French Supermarkets

Cheeses in a French market. They taste like fluffy cheesecake


An aisle of squared paper pads

Garlic is stacked very high in French markets and the smell gets into your nostrils

A holiday to France isn’t complete without a trip to at least a couple of supermarkets. Back in the days when you could sail to France by ferry for a tenner, courtesy of The Sun newspaper Brit’s went on day trips to Calais and Dieppe in their droves, in the same way that factory operatives in Lancashire mills flocked to Blackpool in the 1800s. They’d enjoy a nice meal at a brasserie, pores ouzing with garlic, pleasantly merry on wine and finish the day wheeling a trolley round one of the hypermarkets, maybe Carrefour or Auchen. Back then and we’re talking about the 1970s and 1980s the choice of wine in British shops was more expensive and the range more limited. Blue Nun, a white wine became a by-word for naffness by the late 1970s when it was selling 3.5 million bottles a year. It was famously the wine of choice for Alan Partridge, the fictional disc jockey. Understandably we Brit’s wanted more choice on the shelves.

But things have moved on a lot. In Britain our shelves are stacked with a good array of roast coffee, wine and cheese. Or so we think, that is until we head to France and see just what we’re missing in backward, plain old Britain. The supermarkets in France are “literally massive” according to my teenage daughter. She’s right, they are. Imagine the largest Tesco store and then double it in size and you have Auchen or Super U. For some unknown reason a trip around a foreign supermarket is exciting. Strange really given that we hate shopping at home. At home it’s a chore, but abroad it’s called fun. As we wander up each aisle we don’t know what to expect. Our taste buds are tickled with so many delights we don’t ordinarily see in Britain.

The aisle, or should I say three or four aisles, I love the most are the yogurt aisles. The French love their yogurt, but to the average Brit yogurt is plain and boring when there’s nothing else on offer for dessert. France is drowning in yogurt. I’m sure it’s piped in via taps, from the massive warehouses and factories of Danone that sit by the roadside like huge toads on the landscape.  Even in the smaller stores, the yogurt selection is award worthy. There are so many brands and varieties that an inquisitive foreigner could easily spend 30 euros on yogurt alone out of sheer curiosity for the many recipes and flavours on offer. From pistachio to almond, from coffee to cola they have it all covered. Fancy a drench of yogurt? Sounds a bit kinky to me.

Yogurt isn’t the only food item that takes up about two or three aisles. In the British supermarket Iceland fries take up a whole aisle but in France Salmon fills a whole aisle or two. Salmon is very healthy. It’s an oily fish, low in fat, a great source of protein. Fries – well it’s not surprising that we see so many obese people on the streets of Britain. Blame Iceland.

However there are some items that don’t offer much choice. Sandwiches for example. You’ll find a long aisle of sandwiches but the choice is limited to ham, chicken or cheese. Most of the sandwiches are in fact ham. (Jambon).

We took a leisurely stroll down the stationery aisle. My daughter wanted to buy a writing pad for college. We couldn’t find a single pad of lined paper. It was all squared paper for accountancy. Don’t they learn to write in France or is maths the only subject they do?

Beware though you Brit’s as you trawl the hypermarkets. The pound is low against the euro at the moment and you won’t find any bargains apart from some reasonably priced wine and coffee. Gone are the days when we could fill our car boots with bargains but make sure you enjoy some of the delicacies like modules and snails while you’re there and don’t forget to visit a French market where you will find garlic and cheeses stacked two metres in height like the attached picture.

If you enjoy travel writing but also enjoy a Bridget Jones style romantic comedy you might enjoy my book “Holiday.” It’s only 99p, a bargain and has 29 reviews in the UK and is an Amazon bestseller.


‘Holiday’ my bestseller and why I wrote it

Holiday is frequently a bestseller in the Amazon charts and began as an idea the day I booked a trip to the United States. I love travel writers Bill Bryson and Lois Pryce and I also love female comedy: Jenny Eclair, Bridget Jones and Sue Townsend are among my favourites. I wanted to combine the two styles of writing: comedy and travel writing.

When I booked the trip my three children, then 19, 16 and 11 weren’t excited. I was astonished by the response from my 16 year old son and 11 year old daughter. They didn’t want to leave friends and end of term events and so that put a huge damper on the lead up to the trip when excitement should be mounting. But every negativity is a golden opportunity for a writer and makes for a great story.

Armed with pens and notebooks the book began the morning we left for Gatwick when my son refused to get up unless I bought him  WH Smith meal deal. Standing in his doorway the scene was both humiliating and funny, it had to go in the book.

Airports and scenes from planes are interesting in travel books. Here’s one scene:

“The plane descends above a landscape of lakes and golf courses into Minneapolis where we wait for two hours. We’re amazed to see iPads fixed to every table and along the bars of the restaurant.”

And descending over Salt Lake City in Utah, home of the Mormon community:

“The terrain looks like a skin disease, parched and arid. I see a lake, speckled hills, desert and the Wasatch mountain range flanks the city.” “The houses look like custard cream slices and the warehouses look like clumps of staples.”

Driving from Salt Lake City up to Yellowstone I stopped every so often to write notes, describing the landscape and also noting down daft things the kids said. “Don’t say anything,” they frequently warned each other, “She’ll only write it down and put it in one of her books.”

Here’s a scene from Idaho Falls:

“A sign for Idaho Falls looms ahead. I expect a waterfall and a great photo opportunity but the land is as flat and uninspiring as a roadkill cat. As we drive closer it’s anything but idyllic. It looks as if we’ve arrived in purgatory, it’s the type of place where people would want to kill themselves. We pass a trickle of tatty huts that look like a South African township. A spider’s web of heavy industry creeps along the horizon.”

In the story the children conspire and Lyn, the lead character gets a massive shock at Gatwick when she discovers that they have invited their father to join them on the trip. Now the dysfunctional five must muddle along. ‘Holiday’ is a journey into family lies and secrets and there are arguments as well as healing. This idea was inspired by several holidays with one of my ex partners. It’s not a pleasant experience and isn’t supposed to be but when you have young children it can be good in a practical sense because it means that you can have a break and take yourself off somewhere nice while he minds the kids. When my kids were young I went with their father to Majorca. We were long separated by then. He slept in the long, I had one of the bedrooms. One morning I got up, went in the lounge and he was asleep with his hairy bottom on display! Not a pleasant scene! We did end up in a few arguments, resulting in him hurling plates around the room! And the John Cleese style scene in ‘Holiday’ when Ray crushes the sat nav really did happen.

I hope you enjoy ‘Holiday’ as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s a journey through Utah, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming as it really is, through my eyes and it’s also a journey into the struggles of single parenthood and dealing with ex partners.

Here’s the link:




Hospitals in crisis and my dad’s treatment

Hospitals are supposed to make you better but in my work as a funeral celebrant I often hear about people going in for routine operations and ending up with an infection or developing other complications that go on to kill them. We’ve become all too familiar with eye grabbing headlines and hospital cuts, the NHS at crisis point. And so when my dad became ill and was taken to hospital I wanted to see, first hand what things were really like.

My dad lives in the East Midlands. I’ll be deliberately vague. He lives on the edge of three counties but treatment has to be in the county you live in which is not necessarily the nearest hospital.

I ring  NHS 111 non-emergency number after he passes a huge quantity of blood from his back passage. The questions they ask are robotic and irrelevant but as soon as I have finished answering them the call handler says he’s called an ambulance. This arrives within ten minutes – pretty impressive I think. The hospital however is 20 miles away by motorway. If his condition had been life threatening he might have died on route.

He arrives at the A and E – a superb new complex costing a staggering £40 million. The hospital is in the city centre and parking is expensive and the signs directing you to the multi-storey parking are complicated and not at all straightforward. At the reception there are ten members of staff, some of whom are chatting rather than attending to queries. The waiting area is very busy. It is 5am, Monday morning and I count 80 people waiting. My dad doesn’t have to wait – he is taken straight to an area called ‘Majors.’ (Life threatening illnesses as opposed to routine accidents.) There are large rooms for each patient with sliding glass doors. He has a trolley type bed which looks comfortable but he says it isn’t. He has a 15 hour wait in A and E before a bed becomes available. During this time he has his blood pressure checked and several blood tests are done. I assist him to the toilet where he passes more blood. I go to find somebody to tell them that the toilet, basin and floor need cleaning and shouldn’t be used by others until it’s done, but nobody seems in a rush to clean it. I ask two further members of staff to disinfect it and stand outside the toilet until they come.

The TV drama Casualty is always busy with staff dashing about like headless chicken. There is no sense of urgency here. That TV drama doesn’t represent what really goes on. In fact all of the doctors and nurses are sitting at work-stations behind computers rather than dashing about attending to patients, probably dealing with the bureaucracy of running the ward and completely records rather than treating the patients.

After 15 hours a bed becomes available and he is transferred to a ward. I return to my dad’s house to see to his dog and drive to the hospital hours later. Crammed in the lift going up to the ward are the following assortment of people: Asian man in white tunic and flip flops, lady in curlers and headscarf, girl with ripped jeans, more ripped than jeans, man with heavy body odour, Asian lady in beautiful glittery sari. Two staff enter at the last minute with an empty bed. We all pin ourselves to the edges to give them room and by floor one somebody has made the predictable joke that they are so tired they could do with a sleep on the bed. One by one the others smile, appreciating the joke and by floor four the lady in curlers suggests that in fact the bed is large enough for all of us to get on. A couple of people don’t find it funny. Their faces are rigid and fixed on the doors waiting for them to open.

The hand sanitizers are empty and eventually the automatic doors to the ward open. Nobody notices I’m a stranger on the ward. I could be a terrorist with a backpack waiting to explode. I stand at the reception bay. There are several folders with ‘confidential’ printed across the front, sitting on the desk and I can see the names and dates of birth and if I had a shopping bag I could easily whisk them away without anybody noticing. There’s also a trolley sitting next to the desk containing more confidential files. I give up and go in search of my dad finding him tucked away in the corner, next to the window which overlooks the football stadium.  He tells me he’s in a lot of pain. I pull the sheet over this leg and he winces. A short while later the doctor comes over to chat with me. He fell during the night and has probably broken his hip. I ask how it happened and who was with him and the doctor is vague as to how this happened. ‘Are there notes,’ I ask ‘stating how he came to fall?’ The doctor shrugs and doesn’t reply.

They give him morphine to ease the pain and he has another 15 odd hours to wait before they scan him and find a break. The doctor tells me that his concern is now his hip rather than the fact he’s been passing huge quantities of blood and hasn’t eaten for two weeks. They do give him a couple of blood transfusions but tell us he will be given an outpatient appointment for an endoscopy to investigate his stomach. The following day he has his hip replaced.

Over the two days that I’m here sitting in the ward I see trays of food arrive for the other patients. They sit on tables in front of the patient, uneaten because they can’t feed themselves and half an hour later somebody returns to collect the trays, asking the patient, who is asleep and cannot answer, if they have finished. I am so incensed by what I see that I ask if I can feed them myself. Between stabs of peas and spoonfuls of fish I transform into a political campaigner. I see myself with a placard outside number 10 demanding something is done. I’m not campaigning for more money. Our taxes are crippling enough as it is. I’m campaigning for better use of money, I’m campaigning for logic and common sense. It’s all too easy to throw money at the NHS but it’s a bottomless pit and will never be enough. I don’t even think this hospital is short staffed. When I go to look for a nurse I find them standing around with no sense of urgency as if they don’t have much to do.

The crisis in the NHS might not be all about  injecting money, it’s about much more. I think it’s about mismanagement, waste, poor priorities and too much bureaucracy. No matter how much money we plough into it, somehow it will never be enough.




Raising a glass to the power of friendship, Facebook and grandmahood

These two glasses are for grandmas everywhere and for the  power of friendship and the strength of Facebook when we experience difficult times. The posting of a simple kiss, a hug or a heart means the world, especially when we don’t always have somebody close in our lives to offer us support.

The two glasses also represent the strength of grandmas everywhere, from the 35 year old woman shocked into grandmahood by one of her children who has gone off the rails through to the 95 year old woman passing her last days in a care home. It’s often the grandma who picks up the pieces when the relationship breaks down, offering to take on her grandchildren. Many years ago I was a live in nanny before I trained to be a teacher. I looked after two young girls, whose mother couldn’t cope as a young mother. One of them developed leukemia and the mother (let’s call her Sue) said to her mother (I’ll call her Liz) “mum I don’t want these kids anymore, I’m having them adopted.” At the time they were only one and three. Liz said “no you’re not doing that, I’ll bring them up.” And she did, without a moment’s hesitation even though she was in her late fifties. She did a wonderful job, gave them as much love as she could and sent them to private school and they both did very well. Their lives were fraught and it wasn’t easy. Liz was tired, after all she and her husband had raised her own kids – she was beyond this stage in her life but thankfully they had money to employ a nanny to help. Sue lived just around the corner and popped by very irregularly, when it suited her. She didn’t bring presents, she didn’t take them out, she had in effect wiped her hands of these two little girls but it was the love of grandma that held it all together.

I was overwhelmed yesterday by all the beautiful and moving stories that friends on Facebook shared with me, publicly and privately and your words have carried me through, helping to look at things from a variety of perspectives as I try to embrace the G word. Grandmas are often the hidden members of the family network, doing their best, giving love and support but sometimes they end up heartbroken when the grandchild leaves their life, through circumstances they have no control over. Their children move to Australia, or vice versa and they can’t continue day -to – day contact with their grandchild, the grandma whose son splits up from his girlfriend, or wife and denies the man access to the child. It has a knock on effect on grandma who loses contact with her grandchild. And what about all the women out there who don’t end up as grandmas because their children can’t have children. That’s tragic too. They are grieving.

And so I raise a glass to grandmas everywhere. Here are a few of your stories that you shared publicly. I wont publish the private ones; they will remain private. Thank you.

“I found out my 16 year old daughter was pregnant in the middle of a row with my soon-to-be-ex husband, and I cried until I thought I had no more tears left. My grandson is now 27, with a good job, a good home and a stunning girlfriend who is also his soulmate. And my daughter has a job she loves and a great social life, although she doesn’t have a partner. However, she doesn’t feel that as a loss.
I became pregnant at 17, just as I was set to go to university. Instead, I married the father and had 3 children with him. In my 40s, I was diagnosed with Lupus and medically retired, so I filled my time and compensated for my useless body by letting my mind loose and finally going to university. Now in my 60s, I have a second career as a writer. It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s how you deal with it. It may not seem like it now, but you will all be okay.”

“I was pregnant at sixteen everyone said my life was over. I’d be trapped. Etc. Then at eighteen I had a second child. What a disappointment I was. Yet I had two beautiful children, took teacher training, then a BA with the Open University, then an MA. I became a teacher and later a headteacher. I never regretted having my children young. Sure I missed out on sleeping around, getting drunk, taking highs, etc, but I now have the best children in the world, four grandchildren and no regrets. He’s old enough to take responsibility and this baby can be the making of him. One day you’ll look at your grandchild and want everyone to know you’re the g word, that I won’t say. Good luck on this new journey.”

“I’ve just become a mum at 20 and it’s the absolute making of me, me and my partner now have our own place and can support ourselves and my daughter financially. Age is definitely just a number, it all depends on whether you have your responsibilities and priorities in order. Congratulations, it’s a new family member!”

“I don’t think X’s grandparents in Australia even know he exists and that makes me really sad that he is missing out on a whole family out there, especially as I found out a few weeks ago he now has a baby brother who I know he would adore.”

“My stepdaughter, married a guy 9 years older than her. He had four kids from an earlier marriage that started in his teens. She has just become a step G-word at the venerable age of 32.”

“X’s daughter had a baby at 15yrs old and she went on to university and is now a teacher. Dad was also 15yrs old and also went to uni and has successful job also. They did not stay together but were fabulous parents with lots of help and support from the grand parents. I have been a step grannie for past 11 years and now have another little 9 month old grandson and loving every second.”







A lifetime’s dream to move to North Norfolk

My daughter having fun on Holkham beach

Worn out, with health issues and disillusioned with the way things were going in his line of work my boyfriend made the tough decision to retire early, giving up a salary most of us can only dream of in order to pursue his lifetime’s desire of moving to North Norfolk.

Until I met him my knowledge of Norfolk consisted of  a wild weekend  at a caravan park in Caister with 18 plus, many moons ago and a week with my kids at Pontins near Great Yarmouth. Pontins was truly grim and full of burger munching tattooed parents yelling ‘Chelsea,’ ‘Ryan.’ I came away from Norfolk thinking, never again; just get me out of this flat, culture less, dull, county.

My boyfriend, a graduate in Ecology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich describes North Norfolk ‘as the land that time forgot.’ North Norfolk is cut off from the rest of the country and without a motorway beyond Norwich few venture further up, unless they’re visiting the Broads. The north coast and inland for some ten miles is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful, unspoilt regions of England. It’s truly breathtaking. The lanes aren’t crammed with caravans and cars in the summer, because most people have gone to Devon and Cornwall or the Lake District. It’s no wonder therefore that my boyfriend, his head full of fond memories of carefree days spent roaming the county, as a student, couldn’t wait to return to the county of his youth. And Norwich, the county capital, according to a recent poll is number two in the league of  the most desirable places to live in the UK. The facts, I guess speak for themselves if you’re also thinking of relocating.

My boyfriend’s conveyancer tried to put him off relocating to Norfolk. “It’s far too cold up there” he said and asked  “are you a Remainer or a Brexiteer?” “Oh” he said with alarm on hearing that my boyfriend had voted remain. “You’ll be in a minority up there.” 71 percent voted Brexit across Norfolk, perhaps not appreciating the benefits of EU membership, but it was a different situation in Norwich where most voted Remain.

Life in North Norfolk is like stepping back into the 1950s although things are changing. With so many Londoners buying second homes up there boutique restaurants have replaced pot stews in dreary pubs and quaint delis sell an array of local hams and mouthwatering cheeses. Unfortunately house prices are rising as demand increases for second homes in this region.

The pace of life is much slower. Nobody rushes anywhere or to do anything. You step down a few gears, start to unwind and before long you’ve become as slow as porridge. I like Hilary Mantel’s description in her memoir of life in Norfolk: “In the post office on a Saturday they discuss rainfall – not enough to wet a stamp I once heard a man say. They talk about whether they have put the heating on or switched it off and they crawl the lanes in their Morris Travellers. They go into their houses on Christmas Eve and lock the doors. They leave their windfall apples and overproduce of vegetables outside their doors in baskets for anyone to take and sell bunches of daffodils for pennies.”

It’s a fallacy that Norfolk is flat. If you think that then you haven’t ventured far enough into the county. The Fens are flat but travel twenty or thirty miles further north and the countryside becomes undulating and wooded. Hilary Mantel says “Our long drives about the county, lost in winter lanes, our limp salads in village cafes, our scrambling in overgrown churchyards made me think deeply about this territory.”

I would add to Hilary’s description: partridges and pheasants in lush fields splashed with wild flowers, an array of colour. A gaggle of ducks waddling across the road, a few hares jumping by the verges, book sales in the churches and teas at the vicarage…

The beaches are the most stunning you will find, I believe anywhere in England. Vast sandy expanses  seem to stretch to infinity, flanked by pine wooded areas and under the canopy of a wide painters’ sky. The Telegraph recently awarded Holkham the 8th best beach in the country. It writes: “This is the landscape of dreamy childhood holidays: wide skies and long stretches of golden sand. Build a castle, fly a kite or simply dash to the water’s edge and enjoy a leisurely dip in the calm, glassy-surfaced water. Seasoned beach-users suggest wearing surf shoes to avoid weaver fish stings. Keep an eye on the tides.”

Here’s the link to Hilary Mantel’s memoir that features Norfolk:

And also here is the link to my latest book ‘Holiday’ which also features Norfolk and the wonders of bird watching in this county where over 420 species can be seen.

My dad should be allowed to die with dignity

I believe the law in the UK should be changed and euthansia should be available. My dad is 81, he has advanced prostate cancer which has spread into the bones and now, more recently the spine and I believe therefore, that he should be spared a horrible death and allowed to die with dignity.

There are many who would accuse me of being cold and callous and perhaps mercenary. After all isn’t that one of the biggest reasons why we don’t have euthanasia in this country; to prevent families from coercing their elderly relatives into agreeing to end their lives?

My dad has led a fantastic life. From poor beginnings in a small village near Derby his parents stole coal from the yard during the bitter winter of 1947. After his National Service spent in Cyprus he went to work for the Brush in Loughborough as an engineer. He wasn’t happy; he wanted to make something of his life and had high aspirations. His goal was to live in a house like the vicar! He gave a talk to his Methodist Church about his time in Cyprus and they encouraged him to send his story to the local paper. It was published and this small article catapulted him in a new direction. Believing in himself he applied for a job with the London Evening News and rose to become editor. He then went on to become the business editor of The Times and following set up a PR company and worked for people like Satachi and Satachi and companies like Lee Jeans.

My dad has been married twice. He has four children. He’s travelled widely. Most of all though he’s had lots of friends and was the life and soul of any party, making people laugh with his cutting remarks and bold conversation when most of us are too reserved to say exactly what we think.

My dad, like me believes the law in this country should be changed. Euthansia should be legal. The doctors have done so much for him. In his fifties he had a small stroke and had a pacemaker fitted to make his heart rhythm normal. He had ongoing problems with his knees from his fifties onwards and had to give up golf. But three years ago, following  stomach pains and many investigations  he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Most men will not die from prostate cancer. It’s more likely they will die with it. He was given hormone treatment. The cancer travelled into the bones but although he suffered with lots of pain, from that point on he was still able to lead a good life. He could drive, he could socialise and laugh and go on holiday and life was fun.

But the cancer then travelled into the bones, about two years ago. Nevertheless he coped remarkably well and although he was in pain, found it hard to get up, sit down and walk, life was still worth living. In recent weeks though we have seen a steady decline in his health and mental well being as a result. He has been doubly incontinent which has been very hard work for his partner who is 79 herself. In the midst of it all she suddenly became ill and I think this was triggered because of the huge stress she was under, looking after him. She’s a stoical woman though and carried on.

We have now been told that his cancer count has risen sharply and has entered the spine. Like many people in this sort of situation he has pleaded to be taken to Switzerland to end his life. I think he has reached the point where, if euthanasia was legal this is the ideal time to administer the drug – because the worst is yet to come and it won’t be very pleasant for him. Why should I sit back and watch this pointless suffering? Okay the doctors can dish out anti-depressants every time he mentions Switzerland and they can dose him up with morphine to alleviate the pain but personally I think this is far crueler. Why should people have to go through the worst part of their illness when they are in their 80s with only one passage out – death? By allowing euthanasia in my dad’s case we are merely hastening a death that is going to happen anyway and sparing him a lot of suffering. We wouldn’t treat an animal in this way.

The main reason we in the UK won’t agree to change the law is for religious reasons. We are a Christian country and our laws are said to be based on our beliefs. But according to a Yougov survey in 2015 only one third of us believe in God and the number of us saying we have no religion is rising.

To believe in the so called sanctity of life is outdated. Life is precious but only if it’s worth living and only if the person wants to live. To live in a deteriorating state is no fun at all. Who really wants to go through prolonged pain when there is no hope at the end of it?

Obviously it’s too late for my dad to be taken to Switzerland. He has recently been diagnosed with dementia and so is not of mental capacity to make this decision and so it’s very difficult but in principal if it had been possible I would have helped him go to Switzerland to end in a dignified way what has been a good, fulfilling life, while he still has a smile on his face and still recognises me.

Thank you for reading!


My worst table topic at Toastmasters Club

I’ve been a member of Lewes Toastmasters Club for nearly five years now. I’ve passed my Competent Communicator Award and am currently working through my advanced manual. You’d think I would by now be an expert in public speaking – but that’s not the case at all! In fact sometimes I’m horrified at how poor my delivery is. I particularly notice this in the table topics section of the evening.

Table Topics is the fun part of the evening after the main prepared speeches have been delivered. Members are chosen at random to speak impromptu on a subject they are given, for two minutes. Most of the time people wing it. Some people are great speakers and can talk eloquently for two minutes. You can go off on a tangent or find some sort of link with the subject, as long as you keep the momentum going and don’t stop talking. I have never been able to.

Last night I gave the worst speech ever. I was asked to speak for two minutes on the city of Liverpool. It’s a city I’ve visited several times. I watched the docks close in the 80s and the dock area redevelopment. I recently researched the history of Liverpool for one of my books, ‘Every Family Has One’ and gained a wonderful insight into the city’s past. ‘Every Family Has One’ opens in Liverpool in the 1970s. A young girl is raped by her Catholic priest. I could have talked about the writing of my Liverpool scenes. I could also have told the audience about my interview with Marks and Spencer in 1987 to enter their graduate training scheme. It was a two day interview at a dockside hotel and I’ve never forgotten everything that happened in those two days. I didn’t get onto their training programme but I did very well to get through to the two day interview.

I also spent several days in Liverpool when my children were young. We visited Speke Hall and Paul McCartney’s childhood home. It’s a fantastic tour that I highly recommend.

The word for the evening (we always have a word for the evening at Toastmasters and try to slip it into our speeches) was RYTHM. How appropriate it would have been in a talk on Liverpool. I could have said “Liverpool is alive with the rhythm” and in the 1960s it was the birthplace of modern music. In the Cavern groups like the Beetles strummed their guitars to small audience before they became a global phenomenon.

Instead of saying of all this what did I say?

I stared at the audience and by way of a cop out I asked them if they could say a few Scouse words. Then I mentioned the TV sit- com Bread and talked about the porcelain chicken basket that sat on the table and then I finished off by saying “Cilla Black came from Liverpool… I’m Clare from Clitheroe.”

Never before have I been so embarrassed at Toastmasters. I had a sleepless night going over everything I said. I think I deserve the award for the crappiest table topics. Table Topics leaves one feeling very exposed, naked almost but that’s because it’s the greatest challenge we, as Toastmasters will face.

3 things not to take on holiday and three things to take

It’s the holiday season and in just two weeks time the kids will be spilling out of school for their six-week break. How do you get ready for your two weeks in the sun?


I’m a bit anal. I hate forgetting something, even if it’s something totally trivial, like my mascara or hair clips. I write a list weeks in advance, which I add to until I’ve covered everything I want to take. Of course it starts with passport and it doesn’t finish with the kitchen sink. I travel light. I don’t want to be burdened with a heavy case at the airport.


Let’s go through some of the things us ladies shouldn’t take on holiday.


  1. White trousers and white shorts.

These most definitely should not be taken on holiday. You won’t get through breakfast without ruining them with some kind of spillage: ketchup, baked bean sauce or the time of the month will arrive, even though you’re not expecting it for another week or so. You don’t want to spend the day looking like the flag of Japan.


  1. Linen clothing.

You can say what you like about linen, it’s a dreadful fabric and like your granny it does not travel well. Why go through the whole performance of trying to keep it wrinkle free. Leave it out. And ignore some of the silly, handy travel tips. Here’s one piece of advice I found. “The biggest trick to packing linen clothes is finding ways to reduce wrinkling. You can do this by hanging clothes, packing with plastic bags, and lining clothes with tissue papers. Other useful techniques include only packing in hard-sided suitcases, packing less to reduce pressure, and unpacking quickly upon arrival.”


  1. Flipflops


Now I know you all love your flipflops. Call me frumpy and old fashioned but I’m going to be your mum and tell you quite categorically, they are dangerous. Have you ever fallen on the squeaky hotel flooring in flipflops with wet feet? Or stubbed your toe on an uneven pavement? It’s no fun. The NHS has reported more than 200,000 patients treated a year for flip flop-related injuries at an estimated cost of more than £40 million. (Source: I know they’re easy to put on and they’re cheap but do yourself a favour, please.


Do however take the following:


  1. A hat


Keep the sun away from your face, it leads to skin damage. Okay, we all know that a tan looks great but I think it’s better to stay as white as the driven snow because that way you end up with fewer wrinkles and you won’t look old. In times gone by untanned skin was much more desirable because it indicated you were from the gentry and didn’t work in the fields. The picture above is of me in Salt Lake City dressed in a Victorian hat the Mormons would have worn. Without suncream it kept them nicely protected. I know it looks ridiculous but it’s so lovely to wear and with the ties it stays on nicely!


  1. My book

Don’t forget to pack my latest book “Holiday.” It’s a relaxing read while you’re on the beach or by the pool. It’s a bit Bridget Jones and a bit Bill Bryson. There are plenty of laughs but you’ll learn a thing or two as well. It’s based on my travels around the American Southwest with my three obnoxious teenagers. Here’s the link:


  1. A bottle of water

Once you’re through security go mad and buy a bottle of water and make sure you keep it filled each day. It’s good to get into the habit and it will stop you feeling tired and lethargic and maintain your energy levels for all that sight seeing. Without meaning to be crude it’s easy to get constipation when you’re on holiday. We get dehydrated in hotter climates and water also keeps the skin looking good.

Ending Charlie Gard’s life

The picture above is my daughter who fought for her life in 1994 at Great Ormond Street. The doctors did all they could to save her life. Each day we watched more and more drugs pump into her body. We watched her body puff out and her skin change to a deep yellow. We watched her eyes swell to glass marbles. After 9 days and numerous scans we agreed to allow the doctors to switch her life support machine off. It was the most agonising experience I have ever been through. Like Charlie Gard our baby had so many things wrong with her. She was born with a genetic condition. It was the first one of its kind.

This week Great Ormond Street hospital went back to the high court for a further ruling on the agonising case of Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old baby with an extremely rare neurodegenerative disorder which has left him with terrible brain damage, unable to move, and suffering from severe epilepsy. The baby’s parents have appealed to allow him to travel to the US for treatment for which they have crowdfunded the money. They are understandably desperate to try anything that might give him some quality of life. Great Ormond Street Hospital believes there is no treatment available that has any chance of success. It is because hospital and parents disagree about what is in Charlie’s best interests that the courts have got involved.


The story has become a global sensation and for parents like me who have been through a similar experience it hits a particularly sore nerve, conjuring memories of very painful images of our children suffering and yet not being able to do anything to help.


My thoughts are with Charlie’s parents but if I was in their shoes I think I would accept the diagnosis and put my faith in the doctors. Great Ormond Street is an incredible hospital with phenomenal expertise, care and support. As agonising as it is I think that sometimes we just have to pass life over to nature to take its course. We cannot always control life and death and shouldn’t try to. We need to put more faith in the medical profession, but instead our faith seems to be slipping away and the public now believe that parents are the sole arbiters of what is in the child’s best interests.

We live in the 21st century and somehow falsely believe that technology and medicine can reverse any death situations. It never will, in every case. To prolong Charlie’s life is to prolong his suffering and the parents’ suffering. It also presents false hope to other parents battling in similar situations. Time doesn’t necessarily heal loss but we can learn to adjust and through these painful life experiences we end up stronger. There will be light at the end of the tunnel for them. There was for me. I now have three beautiful children and while I will never forget my first child, for she will always be in my heart, I am recovered from the ordeal and I am glad that we allowed her to slip into a peaceful sleep, her suffering no more. If she had lived our lives would have been so different. I probably would not have had any more children because my life would have been focused completely on hospital appointments and her care and I don’t think it would have been a good life for her. You may think I’m cruel, but sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind, as the old adage goes.


Lightning and contrasting weather in Yellowstone National Park

Arriving in West Yellowstone

The landscape of Yellowstone is dramatic in black and white

Because most of Yellowstone National Park lies at 6000 feet above sea level or higher the weather can be unpredictable. You can expect big temperature swings, rain or snow in every month of the year. No matter when you’re visiting always bring a warm jacket, rain gear and lots of layers. When I visited in August with my family we were unprepared! I hope you enjoy reading an exert from my book “Holiday” at the bottom of this blog, inspired by our trip to Yellowstone.

During the Spring snow, rain, or extremely warm and pleasant days can all occur within the same week. Yellowstone is warmest and driest during the Summer months but snow has even fallen in July and afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon. Some of the best storms produce wonderful sunsets and full rainbows. The high elevation of Yellowstone makes the sun more intense, and the alpine weather patterns are dynamic and quick-changing. Autumn brings warm dry days and cool crisp nights but snow is a possibility from September.

Winter in Yellowstone is magical. The “fire and ice” effect of the snow and colder temperatures mixed with the steamy boiling hot springs and geysers make for amazing snowscapes and natural beauty. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

Most park roads are closed to cars during the Winter, but access is allowed to vehicles able to cope in the heavy snow like snowcoaches and snowmobiles. The road from Gardiner, Montana to Cooke City, Montana, via Mammoth Hot Springs is the only in-park road accessible to cars, buses and trucks. However, the road dead-ends at Cooke City, as travel beyond that town is limited to over-snow vehicles again.

Temperatures in Yellowstone in winter vary due to elevation. However, most visitor areas tend to stay in the 0-25 degree (-20 to -5°C) range. Temperatures at higher elevations can drop to below 0. Annual park-wide snowfall tends to be around 150 inches, although higher elevations can get 200-400 inches.

Winter weather can occasionally cause the temporary closure of park roads. You should check with the National Park Service on 307-344-7381 or visit the National Park Service website for current road reports.

The chances of being injured or killed by lightning are very small. You’ve got to be pretty lucky but I have to say when we drove through lightning in Yellowstone I was pretty scared. The scene below, an exert from “Holiday” was inspired by the drive across the plains. We travelled in August and the weather was pretty freaky. In one day we experienced every weather you could experience – heavy rain, blistering sun and a snow shower. It’s wise to exercise a little caution along with some good old-fashioned common sense when thunderstorms are forecast in Yellowstone. The key to lightning safety is to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time if you can. Everybody who has ever been accidentally struck by lightning was simply unfortunate to be at the exact spot a lightning strike was already going to occur. This is what the The National Lightning Safety Institute say about lightning: suggests:

“Safely pulling off to the side of the road, waiting out the storm, turning off the engine, putting one’s hands in one’s lap and not touching inside items such as door and window handles, steering wheels and gear shifts. Heavy equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes with rollover canopies are safe during thunderstorms, but riding mowers and golf carts are not.”

“While a car provides some protection from lightning, as the metal frame directs lightning currents to the ground, vehicles can still be damaged by a strike. Lightning damage to a vehicle includes pitting, arcing and burning along with electrical system issues,” the Institute said.

This is the exert from my book “Holiday” and it’s based on notes I made during our road trip. Watching the storm crashing around us, I have to say was truly incredible and one of the most memorable scenes of any trip I’ve done. It was awesome! I hope the scene brings it to life for you, the reader:

“We head out of Jackson Hole and the Tetons and north towards Yellowstone experiencing all weathers within a few hours: blue skies, bright sun, black clouds, heavy rain and ten minutes of heavy sleet. Multiple forks of lightning zig zag across the sky in quick and dramatic succession and ashes blend into each other, lighting up the sky with a ghastly glow. Our eyes are pinned ahead, we don’t speak but gasp at each clap, frightened that the next fork might strike the car or a tree might crash and crush us. I step on the gas as if fleeing an enemy attack.

The storm subsides and the sun comes out and the landscape looks calm and refreshed. After the rain, a mist rises over the Firehole River. As we drive Ray talks about the wildlife of Yellowstone, including the astonishing migration of the Monarch butterfly from North America to Mexico, taking several generations to arrive.”

From “Holiday” by Joanna Warrington, available on Amazon: