ABOUT ME

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Morecambe, Lancashire, United Kingdom
In the mornings I’m a Nursery Cook, the rest of the time a Writer. Been writing for decades: short stories, plays, poems, a sitcom and more recently flash fiction, Creative Writing MA at Lancaster Uni and now several novels. Been placed in competitions (Woman’s Own, Greenacre Writers and flashtagmanchester) and shortlisted in others (Fish, Calderdale, Short Fiction Journal). I won the Calderdale Prize 2011, was runner-up in the Ink Tears Flash Fiction Comp & won the Greenacre Writer Short Story Comp 2013. I have stories in Jawbreakers, Eating My Words, Flash Dogs Anthologies 1-3, 100 RPM and the Stories for Homes anthology. My work’s often described as ‘sweet’ but there’s usually something darker and more sinister beneath the sweetness. I love magical realism and a comedy-tragedy combination. My first novel, Queen of the World, is about a woman who believes she can influence the weather. I’m currently working on a 3rd: Priscilla Parker Reluctant Celebrity Chef. Originally from West Midlands, I love living by the sea in Morecambe, swimming, cycling, theatre, books, food, weather, sitcoms and LBBNML … SQUEEZE!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Impossible Thing Book : Chapter One. A Light Fantasy on a Dark Promenade


I’ve started first-drafting my The Impossible Thing book. I know the title has these words in it but am not sure what else.

The Impossible Thing : Finding Out What It’s Like To Not Be Fat.

Maybe.

It’s going to be part weight loss memoir, part self-help book. It will include the following:

  • Memoir chapters, from the past and from my weight loss journey

(I’m assuming I will get to the end of it someday. Perhaps within eighteen months. But for the time being I will get on with writing this …)

  • ‘Pep Talks’, which the reader can dip into when needed (Can I Do This?, Just Start, Keeping Going, What to Do If You’re Not Getting Anywhere, Reaching Target, Now for Maintenance)
  • ‘Tips’ chapters in different categories. (Doing the Maths, Shopping, Exercise, Psychological Aspects, Celebrating Success, etc …)
  • ‘Tools at Your Disposal’ chapters (Your Camera, Social Media, Your Determination, Your Anger, Your Imagination)
  • Dated tweets dispersed throughout in text boxes
  • Blog post sections
  • Photographs – before, during and after. Maybe even these ...
     
     
    
 2014 With Mum & Uncle Bob at Talkin Tarn, Cumbria
 
 
 
2018 In Zumba Studio at VVV, The Shoreline, Hest Bank
 
 

This is all just rough ideas at the moment. I will work out the order of these chapters and how they’re dispersed later.

 

And this is my first draft of what might be …

 

Chapter One
A Light Fantasy on a Dark Promenade

It’s pitch dark outside. 6.25am. Sunday morning. November ‘15. Anyone with any sense is still under the duvet, intent on staying there for a few hours yet. But not me. I’m up, I’ve had a single Weetabix with skimmed milk. My real breakfast of egg and beans on toast comes later.

After my swim.

I step outside. It’s raining but not much. I have waterproof jacket and trousers on, my rucksack with towel, etc. My costume under my clothes. I’m going. Whether I like it or not. The pool opens at seven on a Sunday. It will be quiet. I’ve done this twice now. Maybe it will become a habit.

But first I have to walk just short of a mile and half to get there. I get to the end of the road and head out onto the windy promenade.

I walk, setting up as fast a pace as I can manage. I’m 21 stone but I can walk fine. I’ve lost ten pounds. I’ve started.

It takes me half an hour to do this walk. I’ve forgotten my Walkman but it’s too late to go back. I want to be first in the pool. I will entertain myself with my brain. With my imagination.

Despite the darkness on the wide promenade, the deep blue of the bay, distant twinkling lights of Grange-Over-Sands, around me is the bright light of a fantasy. I’m very carefully imagining being in a shop. I don’t know where it is or which shop but I’m trying on size twenty jeans.

This is a big size to most women, a size they will never be, but for me, at that time, it was the dream. My jeans were a size twenty-six and they were tight. I’d wear them to go out in but, on my return home, I would have to change into something less constricting.

In the fantasy, the jeans slip on easily and I do them up. A size twenty! I buy a shirt to go with them. Its turquoise, the pictures in my head tell me. The colour of the sea when the sky is at its bluest and they beam at each other in delight of their sunny day. Meanwhile, the prom around me is in darkness still. I barely realise I’m walking. Walking and breathing and getting closer to the pool.

At my height of five feet ten, I really should be more like a size sixteen but, at this stage, the size twenty jeans fantasy is the best I can do. Because it’s impossible, surely.

But it helps me as I walk the dark promenade, beyond the entrance to Happy Mount Park, past the Venus and Cupid statue at Scalestones point and past the Welcome to Morecambe sign.

            The fantasy’s still there as I leave the prom and approach the short section of private road to the health club. It is seriously dark & there are potholes, which turn into puddles after heavy rain. I walk carefully. It’s not far but I know I must never fall over. Falling over for a fat person equals embarrassment but now it’s not just that. I cannot do anything that will jeopardise what I’ve now started. What I’m actually doing.

I have to use the torch on my phone to light my way until I enter the car park. There are three cars there. I deduce two will be staff and one some man who wants the gym. I may be first in the pool. Unless that man who sometimes swims early is there. It’ll be fine. It has become important to me to get the far lane. Once you have that it’s yours for an hour. I need an hour to do my lengths.

The door is open but reception is empty. The first member of staff appears, recognises me and waves me through. The computers aren’t on yet so I can’t get my card swiped but, after a few weeks they have begun to notice me creeping in for a swim. I’ve been offered a programme in the gym but I’m not keen. Yet. I just swim.

             I go into the changing rooms, quickly strip off and throw everything in a locker. This is becoming my Sunday morning ritual and I do the same two afternoons a week, after work. I know I have to move more to lose weight. I’m starting something I’m sure I won’t be able to do. I’m already thinking of it as impossible.

            But I’m still doing it. Over the past few weeks I’ve begun to form habits to do with my eating. I’m eating less. I have a rule about crisps. The swimming is tiring – I sometimes feel drained afterwards - but I’m paying monthly by direct debit. I have to do it. I have committed myself and have already increased my lengths from 50 to 60. I tell myself and others I love swimming. I think I do. Once I’ve made the effort to get there.

            I am alone in the pool. I sink into the delicious warm water, grab that far and best lane and begin to swim. The water is gorgeous, it’s all mine. I’m slow but I keep going. I will carry on and on. I know what I have to do now. Slowly. My way.

           Afterwards I do a pool report for Twitter. 60 #greatlengths.

           In a couple of weeks I will be fifty. Maybe I will have lost a stone by then. But size 20 jeans? Surely, they are just a fantasy.


Saturday, 29 December 2018

#VSS365 January and @ACPITServices’ Special #Kawasaki Challenge


Since September 2016 I’ve been writing a tweet-length story almost every day for #VSS365. This daily writing challenge was started by @FlashDogs and is ever growing, day by day. Each day, amongst the stories on Twitter, there’s someone asking what #VSS365 is and where do they get the prompt word from. And Sal, miraculously, feels like she's in with the in-crowd AND in the know. I'll wake up in a minute.

In July I had the job of providing the prompts and I’m doing it again in January next year. So that’s very SOON. I was going to get a turn again in 2020 but someone dropped out. This is organised by a very nice lady and fellow Flash Dog, @voimaoy. The prompt word must be in there somewhere, or used for inspiration and hash-tagged at beginning or end. There are series, stand-alones, funny, sad & a full range of different genres. VSS stands for ‘very short story’, though some folk do a poem or an acrostic or even something from a novel in progress.  
In July I chose some challenging words but, despite a few complaints, everyone coped really well and there was, as always, such a variety of takes and ideas. We had fun; we had #Fandango #HurlyBurly #llama & … #Kawasaki.

This last was the suggestion of my brother Andy Page @ACPITServices. Of course Kawasaki is a motorbike and a Japanese name but it’s also a disease that can affect anyone but particularly very young children. It is the number one cause of acquired heart disease in children. My niece got Kawasaki disease at three years old. At twelve she had to have a heart transplant. Next year she will be twenty-one.
Once thought of as rare, Kawasaki Disease is now increasingly common. The earlier – I’m talking days, hours even - it is spotted and treated the better. There is a list of symptoms to watch out for. More information at Societi - the UK Kawasaki Disease Foundation

Andy has set himself the challenge of doing a #VSS365 every day in January from my prompt words. All Kawasaki disease related. He is not a writer, he’s an engineer. This does not mean he can’t write a perfectly good story.

So, here are my #VSS365 tips. The first two are specifically for Andy in his quest to raise awareness for Kawasaki disease & the rest more general.

Think about all the characters who are involved in your subject. Children, parents, family & friends, medical professionals, scientists, teachers & nursery staff, the media, charity awareness campaigners … all the way to confused passers-by.

Keep it simple. One or two characters. They don’t even have to have names. He. She. I. Writing a story just with dialogue is a good way in. And sometimes all you need. And think about all the situations around the disease. Before, after, during, best & worse cases. Then there’s the settings of your story. Hospitals, surgeries, homes, schools, nurseries, laboratories, offices, up mountains, by canals, by the sea, in a theatre, on a trampoline, in a toy shop, a supermarket, a forest, the edge of a volcano … I think you know what I’m saying.

 I write my #VSS365 every morning before work, often before breakfast, before getting out of bed or even before waking up so I’d like to think I’m a dab hand these days. The most important thing is not to panic and think ‘I can’t’. Ignore that and go to Google for the word's definition. I just stick the word and ‘def’ into the search box. Still do this even if you’re sure of what it means. Reading the different definitions can spark your first idea. If you want to be daring, dismiss your first couple of ideas and go with your third. I often do this. The third might be more original. In fact, I like to get several or even all the definitions into one story. But then I’m a big show off.

Start writing. Write slightly too much, then edit. Make sure it’s a real story, not just a sentence using the word. VSS stands for very short story.

As with writing a tweet, there’s lots of ways to get as much story from your 280 Twitter character limit. Change ‘and’ to ‘&’, lose pronouns. Changing ‘She didn’t understand.’ to ‘Didn’t understand’ saves four letters and using ‘Didn’t get it’ saves another four. I often use a long word then realise a shorter one will do the job just as well, if not better.

Use sentences of one or two words, imply stuff, hide anything the reader can deduce in the subtext. This latter is another way of saying delete! Spend a good few minutes editing. It’s surprising how a story can improve if you lose a few unnecessary words, enabling a little more nuance, explanation or even a thread of intriguing backstory. Show, don’t tell. As the narrator, be in the story, not outside looking in. Consider losing your first sentence. Try using present tense, which often saves letters to make it even more immediate or intimate. Try first person or second, even. A father addressing his daughter. A surgeon talking to a child.

Finished your VSS and desperate to post and bask in the likes? Stop, take a deep breath and do one final careful read through before you post. Sometimes your brain is telling you a word is there when it isn’t. The earlier you post your story, the more folk will see it. Make sure you read some others and like/retweet them or comment too.


 

Captions. please?
 
So, special good luck to Andy Page, the writer, who is apparently going to have all his VSS in a book, something his sister, who’s been writing since 1986 may never do. She should listen her mother, who wasn’t impressed with her daughter implying her son couldn’t write very short stories even though I just meant stories weren’t his thing like they are for some of us. What do you have to do, eh? (winky smile & eye roll).

And good luck to everyone, new and old & all over the world, with my January #VSS365 words. No complaints now. Just masses and masses and masses of fabulous Tweet-length stories.
January's words go out at approximately 6am each morning. The tweet will include the date, #VSS365, #prompt and the hash-tagged word of the day. AND ... a photo. You heard it here first.
 
SAL

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Impossible Thing : Backwards & Onwards!


My progress lately has been a bit non-existent, or should I say backwards. July’s triumphant seven-stone-off is a long way back in time. It’s now November for crying out gently (as Pop Larkin would say, though he really loved Ma Larkin and she was massive!).

Since October 2015 I can honestly say I had not put any weight I lost back on. Except very recently. It’s only about four pounds but, believe it or not, it’s very easy to convince yourself you’ve PUT IT ALL BACK ON … or are about to.

Impossible?

Some people talk of ‘reaching a plateau’ or even say your body knows what weight it wants to be. Yeah, but my body wanted to be 21 stone 10 and I let it for a long time. As for that plateau, it’s a fine excuse when you know you’ve been keeping going.

But.

I have been eating more. Simple. As. That.

You let your habits go a bit. Extra cheese creeps back in. Large bread rolls. Any bread with the word tiger in. Irresistible. The third bag of crisps when the rule is two. Or a sod-it-I’m-having-this-massive-bag-&-this-pack-of-Cadbury’s-mini-rolls moment in the shop. And that’s fine now and again. Because of course you can’t put six stone on in one weekend. And I reckon this is what happens when people put some or all of their weigh back on. Laurels resting. Rewarding. Just-this-once-will-be-fine-ing and then gradually …

And I still say the main reason people eat these foods that are full of fat (or sugar) is BECAUSE THEY ARE DELICIOUS. It’s no more complicated than that.
 
However …

I've done much better this week. A mere four days and I’ve dropped one of the pounds I’ve put on. So I'm going to keep going for it now. Firm up my habits. Remember what I did in the early days, months, years. Avoid getting hijacked by those cheesy potato cakes. Definitely can’t buy any more of those for a while.

Exercise-wise, I'm keeping going. It's forever. Ninety-nine percent of the time I enjoy it. I have failed on the extra classes though. Body Balance is slow and hard and full of people who seem able to tie themselves easily into knots and hold it there and it made me cry last time I did it. Hydro Fit I quite like, despite its silliness, but now winter is setting in it's very dark on the prom for cycling to the health club and my flat is so cosy and warm and safe BUT … I will do it for Zumba. Of course. Don't care if there's snow, hail, flood or a hurricane I can get to Zumba. Even if I have to leave my beloved Brenda behind and walk.

After a chat with the FGE I've decided to set a doable target working towards June the 12th when I have a ticket booked for Nick Lowe in Glasgow. I have to have lost the weight of the FGE by then. At the moment, she informs me, this is 8 stone 4. So that's what I'm aiming for. Of course I may be lucky and her summer weight, due to extra running and cycling, will be eight stone. But somewhere between 112 & 116 pounds off. This would really be progress. Slow, but still progress. Especially when I remember my original target (before I found out I was shorter than I thought) was to lose 120 pounds. This is where I thought I could get in four years. I could still do this. Maybe. Possibly.

So this mini target-challenge is called ‘Go Lowe For Glasgow’ OR ‘Lowe Waits’. Well, we’re writers.

The other thing I've done for incentive is to take all the clothes I've bought in the past couple of years that don't yet fit and hang them in the guest room. The majority of these were from charity shops. I know it's a bit girly, the clothes thing, but you have to find incentive where you can find it. Yes, I like feeling more normal, feeling in control of something I never could control before, being able to walk faster up hill, run for a bus easily, sleep better (sometimes) and many other things ... but the clothes!

 

 
 

My shrine to clothes that MUST fit one day. Some day.

 
 
 
This month I'm attempting to write 50k words. This is because I am a sheep and lots of folk on Twitter were embarking on this #NaNoWriMo, and because the #VSS365 prompts set me off with characters and a bit of a story and I’m using them to help me write more of it and intend to use all of the November words. I'm enjoying just writing and writing and not worrying about trying to make it perfect. In December though, I can sort out the almost finished novel I have. Maybe.

And yes, this is relevant because getting caught up in long writing sessions helps to stop me thinking about food for whole minutes at a time and there's not many things which can do that.

Finally, here's some before and afters.
2013 ...

 
 
 


2018 ...
 

 

 
 



 
With the FGE outside the VVV!
 
Onwards … I will get you, The Impossible Thing!



 

 

 

So this mini target is called Go Lowe For Glasgow OR Lowe Waits. The other thing I've done for incentive us to take all the clothes I've bought that don't fit and hang them in the guest room. Most of these were from charity shops. I know it's a bit girly but you have to find incentive where you can find it. I like feeling more normal in control being able to walk faster up hill run for a bus sleep better (sometimes) etc .. . But the clothes are the best measure of weight loss and I live being able to put in smaller sizes and know they fit. It's a shrine to clothes that MUST fit one day some day The plan is go in there for strength ...

Monday, 29 October 2018

Ten Years Have Passed, Part Two : At Uni, Queen of the World & the Places Writing Took Me



I moved into my studio at Lancaster University at the beginning of October 2009. So far in this three part blogpost series, I’ve only covered a year. I could tell a million stories about uni but I will try to be brief for now.

I’m still not sure I really got four grand’s worth of my hard-earned money. I know how many years saving while working full time that was. This was the fees that year, though it did include a week’s residential in Wales. It’s an oft-seen debate whether it’s ‘worth’ doing a MA, a discussion that will run and run I’m sure. For me though, it wasn’t just about the writing. It was about the whole experience. And I was doing that moving transition thing that normal people do at eighteen. I was just a bit later. By twenty-five years.

I had a really good group. Diverse, interesting and supportive, some of whom I’m still in touch with. One is the famous FGE of #TheImpossibleThing posts, who lives quite near & I’m so lucky to have a friend.

I absolutely loved the workshops. This was a massive fear for me before uni. Showing a load of strangers what I’d written? I just couldn’t. It was a fear which had stopped me from joining a writer’s group for decades. But I just went for it. ‘Feel the fear’ and all that. Even during the very first workshop I was thinking ‘Why didn’t I do this years ago?’ Of course we were all in the same boat. And sometimes it felt like us against the tutor. One workshop at the residential certainly felt like that.

At Lancaster, you’re encouraged to experiment. I submitted short stories to the group in the first term, then moved onto my first ever flash fictions, a monologue, some not too successful dabbling in poetry and in the final term I wrote a play and discovered how hard that was. I’ve not read or thought about it since. I think it’s a tad self-indulgent, drawing on my Christopher Eccleston obsession, the madness of shopping channels, my experience of coast-walking and the wisdom of a lost friend. Maybe one day I’ll read it again.


A Lancaster University Rainbow
 
I planned to start swimming at uni, to go for lots of walks and be careful what I ate. I’d lost a stone before I left and hoped to continue. I guess it wasn’t my time. I discovered the uni chippy; chips, onion rings and add your own cheese. Not exactly healthy but so delicious. I had no oven in that studio. I couldn’t even do jacket potatoes. I was on a budget but was enjoying food freedom. I’ve never liked expensive foods. I did walk but not as much as I could have. I spent a lot of time in my studio writing or in a café reading the group’s submissions at the weekend. Doing feedback took a long time for me. I like to be thorough.

This was how I discovered Morecambe. I hadn’t realised I’d be so close to the sea in Lancaster. Morecambe felt a lot more real than being on campus. Not sure I ever really belonged there. I would go to Eric’s Café or the one on the Stone Jetty and sit eating and drinking and writing notes all over my fellow student’s novel extracts, stories and poems, ready for discussing in the workshops.

So I basically put my stone back on plus another ten pounds. This was for later. Quite a bit later as it turned out.

So I cobbled together a portfolio of ten short stories and a play and wrote the critical assessment that went with it. I had a fifty-one week let at the uni. In the last few weeks of the final term I sorted my CV and sent it to two dozen nurseries. I had to get a job and fast. And somewhere to live once the summer was over.

In the May my aunt had died. She had no husband or children. Just a bungalow in Norfolk that my Dad, as her next of kin, had inherited and said straight away he would sell it and give my brother and I the money. I travelled from Lancaster to Diss for a very strange few days with my parents. The funeral, a kind of party afterwards, sorting the bungalow’s contents out, finding a load of cash stashed in various places my Mum said was mine, sitting on the kitchen floor trying to scrub it clean and wanting to throw up from the smell of cat. One cat, thirty years.
 
My Brother Andy and I with Auntie Margaret in 1968

It was sad my aunt dying at only sixty-four & I hope I do a lot better than that but I suddenly had some money that would help me in the future I began to see for myself. I was going to live by the sea, (something I’d only ever played at before, staying in holiday cottages in Whitby and the Isle of Wight), get a part time job and write.

I got a few responses from my CV and sorted my new job during the summer. It was in a nursery in Morecambe. I was already thinking I’d like to live there. But I had known from the start I wasn’t going back to Coventry. I knew. Stella knew. No one else did. I was, once again, holding my nerve. I somehow found a rented place in the nice quiet part of Morecambe where I still live. By September I was in, albeit camping out with next to nothing in the way of furniture, and already settled into the new job, which was fine for now though not enough hours or money.

In these first few months, I was scared I wasn’t going to carry on writing. I worked ten till one and the nursery was a mere seventeen minute walk away so I began doing ‘morning pages’ of a thousand words, inspired by one of my favourite writers, Paul Magrs.

One of the first flashes I ever wrote in early 2010 featured a character who could control the weather. Her name was Marjorie and I began to write about her. Within a few weeks I realised I was working on ‘a project of length’. I began to think about where the story could go, the other characters, the journey they would go on and it just grew and grew. As pretentious as it sounds, Marjorie and the others spoke to me as I walked along the prom to work. I kept going back and adding a little more, splitting it into chapters and working it all out. I wrote scenes I never thought I’d write, I made stuff up, took stuff from my own life, set scenes in real places and imaginary places, in different times of the year, in times past and the present.

 
Early Morning on the Front in Morecambe
 
Yes, I was writing a novel, something I shied away from while I was at uni. It’s called Queen of The World. This was the name I used for the owner of the horrible nursery. Not to her face. So I was able to reclaim Queen of the World and turn it into something good and exciting and positive. More on that in the next part.

After graduation I joined Twitter, thanks to the encouragement of two friends. Stella and Al, I bless the days you were born ‘cos I can’t imagine not being on Twitter. The best thing about my first year there was finding out about lots of writing competitions, entering them and getting shortlisted or placed and even winning a couple.  I got invited to read too. My first reading, aside from uni, was in a room above a pub in Chorlton (Flashtag Manchester) and then, later in 2011, I won the Calderdale prize, with a story from my portfolio. I read the whole thing at Halifax library. Being the winner is great. It’s unbelievably exciting that, out of all those stories, yours came out top for that particular judge. Writing was taking me to new places. And, crucially, I was still writing and submitting and getting stuff published. A monologue in Mslexia, flash online, short stories and yes, I really was writing a novel.

After a year in Morecambe the nursery I was working at closed. I vowed I would get whatever job I could find. Luckily another better and bigger nursery, which was part of a chain, was looking for a cook. More hours, more money. In Lancaster so an hour’s walk-bus-walk commute each way but just what I needed. I’ve now been there over seven years. Before I started something happened – I forget what - that made my manager say ‘You’re one of us now.’ What a delightful and rather sinister thing to say? During my first week there, my lovely Nana died and I was given a day’s paid leave for the funeral. I’d been visiting her in a care home in Carlisle for the past couple of years. She was ninety-seven and she finally got what she’d wanted for some time.


Nana!
 
I was pleased with what I’d achieved in the year after uni but I knew, if I was staying in Morecambe, I had to invest my money, to buy a flat rather than rent.

I had no idea what I was doing.

But then I never did.
 

Coming soon in part three … more Impossible Things!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Ten Years Have Passed, Part One : Leaving, Leaving, Leaving.


It’s exactly ten years today since I left the horrible job and set in place the train of events that led me to change my life.
I was at the end of my tether in that job. I’d done four years. The nursery moved buildings after about two and half years.  I fell and cracked my ribs around the same time and I just carried on. Only told two friends. I was painting skirting boards at the new building after my eight hour day in the kitchen. Skirting boards? Someone was having a laugh with me. Ridiculous now I look back on it.

I had been expected to design my own kitchen but most of the work had been done by the owner's DIY-inept husband. We should never assume all men know how to do this stuff. Of course they don’t. I had to get my Dad - who can do that stuff - in to put up shelves. I couldn’t store food on the floor, could I? Everywhere I turned in that building was chaos. Moving day was a nightmare not to be thought about for too long.

There’d been five managers in four years. The staff turnover was so fast one actually left in her morning break. Just walked away. I longed to do that but I was also trying to be the perfect nursery cook. I'd done the job elsewhere for twelve and a half years but the place had closed. This was a brand new nursery & all vegetarian. I loved not cooking meat and the challenge of developing new menus. All systems had to be set up from scratch. Nothing was ever organised or simple and yet I was constantly being told how wonderful it would all be one day, about how much I’d earn, about all the new equipment I would have. I didn't care about that.

I was saying same thing over and over – to manager and owner - and getting nowhere, obsessing, I’ll admit, about little things that didn’t really matter. I used to get home on a Friday, fall asleep watching Corrie then wake up thinking about work. This sometimes made me cry tears of frustration about all the unsolvable stuff, about the lack of communication with the staff, about how disorganised it all was. I often wanted to lie on the floor and weep and, okay, I did do that once.

I would buy a load of crisps, cheese and chocolate, usually from M&S and eat them secretly after I’d cooked a modest tea for myself and my parents. I was rewarding myself for getting through another day, comforting and treating myself. And keeping my weight up, of course.

During this time I was talking to Stella, on our Saturday lunch and theatre trips to Birmingham, about how I wanted to do an MA in Creative writing. I'd been researching this online. I’ve told this story many times now but am so, so, SO glad I sent that email to her in which I mentioned entertaining a fantasy of doing it full time on campus in Lancaster. Her answer ‘why should it just be a fantasy?’ set the ball rolling. But after a while I really felt I had gone on about it so much that I actually had to do just bloody do it. Stella was right; I had savings, no commitments and the kind of job I could do anywhere.

But I had to get out of this horrible job first. For my own sanity if nothing else. After a pathetic attempt to get a job in the Food Technology department of a senior school. (Terrible interview and a feeling of really not wanting to go back to school just yet. Or ever.), I went for another nursery cook’s job. With over sixteen year's experience cooking for pre-school children and babies, it was easy to sell myself in this interview, though I did spill the beans a bit too much about the situation in which I was working, though thankfully it was in a different town and just into Warwickshire. Whole different area. The manager and deputy understood my frustrations and were so kind to me. No,I didn’t cry but I was close. But I got the job, worked my notice and left ten years ago today.

SO HAPPY. 😊😊😊💃

My leaving present was perfume. Can’t stand perfume. I’m damn sure in the four years I was there I never once smelt of perfume. They didn't know me at all.

I had a long commute to the new job in Leamington but loved it from the start. Here’s my dairy entry from 11th October 2008 …

  ‘Have  now completed the first week. What a beautifully organised nursery. They have a similar amount of staff and children, similar layout & logistics. But G---- can’t do it & T------- can. UNBLEIEVABLE! It is down to good management & staff & a system that everyone follows and passes on to new people.’

Simple as that.

On my first day the manager kept popping back to the kitchen. By teatime she said ‘I don’t have to worry about you, do I?’ I asked her for various things and she sorted them immediately and without fuss. She gave me some money in case I needed to buy anything. In the previous job I had been left doing all the shopping for a 62 place nursery for weeks and weeks and was owed a few hundred pounds which I did eventually get back, after much pestering. I shopped before work, in my break, and after work. I had no car and carried the shopping a good half a mile through town. The nursery proclaimed it was organic. At lot of the time it wasn't. This concerned me. The owner would lie to me about there being no organic vegetables in the supermarket and would tell the manager she must think I was stupid. I scared we would be found out and it would be my reputation.


But back to the new job. I made two stupid mistakes during my first week and managed to happily laugh them off, something I was struggling to do back at the horrible place. I suddenly didn't mind if I'd made a fool of myself. I was amongst friends.

9th Nov 2008 …

‘It’s Sunday night & it’s so nice not to feel as if I am dreading going to work. I’d rather not but I don’t have a feeling of dread like I did at that place … thank goodness I was brave enough to leave & this is just the start.’

Then I booked a couple of days off. I was heading to Lancaster Uni for an open day. I was doing it. Thinking about doing it. Taking the next step towards doing it. That was the key, not to think too far ahead. Hold your nerve, Sal.

Lancaster was a place I’d passed through umpteen times on the train for years on the way to Cumbria where my Nana lived. I always had to look up the river at the Ashton memorial in Williamson Park. I looked at the little houses and imagined living there. I was drawn to the place and had no idea why.

At the open day, there were various talks about the uni in general. And then there was a room with representatives from different departments. There was a Creative Writing sitting tutor at a table. Dare I speak to him, I asked myself. Time was ticking by. I had to speak to him. This was my window of opportunity. So I did. He waffled excitedly about the course, said the personal statement was the important part of your application and also said something about the different people applying, including the words ‘mid-life crisis’. I laughed at this. I was forty-two years old and not sure whether I’d make it to eighty-four, the age I was halfway to. And was this a crisis? I felt I was being terribly brave and still doubted I could see this through but a crisis? No way!

After I came out from speaking to the tutor (who later became one of the tutors for my course) I texted Stella with the words ‘I have not been put off.’

I came home and began working on my application. I was also at this time getting rid of 25% of my stuff, decluttering in preparation for a move I didn’t know was really happening. I did a short course on Playwriting with the OU (where I'd previously done my first degree) so I could get a reference from the tutor. I enjoyed the course and at that stage, I still wanted to write a play.

My application had to be in by February. I gradually gathered together everything I needed, wrote my personal statement and chose some pieces of example writing to submit.
 15th Feb 2009 …

‘I am submitting – about to click ‘SUBMIT’. Here goes – DRUM ROLL ……… It said ‘Are you sure you wish to submit?’ YES!!! IT IS DONE!!!’

I planned to apply to Salford, Huddersfield and Northumbria too. That never happened.  I had my heart set on Lancaster. Did I KNOW I would be accepted? No, I didn’t. At the end of March I said …

‘I feel like I’ve been waiting to hear whether I’m going to uni or not forever.’
Then, on 21st April I received an email and was able to write this in my diary …

‘I DID IT – I HAVE BEEN OFFERED A PLACE ON THE CREATIVE WRITING MA AT LANCASTER!’

Of course, the first thing I did was text Stella. Told my parents. Handed my notice in at work. Planned to leave at the end of August. To have a whole month off, something I hadn’t done since starting work at seventeen. Then it was holding my nerve and making my plans, doing my research, sorting out my finances. I set a budget. I wanted my savings to last as long as possible. My plans went beyond a year at uni. 

In August I had to teach the new chef my job. He had plenty of catering experience but had not worked in a nursery before. I talked and talked at him for two days and gradually stepped back and let him get on with it. He was perfect for the job and that made leaving easy.

On my last day the manager suggested I spent time in the pre-school room. It made a change. I did a bit of play dough stuff with the children and watched the new chef bringing in his Vegetable Lasagne. I was, for now, no longer a nursery cook.

My leaving present was two mugs and a set of pens. And a balloon. They knew me so well. Okay, the balloon was a bit of a liability on the bus but such a great send off after a mere eleven months in the job.

So I’d left my job & I was off to uni at the age of forty-three. I was also leaving my home town and leaving my parent’s house. No big deal.

Er … Massive deal.

At uni, I wrote seventy-seven thousand words in emails to Stella alone. So you see, this isn’t so long after all.

In all of the above I was helped a little by the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway … and a lot by Stella Turner. Thank you, Stella ... and Sybil, your life coach alter ego.
 
 
Fold Out 'Pros & Cons List' & 'To Do List' in my diary of that time.

Coming soon in Part Two … ‘At Uni, Living By The Sea, Queen of the World and the Places Writing Took Me 2010 – 2013’

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Impossible Thing : Diploma!



This week – staying at my parent’s while my Dad was having his operation – I’ve been researching a course I’d like to do. I can find various online courses in this subject and may go for a diploma in Weight Management Nutrition. This is a bit more than it sounds as the course seems to cover a wider range of issues related to obesity than just the nutrition side. There’s a post graduate one but its three grand and 600 hours work as opposed to 100 hours work and three hundred pounds. So diploma it is.

It’s suitable for health professionals, etc, as well as those working in the food industry. I’m supposed to be doing a course on allergies for work which I asked about ages ago but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Another chef within the company (works in a care home in Hammersmith) has asked to do an allergies course too and they are apparently looking into it at head office. I will wait till spring I think, before enrolling. Though I’m sure I could do both at once. And keep up with my fitness regime and finish my novel and submit to agents and independent publishers. Of course!

I already have two diplomas, in Human Nutrition and European Humanities, so Dip Hum Nut (sounds like something off a veggie café menu) and Dip Eur Hum. Might as well do Dip Wei Man Nut too! Well, it could be called that. And I have a BA and MA. Most over qualified nursery cook ever.

But … part of #TheImpossibleThing for me is reading around my subject. Hence all the weight loss memoirs and obsession with news stories and subsequent twitter rants about weight loss drugs.

When I started on my impossible journey I hoped to use my intelligence and determination (and my big head!) to do this. Knowledge is power, as they say. Let’s face it, there are many myths around what you need to do to lose weight. Or rather, a lot of utter nonsense talked. So, it can all help me in my quest for perfection … I mean my quest to be somewhere in the ideal weight range and, as I said from the start ,‘to find out what it’s like not to be fat’.

Also, I want to help others. Whether this is through publishing a The Impossible Thing book or maybe a possible change of career. I’ve often thought I’d like to be a nutritionist, except I was sure you couldn't have a fat one. I don’t know. But this diploma will be interesting anyway.
As well as a lot of hospital visiting and helping my Mum, this week I've been swimming in Cov Baths where I used to swim as a child. Built in 1967, I was swimming there in the seventies and eighties. Now it seems a bit shabby in places and so strange to be back. Its obviously still very much used though. I enjoyed my swims in the Olympic sized pool and my first-time-ever Jacuzzi.
My Jacuzzi tweet just made me laugh reading it back ...
'A swim dress and a Kakoozi don't go. Looked down at myself and decided I'd either put on ten stone or the triplets will be here by the weekend. Air filled the top too. Bit much. Relief to get out and shrink back to my usual slightly more modest size. '
There were some very helpful staff too, as I had locker key problems.
I've also done some nice short local walks and had a fab lunch with my best friend.
 
 
 

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Ilkley : Excitement, Adventure and Really Wild Things


I’ve used a quote from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - been re-watching it recently - to title this blogpost but it is really about my lovely trip to Ilkley yesterday. I sometimes can’t believe the places I trot off to on my own. It’s often writing that takes me to them. Or music. In this case, it’s my love of swimming.



 
It was in my New Year’s Resolution blogpost about wanting to swim in Ilkley Lido so I decided this was the day. Not very warm but sunny, cloudy, no rain. The three & a quarter hour journey ended up being four hours. I was due to change trains at Shipley but when I alighted I discovered there was a fire on the tracks so my next train was cancelled and, there being no toilets in Shipley station, I jumped on a train to Leeds, unsure if I would get to Ilkley this way. My geography of Yorkshire is hazy, google maps not playing ball to help me out.
I’d read some truly dreadful reviews of Ilkley Lido on Trip Adviser the previous evening. I only looked to find out if they have lockers because if you go somewhere on our own you don’t have anyone to mind your stuff while you take a dip. I had last minute panics about being stranded in Yorkshire in nothing but a damp swim dress. No money, train ticket, keys, phone, clothes, not even my glasses. I would be helpless. Scary thought.
Of course they have lockers but I got involved in reading all kinds of reviews about how unclean and tatty the place was. Awful café, staff that just chatted, thieves and drinking ‘chavs’, a need for flip flops in the tiny changing rooms/toilets as the floor was covered in piss and worse. They made it sound horrible. Dark, damp, evil-smelling and dangerous.
But it was fine. Slightly worse for wear being an old pool and buildings but seemed pretty clean, well-organised, lots of staff. I can see how things might get a bit unpleasant in hot weather when it’s very busy but that’s to be expected. As someone on TA pointed out, this is council run not a private health club. Let’s face it, they’ve done well to keep it open all this time. Morecambe’s pool is long gone. There is a campaign to save the lido at Grange-Over-Sands, which is disused. As always this is about money.
Ilkley lido is in the shape of mushroom. The stalk is the deep end at 2m, the widest part is 1.5 & the top mushroom third is the shallow end with a slide and fountain, the children’s area. I got in the middle section and was immediately plunged up to the neck into bracingly icy COLD water, which almost took my breath away. GASP! Colder than Gurnall Dubbs tarn of a few weeks back, I'm sure.
 
 
Lovely though. I just got swimming, trying to breathe at the same time. Always a good idea. After a few of the longer lengths I joined a pair of older-than-me women in rubber bathing caps in the mushroom stalk. (I'm looking at that and thinking 'mushrooms talk ... ha!) I climbed out into the relative warmth and got back in, deciding against swimming under the rope-with-floats dividing the two sections. Far too cold to dip my head in. After a few lengths one of the women got out and the other was talking to one of the life guards. Then she suddenly said there was a man having a fit or something and the life guard rushed over. The man had apparently been swimming and got dressed again but had ‘gone into aftershock’ as the rubber-hatted woman put it. She was clearly the expert. Several life guards gathered to make sure he was okay. He was laid down and wrapped in blankets. The woman was saying she was used to it and if you’re not used to it like him you should be careful and it was a shame her husband wasn’t here 'because he’s a doctor'.
I wondered if I would go into aftershock. I voiced this to her. She asked was I used to it. I told her about the tarn and the unheated pool in five weeks in the winter that I braved. She thought twenty minutes would be enough. I stayed in half an hour and did a walking tour of the children’s section and around the wedding cake style fountain. The pool had a view of the town and moor above it. Stunning location. I then reluctantly left the pool, had a piping hot shower in the perfectly fine changing rooms and an awful cup of tea in the café, took some photos and headed back into the town. Not in aftershock. I am hardy. And well upholstered.
 
 

Ilkley is a fine place, full of Saturday bustle. There seemed to be a lots of posh shops, 'interiors' ones in particular. The Veggie café I’d found online was full and I booked a table to return to in half an hour. I then walked round, got accosted by a charity woman, had a long conversation about mental health with her. She also told me where the charity shops were. I then had a great lunch and headed for them. I walked through the amazing market. Most stalls were full of food. Shame I was so stuffed from lunch. You could have a feast in Ilkley market and take a load of bread, tarts, nuts and jams back home.
I succumbed at the African arts stall and bought this silver horse crafted from wire. Couldn't resist. I love the movement in the mane and tail. This horse is standing on beach, leaning into the breeze coming in off the sea.

I do like horses. HORSES, Andy ... NOT slugs. Big difference. Photos of horses = good. Photos of slugs = yuck!
 
In the charity shops I bought several items, including a Monsoon dress for £8.99. It’s a very fitted size 20 with a halter neck (ridiculous!) & little zip at the side which doesn’t do up. I need to lose a bit more midriff. A few inches. Ok, four. I know I said I wouldn’t buy any more clothes that don’t fit but it’s in such good condition and close to fitting. And it was the Heart Foundation Shop, which I always like to support, 'cos of my niece's heart transplant. I gave them a tenner. I would anyway, regardless of the dress. It would be amazing to put it on and zip it up some day though. Worth swimming a million-trillion lengths for. But not worth giving up crisps and cheese.
 
IF IF IF IF I am losing another 2-3 stone then I’ll be wearing that … er … somewhere. For hoovering the stairs or doing the washing up or strolling to the Londis, perhaps.
But … onwards … #TheImpossibleThing I will get ya! But I WILL be treating myself along the way.
The journey home was eventful. To cut a long story short, I saw how wonderful our paramedics are when a young woman had a fit on the train. (Two fits in one day? Was that my fault and will there be a third?) They were so good and calm and capable and so beautifully diffused the situation with her 'boyfriend' (he had upset her in some way which wasn't helping her, I reckon) insisting on not being ‘thrown off the train’ as he put it & then swearing and threatening to set fire to it. (He was smoking in the toilets when she had the fit).
The big bearded older tattooed paramedic worked as a great team with the smaller younger female one, in saying and doing exactly the right thing. When the 'boy' got angry he spoke to the now slightly recovered woman and the other paramedic talked calmly to the belligerent 'boy'. Part of their training, I sensed. Basically, they were brilliant. As was the train manager. Give 'em all a pay rise, just like our politicians get.
But still, it was a good day. I’m taking one day’s holiday tomorrow. Off to Blundellsands and Crosby for beach walking & to finally see Another Place. More multiple trains and hopefully another nice lunch. And, fingers crossed, no one having a fit. No dramas please, but maybe a bit more excitement, adventure and really wild things.