Monday 31 January 2011

What should you teach your child?

And my third (or is it fourth?) night without sleep. It’s getting insane, it really is. But I realised I couldn’t do anything about it so I meditated (which some say is equivalent to sleep) and worked on fixing my back. When 6am came round, I wouldn’t say I bounced out of bed but the stabbing pains in my back had vanished and I felt a curious clarity.

There’s a different dynamic in the house when Adrian’s away. James came into my room and said he had a suggestion for the problem of the Arctic Cryochamber Breakfast Room.

‘Wear your dressing gown,’ he opined. ‘Over your clothes.’

I had to laugh. He was standing, in school uniform with a long dressing gown knotted round his waist; trousers tucked into thick socks and a pair of ankle-high furry slippers.
So I followed suit and we had breakfast looking like a rum old pair of Noel Cowards.
James switched the radio from Adrian’s beloved Radio 4 to Radio One and we danced with the dogs to the Black Eyed Peas and shook with laughter and lost track of time and nearly missed the bus.

Once again, the SP and I went over the bridge and up the hill. Shrouded in mist; fine soft kisses of moisture on the air. But the path was slick and I felt my feet slide under me. So I followed the SP up the steep rocky path, through the trees, up, up, up, feeling lighter with every step. No wulfas; no beasts at all; just bird song, rustle and footfall. To the hill fort, the fastness, surrounded by ancient ghosts and then down the steep passage known as the Chimney.

Careful walking. Walking as thoughtfulness. Thinking, thinking. Mainly about my son, my lovely son – and the man he will become. It made me ponder the principles I hope I have offered him.

I don’t believe we should inflict our ideas, our beliefs on our children. But I do think we can offer up suggestions, thoughts, possibilities. When I thought about what I would like James to take through life with him, I came down to these...

1. To your own self be true. The stormy search for the self starts young and it can be a hard path. I like to think James has enough self-esteem and self-belief that he does not need to follow the herd. That he can make his own decisions; be his own person; be happy in his skin.

2. Be independent. It’s not just practical, this one (although James is learning to cook, to clean, to wash clothes and iron them; to have responsibility for animals and his own stuff – why, oh why, do people not teach their boys this stuff?). It’s about being self-sufficient; about taking responsibility for oneself.

3. Be honest but also kind. This is about discrimination and it’s a fine line for children to learn. If your self-esteem is strong enough, there is no need to put other people down. Yes, some people are hugely irritating; bombastic; stupid; plain revolting. But hey...who are we to tell them? And that leads on to...

4. Stand up to bullies and stick up for the underdog. People who bully do so from fear, from lack of self-esteem. This chimed with James and now he stands his ground. He also stands between the bully and the bullied, even when it means going against the crowd – and for that, I am so proud of my young knight.

5. Communicate. Honestly, this is so fundamental – not just to children but to everyone. Nearly every question I answer (in my dubious role of agony aunt) comes down to this. Talk. Say what you mean. Don’t expect another person to intuit your meaning. I go over this time and again with James. He – like so many of us - imagines slights that probably aren’t there; is over-sensitive; gets the wrong end of the stick.

6. Confront your fears. Fear is the biggie; the one thing that so often stops us from achieving our potential; from being who we want to be. But, once you confront a fear, stare it straight in the eye, it often backs right down. James learned his lesson on this a few years back when he was picked for a county cricket training. Nobody he knew was there and he baulked. He’s regretted it ever since. It’s not just the physical fear either (though I must say jumping off a mountain blows away a bit of that) but psychic fear too. I have taught James how to confront his nightmares; to stand up to the monsters and ask them what they have to show him (monster comes from the Latin verb, monstrare – to show, reveal).

7. Question your thoughts. Thought can deceive. Thought can lie. Thought jumps to conclusions; turns simple dilemmas into catastrophe. ‘I got a C for English. I’m rubbish.’ ‘He looked at me funny; he hates me.’ Negative thoughts are your ego acting out of fear. Okay, so you don't need to go into that with your child but, well, you get my drift...

8. Open your heart. Ah, this is a tough one to teach a child on the verge of teenagedom as you know it will bring heartache as well as joy. But, truly, hearts are made to love. I have no doubt James’s will be broken, probably many times. But, the heart is a muscle, a spiritual as well as a physical muscle – and without breaking, it does not grow. There is huge healing and transformation in unconditional love - yes, even to those you consider enemies.  I would point out that James isn’t totally convinced on this one yet

9. Have a sense of humour. Truly, the world hates a sourpuss.

10. Know when to shut up. :-)

Sorry. Longer post than intended.
What have I missed?
What do you hope to impart to your children?
How much should we impose our thoughts and beliefs on our children?

btw, there's still time to enter the Kinect competition. Just leave a comment here

Time passing and beauty pageants

James worries about time passing. He says that time feels like it’s speeding up. I know that feeling but it worries me that he does. I don’t think I felt like that at his age. I always considered it was a mathematical thing – that, as we get older, each year is a smaller fraction of our life so far lived, so inevitably it feels shorter. But, hmm, is time speeding up?

‘I won’t be a child much longer,’ he said, sadly.
‘You’re not that old,’ I said, smiling.
‘I’m nearly a teenager.’
‘I’ll be a teenager this year. And then in four years’ time...’
‘Oh stop it.’
‘Why can’t childhood last longer?’

Why indeed?

And then, as I idly clicked through Facebook, I saw that my nevermetbutmuchadored friend TL Tyson had posted a new vlog. I love her vlog. I love her, full stop. She’s a very talented writer who lives in Canada; who has just the most fecund imagination and a wild sense of humour. She’s someone who turns your thinking upside down. Anyhow, she’d posted a vlog about child beauty pageants which rams home the point about how, for some children, childhood is being cut short in a pretty dramatic way.

Watch it.

I have no words for this. It sickens me. If it sickens you too, then maybe nick the link for this and post it on your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter account?  Can we not shame these people into stopping this travesty?

As Tee says: ‘When did child abuse become a source of entertainment?’

Sunday 30 January 2011

A small cold thing

Today I am a small cold thing. A sad lost thing. Broken, confused, battered, blue. I sit and shake, so hard I feel my bones will shatter. I cannot stop the shaking; nothing warms me. It is not a physical cold but a spiritual shivering. Shaken to the soul.

I try to sleep but I cannot. I just lie in the darkness, my mind torturing me, my body crucifying me. I hurt.

They say that the body gives us the messages we need to hear so what is mine saying? Is the lump in my throat telling me I have words caught in my gullet; words I cannot speak? What about the stabbing pain in my back? Louise Hay would say it’s about guilt, about burn out, about lack of money, about fear. I’ll claim all four and more.

When I meditate I keep falling into unconsciousness, plummeting into the void -but only for a moment so I come to with a lurch; my heart thudding. Yesterday I thought I would try to ground myself. I would journey to the lower world. I have been flying upwards for so long, shooting out into the furthest reaches of the universe; then cracking through the shell into further universes; finding myself, finding the stranger; looking into mirrors; multiplying, condensing; playing the cosmic game and...what? Winning? Losing. Looking for the card that is so high and wild?

Maybe it was time to go down.

So I found my axis mundi, my old friend, the moss-covered opening under the large beech tree and cautiously moved inside; the drum my guide. The steady beat used to hurl me down in a heartbeat. But not now. I have to walk, slowly, painfully, and the path winds slowly, seems endless. I have been away so long. And instead of the usual warmth and my beloved animal, I find a place of howling wind and loneliness. A white beach beside a frozen lake. Dark trees surround. And then I see a bear, a large brown bear. Once - afar. Twice – lumbering, its back turned. Thrice – disappearing into the trees. And then, up close, teeth bared, biting, chewing. I am dismembered and it feels wonderful. I have given up, given in, surrendered. I wait for the warm breath that will lick me whole, that will bring me back to life. But it doesn’t come. Instead shrill barking hurtles me out of the deepest trance, shocked into waking. And I am in this world, in pieces, staring at the dog that bit me.

And I am so so tired. So bone-weary that last night I went to bed at 8.30pm. Crawled under the covers and turned away from the light. And couldn’t sleep – again. Couldn’t tumble into oblivion. Couldn’t dream.

So this morning I didn’t walk in the big wide fields, by the rushing river, in the open spaces under the cool sharp sky. I crossed the bridge and went up the hill, followed the winding path into the deep dark forest. A faintly ridiculous Red Riding Hood who knows that the old warnings were all wrong. That, if one wants to find oneself, there is no point staying on the track. There is no earthly point heading for the safety of Granny’s hut; there is no sense in hoping for the big brave Hunter. She needs to plunge headlong through the trees and hope, against all hope, that the wulf will come - yes, wulf (the Anglo-Saxon spelling is truer) - and tear her to bloody pieces.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Win an XBox Kinect and YourShape

I’ve never got computer games. Never even went on Space Invaders or PacMan. Just don’t get the fun of fiddling with knobs (so to speak). I’ve watched a succession of consoles wander in and out of the house and never felt remotely tempted to pick up a joystick and join in. Okay, so once I let James persuade me to wield a light sabre in Star Wars and actually I did alright – mainly by adopting a wild spinning and slashing action.

I thought I’d like the Wii Fit but it fell short somehow. I didn’t like being confined to the balance board and coordinating nunchuks just got on my nerves. James loved it of course: mainly because he got a kick out of topping me in everything. Except for Zazen. Seems I can sit without moving a single muscle for a very long time. Who knew? 100% every time. Ker-ching.

Then along came Kinect. Some of my mates had been over to LA for the launch of this last year and had raved about it but, even so, it didn’t really register. But James had one for Christmas and I watched him play. No controllers. Just him in front of the TV.
‘You wanna have a go, Mum?’
‘Hmm, mebbe.’ (nose deep in my new Kindle)
‘C’mon. Even you can do this.’

So I stood up and it scanned me. Plotted out all my bones. Shit, do I really look like that?

You know what? It’s huge fun. We played all sorts – ducking, diving, jumping, sliding. My favourite is the one where you wave your arms to fly up to the ceiling (been trying to do that in real life for years).

Then we tried Your Shape and that was a bit of a revelation too. I’ve done aerobics classes for years, absolutely years, and I thought I had pretty good technique. Wrong. Because the Kinect is tracking your actual skeletal structure (actually I don’t want to think about how it does that too much) you can see exactly where you’re going wrong.

Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it’s damn good. I broke a serious sweat on the cardio class and the trainer is kickass on muscle toning – the squats were an absolute killer. Loved the cardio boxing and I’m impressed that it tries to persuade you to end each session with a Zen stretch.

Now, if they could just find a way to get Assassin’s Creed running on Kinect, I might really be a lost cause.

What? Oh, the competition....sorry. If you have an Xbox and would like to try out Kinect, here’s your opportunity. Ubisoft, the game developer, has promised that one of you lovely lot will win a Kinect and a copy of Your Shape. Read on....and good luck.

Here’s the official blurb bit...(not written by me - how did you guess?) 

Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman has teamed up with game developer, Ubisoft, to give readers the chance to win an Xbox Kinect along with a copy of Your Shape: Fitness Evolved.

Your Shape's groundbreaking camera tracking technology completely changes the fitness experience, providing users with an unprecedented level of accuracy and efficiency. Unlike other games, Your Shape’s proprietary Player Projection technology puts your body into the game for the ultimate fitness experience. You will physically interact with virtual environments in ways you’ve never seen before and you’ll be captivated by unique and exciting visual effects that respond to your movements and impact.

To be in with a chance to win all you have to do is view the Your Shape Discover Your Shape (‘Toned Body’) video clip on their home page at and then come back here to answer the following simple question:

Question: How many new classes does Your Shape’s Cardio Boxing Platinum offer?

• 3
• 4
• 5

Post your answer in the comments below...

Please note that the Xbox 360 console is NOT included in the prize bundle.  Also, sadly, the prize can only be sent out to a UK address.  The competition will close on 10th February.

Wednesday 26 January 2011


Yesterday wasn't the best of days, to put it mildly. It hadn't been the best of weeks really. Adrian went up to London on Monday for the Telegraph party then headed straight off for Wales leaving me, the boy, the dogs and the roofer. There was a leak in the breakfast room but it seemed like a pretty standard job. Except...

‘Look up there,’ said Gary, pointing up at the exposed innards of the bay. I peered; couldn’t see a thing.
‘The wood’s all rotten.’

So the quick job turned into the major job, necessitating carpenters and builders and scaffolding. And the dogs were going ballistic and any thought of trying to get on with the total rewrite of my book went out the window.
Then Gary knocked at the back door and I backed out of my study, trying to keep the dogs inside and Asbo went mental and bit me – hard – on the knee.

I ignored it, dealt with Gary, made the guys a cup of tea but it hurt like hell and when I took a look I felt a bit sick. It was a pretty deep bite with blood seeping all over. I bunged some tea tree oil and a plaster on it and shook pretty dramatically for a bit. Then wondered if I ought to get it looked at. Asked on Twitter (source of all knowledge) and was inundated with people yelling at me.

‘Can you come in right away?’ asked the receptionist at the surgery. So I did. Seems they take dog bites pretty seriously.
‘I can’t stitch it,’ said the nurse. ‘In case of infection. But I’ll tape the wound closed. Oh, and the doctor says you need a week’s course of antibiotics.’
‘Afraid so.’

Having spent the last week fending off a throat infection with chakra toning and oregano oil, it seemed pretty ironic that I was getting the darn things anyhow. Karma bites again. Payback for all the snarling on Monday.

‘They’re pretty strong, so you might get thrush,’ she carried on, jauntily.
‘Oh great.’
‘Just take lots of live yoghurt.’
‘I eat that anyway.’
She frowned. ‘I didn’t mean eat it.’ She gave a downwards glance.
‘Right. So maybe not the cherry variety then?’

She shook her head patiently.  So hey ho, there we go.

Oh, almost forgot. We now have a new addition to the canine crew. Meet Jakey. Jakey is a liver and white fluffy coated springer spaniel cross. He’s seven years old and loves rolling in mud. At this point I can imagine you are all (especially Milla) clasping hands to foreheads in total despair. Let me explain.

A while back we were sent the Cats and Dogs movies on DVD. As an extra little gift, Ellie Graham, the lovely PR from THINKJAM asked if we’d like her to sponsor a dog on our behalf with the Dogs Trust. James was well up for this and Jakey is the result. If you’ve got children (but can’t have a dog) this is such a great idea. We received a little dossier on Jakey (and apparently we’ll hear from him three times a year). You also get a year’s worth of WAG! Magazine (no, not football nonsense, the Dog’s Trust’s organ), a fridge magnet and a window sticker.

The Dog’s Trust look after 16,000 dogs a year.  If you are thinking of getting a dog, maybe think about rehoming one, rather than buying a puppy?

‘Can we visit Jakey,’ asked James, with a glint in his eye.
‘Nope. Afraid not.’

Sensible, sensible Dog’s Trust!

For more info check out

Monday 24 January 2011

Where are we going?

Where are we going?  Oh, good question. Where ARE we going? But, fear not, I’m not about to launch into a metaphysical rant. Not today. Well, not yet.

A parcel arrived, a big fat satisfying parcel.

I opened it and found a box. With a label that read, simply, Jane.
I opened the box and found a book. A beautiful book, filled with 3-D pop-up pictures.
It asked one simple question: Where are we going?
Ah, you know me. I was entranced. I turned the page.

The story started in the town with two children. They asked their house where they should go.

'The forest,' said the house.
So they went to the forest. But it was dark and scary. And full of strange creatures that came out at night. So they asked the bear.
‘Follow the wind,’ said the bear.
So they followed the wind, and it led them to the beach. But the waves were too big and the seashells were too small.
So they asked the beach, which sent them to the country and then they asked the country which offered some sensible advice.
‘You should ask each other.’

So they sat there in silence for a moment. Then they looked at each other, and at the same time they said, ‘the mountains!’
‘We should have thought of this a long time ago.’

And on the final page there was a little flap saying ‘Pull up’. So I did.

‘Oh wow,’ I said. ‘It’s a phone.’
‘That’s not a phone,’ said James, peering over my shoulder. ‘That’s a Nokia N8.’ Very much in the tones of Ron Weasley explaining to Harry that he’s just been given the very latest broomstick (clearly wasted on such a philistine).
‘But Jims,’ I said, flipping back through the pages. ‘Look at the book and the case and all. Isn’t it gorgeous?’
He rolled his eyes and grabbed the phone. ‘Mum, you’ve just been given a kickass phone and you’re looking at a measly book? I give up.’
I smiled and ruffled his hair. And read the note...
‘Oh, okay. They want us to test out Ovi Maps.’

James, of course, knew all about Ovi and he knew all about Own Voice for Ovi Maps.
‘It’s wicked. You know how you get the usual horrid SatNav voice?’
I did. It was one of the reasons I’ve never had SatNav – apart from the fact that I quite like getting lost.
‘Well, Own Voice lets you download your – er, own voice. So you could have me telling you where to go.’

I can think of a fair few people who’d like to tell me where to go but the idea of my lovely son doing the directing sounded appealing.

Being twelve he did the whole thing in next to no time and, actually, it was very simple. You just have to repeat a whole list of phrases in whatever manner you fancy.
‘Follow the course of the road,’ he yelled.
‘Do you have to shout?’
‘You won’t listen otherwise.’
Fair enough.

‘Turn left’ (in a Geordie accent. Why?)
‘Turn right.’ (in a Scouse accent. Again, why?)
‘You’ve reached your destiny.’
‘Oh sorry. I’ll do that one again. You’ve reached your destination.’
‘I have?’
‘You WILL reach your destination.’
‘Oh good.’

I suppose it took about ten minutes all told and now I just laugh whenever I hear it. I don’t exactly need SatNav round here but I turn it on just to hear my boy telling me, in no uncertain terms, to ‘Go straight ahead’ or ‘take the THIRD exit’. And it’s reassuring when he tells me that I will reach my destination, my destiny, my whatever.

Seriously, this is very neat and you really should check it out. You don’t have to record your child (though I’m thinking it would be great for parents who’re away on the road a lot, or for grandparents, or godparents). You could get a bunch of mates round and have a bevy of voices telling you which way to go. Alternatively, you could record your own voice using a bunch of different accents – though, frankly, I wouldn’t trust my own directions.

Or, failing all that, there are ready-made voice packs you can download: Drill Sergeant, Racing Commentator, Back Seat driver, Hairdresser... My favourite is the Gospel Choir...and the one that would really drive me nuts is the Vocoder with its ‘disco driving’

It’s dead simple – you simply install Ovi Maps and then get Own Voice to your phone from Ovi Store. It really does just guide you through the process – and, if you like, you can share your voice with the world...

Let's end with a little Diana....
And a question.
Do YOU know where you're going to?
Where would  you LIKE to be going to?  Do you know? 

I'm growling...

How you doing?’ called Sandy as I prowled into the gym. She was going hell for leather on the treadmill: I had a face like thunder.

‘I’m growling,’ I snarled.
‘Oooh, like a terrier?’
‘Like a rabid terrier,’ I replied, jumping on a rowing machine and setting off down the river at the speed of a power boat.
‘Not warming up then?’
‘I’m already at boiling point.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘Who’s got your goat this morning?’
‘Me. Just me. I’m angry with me.’

And I am. I am so so furious with myself I could beat myself up. Except – ho hum - I already do that perfectly well on an ongoing basis.

Is it a woman thing? Is it a mother thing? Or is it just a me thing? I’ve gone through sad and depressed and now I am just steaming furious. I am sick of being a people pleaser, of playing Mrs Nice, of being the supporting cast, of being all things to all people, of always putting myself last. I’m sick to the back teeth of being treated like dog shit; of being kicked in the face by the proverbial boot, over and over again – and just effing well taking it. Not just taking it even but lying down in the mud and pointing to my head and heart and guts and saying ‘kick there’; go on, kick a bit harder. I’m sick of it all.

Okay, that’s it. I could go on but I won’t. I shall retreat to my Growlery (shamelessly appropriated from Zoe) and shall leave you with some music... Normal service will soon be resumed but today, just for today – I’d stay well away.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Me, David Byrne, fairies, bondage and dreams

Lordy, I haven’t done a meme in positively years. I am so rubbish at keeping up with everyone’s blogs that nobody tags me anymore. But Clare is new to blogging and I thought it would be nice to introduce her to all you lot...check out her blog Seasider in the City and say hello from me.  I bet she’ll be much more polite than I am.

Her meme is ‘7 things you never knew about me.’ At first I thought no – I’ve splurged so much for so long that you probably already know WAY too much about my life...apart from all the parts I can’t talk about of course. ;)

But I’ve been playing memory lane quite a bit lately so maybe there are a few odd snippets...

taken from
1. When I was seven I didn’t just believe in fairies living in the old wall at the end of the garden – I knew they were there.

2. I was crap at maths – apart from equations. I have always been fascinated by quantum physics and I just wish I had a better brain for science.

3. When I was seventeen I dreamed I met a guy at a party. That weekend the dream came true and we both went white with shock - he had had exactly the same dream. I screwed it up big time; he killed himself. Not sure I’ve ever quite got over that.

4. When I was a student in Manchester I used to walk out in the middle of the night in the dodgiest areas of town. I thought I’d leave it up to Fate if I lived or died.  I guess Fate hasn't done with me yet. 

5. I got into journalism through a chance meeting with a photographer at the opening night of a bondage club. 

6. When I interviewed David Byrne of Talking Heads I could barely get two words out of him. So I asked him if it was true that... [no..on second thoughts, no.  For a moment there I really hadn't learned my lesson.  Famous people really DO google themselves and anyhow, it's his business]  Needlesstosay, the interview ended quite quickly after that.  I was crap at interviewing famous people.  Phil Collins spent an hour trying desperately to confess that he was splitting up from one of his wives (I forget which).  I blithely ignored every single hint and kept brightly congratulating him on being one of the few rock stars to stay happily married.  Doh.

7. I don’t really believe my mother has reincarnated in the Soul Puppy. At least, I don’t think she has. But then again... :)

I’m not going to tag anyone by name – I figure if you fancy it, just go for it!

btw, have shamelessly nicked that lovely picture of building a fairy house from The Sparkling Martins blog - came across it purely by chance while googling for fairy's really interesting - about how they "non-school" their children.  I once asked James if he'd like to be 'home' schooled and he just snorted.  I took that as a 'no' and a deep reflection on my teaching abilities.  But I think I could do non-schooling....  :)  Now I just have to convince him. 

btw2, while googling pictures of David Byrne, I came across his Journal - absolutely fascinating entry about people and computers, life merging into on the link to take you there. 

Making a hash of it all

Adrian is In Bruges this week (capitals because, of course, one can no longer just say ‘in Bruges’ without thinking of the brilliant film). He’s doing his usual thing – eating, drinking, moaning about how tough it is. And I’m here. Making a right hash of things.

Really, I could smack myself. It’s not even as if I have a groaning workload: two columns and a blog post for The Lady are hardly pushing it. Okay, so I should be thinking about rewriting Samael. And I should be working on my new project.

But I keep getting distracted. I blame social media. Someone will make a chance comment on Facebook and I’m off googling and rummaging through my bookshelves. Someone mentions a song on Authonomy and the headphones are on and I’m lost in a nostalgia fest, clicking on link after link after link.

Because there is just SO much out there; so much I want to understand; so many fascinating people to talk to; so much of life I want to grab. How can people ever say they’re bored?

Then, of course, everyday life intrudes. Dogs need walking, clothes need washing, kitchens need cleaning, children need feeding. I decided to fast while Adrian was away (less shopping/cooking etc) but James still needs grub. And then there’s my whole new wellbeing kick. How do I slot in the gym and yoga and meditation?

I tell you, it’s exhausting. And then James texts me to say ‘Can we play squash after you pick me up from school?’ So we play squash and the little toe-rag nearly beats me and by the time we finish it’s late so I think sod it to cooking supper and he successfully persuades me that just ONE meal from the takeaway won’t fur his arteries too much. And, no, actually the chips didn’t tempt me. And then we get onto Assassin’s Creed and kill people and I convince myself it’s okay as it’s Templars and Jerusalem and Rome and all (ancient history, mystical, must be alright, yeah?). And then somehow we end up watching The Inbetweeners and both sit there wincing as the guy horizontally frots himself like an ironing board against this girl.

‘Well, that was embarrassing,’ says James.
‘What was I thinking?’ I reply. ‘I shouldn’t have let you watch it. I'm sorry.  It’s deeply inappropriate.’
‘You’re telling me,’ he replies. ‘I can’t believe I just watched that – with my mother. When you get the next series out on DVD, can I watch it on my own?’

See? I’m a walking disaster. Hopeless, hapless mother. Incompetent wage-earner. Crap writer. Lousy housekeeper. Why can’t I be sensible? Why can’t I be like normal people?

But then the sun turns the frosty fields into pixie dust as I walk the dogs. And the SP wakes me up at 2am and so, while he’s having a crap, I stand in the garden in the freezing cold in a t-shirt and UGGs and stare up at the moon, so huge. And then slowly I start to spin around, lost in the night sky. And then I go faster and faster until I’m so dizzy I nearly fall over. And when I come in, I’m so high that I can’t sleep for hours.

And then I think, well, if I were normal I wouldn’t do things like that. So maybe normal is over-rated. And James will probably grow up just fine.

And I’m starting too many sentences with And.

And I’ve got Bob Dylan and Idiot Wind blasting in my ears.
‘You’re an idiot, babe,
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.’

I laugh out loud and switch on the PC...

Moon courtesy of Zoe Lynch ( )

Sunday 16 January 2011

My Special K fetish

I’ve been trying to lose weight since I was thirteen. How ridiculous is that? Even when I weighed 119 pounds (I’m 5’ 8”) I thought I was too fat.

I’ve endured the ritual humiliation of WeightWatchers and Slimming World; I’ve detoxed every which way and drunk endless dreary milk shakes. Yeah, they all worked for a bit...but, as we all know, diets simply don’t really work longterm.

Then, weirdly, bizarrely, something just clicked a few months ago. I wish I could tell you exactly what it was, but I can’t quite pinpoint it. Simply put, I stopped wanting to kill myself slowly with food. I gave up booze; I gave up meat. Fast food and ready meals went out the window. I tried to eat chocolate but it made me feel ill.

Okay so, being me, I took it to extremes and for a while I stopped eating altogether. But that little experiment came to an abrupt end when I nearly passed out doing 80 mph down the fast lane of the M5.
I’m marginally more sensible now but, even so, I wouldn’t recommend following my example. What you might want to try, instead, is taking a look at the new Special K website.

Now, let me confess upfront - I have a Special K love affair that is bordering on the fetishistic.  It started back in the 1970s (when my mother was using it for her own round of dieting) and has endured intact to date. Not remotely as a diet food, let me quickly add, but as my late night comfort snack – a vast bowl (none of your berry nonsense, thank you very much - the pure original unadultered flakes), with a sprinkling of  sugar and topped with creamy milk. Do I still want to eat it on my new health kick?  Er, yup.  So, when Kellogg’s invited me to a briefing on the cereal’s new website, I was there before you could say ‘less than 2% fat.’

Last time I looked at Special K’s weight loss plans they were all about cutting out two meals a day and replacing them with cereal, shakes or snack bars.  Yawn.  But now it's all change and the emphasis is firmly on making healthy eating part of everyday life. It’s a far more sensible and realistic approach and I confess I was impressed.

You simply log in your details – weight and height plus your weight goal and your lifestyle – and the site will come up with your ideal plan. So it will be tailor-made, regardless of if you simply want to lose a few pounds so you can fit into your old jeans, or you’re a new mum wanting to shed baby pounds, or an older woman wanting to regain her confidence and her curves.

There’s no sign-up or subscription fees – it’s totally free. I like that. A lot.  I also like some of the other features – the online food diary (research shows keeping track really helps); an emotional tracker (so you can figure out your food triggers); a desktop widget and iPhone/Android apps and (love this) the option to ‘buddy’ other members in your area or with your goals or “issues”. A busy forum is another motivational tool. I’ve hung around a lot of online fora (some would say far too many!) and they really can be hugely supportive. Oh, okay, so some can be pretty repellent but...well.... this one looks nice.  :-)

What’s it missing? I would have liked to have seen a little more focus on self-esteem and some visualisation/self-hypnosis techniques would have been a bonus (like those offered on Pete Cohen’s plan – which, I have to say, does cost).

There are vegetarian options but, to be fully inclusive, it would have been good to have seen vegan diets included and also options for coeliacs and those with other intolerances and allergies.

Still. If you do want to commit to getting yourself to a fit and healthy weight, I think it’s a useful resource.
Just think – if you lost two pounds a week, what would you weigh come summer? Tempting?

A rare recipe (make the most of it!) from the Standard meal plan

Mixed Bean Salad with Rocket, Mozzarella and Tomato
60g  aduki beans, boiled in unsalted water (or tinned)
60g black eyed beans (ditto)
120g butter beans (ditto)
30g rocket
55g sliced mozzarella
Large tomato, sliced or chopped
1 tbs low-fat dressing (I'd be tempted to drizzle a bit of my favourite argan oil instead)

Mix it all up and add an average wholemeal roll. 

Then have some grapes and kiwi fruit for pudd... 

Thursday 13 January 2011

I'm average

I’m average. I am... And it’s fine, it really is. We can’t all be special, you know. :-) 

Actually I’m rather chuffed. A new gym has opened, literally two minutes from my front door and I have been studiously ignoring it; pretending it doesn’t exist; that the people marching down the lane in trainers and day-glo sweatshirts just have dodgy fashion sense.

It’s a bit mad really cos at heart I’m an uber gym-bunny. I caught the bug when I was staying in the States with my brother. He signed me up for his local gym, a spit and sawdust place where I was the only one not on steroids. I think I was also the only woman – but, hey, who knows? Anyhow, I loved it. The big guys were lovely – they’d coax me to one final muscle-tearing rep and send me flying when they high-fived me.

Back in London I joined a smart gym in Covent Garden with my friend Nicky. The guys there would probably have headbutted you it meant they go on the stepper first.  But hey, whatever...we got so fit I even had one of those thong up the backside leotards. Nicky used it as her happy hunting ground for meeting cute guys (the naughty minx even had sex on the sunbed with one of them) but my Celtic skin with its tendency to go puce on extreme exertion rather scuppered my chances. I’ve probably already told you about the guy who chatted me up at a party one evening and then didn’t recognise me on the StairMaster the next day, with my day-glo face and sweat pouring down my nose.

Down to Somerset and more gyms followed, each one smaller and less fancy than the last. Then the council opened what is apparently the UK’s first ‘rural gym’. It’s housed in the old parish rooms hall and, while not remotely large or flash, it is smart and clean and has all you need for a seriously good workout: bikes, treadmills, cross-trainers, rowers plus a comprehensive range of weight machines. At £17 a month, it’s also ridiculously cheap in comparison to most places. So how insane was it that I hadn’t been?

Then, I dunno, something switched in my head. I marched down the road, swept through the door, signed on the dotted line.
I’ve lost a fair bit of weight and I need to firm up, to get strong again. Actually I hadn’t realised quite how MUCH weight I’d lost until Trish, the gym trainer, got me on the scales. 30 pounds. Sheesh.

‘How long has it taken you to lose that?’ she asked.
‘Ummm.’ I looked sheepish. ‘Since November maybe.’
‘Beginning of November?’
‘Sort of...’
‘Bloody hell.’

Why am I so sodding extreme?
She measured my fat, my body mass index, my peak flow, my fitness level.
‘It’s not going to be pretty,’ I warned her. ‘I’ve lost my edge.’
‘Average,’ she said. ‘You’re not as bad as you thought you’d be.’

Hmm. No, I’m not. In fact, in this context, average is just perfect.

Live on Exmoor?  Hey, come and check it out - here  You can also shout at me if I'm cheating - chatting and not running! 

Monday 3 January 2011

Me, me, me....

It's my birthday and so I am not apologising for shamelessly nicking this idea....

How many good songs are there that mention your name?  I loathed my name at school - there were four Janes in my class alone - but the upside is that I get some cracking tunes....

First up Sweet Jane - Lou Reed

Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen (got to love Leonard, every which way).

Happy Birthday Jane – The Enemy (new to me, this one, but perfect for today)

The Diary of Jane – Breaking Benjamin (change of pace)

Hazey Jane I - Nick Drake (adore Nick Drake)

Lady Jane – The Rolling Stones (so so lovely)

Sooo.....did I miss any other great Jane songs?  What great songs mention your name? 

Saturday 1 January 2011

Chicken eating spiders and my best friend

My bestest oldest friend in the world is staying and it’s heaven. I met Jane at school but we became best friends in the sixth form, bonded by Latin A level and the Polemic and Social Society (a thinly veiled excuse for hanging out down the pub with boys).

I love her to the bottom of my black heart and she is James’ adored godmother. Well, what 12-year old boy wouldn’t love a bad-mouthed barrister who takes him to international rugby matches and buys him kickass rock music?

With Jane I can be totally myself; no need to play ‘nice’, no attempt to impress. When Jane’s around I feel eighteen again; doing the tarot, dancing wildly, talking long into the night about absolutely everything: silly stuff and serious stuff; smart stuff and spiritual stuff.

We’ve had some of  the best holidays together – to Russia; Greece, India, Egypt (twice). I nearly got her sold off to a Saudi prince in Cairo; she got me out of jail in Luxor.

I owe her so much, in every which way. And I worry about her so much too. I hate that her health isn’t great. I hate that she has to work her socks off and never seems to get a break. I hate that I can’t wave a magic wand and give her what she really needs and craves. I hate that she’s low.

‘You need a spark, a frisson,’ I said.
She nodded. ‘There’s just no joy in anything really. It’s all just so boring and predictable.’
I recognise that feeling. That was me.
‘Don’t you dare give up,’ I said.
She caught my eye. ‘I’m getting old.’
‘Oh for pity’s sake. It’s just beginning. It’s a new chapter.’
She looked doubtful.
‘Oh come on. Let’s believe in miracles.’

So we played the Silly Lottery Game. You know the one – I bet you play it too. It’s the one where we sort out all our friends and family and do our bit for world peace and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Rescue Society and still have enough left over for a few treats.

‘We could rent a huge villa each summer where friends could just drop in and out,’ said Jane. ‘In Tuscany.’
‘Or northern California.’
‘US road trip!’
‘Dude ranching!’
‘Then New York for the museums and art galleries and music.’
‘Oooh yes, I never did get to The Cloisters to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. People were firing guns so I turned back.’
‘Greece again?’
‘Definitely. And Egypt. We could take James and go down the Nile on a felucca.’
‘Hmm, or a nice cruise ship. What about going to that place we never got to...’
‘Abu Simbel.’
‘That’s the one.’
‘Detour into the desert...’
‘Any desert. I’m not fussy. I love deserts.’
‘Hmm, horses.’
‘I might need a Landrover.’
‘Nah, you’ll be fine.’
‘Not fat?’
‘Not fat. We’d have spent a month at Viva Mayr first getting fit.’
'Eating spelt rolls?’
‘Absolutely. And doing yoga and swimming in the lake. Where else?’
‘Honk Kong. Japan.’
‘Back to India. A lot more India.'
'No! Not more dodgy ayurvedic massage?'
'Loads more dodgy ayurvedic massage! But I’ve gone off the idea of Peru.’
‘Spiders mainly. Chicken eating spiders and the ones that are so aggressive they run after you to bite you. I think they run faster than I can. It’s a deal breaker.’
‘Fair enough.’

She drank another bottle of wine and I had another glass of water. Then we were off again.

Today she goes back to London and I’ll miss her horribly.  I’m also going to make damn sure I buy a lottery ticket.