Friday, 31 December 2010


Its the last day of the year.  And I have have just spent the last 48 hours, in the midst of battling flu, trying to finish off tweaking the manuscript of my novel, The Seventh, to send  to the Terry Pratchett Prize competition.  The deadline is today.  I've known about it for months.  I've been telling everyone for the last four weeks at least that I definitely was going to enter.  So why did I leave it till the last minute, the VERY last minute?  What is it with me and deadlines?  I am furious with myself, and having kittens over what will happen if my email gets bounced for some daft reason and it doesn't get there. 

I've had that happen before with post.  I left a competition entry till the last minute and gave the envelope to my husband to post for me.  Unbeknownst to him, the woman behind the counter at the post office got the postage wrong, so it never got to its destination, and was returned to me, unopened, four months later.  I wondered all along why I didn't get the acknowledgement of receipt I sent with it.  These things can happen.  (I believe the post office woman got sacked in the end, for other, similar mistakes.)  Well, I've put a receipt function on the email this time, and am keeping my fingers crossed. Now its done and I can dissolve into my cough and aches, and not think about it any more until next week, when I have decided to start re-writing the whole thing!

In the meantime, I hope that you have a very enjoyable and peaceful New Year's Eve, and a happy and successful 2011.
luv Bex*

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas Pictures

The present haul wasn't as big as usual because no one had been able to get to the shops...
Champagne flutes awaiting bubbly on Christmas morning
We had flu.  The snow in Oxford was very 'deep and crisp and even'.  At least until Pat and his cousin Nigel got at it....
Pat and Nigel pose with their impressive sculpture, 'Scottish Troll with Tam o'Shanter'
Pat posing...
There were incredible icicles everywhere....

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

Picture:  Channel 4
Its my last full day before the madness begins.  As you may have guessed from recent posts, I'm not exactly up for Christmas this year.  I've tried my best to get into the swing of it and feel festive.  But somehow, I just can't.  I've put up the tree, done the shopping and opened the cards, but I can't get excited. I haven't even played my Christmas Hits CD - no Slade, no John and Yoko, not even any Wizzard.   The black cloud of Christmas has descended in a way I haven't had it in years, and I can't seem to shake it off.

Tomorrow we start the annual Christmas Odyssey, 300 miles of driving and visiting and being cheerful against the odds. Battling through snow and ice this year looks a certainty too.  The likelihood of being stuck in a freezing traffic queue for hours on end doesn't really entice.

All this year, I've been trying to be authentic, to really be myself.  And now I have finally realised, that really, deep down, the truth is that Christmas just makes me miserable and I wish it would go away.  I know its a time when we are supposed to enjoy being with our families and celebrating love, all of which is very laudable, but for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is biological depression, I'd rather just crawl under my duvet and stay there till its all over.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to enjoy this time.  People often complain about the commercial pressure that surrounds Christmas, but I think there is an increasing pressure, an insidious one, which is social.  You MUST enjoy this time of year, otherwise you are a Scrooge, a humbug, a misery.  You must force yourself to appreciate all the 'good' things about family, belonging, togetherness.

By doing this, we exclude those who can't.  The people who are alone, or who have no relatives.  I don't just mean those poor souls living on the streets.  I mean the uncounted others for whom Christmas is a national celebration of everything they can't share, forced down their throat everywhere they look.

The mother whose child has just died.

The wife whose husband has just been killed on active duty in Afghanistan.

The daughter whose mother doesn't recognise her anymore because of Alzheimers, whose childhood Christmas memories have now been wiped.

The woman or man whose life has just been torn apart by divorce.

The souls who sit in mental hospitals over the holidays, isolated within their heads.

The grown up children (and not-so grown-up) who no longer have any contact with their families because of mental, physical or sexual abuse, because they are lesbian or gay, or because they have chosen to marry 'out' in some way.

Or those, like me, for whom Christmas is a celebration of everything they are not.  A celebration of motherhood.

When you are surrounded by those you love on Saturday, in a rosy glow of twinkling lights, mince pies and sherry, please think of those for whom this time of year is not filled with joy, but by the very nature of their losses and exciles, the exact opposite.

Merry Christmas everyone. xxx

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Have a surreal Yule

'Nighthawks' by Edward Hopper
I had the weirdest, most surreal Christmas moment today.  It was like being in a Yuletide version of that Edward Hopper painting with the diner. 

I was sitting in a roadside McDonalds (don't ask).  There was a Christmas tree with shiny red baubles. Every surface seemed to be covered in tinsel and twinkly lights.  A young couple came in with their little girl, who was perhaps 2 or 3 years old.  She sat at the table next to my booth and began hitting her dad playfully over the head with a pink dog made out of twisted balloons.  An old couple were sitting at the booth in front of mine.  They were the kind of elderly people who look beaten down, sucked dry by a hard life.  They were eating hamburgers and coffee as if it was a special treat.  It seemed an odd time for elderly people to be eating a meal, four o'clock in the afternoon.  Another older man came in, rotund and unshaven, with a baseball cap perched on the top of his white, greasy hair, its crown kind of collapsed and empty, where a younger man would have pulled it down to hug his skull.  He sat hunched over a paper cup of coffee, with his checked cotton lumberjack shirt stretched at the buttons over his vast belly.  The foil streamers in the window over my head trembled in the warmth from the heating system. A steady stream of traffic surged past as I watched.  The sky was drab and grey; it was just starting to get dark, and the curbs and verges were heaped with dark-stained snow.

And then over the radio came 'Fairytale of New York' by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl.

Happy Yule everyone.  Remember, the only way from here is up.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Story Seeds

Queen Anne's Lace seeds earlier in the year
Finally we are on the long, slow process of winding up the year.  It will soon be Yule, the Winter Solstice, and I find myself getting especially excited this year at the thought of the days starting to get lighter again.  I think its because of the hideous weather we've been having here.  Snowed in in November, and again right now, and it doesn't look as if there is going to be any let-up in this Arctic winter. 

That said, the fact that I can't get out has afforded me the opportunity of some stillness in this last week of frantic preparation.  Everybody is rushing about doing their Christmas shopping and going to office parties.  Me, well, I am sitting here, 3/4 of a mile from the nearest metalled road, listening to my head and body, just being.

For Pagans, the Winter is a time of Going Within, a time of rest and reflection, allowing yourself to recuperate after the frantic energy of Spring and Summer.  This is the time, for instance, when I write most productively, because the dark nights mean I can see the pictures in my head more easily.  (In the summer, I always feel I ought to be outside, doing something productive in the garden, or making the most of the sunshine while it's available.  It feels horribly wasteful and ungrateful to be inside writing on a beautiful afternoon.)  I really hate the cold weather, but it allows my imagination to come out to play.  So right now, I am enjoying having the time to make up stories, play with ideas, rest up and plan for the future.  I'm working on my novel, and kicking about a few other ideas too.  I'd forgotten how much I really enjoy stories.  So my Christmas present to myself is going to be, well, having fun with more stories.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Frozen Peas (Pass it on)

Picture: Birds Eye
A lot of people have been very kind to me in the last week:  the neighbours who rescued me after my fall in the snow, tended to my bruises, sacrificed a bag of frozen peas to the cause, and lent me cling-film when I found I had run out at a crucial moment in a recipe;  the dentist's receptionist who rang me back to reassure me that she had got my voice message cancelling my appointment because I had fallen, and wanting to know if I was okay;  my brother who rang me out of the blue to see how I was; friends who didn't mind me cancelling our coffee dates because I couldn't get out; everyone who offered to pick up things I needed from the shops; and especially Pat for putting up with my utterly foul temper tantrums.  I feel very grateful to everyone who has helped me. Thank you.

Christmas is traditionally the season of being kind to others.  But reading this post today got me thinking.

It doesn't take much to be kind.  A smile, making a cup of tea or offering to help in a small way can really mean so much to someone. Even just being polite, even if  perhaps your own heart is breaking or you are ready to snap someone else's neck with rage.  My nieces, who both currently work in retail, often tell me of customers who rage at them for no apparent reason, taking their own problems out on anyone who comes across their path.  While there is no excuse for such behaviour, there is often a reason for it.

It is especially hard at the moment, with all the snow and the rush for Christmas shopping.  We all lose our tempers and have our frustrations.  I am trying to remember at all times that behind every face or voice there is a story, a person who might be suffering their own trials and miseries.  And even if they are being foul to me, perhaps there is a reason, so  I will strive to be kind to them, just as those around me have been lately.

This December, be kind.  (Pass it on.)

Thursday, 2 December 2010


Regular readers will have noticed a distinct dearth in activity here lately.  Well, first, I went on the writers retreat.  Great.  Got really focussed on the novel, felt like I had made real progress.  Then I went down with a nasty cold.  Fuzzy head.  Couldn't think straight.  And then, joy of joys, it started to snow.  Resulting stress of 'are we going to be able to get the car off the estate because the track is snowed up?' Answer - we didn't.  Then, when I was walking up the track to see if it was safe to get the car out to go to the dentist on Monday, I fell.  Result: severely bruised lower back and tailbone.  I would never have believed how painful a bruised coccyx can be. Kudos to my mother for living with similar damage (tho worse) resulting from my birth!  Sitting down is uncomfortable, and liberal application of cushions doesn't help.  Im telling yout his because :

a) I want you to be careful when you are walking on these snowy surfaces - I was well prepared, had shoes with a thick tread on, but it still happened to me.

b) I want to apologise for not posting dazzling photographs of our idyllic country cottage in the snow.  Let me tell you, the country is NOT idyllic in this weather.  Its bloody hard work.

c) I want to make excuses, albeit good excuses, for not having written anything since I got back from the retreat. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

And now I am going to have to end here, because I can't sit down any longer! Take care on those icy pavements, people, and I promise I'll write again when I can adhere my posterior to a chair for longer than about 5 minutes!