Dinner last night in Bude at La Bouche Creole. Fabulous fish dishes and attentive staff. Today my son drove me to Lanhydrock, a magnificent National Trust property with 40 or so rooms to wander through. Very Downton Abbey with servants’ quarters and huge kitchens contrasting with the splendour of the upper rooms. A maze of corridors and little flights of steps leading you here and there. A fascinating family history but just too much to take in all at once. Needs another visit another time. Off to Scotland again tomorrow. I don’t visit for years then it’s twice within a few weeks.
A return visit to my birthplace, Preston for The Park School reunion staying with an old friend I have known since primary school days and a catch up with family. The town, now city, has changed so much that sometimes I struggle to unearth a memory. My childhood house looks much the same in the middle of a redbrick terraced street, but there are now saplings growing along it (good thing) and the street is one way and packed solid with parked cars (not so good). The old Dock area has been transformed into a Marina and we took a pleasant walk all the way round in lovely autumn sunshine. I can return to the north in my stories and in my head even though I now live so far away in Devon – that M5 motorway seems never-ending although we, my son and I, did the journey in just under 6 hours which is something of a record.
Wonderful weekend up in Inverness. My son Peter was doing the Loch Ness Marathon and Meg (my granddaughter) and I were his support team. We drove round the Loch the previous day, all 60 miles of it, stopping off at Fort Augustus for monster fish and chips! We went to Culloden next day with its impressive newly built visitors’ centre – I donated money for a memorial stone there for my Ken – he loved the area and would be delighted to be commemorated there on the memorial pathway. Peter did the marathon and well done to him. The river Ness is very wide and fast flowing at Inverness, its bridge lit up at night. I liked the little city and the big wide skies next day as we drove back to the airport via Fort George near Nairn. That was a surprise as I had expected a ruin and it is a huge fortification with magnificent views over the headland. A few minutes peace and quiet in the chapel there before beginning the return journey. Tired but so glad we did it.
Went to see The Sound of Music at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. Wonderful stuff. Willing the Mother Superior to hit the top note of Climb Every Mountain. She did. As we emerged into the brightness of the afternoon, everyone was smiling and this is the marvellous thing about musicals. I sang Climb Every Mountain in the car on the way home and no, I was nowhere near the top note. Busy with compiling a portfolio of short stories with some sent out already. It’s a tricky genre but very interesting and I am enjoying it.
Just about to drop off to sleep last night when I decided I needed a drink of water. Switching on the bedside lamp, I saw one enormous spider, very black legs, sitting relaxing on the fluffy white sheepskin rug beside the bed. I shot out of bed on the opposite side, ran to get the spider-catcher from the airing cupboard praying that it would still be there when I returned. It was. It was very obliging and I scooped it up and moved it to spider pastures new. Reading a chapter of a gory thriller last thing plus the spider episode meant it took a while to get off to sleep. Getting back into the swing of writing following the week at Swanwick. Sent off some short stories.
A wonderful week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. It is pretty exhausting and by the end my creative mind is bursting. It is good to talk to other writers and I got a very useful critique of some new work which I am going to look at closely. Back home, I had family visiting and good weather. A boat trip from the barbican in Plymouth with one of our party feeling unfortunately seasick followed by a visit to the aquarium. Our family favourite fish was the ray although for ethereal beauty the tiny transparent jelly fish came a close second, both creatures unfortunately have a sting in the tail. A visit next day to Bude; lunch at The Olive Tree watching people enjoying themselves on paddle boats on the canal. Seeing people attempting rowing was funny and it makes you realise how easy the Olympic rowers make it seem. Trundling along the Bude canal is not quite the same as slicing through the waters in Rio.
Wonderful day at Taunton watching the cricket – Somerset v Glamorgan. Typical summer day – warmish with spits of rain from time to time. We were covered for all eventualities. On the way back I stopped off at a convenient Little Chef for something to eat. Disaster - broken frying equipment and no coffee machine. A nightmare, the pleasant girl at the till explained, because everybody wants chips. They are not coming to fix it until Wednesday, she added, which is very bad for business. I sympathised and settled for what they could make me – Chicken Tikka – not my first choice but I was hungry and a pot of tea. Felt so sorry for the waitress who looked close to tears that I gave her a tip.
Still waiting for summer. A few days of sunny weather here and there but a lot of grey skies too. I have been tidying my desk which gets in such a pickle when I am in the middle of something. I came across pages of stuff I printed out ages ago – long lost stories that haven’t seen the light of day. It was interesting to look at them again from a different perspective. I can see the day when printing out copies will be a thing of the past as publishers start to accept e-mail submissions more and more. Thinking back to the beginning of my writing using an old typewriter, paper and strips of Tippex, seems like the dark ages now. What a fuss that was and everytime you made a mistake, it interrupted the flow of writing. Much as I despair sometimes about the pace of technology I would not choose to go back to those times.
When there are no visitors about I find myself looking closely at the Rembrandt self-portrait we have on display at Buckland Abbey. I can almost feel the way the painter felt as he added touches of colour to the canvas, working away in his studio, a man who had to deal with a lot of sadness in his life as did so many of those painters of old. Before I took up writing, I did try my hand at painting but it wasn’t to be. I love the uninhibited way my little granddaughter splashes paint on a piece of paper, tongue out in concentration and I have to say some of her offerings could find a place in some of the modern galleries with all sorts of hidden meanings being discovered. Or am I being cynical?
Three days away in the New Forest based at Lyndhurst. Lovely sunny weather for visits to NT properties at Mottisfont, Uppark and Kingston Lacy. All very interesting and different properties, the rose gardens at Mottisfont at their spectacular best, the scents heady. I can just imagine the ladies of old taking a ‘turn’ round the garden. Oh for that gentle pace of life. Winchester was a delight too and I never cease to be amazed at the skill of those craftsmen shown at its best in the cathedral whose soaring arches really do take your breath away. Peering at the 12th century illuminated bible, I leaned too close and banged my head on the glass – no harm done and as the lady overseeing it explained with a smile, people do it all the time. Trust me to join them!