Malaysia -Days 8 & 9


Monday 23rd March

2015-04-04 13.38.04Millie is 5 weeks old today! After a rather hectic weekend, it was a quiet day – Maria still managed to do a lot of washing.

The drinking water was delivered… Five big bottles for the water dispenser – I’ve now got my Earl Grey though, so I can use up less of the delivered water. Maria’s got to drink plenty because of feeding Millie in this heat. Millie seems more settled now – I think the move affected her more than we would have expected. Babies are so clever!

In the afternoon, Maria and the baby went up for an afternoon nap – I wish I could sleep in the daytime, but apart from a brief catnap, I couldn’t do it. I read most of the time – so handy I have the Kindle, it provides a huge choice of books, plus emails and news. I’ve been on a Virginia Woolf kick, but suddenly noticed I hadn’t finished Mankell’s ‘Man from Beijing’ and it was quite a climax, so glad I found it again. It was one of his best non-Wallander books!

Later, Maria came down and we had the rest of the weekend’s stir-fry and a chat, Millie seems to be settling even more and happily watched from her bouncy seat. Unfortunately she’s going to have a check-up tomorrow, which might unsettle her again, but that’s just part of life as a baby!

I’d intended to try to stay up and see Al after work, but felt too tired by midnight and went to bed. It’s good when he has the morning free, but the late nights seem less convenient – however he seems to have got used to this way of working and he’s always been a night bird.

Tuesday 24th March

I’m getting a bit more used to being in this time zone – woke up at about half six, which is normal for me. Maria’s mother arrived at about 7am to take Maria and baby to the paediatric check-up, dropping off her maid, Morena, to do a bit of housework. I thought I’d get on and wash my clothes and sheets while Maria was out and the machine would be free.

It started off quite fresh and pleasant, so I put my washing out on the balcony, but by the time Alex woke up it had clouded over and there were a few rumbles of thunder, so I brought it all in, with the plastic stand, and stashed it upstairs before the intense rain began. The sheets had dried quickly in the dryer so after airing them for a bit, I put them back on the bed.

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By this time, Alex had relayed a few messages from Maria – after the baby’s check-up they had gone to see a friend who is a restaurant manager, because Ani wants him to sample her cakes. After that, they appeared to have gone to visit Maria’s brother Daniel.

Morena was a little stuck as she had done all her cleaning and ironing by this time. After Alex got ready and went to work, she cleaned their bathroom too, then sat at the table to wait for Ani’s return.

Alex had put the TV news on for me, so I left it running. Many of the same things were repeated, but I’m still not au fait with the controls so I was afraid I might lose even that. I had my book to read, my journal to write, the kindle to mess about with, so I was fine. However Morena had nothing to do except doze, sitting at the dining table. I asked if she wanted to watch anything, but she didn’t seem to know what might be on TV. Also, she didn’t know how to change channels either. I’ve nothing much in common with her and felt at a loss how to make conversation so I gave up and did my own stuff.

Weather for UK was just on – here I am sweltering in 33’ or more but back home it’s apparently only 5’ – I’m envious! But the 30s temperature doesn’t seem as bad as I expected. It’s very humid, even when it pours with rain, the temperature remains in the mid-30s. So I’m quite surprised that I’m feeling ok. Of course, I’m not doing much except relaxing and drinking glass after glass of water and up here on the 10th floor, the breeze is quite cooling, even without the air-con on.

They returned around 15.45 – baby was peaceful, probably worn out! I bet Maria is too. Morena went back to Valencia with Ani and Maria had a look round to check her handiwork. She didn’t say much but made a batch of Spaghetti Bolognese for Alex’s packed lunch tomorrow and gave me some for my dinner.

Maria wasn’t happy with the cleanliness of the floor, considering it had just been washed. She said just walking about on it had made the soles of her feet dirty and she was put off eating by this. (Considering how much time Morena had been sitting around, this was a bit of a surprise.)




Malaysia – Days 6 & 7 (First Weekend)


Saturday 21st March

Alex doesn’t work at the weekend, so an expedition was planned – I’d said it would be nice to get the standard tourist picture of the Petronas Towers, so we headed into town. It was very busy, not only because it was the weekend, but also as we soon realised, Formula 1 Fever has hit KL already. There was a big stand in the middle of the shopping centre and lots of fuss and noise, selling F1 memorabilia and clothing ready for next weekend’s Grand Prix.

More craziness was in evidence at the front, where we had intended to take the picture of the famous Towers. Usually it’s just a plaza and you can get a good view of the famous towers – but we’d forgotten that Petronas sponsors the Malaysian Grand Prix!

In the plaza, there were hundreds of people, attending a live music event from a huge marquee. However, the music was so horribly loud, we didn’t want to expose the baby to it and there wasn’t an uninterrupted view anyway. Not to worry, I said. Next weekend it’s the F1 race and we’re going to it, so we won’t bother. There might be another photo-opportunity but to be honest, it’s not important as EVERYONE takes a picture of the Petronas Towers.

The shopping mall is gigantic, but Alex and Maria know their way around. We visited all the shops we planned to and remembered everything – except the spare buckets for soaking Millie’s clothes (when accidents happen!)

Nokia 2015 KL - Penang 014We paused in our shopping to get sushi for lunch – it was really delicious. Dishes similar to, but far superior to, the Rainbow Roll we can get back in London, but new (to me!) and wonderful varieties: Dragon Roll, Spider Roll and so on (I should have written it down at the time) – really outstanding.

I know I’m not an expert, but so far in my life I’ve not tasted any better sushi.  A&M said they usually just get it from there to take away. I’d love the chance to do that regularly!

We made our way home – I couldn’t help thinking that I’d never want to be a driver in this mad city – huge wide roads and people doing silly things, if anything it seemed worse than my first impression on the way from the airport. Once we got back, we had a bit of relaxation – TV and booze in the evening.

Sunday 22nd March

It was a leisurely Sunday, Maria had wanted to go for ‘afternoon tea’ at a place called the Majestic, but they were fully booked, so Maria’s mum said she’d do an afternoon tea, herself.

Later on, we got ourselves ready and went over to the Valencia estate – a very large ‘gated’ estate with security guards patrolling and passes needed to enter the area. It has plenty of facilities: a residents’ club with a restaurant and probably more, tennis courts, swimming pool, golf course etc – and streets and streets of impressive, detached villa-style houses. Some of the cars parked outside would have delighted Aaron!


Ani had made a wonderful spread, with sandwiches, salmon rolls, scones, cakes – I’m sure the Majestic wouldn’t have been any better. There was the added advantage that it was more relaxed at their home, too.  Maria could feed baby Millie without having to rush about looking for a suitable ‘mother & baby’ room as we had to do in the shopping malls.

When we went back to the condo, we watched TV and had a few drinks – Alex can get Guinness from the 7-11 nearby, so I indulged. We also made pigs of ourselves with leftover cakes and scones from the afternoon tea, which we’d brought home… I really mustn’t go mad with the food!

After all that effort trying to lose a bit of weight before coming out here – I must remember I still have the journey back to cope with, so I mustn’t put on any extra weight.

Malaysia – Days 4 & 5


Thursday 19th March

Another day – I’m still rather vague and sleepy, but Maria is feeling lively and doing a mound of washing and sorting through things. I wish I could help, but I’m not quite with it yet.

It’s even warmer today and I just can’t wake up fully – I keep nodding off. Maybe this is the dreaded jet lag? If it is, it’s much easier than what happened when I went to Australia. Then, I felt quite ill: my legs were like lead and I couldn’t get around – it was like having flu. Here, though, I’m just sleepy and vague, as if my head is full of cotton wool. I try to read, but can’t concentrate. I’m drinking as much water as possible and trying to get used to the heat.

Friday 20th March

It was another rather vague day for me, but I’m beginning to see Al & Maria’s life- pattern – Alex gets up around 10am – 11 am, has a brunch and tinkers about with anything that needs doing, then gets ready for work and leaves at 2pm – 3pm, depending what he has to do. He works until the early hours of the morning. This isn’t good for a social life, but apparently things might change within a few weeks if he moves to a different team. It is quite useful that he’s around during middle of the day, but the evenings must be rather lonely for Maria, especially now that she’s on maternity leave.

There was a Tesco delivery – that feels familiar! So many things are the same, but so many things, such as the climate, are different. Luckily, nearly every room in this condo has a toilet and shower attached, so keeping fresh is not difficult.

However, the electrics have been a worry, and Alex has become suspicious of local tradesmen since he got workmen in to put his TV on the wall. Not only did they use Al’s tools as they seemed ill-equipped for the job they were supposed to be doing, but when it came time to drill holes for the brackets (using Al’s drill) one man urged the other to do it, then jumped back – obviously expecting his colleague to hit an electric cable and fry! Rather a chaotic way to earn a living and not very encouraging for the customer. So Alex has done all his own decorating and erecting of IKEA furniture because then he knows it’s been done properly.

He showed me a rather depressing feature of this large condo – just off the kitchen, a door leads into a utility area where the washing machine and dryer are sited. Beyond that is another small room that Al & Maria call their pantry, now fitted with shelving for storing dry/tinned goods. However, when they purchased the property, it held a small bed and a built-in drawer unit. It was intended as the living quarters for the maid. The door into the kitchen locked, too, so the domestic would effectively be a prisoner behind the kitchen until the family arose each morning and opened the door. Heaven help them in the event of fire as we are on the 10th floor and there is a lethal drop on the other side of that utility area. Here’s a picture of the well, which would be the only way out of the ‘maid’s room’.20150416_083020

I’m beginning to surface a bit and feel able to read, at least. Folks at home message me: ’What have you done today?’ and I have to confess ‘nothing much’ as I’m still rather dozy.

Maria’s busy with Millie, who is a little unsettled by the move and with Alex at work, I’m not really able to do anything – I can’t even leave the condo as I don’t have a key and don’t really know anywhere around here. However, I’m fine with that – there was a solar eclipse today, which Gems said was invisible from home anyway as it was so cloudy. I did see images on Sky News TV from the Faroe Islands though, so I saw as much of the eclipse as I would have done anyway.

Malaysia – Day 3


Wednesday 18th March

When I awoke in the morning, it was about 9.30 and the delivery of baby furniture and presents and suchlike from Maria’s parents’ house was under way. I’m not sure if I’ll have jet lag, but will probably have a bad stomach as there was nobody about to warn me when I came downstairs and took a drink from the kitchen tap – apparently you must boil it first! Alex had shown me their full-size, office-style, water-cooler when I arrived last night, but after a deep sleep, I’d forgotten where the drinking water came from.

Later on, after the moving of baby-stuff from the parents’ house, Alex made a breakfast/brunch of scrambled egg, toast and baked beans, which was delightfully normal for me after plane meals. He had to get ready for work then. I was still feeling rather tired, so I concentrated on drinking plenty of water and resting – getting used to the daytime 34’C temperature is something in itself. Fans and air-conditioning work to some extent, but it’s still hot and humid, even though we are up here on the tenth floor. The view from the balcony is amazing – Kuala Lumpur is full of these huge buildings, which makes it such a breath-taking city to come into.


In the afternoon, Maria’s mother, Ani, returned as she had made some cakes for someone who was meeting her at a nearby shopping mall: Publika. We all went with Ani and delivered the cakes, then went for a meal at ‘Ben’s’ – Maria and I had Pad Thai with seafood but no chillies. Maria has to watch her diet for baby Millie’s sake – so no spicy food. That’s helpful to me as I won’t look too odd when I avoid the more spicy food – I can just ask for whatever Maria has. Ani is on a low-carb diet and chose ‘spicy buffalo wings’ – apparently very spicy!

This was my first glimpse of KL life, and it seemed very busy indeed.  Before leaving, we got some shopping in a supermarket with a bewildering array of produce but also quite a few familiar items, such as Kellogg’s Sultana Bran Flakes!

Millie was a little tetchy, all the moving might have thrown her a bit – it’s hard to appreciate what tiny babies can actually take in and understand. Perhaps she regarded her grandparents’ house as home and not only was she now in a new home, we had gone in a busy shopping centre and a café, then shops – she cried, poor little thing.

Ani took her for a walk as Maria tried to get some shopping, but the baby sucked her arm so much she left a bruise! So Maria took Millie off to find a mother-and-baby room and give her a feed and change. Meanwhile Ani and I did our best to finish the shopping. Finally we went home, exhausted. Perhaps a little too much for me on the first day!

Malaysia – Day 2


Tuesday 17th March

But then there was Dubai. An information film on the first Emirates plane had told us that if we were just transferring and had a boarding pass, we would go straight through security – but no. We had a total luggage search again, even though we’d just come from Heathrow.

Unlike Heathrow, at Dubai the security guards were unfriendly, unhelpful and surly to the point of rudeness. One kept telling me to put my handbag on the conveyor-belt, although I’d told him there was no tray for it: he ignored that and raised his voice harshly:‘Put bag on!’ – wagging his finger at me – so I obediently put the bag on the baggage-conveyor, without a tray.

Then he had a go at me for doing that, because the bag – of course –  got stuck without a tray. He had to send an underling to retrieve the bag and find a tray to put it into, before putting it back on the conveyor – such a pompous bully. I’m not looking forward to going back via Dubai and will definitely avoid it if I ever make the journey again.

After the unpleasant security section, the transfer between planes was a miserable business, too. Many of the travellers from the first plane were on the same mission, so we followed each other, grumbling. We followed the signs into the arrivals hall where we had to get into a lift. Then we had to walk half a mile through the terminal to catch an internal shuttle train to the departure area. Once there, we had another walk and another lift to use, finally emerging onto a huge shopping mall with hard-to-find flight gates, rather like Heathrow.

Naturally, the gate I wanted was the most distant one and I must have walked another mile, miserably aware that there was only an hour and a half between flights and we had already used up half of that.

I finally reached the gate and found hardly any staff in evidence, which was rather unnerving, but my ticket was inspected and I was waved further on – down an escalator into a deserted area, where an Emirates steward suddenly appeared and waved me to another escalator.

At the bottom, another lonely steward pointed at an airport shuttle bus, waiting outside. There was a high step, which I found a struggle with the cabin bag and tired old legs. I boarded, with a bit of panting and gasping as I was rather hot and flustered by this time. On the bus, there were hardly any seats, I suppose because of the suitcases; it was mainly a standing bus. A kind gentleman gave me his seat and I thanked him, but it was clear that he and his fully veiled wife did not really speak English. Lots of smiles, however, which continued whenever we bumped into each other afterwards.

The bus rattled around Dubai airport for at least 20 minutes, apparently avoiding the building work which was going on – I’m sure it will be wonderful when finished, but today it was a dreadful nuisance. Finally we ended up on the runway beside the plane and were expected to climb up the stairs to board it. I did my best, but it was very hot and  I was nearly at the end of my energy. Fortunately, somebody took pity on the struggling fat, grey-haired woman and helped me with the suitcase – not the stewards of course. Throughout the journey, it was usually other passengers who helped me.

Apparently British Airways are setting up a direct flight between London and KL in a couple of months… Maybe next year or the year after, I could fly here direct with BA. It might be more expensive, but after this, I’d cheerfully pay twice the fare or more, just to avoid Dubai airport!

The plane from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur was a rather older B777-200. Everything had seen better days: the engines were much noisier, the entertainment screens were faded and the earphones ineffective, so watching a film was too much like hard work and I soon gave up. Luckily I had my Kindle to read & my Shuffle to listen to, but I was getting so tired, I spent a while just staring at the little plane on the screen which shows you what part of the world you are flying over.

The lunch meal was served after a couple of hours. It was not even as pleasant a meal as on the Airbus – a small piece of chicken with bamboo shoots as a starter, then a slightly larger lump of chicken with ‘peri-peri’ sauce and some rather elderly scraps of potato that tasted as if they had been reheated a few times, also some tiny baby carrots with a teaspoonful of spinach. There were various bits of bread and rather unpleasant, hard ‘savoury biscuits’.

The plane was only half full though, so at least passengers could stretch out a bit – most people pulled up the arm rests and lay across three seats at a time for a post-lunch snooze. I had a couple of empty seats next to me, so I didn’t feel squashed, but I was getting very tired as I was unable to sleep and found the engine noise a little too much. About an hour before the end of the journey we were served a vague meal – a small bread roll containing a slice of processed turkey laced with mayonnaise and sweet relish, followed by a finger of sponge cake topped with nuts. Not sure what that was meant to be – afternoon tea?

It was a relief when we arrived at Kuala Lumpur. The exit was a little muddled, with a shuttle to another area and more walking, but I took heart when I saw that the friendly gent and his wife from the plane also seemed confused – I’d taken them for local people as the lady was fully veiled. However, once I got a look at KL life, it was clear that this is only slightly more common here than it is in London.

We went through passport control, then waited at the carousel – the friendly gent indicated which way, as they could see I had no idea. At the carousel I got talking to a Norwegian lady who insisted on pulling my case off the carousel and putting it onto a trolley for me. Again, airport staff could not care less; it was other travellers who helped me. I followed the crowd out and was waved on by the staff – they were checking luggage, but not mine apparently, so I walked out freely, into the arrivals area.

I knew it was going to be hot at KL and it was… Very hot – like walking out into a sauna. I wished I could get rid of the socks and trainers – even the lightweight cotton trousers were suddenly too much.

Unfortunately, my son had relied upon the Satnav, which directed him to the terminal where the plane had touched down. However, I’d been taken by the shuttle train to a different part of the airport. So we exchanged a few text messages: ’Where are you?’ And I tried to explain where I was, even though I wasn’t sure myself. I only had to wait for him for about 5 minutes, but a taxi driver was bugging me, apparently helpful but I suspect he was hoping my ride would not appear and I would take a lift with him, so I moved away from the main exit to wait for my son.

Soon enough, Alex arrived – in a comfy air-conditioned Honda CRV, and I felt so relieved. He stashed my bags in the back and we drove away from the airport – no chance of a proper greeting as Alex had entered the taxi-only area and we needed to leave quickly. I was tired out and somewhat dazed by the journey, so I can barely remember the motorway drive towards KL

Maria was still at her parents’ house on the outskirts of the city, so our first stop was to go there to collect Maria and baby before going to their home. I had my first cuddle with Millie – my reward for making the journey!

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Then, after a chance to sample Ani’s delicious chocolate cake, we left Maria’s parents’ house and set out for their home, further into Kuala Lumpur.

As we travelled, I watched out of the windows in awe. Kuala Lumpur is absolutely HUGE! Even though I am used to London, I felt daunted by the size of it all. We seemed to be travelling for a long time on the motorways – I was so glad I was not driving as we encountered so many weird drivers. There were mad-cap speeders shooting by, ancient vehicles crawling and blocking the traffic for no reason, sudden toll-gates appearing (for which Alex flashed a pre-paid card) and crazy people turning abruptly.

Eventually we reached Alex and Maria’s home – new for baby Amelia as they had stayed at the home of Maria’s parents ever since she left the hospital. More belongings were to be brought over the next day as they were now moving back home properly.

My immediate thought was to have a shower, get out of my sweaty travel clothes and have a sleep. Alex had provided a fan as well as the room’s air conditioning, but after 6½ hours of engine noise on board the B777, I couldn’t stand having the fan on and just had the air con on ‘economy’.

My trip to Malaysia Day 1


Monday 16th March 2015.

I was trying not to panic, doing last minute re-packing – trying to strike a balance between ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ and ‘totally minimalist’. There were enough gifts of toys and baby clothes from the rest of the family and me, to fill half the suitcase. I knew it would be warm – very warm – with little chance of anything cooler than about 25’, and that in the night time. Sleeveless t-shirts, cotton skirts and cropped trousers with flip flops and other sandals seemed the best things to take.

However, knowing that holidays can be ruined by having everything in one suitcase, which then gets lost, I aimed to avoid that by packing an emergency set of assorted clothes in my cabin bag, along with valuables such as kindle, net-book and charging leads. I was afraid it would all be too heavy, but my daughter and I heaved the cases onto the bathroom scales and found that I’d only used 2/3 of my allowance on each case – great!

Then the taxi – I had a last minute thought – how much was it going to be? So I tried to ring the cab company I’d booked with, only to find that their numbers were both out of order. Feeling a tiny bit worried, I walked round to their office to check in person – no need to worry, apparently, just a problem with their phones. Moreover it was going to be slightly cheaper than I’d expected. Relieved, I did my errands and returned home to have a bit of lunch, change my bedclothes and take a shower.

I felt mean leaving my German Shepherd, but I knew she would be fine as she still had most of the family and was still in the same house – far less unsettling than staying in kennels. In fact as she loves my daughter, her husband and the kids so much, she would probably not even notice my absence.

5pm came round very quickly. The driver called from outside, so I was able to say my goodbyes and then my daughter helped me get over to the taxi with my suitcases. I didn’t have to be at the airport until 7pm, but I was conscious that it was the rush hour and traffic would be very busy – I was not wrong! It took the whole 2 hours to reach Heathrow, during which time the driver had practically told me his life story – a very pleasant, friendly man.

Eventually we reached Heathrow, terminal 3; I don’t know whether it was being dropped at the right terminal instead of arriving on the train and having to find everything from there, but the place seemed much easier to negotiate – not like the last trip I made from Heathrow. I found the right entrance, got to the Emirates desk and found I could check in my big case right away.

After that, I lost no time in going through the passport control and cabin baggage check, so I could relax until boarding time. Got myself a bottle of water and a sandwich, sat down to text the family that all was well – and then realised that the one thing I had forgotten to do was to charge my phone and bring the extra power pack for the journey. My whole trip was spent flipping the phone on and off to conserve the remaining charge. I also found that you can charge your mobile at your seat on Emirates planes, but I didn’t have an adaptor handy – it was packed in the big case as I’d only expected to use it once I arrived – and even that was wrong as the electricity points in KL are exactly the same as in the UK!

Boarding the plane was easy – I was beginning to wonder why I’d been nervous. It was a huge Airbus 380 – so big and grand it has an upstairs. The economy seats are really spacious, with plenty of leg room, so I hardly felt I was in the ‘cheap seats’. A helpful fellow traveller lifted my case into the overhead locker for me, so even that was not a worry, and I settled down for the seven hour flight to Dubai, where I would change planes for Kuala Lumpur.

The A380 flight was great – plenty of room, even in economy, a pleasant meal of butter chicken curry with rice and spinach, which tasted good and fresh, followed by a creamy chocolate dessert, with roll and butter, biscuits and cheese, all quite filling. There was also good entertainment. I watched ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Mockingjay 1’ – tried to watch the Steven Hawking film but couldn’t concentrate on three films in a row. So I had a little doze and then read for a while.

Shortly before the end of the flight we were served breakfast – rather starchy and sleep-inducing Danish pastry with a roll and butter and a fruit salad. It was almost a pity to have to get off.March2015 064

Return to Blogging…


I’m feeling rather guilty because, after starting out with good intentions, I forgot about my blog until this month. The blame has to fall on my retirement: after decades of teaching students between 11 and 18 years old, I stopped. The End. Finish.

It wasn’t unexpected, of course; I’d always intended to retire when I reached 65 and I certainly felt worn out at the end of every working day, so it was necessary.

I was hoping to carry out a huge range of activities once I had the freedom and time – I had a list of ‘wannadoes’ and when people asked, I spoke of the language-learning, travelling, reading and writing, bird-watching and astronomy that I expected to be doing once I was no longer working.

However, in reality, I spent most of the long summer holiday just relaxing – I hadn’t realised quite how tired I’d become. I was utterly exhausted with my illogical worries about retirement; all the extra work I had to complete by the end of term – sorting out and filing away all my paperwork and handing-over various aspects of my job, with ‘How-to..’ booklets, to other teachers.

I hate public fuss, so the idea of having to give a speech and say goodbye to my colleagues was worrying me, too. In the end, I just said what I thought. I’d felt literally sick at the thought of that last day – it was accidentally alleviated by one of the caretakers, who was also retiring. He was so nervous about public speaking that he refused to say anything except ‘Thank you!’ when given his leaving present, then he dashed out of the assembly hall, in a panic.

Seeing his discomfort made me feel calmer, somehow – I suppose it put the whole thing into some sort of perspective. The dreaded speech wasn’t that important, really, except I had to keep it short. Nobody wants to sit for hours on a sunny afternoon, listening to endless leaving-speeches.

Once the deed was done, I went home. It felt unreal and dream-like. I found myself lounging about without achieving much for weeks – then months.

I was beginning to realise that I had to snap out of it soon, when news of the latest grandchild began to arrive. My son and daughter-in-law were sending scans and photos of the tiny growing foetus-baby and mum-to-be’s blossoming bump. I asked what they needed for the new baby and my son replied that above all, they wanted me to visit…But – they live in Kuala Lumpur! From London, that’s at least 14 hours of travel or more, depending on connections.

I wasn’t feeling very fit, not really up to a long-haul flight, so I went to see the doctor. I already knew very well what the doctor would say: I was overweight – well, actually obese – and needed to go on a weight-loss programme and start a fitness regime at the local gym. She didn’t say it quite as baldly as that – she delicately avoided calling me fat and offered me the gym referral as if it was a Christmas present – but we both knew what she was getting at.

I did my best – I went on a diet of 1200 calories a day and used a pedometer to check how far I was walking. Apparently, to be fit, you must walk at least 10,000 steps every day. I couldn’t get in the gym right away, but I had the dog and I did my best to walk her as much as I could – not much fun in a London suburb, but quite possible.

And I bought my ticket for Kuala Lumpur – on my son’s advice, one month after the baby’s due date. He wanted me to come for three months, but I reflected that it would have driven me mad to accommodate my mother-in-law for months after my first baby was born. So, for my daughter-in-law’s sake, I abbreviated that to six weeks – still a rather long holiday, but I knew most of our activities would be at the weekends, so it wouldn’t be that long, really.

When I sent them a copy of my e-ticket, they were really pleased, as if I’d just spent hundreds of pounds on them, rather than a plane ticket. It was encouraging and it helped me to stick to my diet and lose a stone in weight. I began to look forward to the trip…

Life as a parent…



Christmas 2006 was a little different for me, being my first real taste of the ‘empty nest’; my three children had all flown. My daughter was in Australia and my eldest son had gone to live in Dorset. But I wasn’t going to be lonely because my middle-child and his wife had invited me and the dogs over to their home in London’s Docklands.

I arrived that morning, to find them preparing a truly amazing Christmas meal. They couldn’t decide what meat to have, so they’d cooked everything: turkey, chicken, pork, lamb and beef, each with its traditional accompaniments. To go with the meat, they seemed to be trying to represent the alphabet in fruit and vegetables – from avocados, through broccoli and cabbage, leeks and peas – and onwards. This resulted in huge, overloaded plates of food, which none of us could finish; there was enough for at least ten people.

Bloated, we lolled about for the rest of Christmas Day, trying to digest the meal. We played games on the new X-Box, watched TV, drank too much wine and then walked the dogs alongside the Thames in the dark. We saw a flock of seagulls, bobbing silently like flotsam on the cold, gloomy water, and considered their miserable existence as we walked home to warmth and plenty. Across the water, the Millennium Dome was just an eerie glimmer in the night, unlit except for the red lights on the points of its tall support struts. Even the green laser light that usually marked the Greenwich Meridian was no longer visible in the profound stillness.

I was staying the night as this meant we could have a few drinks together during the evening without worrying about driving home, but I was very aware of being The Mother-in-Law: the object of so many comedians’ jokes and the source of so much resentment and aggravation in many peoples’ relationships. I hated the thought of seeming difficult or hard to please. To make it easier to accommodate me, I’d taken a duvet and a newly-purchased inflatable mattress with me. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that those things are only comfortable if you lie flat on your back, absolutely still.

All night, the dogs were a nuisance. Not ours – they were quite sensible – but the next-door neighbours owned two terriers. These small creatures seemed to be absurdly excited about everything. Throughout the day and night you could hear them: yapping in the garden, yapping as they were taken for a walk, yapping as they came back. We’d convinced our dogs that they shouldn’t answer, but they still felt obliged to run downstairs every time they heard fresh yapping, in case they had to repel any invaders.

So as I tried to get to sleep, there were unfamiliar dog-noises disturbing me, with the restless thunder of my own German Shepherd and Staffie dogs, racing downstairs every time the yapping started up again. Then there were my own quirks – I feel quite uncomfortable in total darkness and never draw the curtains. I love to see the moon and stars at night and even prefer the orange streetlight to a blackout. But in the spare room, the heavy blind made it completely dark.

It was also far too hot for me. Christmas in London is in the depths of winter, so my son and his South African wife had left their heating on. Perhaps they wanted to simulate an African climate. I never keep the heating on at night, even if ice forms on the windows, as I hate breathing in warm air. My idea of winter comfort is snuggling into a fluffy duvet with my nose poking out into the chilly night – I also tend to leave the window open in all seasons, so the heat was too much for me.

After the third or fourth time that the dogs rushed off downstairs because of the terriers’ yapping, I gave up trying to sleep and decided to get up. At my first attempt, the inflatable mattress whirled over and deftly deposited me, face-down, on the floor beside it. I struggled out of the twisted sheet and duvet and tried to open the blind – after a bit of scrabbling, I found a little pole to twist and the wooden slats parted quite easily, letting in some light.

Flushed with this success – and the heat from the radiator – I tried to open the window for some life-giving fresh air. There was a complicated system of locks on the window, but finding a key near the sill, I thought I could do it. However, although I turned and pulled, slid and pushed, the window refused to open.

At this point, though, the blind seemed to feel neglected and decided to attract my attention. A central string whisked off with a twang and it assumed a wild, grotesque shape – half up and half down. Looking at the mad silhouette against the sky, it was hard to tell whether it was broken or just angry. Having tried to straighten the wretched thing, I retreated, still hot, tired and sticky and now feeling guilty as well.

As I looked down at the inflatable mattress, I realised it was sagging and the sheets were damp with sweat because the room was like a furnace. It was not a very inviting sight and it seemed a waste of effort to pump it up again, as it hadn’t been very comfortable even when fully inflated. Desperately, I went downstairs and opened the back door.

Fresh air hit me, as cool as a cascade in the Cumbrian fells. The dogs rushed out joyously to sniff the bushes and I sat out there for a bit and cooled off. It was utterly quiet and, even with the streetlights all around, I could see a few stars. There was a tiny breeze, which seemed to waft away all my struggles with the mattress, the window and the blind, leaving me calm and refreshed.

Eventually I realised it was a little weird sitting outside in the early hours of Boxing Day, in my pyjamas, like a child waiting for a long-overdue Santa. When I came back into the house, the cool leather sofa beckoned, so I stretched out on it – oh yes, much better! The dogs lay down beside me, on the polished floor. The open door had made the downstairs deliciously cool. After a drink of cold water, I fell asleep contentedly on the sofa.

Suddenly, I woke up – hot and sweaty again. It was morning and I was unbearably hot. Apparently my son had gone to the bathroom, seen that I wasn’t in the spare room and found me sleeping on the sofa. In his concern for my well-being, he’d covered me with a thick, winter duvet… how different kids and parents are!

Welcome to my blog…


I was a teenager in the sixties – there, I’ve admitted it. The media gave us nicknames, but none of them apply… I’ve never felt like a ‘Baby-boomer’, whatever that might be. It’s been a strange life so far and 2014 seems to be a year of changes, so I’ve decided to blog about it. Maybe you can help – or commiserate.

I’ve always loved reading and although I wrote lots of letters as a child / teenager, I didn’t really exercise my creative muscles. Plenty of people commented that my letters made them laugh or entertained them, so why didn’t I write something more substantial? My only answer to that was that it didn’t seem as if I had been alive long enough to have anything useful to say to the world!

Now that I’m getting on a bit, I’m finding it fun to write. I’m not sure if anything will ever be published, because it’s such a harsh commercial world out there. My stories are my escape from it, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to push them out there, where they might languish forlornly and perhaps die. That would be depressing and the whole point is that it’s a pleasure to write.

I wonder how professional writers get over this feeling? A piece of writing that you have toiled over, thought about, corrected, re-written and developed is something that takes on a personality of its own. Surely that happens for other writers, not just me? How do you ‘let go’? I have three grown-up children and I’ve done my best to let them get on with their own lives, but letting my defenceless little story toddle out into the real world is something I can’t quite manage.

My writing experience is very limited at present. I started writing as a kind of therapy – ridding myself of demons by putting them on paper where they could be contained and controlled. Then I moved on, by turning it into a story. The drafts I made! All my characters were described in my notes and some of them were sketched from before their conception, as I wrote about their parents, too.

Finally, I set the scene and started to drop my characters in, like carrots into a stew-pot. I was amazed at the way the characters took over and wouldn’t necessarily do what I had intended. The story had been carefully planned, but it refused to obey me and it seemed a bit of help was needed.

I took a creative writing course with the Open University. It’s a splendid idea as you receive your course materials through the post, engage with a tutor online and have occasional tutorials at a local venue, where you get to meet others on the same course, but you can still carry on with the day-job. It gave me lots of fresh ideas and I wrote even more. In fact I abandoned the original story and started to write something else altogether.

So far I’ve written quite a few poems and more-or-less completed a novel, in fact I’m halfway through the next one in the series. Is it worth ‘doing something’ with my finished work? I confess it seems to be more fun to keep it on my hard disc and return to it now and then. Besides, as Book Two is a sequel, I sometimes want to dip into Book One and adjust something, because a great idea has occurred to me and it needs to be woven into the whole story…

As you can guess, I’m not planning things any more. When I sit down to write, I have no idea of what’s going to happen next. It’s just the same as when I’m reading a book, written by a stranger. It’s more fun that way. I get my characters into difficult or impossible circumstances and then stop writing for a while. I don’t fret about it as there’s no agent or publisher breathing down my neck and no deadline to meet!

After a pause, an idea comes to me out of the muddle I have in my head – it’s often the result of a dream – and the problem is solved! The characters are saved from whatever it was and they go happily on their way. Then there is the fun of devising another difficult situation for them; I never know what it might be. I have a feeling that planning it would take the fun out of it, especially as the characters won’t stick to plans, anyway.

Just last week, I added a character to Book Two – he was meant to be a dangerous person who would trap my central character. I had been building it up as a difficult situation for a few pages. However, the character took over and emerged as a really friendly, pleasant guy, helping my character rather than hurting him. Perhaps I can turn it round and make that a false front and keep my danger and entrapment, or perhaps I’ll leave him as Mr Helpful and carry on. I haven’t decided yet.

For me, writing a story feels a bit like riding a donkey – sometimes you jog along pleasantly, sometimes you stop, but often you wander off without any control at all!