My Face has Lived and Loved

There are these times, and as we reach middle-age they probably occur more and more frequently, when we start to accept that we won’t always have those “moments of glad grace”.[1] Sometimes, a glance in the mirror tells us the awful truth, that we’d really like to ignore for at least a few more years, of lines ever-deepening; skin ever-drying; eyes less-sparkling. There it is before us – we are becoming old. We can apply all the moisturizer we like (and believe me there are times when I have furiously coaxed my face into accepting half a pot in the vain attempt to flatten a few wrinkles!) but we this is one march of progress we have no control over.

This is my face and I love it!

The funny thing is, and I do wish I could have known this years ago, there does come a point when the horror, having moved through despair into acceptance, suddenly turns into an embracing of all that is happening. This is weird – I bet anyone under 58 will refuse to believe it! – but I actually don’t mind this aging process. In fact, you know what? I’m rather getting to enjoy it!

For years, I raged against aging; fought it, tried to tame it – then it was as if I gave up on it, despaired of it, lay down and just let it roll over me. Then I woke up one day, and said, “okay, you win! Have your way.” At that moment of letting go I felt myself laugh and I held out my arms to hug my own body (including the arms with the bingo wings, the flabby thighs, the wrinkled neck and the creased up face) and I declared that this was mine! I am what I have become because I lived and loved. These lines are statements of all the times I have laughed and cried and they are reminders of all my companions on this crazy journey we call life. I’ve loved it and I still love it.

There is so much more to see and do and hear and rejoice in, but now, the pressure to be something I am not has left me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are times when the old insecurities creep back to niggle away and tell me ‘That doesn’t suit you’ and ask in that familiar sarcastic tone, ‘Are you really going out like that?’ What has changed is that they no longer have a grip on me; I’m not afraid to look them in the eye and assert, with a defiant tilt of my head ‘It may well not suit me, but I’m feeling good anyway, and yes, I am jolly well going out like this and you can just do one!’

I’ve been so hard on myself for so many years, it’s really a massive relief to get to this stage. Women are so very tough on themselves and on each other, aren’t they? As if we have something of a ‘duty’ to look good. And who is that determines what looking good’ actually means, anyway? Our different cultures foist these images on us, through all the different media available, and that’s reinforced in how we look at each other, speak of one another and talk about ourselves. I hear it all the time. “She’s out on a bit of weight, hasn’t she?” or even “She used to be so slim” or, my real pet hate, “She’s let herself go” How dare we let the side down by stuffing our faces with food and becoming so fat that our arms jiggle when we applaud and our thighs wobble when we run? What a terrible crime we’ve committed!

There has been many a boy who “loved [my] beauty with love false or true” and I let it matter too much. To the point where it defined who I was. There was this boy once, Michael was his name, with bright blue eyes and curly black hair and I thought he was gorgeous and my fourteen-year-old self thrilled to be chosen to be the one he snogged (sorry, very old-fashioned word!!) at a party at a friends’ house. (Do you remember those parties, where the parents, usually-unsuspecting, went and your friend invited half the year group round, we all drank something called ‘Party Seven’ and Babychams, got tiddly and some of the lucky ones paired off and the lights were turned down and we found a corner somewhere to do all that snogging and groping – never quite going ‘all-the-way-because-we’re-not easy-are-we?) So there I was, lying in his arms, feeling very chuffed when, he looked down at me and announced, “You’re really quite good-looking…(he peers at me)….from the neck down”

What?!!! You see, I should have cut and run at that point. Or possibly even smacked him. I didn’t. I swallowed the lie. I ate it and became it. I heard so many other ‘lies’ that reinforced it and my whole identity somehow became wrapped up in that “unattractive” rubbish. We have to teach our grandchildren (hopefully our children are already more resilient) to bounce away from all of that. To laugh and run and never mind.

I know someone who “loved the pilgrim Soul in [me]” – always has and always will and knows well “the sorrows of [my] changing face”. He’s the One I call Lord and he made me, in fact he “knitted me together in my mother’s womb”[2]. So many years have I fretted away though, while not fully understanding this truth. That my ‘pilgrim Soul’ is actually what really matters. I am loved because he made me; not because of what I am and what I look like. I don’t have to remain in this place, I can travel to where I’m called to be and I am held by One who also put the stars in place and made the sun to shine.

My face is changing; it shows the sorrows I’ve had, but it also declares the joys I’ve experienced and there far are more of those. It is the face of me though and I’ve lived with this changing face for a little over sixty years now, we’ve grown accustomed to each other, me and my changing face. I rejoice that, hopefully, we’ll be continuing to add lines to it in abundance for many more years to come. And if that isn’t to be, if I am called home sooner, I revel in the understanding that this face won’t be travelling with me into Eternity!

[1] “When You Are Old” W B Yeats

[2] Psalm 139:13

Reflecting on Loughrigg

Views make the climb worthwhile

At the risk of sounding super-spiritual, there really is something soul-uplifting about walking on the fells and hills. I love that feeling of pushing myself to the point of being uncomfortable; of having to really exert myself to get up the slopes; to have to struggle to reach the top. I like the thought of it all the evening before; something akin to fear, but not dread, more like excitement. ‘Will I make it? Am I going to make a fool of myself’ – it’s always there, that little bit of doubt. That whiny inner voice that tries to convince you that you can’t possibly do it – and the assertive voice that states firmly, ‘oh yes, I can! Why not me?’

The joy of reaching the top!

I like the packing of the rucksack – loading in my butties and my flapjack; maps, GPS thingy, apple, water, waterproofs, woollies, hat, Buff(believe me, there is such a thing!!); mat to sit on, banana, gaiters, spare socks, compass….the list seems endless, and the pushing down of ‘stuff’, the rearranging of it all – it’s all part of the excitement of preparation. I love waking up early, stoking up with a big breakfast, the chatter with friends as we wait to go, (‘Do we put waterproofs in rucksack or wear them for now? Do I need my middle layer on? Have I put sunscreen on’)  then nipping back inside for a last quick ‘widdle’ and then the setting off.  There we go! That’s us – off for the day to conquer a small mountain!

Coffee on the shores of Grasmere

So we set off from Rydal Hall that sunny morning in early May, led by Peter and Ann, an accomplished and experienced couple, with the gentlest of natures, lots of patience and a tangible love for walking. I picked their walk as much for them as for the fell we’d be climbing. They advised using sticks – well, Lou and I always use them anyway, if there’s any chance of a climb. We both have shot knees and, especially on the descent, feel the agony. I actually swear by them after doing the Oxfam Trail-Trek 3 years ago. They do take so much pressure off the legs and knees, and using your arms gives you a more rounded workout.

We’ve got to get up there!

The walk we did is around 8.5 miles, walking along the Coffin route as far as White Moss, then crossing the road to walk along the river linking Rydal with Grasmere, through Deerbolt Woods and along the beach of Grasmere. A gentle start, watching dogs splashing in the waters, chasing balls and generally reveling in the morning sunshine. The good weather had brought a few young families out and it was pleasant having mid-morning coffee and flapjack on the lake shore.


Pressing on, we started to climb, gently at first, but gradually becoming steeper and the heart starts pumping, as we look back on views of the lake below. It’s worth the exertion always to be able to capture that view.

Maggie takes a breather

The walk then continues to traverse above Grasmere and Rydal to Loughrigg Terrace, where we meet the turn-off to the steep ascent path up the Fell. Bracing ourselves, we proceed and for me, every step I take I’m defeating all the voices that have proclaimed what I can’t do and I’m boldly stepping into what I can and love doing. I’m nearly 60 and I’m bagging a Wainwright! It’s steep and it’s rough and the path is eroded in parts, and sometimes I’m on my hands and knees pulling myself up, but, after taking a few stops to catch my breath and take a photo (always a great excuse to have a breather!) I finally make it! I’m at the summit, 340m (about 1,300ft) above sea-level. We’re delighted, Lou and I, every climb is another shout to the wind, of “we can do it!”

Not our most glamorous selfie!

We don’t care much what we look like and that’s just as well, as we’re never really at our most glamorous on these occasions. We’re just happy to be alive and high up.

The joy of reaching the top!

Of course, after the exhilaration of climbing up, there’s the business of having to get down! So, we’re off again, on the descent, poles bearing the strain of the steepness. Then there’s those moments of looking back and seeing where we’ve been. We did that!

We actually climbed that hill. Lunch in the sunshine, when we’ve descended a couple of hundred feet feels well-deserved and most enjoyable. Fruit cake tastes amazing on a hill!






pennies in a tree stump
Back down by the river
home via the bridge
Wild garlic in grounds of Rydal





Sisters do Silver How!

Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind
Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind

My sister, Lou, started walking with me in 2012, when my hubby hurt his back and couldn’t come with me on a Walking Weekend to Keswick. (I go every year with a group from my previous church, All Saints in Marple). She’s 2 years younger than me, but back then had done very little walking and I was fitter – but only because I was training for an Oxfam Trailtrekker event. She came with me and did the Easy walk, but said it nearly killed her! Nevertheless, she wasn’t put off and caught the bug. By the following year, just walking an hour every day, she had raised her game and we could longer and tougher walks together.

This year, the weekend was based at Rydal Hall, in the Lake District. I love the place. We went up early on the Friday, before meeting up with the rest of the group and walked together up Silver How, one of the smaller hills at 325m above Grasmere. It was just over 3 miles, but it’s pretty steep at the top and the paths are rough. It can be done in a couple of hours, depending on your fitness and ability, but the views are just stunning, so it’s worth taking your time and enjoying looking out to the Langdales, Bowfell, Helm Crag, Steel Fell, Heron Pike and Fairfield if you can spot them. We had the best sort of weather for our walk – sunny with clear skies, but cool we weren’t hot and flustered as we walked.

Passing Alan Bank, which was Wordsworth’s temporary home and is now owned by the National Trust, we started off on a narrow lane, climbing quickly up what seemed like a dry river bed before emerging on to the open fellside. It was hard not to keep stopping and looking back – so beautiful with the green of early foliage so bright.

Looking down from climb up Silver How
Looking down from climb up Silver How
Looking back down to Grasmere
Looking back down to Grasmere

We then passed a deep gill on the right where there were masses of juniper bushes – they look like gorse at first. I bet in the late summer the scent of gin is fabulous!

Views as we climb Silver How
Juniper bushes in the Gill

The climb is pretty strenuous all the way and paths are narrow and stony – at one point we forded a river, which was dry on the day, but I should think is tricky after rains. On the other side of it, after a steep climb up a rocky hillside, the path widens goes across a plateau where the top of Silver How can be clearly seen. The last section is quite steep and very rubbly, with cairns marking the way. It’s fabulous when you reach the summit though – even though it was “blowing a hooley” when we got up there. We managed to keep our feet for the obligatory snap though – of course!

The Walking Reader on top of Silver How, Lake District

The Walking Reader on top of Silver How, Lake District


Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind
Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind

The views are so worth the aching legs! Coming down is, at times, hard going as it’s really steep and stony, but some of the way is made slightly easier with engineered steps – although these can become very tedious at times. As you can see, Lou was elated to be almost at the bottom of the slope! On the whole, a really great walk made all the more special due to the great weather and being in the company of my little sister!


Reading Doesn’t Need To Be ‘Classic’ To Be Useful

I really hope I don’t give the impression that I only read books that are termed ‘classics’ or that I am snobby about any genre. True, there are books I’ve read that make my toes curl, as the writing, in my opinion of course, feels so dreadful. However, I have learned that in the world of reading, the saying ‘horses for courses’ most definitely applies. What I find to be awful, might appeal to others. I have good friends, whose opinion I respect, recommend books to me and which I found  to be boring, or confusing, or I simply couldn’t ‘get along with’. There are also  times when I recommend a book I enjoyed to someone who later tells me they hated it! There was a time when I would be aghast that a friend could possibly hold a different view to mine about a book, but I guess I’ve matured enough to accept that we can differ – it need not divide us though.

All reading is useful. A bold statement, I know, but I do believe it is. Even the terrible reads I have mentioned have been helpful in leading me to discern more clearly what sort of reading I am most likely to enjoy in the future. No human being has time to read everything that’s ever been written; we need ways to learn how to filter. Whatever we read adds to the refining of that filtering system. Sometimes this might mean we filter out books that we may well have liked, ‘if only we’d known’, but we simply have to have ways of cutting that pile of ‘books-still-to-read’ down to a manageable size.

The MOST useful reads though are those that make us think, no matter what genre they are described as. They might stop us in our tracks (thinking tracks, that is) and lead us to reflect on what is being said, or to make an association with some other experience we’ve had, or connect us with other thoughts we’ve had. We may not even be clear how the association is made, or why a word or phrase halts out thinking, or sends us down a new thought-track. It doesn’t really matter why or how it happens – it’s just brilliant when it does. Even better is when that thought won’t let you go; when you put the book down and it still has hold of you. You find yourself at a party, perhaps, or on a bus, or out on a walk, and there you are, thinking those thoughts that sprang to life in your reading and they’re with you now, changing the way you look at others or how you see the world. And you find yourself asking questions, saying words, telling stories, thinking more thoughts – that were never in your head before. And that’s so exciting. That’s learning. That’s useful.

What has been the most ‘useful’ book you’ve read recently?

“A heavenlier world than this?”

garden 2017Joy struck me again today – right in the heart – as I turned into our drive and walked towards the house. My sloping garden welcomed me with splashes of colour and reached towards me with an embrace of loveliness. How could I fail to smile at the sight of scarlet and bright yellow primroses? Or delight in the tightly clenched buds of the President Eisenhower rhododendron beginning to release their gorgeous magenta flowers? Newly placed rocks too sheltering the azaleas pleased me – they looked so ….. right, so absolutely right.

Then on the steps leading to the side garden, the white hydrangeas in pots and the newly planted lilac violas there – all just with nothing to do but give pleasure. I stand on the drive smiling at it all and then enjoy it all over again later from the kitchen window. There’s even another moment later, while having lunch, that I think, “I must go and look at the garden.” I can’t get enough of it!

hydrangeas 2017There are those days when I’m perhaps ill or tired or just plain fed up (not so many, I hasten to add!) and I know that simply looking out at the garden will lift my spirits. Last week, I was with a friend dealing with a very challenging situation. It was a painful one and it drained something from me. “I feel the need to go and buy bedding plants”, I said to him as we parted. Later, preparing the spot where they would go, positioning them carefully, patting them into place, watering them and then standing back to enjoy them, it was as though I was being replenished from what I had poured out. In every little face of those violas, I saw a smile that cheered me and spurred me forwards. Nature has the gift of restoration.

garden 3 2017So yesterday, as I prepared for my reading group, perhaps that’s what led me to choose some chapters from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story of a rather unlovely (and unloved) little girl, Mary; raised in India by Ayahs, as her parents found her sickly and unattractive, and brought to England by her uncle when the community is wiped out by Cholera. She is a strange little thing, with no social skills, little interest in anything at all, but is somehow stirred by thoughts of a garden.

“She could not help thinking about the garden which no one had been into for ten years. She wondered what it would look like and whether there were any flowers still alive in it.”

garden 2017It will be this secret garden that eventually helps to restore her, but for me, yesterday, it reinforced the thought that there is a deep connection between us folk and gardens. Perhaps it’s to do with having been placed in a Garden at Creation? God wanted us to simply enjoy and care for that place. We ended up messing that up, but for millions, tending to gardens, labouring in them, watching them grow and looking at the fruits of that hard work are what sustains and nourishes them. I love the connection that little Mary grows to have with the old, gnarled and grumpy gardener, as he too, sensing the draw of the garden for the child, reaches out to her, in his own, plain-speaking way:

We’re neither of us good lookin’ an’ we’re both of us as sour as we look. We’ve got the same nasty tempers, both of us, I’ll warrant.”

It’s the first step for the girl at developing self-awareness and it all begins in a garden – a place where she will find solace and healing eventually.

It wasn’t therefore hard, given all these thoughts, to choose the poem “In the Fields” by Charlotte Mew, to read with the group.

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,

Under old trees the shadow of young leaves

Dancing to please the wind along the grass,

Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;

Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?

And if there is

Will the heart of any everlasting thing

Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?

They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent

of hay,

Over the fields. They come in spring.

There’s the thought I have! “Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?” Yes, that’s it, I guess, because within me, I believe there is that God-placed yearning for ‘something more’, which I know I will share in- when all things come to pass. Until then, we seek out the beautiful things that grow and dance “to please the wind along the grass”. Our gardens, our parks, woodlands, hillsides, forests, seascapes – all these places of loveliness, where flowers, trees, shrubs grow and dance in breezes, show us glimpses of what it will be like. They are tantalizing promises of better things to come and meantime, in the here and now, they do more than cheer, they lift our hearts and souls to a place of delightful, energising joy.

Pass me my spade and my wellies!!

The Old Man Who Shouted

old-man-cryingShe found a seat at the top of the ramp leading up from the beach, looking out to sea and across the bay back across the three miles of sands they’d just walked. Slipping Bodie’s lead through the arm of the bench, she stretched her legs, lifted her face to the warm sunshine and smiled. Phil was seeing Filey now in all its full late-summer glory and he’d remember it like this and not wet, windy and cold as it had been for the last three days. So he couldn’t go on about the ‘grim, grotty Northern seaside’ as he was wont to do.

“You’re looking very smug, missy”, he said, returning with ice-creams.

“Just enjoying the sun. Bodie, don’t get any ideas, mate!”

“How can you resist those eyes?” he laughed and tousled the spaniel’s long ears.

“Quite easily when it’s stuff that’s bad for him”.

“See the fat lady over there?”

“Phil!” she reprimanded him, “that isn’t kind”.

“Whatever. Anyway, she’s feeding that bloody poodle chips, for heaven’s sake! It can hardly waddle along as it is”.

“People treat their dogs like kids. It’s not fair on them”. She sat up to enjoy the cornet better. Somehow, just like fish and chips, these things tasted better eaten in the open air by the sea.

“Have you noticed how some people get to look their dogs?” He mused, as he licked away.

“I don’t have long ears, do I?”

“Not you. Although you both like your belly tickled’ he winked at her, “But take the fat woman and her fat poodle. They both have similar hairstyles. The shaggy mop look. And that guy”, he nodded over at a young man with tattoos holding the chain lead of a Boxer dog, “see the facial features?”

Laughing, she had to agree. “Oh and how about him? The little old fellow with the Jack Russell?”

“Exactly! Both small, wiry with spindly legs and the grumpiest of faces”

“I think they’re both just hot.” She felt mean now for drawing attention to him. He was clearly exhausted; leaning on the railings while the little dog drank thirstily. She’d seen him yesterday, this tiny ancient, when she’d walked here in the pouring rain. He’d been huddled into his coat, the same one he was wearing today. Why, when it was so warm? He’d come down the hill, past the glen, the old terrier trundling alongside him, and had stood in the same place, at the far end of the walkway, looking out to sea, gripping the railings. Maybe it was his daily constitutional? He looked so weary and, not so much grumpy, as Phil had said, but addled (she loved that word!), as if he had lots on his mind and couldn’t clear it. Maybe he stood here in this spot every day to try and blow the clutter that crowded his thinking space away and out to sea?

“Yummy, eh? Don’t tell your mother” Phil had finished his ice-cream and was feeding the end of the cone to Bodie, while she’d been distractedly musing. He grinned and gave her that ‘What am I doing so wrong?’ expression that he did so well. Shaking her head, she brushed crumbs from her shorts and stood to stretch. Bodie was on his feet, ready to go and as she turned to her dog, she heard the old man shout out,

“You can’t take dogs on that side of the beach!”

A young man, twenty-something, blond, good-looking, with naked, bronzed upper torso, was about to walk down the ramp at the other end of the walkway from where they were sitting, with his black Labrador. He halted for a second and looked back at the old man.

“Says who?” he demanded, in a mocking tone.

The man pointed at the notice ‘Dogs must not be exercised on this part of the beach’. “You can walk on that side of the beach” and he pointed to the bay, where they had walked from the holiday village.

“Huh! I’ll walk where I damned well like!”  he fired back, laughed, swore again and proceeded to stride down the ramp.

There were a few people who heard the exchange, of course, it being a warm Sunday in late September. There were tuts of disapproval but no-one made a move to stop him or say more. Except for the little old man. He sprang into action, finding a sprightliness that Sarah couldn’t quite believe, let go of his own dog, and ran after the fellow, catching him and tapping him on the shoulder (which actually took some reaching up on his part, given that the younger guy was around six foot and the older barely five).

“I said, you can’t walk your dog here! It’s prohibited!”

Sarah found herself taking a sharp intake of breath and stepping forward.

“And I said I’ll walk where I like. Now piss off, you old tosser!” and he shook the older man off him and walked off down the ramp laughing to himself. “Silly old sod” He called back when he’d reached the beach and laughed again.

“Don’t you dare laugh at me! Do you hear me? I say! Don’t you laugh at me!”

Sarah was afraid the old man would give chase and she realised that she was still holding her breath, but instead he stayed at the top of the ramp, glaring down as the young fellow strode out, in all his vigorous vitality, laughing as he went. His dog now off the lead and frolicking happily on the forbidden part of the beach. The families down there were packing up their deck-chairs, wind-screens and blankets and, apart from a few who glanced disapprovingly at that rule-breaker, no-one took much notice of him and his dog. Their nonchalance seemed to enrage the old man still more.

“Stop that blighter! Stop him! Wretched devil! I tell you, he’s a demon. A devil, I say!” he roared.

“Oh Lord” muttered Phil, “come on, let’s get out of here. Nutters out in force today”.

Sarah didn’t move. She went on watching the old man who continued to shout down the beach. The couples at the tables stopped eating their burgers and chips, laughing with each other, at him. Children ran up to where he was, giggling and pointing, nudging each other The little dog sat faithfully by the railings, not at all disturbed by this odd behaviour, as if he had seen it all before. Still the man went on shouting; much the same things, in that strange, old-fashioned language:

“Come back, you terrible demon! You should be whipped! Whipped, I tell you. Wretch! Devil!”

Sarah could just about see the black Labrador, jumping around in the incoming waves, but the young man was almost out of sight. He hadn’t looked back once. For him, the whole hilarious episode was done with. So trivial he probably wouldn’t even mention it to his friends. Still the old man went on shouting.

“Swine! Devil! Come back here! How dare you laugh at me! I tell you, how dare you!”

Quite a crowd had gathered on the walkway now. The laughter had faded and most were simply watching. Phil had hold of Bodie’s lead, seeing as how it looked as if Sarah wasn’t going to untie him, and was urging her to go.

“I can’t just leave him”

“Sarah, for crying out loud! You don’t even know him! I hate this sort of thing. Come on, please”

The old man’s face was crimson and tears were coursing down his cheeks.

“He’s crying” Sarah pulled her arm away from Phil.

“It’s nothing to do with us. There’s nothing we can do”

The old man had stopped shouting now. He fell down on to his knees and was sobbing. Really sobbing. Great big sobs that shook his body. Head in his hands. No one in the small crowd was laughing any more, but neither did anyone move.

“‘There’s a fellow crying in Martin Place. No one can stop him’” She whispered the words and turned and repeated them to Phil, looking at him, longing him to understand.

“What?” he was mystified and aghast that she wouldn’t just come with him.

“A poem. Les Murray, I think. No one could stop him crying. But it wasn’t like this.” She turned back and looked at the old man.  “I can’t do nothing. He could be…someone’s” Without looking at Phil again, she gives him the lead “Hold on to Bodie.”

She pushes through those staring at the old man, watching as his dignity lay in tatters on the concrete around him. Kneeling by him, she gently touches his sleeve. She smells that musty odour; of clothes that’ve been soaked and then dried out too slowly in airless conditions. But they’re good clothes; he’ll have been a smart man once, she thinks. She hasn’t thought what to say or do, she acts on her instincts, what feels right.

Putting her mouth close to his ear, she murmurs, “Come on, now. There’s nothing more to do.”

He turns his tear-streaked face to her; eyes glazed and uncomprehending.

“We need to go now” Her right arm around his shoulders now

She touches his face with her free hand; strokes his cheek; realises then, she too, is crying, but quietly, softly. He peers into her face, beginning to focus now, as his sobs subside. He lifts his hand and his thumb traces a tear from her cheek to her chin. He has snot on his upper lip. They look at each other, saying nothing. She tries a smile. Then a woman touches her shoulder, as she kneels there on the concrete beside the old man, and gives her a handkerchief. It’s a man’s, blue-striped, fresh and pressed. Sarah looks at it and feels she may cry more, but she takes it, wipes his face and gives it to him and he blows his nose noisily, crumples it in a ball and wipes his eyes. A man has appeared on his other side and he takes his arm, helping him into a standing position. Sarah has her arm linked through his and she and the other man lead him to a bench.  Another woman (from the café perhaps? She’s wearing an apron anyway) appears and places a cup of tea on the wooden table in front of him. He takes it, drinks it greedily. A boy brings his dog to him and smilingly holds out the lead. The old man pours some of his tea into the saucer, bends to his dog, strokes him and gives him the tea, which is lapped up.

The crowd has more or less dispersed. The warmth of a full day’s sunshine can still be felt, but the shadows are lengthening as people drift away, back to campsites or to pack up their cars. The shutters on the café are closed and young girls are clearing away rubbish and collecting up cups. Sarah stands, places a hand on the old man’s shoulder; he squeezes it, looks up and nods. She bends to the dog, ruffles its fur and walks down the ramp to where Phil is waiting on the beach. Her own dog greets her as if she has been away for months, as dogs always do and there is no recriminations or questions, just that joy at seeing his mistress return. They walk back along the sands to the holiday village and there are no words. Later, they will pack their bags and she will drive them home. They will chat about all sorts of things on the journey but not the things that really matter. But she will know, as he must surely know now, that they will go their separate ways from this point, because, even though he appreciates that the sun does shine in the North, this, whatever this was, just will not do.


Desperately Seeking Wellingtons

child-in-welliesThere’s always a story tucked away behind those little Ads you see in magazines or newspapers, and, more commonly nowadays, on social media pages. Here’s my story based on one I saw recently:

“Can you help? Looking for child’s size 9 in these wellingtons (see photo). Daughter has grown out of her size 7’s and really want to replace them for her”


She was still sitting on the window-ledge. Watching the road. Two hours it had been now. Julia waved up to her from the garden, smiling, but knowing she looked falsely cheerful. Emily wasn’t fooled. She didn’t even lift her hand; just stared back at her; thumb firmly in mouth.

Back inside she checked her phone again – no text, no voicemail.

“Bloody hell”

“You shouldn’t say that. It’s swearing”

There was something about being told off by her 10-year-old that always made her blush.

“I know that. Sorry. I’m cross, but you’re right, I shouldn’t swear”

She hadn’t seen him at the table (and why was he eating cornflakes at 11am anyway?) He’d been in his room on the wretched X-box when she last checked.

“Are you hungry? You had bacon for breakfast, didn’t you?” A cooked breakfast for all of them this morning: a rare treat, thinking they’d need the ‘fuel’ for the long journey down to Rugby.

“Just fancied them. I wanted a glass of milk, but it actually tastes nicer in a dish with something crunchy” and he filled his mouth again, clearly relishing his mini-feast. Matt didn’t look at all upset. He seemed to be able to cope with these disappointments better than Emily. James was notorious for being late and they’d both grown used to that, but he hadn’t even turned up at all for the last three arranged weekends. Of course, there was always a good reason, according to James.

“I’ll text him again”

“No point. Anyway, I’m going round to Sam’s in a minute.”

“Why did you arrange to go to Sam’s when you knew your dad was picking you up?”

“Or not!” he dropped his bowl in the sink. She hadn’t the heart to make a fuss about soggy cereal that would be floating in the dishwater. He was out the door anyway.

He was back a few minutes later. Placing a hand on her shoulder as she composed yet another text to James.

“Em was crying you know. I’m not bothered, but he shouldn’t let her down. She’s only little”

She grabbed his hand. Such wisdom! Underneath his calm façade though, she thought he probably did mind.

“You’re a lovely big brother”

“I didn’t do anything. I helped her find her wellies though”

“Matt! They’re too small!”

“Well she really likes them, Mum.  She stopped crying anyway”

“Has she got them on now?”

“Yep” He was gone again before she could say more.

“Be back at 5 please! No later”

Her phone buzzed and she swore again as she read the text. Good thing Matt had rushed off.


Upstairs, in the doorway of Emily’s room, she watched her as she clutched the little orange rucksack they had packed together last night, ready for what should have been a Saturday night sleep-over at Daddy and Claire’s. Seeing that sad, little face now, she’d happily have punched him but, putting that thought aside, she braced herself to relay the message. There was never a good way to share the bad news, but there was a way to not make it any worse than it already was.

“Hey sweetie”, she knew it was lame, starting with that, but surely your child had to know she was still treasured, that mummy still felt the same; that hadn’t changed.

“Daddy just sent me a text” Emily’s face turned to her. Oh God, don’t show me that hope in your eyes, baby!

“He is so, so sorry, but he can’t come and get you today. Claire has been very poorly in the night”. Bogging poorly, my foot! Claire just wasn’t doing pregnancy very well. In fact, Claire was making a humongous fuss about every aspect of this pregnancy and James was being let off his lead even less than he had been since they’d married two years ago.

He hadn’t left her for Claire, or for anyone else, and in fact he’d been single again for well over a year when he met Claire. No, there had not been anyone else involved for either of them; just a growing realization that they’d fallen out of love. She would look at him and wonder who he was. How did we get here? It was mutual and he’d moved out a week after Emily’s first birthday. Sad, but in a way it was all so much easier doing the parent stuff on her own. James could do all the fooling around, the funny voices, running about in a park, teaching them to climb trees with great panache and flair. It was the up-in-the-night business, the not-being-able-to-reason-with-them stuff and the endless round of washing, cleaning, feeding, fetching and carrying that he found wearing. They’d never tied the knot themselves, her knowing always deep down that he really wasn’t the commitment type. The kids had been her idea to be fair and she’d always accepted they wouldn’t tie him to her. Weird that now he was married to a woman ten years older than him, who’d been so desperate for a baby that they’d paid for three rounds of IVF. He’d proudly shown them all the scan pictures the last time he’d collected the children. (Three months ago!) Oh the irony of it!

“Has the baby come?”

“No, no, he’s still in her tummy. It’s just, well, sometimes when you’re having a baby it can make you feel not very well”.

“Well, can’t daddy take her to hospital and then come and get us?”

Julia could see the tears threatening to spill. She scooped Emily up into a hug.

“It doesn’t work like that. Daddy needs to stay with her”. I have to move this conversation on, she was thinking, because I can feel myself getting angry again. “Em, these wellies. They don’t fit any more. Didn’t we talk about this? They’re going to hurt your feet.”

“Daddy’s going to buy me some more. Just like these” She pulled at them fiercely, with the little handles, especially made for little hands to pull up over little feet.

“Yes, he did say that, but he can’t. The people don’t make them anymore. He did try”. Bother! This was not a good diversion subject!

True, he had tried. Well, when she’d told him three months ago that Emily had grown out of them he’d had a think about where he’d got them. That was as good as trying hard really, for James.

“A street market in Leamington Spa. One of these fancy ones. They’re designer, you know”

They were lovely. Deep purple, with a repeating pattern of three stripes of pink, green and a gorgeous sparkly gold. What child wouldn’t be delighted? Not much caused as much joy as splashing in deep puddles with your crazy, beloved daddy in beautiful wellington boots that you could even pull on yourself and that he, prince of all fathers, had bought specially for her. Trouble was, it was a make she had never come across and couldn’t find anywhere in Manchester. After tramping around some of the independent shoe shops she’d turned to social media. Surely someone, somewhere would have a pair in the next size up? Please!! If she could just prolong this wellie-joy for a few more months….

Later, over tea, Emily was smearing chocolate spread over her potato waffles. (There are times when the option of an argument about sweet and savoury mix and healthy eating is not worth having!) While she watched her, feeling a mixture of disgust in herself for allowing this concoction and awe that it could help the healing process, she listened as Matt told them about Sam’s brother falling in the canal that afternoon.

“He didn’t even cry, even though he was full of slime and gunk all over! He just started wiping it all off with some leaves and he was laughing about it”

Julia was horrified. “He’s only six! Where was their dad when he fell in?”

“Honestly mum, he hasn’t got eyes in the back of his head” Now where had she heard that before? “He was on the boat. They fished him out with the pole really quickly”.

Sam and Dominic’s parents were narrow boat enthusiasts and their house had its own mooring. It was a great adventure for the boys learning how to steer the boat, help with the locks and generally get messy.

I shouldn’t make a big deal, she thought. David and Jess know what they’re doing and he would have had a life-jacket on.

“I want to come on the boat please”.

Matt looked at Emily “Your face is covered in chocolate. That is really gross, Em. You can come tomorrow if you like. Seeing as how we’re not going to dad’s now”

“Don’t tell her that, Matt. She won’t be allowed”

“No, it’s okay really. David and Jess said she can.”

And it was okay, Jess reassured her later when they spoke. She’d love to have a girl along for company and Dominic would enjoy having someone nearer to his own age. They intended to sail down to Whaley Bridge and back, probably a three-hour round trip. Emily would be quite safe; she’d have her own life-jacket and she was sure she’d love it.


Four o’clock the next day, Julia thought the text might be from Matt, updating her when they expected David to drop them off. She’d spoken to them both at lunchtime and clearly Emily was having a wonderful time.

“Dom’s so funny, mummy. He really makes me laugh. He can make Rollo do loads of tricks.” Rollo being the family spaniel. No mention of daddy and the missed weekend. Julia was relieved and thanked God for boats, giddy boys and clever dogs.

The text was from James though. Puzzled, she read it. “Need to be in Liverpool in morning. Staying over. Will stop by to see kids about 7” Maybe her reply yesterday had got to him. “Sorry you can’t make it. Matt cool but Em in tears – yet again:(  Don’t fret though. Can’t be helped” Okay, so she was actually trowelling on the guilt and she’d promised herself never to do that, but sometimes, well he deserved it. You can’t mess about with the hopes and expectations of a five-year old and not expect some backlash.

Matt and Em arrived back just as James was parking his car.

“Daddy!” Her little legs carried her across the gravel drive at full speed into his arms. She was soon up in the air and laughing. I guess it’s all forgiven now, Julia was thinking. He’s got off with it again,

“Look what I’ve got for you” James proudly held up a bag to show his daughter as he placed her down. She opened it and pulled out a dazzling pair of pink wellingtons; sparkly and bright, with stripes of gold and silver. They even more wondrous than the purple ones. Julia smiled wryly and waited for the inevitable squeals of joy. Except … they didn’t happen.

Emily sighed deeply. Her face was very serious as she spoke. “Daddy, these are lovely, but I have some real wellingtons now.” She lifted her foot to show off the dark green, mud-encrusted pair she was wearing.

James looked confused and not a little disconcerted. His adoring daughter was turning down a gift from him? “Real ones?”

“These were Dominic’s” Ah, Julia thought, the ‘very funny Dom’. Sorry, James, you’ve rather been upstaged, old bean! “And his mummy says you need tough boots on the boat so you don’t slip so easy. Sparkly ones are a bit impractical, she says”

Good job, Jess, you and I could be great friends, Julia thought. James stood and watched as his daughter ran back to their host’s car to say her goodbyes. More giggling was heard as ‘funny Dom’ said something to her and Julia couldn’t help but feel sorry for her ex as Emily’s attention was fixed on her new hero. She skipped up the drive in her muddy wellies and it looked as if she had quite forgotten her dad was there for a moment. Then she stopped, turned and gave him her most dazzling smile.

“Come on, daddy. Come and see my new reading book. Can daddy stay and do my bath, mum?” He meekly follows her inside, embarrassedly still clutching the sparkly wellies, happy to settle for these carelessly thrown crumbs, having learned that even five-year-olds can sometimes get themselves better offers.

(©) Beverley Jepson-Playle 12.09.2016

Yearning for Cheerleaders

I could do with some encouraging words right now. For a whole variety of reasons, my writing has almost ground to a halt in the past twelve months. What happens to turn something that brought so much joy, that seemed so easy to do, turn into something you almost fear doing, or at best, use every possible excuse not to do? I’m wondering if, in my case, it’s fear of failure.

I am my own worst enemy.  I don’t need anyone else to offer me criticism. I have perfected the art of doing it for myself, thank you very much. The problem being that my criticism is often rather irrational. Voices in my own head drown out others in the ‘real world’ with cries of “There’s no point, you know, it’s never going to get you anywhere”; “You’re too old to try something new”; “Who’s interested in what you’ve got to say?” Of course, sitting at the computer, hearing these words, when there is important stuff to do like walking the dog, washing, gardening, shopping or even (I must be desperate to escape!) ironing! – it’s easy to take them on and walk away. Just today, I tell myself – then the day become several, then a week, a month and suddenly a year is slipping by. And they do go by faster as you get older, don’t let anyone tell you differently! Time speeds up with age.

I was checked by an invoice for the annual payment on my website. Should I continue with this futile enterprise? Then, I hear another voice of my own – one that has been listening to words of truth. Words from the Big Book, words from the Father:

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

(Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

You see, I’m not alone and I don’t need to battle on in my own strength. I have my ‘great encourager’ by my side always and he is my source of strength; I don’t have resources of my own, they come from him. I’m still not sure why it took so long for me to tune into that voice and those words, which I know so well, but I’m glad I did. So here I am – back at the computer. Heeding also the helpful words of husband John, “Just go and write”

“But what if I can’t?”

“Then pray”

Oh yes, of course! Silly me! I forgot I could do that. Sarcastic jest apart, and don’t let him know this, but he is right. Talking things over with Jesus is so very necessary. He does understand what it’s like to be in a quandary and knows we often feel useless.

On the way to my study I pick up a book I’ve read over the summer. By Anita Shreve, “A Wedding in December”. Flicking through the pages I read this:

Melissa looked away. There would always be, Bridget knew, a fierce loyalty to the mother that Bridget would not interfere with. A quality one could only admire……..”How are you feeling?” the girl asked.

Bridget thought a minute. She took a sip of coffee. She decided to tell Melissa the truth, unedited.

She worried about the tentacles of the star shape, she told the girl. She had a 50 percent chance of a recurrence, the correct term for the cancer’s return. If it did return, it would show up in the bones or the brain or the liver. She hoped to make it until Matt was Melissa’s age. This was the bargain she had more or less made with God: let Matt get to twenty, and  then you can do whatever you want with me. One could never really use the word “cure. One had to think of oneself as “a work in progress”

All this she told Melissa, who seemed startled at times by some of the revelations, but who appeared to take it in with some concern. She was, Bridget thought, the perfect person in whom to confide. A woman who might want the information but who would remain essentially detached.

“That answer you gave last night at dinner,” Bridget said, “about the Arab men on the plane. I thought it was the best at the table”

Melissa tilted her head. She would know, Bridget thought, that Bridget meant what she said, that she was not pandering, that a woman who had confessed being afraid of a recurrence in the bones might be expected to tell the truth.

We all of us need people in our lives who will speak the truth, but do so kindly and we need those who will listen to our stories, our pains our fears, who show concern but don’t flinch away from what we share, be it irrational or totally credible.Facebook-20150916-024821

We need people to speak words of encouragement to us and to cheer us on. Like our wonderful husbands did for us when we took on 100k across the Yorkshire Dales! For our part, we should desire to be people who use words to edify others. There are enough  in the world  already who will use words to destroy confidence and bring others down, let’s use ours to show grace and and bring joy.

 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Now, where was I up to with that book?

(©) Beverley Jepson-Playle 02/09/2016

Sleep Walking Through Life

IMG_0739“How on earth did I get here?” You know the scary thought I mean, don’t you? You’ll sometimes get it when you’re driving – which is quite possibly the scariest time of all to have it. You’ll be bowling along in your car, thinking you’re taking note of traffic, hazards, places along the way and suddenly you look around and think. “What?!! I’m here! But how?” And you panic , ‘Did I go through lights?’,  ‘Have I been speeding?’ It’s as though a bit of your mind had disengaged from the rest of it – like you’ve been driving on autopilot. Coming to awareness pulls you up so sharply you start to drive in a very precise way, taking note of everything around you and making doubly sure you keep to the limit and stop at every red light. You wipe your palms down and calm your breathing.  Scary!

I can’t think what that process is called, but it’s happened a few times to me, while driving and also while walking – often in busy town centres. But it happens in life too. You get to a point and you have that scary thought, “What brought me to this place” As though you don’t recall the route you took, or you can’t recall the reasons you had for making certain decisions that led you to arrive at this point – this job; this house you live in; this marriage.  As though you have been sleep-walking and suddenly you wake up and find yourself in a place you don’t recognise.  Scarier still, you find you no longer recognise the person you have become. ‘Who is this person standing in this supermarket buying this food?’

Lady feels like this.  ( “Lady’s Dreaming”. by Tobias Woolff) As the story opens, she fights to stay awake in a hot, airless car, driven by her husband.  ‘Lady’s suffocating”. Seems to me that might be a metaphor for her life – if only she could have stayed awake, she might have noticed where she was going, but she can’t have the window open, “because the air blowing into the car bothers his eyes”. Not that he’d make a fuss, he’s a nice man, “never a mean motive”. It’s an “effort of will” to keep her eyes open now – it’s so hot, it’s almost like having a fever. In this strange place – on the edge of sleep, but skirting consciousness, she begins to see more “things more distinct and familiar”. Is she coming to a place pf greater awareness now?

We learn about Robert, her husband, from her thoughts. “Tells the most boring stories. Just lethal”. Says so much. Maybe it’s the storyteller within me, but those short lines had me – I couldn’t like him from that point on! He’s a man who considers all his words. He’s careful. Orderly. He is considerate. Before the second page I find myself wanting to scream. No wonder Lady wants to stay asleep. Even though he is desperate for her to stay awake. He likes to say her name. “Shut her up in her name”. You can do that with someone. Make them a prisoner to what you say they are. He loves her name – she is what she is called. And he traps her there. Now it seems she can’t move away from it. He has defined her and curtailed her existence. She’s trapped.

He tried to call her to wakefulness but, “Sorry, sir, Lady’s gone”. Where to? “She’s back home”. Lady has escaped down the years back to a place with her mother and sisters. She’s waiting for Robert, the young soldier and her beau then, to come, but also “not waiting”. Why is that? Because the three of them on that porch are actually complete as a unit. They are at ease with other, joking and teasing each other. “Sufficient unto themselves. Nobody has to come”.

Robert is on his way to her though. Now we see him as a thoughtful man, who learns poetry and recites to her, although she laughs at that. He believes he needs to get her away from that family “among sensible people who don’t think everything’s a joke.” Where she can become the very Lady she is named for.  This young woman is so very different to the girl his family would choose for him. This washis rebellion, though it’s a subconscious one. But he doesn’t believe that you just fall in love – that’s something more purposeful, “you master your choices”. He speculates nervously about what his father will think; of her “rawness” and the fact she is “spoiled and willful and half wild”. He is so afraid that he is on his way to end the relationship. It seems he has been sleep-walking and has shocked himself when he wakes up and finds himself in this place.  “He’ll tell Lady anything except the truth, which is that he’s ashamed to have picked her to use against his father”. How could he? Having met him in Lady’s thoughts earlier, I’m now really angry at this guy. So he was going to use her to beat his father over the head with, was he? ‘You can’t make me choose the sort of woman you’d like for me, Dad, I can have anyone I like and if I want trash, as you would say, then I will have trash!’ I don’t like the man and I like his father even less.

But wait, nothing is ever so simple. Maybe choosing him is her own personal act of rebellion? Maybe she wanted out of this place more than she might admit? Or is that she actually does love him? That young girl goes to meet her young man, the one resolved to break her heart now. He sees her and tastes in his mouth the sweetness of her, even as she stands at a distance from her. It dissolves his intention and “he takes the steps as if he means to devour her”.

As she revisits this place of her youth, the girl she was is there before her, but neither of them see that early hesitation of his.  Instead this older self wants to call to the young girl, “This man is not for you. He will patiently school you half to death”. Would our younger selves ever take any notice of our older, wiser selves though? The young girl won’t listen; she is moving towards her beau even as Lady is dreaming. Oh the irony that his earlier resolve to leave her would actually have saved her from being locked in this prison he has made for her! Instead it is her sweet freshness; her rawness and her wildness that melts his heart, lulls him back into his own sleepy state and washes away his previous purpose. He is smitten. But over the years, the very charm that drew in has been smothered and now her only escape is to pretend to sleep.

We fall in love with who we see and their very differences draws us to them. Do they stay appealing? Or do we want them to conform to what we had imagined we really wanted? Do we want to be lifted from our sleepy states and awakened to something richer and wilder? Or will we try to tame the ones we love so that they fit the lives we think we need to fit?



Books You Might Like to Try Reading


It’s been suggested that readers might find a list of books that I’ve read in recent times helpful. This might lead you to think of reading the book yourself, or prompt a search for the title and see which other books that might lead you to, on Amazon for example. I don’t know about you, but I love to pore over books in bookshops – I could happily wile away an afternoon in one. That’s how I’ve found most of the books on this list – by choosing them after an hour or so perusing the hundreds on display on the delightful shelves of Waterstone’s or Foyle’s of Charing Cross. Sometimes, though, I find the choice overwhelming. Where to start? What kind of book am I in the mood for? There have been many books that I’ve struggled with at the beginning, but have grown on me as I’ve persevered, but others that start well and flop very quickly. I suppose I’m at an age now where I’ve decided that life is just too short to spend time reading bad books. So occasionally I am happy for a little help or guidance – a recommendation from a friend; an author who is written about in a newspaper; an adaptation of a book I see is on TV; a title I notice on a billboard. These things might not necessarily to choose a particular book, but give me a starting point. ‘Crossing to Safety’, for example, was reviewed in an end-of-year list of books each chosen by other authors as ones they had read that year and which they would warmly recommend to a friend. I liked the tenderness of the review; it seemed to me to a story that had touched the heart of its reader in an extraordinary way. It intrigued me greatly and I ordered it that day. However, there are other books I have been told of that lead me to search for them in the bookshop and when I get there, I have a preview read and my eyes are drawn to a book on the next shelf. I might end up buying the book I went for, but I also come out with at least one other, or sometimes I come out with six books I find and leave the one I went for on the shelf! I am not to be trusted with a credit card in any book shop, or cash in a charity shop. Books to me are friends I haven’t yet met – there for the meeting and the development of a relationship; companions on a lovely, nurturing journey

I trust you find my list helpful, in that it may lead you to find a book that will become your own companion for a while. Do comment on the Blog about any books you found particularly great. It really doesn’t matter what genre they’re in. I never stick to categories anyway – I simply read what appeals to me on the day. Enjoy your reading!

In other posts, over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a review of each of these books.

Happy Reading!


(List is not in any particular order – all of these I read in the past two years. )



Title Author
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
A beautiful novel about a group of students growing up in a version of contemporary England – it all seems rather strange though, and from the start, we’re wondering what’s behind the story. Theirs is a childhood that’s not quite right, yet seems, conversely at times, idyllic. It tells of deep friendships, dark secrets, coming to terms with one’s destiny and the sense of the fragility of life. A firm favourite of mine
The Pirate’s Daughter Margaret Cezair-Thompson
An unlikely choice of mine on a wet day in a second hand book shop – a musty copy that had appeal because of its setting in Jamaica. The tale of a local girl’s affair with Errol Flynn, the actor and the child they had together. The story covers the period of the rebellion on the island and the ensuing turbulence. It’s a pacy story with good characterisations and fascinating twists and turns in the plot
The Winter Ghosts Kate Mosse
A young man, grieving for his brother lost in the Great War, spins his car off the road in a snowstorm in the Pyrenees. He meets a captivating woman in an isolated village and during the night they talk of love and loss and war. She vanishes in the morning and he begins a search for her and finds himself deep in the mountains, at the centre of a mystery that has been concealed for almost a century. It’s a book that deserves a reading in one sitting – a story that transports the reader down the years to face the heartbreak of loss and the need for closure.
Bring Up The Bodies Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
Two fabulous books – not to everyone’s taste – and they need a dedicated attention span and some determination. Stories of the times of Henry Tudor, they are written from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, and Mantel certainly gets under his skin. I did feel as if I was there and that I finally understood what was going on – it’s a ‘get-down-in-the-dirt-of-the-times’ book and it isn’t pretty. Some of the people you might have previously sympathised with are drawn in greater detail and we see them as the humans, with foibles and failings, they really were. I loved both books, but they need time – however they are well worth the investment.
French Revolutions – Cycling the Tour de France Tim Moore
A witty and brilliant book by this sports writer! What fool, for the sake of his craft, would determine to cycle the whole route of the Tour de France, when they rarely if ever cycled in normal life? Moore does, with some hilarious and painful consequences. It’s a great read for all lovers of real-life story and not just for cycling enthusiasts
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes
Do you remember all the friends you had at school? How good do you think your memory of relationships is? There are some that might have meant little to you, that possibly had a major impact on another. Tony and Adrian were in a group who swore to stay friends for life. Now Tony is retired and divorced and a letter jogs his memory of the past. “We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well.” he reflects at the beginning. Life is confusing and just when we think we’ve got it, it slips through our fingers again, like sand. A story that explores friendship, fractured relationships and the putting together of lost pieces.
Fortune’s Rocks Anita Shreve
One of those rare books where you find the end unbearable – because you want to stay in the world of the story for ever. A story of forbidden love, heart-breaking and perplexing; fulfilling yet devastating. Love that finds its loss unbearable and the need for that loved other the very purpose of life. Shreve is really at her most poignant here – the characters are wonderfully multi-dimensional – we love them, yet are angry at them; we see something of ourselves in them, yet are repelled by what they do and who they betray. Heavenly
Eden Close Anita Shreve
Another great Shreve novel. Seems simple enough – boy comes home to clear up house after death of his father and finds himself drawn into the secrets of the past he thought he knew. Eden is the girl next door – and her story – the events of a dreadful night when he was a young boy – draw him in and he stays on to search for meaning in the house down the road. Can friendships be reignited even though there are terrible secrets buried between them? Can love find a way through treachery and heal the wounds that have become deep scars?
Incendiary Chris Cleave
This was a real ‘wow’ for me – a story I didn’t expect. The whole story a letter to a terrorist, it tells of the anguish of a young mother who loses her tiny son and husband in a bomb blast at a football stadium. But it’s never just one story and it’s never that simple – her story begins before the blast and she has to go on after, living with the consequences of her own actions and somehow finding a way to comfort herself amidst that awful loss. Fascinating and compelling
Arthur and George Julian Barnes
Not the easiest of reads, and not the most fascinating of subjects – that of a young man, seemingly wrongfully, imprisoned for a terrible crime in Victorian England. Creator of Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, takes up his case and this is the story of their odd relationship and the impact it has on them both. It also covers Conan-Doyle’s second marriage, a story in itself.
Crossing to Safety Wallace Stegner
A book I find myself going back to again and again – there are so many gorgeous passages. This is writing at its most beautiful and soul-searching. “There it was. There it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship has its home and happiness its headquarters” Two young couple become good friends during the Great Depression. Seemingly initially very different, they find they have much in common and both men work at the University. It is the story of their friendship – of the twists and turns that takes – of its complexities – of love, loyalty, vulnerability and conflict. Larry is the key voice and he is the one wrestling with the meaning behind some of the trials and tragedies each one of them faces over time. The narrative is sometimes so moving I found it necessary to put the book aside and weep. Not many stories make me do that. I quote from it incessantly.

“If we could have foreseen the future during those good days in Madison…., we might not have had the nerve to venture into it.”

The Watcher in the Shadows Carlos Ruiz Zafon
From the author of “The Shadow of the Wind” – a story of a toymaker, living as a recluse in an old mansion, surrounded by strange creatures he has made. Irene’s mother takes her and her brother to work there one magical summer, to Blue Bay, as housekeeper to the secretive and eccentric toymaker. The magic begins immediately and soon the eerie figure watching from a locked room starts to move beyond and lives begin to be claimed….
The Ex-Wives Deborah Moggach
The sort of novel we all need to read from time to time, to allow us to take a break from thinking too hard and from becoming too reflective! Fun and something of a frolic, it’s the tale of an old actor, living alone with a dreadful little dog, when his latest wife leaves him for another, younger, man. Feeling morose, he falls for a young girl who leads him into an adventure he would never have expected!
Apple Tree Yard Louise Doughty
Goodness me, this book had me on the edge of my seat! It excited from the first page – in the most unusual way. Captivating with its candid insight into the mind of an intelligent and professional woman, who finds herself in a relationship she would never have imagined. From the start, we are horrified and tantalised in equal measures and it had me holding my breath as I turned the pages. There are so many twists, it was exhilarating, yet the pace is thrillingly calm and measured – perhaps that is the secret of its appeal. What happens when life gets so out of control that we find we cannot hold it together? This is a story that bruises the soul and leaves you breathless.
Life After Life Kate Atkinson
Just imagine if you could choose to live your life a different way? A choice you make that leads you down one road, supposing you make a different choice, where would you be now? What if you could keep on going back until you got it right? Or will it ever be right? What about the consequences of different choices for others in our lives? A great novel by this wonderful story-teller of how different turns in events make for different lives we end up leading. It tells of a baby born in a snowstorm in 1910, who dies before she took her first breath. And yet, what if the same baby lived to tell the tale? It’s a brilliant story and is positively dazzling in its telling.
The Invention of Wings Sue Monk-Kidd
One of the most moving stories I’ve read – the story of Handful, an eight-year-old slave child, who is presented as a gift to her owner’s daughter, at an eleventh birthday. At turns, it enthralled me, yet repelled and sickened me, before enraging me and stirring me to want to rise to action. Based on the lives of the Grimke sisters, abolitionists and feminists it charts the tales of the sisters, the slaves of the household as well as giving us great insight into the lives of all those, on both sides, involved in slavery. Captivating and wonderfully written. A never to be forgotten book.
The Secret Life of Bees Sue Monk-Kidd
Another engaging and captivating story – the tale of a girl’s tempestuous relationship with her father, and her subsequent running away to make a life of her own. Accompanied by her father’s black servant and finding refuge with three black sisters, she learns about bee-keeping and finds herself closer to the mysterious story of her mother’s life and death than she could have hoped for. Deeply fascinating.
The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle Kirsty Wark
The first novel from the News night presenter, it isn’t brilliant, but it’s a good, engaging story, if a little clunky at times. It tells the story of a woman who returns to Arran, years after she left it, when her mother is left a house by a mysterious old lady, simply because she had seen her pushing a pram down a road thirty years previously. Behind ordinary lives, there is often a deeper story running, if only we looked for it, or cared to know it. There are many secrets to be found in these lives and at times this story captivates and charms.
And The Mountains Echoed Khaled Hosseini
Author of ‘The Kite-Runner’, Hosseini is fabulous teller of tales and holds the attention from his opening words….”So then, you want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one. Don’t either of you aske me for more. It’s late and we have a long day ahead of us, Parit, you and I. You will need your sleep tonight. And you too, Abdullah. I am counting on you, boy, whie your sister and I are away.” A father is taking his child away – separating her from her brother – but that brother cannot let her go easily. He is the only one who can make her happy. He trades his shoes for a feather for her collection. When his father sets off on that fateful journey, neither child could possibly know what the future will bring for them…We want to know though, and we keep turning the pages to find out. It’s a well-crafted book, that covers many years and spans continents. It speaks of heartache, betrayal, hope and the unbreakable bonds of love.
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn
I like a good thriller and had great hopes for this book – it didn’t live up to them, despite all the hype. Others however, I know, love it, so I must be fair and include it. You may like it. I found the format predictable and the characters held no charm for me – I simply didn’t care what happened to them. I love a villain and I love a character that has the capacity to be both hero and villain and victim and survivor – I found that none of that characters fascinated me at all.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Mohsin Hamid
“Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened of my beard. I am a lover of America…” I was caught at the back cover. I had to look inside to read more. Unusually, the story is the monologue of one man talking to another and all the action takes place in one place, in one time, although the story covers several years. How do we end up caught up in events that once sickened and alarmed us? How do our sympathies change over time? What makes us lean towards an ideology at odds with the one we have adopted as our own? This story compels as it explores these issues – we grow to love the characters and are drawn into their lives easily.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler
I had no idea what to expect when I read “What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? We read of Rosemary who is now a college student, coming to realise that she needs to go back before she can go forward. Her life no longer makes sense and she needs to know what happened to her brother. Why did he run away? Where is he? And what has that to do with her sister, who was sent away from the family home when she was only five-years old. This is a story of the most unusual, if not unique, sibling love and rivalry that will really get under your skin. Don’t skip ahead and cheat! The surprises are well worth waiting for.