Sunday, 19 January 2014


Dearest Elaine

Well, here we are in Devon in mid-January. Oh the horrors of a wet winter!  I don’t think I have ever seen so much rain pouring out of the sky as we have had in the last four weeks, and it’s still coming – but not today. There is a bright blue sky as I write to you, and when I glanced across at Dartmoor earlier it rolled across the horizon, vivid and clear enough to touch...

I am working hard on 'The Illandrian Diamonds'. It has spread out, both in my mind and on cyber-paper, like an enormous sheet of patchwork. Sometimes I grapple with it, searching fold after fold for the bit I have missed, then finding it but failing to link the correct colour or pattern – or so it seems. I am in two minds about Leo, my 14-year-old boy of mixed parentage. Mark, his father, loves him already even though he has only just discovered him, and will defend him to the end. But is Leo on the side of the angels, or is there something dark lurking behind those glittering pale eyes so like his mother’s? I want him to be the one who saves them all, but I think that he has a more sinister side. We shall see. Meanwhile the Illandrians continue to be infuriatingly naive and Helen struggles on...

As the Winter Olympics approach I recall my hopes to come out to see you four years ago, and the huge disappointment of realising that it was simply, financially, beyond us. When you discover a far-flung relative, and you eventually meet them, you are unprepared for the bond which may flash into existence between you. Perhaps we were lucky, and this does not always happen? From the moment we met at the airport it was as though I had discovered the sister I never had, the best friend I knew might exist. Our grandfathers were brothers, so we share our great-grandparents. Your grandfather, Alfred was born 9th February, 1868; my grandfather, Reece was born 31st January, 1871.
From what we know and from their letters to each other and to others, I guess that Alfred was the braver of the two. To journey across an ocean and a continent and then to make a home at Chilliwack showed huge reserves of strength, both physical and mental. Reece was more solid and placid. I don’t know why he went into the Church, but it was often the case that the third son in a Victorian family like ours did just that. He was the only one to go to university, boasting in a letter to his sister: ‘I have been getting some awfully good marks lately – I think I could get an Exhi? [Exhibition – a kind of scholarship]’ I do not know whether he did or not, but I believe he was a clever man.

What have we inherited from them? I leave this question for another time. I amuses me to think that both of them came late to parenthood – as did both of our fathers, as a result of which we have grandfathers who we could not hope to have known, Reece dying in 1938 and Alfred in 1951.

I am juggling my writing life with my new obsession: knitting. I discovered Ravelry, where you can record all of your projects as well as discuss crafts – and many other subjects – and get ideas; and where a vast number of people knit socks. My latest project is an Icelandic sweater, rather daunting in its complicated design, but when approached with something like relaxed amusement, most enjoyable! It is hard though, and I have struggled to translate little black and white dots on a grid into black and bright purple stitchery which approximately resembles snowflakes. Or not.

Write to me! I send love...

Thursday, 9 January 2014


‘What sort of a title is that?’ you ask. Well, I am glad to be able to reassure you that I am still whole and have not lost any part of myself – except for one small organ: my gallbladder. This was extracted by Mr Cooper on 19th November, 2012.

My ‘gallstones attacks’ began over the Diamond Jubilee weekend. I will not describe the excruciating pain – that is for another day. Suffice it to say that on the Doctor’s advice I reduced all the fat in my diet to a bare minimum and by the time of the operation I had already lost 3 stone in weight.
Yes, I had been heavy! In April 2012 I weighed myself for the first time in years, for the purpose of a pension annuity declaration. The scales climbed to 13 stone 7 lbs. I was size 20. Chubby and tubby.
The weight fell off, dramatically at first, then slowly and surely. One year after the operation it had stabilised at 9 stone, which is where I am still: size 10/12. Skinny!

Over Christmas, a cousin who I never see asked me whether I have got used to this, and I realised that it has definitely changed me. It is not just the extraordinary (and costly) wardrobe replacement, which dropped from 20 to 16 (where did 18 go?) then on down through 14 to 12, finally stopping between 10 and 12. Nor is it the fact that all of my treasured rings, including my beloved wedding ring, are far too big; my teeth feel strange and some shoes are loose. My other half has had to get used to me too – a hug from him now envelopes me completely!

It is lovely to look at myself in the mirror and see this slender person staring back, but is it really me? I don’t think so. Not yet. I need to get used to this stranger who now has cheekbones and a neck. A huge bonus health-wise has been the suppressing of my hiatus hernia and the almost complete lack of heartburn, as well as – of course – the lack of pain. I can walk up hills again, easily, and getting myself out of the bath (which I no longer squeeze into) is a doddle. These are all wonderful surprises, but they still feel very strange.

I wish I could have told my 40-year-old self what to do to stay thin, but I fear that it would have changed the last 21 years of my life. You have less energy and lower stamina on this ‘diet’/way-of-life. Of course this might be because I am older now, but I wonder how I would have reacted then?

You cannot change the past; only warn and advise from experience. It may take a long time before I am completely comfortable with being two thirds myself, but I know one thing for certain: I am healthier and happier in my day to day life than I have been for a very long time. And that has to be a 1/3 bonus!