This post has been a long time coming! It’s only as I take up the reins of my life that I realise how much an experience can affect me.

I’m always good in a crisis. I batten down the hatches and navigate my way through, working out coldly what needs to be done. Sometimes I fail, mostly its ok but on these journeys confidence and anxiety fluctuate until the end. These are set aside until I can deal with them. A successful outcome mostly alleviates them. Occasionally there are residues and sometimes they remain like fatballs in a sewer.

I haven’t written about the cancer diagnosis. I stated at the time too much has been written about it. what I can say is that ovarian Cancer research funds have diminished over the years. This, when it is only diagnosed in later stages. I was lucky. It’s the kind of luck that supersedes any other luck! Grace, A blessing  – call it what you will – I was blessed.

The disease, emotive as it is means different things to different people. To many it’s a battle  – consultants as the strategists, nursing staff as their commander in chief – down to armies of red and white blood cells. To others it’s an inconvenience – “I have cancer cells.” The person who said this to me suggested that the suggestions of a ‘few cancer cells’ retained her control rather than “having cancer” – giving it more room in the body. I was given the diagnosis and my response was,”right lets just eliminate it. It’s got to be gone!’

My friends rallied around, as did my amazing family – yet no more amazing or wonderful than other families in this position. This is not to diminish how wonderful they are and were to me. I felt loved and each and every day brought something new and wonderful: graduation, gas bbq, a pint with my brother in the pub, sisters making transatlantic flights and shopping for proper necessities. It could b a simple as a bar of soap in my favourite fragrance – or sushi(I had weird food cravings in the months before).  Some say I was brave. I wasn’t I had no choice but to deal with it, whereas we have a choice whether or not to be brave in situations. So what have I learned? Quite a bit actually. Mostly not what to ask a person….

Is the consultant sure of his diagnosis?

How does he know? err the elevated CA125could be just a tiny clue in conjunction with other clinical observations.

What size is the tumour? It is a tumour because I saw the word cyst somewhere? I don’t know… but later on I’ll do an impression of a fisherman doing,’the one that got away.”

While you’re waiting for treatment could you just….? Err NO!

You look well i.e. you haven’t lost shedloads of weight and you’re still smiling! and OMG You’ve got make up on! The cancer is on the inside, I’m smiling because I’m glad to see you and grateful that I’m being treated. I’m grateful for the fabulous care I’ve had.I’m smiling because I’ve no intention of letting you see as a casual questioner, that actually last night was shitty and I felt dreadful. Makeup and skin care boost my morale.

“You need to get out and socialise more!” Yes I do but I’ll give it a miss today because I’m overwhelmed, a bit tired and I tried to clean the bath. yesterday I managed the hoover! Now that’s progress!

Post treatment: You look well. Yes I do but I still have periods of excruciating fatigue. occasionally Im I’m pain as I increase my daily number of steps. Occasionally I lose sleep as a side effect of treatment.  So what kind of questions helped me?

What do you fancy to eat? Would you like to go for a short spin and have coffee

?Which box sets do you fancy next?

You look well but how do you feel….

Are you up to a short walk? Beach? Woods? Retail?Art gallery?

Do you just want hang about and watch TV together?
Any books you fancy?

A gift of sunflowers!

Can’t read… will a magazine do?

What’s your  favourite bubble bath?
Do you still like Smarties?

I’m so lucky I had friends and family that did this for me – brought small gifts an d sat with me, even when I did not know what to say! Endless cups of tea and chats – it was lovely! One lovely friend made a bag with gifts to unwrap each day during treatment. I confess now I held the last of them off until two weeks ago!

Any anxieties left? Plenty. I’ll make a list of them.



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Selling yourself

This started as piece about the need to sell yourself in job interviews and ended with a comment on language use…. 

Every time I get feedback, (“Ti angen gwerthu dy hun mwy. Ti angen gwerthu dy bwnc a dy ddoniau!“) it’s always focused on my ability to sell myself.  If anything, these comments show the commodification of education. They say nothing of my classroom skills, the depth and breadth of my subject knowledge, my experience and enthusiasm, which are assessed in classroom jobs during selection processes.

Nobody believes me when I say I’m shy but I am. Subsequent generations to mine had a different upbringing and despite being a child of the sixties, my upbringing was more 1950’s-spare- the -rod -and -spoil- child type; with “Mind what you say.”, “No showing off.”, and “Behave yourself!” as frequent exhortations. “You can’t say that!” was a confusing command, because I just had (said whatever it was)! It was a thought, which I verbalised and was clearly wrong. Often I had no idea why. Also it was only ‘bad women” who sold themselves. I didn’t have much idea about that either – just that the museum steps were a no-go area as was the bottom of Wind st.

The result was I was pretty quiet and rarely drew attention to myself. I was the one at the back of the classroom, the one who slipped through the net. A careful writer and generally a  more careful listener, so when I’m required to be an all-singing-all-dancing, gregarious, interviewee, it’s not me. I simply cannot do it. It’s not that that coat won’t fit… I never bought it in the first place.

This led me to thinking about job applications and the need to “sell yourself on paper” which I can do –  often playing “jargon bingo” in the process. The letter of application is not an explanation, but it is an exercise in saleability, setting out a stall. So lying in bed, unable to sleep, I began to wonder how would I sell myself as say, a house.

Smart tidy four bedroom house, recently internally renovated. Some external tidying up needed. House contains an enormous library and access to information systems.


Rolls Royce – coach built for comfort.


Affectionate dog, likes company  and very sociable with others of her breed. Needs a little reassurance from time to time and affection from those she loves. This breed can be stubborn on times and does not respond well to shouting and group training exercises. Incredibly loyal and hard working breed.


Filing cabinet. Bit muddled in places, stuffed with info and can be full of crap.

Book Genre.

Slightly battered and dated cover, this book can be found in Romance /Historical Fiction. Loves time travel and has a tendency to fall in love with characters –  especially if they have a Scottish Accent, red hair and Jacobite affiliation. Can also be fickle and found in the Medieval, Victorian, and Welsh Writing in English and Colonial Sections. Restoration texts need not apply. Stream of consciousness also unwelcome. Can be a promiscuous reader and has been known to abandon texts believing that life is now to short to finish books she doesn’t enjoy.

Main Selling Points

This woman is full of compassion and has an ability to empathise. She encourages those around her by use of humour and honesty. She loves having supper with friends and watching a rugby game. She recently defected to the Scarlets after long and careful thought( actually it was the scores  a week last Friday). She is loyal and supportive friend of  a handful of close people.  She reads a book a week and writes an average of 1-2k of words a week.  She loves cooking and walking her dog. Day to day she is a competent teacher and lecturer and firmly believes that if the learner is well and happy then everything will fall into place. Consequently, she is a good pastoral tutor and teacher who effectively tracks, monitors and targets her pupils so that they can aim and reach for their potential. She would prefer to do this at less frequent intervals believing that too much targeting is worse than none at all. It can be counterproductive, lead to a certain helplessness (oh my God Miss It’s never good enough), and accusations of being too demanding which need to be effectively counterbalanced with  realistically high expectations.

Such targeting does not happen in her personal life. She believes that generally life is messy and uncertain. Personal plans included Engaged @21, married @22, Boy @ 23 girl @24.  And we all know how effective THAT plan was. Her excuse – it was a plan to deviate from.

Professional plans after a fall into  adult education included graduate @33, MA @34 PGCE at 35. That plan had to be revised  as it made no provisions for long term illness leading to  widowhood. It didn’t really factor in Austerity, Michael Gove, Leighton Andrews and raft of curricular and subject reforms.

Otherwise known as  “The Bleach Queen” and latterly Princess Pledge she has a certain fondness of ‘eau de clean house.”  The  early plan that life deviated from contained hazy dreams of couples holidays, empty nest (no syndrome!) and did not include three remain at home children who have been known to change food fads as often as their shirts! Once she horrified her mother by soaking and orange duster in said polish and stuffing it behind the radiator, fooling everyone that the house had been cleaned.

However,  the light ironic turn of phrase used here and by a generation of parents (Peter and Jane, Mamgu on Facebook ), highlight a growing discontent for some people her age strangled by austerity and the social expectations of what is appropriate. No one ever says, “That’s a bloody stupid idea.” They’re more than likely to ask a question, or say, “I’m a little unsure of that. Is it wise?” Which means appropriately, she is more likely to use  words  such as “Satisfactory”,”Good”and “Excellent”,  and never ever jump up and down shrieking “That was awesome you freakin genius.” which is what she really feel on times.


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Notes from Swansea 2

Writing from the Outcasts Box has to be the strangest place to sit, watch and write. An eighties track chimes in the background – not always loud enough to hear against the thuds and thunks of a workout . The box smells of orange, rubber and synthetics but the shouts of encouragement are real enough when someone tries and fails to lift against his PB.

Luna, the lurcher, cuddles in my arms – soft, slinky and seal-like, with limbs and paws as graceful as a dancer. She’s on alert for a glimpse of Dan as he strides across the box . She’s not barked yet! Luna’s collar matches the blue of his shirt and she remains wired for her promised playtime.

Here there are no meat heads, they blow like props lifting weights, box jumping, and crashing to the floor and rebounding as they burpee their way through the session.

The window steams and the sheets of rain are punctured by the sharp smell of sweat. The late-September  light is just how I remember it: Lead-grey dotted by traffic lights swept clean by the cars that speed past the industrial estate ; then the light is grubby again.

A magpie struts in the stubborn leaves of a copper beech. I cuddle Luna – stroke the silver in her black brown pelt. She’s indifferent – she only has eyes for Dan. She refuses my affection. She remains on guard for the one who rescued her. The music tracks change and collide in the space between both gyms. Luna stretches and  changes position. Keep going keep going –  the shouts cut through the jangle of competing eighties tracks. It’s hard to remember lyrics as they cut and fuse in a noise that hurts. I reach for Luna and she changes sets and stretches taut on her lead. The shutters open and she pulls towards the window.

‘Walk?” I say and we whizz around the industrial estate across land my ancestors once worked. Luna’s eyes are reproachful – this isn’t the workout Dan promised – the one with the magic word, ‘Ball!” It is good though to smell the city and hear the roar of the traffic and with the rain, and the gloom and the music I feel 17 again.

Inside the box I’m brought sharply to my senses – tail whipped by Luna as she shakes herself dry. She shivers and curls into herself next to me on the sofa.


Edited for Dan and Luna


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Notes From Swansea


Swansea High St at night gave a fair imitation of a late summer evening. The trees still retained their leafy canopies and the evening air was comfortable. On Bethesda St, Matts Cafe held a pop up restaurant so we left the train station in search of the street (shown above) and curry. The food was excellent as were the bands.

The good wather did not hold. The following day began with my host family’s activities: BSL lessons, a session at Outcasts in Llansamlet, lunch at Peg 2 in Mumbles, accompanied by heavy rain and drizzle. image4.jpeg

Peg 2 is a restaurant that donates its profits to good causes across Swansea and is part of a wider network that works to offset poverty across the city. I later met the cafe workers at a church service. The food at Peg’s is excellent offering a wide choice of food well prepared and presented. 

I especially loved the tiny herbs on my plate of sweet potato hash and it takes some skill to poach an egg well. The food was good value for money and all in a good cause. The one thing that has struck me is how much of a cafe culture there is in Swansea, and how it has become a city of eateries, drive through restaurants, pizza places, ice cream parlours and coffee dens. There are places to suit all tastes; there is even a roadside cafe on the road to Penclawdd selling Lebanese food which I’m assured is excellent.

Of course Penclawdd means salt marshes and mists and the weather closed in so that it was impossible to see across the estuary or beyond the motor boat. The marshlands are full of sea birds and wild life, and the seagulls squabbled and swooped until their leader succeeded in opening a chip packet

Caawell Bay was a heady mix of woodland and salt. The surf was lively and small children braved the high winds around the coast, like an army of wetsuits flanked by anxious watchful parents. Ibeatched a surfer far out in the bay and mapped familiar points in my mind. It seemed each cove or rock held an association with family and friends as I created a memory map, and even as I write this I remember more connections not just from childhood with my sister and brother but from my teens, when we built fires and grilled sausages , drank coke or Fanta and made twisty things out iv flour and water. Those idyllic summer days seemed far away in the teeth of a chill wind, and the grey high tide. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year for a swim.


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Which is all about an Indian Summer

Indian summer
  1. a period of unusually dry, warm weather occurring in late autumn.
    • a period of happiness or success occurring late in life. Dictionary .com

Other than a week in May, and some days in July, it was a grey summer. So on a wet, grey, Monday morning I packed my summer clothes for the winter. Then this morning, I watched as a handful of leaves dropped to the floor; marvelling that I had the leisure to do so while realising that this bitter-sweet summer is ending.

The crown of a distant sycamore is turning yellow, while the lower canopies of those closest to me remain green. A weeping willow yellows in a nearby gardens, the crab apples and hawthorn berries are scarlet; while the pines and evergreens are wreathed in a morning mist that hopefully mean late-summer- sun, warmth and a spectacular sunset like last night’s.  And I wonder at our ability to inject emotion and meaning into plant and cellular activity, and the combination of weather factors, and the turning of the seasons.

The last days of  my husband’s life were days of golden sunrises, ferocious orange sunsets and the clearest – the most beautiful –  of night skies where it was possible to see the Milky Way.  There was even a brief roll of green light along a hillside a lucky glimpse of an aurora. I remember thinking it was if the earth was raging in a Dylan Thomas-esque way, and that the sun burned as if it were the end of something – and it was. But seasons still turned: it rained, it snowed, the frosts were harsh and the sun continued to rise and set and there were glimpses of beauty.

Consequently, I love an Indian summer – the last fierce blaze of colour and warmth –  before the earth closes in and we hibernate or go to work, ‘like pit ponies,’ as my aunt says,  ‘always in the dark.’ An Indian summer offers promise, that no matter how grey it was before before, the ‘after’ holds promise. Then the clock falls back an hour, we draw the curtains and enjoy the warmth of the fire with the smell of coal and woodsmoke. We wait for the joy of Christmas, the celebrations of warmth and light and then have to hold on in February and March for it all to begin again.

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Which is about writing

imageI see that people have been looking at my blog to see if I’ve been writing – and I haven’t. Broadly speaking the ‘pesky dose of shingles’ that I wrote about elsewhere prefigured a bit of a skirmish with ill-health which has now passed. My thoughts are now more in sentences most of the time rather than flitting from one place to another between: past present future work home writing not writing work and generally trying to second guess analyse over analyse situations looks books poems though it was difficult to read for about ten weeks. I couldn’t hold a thought so I erm… read love stories (cringe)! The formulaic type and guaranteed a happy ending.

Listening to Gillian Clarke on BBC this morning, I was reminded sharply of my undergraduate self when I used to keep a quotation of hers (I wish I could find it!) on the wall, and decorated with a green border, a daffodil and a box. It was to do with interruptions while she was writing and the assumption that it was ok to interrupt her writing because it was not viewed as ‘work’ – paid, domestic etc.

It was a quotation I identified with at the time but one that I forgot over the course over the next few years. Writing was not something I admitted to and I well remember my discomfort in the seminar where Tony Brown asked, ‘Who writes?’ I kind of wiggled a finger because mine didn’t seem to be the kind of writing that counted back then.

In his Welsh Writing  in English seminars there was a cohort of (mostly male) writers whose cadences  and syntax reflected my own and those of where I grew up. They were mostly male because working class women were too busy working, raising a family, completing endless domestic chores, in the battle to keep clean in dusty mining communities. Nevertheless it was like coming home. Enter Gillian Clarke a woman from South Wales, caught between languages in the nineteen thirties, forties and fifties, –  Welsh for poverty and rural life and English the language of aspiration, who was a mother AND a successful poet. The interview is available here  

Writing, then through studying Welsh Writing in English suddenly became accessible .I well remember – I was just into my thirties then – the feelings of possibility evoked in me. Not about success or fame but the possibility of writing every day and that it was ok to do so. It wasn’t  just about scribbling into private journals (link to a guest blog I wrote about journalling) it was shaping and making something new – be that a short story or a poem. It was about possibilities; not just about a ‘Room of One’s Own’ but making time and commitment.

I write most days, be it a scrap of a line or a thought;  occasionally, if I’m lucky, a poem. Complete narratives unfold in my head – explode out of an image – and I have to note them down otherwise they are lost. Sometimes that experience is more pleasurable than the slog of writing and planning because no matter how much passion and love go hand in hand with the practice, it is a slog on times. And then the balance between planning and creation. How much is enough? it is easy to get lost on a journey. In one case I’m stuck in rural West Wales; in another, I’m stranded at an airfield (Woodhall Spa) in  April 1943 wearing a navigator’s uniform (not a Dam Buster in sight yet) and longing for the hills of home in a flat, fen, wet spring landscape.

It’s about reining in thought, Killing Darlings, as Faulkner and Stephen King  and perhaps being more streamlined after the initial explosive burst and recourse to Nathalie Goldberg when stuck. It’s also about a sense of accomplishment when you know something is finished – like knowing when to stop tweaking your hair otherwise you’ll ruin the look. Most of all it’s because inspite  of yourself ,you just have to


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I subscribe to TUT notes which sends daily inspirational quotations. Sometimes they fit, at other times they haven’t.  Today’s goes like this:

‘Please tell anyone who wants to know, Anne, that a dream not followed by consistent action, however humble or small the actions may be, points to either a huge contradiction or a gigantic misunderstanding. Because when people are clear and they realise just how powerful they already are, wild horses can’t stop them from taking baby steps, every day.’

I’ve been taking baby steps for the past month, recovering from surgery, and as I emerge from a world of Clexane, Zapain, anaesthetics and pain relief, I wonder now, ‘What next?’

‘It’s not every day you get your life back,’ someone said to me recently, and I was forced to agree and yet it was not entirely taken from me – more reshaped by disease and the need for medical intervention, and the questions, anxieties and fears that go hand in hand with that process. Then my life was refashioned again, by the words, ‘You’re cured. We don’t need to see you again.’ Indeed I arrived home from hospital to find the house the same as I had left it – my perspective had fundamentally changed. Luck has played a part and in the midst of worry and fear there have been wonderful moments of friendship, joy, prayer and a sense of the absurd. These moments too,  expanded my universe –  made the world a slightly larger and infinitely kinder place.

I’ve been privileged that many people have shared stories with me, sent texts,facebook messages, get-well cards; gifts of flowers and books, random hugs. I loved everyone in my morphine-induced, post-operative state and for ten days or so functioned in a bit of a bubble. I’d had so many worries about major surgery and it was all fine. I was treated with care, compassion, skill and expertise by the NHS. What more could one ask? I was in good hands.The euphoria and sense of relief have not receded. However, the question of  what all these experiences mean for me remain.

One of my favourite authors, Daphne Kapsali, serendipitously popped up on a Facebook feed with her book, “How to live a deliberate life.” Here she details the forces that conspire against writing, and she details how social conditioning and expectations shape what we do with our dreams. It contains a moving tribute to her father, ‘a fucking good poet’ and the impact of Greek austerity on his life and literary career. In fact, I had hoped to find a few pointers. but all I encountered was a brave writer, who personifies the competing forces in her life and details the tensions between them. Kapsali has the ability to describe a literal walk and suddenly it becomes a metaphor for encountering difficulties and  joy in experiences, and as she writes and rewrites sentences, fashioning and refashioning  words and phrases, she pushes towards finding joy in an ordinary (and therefore extraordinary) life. Perhaps that too is my answer.

Increasingly, I have the sense that the universe has flagged up a few questions about my life and where it goes from here. I guess there will be difficult choices at some point: Stay, Move, Relocate, Move South, Write More, Teach Less, Give up writing. There are no answers in neon lights, no lottery thumbs, no answers on a post card and this time no 50/50 answer – for that would mean continued compromise. And yet I have to balance the need to provide with my increasing urge for freedom.

But just for now, I’m thankful. I escaped with my life.

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