My Beautiful Garden One Year On

About a year ago I wrote this post:

It was an ironic post because at that stage, the garden looked a bit like this.


It was a big bare patch of earth ripe with possibility or as the cats and foxes of the neighbourhood seemed to think, a massive toilet.

But I am not a woman who lets excrement get in the way of her dreams. I have a gigantic bottle of cat repellent and I am not afraid to use it.

So over the winter, I kept looking out of the window at that strip of earth and tried to channel my inner Capability Brown. Everyone’s got to start somewhere and I bet he had to deal with his fair share of feline faeces.

Winter gave way to spring and I watched with envy as neighbours’ gardens bloomed with crocuses, daffodils and fat-budded magnolia trees.


I was resolved. It was time to stop dreaming and start planning.

I am an eternal optimist when it comes to dreams. I approached this particular project with the starry-eyed wonder of a young puppy and the words,

‘How hard can it be to build raised beds? It’s just railway sleepers and possibly some concrete. Tis a mere weekend project.’

It took five minutes of me watching some chirpy Australians building very neat, very precise raised beds on You Tube to reach the following conclusion:

‘This is actually very hard. The ground is full of bricks and stones. You will need a pick-axe to break them and you’ve never used a pick-axe. You are also scared of spirit levels, not to mention concrete mixers. You have a dodgy back and both you and your husband have limited patience. It would take you approximately two years to complete and would probably look a bit crap. It’s time to call in a professional.’

You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt during forty two years of being me, it’s the ability to recognise my limitations. I am never going to win Wimbledon or become chief chocolate taster for Waitrose. Similarly, I am never going to build my own house or indeed flower border. Accept the truth and move on.

The professional was called Steve. He was friendly, efficient and had the work ethic of the chief ant in the world’s busiest ant colony. He brought three men with him. They worked solidly from seven to four every day with about four seconds off for lunch. It was astonishing. By the end of the week my dream looked a bit like this.


I know. I did a little horticultural swoon at the sight of it too.

All it needed was the addition of some carefully-sourced plants. We spent a long time considering what plants to buy. We already had a good stock of potted herbs which would populate one tiered section and three miniature fruit trees for the large end bed. My husband was particularly excited about these trees and has since taken to caring for them with the tenderness of a father nurturing new-born triplets.


We decided to split the remaining beds between flowers and vegetables and set about making a wish-list.

Wish-lists are wonderful things aren’t they? They are flights of fancy that bear little or no resemblance to the wet face-flannel of reality.

This wish-list had headings such as ‘plants we love’ and ‘likes clay’ because our garden sits on heavy clay soil. London clay to be precise – it is as dense and unyielding as a crowd of London commuters, hence its name. Actually, I made that up but it sounds convincing.

The list of plants we loved featured anything that my husband or I recalled with fondness from our childhood gardens, although it has to be said that my husband can be a tad sketchy with names.

‘I like those yellow ones.’


‘That’s the fella.’

‘Anything else?’

‘Fuchsias,’ he said confidently. ‘Every house I’ve lived in has had a fuchsia in the garden.’ Then his face clouded with uncertainty. ‘Actually do I mean fuchsias? They’re sort of bright pink with dangly bits.’

I fetched a gardening book and flicked to the fuchsia section. ‘Do you mean these?’

He took the book and nodded happily. ‘They’re the ones.’ He leafed through a few pages. ‘These purple ones are nice too.’

So fuchsias were added to the list, along with rudbeckia because my grandad and mum always grew them and I love any plant with a silent ‘d’.

Actually, I love all plant names come to think of it. Unlike my husband, I want to learn them off by heart and recite them like a pro. I want to know the Latin names and the common names, I want to embrace words like ‘perennial’ and ‘half-hardy’ and use them correctly. I want to become a regular watcher of Gardeners’ World and understand what they’re talking about on Gardeners’ Question Time. I want to be best friends with Carol Klein and have Monty Don on speed-dial.


Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself there but I felt that the list was a positive step towards gardening nirvana. By the time we’d finished, it ran to three pages. I went to bed that night excited at the prospect of tomorrow’s plant-buying trip.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever visited a garden centre clutching such a list with two fidgety children in tow. I’ll be honest. It’s not the most relaxing of experiences.

The two main problems were that the garden centre wasn’t set out in the exact order as my list. In fact, the garden centre actually had the audacity not to stock some of the things on said list or if they did, I couldn’t find them. The second problem was that bored children simply don’t believe that searching for a heliopsis is more fun that playing hide and seek in between the conifers. In truth, I’m not sure I do either.

As a result, my husband and I pretty much abandoned the list and set about grabbing whichever plants seemed to like sun but weren’t fussy about drainage. On the plus side, we did find a rudbeckia and a fuchsia but the heliopsis remained the plant equivalent of a unicorn. Still, we bought verbena, cirsium, crocosmia, osteospermum, hermerocallus and a lupin.

I know. Like real gardeners and everything.


We also bought beetroot and radishes to plant and our proper gardener friend gave us an abundance of tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers and fennel along with some unidentified plants, whose names my husband forget during the short journey from his house to ours. As I’ve said, plant names aren’t his thing.

We spent the whole of the next day planting. It was hard work and I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of garden design but we felt pretty proud once we’d finished.


We were worried that some plants would die but over the summer we have watched them spread like a miniature invading plant army. It’s been really rather wonderful.


We’ve eaten red and green lettuces, white cucumbers, sweet beetroot, courgettes, fat juicy tomatoes and all manner of herbs fresh from the ground.

beetroot img_20160908_181701

We’ve also grown the plant equivalent of a gigantic smile and we’re leaving it on the plant to see just how big it will become. Watch this space.


We’ve learnt how to deal with fat slugs and fruit-tree bugs, how to dead-head flowers, feed vegetables and that courgettes have male and female flowers (who knew) and are the bullies of the vegetable patch.

We have also found that cats and foxes have no respect for a truly beautiful garden and to them it’s just a toilet with plants now.

No matter.  Our dream is taking shape and yes, we need to stock up constantly on cat repellent, slug pellets, bug spray and plant food.

But on the plus side, we can always buy new plants while we’re there and who knows, we may even find the illusive heliopsis in the process.



Eight things I want my daughter to know…

As my daughter starts secondary school, these are the eight Mumfacts ™ I want her to know.

First Mumfact ™, you are loved. This probably isn’t a huge surprise but it’s very important that you always remember this. This love is a bit like the biscuit base in a Double Decker (and you know how much I love a Double Decker). You think you can manage with just the nougaty, chocolate part but then you realise that the biscuit holds it all together. Without that you are just a gooey mess in a world without biscuits.

Terrifying, isn’t it?

Plus, the people who love you will always give you biscuits – I refer you to your grandmothers, parents (although I know Dad can be a little protective of the Jaffa Cakes), aunties, uncles and even your brother when he’s in the mood to share.


Double Decker

Second Mumfact ™, you are beautiful – inside and out.  I catch a glimpse of you now, still my little girl and see the lovely young woman that you will one day become. Don’t be scared of that woman – she’s going to be a great friend of yours and many other lucky people. I can’t wait to get to know her in the years ahead.

Third Mumfact ™, you are braver than you realise. I watched you while we were on holiday, spending nearly every second in the sea, boldly facing the waves with your own brand of cool, shunning goggles in favour of shades, getting knocked down and then back up again, laughing and smiling all the while.

You’re good at this thing called life. You’re ready to face all the new challenges and adventures and have a ball while you’re doing it. You just have to go for it, my love.



Fourth Mumfact ™, you have a voice and it deserves to be heard. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You have interesting things to say and people will respond if you voice them. There will always be louder voices but not necessarily more interesting ones. Take courage and trust me, going to a new school with brand new people is the time to share your brilliant ideas with the world. Believe me, I wasn’t always a gobby cow – I was like you in lots of ways and I had to find my voice. Then I found it and after a while I had to tone it down a bit (ask Dad). Now, I enjoy ranting at the TV and radio and it’s probably a blessing that I work alone. You are bright, clever, funny and full of brilliance – time to share this with the world, my sweet.

Fifth Mumfact ™ – this is the moment to find your thing. Whether it’s singing, cricket or stilt-walking, find the thing you love to do and do it all the time. Try everything you fancy (or maybe never thought you fancied) that comes your way in the quest to find this thing. Don’t avoid something because other people aren’t doing it. Be brave and give it a try. You never know where these things might lead or what amazing people you may meet along the way.


Sixth Mumfact ™ (and one I wish I could change), people aren’t always kind. Friendships ebb and flow. Don’t worry about this (see ‘you are loved’ for reassurance) but do talk to us about it. We’re on your side and you must never feel silly or wrong if these things upset you. Again, I wasn’t always this lippy and I have pretty much experienced every bitchy girl scenario going. I’ve got your back. So has Dad. And everyone else who loves you for that matter.

Seventh Mumfact ™, don’t live your life through social media. Also don’t think that the people who are on social media are having a better time than you. They’re not. They’re just telling you about the best bits of their life. Think of it as a party – it’s nice to go to a party sometimes but if you ate jelly and ice-cream 24/7, you would be sick. Also, don’t post anything you wouldn’t be prepared to share with Grandma.

jelly and icecream

Eighth Mumfact ™, watching lots of comedies as you go through secondary school will improve your teenage life no end. I have made a lot of friends through a shared love of comedy and I reckon that finding people to laugh with is the secret of a happy teenage life. The older you get, the less you laugh so make sure that in the words of Victoria Wood, ‘you laugh until chips come down your nose’ while you’re young. ‘Two Soups’ in particular will set you up for life.


And that’s pretty much it, lovely girl except to say that I am ridiculously proud of you.  I know that this next step is a big one and you may be a little bit nervous or even scared. That’s okay – it won’t last because pretty soon you’ll be on your way, working hard, trying new things and having all the fun.

And all the while, I will be here, watching in awe, helping smooth any bumps in the road and most of all cheering you every fantastic step of the way.


Buddy’s Referendum Diary


Thursday 23rd June

Today is Referendum day. I have no idea what that means, except that Ladyofthehouse went out for a bit and returned declaring, ‘I have exercised my democratic right! Let’s hope the rest of the country doesn’t cock it up.’

When Beardy said goodnight to me later, he looked relieved. ‘I think it’s going to be okay, Buds,’ he said. ‘Looks as if we’re staying in.’

Of course we’re staying in, you great hairy numpty. It’s night-time. We always stay in at night-time.

Unless I decide to stay out with my girlfriend, Mindy of course. Then we’re definitely out.


Friday 24th June

Well. That was a bit of a shock. The Family has run out of TunaFelix and I had to have SardineFelix instead. Beardy looked pale and worried when he gave it to me.

‘It’s not good, Buds. It’s not good at all,’ he said as he put my bowl down.

You’re telling me, mate. Sardines are the food of the devil.

I knew something was wrong because Ladyofthehouse was already out of bed. This isn’t normal.

According to Beardy, Ladyofthehouse ‘doesn’t do mornings’ and ‘you can’t talk to her until she’s had coffee’.

In fact I think she’d been up for a while. After forcing down my sardines I found her staring at the television, shaking her head and repeating, ‘no, no, no, this can’t be happening.’

Smallboy came downstairs and asked what had happened. Ladyofthehouse said that we had decided to Brexit. At first I thought she said ‘breakfast’ and went to wait by my bowl for more food but then Smallboy started to cry and asked if there was going to be a war. Ladyofthehouse gave him a big hug and said, ‘not if I can bloody help it.’

I nudged Smallboy’s legs so that he picked me up. Humans think they’re hugging you but really it’s the other way round.

‘I love you, Buddy,’ he said.

I love you too, Smallboy.

Lovelygirl came down then. Beardy told her about the Brexit and she looked worried. ‘Does that mean I won’t be able to get a job?’ Beardy told her it would be fine whilst looking as if he didn’t really believe it.

I nudged Lovelygirl’s legs so that she picked me up.

‘Oooh Buddy, I love you,’ she said. ‘Will it be okay?’

I love you too, Lovelygirl. And yes, it will be okay, although I’m not entirely sure what ‘it’ is.

Beardy and Ladyofthehouse told the children not to worry and to go and have some breakfast.

After the children had gone Ladyofthehouse started to get cross. ‘Look what they’ve done,’ she cried. ‘Look what they’ve done to my children’s future. Bunch of bloody bastards.’

‘Bastards,’ agreed Beardy, putting his arms around Ladyofthehouse.

I nudged their legs so that Ladyofthehouse picked me up.

I let them hug me for a bit before wriggling onto the floor and going to sit with the children. They need me today.

When Ladyofthehouse came back from dropping Lovelygirl and Smallboy at school, she was even crosser.

‘Well the pound’s gone through the floor, we’ve been sent baskets of muffins by every far right-wing group in Europe and now David bloody Cameron has decided to eff off having gambled the country away in a bid to stop Farage, who is declaring a victory for decent people. Pah! He wouldn’t know a decent person if one stood up in his soup!’

At least I think that’s what she said. All I could do was stare at the floor and wonder how many pounds were underneath it and also, if I might like muffins. They had to be better than sardines.

Ladyofthehouse spent the day cleaning the house and typing very fast, whilst shouting things at the radio and television.

Friday nights are usually a very happy time but everyone seemed glum.

I went out with Mindy. She was worried too. She said that in the Referendum people had either voted to stay ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the EU. She said the EU was a big organisation set up to unite the countries of Europe after the war in order to bring stability and free trade between nations. She said it wasn’t perfect and cost a lot of money but that it brought lots of advantages in terms of free movement, trade, subsidies to poorer areas and a healthy spirit of outward looking co-operation. Mindy is a very knowledgeable cat.

She has a particular interest in the EU fishing policies and is now concerned that fish prices will rise. I don’t care as long as there’s plenty of TunaFelix.

Mindy said that a lot of people had voted ‘out’ due to concerns about migration to this country, which is like other cats coming into your garden. I don’t really like other cats coming into my garden apart from Mindy but then I’m a cat and therefore have limited intelligence. I thought humans were cleverer than that.


Saturday 24th June

Ladyofthehouse and Beardy are very angry but I’m not sure who with. They have fierce discussions about the things that annoy them.

Ladyofthehouse is particularly angry with all the people who voted to leave but now wished they’d voted to stay. She calls them ‘cockwombles’. This word makes Smallboy laugh until he falls on the floor. Ladyofthehouse says he’s not to use it at school or in front of Grandma.

Beardy is mainly angry with a man called Cameron and another called Boris. There is also a man called Nigel who they dislike but Ladyofthehouse has said that no-one is allowed to speak his name out loud.


Sunday 25th June

I am a little bit worried about Ladyofthehouse. She seems to be losing it slightly.

She has taken to strolling round the garden in the early evening (something I enjoy myself), throwing slugs and snails into a flowerpot whilst crying, ‘come here Boris, you fat slimy slug,’ and ‘oh no, Dave, you may have destroyed the country but you’re not eating my Rudbeckia,’ before throwing them all into the big bin and shouting, ‘die, you traitorous scum!’



Monday 26th June

Very confusing day which ended up with Beardy declaring that, ‘England were out of Europe’.

Duh, keep up Beardy. That was last week.


Tuesday 27th June

Ladyofthehouse has got a cold. She’s very snotty. She is blaming this cold on Boris, although I’m not sure if she means the slug or the man with the funny hair on TV.

She lay on the sofa watching something called Wimbledon today. Ladyofthehouse and Beardy love Wimbledon. It seems to calm them down. I like watching it with them. I like Roger Federer best. He has fantastic eyebrows.


Wednesday 28th June

Ladyofthehouse seems less angry and sadder now. Today she was watching Cameron on the TV and instead of swearing, she was listening.

She sat down on the sofa as if all her worries were weighing her down. So I jumped up next to her and rubbed my head against hers. She was surprised because I don’t do this very often. ‘Thank you, Buds,’ she said, scratching my head. ‘I needed that.’

What can I say? I’m a very perceptive cat.

Mindy told me later that Ladyofthehouse was probably sad because of the rise in hate crime. She said that as a lot of people voted ‘out’ due to concerns about immigration, it has given rise to the far right thinking that this somehow validates their abhorrently racist views.

Like I said, Mindy is very knowledgeable, whereas humans seem to be increasingly stupid.


Thursday 29th June

Ladyofthehouse was angry again, this time because no-one seems to be running the country and they all seem to be arguing about who should do it now that Cameron doesn’t want to.

Apparently Boris was going to try but now a man who Ladyofthehouse calls, ‘the rubber-faced twonk’, has said he wants to but a lady called Theresa may do it too. It’s very confusing.

Ladyofthehouse put Wimbledon on and the Family all sat watching Andy Murray, who reminds me of a cat because he never smiles even though he’s happy.

I stay very close to them. They are calm but I sense they need me. They are always picking me up now and hugging me. I don’t mind. I love them.

I also have a plan to help them. I know exactly who can sort things out and I’m starting the campaign tomorrow.

I think she’ll unite the nation because of her intelligence and political insight, and more importantly ensure that we never run out of TunaFelix again.

Mindy presentation


The thrill of the deadline

There’s nothing more thrilling than reaching a deadline, is there? For the organised amongst you, this may involve a gentle jog to the finishing line, a small but heart-felt air-punch and that satisfied sense of a job well done. If you are slightly chaotic, as I am, it’s a bumpy ride. It goes something like this.

A fortnight before the deadline, you are calm personified – a mixture of Mary Berry and Barack Obama – cool, twinkling, confident.


A week to go and you take on the air of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, muttering ‘Don’t Panic’, under your breath in a less soothing, more hissy mantra.

You then hurl yourself into the task at hand. You work late into the night (never first thing – there isn’t enough coffee in the world that could jump-start you into early-morning writing). So working late is the only option but it’s okay because it means a glass of wine, a bowl of Kettle Chips and an episode of Modern Family as a reward.

giphy (1)

See? Being a night-owl pays big time, my friends. You can’t be hitting the Chablis at ten in the morning. It may have worked for Hemingway but then he never had to do the afternoon school-run.

Then we reach the day before the deadline. This day is oddly calm. The hard work is done. There is a niggling panic that you have lost control of the book somehow, that it doesn’t hang together but then you remember that it’s hard to keep the detail of ninety thousand words in your head and the panic subsides. This day mainly consists of ticking off items on the slightly odd final check list such as:

–          Does Dan have size ten or size twelve feet?

–          Check number of times the word ‘wow’ is used & delete accordingly.

–          Decide whether to keep or remove the new vicar.

It’s not your average ‘to do’ list but it all seems vitally necessary during the intense adrenaline-pumped moments before you attach the manuscript to an e-mail and send it to your editor.

Finally, the moment does arrive. You simply cannot put it off anymore. The manuscript is saved for the final time. You send it off into the world, like a baby bird on its first flight and hope that it doesn’t crash into the first window it reaches.


You hold your breath and then realise that breathing is important and exhale. You stare at your screen for a moment and feel quite tired. Your brain is as weary as a toddler after an hour in a ball pool. Take a break, brain. You’ve worked hard. You need a rest.

The day afterwards is lovely. You emerge into the world, blinking at the light – a bewildered writing mole. There is no writing to do today. You have earned a rest.

It’s a day to tick off some of those things you don’t have time to do because you are writing, like communicating with your family and working out why the fridge makes that weird whining noise, but only in the afternoons.

Important stuff.

You write a shiny new ‘to-do’ list. It doesn’t seem quite as writerly and creative as the manuscript check-list. It contains items like:

–          Sort e-mails (2 years’ worth)

–          Check utilities bills

–          Phone the Inland Revenue

You give it your best shot. After a day of clenching your teeth as you try but fail to find someone from HMRC who wants your tax and weeping as your Yahoo Mail page crashes every time you try to archive something, you have an epiphany. Existing in the real world is too hard and actually, really quite boring.

Immediately, you know what you need to do. You e-mail your editor with a request and she is delighted to oblige.

The next day, you’re one happy camper. You sit at your computer with a fresh sense of purpose and a manic grin on your face as you type the words, ‘Chapter One.’

You have a new deadline. All is well.

giphy (2)


It’s all in the name

There are many things I like about writing books. The staring out of the window is lovely. The drinking coffee whilst staring out of the window is also good.

However, when it comes to actually writing the words down onto the page (fortunately I like this bit too), one of my favourite parts is coming up with names and the more books I write, the more I enjoy this particular challenge.

Because it is a challenge as the writers amongst you will probably agree. You have to be very careful with names. Very careful indeed.

One misplaced Valerie and your old school-chum from thirty years back will be on your doorstep demanding to know why she’s been cast as a serial killer with a penchant for knitting woolly-faced effigies of her victims (Crime writer friends, feel free to have that one on me. You’re welcome)

knitted doll

When I wrote Not Quite Perfect, I was a complete name-giving rookie. I named most of my characters after my family and friends. In my defence, the whole novel began as a creative writing experiment but when it got more serious, the names sort of stuck. My sister-in-law still wants to know why my sixty-something bossy mother character is based on her (stop being bossy and I’ll tell you) whilst my mother-in-law was sorely disappointed to only play a walk-on role. You can’t please all of the people or indeed any of the people, especially if you’re related to them.

It may seem like the easiest thing in the world to give a character a name but names are tricky. You don’t always get them right first time. One of the main characters in Dear Lizzie was called Barney right up to the last moment when I suddenly realised that his name was Joe. Just like that. The poor man had been wandering through my novel, dealing with quite a lot of terrible things and I hadn’t even had the decency to give him the right name. Sorry Barney. I mean Joe.

Above all, you can have fun with names. You can play with them, you can
re-arrange them, you can invent completely new ones and stretch them into whatever you need them to be.

It’s basically the writer’s equivalent of Play-Doh and I’ve always loved Play-Doh (particularly the smell).

When I was writing Life or Something Like It last year, I was struggling with a name for a key male character. I was sharing this issue with my family over dinner, when my eight-year-old son fixed me with a look.

‘I have three ideas for you, Mum.’

‘Okay,’ I replied uncertainly. My son doesn’t usually offer much input regarding my books. Inspiration? Droves. Input? No. But into the mouths of gift horses, I will not look. It’s one of my rules.

‘Go on.’

‘First idea – Chris P. Bacon.’

Guffaws around the table. A raised eyebrow from me. ‘And the next?’

‘Terry Fied. Although that’s mainly for spooky stories,’ he said sagely.

‘Yes, this isn’t really a spooky book.’

‘Shame,’ he shrugged. ‘All right. How about, Robin Banks?’

‘It’s a fantastic name but maybe better suited to a book featuring a criminal?’

‘Probably,’ he said. ‘Well I can’t really help you. Sorry Mum.’

Never mind, son. Name-giving is an art. I’m no expert but I’m learning.

In my opinion, Charles Dickens is the top dog when it comes to names. There’s never a poll of best character names that doesn’t feature one of his.  I mean, I was pretty proud of Cat Nightingale as the name for my reluctant heroine in Life Or Something Like It, but Uriah Heap is pure unbridled brilliance.

Ironically, my favourite name in the book I’ve just finished isn’t that of a person. It’s the name of the road on which they live – Hope Street, based on the south-east London community in which I’ve lived for large parts of my life.

I like to think that Charles Dickens might have approved or very likely come up with something better. Like I say, I’m learning.

So I thought it would be appropriate at this stage to consider my favourite character names. Here’s a short but by no means exhaustive list.

  1. Reginald Jeeves and Bertie Wooster

We don’t really need the first names do we? Perfect names, perfect characters, perfect stories. That is all.

jeeves and wooster

  1. Eva Delectorskaya

William Boyd’s heroine from Restless. He has Dickens-like talents for names. This one sticks with me largely because I can barely pronounce it but I also love Nat Tate, Logan Mountstuart and Amory Clay.

  1. Huckleberry Finn

If you wanted a name to sum up the character of a chicken-stealing, grubby rascal then you couldn’t do much better.

  1. Veruca Salt

Children’s books lead the way with excellent names and Roald Dahl is probably the master. Mind you, with Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Willy Wonka and Mike Teavee all in one story, he pretty much cleaned up.

  1. Abel Magwich

Really, this entire list should be peopled by Charles Dickens’ characters but this meaty villain from Great Expectations wins for me. Any writer who created Dick Swiveller (stop sniggering at the back), Merry Pecksniff, Kit Nubbles, Pleasant Riderhood and Woolwich Bagnet as secondary character names should be crowned king of all the names forever.

abel magwich

I would love to hear your favourites if you’d like to leave a comment.

Right, I’m off to think up a name for an eighty-something female ex-librarian with a passion for cryptic crosswords. Maybe Ivy or Joan? Mind you, I’ve always liked Olive…


Dear Victoria Wood

Back in January, I wrote a post about how I felt when David Bowie died, about how his legacy touched my family and how he had become like the edgy, cool uncle when we’re listening to music. I had to acknowledge however, that he didn’t really have a defining influence on my life. I didn’t make a profound discovery about myself through listening to his music. I just love it and besides, I wasn’t that cool.

So yesterday, when I heard about the death of Victoria Wood, I knew that there had been a seismic shift in my life.

It wasn’t the fact that I cried when I heard The Ballad of Barry and Freda on the radio and then again when I watched the Spaghetti Sketch on the News.

Regular readers to this blog will know that on the 1 to 10 scale of sadness with 10 being utter despair and 3 being slight melancholy, I’m a lost cause at anything past two and a half.

It was more that it reminded me of when Victoria Wood was the defining influence in my life and it made me realise that much of my sense of humour and my frequent inability to take things seriously, are down to her.

Victoria Wood books

So this is a letter from my teenage self, explaining what she means to me.

Dear Victoria Wood,

Hello. How are you? Sorry, I’m a bit nervous writing to you. I know I shouldn’t be. You seem really lovely on television so I expect you’re just as lovely in real life. You can tell that about a person, can’t you? It’s all in the eyes according to my Mum.

‘If the smile doesn’t reach the eyes then run a mile, Annie. Also never trust a man with a beard.’

Good advice I’m sure you’ll agree and it means that you are both trustworthy and lovely according to my mother because you don’t have a beard and your smile always reaches your eyes. In fact, you look as if you’re having the time of your life when you’re performing. It’s as if you’re talking to a room full of friends and I love that.

Sorry, I’m rabbiting on now instead of telling you the reason for this letter.

I wanted to say thank you. From the bottom of my heart and the heart of my bottom. Sorry. Again. I stole that line from Fry and Laurie. Do you know them? They’re my other favourites. I wrote to them as well.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wanted to thank you because you sort of saved me. That sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? I do like a bit of drama but I like comedy more. I have filled my life with as much comedy as I can – I particularly love you, of course. And Blackadder. And French and Saunders. I watch everything over and over again.  I memorise all the lines.

My friend and I performed your ‘Self Service’ sketch last year at the church revue. I played the Julie Walters part. I wasn’t very good and I didn’t understand half the references but I loved it. I love making people laugh. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

You’re brilliant at it of course and I think the way you play with words is very clever. My friends and I can’t say, ‘Malibu,’ ‘pochette,’ or ‘you’d be very middling at modelling, Madeleine’ without laughing now. Actually, that’s another thing. I’ve made some really good friends because of you –  friends I can laugh with and say,

‘Hello, I’m looking for my friend, Kimberley. Have you seen her?’

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. For making me laugh and helping me to see the funny side of life in all the silly little things that happen. I’m going to try to keep making people laugh in some way if I can, ideally until chips come down their noses. I hope you approve. I reckon you do.

Much love and a plate of macaroons,

Annie x




The reluctant cat owner

‘Shall we get a cat then?’

No-one was more surprised than me when I uttered these words to my husband at the beginning of October last year. We’d been talking about getting a pet for years but failed to commit. There’s always a good reason not to get a pet.

For the past ten years, I have used the excuse of small children. They effectively serve as pets in their constant need to be fed, kept clean and played with. They can also be toilet-trained, thereby for me, offering a key advantage.

My children have wanted a pet ever since they were able to talk. As their other friends got pets, I was always ready with a new excuse relative to the animal in question.


‘Macey has a guinea-pig.’

‘Too small and squeaky.’

‘Eva’s got rabbits.’

Which promptly got eaten by a fox, providing me with a ready-made get-out clause.

‘Ella’s got tortoises.’

I struggled here as actually, tortoises are very cool – a prehistoric-type pet, which you have to hibernate them over the winter – these are animals I can relate to.

Really though, I wanted a dog. I’ve always wanted a dog ever since my Dad said I couldn’t have a dog and bought me a rabbit to shut me up.

I did love the rabbit though. He was fierce and grey. He used to scare foxes away by thumping on the floor of his hutch or throwing his metal food bowl.

Once we took him to the vets and a dog in the waiting room started to howl at the smell of rabbit. Smokey (for that was his name) thumped with aggressive persistence until we opened the box, whereupon he poked out his head, giving the dog such a look of rabbity terror (don’t mock until you’ve experienced it – think Paddington bear stare with an edge of Watership Down carnage), that the poor hound recoiled in horror.

paddington bear stare

Anyway, scary rabbits to one side, in the cat versus dog debate, I have always been a dog person. My husband is a cat person. In the spirit of marital harmony, we decided that we would work towards owning both but that, for practical reasons, the cat should come first.

Being a wise man, my husband realised that he had to let me decide the right time for the cat. I was the one who needed to get my head around the idea of becoming a cat owner.

I think my essential issue with cats is that I am jealous of them. They’ve got life sussed. They get food when they want it, attention when they feel like it and then just do their own thing when they don’t. They spend most of their time sleeping in a warm place, ideally under a radiator, by a fire or in a handy patch of sun. I for one, want to come back as a big fat Tabby living with a kind old lady, who likes to over-indulge me and always has the heating on. Happy life sorted.

So we found a cat, a kitten to be precise because I was determined that if we did this, we did it properly. Our first family pet would be a cute kitten arriving at Christmas for the children to love and adore.

I warned my husband that I was prepared to embrace the idea of the kitten but couldn’t promise any more than that.

The kitten arrived two days before Christmas. He was tiny and black with wonky blue eyes and a face like a bear. He seemed very relaxed as he sauntered into our lives. The children were over-joyed. My husband was like a teenager in the first flush of new love. I felt a bit like I had when I’d first become a mother – worrying if he was warm enough, was he getting enough food and what on earth were worming tablets (actually that is less of an issue with a baby tbh).


I booked a precautionary trip to the vet. The vet was relaxed. He chuckled as he placed the kitten on the gigantic weighing-machine. The cat weighed
400 grams – less than two pats of butter. The vet suggested kitten milk to help build him up a little.

Christmas day started well. It was fun having a kitten. We held a democratic vote and finally decided to name him, ‘Buddy.’

Buddy was quite sleepy during the afternoon but then everyone is sleepy on Christmas Day afternoon. We gave him some kitten milk later on. He lapped it up and then threw it up. As the evening wore on, he became even sleepier. He fell asleep in his litter tray. He couldn’t walk anywhere without falling over. As kittens aren’t regular pub-goers, we became concerned.

After the children were tucked up in bed, my husband and I started to get very worried. We began to use words like, ‘listless,’ and ‘dehydration.’ We tried and failed to give him water.

I cradled him in my arms as tears pricked my eyes. ‘I never wanted a bloody cat,’ I told him. ‘And now look what you’ve done. Don’t you dare die. You’ve got to grow up so that you can go out into the world and bring back a huge mouse to make me scream. I love you, you little bugger.’

My husband phoned the vet, his face pale with worry. It became even paler when the vet told him how much it would cost to treat a kitten on Christmas Day. We shrugged at one another. We had no choice. He took him to the vet and we spent twenty four hours fretting. Finally, the call came late afternoon on Boxing Day. Buddy was okay. I went and stood in the garden and had a little cry.

A month on, he’s doubled in size and behaves like a toddler. He is an original ankle-biter. He likes to skip and gambol just in front of my feet making it impossible to walk normally. He is currently sitting on my lap as I type this, sleeping, his breath steady and a little bit squeaky.


I was telling a good friend about him the other day.

‘How’s the cat?’ he asked.

‘Cute. Annoying,’ I replied.

‘Just like having a child then,’ he observed. ‘With the childhood part all done in one year.’

‘Huh,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t thought of it like that but yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.’

So there you have it, I am a reluctant pet owner with a toddler cat. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and play with him – they grow up so fast these days.

Then it’ll be time to get a puppy.

labrador puppy