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Stoned out weekend

A streaming cold curtailed my weekend plans so the boyf and I ended up staying in.  It was a good excuse for vegging out in front of a screen but I’ve given up on television as I cannot abide reality TV or game-shows, and on the weekend, there’s little else.

Thank god then for Apple TV; in our house at least, this provides a way of watching YouTube on a massive screen. On Saturday night, we ended up viewing four hours of Rolling Stones footage, combining the fascinating Totally Stripped DVD (released 2016), followed by most of Voodoo Lounge, and a bunch of other promo films from 1966 to 2011.

I admit it – I obsess about the Stones, but it has been a painful year for music lovers.  We lost Bowie and Prince within months of each other (which hurt a lot) and I hate to point out the bleedin’ obvious, but the Stones are of an age when they should not be taken for granted.

So this is me, publicly thanking Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie for the rockiest, most memorable and infectious rock n roll sounds in our living history.  Thank you so much – you are truly wonderful.

Musically, the Stones can do no wrong – they never disappoint, wiping the floor with bands a third of their age (which is fair enough; they’ve had the practice).  Keith Richards is quite possibly the best guitarist on the planet, Mick Jagger, the ultimate showman, and where would they be without Charlie Watts – voted Rolling Stones Magazine’s 12th Best Drummer in the World (WTF?  How good are the first 11?).

But the Stones are more than just shit-hot musicians – and more than the sum or their parts. I don’t care if it makes me sound like a barmy old Grandma when I say that, even in their 70s, the Stones still drip passion and charisma like no one else. They’ve hypnotised me for decades.  Please, never stop, never stop, never stop…

Red in beak and claw

Yesterday I heard a rumpus in my garden and when I went outside to investigate I spotted a tiny wren bouncing from fence post to tree bough, chittering dementedly.  As alarm calls go, it was very effective; the poor little bird was beside itself – I mean, really shouting.

wren shouting

Then, from over my back fence, I heard a woman’s voice coaxing her cat back into the house.

Now I’m no detective, but the combination of Bagpuss being corralled inside, and the wren’s distress call painted a pretty vivid picture.

Any nature lover is used to the mixed emotions stirred by seeing animals do what they do naturally – which is to follow their instincts and survive.  Awe, fascination and love, can turn to abject horror on a sixpence.  I’ve stopped watching natural history programmes on TV.  My heart can’t take it.

Because first I’m welling up, chest heaving, when (for example) the majestic polar bear is starving and cannot feed her gorgeous ‘ickle roly-poly cubs.  Ah, but then her luck changes as a cute-as-a-button seal comes flobbering along.  Then the chase is on! And next I’m sobbing for the lost seal (and its family); you get my drift…

I like cats – for their grace, beauty and intelligence. I prefer dogs; for their loyalty, kindness and boundless enthusiasm (except for my poor old Rodney, who doesn’t do joy anymore – at 16, eating and sleeping is pretty much his repertoire).

But anyway, back to cats; what I don’t like is their mean streak.  The vast majority of pet moggies are well catered for, dining at the feline Ritz most days.  They have absolutely no need to hunt – certainly not in order to eat. So catching small furries can only be for sport and entertainment. It’s no coincidence that cruel women are often labelled ‘catty’.

I reckon old Spitycus McSpite had probably killed my little wren’s mate or offspring – which is gut wrenchingly horrid, but you can’t blame a cat for being a cat.

A whole day later, my wren is still out there, shouting retribution for her fallen friend, and if pluck could overcome might, then I reckon old Spitycus would be in the vets by now.  It’s a reminder that nature is wild and cruel and impossibly beautiful.

Cats

Last night I was privileged to see Cats the musical, performed by the gifted students of Hillview Performing Arts School in Tonbridge.
Before you picture quivering sets, pitchy vocals and Mrs Johnson banging out Memory on an upright piano, let me set you straight. This uplifting and slick production was performed at the EM Forster Theatre in Tonbridge, and was worthy of the West End – and has no doubt secured the futures of some of its performers there.
My better half and I were invited by our dear friends and neighbours, whose beautiful and talented daughter was one of the dancers. Even as mere hangers on, we were bursting with pride to see her glide through her paces with poise and grace, totally committed and loving every minute.
It was an emotional night on every level; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soaring score, the grace and beauty of the dancers, the heart-rending vocals (not a dry eye in the house for Memory) and the glamour and excitement of the costumes and staging overall.
Without exception, the young people of Hillview showcased their talents purrfectly – but there was more than proficiency at work; there was passion, too. Oh, I know it’s an overused word, but the energy of the cast alone could have registered on the national grid. Bless every single member of the company, on stage and off – you all earned your night of adulation. Thank you for such a memorable night.

I’ve gone 4G

No, I haven’t shifted to another mobile network – instead I’ve upped my gym, gossip, girlfriends and giggles quota. Last week I found myself alone when my partner was plucked from his London studio and drafted to its counterpart in San Francisco.

In the past, I might have used the time as an excuse to hibernate, not seeing or even speaking to anyone, because like many writers, I have a tendency to get sucked into an interior world, inhabited only by imaginary friends and alter egos. Call it introverted, imply insular, whisper depressive – the point is, this time I fought the urge to hide. Instead, I began every day with a punishing gym workout – after walking my beloved terrier, Rodney, of course; the cornerstone of every day.

Then it was home to write, in intensive bursts – or not – and catch up with a handful of kind, funny and beautiful girlfriends, and whether over dinner, coffee or just a walk in the park, there was plenty of gossip and giggles. And suddenly a week that I thought might drag had raced by until on the Saturday, the sparrow had landed (and has valiantly battled jet-lag ever since).

Has my waistline noticed the increased gym activity? Probably not; but did my heart lift in gratitude for the female friends who were just there – proving again and again that I was not alone but part of a community of women who look out for each other. Thank you ladies; you are beautiful inside and out.

Another day spent with imaginary friends

Writing fiction is like playing with imaginary friends. You invent a bunch of personalities and then set them on a path of action and adventure. None of it is real, yet they live and breathe, first in the author’s heart and mind – and later (if he or she has done the job well) in the reader’s.

The characters we create become almost as vivid as friends and family in the real world. I have to confess to falling hard for one male protagonist I once wrote about… probably the less said about that the better!
The reason I mention this is because I have just begun the sequel to my first (and only) novel, Beginner’s Guide to Burb-Watching. It feels right and good – like coming home on a Friday night after a long, tough week at the office.

The characters I created some eighteen months ago now feel like old friends – and in this volume, they’ll be joined by a host of new ones. In my new book, I want to do my characters justice, bringing them to life on the page once more. So I’ll start them off, guiding them firmly at first, before giving them a little freedom to roam independently. For me personally, it is always a magic moment when they begin to breathe on their own.

Delaying the inevitable?

Rodney small res
Stephanie Chapman Photography

A few days ago my little dog had surgery to remove the tumour from his neck.  We went this route because a scan and a couple of biopsies revealed that the cancer was contained; our very skilled vet Tim thought it well worth a shot.  Poor Rodney looks as though a pirate has attacked him with a cutlass – now he’s sore, itchy, sleepy and confused.  And quite possibly cancer-free.

Last night was a sleepless one as I watched him pace, keen, and scratch in great discomfort.  It was hard to bear.

Today, after a steroid shot and a teensy dose of diazepam, he’s comfy and I am relieved.  But at some point, the big hill will rise up to meet us and the buck stops with me.  Please god, let me be strong enough to put Rodney first when the time is right.  Because sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

My boy is sick

As a child-free woman I have invested fourteen years of love and nurturing into my dog, Rodney. It’s a common enough story, for while we love those who care for us, we love even more those we care for. In that regard, dogs are like small children, utterly helpless, needing constant love and attention in order to thrive.

I’ve loved my boy with a slavish devotion since I rescued him from a wonderful dog’s home in 2002; by my reckoning, he’s at least 16 years old now.

We have travelled a long (and often treacherous) road together. Men, friends, jobs and houses come and go, but the stinky little scrap of fur I call my best friend remains constant. We would die for each other, simple as that.

A few weeks ago, I learned that my dog has cancer. There was an inevitability about it – it’s what most of us, humans and canines alike, die of. He has a tumour that may, or may not be operable. Our wonderful and very dedicated vet is currently researching the pros and cons of disturbing the mass.

So now I am bracing myself for the worst – and hoping for the best. At 16 years old, it may be kinder to let nature take its course. Rodney’s comfort and quality of life must come before my own. That is a mark of true love; loving someone enough to let them go.

I’ve tried to think positively about life after Rodney; the freedom – can’t remember the last time we flew to the sun for a week; the spontaneity – being able to do dinner and a movie back to back, without a serious contingency plan; a clean and fragrant home – these days, if I walk into a room that doesn’t smell of dog-guff, I think I am in the wrong house.

But these hygiene factors are no consolation whatsoever – and I make no apology for any sentimentality that may creep into my words on the subject of my beloved Jack Russell Terrier.

Whatever time we have left together is precious and irreplaceable. But as I keep telling myself, I survived the loss of my wonderful parents…and I will survive losing Rodney, too. Here’s hoping it’s not for a while yet.

Love is in the air

Crawling in traffic today on the A20, I watched two collar doves participating in what was obviously a mating ritual. They were spiralling up, up, up – then swooping down, freefalling, not quite touching and flapping madly all the while. I was transfixed; it was a wonderful sight.

But then I started to think; ‘A20, traffic fumes, road works…really? Go on Bud, take her to the woods, light her fire under a canopy of leaves – not under the glare of motorists in first gear and shoppers coming out of the Tesco Express; you’re better than that, Mr Col R Dove’.

Thankfully, it’s one thing that separates us from our animal brethren. Can you imagine if, driven entirely by instinct and the need to breed, human beings started humping each other in the street…or in Sainsbury’s (other food stores are available)? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Of course the younger you are, the closer to nature, too. Weather permitting I’ve seen some pretty similar displays by adolescents in the park – all that pent up teenage lust; only a few steps (flaps) removed from my courting collar doves.

But by the time you’ve hit middle age, the terms and conditions can run into several pages, that can (and do) include a visit to the waxing parlour the day before, a long scented bath, a glass of wine or champagne, a simple light-bite meal (anymore and one risks dyspepsia or worse), candle-light (the menopausal woman’s best friend) and something sultry on the turntable – need I say more? For full terms and conditions, read the small print.

Home – an inspiration for Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching

As I walked my elderly dog this morning, the soft rain freeing the honeyed scents of early summer, it occurred to me how thin-shelled modern living is.

Like squillions of other people in the Home Counties, I live in a new town. It began life as an estate but twenty five years later, with supermarkets, gyms, dozens of independent shops, several restaurants, doctors, dentists, a plethora of blue chips companies in residence, its own church and community hall, and a population exceeding 8,000, there is no denying it has grown into a town.

In a recent poll by Match.com, my community was revealed as a UK dating hotspot, enjoying one of the most active singles scenes in the South East; hardly surprising, given the large number of people rubbing along in such a small area of the Kent countryside.

But I digress. It’s a thin-shelled existence; physically and spiritually, where walls are paper thin, gardens are overlooked, and one meets the same people, sometimes several times in the course of one day…on the school run, in the gym, in the supermarket and in the doctors’ waiting room. Claustrophobic might be another word for it – this is not a place for those who seek solitude and anonymity. Community spirit flows as freely as Prosecco on a Friday night, and family life here is an open book. There are no secrets – especially in the summer as windows are thrown wide and back-to-back gardens become pop-up restaurants and party venues.

My town, a veritable Marmite of communities (people love it or hate it) inspired my debut novel, Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching. It’s the perfect backdrop for a style of living which can feel materially bloated, but spiritually starved; a place where loneliness can thrive in a crowd and lead to desperate and regrettable measures, and where secrets can be swept under the sisal carpet…but not for long.

Without exception, the characters are fictional – but as they reflect real life, don’t be surprised if Lisa reminds you of a woman at the gym, if Kate is the image of someone in your book club, or Ben is a photo-fit of past loves. It’s all eminently recognisable – and it’s all between the pages.

Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching is a completed 80,000 word novel; now seeking representation and publication.