25 random facts about me

1. I am an atheist.  I could rant for literally hours about my reasons why.

2. I am a regular blood donor.  When Jehovah’s Witnesses call, I tell them this.  It usually gets rid of them.

3. I hail from the same town as Lenny Henry, Duncan Edwards, Sue Lawley and Norman Pace, the one without the moustache in Hale & Pace.

It’s worth mentioning that my dad played football (albeit to not quite the same level of skill) with Duncan Edwards as 1950s teenagers.  I can’t claim they were best mates, just kids part of the same crowd having a kick around in the park (jumpers, no doubt, for goalposts).  Albeit this was before the era of the superstar footballer, Dad always used to say Duncan was very down to earth, not an ‘untouchable’ Beckham type.

4. I never give in to bullying or emotional blackmail.

5. I have planned my own funeral (a humanist ceremony, naturally).  I found doing so a very comforting and not at all morbid exercise.

6. I have visited 14 countries.  My favourite was our honeymoon destination, Mauritius.  I would go back tomorrow (or for an anniversary at least).

7. As a kid, I adored the sitcom Hi-de-Hi and would play for hours with my toy xylophone, pretending to be Gladys Pugh.  I also still have a signed photo of Su Pollard which she sent me when I was four!

8. I wear a size 7 shoe.

9. I feel the cold pathetically badly.  If I reach the age of 80, I will no doubt need 18 jumpers on just to get the milk in.

10. I have written three novels and numerous short stories.

11. I was a journalist for four years.  I did my training at college in Gloucester at the time that Rosemary West, the city’s most infamous citizen, was on trial for mass murder.  It was a very eye-opening experience, in more ways than one.

12. I go to tai chi classes on a Wednesday, swim once a week (at 7:00am – you may well hate me for this) and do lots of writing and walking, in between the usual pastimes like seeing my friends, going to work, shopping, etc.  I like having lots of interests.  I hate sitting still for too long.

13. My husband and I have been together 11 years and married for just over a year and a half.  We are not joined at the hip.  We relish both our time together and our independence.  We are extremely close and devoted, but not one of those couples who can’t even seem to go to the toilet apart.

14. I have a tattoo of a ginger cat on my right shoulder.  Sometimes I actually forget it’s there until folks comment on it.

15. I am a ‘love kids but not for me’ type.  I absolutely adore my nephews and friends’ kids, yet do not possess a maternal bone in my body.  Some people cannot understand this.  Sorry folks, I can’t force myself to have feelings.  If you think this somehow makes me ‘hard’ or ‘evil,’ you really don’t know much.  Luckily my husband feels the same as me, which is all that matters really.

16. Since I was 14, I have had an irrational hatred of the group Simply Red.

17. I have on separate occasions in my life eaten kangaroo and bison.

18. I just don’t get what is supposedly so hilarious about Russell Brand.

19. However, I love Alan Carr, Peter Kay and Ricky Gervais.

20. My favourite musicals are Singin’ in the Rain, High Society, Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Cabaret and Oliver.

21. I live life to the full, and having ‘experiences’ is much more important to me than acquiring possessions.  Should I ever come into money, I would spend it on travel and holidays rather than houses and cars.

22. I love obscure and underrated sitcoms – Watching, Surgical Spirit, Desmond’s, etc – as well as the traditional classics like Fawlty Towers, Steptoe & Son and Rising Damp.

23. I spend far too much time on YouTube.

24. Like Gromit’s friend Wallace, I am crackers about cheese.  Favourite varieties include Wensleydale (especially with cranberries), Gruyère, St Augur and an eye-wateringly sharp cheddar.

25. This is all rather self-indulgent, but cathartic too.

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Flash Harry

You will see I have added a new story, Flash Harry.  This was a piece I started before embarking on the OU but didn’t have the confidence to finish at the time.

I revisited it this week, and it actually lifted me a little to reread that story after not looking at it for a few months.  I was reassured that it isn’t all that bad.

It just goes to show how undertaking that OU course did me good by boosting my confidence.  It has given me renewed faith in my abilities.

Starting the fitness campaign

I went swimming at 7:15 this morning.  I am going to start going every Friday, for a few pre-work lengths of the local pool.  It was lovely being there at that time.  The pool was inevitably quiet, though by no means empty, and at least at that hour the other patrons were serious swimmers rather than kids splashing around or people nattering.

I swam continuously for half an hour, never stopping, so got a fair few metres under my belt in half an hour.  I was all done at the leisure centre by 8:15.  It was the most swimming I had done in years, and the most exercise I had had for a little while, and I really felt it afterwards.  In a good way, though.

Flash Harry

Flash Harry

 
** Published in Yours magazine under new title of Where Did You Get That Hat? on 20th October 2009!!!

Shona scanned the fun run crowd for Harry’s hat.

The closed-off high street was an ocean of heads on this humid June Sunday, two thousand heads to be precise, but a wizard’s hat ought still to be conspicuous. She hoped so – it was her only way of recognising the unfamiliar Harry.

Shona limbered up self-consciously as she wove through the runners and walkers. She hadn’t anticipated being alone. Nigel, a workmate, was to be her running mate – until this morning when he’d wheezily phoned her.

‘Won’t be up to it, sorry. Gone down with a stinking cold. Doubt I’ll be in work tomorrow either.’

‘No worries, Nige. Dose yourself up and get back to bed.’

‘My neighbour Harry mentioned he’s doing it, though, if you want company. He’ll go at your pace. He’s been very poorly, so having to take it easy.’

‘How will I know him?’

‘You shouldn’t miss him,’ Nigel spluttered, ‘says he’ll be wearing a wizard’s hat. Had it years apparently, it’s a good luck thing.’ He was about to say more, but his voice gave way to a torrent of breathless coughs.

‘You get back to bed, Nige,’ Shona sympathised, ‘I’ll find him.’

She spotted the enormous pointed hat bobbing near the starting line. She was rather surprised to find its owner amongst the mainly serious runners who flocked to the front of the crush, intent on completing their six miles in speedy times. Silly costumes tended to be worn by the less competitive participants nearer the back.

She approached the man who, with his back to her, was doing a sedate jog on the spot.

‘Excuse me. Harry?’

‘Yes?’ He turned round, and Shona gaped. Harry looked at least eighty.

Nigel had to be having a laugh. ‘He’ll go at your pace’ indeed. Yeah right, she may be no Kelly Holmes but she didn’t quite need a Zimmer frame to manage six miles. Still, she’d committed herself now, no harm being pleasant to the old boy.

‘I’m Shona.’ She instinctively adopted the loud, slow tone she used with her hard-of-hearing grandpa. ‘I work with Nigel.’

‘Nigel?’

‘He should have been here too, of course, but he’s not very well. He told me to look out for you.’

‘Well how do you do, Shona?  I hope you can keep up with me.’ Harry gave Shona an odd look when she laughed at this.

She decided he was a sweet soul, obviously with a sense of humour, and that she would remain with him today, if only to ensure he survived the course.

‘How are you feeling?’ she yelled, loath to ask him direct questions about the nature of his illness.

Harry looked slightly baffled again. ‘Never better, my dear. I’m seventy-eight and on top form.’

‘Seventy-eight? Wow!’

‘Eh up, we’re about to get going.’  He patted her arm bossily and bent his tiny knees into a racing position.

When the starting gun blasted, the runners at the front zoomed away like hares – including Harry. Shona, concerned her new friend had failed to pace himself, sped up to keep alongside him.

By the one-mile mark, though, he wasn’t even panting. Unlike Shona.

‘You all right there, dear?’ he enquired.

‘Mnff,’ she managed.

‘Can be a bit of a struggle when it’s muggy like this, eh?’ Harry smiled sympathetically. Shona was sopping with perspiration. ‘I must admit, though, I don’t usually bother with these short distance events. I’m more of a marathon man.’

Marathons?’

‘Done London a few times. Few half marathons too – Great North Run, things like that. I like to support this one, though. The charity was so marvellous with my grandson.’

Grandson?’ Shona puffed, forced to slow to a trot. This annual run was in aid of a cancer trust. Somewhere in the corner of Shona’s mind a penny was dropping.

‘Yes, he’s taking part today, with a few pals. Now if you don’t mind, I’d quite like to try and beat my time from last year so I’m going to get a wriggle on.’

‘No problem.’ Oh bliss, she could stop pushing herself to keep up with him. ‘See you at the finish line.’

‘Cheerio Shona,’ Harry gave a backwards wave as he sprinted away on his sparrow legs, ‘good luck.’

        ******

‘The old man left you standing then?’

Four miles on, Shona had abandoned all pretence of running and was massaging her side, suffering from stitch, as floods of people overtook her. She turned to encounter a young man with toffee-coloured eyes and the most lovable smile. Wearing a wizard’s hat.

‘You wouldn’t be Harry’s grandson, by any chance?’

He broke away slightly from the two friends who accompanied him. ‘Harry junior. And I gather you’re Shona.’

Shona couldn’t help laughing, despite feeling like a crimson, melting mess beneath his gaze. ‘Your grandpa must think I’m crackers. So you’re Nigel’s neighbour. He just told me to look out for a wizard’s hat.’

‘He wouldn’t know I had one done for Gramps as well.’ Shona noticed how attractively Harry’s hair curled on his damp forehead beneath the hat. ‘I spotted you down the front talking to Gramps. We stuck at the back, let the serious runners go on ahead. I guessed you were Nige’s colleague but couldn’t catch up to say hello until now.’

‘Harry senior ran me ragged.’

‘Oh, he’ll have finished and be enjoying a cup of tea somewhere by now. He’s such an inspiration to me. I only took up jogging after I got the all-clear three months ago.’

‘I could do with doing the same,’ Shona admitted, humbled by what she had seen today, ‘I’ve got no excuse to be out of breath.’

‘Well I run on Tuesday evenings,’ Harry looked at her hopefully, ‘if you fancy joining me.’

‘Tuesdays sound good.’

‘We could replace a few calories by going for a bite to eat afterwards.’

Shona flushed, and not from the exertion of running. ‘Can’t wait.’

Harry senior was cheering them on as they crossed the finish line together.

Waarrgghh…

…I have just submitted my final OU assignment!!!  I have read the bloody thing over and over and grown so sick of checking every comma and over-editing it that I just had to get rid.  In the last few days I have really grown sick of it all.  I have had to restrict my work to mornings because in the evenings I have felt so tired I haven’t been physically able to do more than about half an hour’s work.

So that’s the Start Writing Fiction course over for me then.  I can’t quite believe it.  These 12 weeks have sped by.  I have learned so much and regained a lot of my confidence, which was on the floor at the beginning of the course.

Having said that, it has been an intense course and just the right length for me.  I don’t know how people study for degrees, to be honest.  I am not a natural academic; I don’t always find it easy to apply myself to studies.  Obviously this was a subject which interested me, but if a subject doesn’t I simply can’t force myself to sit down and cram for it.  I am far too easily distracted.

Now I have to wait until March – MARCH!!! – for the dreaded final result.  No point spending the next two months fretting about it, though, I suppose.  I may as well forget about it and get on with my life until result day, when I will no doubt be in oceans of tears.

It seems weird to think the course is over, just like that.  Obviously with distance learning you are never going to get the interaction and camaraderie of college, so there will be no fanfare because we’ve finished.  It’s slightly strange to suddenly have my evenings and early mornings free again, after three months of working to my self-imposed timetable.

So what now?  I never sit still for long.  Obviously I’m still very keen on tai chi, and I plan plenty of walking and swimming, to shift the weight I’ve put on during my sedentary study period.  I fancy doing a wine tasting course as well, and some kind of orienteering or map/compass reading course, which might assist me in finding my way across the wild and lovely Peak District. 

Writing-wise, I now feel brave enough to have another go at The Four Matthews, that difficult fourth novel I was planning to start last year.  I also started writing a shortie called Flash Harry, for submission to a women’s mag, which I didn’t quite get around to finishing.

Ronni’s Reprisal

Sorry for the recent lack of updates, which has been due to working hard on my dreaded final OU assignment.

At times this week I have approached meltdown.  It was almost reminding me of my traumatic A-level experience (if any studying experience ever could be that bad) during which I put my poor parents through hell with my strops and throwing of textbooks down stairs.

Obviously, unlike A-levels, I chose to undertake the OU course so can’t really complain.  It doesn’t stop me, though!!  No, joking apart, I have learned a lot in these last 12 weeks and certainly don’t regret my spell as an OU student.  The discipline involved, and the tips I have picked up, have bucked up my confidence and taught me to love writing again.  It’s just that the pressure of assignments gets to me, as did exam stress back in the day.

My story, which may end up being entitled as per the title of this blog entry, focuses on Veronica ‘Ronni’ Pyke, a convicted stalker who writes a very deluded letter to her prison pen pal!  Nice and light then.  Actually it marks a huge departure from my traditional chicklit style and observational humour.  I know not whether the OU dole out marks for risk-taking, but I am not being afraid to admit to the tutors that I am taking a large step outside of my proverbial comfort zone.

I have reached the stage of being heartily sick of the thing, have had a hell of a week writing and editing it and now just want rid.  I absolutely dread the final results, though.

On Friday night I actually had a night off the studying and went to see the fabulous Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, at Symphony Hall.  Mum and I had front row tickets.  It was a lovely show, which also featured the red-hot champion Latin dancers Chris Marques and Jaclyn Spencer, the London Concert Orchestra and Richard Shelton, a Wolverhampton-born singer in the Frank Sinatra vein.

They performed ballroom and Latin routines to the likes of Cheek to Cheek, Diamonds are Forever, Roxanne, Take Five, Sing Sing Sing, Cherry Pink (and Apple Blossom White), My Way and It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).

We unfortunately couldn’t spontaneously think of a question to submit in the foyer during the interval.  Anton and Erin answered a selection in the second half.  They included, for Anton, ‘What is underneath your Hole in the Wall costume?’ (Answer: ‘It’s all me!!’) and, for Erin, ‘When are you getting married?’ (Answer: ‘June, in Italy, with Anton as head bridesman!’).

Can’t wait for the actual Strictly tour, which comes to Birmingham next month (although won’t feature Anton and Erin, unfortunately).

The continuing saga of eTMA 02

My hubby and I went for a bike ride this afternoon, our first in months, right across Sutton Park.  It was exhilarating, although I am distinctly out of shape following months in which most of my exercise has been of the cerebral rather than physical variety.  I could literally lie down right now and go to sleep.  My old legs are like the proverbial jelly.  I have been so embroiled with the OU course, I have sadly neglected my more athletic pursuits such as walking and cycling.

There are now less than two weeks left of the course, and I am working hard – and panicking – over my 1,500-word eTMA, for which most of the overall marks are allocated.

I have written the storyline all out, in a very rough format (emphasis at present on the ‘rough’), so that I have everything I vaguely want to say in black and white in front of me.  I am now going to go over it, brushing up the manuscript into a readable and articulate format.  This is the technique I have used for years and which always works for me. 

I don’t quite know what possessed me to do this, but I am telling the story of a deluded psycho writing a letter to her prison pen pal, detailing her obsession with the man she still believes to be her boyfriend, who is in fact the victim of her cyberstalking!  I am writing well out of my comfort zone, as they say on X Factor and Strictly, which may or may not turn out to be a good thing.

Happy new year!

I finally have an idea for an eTMA story.  It actually incorporates several of the suggested themes: prison, music, a letter and possibly also passion and a knife!  I won’t outline the story just yet, though.  Suffice to say it will appear here once it’s complete.

It was quite late yesterday afternoon when this idea struck me, as a result of my brainstorming and note-making.  The feeling when I finally got my ‘Eureka!’ moment was incredible.  I always have such a sense of relief and of everything falling into place when ‘it’ finally occurs to me.

The lure of The Chart Show on YouTube is still often proving too tempting when I really ought to be spending time working.  Those indie charts and dance charts from 1990/1991 are so addictive to watch.  You literally feel yourself becoming sucked in.

It’s incredible how vividly certain music from that era stirs up early teenage memories.  I only have to hear, for example, You Got the Love by Candi Staton or Justified and Ancient by KLF, and I’m 14 again, all hormones and Monster Munches.

We watched Mamma Mia on DVD (a Christmas pressie of mine) last night.  I loved it all over again, though I think it was a little too camp and girlie for Nathan’s taste.  I think it is such a great film.  It just makes me feel so happy.