Cafe writers

I like to write in different places, cafes, libraries, hotels.  today I'm trying out hotels.

I tried the Ritz first, after a short stroll in Green Park with lovely autumn trees against a bright blue sky. First you walk in through a side entrance and two liveried doormen check you out.  Once inside the Ritz, I walked into the café/bar area and got told off for my 'dress code'.  This apparently referred to my shoes - black trainers. 'Sports shoes' said the Polish Bar Manager with distaste.

It was very busy in the main hallway inside with lots of gold regency furniture.  I walked up and down - all the same ornate style with lots of curly bits. I would have stood out like a sore thumb in my black leggings, mini skirt and the offending black trainers. Everyone looked quietly opulent.  Me with my battered old laptop, penchant for sitting cross legged on the furniture and table scattered with papers. There was no where to sit where I would have felt comfortable or relaxed. There was no where to sit where there wasn't a 'dress code'.  In other words they didn't want riff-raff like me in there.  The feeling was mutual.   So I left. 

I walked down the road to Brown's Hotel, as I'd been reading Stephen King's memoir 'On Writing',  (again) the day before. 

Mr King tells the story of how he wrote Misery. Bear with me it involves Browns. On the plane over from the USA with his wife (First Class I assume), he fell into a deep sleep and had a vivid dream about a writer who'd gone off to write in a cabin in the wilds, breaks his leg and gets trapped there with an over zealous and increasingly sinister female fan.  Sounds familiar?  Anyway he scribbled a note of it on the back of a napkin before they got off the plane. He and his wife got a cab into London and went to stay in Browns.
'... on our first night there I was unable to sleep ……. a lot of it was that airline cocktail napkin.... I thought it was just too rich not to write. 
        I got up, went downstairs,and asked the concierge if there was a quiet place where I could work longhand for a bit.  He led me to a gorgeous desk on the second-floor landing.  It had been Rudyard Kipling's desk, he told me with perhaps justifiable pride.  I was a little intimidated by the intelligence, but the spot was quiet and the desk seemed hospitable enough; it featured about an acre of cherrywood working surface, for one thing. Stoked on cup after cup of tea (I drank it by the gallon when I wrote … unless I was drinking beer, that is), I filled sixteen pages of a steno notebook.  I like to work longhand, actually: the only problem is that, once I get jazzed, I can't keep up with the lines forming in my head and I get frazzled.
When I called it quits, I stopped in the lobby to thank the concierge again for letting me use Mr Kipling's beautiful desk.  
'I'm so glad you enjoyed it,' he replied,  He was wearing a misty, reminiscent little smile, as if he had known the writer himself.
'Kipling died there actually, he died of a stroke.  While he was writing.'
I went back upstairs to catch a few hours' sleep, thinking of how often we are given information we really could have done without."

So there I was, I walked into Brown's - nice decor, nothing showy, lots of the colour brown to live up to it's name. Muted décor. I found this quiet under-stated ground floor bar area, found myself a warm quiet corner and got out my laptop.

 No poncy, liveried barmen or women looking down their noses at me this time.  Pleasant helpful staff - one appeared by my side, I ordered tea - a silver pot arrived, she poured out the tea through a silver strainer, into my cup. Then disappeared and didn't bother me again.

My laptop -  wouldn't you know it - the battery was dead.  The Italian girl at the desk plugged it in for me, by her desk and I told her the Stephen King story.  She called the bar manager [Polish] who was fascinated, told me how she spent too much time these days on social media instead of reading books.  She took me to another young woman, a neat and attractive brunette. The famous desk  I was looking for,  had apparently now been moved to an upstairs suite.  This turned out to be occupied, but that young woman insisted she would go up there when it had been vacated and take a picture of the desk and email it to me.  What a difference to the Ritz.  The staff were lovely at Brown's and I sat there at my laptop for several hours with one pot of green tea in a silver teapot - no one bothered me - and munched my way through the sugar lumps .... oh dear.

As soon as I get the photo of this famous desk, I will add it to this blog and won't that be interesting?
As for Browns, well it was a lovely place to write on a cold winter's day.  The staff were all friendly, helpful and accommodating.  Definitely recommended. Although that pot of tea was £8!


     I'm writing this a few days later, yes, dear reader she did email me a photo of the desk.  How kind but what a disappointment.  Rudyard Kipling died in 1936, Stephen King wrote Misery and published it in 1991 ish.  You'd expect such a desk to be a heavy old fashioned oak(?) affair with ink wells etc???  Well Stephen King describes it as 'gorgeous' and 'it featured about an acre of cherrywood working surface'.  
     The photo the Browns' staff member sent me  - no no no. This desk is a thin plain black slab on dull functional legs with boring chairs. I'm not even going to post it up for you.  It's just too dreary.  I've written back to her and thanked her for her kindness in remembering my request, but challenging the desk pic ... it can't possibly be can it?  I shall write again and tell her what Stephen King said.

Now I wonder how much they charge for a pot of tea at Claridges and The Dorchester?  And then there's the Savoy ....  and the  Hilton and the Grosvenor Park.  Am I setting my sights too high?

Anna Meryt Writings: A Spooky Story Poem for Halloween - The Spriggan

Anna Meryt Writings: A Spooky Story Poem for Halloween - The Spriggan: Dusk is falling on the Parkland walk the last remnants of walkers quicken their step they’ve heard the rumours, and the rumours are r...

A Spooky Story Poem for Halloween - The Spriggan

Dusk is falling on the Parkland walk
the last remnants of walkers quicken their step
they’ve heard the rumours, and the rumours are right.

The goat man’s eyelids open a tiny crack.
The woman pushing her pram hurries past. A low growl
starts deep in the throat of the black dog tied to her pram …

the dog knows, oh yes he knows…
he keeps his head low, stiff-legged as they scurry past,
down the steps and out onto the lane.

The last train chuffed its way down this track in 1954.
Nature took over and time stood still. Until in 1984,
the Parkland Walk was born.  Banks of weeds and brambles
were cleared, now Nature was to be conserved but controlled.

High up, where the walk crosses a wide bridge
near Muswell Hill, the lights of London are flickering on,
in a sea of twinkles across to the Thames and beyond.

It’s a clear cold crispy night and a full moon is rising.
The Spriggan lifts his grey green head, stretches out
cold stiff limbs and looks to the rising moon.  He cocks his head, 

listening …‘Can you hear it? Can you hear it? His croaking voice,
rusty as old iron, speaks in a hoarse whisper, to himself.
Chuff, chuff.  Puff, puff.  Whooo.. hooo, whooo…hooo.
the sound of a steam engine on missing tracks, missing since

all were lifted and sold for scrap in 1984.  The train is heading back
in time, back to a different time, a time when iron gods were king.
In the dead of night, time is suspended, time is malleable, an echo of the past.

The goat man raises his eight-foot metal bulk, green with Verdigris
and rust. He begins his nightly patrol along the shadowed walk,
along the nature trails and ghostly paths of Alexandra Palace.

If any human were to tread this dark and misty wooded way,
in the deepest night, would they encounter this same
giant cloven-hooved apparition?

I think not. Mystic magic fades from view and
hides easily from human sight. 
Stephen King’s Parkland Walk story, speaks of people known 
to lose their way here, and some who lose their way … forever.

By day, the walk is green and soft and full of light and air.
It is a haven now for many species of birds and butterflies.
City-worn humans come to run and walk and breathe
some cleaner air into their lungs.

By night, foxes bark and breed, slow-worms, those snake-like lizards,
curl in dark hollows to preserve any heat gathered from the day,
and in the coldest part of winter, hibernate with the hedgehogs.

The Spriggan marches on, passing overgrown platforms near Crouch End
and Muswell Hill. He melts back into the urban, permaculture forest
 of trees and shrubs, as racing toward him, on the absent tracks,
he hears a whistle and hiss and rattle that warns him to stand aside.

Out of the dark and ghostly gloom, a monster of iron and steel
shimmers into view, whoo, whoo-ing a soft and spooky whistle.
And lit by a shaft of moonlight, a whisper of grey steam floats
up from the chimney, rising to float across the moon.

As the train swishes past, look, look, whose faces are gazing
from carriage windows whisking past? Can that be Karl Marx’s
towering form, seated in the driver’s cabin,
risen from his Highgate grave to join the proletariat at last?

Behind him see the story-tellers – Chaucer, Pepys and Congreve…
Browning, Trollope, Dickens, Austen and Mary Ann Evans,
to give George Elliot her rightful name.
Image result for george+eliot
And oh the poets – Christina Rossetti and Coleridge,
again from Highgate graves, seated beside William Blake from Bunhill Row,
risen up with the other ‘non-conformists’, Bunyan and Defoe.

Crowded too among these literary giants are misty murderers,
some hanged who got their just desserts, like serial killer Christie,
others maybe not, like Ruth Ellis, the last to be hanged, at Holloway.
Death is a great leveller is it not?

And Jack – who is that shadowy figure behind them all, if not he?
All are crowding at the windows to see the London of their pasts
slipping by, the London they have lost.

The lights flicker across our Spriggan man’s impassive face,
as each populated carriage slides by, until the final coach
appears, bolting towards him as a ghostly laugh echoes
down the walkways. 

Seated on top of this final wagon, cross-legged, blazing trident
held above his head, his bronze-red skin glows and mad eyes burn
like hot coals. He laughs a dangerous fearless laugh, as the train
mutters along the track, fading back into the haunted demon world.

The Green Faerie man turns back upon the now silent walkway
and with a last glance behind, continues his hooven trot, returning
to his sheltered brick arch beside the short tunnel.

He is Spriggan, the Keeper and the Watcher,
guardian of abandoned ruins, some say a stealer of children,
who leaves a Spriggan substitute behind, but I say, not this Green Man,
this one has a benevolent eye.

Silence and darkness lie upon the Parkland Walk again and
as a faint pink light starts to tinge the distant horizon,
his eyelids droop as he freezes into his usual pose.

It's Deeper Than Plot

The above quote from Maya Angelou is  at the beginning of a book I published this year called Memoir Writing.  How to Write a Story from Your Life.  I'm writing my second memoir ... well I say writing but I haven't touched it for about 4-5 months.  I hit some problems with the story and then other life events intervened.

Yesterday, I listened to an interview with Jenny Nash. The interview (on YouTube) was one of the SPF15 series set up by Mark Dawson, conducted by James Blatch.  Jenny runs a company called - Author Accelerator, which is basically a top notch coaching programme. For a mere 2 grand (yes £2000/$2600 no less)  you can be put on a 6 month coaching plan.  She will take you through to finishing your book, holding you to deadlines and giving inspiration and encouragement along the way. As she's based in America, you'd get a monthly Skype call, emails etc. The package includes developmental editing, chapter by chapter. It sounds FANTASTIC and her background in publishing is amazing.  But there's the small  matter of the two grand. 

Anyway she did give some tips which I sat down with yesterday evening.  Well, questions rather than tips, which she asks her new clients before they even get started.  She said they were extremely important to think about, and should be focused on before you even look at plot.   

Firstly she gave a suggestion about keeping up the momentum.  Writers work alone and are not (unless they have a conventional publisher breathing down their necks) accountable to anyone.  Who cares how long your book takes to write?  Her suggestion is to find an accountability partner, someone who is not focused on your narrative or design - just,  'have you finished chapter ten yet - you said you would finish it by today?'

I pondered the questions and wrote out the answers and they were enormously helpful and thought provoking.  Having come to a dead end with my second memoir a few months ago,  I realised that I didn't know where the story was going to end.  Also it felt like the drama of the story had hit a dead end too, sort of petered out. Having focused on the answers to her questions, I have a whole new momentum and feel excited about the story again and why I'm writing it. 

So here's the questions and for all you writers, I challenge you to apply them to your latest project and see what you come up with.  The questions may seem obvious but ...

1.  Why do you write?  Why do you like to write?
2.  What called you to write THAT story?
3.  What do you want to capture in the story?
4.  Why do you care?
5.  What are you trying to convey in this book?
6.  Why is the protagonist there? (not the surface reason) What do they want?


Anna Meryt Writings: And death shall have no dominion

Anna Meryt Writings: And death shall have no dominion: The poem above was written by the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1933.  It was one of the first poems he ever had published. Years later...

And death shall have no dominion

The poem above was written by the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1933.  It was one of the first poems he ever had published. Years later he wrote Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night, about his father, written a few years before his father's death in 1952.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

I grew up on a diet of Dylan Thomas, not least because the Uplands, Swansea, where he'd lived as a child, was where I too grew up. My father had the Richard Burton recordings of his famous play written for radio - Under Milk Wood (on long playing records). He read to us from some of Dylan's stories, for example the story of his grandfather, who disappeared one day from the town.  Friends went looking for him in a 'charabanc' (horse and cart) and he was found walking along the road to the next town - Llansteffan (near Laugharne), in his best suit:

'Where are you going, Mr Thomas?'
'I'm going to Llansteffan to be buried.'
'But you're not dead yet, Mr Thomas.'

The poetry of Dylan Thomas is about sound, alliteration and, somehow meaning comes from the original, unique, brilliant way that Dylan put words together. 
For example:

'Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through
Split all ends up, they shan't crack
And death shall have no dominion.'

These poems were favourites of my children's father and close friend, - Dave, who died recently in Indonesia where he lived with his wife and son.. He too grew up in Swansea. The funniest man I ever met. Did he or didn't he 'go gently into that good night', as he fell into a coma from which he didn't regain consciousness?

Death is inescapable for all of us.  He's gone and so death truly did have dominion, didn't it?  And yet ....

Dylan's poem is not so much a statement, but a bitter, angry rallying cry to drag meaning and continuity from the fact of death.. A call to arms ...

I'm reflecting therefore on death and throughout the whole difficult process of Dave's short illness and end, we've had to take part in an experience of death in the framework of a very different culture. The Moslem burial was done and dusted less than 10 hours after the doctor's pronouncement - so fast, we Westerners had little time to assimilate the shock of it all. 

'They shall have stars at elbow and foot,
Though they go mad, they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea, they shall rise again
Though lovers are lost, love shall not
And death shall have no dominion.'

How does it all fit in to our spiritual beliefs?  Moslem's and Christians see death as a stepping stone to being with Allah or God. Moslem's have prayers daily for the first 7 days (I've discovered) and then regular markers where prayers are said for 40 days, and other prayers for up to a year after. Different branches of Christianity have a variety of practices - a short service and prayers usually.

Buddhists see the dead person as entering 'the Bardo', a spiritual half-way house where the ever changing and developing soul stays re-orienting itself, until it's time for the next rebirth.  In strong Buddhist cultures monks will chant for the departed for 49 days and nights. Om mani padme hum'Mantras are words of power that focus very strong spiritual forces'. Buddhist funerals are in white. Chanting has a powerful effect on the soul of the departed, so the Tibetan masters say.

If you have a spiritual belief, and many people tell me
'I believe in some kind of god but I don't belong to any church or religion,' how do you deal with the puzzle of death? 

Someone recently diagnosed with cancer told me
'I'm not afraid of death, but I don't want to go yet.' 
Do you face death with equanimity?  Do you have a written will?  My father died without a will and yet he'd had cancer for 4 years.  The ultimate denial - it meant my mother was unable to access his pension and assets for nine months. How many of us avoid looking at the fact of our own death, avoid thinking of the subject at all?

And when someone we know has died, what comfort do we offer the bereaved?  In English culture, some are afraid to even phone up - they don't want to intrude on someone's grief, as if grief itself is private.  In other cultures, Caribbean, African, Moslem, the opposite is true - you go round to be with the bereaved person to offer support, not next week but now, today, even if you're not close family.  It's expected.  I like that. But then I'm not English, I'm Welsh.

Dave's brother was on holiday with his family in the Rockies when Dave died and sent me a picture of sunrise over the Grand Canyon with the words

'I think Dave was here with us'. 

Well yes he was. He was/is close to your heart and mine and my daughters and if we think of him, he will gravitate to us. So I chant and light candles and we all send him positive loving thoughts, to aid his journey ...

Part 3 To sport ot not to sport???

This World Cup fever is torture for people like me – sport-haters, because the entire media seems to think EVERYBODY  in the Universe wants to know about the game 24/7. The news is briefly hurried over by the BBC so they can get on with the important stuff – the World Cup for example. If I ever moan about it I’m shot down in  flames or I get a dismissive look.  If I say it’s a sport for men with largely male supporters I’m told that’s rubbish – loads of women support the beautiful game too.
I pass the Arsenal football stadium regularly on my way to my Buddhist centre. We hear the crowd roaring when we're all meditating. I know what I see when there’s a match on.  You can practically smell the testosterone in the air – thousands and thousands of men – there’s the odd female wife or girlfriend  tagging along sure.  Perhaps a few female supporters in their own right.  But what I see is a giant male army advancing  towards me, phalanx after phalanx, intimidating and reluctant to give way to my car as they're walking down the road 10 rows deep. And if you're on foot on the pavement it's quite scary for a lone female.

My neighbour Pauline will cry ‘rubbish’!  She’s a season ticket holder to the Arsenal and those tickets don’t come cheap.  She takes her nephew to all the matches and has no truck with those like me saying that it’s a guy thing.
Which brings me back to where I started.  My feelings about sport …  I know a few guys who have no interest in sport either.  And why, if social media is so clever and knows how to categorise you by your likes and dislikes, do they send me special Sky or BT or TalkTalk sports packages or today even I got a special deal sent to me by Amazon - BOOKS about sport? Why no SPECIAL DEALS  for those who don't watch sport?
So much for social media profiling.   OK I'm getting down off my soap box now.

My next foray into the world of sport, was slightly more successful than the last two listed in Sports blog 1-2.  If you need to catch up scroll down past this blog.

For 20 years one of the places I’ve been travelling to frequently is southern Turkey. A place called Olu Deniz – a special place in a beautiful location on the Mediterranean.  There’s a white sand beach and crystal clear sea.  It’s also a place where there are many hang gliding/paragliding outlets. For 50-80 quid you can jump off  a nearby rocky hillside, swoop down over the endlessly sparkling sea and touch your feet down on a landing strip in front of the bars and cafes along the beach front. All day long you can watch the graceful billowing puffy chutes in all their bright colours and patterns, landing silently, one after the other in a continuous stream. 

For years people had told me how fabulous it is and how I must have a go.  All those years I did not try, firstly because often I was on a shoestring budget and it would have been a stretch.  Second I liked watching them but had no burning desire to jettison myself off the side of a small mountain into the air high above the sea.  No thanks, So I swam, paddled my canoe round to the lagoon and watched them - clustering dots in the sky, getting larger and larger  until there they were doing they're final little run onto the landing strip.

And then, one day I just decided to do it.  How wonderful, I thought, to have a bird’s eye view of beautiful Olu Deniz, to fly over the gorgeous seascape and touch down in front of my favourite Buzz bar?

So I looked for a guy called Henry, behind the first rank of hotels close to the beach. He's Turkish married to a Welsh woman - we'd often stopped for a chat - we had a link - Wales.  He told me to come back tomorrow and he'd give me a 'good deal' (Turkish-speak to tourists for knocking a few pounds off, but only if you're shaking your head and walking away usually).

Next day there I was in the van winding up the mountainside, past rocks and scrub trees and stony landfalls.  Zigzagging up we went until there we were at the top. My tandem 'instructor' put a hi-viz orange jacket on me, strapped me in to a nylon harness and told me to run down this short slope and jump into thin air.  It all happened so fast I didn't have time to panic.
He would be behind me and I was strapped to him.  I first watched two other people do it with building apprehension, we were in a continuous queue. Before I could chicken out, he was pushing me along and we were launching into that same thin air, floating spread-eagled over the amber and green-dotted hillside into warm blue light and then gliding across the bay, high in the air and round the blue lagoon. 

The sea sparkled below. We circled and drifted. 
I hung below my instructor taking it all in, feeling slightly dizzy.  He suggested we do a 'spin over'.  No thanks, I said - did he take me for an 18 year old extreme sport enthusiast?. My stomach was holding it together, just, without any funny business. We swung round the bay and over the lagoon where ant-sized people swam and drank chai and ate feta salad and chips in the cafes and bars.

Then suddenly we were approaching the landing strip, touching down and it was all over. 

You're going to hate me for saying this . When I ask myself , was it worth it? Hurm, ha, yes I suppose so.  Glad I'd tried it and all that.  Even gladder when it was all over and my feet were on good solid land again. No desire to repeat the experience. But I suppose I enjoyed it ... didn't I? Was it worth all the hype?  Yeees. …  I went off to Buzz Bar, ordered a cold beer and wrote a poem about it.  I was going through something or other with latest man at that point … so work through the metaphors ...

Jumping Free

Winding track up the mountain
through the forest of dusty pines.
I stare out as if suspended,
my past dragging behind.

I talked to you, but you didn’t hear;
I waited for you so long, but you fell behind;
I watched through mists and windows
but my picture faded and
you couldn’t see me anymore.

The track winds up, cutting through rock
I glimpse the sky lapis blue and shiver in the shadow.
Is this it at last? The time to jump?
No another bend and another...

Above an eagle circles,
as the clock slows, as my life unfurls,
'like nothing ever matters'...
I see it coming now, the final bend;
all that’s left is jumping...

Will my orange wings catch the breeze;
float me over the shimmering sea far below?
‘Run’, my guide says, ‘run into the air,
and then sit back and feel
Allah’s breathe upon your face’.

See me there drifting over the hills, hazed in blue;
time shimmers and stops
as I swoop over the pale turquoise lagoon.
Now I’m swooning, the sky turns me upside-down.

Hold steady, don’t flash back, time suspends
as I soar over the sparkling water,
arc around where the red crescent leads
to land softly on the new road ahead.


Part Two ... I've never been sporty ...

I've never been sporty.  Not at all, not even a little bit. Hockey was compulsory  in my convent school - it involved other girls chasing you round a cold muddy field trying to strike your ankles with a bent flat wooden stick. Or me diving for cover when a small hard wooden ball came shooting towards me.

Then there was tennis. One day, towards the end of my time at the convent, I became captain of the St Winefride's convent blue team -  not by a popular vote I assure you, but by default - no one else wanted the job - that is still happening to me, FFS.

Anyway in the annual Eisteddfod (yes this is in Wales), being captain of the blue team meant we had to enter the sports competition. We had to put forward a tennis team.  I'd watched Wimbledon a bit that year - probably because my Dad had it on the TV - I've never had the remotest interest in sport of any kind, it bores me to tears.  One of the TV tennis stars said she'd started off hitting a ball against a wall with her racquet. So I practised that for a few weeks and then our small but useless team entered the competition.  I managed to hit the ball over the net mostly, the rest of the team did not.  Our team came last. The red team won of course  - they had all the sporty types like Angela G, popular, pony-tailed, bouncy and relentlessly cheerful.

All of that is but background to my scuba diving experience - notice the singular. I must have been watching some stunning David Attenborough underwater filming of the ocean.  How lovely I thought to be able to don a wet suit and mask and breathe underwater, while exploring the gorgeous coral reefs of wherever.

I went swimming in a local swimming pool and there was a poster.  I signed up at once for a free exploratory class. OK it wasn't the ocean but, you have to start somewhere. I turned up there on the evening mentioned on the poster, having spoken to someone by phone. I was wearing a bathing costume and bathing hat and was in my early 50s, not very fit, slightly overweight.

I was met by a great huge hairy man, who I can only describe as 'meatloaf'. He was about 6 foot 6" and weighed c. 20 stone plus.  Each hand was the size of a plate of steak and chips.  He talked me through the health and safety manual, which always means I switch off and stop listening. I got neck ache looking up.  I nodded and smiled and my thoughts drifted elsewhere - swimming alongside David Attenborough, filming sting rays and octopus probably.

Reality check.  He picked up, with one meaty hand, two oxygen cylinders strapped together in a blue harness entanglement.  He said I must lift them up and put them on.  He placed them beside me.  'OK,' I said, thinking 'no problemo my son', and went to lift them up and swing them onto my back like a back pack.  That's when I found out.  Those things literally weigh a ton... no literally, I could not lift them off the ground. WTF they're full of air right?  How come they're so heavy? It doesn't make any sense.
He told me to turn around.  We are by now at the side of the swimming pool. Lots of other trainees were already in  the water, diving in the diving pool, seemingly with ease.   I turn around and he swings the oxygen cylinders off the ground one-handed as if they were feather light and kind of drops them onto my back - I was leaning forwards. 

I fell to my knees with the weight. He lifted them off  again and we walked further along to the side of the diving pool.  This time he put them onto my back slowly and carefully as I gritted my teeth, bracing my legs not to fall to my knees again.

Then I went down the ladder into the water - fairly quickly, as I knew the great heavy things would become lighter in the water.  I pulled down my mask into place covering my nose and eyes.  Put the mouthpiece - a big rubber thing you grip with your teeth  - into my mouth.  The mask kept steaming up.  Mr Meatloaf had told me how to drop down into the deep water.  I tried maybe 10 times.  Each time a searing pain went through my ears into the deepest recesses of my brain.  Each time I'd come up and he'd repeat - 'Hold your nose and blow'.  Each time I did that and start sinking down, then I'd try again.  Each time the same excruciating pain  in my ear drums.  He kept calling encouragement, telling me it was going to improve.  It didn't.

Somewhere around the tenth attempt, I called time.  Enough was enough.  He kept talking about how I should come back next week and we'd try again.  In my head I was thinking, that'll be over my dead body.  But he looked so hurt and rejected as if it was his personal failure - I was his personal failure - that I kept smiling a false smile and nodding.  I got dressed and got out of that building zoom fast and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Another one bites the dust I thought. Not doing that again.  Ever.

Oh dear I'll need another instalment to tell you about the hang gliding experience and that
time I played squash - yes just the once, both of them. Bet you can't wait. :)

I'm a total plonker when it comes to any kind of sport. Part One

A surveyor came to my home the other day and he was telling me about his obsession - parachuting.  He'd learnt it in the army many years before.  He was 74.  Which just goes to show ..... something or other.

As he described jumping out of an aircraft 3-4 thousand feet up, I shuddered and went slightly green.  That's beyond all reason to me.  But, I told him some of the things I HAVE tried and how I felt about them afterwards ... on a scale of 1 - 10.  I didn't want to appear to be a total wimp  (but maybe I am).  I was totally useless at sport throughout my school days. But over the years, I've come to the conclusion that although I like adventure, I'm a person who operates best with both feet firmly on the ground.

Mountain climbing, gliding, water skiing,
paragliding, scuba diving, boating trips,
surf-boarding, extreme hill walking  ... all the things I've tried and well...

I'm going to have to describe this to you in two parts  - its too long for one blog.

Part one

Water skiing

I tried it in Malta when I was 16 (a time ago). The man in the speedboat had given me rudimentary instructions on how to stay afloat while having two heavy wooden skis attached to your feet. Then he jumped back in his boat and waved - I was fighting to stay afloat, to keep my head above the waves and my skis seemed to have a mind of their own, - they didn't seem to want to stay parallel. Suddenly the boat leapt forward and flew over the water. ..I was up on my feet for a split second. Then I arced up into the air, arms and head first. My arms felt like they'd been wrenched out of their sockets (they had).  Then I came down face forward with a crash.  He circled back and yanked me out of the water.  My arms and shoulders were rigid for days. 
Scale 1:10  Verdict: Never again.

I remember my Dad telling me some time later about how he'd tried it - someone he knew had a speedboat moored at Swansea Yacht club.  They were all pretty tanked up when he'd decided to have a go. He said that as the boat leapt forward, his swimming shorts were yanked clean off and there was cheering from the jetty, 'a large appreciative audience', he said, as his naked bottom bobbed along the surface of Mumbles Bay.


A Buddhist friend organised a group of us to go gliding at a small local airfield not too far from London.  How exciting I thought, what an adventure, how lovely to be slowly and silently swooping over the beautiful English countryside on a lovely summer's day. 

This poem is about flying.  It's by John Gillespie Magee Jr. who was a fighter pilot in WWII, killed in 1941. My Dad was a WWII pilot and this was read at his funeral.  It's called

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Well my gliding experience didn't quite live up to that. ...

Have you ever wondered how gliders get up in the air?  No?  Me neither.  Never thought about it, except vaguely.  Well here's how it works.  The nose of your glider is attached to what looks like a giant elastic band. This is attached to a contraption on the ground a hundred metres away, a bit like a catapult with a switch. 

There were about 8 of us that day and we took it in turns with 2 gliders and two instructors.  You sit in the front with a harness on and a small instrument panel is before you, but you're instructed not to touch anything.  You also have a sort of steering wheel.  The instructor sits behind you, in their own compartment and basically does everything.  Its a bit like dual control car driving.  He/she will let you have a go steering (they say) when you're up. The space you occupy is about the size of the space in a small canoe. I had no idea at this stage how this thing would get up into the sky (this was before Google).

I'm sitting waiting for something to happen when someone (who?) must have activated the catapult.  Suddenly we are shooting up towards the sky vertically (or so it seems). My stomach never caught up.  I now notice the brown paper puke bags beside me, but I'm too terrified to move to get one. I clench my teeth. We fly around a big hill several times.  Each time that we're not flying in a straight line, but curving round the hill, I think I'm going to be sick. I'm not, but come close. Lovely country views?  Don't remember.  All I remember is wanting it to be over and enduring it.

Scale 1:10 Verdict: Never again

Mountain climbing. 

Me and then husband Dave, climbed Table Mountain in South Africa in 1976.  Our friend Nigel, who was an enthusiastic climber told us he'd take us up Table Mountain 'the easy way  ... it'll be a nice walk'.  He drove his jeep to the lower slopes.  It was going to take a couple of hours.  We'd come down in the cable car. Lovely, looking forward to it.  Spectacular views etc..etc..

I began to feel slightly worried when he started off-loading coils of ropes and carabineers and harnesses from the back of the jeep,  This was before trainers were invented (yes, really).  I was wearing light canvas plimsolls.  I wrote a whole chapter about this climb in my book -

We climbed up crevasses, sheer rock faces, overhangs.  I wanted to die, no I wanted to live, so I could go back to my 3 year old. So I mutely followed instructions, roped up to Nigel - Nigel and his scarecrow, dope smoking friend, both of whom seemed to know no fear whatever. Nigel who before each section/slope said things like, 'Oh this bit's fine, not difficult at all', and after each slope he'd say, 'That was an F1 slope (whatever that means) - lots of climbers in the mountain club wouldn't attempt that one.'
As we climbed my headache developed.  By the time we got to the top it was a full blown migraine.  Nigel kept up a cheerful commentary, reminding us to look at the view.  The painful pounding in my head and sheer terror, meant that I didn't give a shit about the view. (I went back many years later - it is truly spectacular.  I went up and down in the cable car that time). 

I just wanted to get to the top and get the cable car down.  When we got there finally, Nigel's friend hop skip jumped across the flat rocky top to the other side, to check on the cable car.  He came bouncing back and told us the appalling news - the cable car was cancelled due to high winds. 

We would have to 'belay' (ie roped to each other) down again.  The weather had turned grey, windy and nasty, it was getting dark and we were dressed in light summer clothes. My head was crashing.  Somehow, hours later we made it back to the jeep. 

My daughter had barely noticed my 6 hour absence - she was playing with her friend - although friend's mother had noticed. 

We went home and I took to my bed for 3 days.

Scale 1:10  Mountain climbing.  Verdict: Never again.

I'll tell you all about my experiences trying to scuba dive, hill walk in freezing weather, paraglide off a hill top and .... well next week OK!