A novelist writes about the mind, body and soul.

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World Book Night Tonight

So far I’ve given away 17 copies of The Road by Cormac Mccarthy, in the W12 area of London. It’s World Book Night and I signed up to be a giver. I chose The Road, because when I read it about five or six years ago, I literally couldn’t put it down. Even though the subject matter is bleak , a father and his young son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America, desperately trying to reach the coast, it is also strangely uplifting. Only two people I have offered books to refused, one an old man, who perhaps thought I was selling him something and another a woman who works in a butcher shop who said she only likes “light reads.”  The shopkeepers in the opticians, the wine merchant, Tesco, the chemist, seemed the most pleased to receive a book.  The majority of people said they didn’t get round to reading very much. I gave away two books in the builders cafe – one to the owner and one to a man who said he wasn’t very well at the moment, but would read it when he got better. I gave one to a mother picking up children, and one to a young forlorn girl standing in a doorway, who was really pleased and surprised that the book was for free. She said she would give it to her auntie. A newsagent said she would give it to her daughter as she could only concentrate for about two lines when she reads.  I urged her to give it a go, she said she would. I also gave one to a man who was waiting in a dentist surgery and one to a mother picking up her kids, who said she hasn’t had much time to read recently.

I am not sure how many of these 17 receivers will actually finish the book, but it’s great to be able to give something away,  rather than sell something.

I will give the rest away early evening. If anyone can get to W12 and wants a copy let me know!


Smoking Saga Day 2

Following on from my post yesterday, I am rather shamefully updating news of giving up cigarettes for Lent. I had planned to arrive at my friends’ house for dinner, with a bottle of wine but no cigarettes. Socialising, drinking, and feasting late, are all smoking triggers for me. I had actually planned this scenario, when at 750pm, I received the following text from my friend: Bring Cigarettes if u have any, really fancy one!

A better person than me, would have seen this as a challenge to overcome.

I texted back to say that I had given up for Lent, but I would bring a packet, that I had failed to throw away the day before. I toyed with the idea of not bringing them, but then decided I didn’t want to let her down at her own dinner party.  So of course we shared one in the garden, the moment I arrived. I felt pathetic and awful and planned not to post today at all. I was conscious of my breath as I kissed a rather fanciable man hello. I was conscious of other people  succeeding in giving up all sorts of things for Lent. After dinner, another woman, who said she had given up smoking for seventeen years, demanded one and my hostess said she would like one too.  I am proud to say at this instant, I did not, as I would usually do, join them in a carefree smoking fest.  So last night was a failure, but also somehow, a small triumph. I usually smoke at least 3 or 4 at a dinner and feel hung over from the nicotine the next day. At least today, I don’t have a nicotine hangover, but perhaps a tiny wine one!

The hell of getting into a London Independent School at 11

My ten-year-old son, recently sat three 11plus exams for two academic independent London schools, (One co-ed, one boys only) and one less academic, but oversubscribed school.  Let’s just say all the schools he tried for are oversubscribed. Seriously oversubscribed. Recession? What recession? My only conclusion is that the parents of children who would have normally gone to boarding school, are cutting back by trying for London day schools. When I say the exams are hard, I mean hard, I could barely manage the maths papers that he was practicing, although I have to admit maths was never really my thing.

We live in West London and the competition is fierce, very fierce, much more fierce than I had imagined, even though I had been warned.  One popular, academic co-ed school near us, had 950 applicants for about 100 places. He is a bright boy. We have always been told this by our friends, and by our families. His teachers have always told us that he is articulate for his age,he is in every gifted and talented programme the school has going, but this means nothing when it comes to trying for these schools. It’s madness. We had him on track to go to the local Church of England State Secondary, when about 18 months ago, my mother offered to pay independent school fees. This sent me down a different path, a path that perhaps he was not fully prepared for. He had a tutor, but only from the summer half term of year 5. What I didn’t realise is the private school children have literally been preparing for these exams all their academic life.

These few weeks have been hell. Taking him to the three hour exams, seeing the hundreds of children, some tiny, like him, queuing up, clutching their see-through pencil cases, made me feel tearful and emotional. Watching them come out looking pale and shell-schocked wasn’t great either. Our son was very brave, never complained, but really, these children are young.The days continue to be tense and nerve-wracking.   The first letter came from the boys school, – “the competition for places was fierce this year,” it said. Our boy had not been asked for interview. My heart sank. We feared the worst, he wouldn’t get in to any of the three schools, he  tried for. I feared the worst, because he would feel like a failure. He had worked hard, he had turned up, he’s only ten! Not even eleven until the summer term. I began to think he should have been tutored for far longer, than just from the summer half term. Then a few days later, a letter from the less academic school arrived.  He’s been asked for an interview on this coming Saturday. My sense of relief was extraordinary. When I asked the school secretary how many children have been invited for interview she said %60 of those that took the exam. This is still in no way a done deal.

We are waiting to hear from his favourite school, the academic, mixed school, the one he really really wants to go to. We will hear early next week. Last night he came downstairs saying he couldn’t sleep, he wanted to ‘curl up and hide.’ Why I asked. “It’s just the exams, he said, “the interview,everything.”  I have not put him under pressure, I have told him that the state school is a fantastic option, that he can only do his best. Whatever school he  end up going to will be the best one for him. He knows that. He just doesn’t believe it any more. He has seen the facilities, the sports fields, the libaries, the exclusive hush and comfort of the private schools.

I wrote an email to a friend who had gone through the same thing last year and this is what she said. Yes I know exactly what you’re going through. (my child) went through the same gruelling system last year – also transferring from a small local state school.  The mother of her best friend  got in such a hysterical state that she applied for 12 schools.  He’s a very bright boy.  The statistics do seem horrendous but the picture is not nearly as bad as it may seem.   the idea that there is only the private school or disaster is definitely very VERY far from the reality.  The options are wide and varied.  But the climate of fear is so pervasive.  And paranoia is catching.  Everyone is muttering the figures to one another.  Everyone has a looming foreboding that their childs whole future happiness and well being is one the line.  
Step back, stop listening, hold your nerve.  I promise you it will work out fine! 

This was her advice, step back, stop listening and hold your nerve. Her child did get into the three schools she applied for. But still for all of us out there, going through this now, Step Back, Stop Listening and Hold Your Nerve. And if you’re applying next year, think hard before you do. If your child is coming from a state school you will need a tutor, and that is the least of it.

Go Skate!

ImageSkating is the one thing I love doing, that makes me feel like a child again. When I was young, I had regular skating lessons, at Queensway in London, and even learnt to skate backwards and dance.  A few years ago we started skating at Kew on the outdoor rink, and loved it all over again – first we would toddle around with the small children which was a little boring, and then me and my husband would return for a date on the rink, which was really fun. Kew no longer has a skating ring, but this year I’ve been skating twice, just to feel the thrill, and now my children dash around too without any help – my seven year old daughter is a real whizz in fact.

I’ve just returned from France where we skated on the outdoor rink in St Tropez. It was very cheap – 2 Euros for as long as you wanted to skate (officially meant to be an hour, but no one knew). It was surrounded by twinkling Christmas trees and fairy lights, lovely. However, the rink was run by a trio of maverick men, who admitted it was never cleaned and so it was easy to trip up on the mounds of ice that mounted up. Also there were gangs of teenagers playing “it” which was terrifying. The first time we skated I fell over twice.

Much safer and brilliant in this rainy weather is the indoor rink at Westfield, which closes this Sunday the 8th. It’s reasonably priced and not too crowded. The rink is smallish, but the ice is beautifully smooth. We rushed around the rink and didn’t feel scared once. Great Fun and well worth a visit.

Driving on the Motorway is the worst thing for my soul

I have an article in The Times today about my fear of driving on the motorway. Apparently I am not alone, many women fear it and some, like me, have been phobic about it. If you click on this link you will be taken to the first page of the Times. Scroll right down you will see a rather odd photograph of me behind the wheel of my car. Click on this and you will be able to read the article, if you pay a one off daily subscription!

Below is my first paragraph:

I am driving on the M4, feeling as though I am stuck on a macabre conveyor belt, which will end in death. All around me, lorries are thundering past, aggressive drivers are inching up right behind me at recklessly fast speeds and I am panicking because it seems impossible to stop or get off. I am imagining a whole series of morbid scenes – the tyre will burst,  I will lose control and the car will swerve into the crash barrier.  Whatever happens we will all die.  My heart is palpitating, my hands are clammy and my breath sounds strange and unnatural. My ten-year-old son asks me why I am panting.  I slow down to 30mph and wonder if I will make to the layby. I am shaking and sweating.  I try not to cry.

A dog is man’s best friend but cats are my favourite

If you fancy two adult tickets (Children go free) to the Discover Dogs Show at Earls Court on either the 12th or 13th November, please visit my other blog:  I love animals but cats are my favourite. I always hug my huge cat, Kitty (Or Cuba as the children call her) just before I go to bed and when I get up. 

I have a Disney Goody Bag to give away!!!

I am supporting a really worthwhile campaign. Disney Junior Channel have offered to turn Disney memories into cash for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  I wrote about going to see the Jungle Book at the cinema, it was the first film I ever saw and I absolutely loved it, particularly Baloo the bear, seen above.  I also read and reread my Mary Poppins book which had little flaps which you lifted up to reveal tiny stories about Mary Poppins. Each memory is worth £1 for Great Ormond Street hospital and when a million memories are recorded they will turn it into  £1million for the hospital. You can post your own memory on the link – Then duplicate in my comment box so I can choose one to send a goody bag to. (Nothing too exotic, I’m just going to grab one randomly) and join celebrities who have shared including:

Robbie Williams

For me it was The Jungle Book,  I think it was the first film that I ever went to see. It was and still is an amazing film, with amazing songs and amazing characters. I’ve loved Disney from a very young age, but The Jungle Book was probably my first true Disney experience.

Emma Bunton

Watching Mary Poppins was my first Disney memory. I remember singing along to the songs and being fascinated by the colours, characters and Mary flying over the London rooftops !

Alesha Dixon

My earliest memory of Disney would have to be going to the cinema for the first time to see Bambi. It was the most beautiful experience and highly emotional. Disney literally transported me to another world that I didn’t want to end!

Sir Michael Caine

My memories were Snow White and Bambi in those days, I remember crying my eyes out when Bambi’s mother died in the forest and laughing my head off at the Seven Dwarves. I grew up with cartoons.  My favourite Disney villain would have to be the wicked witch from Snow White, I think she’s great and my favourite Disney hero is Mickey Mouse, he was my first hero and my favourite.

Julie Walters

My first Disney  memory was tramping through deep snow with my aunt to a local ‘picture house’ in Birmingham. I was about five and I remember with great clarity the heavenly sensation of thawing out in the rich, red warmth of the cinema and the utter thrill as the lights went down, my aunt shoving a wine gum into my mouth as the film began. It was Lady and the Tramp. I was completely grabbed by the gorgeous technicolor, the wonderful characters and the absorbing story and there began my love of cinema.

Lewis Hamilton

I think for me it was Mickey Mouse. When I was really young I remember having this picture that my mum has of me in infant school and I was wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt and it had the buttons that you could press and they would make the ears squeak! Also I remember watching Mickey Mouse on Disney Channel when I was really young and when we went to Disneyland in Los Angeles when I was 4 or 5, so I don’t remember it all, but I had pictures to prove that I actually met Mickey Mouse, so that’s pretty cool.

Post your own Disney memory and then duplicate the memory in my comment box. The best memory will receive a great Disney Goodie bag from ME suitable for children up to  7 years old. I’ve just got one, and it’s sorted out my daughter’s Christmas stocking.

It’s a win win situation!

One mole, two moles, three moles, four….

My beloved grandmother died of breast cancer when I was twelve. I still miss her thirty years on. A couple of years ago, my mother was diagnosed with skin cancer on her face and eyelids – probably caused by spending too much time sunbathing with oil when she was a  teenager – luckily it was non-melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancer is apparently the most common cancer in the UK, with 100,000 cases annually and often appears as a change in a mole or a patch of normal skin. If you notice one of your moles have changed you should have it checked out. As we all know by now, the main cause of skin cancer is too much ultra violet radiation from the sun or sunbeds. People with fair skin or lots of moles or freckles or a family history of skin cancer are most at risk and the most common sites for a melanoma are on the legs for women, the back in men and the face in older people.

I have probably sunbathed too much in my life, and I’ve had quite a few moles since childhood, so I decided to have them checked out at The Mole Clinic, in Argyll Street in London. Although this is their flagship site, they also do checks at certain Superdrugs around the country. The test took about twenty minutes in my case, and costs £115 and the nurse was friendly and knowledgeable. They recommend that everyone self-examines their moles and freckles every three months. I have two large flat brown mole-type marks on my back apparently, which are not dangerous and at this stage the nurse said they could be exfoliated away. I also have a mole on my ear, which I knew nothing about and others under my arms, on my thigh etc.

The test involves a nurse examining every part of your body and placing what looks like a magnifying glass over each mole. After the test was completed, I was thrilled to learn that none of my moles are a cause for concern, but that I am at above average risk to get melanoma, as I am in my late forties and the average age for women to be diagnosed is when they are 50. Of course you could always go to the doctor to get your mole checked out, but they would have to refer you to a dermatologist and apparently this can take a while, unless it looks like an emergency. The Mole Clinic can give you a thorough and quick and reassuring test in a less than half an hour.

100 hot beauty products

A great competition from Harpers Bazaar,to win a selection of their hot 100 beauty products which are featured in the October Issue. I would love to get my hands on the Perfect Heel Rescue Balm, Rodial hi tech mask that plumps the skin and the Ren rich rose bath oil. In fact I could do with all 100 products. My tan is fading, skin is dry and my heart dispirited.  At least the sun is shining today.

A PS to post yesterday

I wanted to add one more thing to my post yesterday, Tingling in the  cold Atlantic Sea, about my holiday in Ireland. There was one more aspect of that ten days that was also good for me and no doubt would be good for you too.  Apart from the silence and the view, and the restorative sea air, there was no access to internet. No checking emails, twitter and facebook. No blogs, or browsing  for a full ten days.  You can see that I am back to it now, as I write this at 6.54 in the morning. I am something of an addict. When my husband accuses me of spending too much time on my computer, I protest that I am working. I am a writer I say forcefully, I have to be on my computer. But the truth is, he’s right. I sometimes browse/write emails/checkfacebook instead of talking to the children. I have been known to watch television in the evening and be looking at facebook at the same time. When I’m meant to be writing a novel or an article, I check my emails about five times an hour. I am certainly not proud of this. I didn’t miss it though, when I didn’t have it. A couple of times, it would have been good to look up the weather or keep up to date about what was going on in Libya or discover that Brad and Angelina have checked their children into Ibstock Place school  or that Kate was wearing yet another dress from Reis, but then again, it was a huge relief not to. I did miss radio 4, (couldn’t find it on the radio in the house) but  it was just as good checking the weather by looking out of the window at the spectacular sky – generally there were one or two rainbows, or big bulbous clouds, or a beautiful blue sky or at nighttime thousands and thousands of stars.

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