Words for the Wounded

Today I went to the Remembrance Day Service down on the seafront. In the cold bright sunlight, with the whisper of the gentle sea in the background, the people of Teignmouth remembered and gave thanks for sacrifices made. In the two minutes of silence, I thought about my two great great uncles, one of whom died at the Somme, the other who died at training camp that same summer. And I thought of their brother, my great grandfather who was on his way to the Front in a taxi when Armistice was declared, who cried whenever anyone mentioned the Great War. I thought about my beloved Grandpa who served in the Royal Artillery throughout the Second World War, a gunner in France and Germany. Who was away from home, from his wife and children, my mother just a baby in 1939. I thought of my wonderful Nanny who fought her own war on the Homefront, without her new husband, with rationing, with heavy bombing in Bristol and young children to look after. And then when Grandpa returned home in 1945, when so many did not, he never spoke of what he had seen or what he had done. He didn’t even claim his medals until my brother did it for him decades later.

My family’s story is an ordinary story. Everyone in this country has a similar story. But each story is unique and extraordinary.

Today, there are men and women fighting to keep our freedom, fighting for justice and peace. So many have laid down their lives for their country. And so many return injured and hurt in ways you can see, and in ways you can’t see. A new charity, Words for the Wounded is launched today to raise funds for the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen and women. I am honoured to be one of the patrons for this charity and urge you to take a look at the website. We all have a story to tell. Please think about writing it down and entering the competition.


And finally let me leave you with some words of comfort on a day that is so difficult for so many. But important for each and every one of us.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46:1-3


Bright Star

I’ve blogged about Teignmouth before but am going to do it again. The town is a pretty cool place to live with its natural beauty, seafront with pier, and river beach with painted huts. It has part of Brunel’s atmospheric railway (what was) and the strip of railway line between Teignmouth and Dawlish is supposed to be the most repaired in the country due to winter tides that wash over the seawall where the track runs close. The town still has a working port which largely handles clay and timber. The town retains some Georgian grandeur and fishermen’s cottages, despite what the town planners did back in the day.

And some famous people have connections with the town. Donald Crowhurst set out on his doomed voyage from here. The band members of Muse met at school here. Fanny Burney stayed and wrote her diaries here. But the man I am interested in right now is Keats.

One of the prettier houses in town is known as Keats House. The young poet stayed there in 1818 and completed his epic poem Endymion. Now here I get to the point of this blog. I was listening to a radio programme yesterday which touched on Keats and his theory and practice of negative capability.  ‘When man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

Despite being so young, Keats grasped a concept that is nowadays known as Mindfulness and is used by therapists to help their clients to learn to live in the moment. It’s not a new idea. Jesus said in the Bible not to worry as tomorrow has enough worries of its own.

I thought you had to be older to have something to say. But by the age of 26 Keats had lived a life that gave him great insight and wisdom. He had to face separation, grief, loss, a broken heart, his mortality.

I love that he walked the same streets I walk everyday.

Nothing Compares 2U

Summertime hits Britain.


Sunshine can make us happy.

But there’s always something nostalgic for me on a British summer’s day.

Today I was driving to Exeter (with A/C on!) and Zoe Ball played Sinead O’Connor’s version of Nothing Compares 2U. I was back in London, our first summer there. I was twenty-one, graduated and married, trying to live like a grown-up, in a flat in south east London, doing my first full-time job, commuting to town, to sit all day being bored by bureaucracy and being patronised by an older man with body odour.

I knew by the end of my first morning that I did not want to spend my days in an office. There weren’t even computers to distract me. No mobile phones to text get-me-out-of-here messages.

Just clock-watching.

And tedium.

Only relieved by window-shopping in Selfridges around the corner and gossip with two friends who felt the same way. Waiting for Friday night to come round.

Wondering if this was it?

(It wasn’t. I stuck out the year and then went on to do a PGCE in Primary. Never a dull moment working with the kids of Camberwell and Plumstead. Stress, yes. But never boredom.)

This beautiful break-up song reminds me of getting up early to catch a packed train at Hither Green, taking me into a city I didn’t want to live in, far away from the seaside, from my hometown of Teignmouth. It makes me happy I escaped that life. That I am now in my forties and know a lot more.

I also know that there is much ahead of me I can never even guess at. That life changes. You go along in a certain way for a while, you think maybe forever, but then life takes you off in another direction. I am now doing a job that I love, writing novels. I am on my own a lot but never clock-watch. Time rushes past and I have to try my best to catch up with it.

I don’t want to waste another day.

(Though I do love a bit of nostalgia – it makes you appreciate what you had and gives you hope for the future. More songs to follow.)

A little bit of politics

So I have now been blogging for a year… When I put my first post up last St Patrick’s Day I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest. Still not sure I do. But I have discovered a lot about what is important to me during my 90 posts, some of which have been a surprise.

The main themes I’ve rambled on about have been:


Books (my book in particular…)

Popular culture


70s and 80s nostalgia

Bruce Forsyth (and hurrah, he got his knighthood along the way!)

A little bit of politics (and a lot of Tory-bashing)

God and today’s church

Canada (where I live a parallel life in another space/time log cabin)

Music (pop)


Mental health


Having just read Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman (what a blast of fresh air!), I think it appropriate to dedicate this anniversary to the suffragettes who gave their lives for the rights of their sisters. A hundred years on, what would they think? What would they say to today’s young men and women? How would they feel, knowing that women are still judged by what they look like?  Lap-dancing, stripping, plastic surgery, bum implants, pneumatic breasts, Katie Price, Nuts magazine et al, Page 3, and the fact that women in the UK are paid on average 30% less than men despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970…what would they do with this very present and worrying reality?

I have two sons and a daughter and I know I have a duty as a mother to bring all three up as feminists.  It helps that we are a liberal-Guardian-reading household and that my husband and I were students in the 80s when Margaret Thatcher had a deep and long-lasting effect on our political beliefs. We talk about stuff, the media, the telly, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding… we debate. We let them ask questions and they know we don’t have all the answers. But they know right from wrong (mostly). And they know it is right to judge people by their actions, not by their looks/clothes/or walk.

Back in the 80s was an exciting time to be a woman. I was an English major, the  first of my family to go to a university. But what opened my eyes was the Women’s Studies minor I took, and the unit in Women Writers. I thought the bad times were behind us, that the future was bright for the human race, men and women alike. I thought that things could only get better a good decade ahead of Tony Blair (and even before Professor Brian Cox was a keyboard player). But twenty-five years later, I worry that my teenagers are bombarded with images that suggest women are still second class citizens. That the boys will have better life chances than their sister (though she is a tough cookie despite the obsession with mascara).

Don’t get me wrong … I like being a woman. I like wearing dresses and looking feminine. I like shoes and bags. But this doesn’t mean men should patronise me or think they have the monopoly on a conversation. And I like men too – they are somehow less complicated. You know where you are with them on the whole, even if it’s not always somewhere you want to be…

Maybe that’s why bloggging – and writing in general – can be so therapeutic. You can do it with no one looking at you. If I’m judged, it is by what I write, and the way I write it, including my occasional bad use of adjectives. And that’s fine.

The ‘F’ Word


In 2012 you can go into any newsagents and be faced with copies of ‘lads mags’ (aka pornography) whether you are looking for it or not. Going into WH Smiths in Teignmouth, you are bombarded by so-called ‘top-shelf’ magazines such as Nuts. Which is nuts.

March 2nd 2012. Why is Imogen posing like this? Why does she feel the need to do this? Money? Esteem? Power? With a car on her shoulder and a football survey by her thigh. Not only is this insulting to women, it’s insulting to men. Are men really are only interested in sport, cars and sex…?


We are told it’s empowering for women to get their kit off. It’s equality. It’s all good. But clearly it’s not. If young men and women, boys and girls, go into these shops and tilt their heads ever so slightly, they are faced with images of women that are unrealistic, negative and degrading. It only matters what you look like. Women don’t have brains, or feelings or status. They are objects. This is how boys are programmed to grow up and see women. This is how girls grow up and see themselves. Unless they are challenged by good male and female role models. Unless they are brought up to question the way women are portrayed in the media. Young people are bombarded with images constantly, all the time, and we need to help them make sense of them, to be objective, to question.

Until women are seen by themselves and by men as equals, there will not be equality. There will be abuse, violence and rape. Go behind the scenes of the frothy make-up and nudity of the sex industry and there is a darker side that we know goes on, but that we pretend doesn’t happen in a ‘civilised’ society.

Imogen, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know anything about you but now I have seen you like this I have made judgements about you that are most probably wrong. I wish I could talk to you over a cappuccino and find out who you are because that is what matters, not your body. You might think you are in control, and maybe you are in control of your own destiny. But that doesn’t help the rest of womankind in your country and over the globe. I don’t mean to single you out, it’s just that you are the one that popped up on my Google search (ironic that Google have a feminist doodle today)… I wish you well.

There are countless issues to discuss today, every day, but I have picked on this one because I find it depressing that society hasn’t moved on. I want my own kids, all teenagers now, two boys and a girl, to grow up knowing they have the same life chances and choices, and that this won’t be affected by how they look or by their gender.




Choose Wham!

When Lord Lucan disappeared in 1974 after his children’s nanny was found murdered in his Belgravia home, my uncle took action. Because he sported a moustache and was dark-haired and of a similar age, he had a t-shirt printed with the caption ‘I am not Lord Lucan’. This was the first slogan t-shirt I ever saw.

It was about a decade later when I got my first and didn’t know then that it would become an iconic piece of 80s memorabilia. In a record shop in Exeter, a friend and I each bought a ‘Choose Wham!” (not ‘Choose Life’) t-shirt and put them on in the ladies in Debenhams. We then strutted around the shops… A couple of years later, I ran the world in those same streets and had the t-shirt for that too.

The 80s was a  great time to be a student, not only because we had full grants, but because we had a prime target: Thatcher. The campus at Lancaster was always full of Smash the Tories, etc. And no student was a proper student without a Smiths t-shirt of some description.

These days slogan t-shirts have lost their power and tend to be ‘humorous’ or ironic (‘Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls’ was one I saw around Teignmouth last summer). They are also printed up by school-leavers, hen-and-stag parties, and any group or sports club going.

I don’t wear them now I am a woman of a certain age (apart from as pyjama tops). But I still treasure my Choose Wham t-shirt as it sums up my teenage years. Not quite cool but proud of it.


Old Girl

Had my first school Q and A today as a visiting writer. It was at Trinity School in Teignmouth (the old Convent of Notre Dame) which was highly appropriate as that was where I learnt to write. It was so weird to go back as an old girl, to chat in the library (chat!) where I used to borrow books, and to talk with such awesome young people who were so enthusiastic about writing. Made me want to go back in time to be that age again, with the whole world out there, waiting to be discovered.

And how fitting to be talking about my novel The Generation Game, sitting in the school where both my son and I were students. And now it’s in the library for the next generation to borrow…

Oh yes, and if The Generation Game ever gets adapted for TV, one of the students has brilliantly cast Miranda Hart as the narrator, Philippa. And he hasn’t even read it!

Gone, and a cloud in my heart. ~Alfred Tennyson

I lost my father in 1978, when I was ten years old and not a day has gone by when I don’t think of him. The view in this photo is from the doorway of All Saints Church in Selworthy, Somerset. It overlooks the graveyard where my dad’s ashes lie amongst relatives and ancestors dating back to the 17th century.

So why am I blogging about this now? You know how you get those days when you feel the weight of all those who have gone before you, all those people that once loved you and who are no longer here…? If you do, then you’ll know where I’m coming from. I’m having a few of those days.

Earlier this week, I took my cousin, over from Canada, to visit the grave of my step-father, his uncle. My cousin brought a Canadian flag to place in the earth near the headstone, a poignant gesture as my step-father was born in Saskatchewan. It was a moving moment.  We felt the presence of those once-loved and still-cherished family members hovering closely around us.

So I began to wonder where I would like my final resting place to be. Would it be my body buried here in Teignmouth, returned to the earth of my hometown? Would it my ashes scattered at sea or on the moors? Would it be up in Selworthy, near my dad to keep him company. Does it matter?

I think it does. Not for me, the departed, but for those left behind who need a place to go, to feel a connection to their past to help make sense of their present. Hopefully it will be a while before someone has to act on my behalf in this way, but it does us no harm to dwell on these matters from time to time.  To appreciate what we have, who we love, the precious life given to us.

As I sit inside on a cold November night, listening to the bang of fireworks, it reminds me of the passing of the seasons, of the passing of time, and of the need to make the most of today, of now, as we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back.  May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields.  And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.  ~Irish Blessing

I am a cider drinker

Sir Jimmy Young is returning to radio broadcasting for a one hour special to celebrate his 90th birthday.

When I heard this, it took me back to schooldays, remembering how important radio was to teenagers of the 80s. The  Top Forty countdown on a Sunday evening. Listening to a tranny (short for transistor radio for those of you who don’t remember) in the locker room at school at break time to find out who was number one that week (can anyone remember what day of the week that was?). But most important was the breakfast show on Radio One: singing along getting ready for school, expertly applying make-up that wouldn’t be detected by teachers, crimping my fringe so it behaved, finishing homework, thinking about Andrew Ridgeley (if you don’t remember who he is, then you don’t deserve to be told). ..

The highlight of these days was the Radio One roadshow at Torquay, 1983. I was 15 and had a small crush on Mike Read (I know, I know). Living just a few miles away in Teignmouth, my friend Jackie (who had a big crush on the DJ) decided  we would go along. We were really excited because there was always a surprise live act – the previous week Wham had appeared somewhere in Cornwall. We knew it was a long shot that they’d reappear in Torquay but there was a glimmer of hope that I might finally clap eyes on Andrew Ridgeley (there’s a clue there to who he is – i.e. not George).

We were disappointed. Who did we get: was it Duran Duran? Spandau Ballet? The Thompson Twins? The Human League?


We got…The Wurzels.

Now, in a strange twist of fate, Wham is long gone, Andrew disappearing to the depths of Cornwall somewhere, George … well, we all know about George. But the Wurzels? Well, they are still going strong. In fact – and yes, this is true – my husband is a fan, mainly because he’s a Bristol City supporter (well, someone has to be). Worse than this, he’s dragging our younger son along to a gig in Exmouth at the end of the month.

Stranger still was that I was on BBC Radio this week – on the Shep and Jo show, Radio Devon, talking about The Generation Game. It was fun and they were lovely.

Long live radio.


(If you want to listen, I’m on at 1.31.45 secs, just after Dolly Parton.)