pot-belly Lawson too,’ I blurted. ‘And, when you think of it, Mary the mother of God was married to a carpenter. And, if it’s good enough for her . . .’  She of the adulterous heart nodded shrewdly. ‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘Now that’s what I call a stable relationship.’

The conversation tapered off as Loo Friend returned, beaming smugness as only a woman who lives in a house where everything works can beam smug. ‘Why are you two looking so miserable?’ she asked.  ‘Gimme a pen,’ she of the adulterous heart snapped, ‘or a carpenter’s pencil and I’ll write it all down for you.’

Yesterday, I stood in admiration watching an artist at work, or rather an elderly gent lovingly painting the front door of his house.  Smooth, even strokes, not a bubble in sight, no paint splashed on the stained-glass window or confetti-ing the pavement.  He stopped to take a breath and I found myself dusting off the flirtatious smile I’d long-since stowed away with my wedding dress and nights on the tiles. Just then, his granddaughter came out, except she wasn’t his granddaughter, but a nubile nymph with top-shelf attributes and a possessive expression. And his wedding ring! Just a fleeting glance was enough to convince her of my nefarious intentions. She let me have both barrels of her baby-blues and dragged Picasso away indoors. Later, as I passed the house, I heard the harmonious sound of hammering, sawing and chiselling. In the pauses between came the sweet singing of a contented wife. ‘You – oo – oo – oo drill me. Darling you do, darling you do, darling you do.’

To any man reading this who may be suffering from qualms regarding his appearance, fear not. Simply take up your arm & hammer and prepare for a deluge of DIY-deprived/botched desperate women.

As for me, I’m signing on for evening classes in carpentry, plastering, building, plumbing . . .

Goodbye Old Friend!

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my old friend, Jago, who ‘fell asleep’ in the middle of the road recently as my husband was driving back from Birchington. Just round that dangerous corner near Quex, it was. Distraught, he phoned the emergency services, who arrived an hour and a half later, by which time Jago was no longer asleep, but had completely flatlined.

   Arriving on the scene, the knight-of-the-road errant took one look and shook his head in that sorry-for-your-trouble-mate fashion reserved for grieving relatives. ‘Knackered,’ he pronounced after a cursory examination, following it up with ‘Banjaxed,’ in case he had failed to make his diagnosis abundantly clear. ‘How old?’ he asked, head still in sorrowful metronome mode.

‘Er, nineteen,’ my husband confessed, manfully trying to hold back the tears, which resulted in his voice skidding into the girlish register and making him look, and sound, very silly indeed. A bit like Dolly Parton.

‘Yer ‘avin a larf!’ came the response, although it was clear from the machinations of said husband’s face that his funny bone was not at that precise moment tuned to comedy.  Belatedly observing this, the knight tried for sensitivity. ‘Hovis!’ he said in a voice sonorous with empathy. ‘Brown bread! You wuz lucky you ‘ad ‘im so long. These days yer lucky if they survive the first frost. I blame China!’

‘Is . . . is there anything . . .’ the husband asked hesitantly?

The knight made so bold as to scratch his head. A long groan issued from between his lips. ‘Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Told ya. Ee’s a gonner. As gone as me granny’s teeth and they went back in nineteen-undred-and-frozen-to-death.’

‘So there’s nothing you can do? Nothing at all?’

‘Do I look like Jesus, mate?’ The knight sighed? ‘Does that sign on me truck read worker of miracles? The best I can do is chuck him up back and drop him off at your friendly local mechanic. ’

Which he did and maybe the mechanic there really was Jesus because, in a few days, Jago had staged a Lazarus-like resurrection and was back on the road again.  ‘Timer-belt,’ Jesus aka the mechanic  said. ‘Lucky it didn’t knacker the pistons’.

Sadly, our joy didn’t last for long. Jago is due for his MOT next month and there are not enough donor organs in the world to get him through. So, we have taken the decision to retire him to that great scrap yard in the sky or somewhere nearer if we can find one.   And, silly though it sounds, my heart is broken because Jago was more than just a car. He was emblematic of great changes in my life.  I bought him when I took the decision to move from London to Thanet. He was my first ‘fun’ car, a two-seater rag-top, kept purely for the joy of meandering up and down country-lanes with the roof down. I drove him down to the beach and sat, sun streaming in, roof down, stereo playing gently, whilst I worked on a novel one blissful summer a few years ago.  He was with me when I met my husband, a confirmed Jag man. He is now a reformed MX5 man.

So, goodbye my lovely, little, British racing-green friend. Thank you for the good times.  And even though I am replacing you with a slightly younger model – yes, exactly like you, only in black – I want you to know I still love you and always will.  Toot! Toot!

Charity Begins At Tome – Bringing Charity Shops to Book!

 

My husband and I are both book worms, as a result of which our house often resembles the local library. Book shelves overflow onto the floor, then rise in volcanic stacks, the summit growing ever higher.  Elsewhere, ruthlessly culled boxes, full to the brim, await transportation down to the local charity shops.  Not any more!  Having recently spoken to a number of disgruntled elderly friends and acquaintances, many subsisting on a state pension, I have discovered that they are being priced out of the charity shops. The £3.00 and £4.00 price tag for a second-hand book is, quite simply, beyond their meagre resources. And, whilst I accept that the charities’ aim is to raise money for their particular cause, I would also contend that by pitching their prices beyond the affordability of the majority of their customers, they are biting the hand that feeds them. Okay, so we all know there are also well-off canny people who trawl the charity shops for vintage or designer items they can sell on Ebay for a nice big  profit. Others, more worthy souls, flash their green credentials at the drop of a pre-loved hat in a bid to save the world’s resources by choosing to re-use what is already in existence.  But, the majority of charity shop users are elderly people on a pension and low-income families whose needs are basic and nothing whatsoever to do with profiteering, moralising or saving the world.

However, rather than just moralise, myself, for the past few months I have been on a scouting mission around the local charity shops of Thanet and Canterbury.  The results were mixed but, overall, the picture emerging tallies with the experiences of my elderly friends.  Books, in particular, have been hiked up to a ridiculous degree, the price structure seemingly plucked out of thin air. An anorexic book of no more than a couple of hundred pages is often priced the same as a massive tome, and a book by a well-known author regularly priced at two thirds (and more) of the original cost. Bearing in mind, (and as an author I know this all too well, to my own cost), that brand new books are often discounted to an enormous degree, pitching used books at the higher end of the scale begins to look less like shrewd business and a damn sight more like greed. Let me make it plain, I am talking about ordinary paperbacks and hardbacks and not rare, out of print, first edition, signed by some great, now-dead, literary giant.

Often, it is the big chain charities that are the more culpable in this regard. In Canterbury, one very well known outlet, had priced its books to such a degree that it was cheaper for the customers to visit the discount book store a few metres up the road and get three brand-new, current books, for less than the cost of two used ones (in various states of disintegration) at that store. That is not just bad business. It’s sheer stupidity.

As a donor, it’s important to me that the books that I paid good money for and which I am donating free gratis, be priced reasonably and placed within the grasp of those in most need. The same goes for clothing and bric-a-brac, both of which seem also to have suffered a seismic rise in pricing. For example, I saw items of used clothing priced HIGHER than their original selling price. What’s all that about!  With stores such as Primark, the supermarket clothing brands and street markets, it is becoming a toss-up as to which is cheaper to buy – used or new.  Given the choice, I think I know which the majority would plump for.

In Ramsgate, one charity shop has a number of pictures for sale. There is nothing special about them. They are pretty, but pretty ordinary. Prints. Not originals. Not limited edition. Not particularly desirable. Not new! All carry price tags in the upper twenties and more.  Six weeks on, not one has sold. I’m not a gambler,  but I would lay good money on it that six weeks further on, six months further on, they were still be there and the charity will have profited not one whit. Greed and stupidity again! Lower the prices, make the sale.  ‘Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny’, was the mantra used by Michael Marks when he opened his first bazaar in Leeds in 1884. He later teamed up with Tom Spencer and the rest, as they say, is history. The charity shops might do well to revisit that particular school of thought. Pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap. Obviously, I am not advocating that everything be reduced to a penny, but a judicious lowering of prices will bring in more punters and result in more sales. Better the heel off the loaf than no bread at all!

And, before someone comes back and hits me with the cost-of-administration card,  let us not forget that charity shops benefit from exemption from corporation tax on profits, a zero VAT rating on the sale of donated goods and 80% mandatory non-domestic rate relief. This 80% relief is funded by central Government.  A further 20% rate relief is available at the discretion of local authorities. They are also staffed, in the main, by a wonderful army of civic-minded, unpaid volunteers, so a little latitude price-wise would not go amiss. After all, we are in the grip of an economic recession.  There is a real danger that charity shops run the risk of donors finding alternative methods of disposing of their unwanted goods and disheartened buyers dwindling away.

I have also noticed an attempt by a number of outlets to make their store look more attractive, more boutique-like. Fine. Nice. We all like attractive surroundings. But a change of decor, an artistically arranged shelf, better quality air freshener, does not confer the right to charge boutique prices.  Second-hand is second-hand, dress it up how you may!

As I type, I can see two large boxes of books gazing forlornly at me from the floor of my living room. A further hunt will, I have no doubt, result in as many more, all on the lookout for an appreciative new home.  I will invite my friends to come plunder, and whatever is left I will distribute direct to hospitals and care homes, and to the few charity outlets I found where reality still holds sway.  Sometimes, the cost of charity is not to be borne.

 

The Non-Domestic Goddess – If I knew you were coming, I’d have bought a cake!

 

Despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, I occasionally have delusions of domestic competency. This is when I picture myself in perfect housewife 1950s mode, gingham apron’d, flushed of cheek, a blob of flour on the end of my adorable retrousee nose, whisking up all sorts of culinary delights in my shiny, chromey kitchen. In her basket, in a corner of the kitchen, the cat purrs contentedly. On the wall, the clock ticks a mellifluous countdown till my husband arrives ‘hi-honey-I’m-home’ from a hard day at the office.  I greet him, smiley, adoringly, a perfectly cooked apple-pie with a pastry-leafed motif, cradled my hands. His name is Darren. (Look, this is my 1950s fantasy – all the men are called Darren! Some even wear a pilot’s uniform.)

‘Hi durlin,’ he says. (They all say ‘durlin’ too!) ‘Mm, that sure looks good.’ He kisses the smudge of flour from my nose.

‘Shucks, honey-bun.’ I say with a nonchalant shrug. ‘That ain’t nuthin. Just wait till you see the meatloaf yer little ol’ wifey threw together earlier. Six kinds of sausage meat, I do declare,  a large pinch of fydelity and a whole fistful of lovin.’

Meantime, back in the real world, my kitchen has taken on that Ground Zero look that was so fashionable back in King Tut’s time.  The surfaces lie hidden beneath so much dust I am expecting Tony Robinson and the mob from Time Team to arrive, spades in hand, any minute.  Should they happen to stumble (stumble being the operative word) upon my saucepan cupboard, they may well discover an artefact or two amongst the proto-type juicers, mincers and sprockety gadgets acquired in other delusional moments for their ‘handiness’.

The cat, far from purring contentedly in the corner, has just hawked up a gigantic fur ball.  I am afraid to look too closely in case it has legs and a head too. The fur ball, I mean.

The clock, bought on Ebay, is not ticking. The clock has not ticked since 19-hundred-and-frozen-to-death, when the ship it once adorned was enticed onto some rather unwelcoming rocks. Ebay has mugged me before. (A certain miniature barrel also comes to mind, reputed to have been carved by Nelson, himself. Turns out it was carved by a crim in the prison workshop. Nielsen, I think he was called.)

Moving swiftly on. I do have a husband, but he is called David. He is not the type to kiss flour from anyone’s nose, neither does he wax lyrical over apple pies and meatloaf, except when the latter is big and hairy and belts out ‘I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t Do That’.

Regardless, this morning my 1950s delusion was in full swing. Faced with a mountain of runner beans, I decided to search the internet for inspirational recipes for what is, in effect, a fairly uninspiring vegetable.  In fact, I have a theory as to why they are called runner beans – when faced with them, turn and leg it away, as fast as you can. Unfortunately, like my 22 inch waist and crush on David Cassidy, my days of running are but a distant memory.  So there I stood, beans before me, mouse in hand, (not the one the cat hawked up) and Googled till I hit chutney. Runner bean chutney. Okay, so it’s not exactly up there with Nigella’s finger-sucking, hair-flicking, hourglass-shaped, Haricot en Vin D’Extraordinarily Expensive, but it’s a way of getting rid of the rotten little blighters.

And lo it came to pass that I embarked upon my first foray into the secretive world of runner bean chutney. I de-stringed, and chopped, and boiled and minced. I chucked in onions and vat-loads of vinegar, sugar, mustard, turmeric  and cornflower. I stirred and coaxed and crooned words of encouragement a la three witches in Macbeth.  Double. Double. Toil and Trouble. And, verily, it all began to look quite encouraging and chutney-like, if a rather bilious and unappetising shade of green.  Then, the phone rang and, by the pricking of my thumbs, whilst I was busy discussing my friend, Jenny’s umbilical hernia and the state of the NHS, some vandal snuck in and replaced my lovely chutney with a load of sticky, foul smelling tar.

Alas, it’s true what they say, fantasies are best kept as fantasy, even 1950s housewifey ones. I rub a porthole in my dusty mirror, look deep into my own eyes and realise that, just as at the age of 37 I never drove through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair, neither will I ever be a domestic goddess.

Ah well, I guess, I’ll just have to content myself with being a Non-domestic  goddess instead! Still, I might just hold on to the Darren fantasy, all the same.  Oh, Darren . . . cooee, Darren . . . don’t forget your uniform . . .

PS. If anyone would like the recipe for Runner Bean Encroute de Tarmacadam, please report immediately to your nearest psychiatric unit.

St Laurence Churchyard – A Great Place to Visit – Make no Bones About It!

Ten o’clock on Saturday morning found me in the churchyard of St Laurence in Ramsgate, about to embark upon the guided tour I have somehow managed to miss on several previous occasions. Unintentionally miss, let me add hastily but, this time, I made it. And very glad I am that I did. The sun was shining, the birds practising their scales in the trees and though St Laurence is situated on a somewhat busy intersection, the noise of the traffic scarcely registered, especially as one ventured further into the tranquil hush of the churchyard.  Barbara, our guide, a lady who exuded both bonhomie and efficiency, duly gathered her small, surprisingly age-diverse flock, and shepherded us off on what turned out to be a most interesting tour of the past.

Obedient as school kids, we crocodiled down pathways bordered by topsy-turvy ivy and lichen covered headstones, traipsed across over-grown graves, carefully avoiding the stinging nettles lurking with intent, and ducked beneath bowers of holly, bejewelled with the reddest of berries. Every so often we stopped to allow Barbara to introduce us to the incumbent of a particular grave, along with a potted account of their lives.

And there, in the heart of this relatively unremarked churchyard, we found ourselves in the presence of luminaries such as the eminent lawyer, barrister and politician, William Garrow, recently the subject of a TV series, Garrow’s Law, and the gentleman responsible for that cornerstone of British law, ‘innocent until proven guilty’. In his will, I have since learned, he requested that he be buried in his birthplace, Hadley, alongside his uncle, a request which was for reasons unknown not granted.

In a shady nook, overhung by arthritically-twisted branches, stands a cross marking the final resting place of John Collis Brown, the doctor who invented chlorodyne, originally a treatment for cholera. Although savvy in medical matters, he was no Sir Alan and failed to patent his prescription leaving him to miss out on the profits of what became a ‘miracle’ cure for everything, from colds and diarrhoea to whooping cough, neuralgia and rheumatism. Amongst its principal ingredients were laudanum, tincture of cannabis and chloroform, meaning, as Barbara wryly pointed out, that even if it didn’t cure you, at least you died happy!

The jewel, or perhaps what ought to be the jewel in the crown of St Laurence were it not in so parlous a state with broken ducal coronets and smashed angel heads, is the D’Este mausoleum, in which lie the remains of two of the grandchildren of King George III. Lady Augusta Murray of Dunmore , their mother, who married Prince Augustus Frederick in 1793, shares the same resting place. Unfortunately, under the Royal Marriage Act of 1772, the marriage was ruled invalid and the couple parted in 1801. She was given (or perhaps paid off with) the title, D’Ameland in 1806, and given a Crown allowance to keep her and her children in a certain style.

Leaving Lady Augusta and her offspring in the guardianship of the four-trees standing sentry, one at each corner of the once-grand mausoleum, we pressed onward to where John Woolward, an admiral who served under Nelson, came to anchor for the final time. In 1798 he fought in the Battle of the Nile at Aboukir Bay, helping Nelson to scatter the French fleet and put them to rout. John later became the harbourmaster at Ramsgate, a position he maintained for twenty-six years.

But it wasn’t just the dignitaries I found interesting – I was particularly taken with the grave of a young lady who ‘as she was walking upon the cliff on October 1801, unfortunately she fell over and was killed upon the spot’.  There is no name upon the gravestone, but she was later identified as Louisa Grevis. Who said exercise is good for you!

Although many of the stones carry, in keeping with the Victorians, rather grim reminders of the fleetingness of life and a basic caution to refrain from smugness because we’re all on the same bus, just on different time tables, St Laurence churchyard really is something of a haven.  One section of the grounds has been left to revert to nature and nature has not been backward at coming forward. Lothario Bees flirted shamelessly with the wild flowers, visiting first one, then another, while Ladybirds lolled about on long sunny stems and leaves, totally unconcerned that their house might be on fire and their children alone. The birds, as I mentioned earlier, were tuning up en mass for the feathered version of The Proms and, I understand,  that burning bright in the churchyard of the night is, no, not a tiger, but a fox, waiting, perhaps, for an exhausted songster to fall off its perch.

I could go on. I could tell you how privileged I felt following in the footsteps of William IV, Queen Victoria, even William Pitt, all who have trod the leafy pathways of St Laurence at one point or another, but I won’t. Instead, I suggest you come on one of the tours yourself, which are held regularly and which are free – though it goes without saying that a donation towards the upkeep is always acceptable.

And, I could go on about the church itself, which dates from 1062 – yep, before the Norman conquest, but I also suggest you come along and see its many architectural and historic gems at first hand.

On which note, I will leave the last word to one of our Victorian forebears, whose stone is inscribed with a verbal two fingers up!

‘Farewell vain world, I‘ve known enough of thee

And now care not what thou sayest of me’.

Further information can be found on: http://www.whatsoninkentlocal.com/all/details/21135/

Depression – don’t make me laugh!

 

A beautiful still night a few months ago, picture-perfect, with an almost full-moon wreathed round in a tracery of white cloud. On the balmy air, the scent of night-scented stocks. In the distance the seductive lapping of sea kissing beach. And did I stop to admire the sky, inhale the scents, dream to the rhythm of the waves? Like hell I did. My prevailing thought at the time, the one that finally brought me to the realisation that something was wrong – not just wrong, but really wrong – was ‘I wonder what it would be like simply to walk into the sea, to just keep on walking, to feel the waves closing over my head and then . . . the blessed relief of nothing’. That’s what I longed for. Nothingness. Not to feel. Not to exist. Erasure, from everything and everyone. Oh yes, I was more than prepared to thrust off the mortal coil, and not just go gentle into the good night but to go galloping head first. Depression! The realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t just a bit down, out of sorts, having a bad day or the hundred and one  other trivial things I had tried to persuade myself I was suffering from, to one degree or another. I was depressed. Dangerously so.  Enough to seriously consider ending it all.  The black canine had me by the throat and he wasn’t letting go.

Looking back, it’s easy to see the signs but, as they say, when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Besides, I was too damn tired. Lethargy was my constant companion. With a publishing deadline looming, this is not a companion you would actively seek out and many and oft were the days I found myself sitting in front of a blank computer screen willing the bloody book to complete itself.

And crying. Boy, did I cry a river. A veritable cauldron of emotion, I went to pieces over anything and everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I once found myself welling up over a schmaltzy advert for baby something or other, the kind of contrived tripe I would normally roll my eyes over whilst sticking two fingers down my neck.

Wine! Wine, Lethargy and me spent several cosy evenings together. Me, the girl a boyfriend happily once described as a very cheap date, owing to my abstemious penchant for soda water and lime. Did I become an alcoholic – no, but I can see how it can happen, the insidious way one glass can lead to two and from thence to a whole bottle.

Yet, on the outside, I was switched to automatic and managed to keep up a good pretence at normality. Nobody knew, nobody suspected that I was wearing a shell, a walking, talking occasionally even joking shell. Inside, out of sight, I was all shrivelled up, hopeless, guilty, joyless – a complete mess.

With the wonderful hindsight that is of 20/20 vision, I can pretty much identify the main triggers for my depression and despair – the death of my mother in January, an altercation with a family member that shook me to my core, ongoing problems with an adult son, who is more child than adult.

Oddly enough, almost as soon as I acknowledged/realised the extent of my depression, it began to lift. Words flowed onto the screen once more and I completed my book (Blue-Eyed Girl, for your information). Energy flooded back. I sought out friends again and socialised. I actually answered the telephone with enthusiasm. One day, I found myself singing, as I washed the dishes, a sound no one had heard for many months and, I confess, no one had missed.

Now, why the depression should so miraculously have lifted I have no idea. But, this I will say, hand-on-heart, had it carried on, I would have had no compunction about seeking medical help.

Today, I feel good again. The sun is zipping round the sky in his golden chariot. The sea is moving back and forth, which is what seas are paid to do. This time, though, I’m happy to stand on the beach and admire it curling and unfurling from a distance.

But wait! Is that a black dog I see before me? Yes, but this one is chasing a ball. Run, Spot. Run!