All posts by Heather Hill, Author

Comedy writer, author and mum of five (not the band). Author of the bestselling British comedy novels, 'The New Mrs D', 'I Hate That You Bloody Left Me' and 'The Advice Bucket.'

How To Cure Love

It’s official: Ann Widdecombe thinks science has a cure for love. The long-time campaigner against LGBT rights has said in a TV debate that “science may produce an answer” to homosexuality through gay conversion therapy. I can’t even….

I had to join the endless list of people who are outraged and hurt by her comments. But more importantly than screaming, ‘No, no… just no!’ I want to offer hope that she is, in fact, the last of a dying breed. Because comments like this KILL. Read that again.

They KILL.

Young people all over the world are taking their own lives because of stories like this. Gay men and women are tortured, bullied and murdered due to ignorant, outdated and just plain sick thinking like this. Sharing it out loud is so wrong it should be a crime in my opinion. Let’s stop doing anything other than calling this what it is: A hate crime.

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My late son, Ryan, was an out and proud gay man who also performed on stage as a drag queen. He was mercilessly bullied through school and campaigned for LGBTQ+ rights throughout his sadly short life. He appeared on the Scottish news speaking about it, and made a video at age eighteen for the It Get’s Better project, which you can find HERE.  In it, he even offers his email address to anyone struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, knowing full well it might have exposed him to further online abuse, such was his concern for, and awareness of, the problem. Ryan’s deepest wish had been to be able to open a drag club for families, where people of all ages could be themselves in a safe and accepting environment. Sadly, unstable diabetes put paid to that dream for him.

My youngest son, Kyle, identifies as ‘gay or bi,’ and, as he told me earlier today, ‘Really enjoying the term “queer” right now.’ Both boys came out to me at the age of fifteen. With Ryan, it was always a given and telling me or anyone in the family was unnecessary. We’d always known he was gay. And I’ve learned so much more understanding and have undone beliefs I was raised with myself from a generation that often didn’t thanks largely to the lessons my children have given ME in the days since. When Ryan ‘came out’, there was only one thing bothering me at first. How would I explain it to his five year-old sister, Luci? At the time I felt I had to, but nowadays I wouldn’t even attempt to explain something so natural and human to any child, and this better way of thinking began from the time I told her. I called her to me, inviting her to sit on my lap.
‘Luci,’ I said. ‘I need to talk to you about Ryan, okay?’
‘Okay.’
‘You see, Ryan likes boys.’
‘Okay.’
‘Ryan likes boys the way girls like boys.’
‘Okay.’
And with that she jumped off my lap and skipped off back to play. She never asked me a question – not one – from that day to this. We didn’t have this chat at all when Kyle came out a few short years later. We didn’t need to; I knew this that time thanks to Luci.

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Ryan and Luci

A lesson, from my five year-old child, was gifted to me that day. Love needs no explanation. It doesn’t need science to understand, identify or, heaven fordid, fix it.

Kyle’s coming out went a little differently to Ryan’s because I had no idea he had these feelings. Still, the answers I had for him were the same and required no second guesses or pauses. It was instantaneous: love is love, son. I recall there was a family get together or party of some sort, and he called me outside into the garden to speak to me alone. He was so visibly upset, I remember it was a huge relief when I found out all he wanted to tell me was that he thought he might be gay or bisexual. I looked at his eyes, brimming with tears and full of confusion and I wanted to hug him from happiness, as it happened. You see, I knew he had nothing to cry about. He was experiencing intense attraction; wonderful, heady, exhilarative attraction. The sad part was that he was embroiled in an internal battle of shame as he tried to prevent himself from letting it in.

‘Kyle,’ I said, ‘You don’t have to give it a name right now. You have all the time in the world and even then, you don’t need to label it. These are all perfectly natural feelings.’

confrom.jpgI remember the look on his face to this day. It was like witnessing a weight being lifted from his shoulders before my eyes and I am so sorry that it had to be like that at all for him. What weight should love and basic human attraction be to carry in this God forsaken world? If science was to even think it had an answer for that, it can go and fuck itself. What does a mother want for her son, but his happiness? And what is the pure, natural, most human reason for everything other than love?

What weight should love and basic human attraction be to carry in this God forsaken world? If science was to even think it had an answer for that, it can go and fuck itself.

People ask me now and again how I knew what to say to my sons when they came out. My reply is simply that it was a no-brainer. All I knew was the truth: I wanted nothing for my children but their absolute happiness. I wanted them to experience fully the intoxicating, goddam incredible necessity of life that is human, loving attraction and connection. I wanted their hearts to be open in a world that wouldn’t terrify them into closing it again. When my sons came to me demonstrating signs that they’d been desperately trying to suppress the happy, total eclipse of the heart and brain that is attraction and love through fear that they were doing something wrong, I couldn’t wait to tell them: Go and be happy, because this is what it’s ALL about.

What I want is that day to arrive when the term ‘coming out’ is gone forever. We are all either in or out of love at any given time. Can we stop telling people who they’re allowed to love? I do believe that, to steal a lyric with meaning from Linda Creed, the children are the future. Let’s try to remember that the likes of Ann Widdecombe belong to a generation that is disappearing.

How do we cure love? There is no cure for love, but I live in the hope that we can eventually cure hate. We just need to keep raising our voices and drown it out. The key to full and final eradication of all this nonsense really does lies with the next generation.

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When Tomorrow Never Comes

NEWI met my friend Mandy on 10th June 2018. We were in a furniture painting class at the local community village hall and she radiated towards me with her infectious smile and abundance of Welsh humour, telling me we were already Facebook friends. We were. At the time I was living in a cottage in the Lowther Hills of Scotland twelve miles from the nearest village and I couldn’t drive. I’d joined the community Facebook page to get to know the locals, adding one or two friends along the way, and to post questions such as whether there was a local driving instructor. At the same time I was married but lonely. The last part I hadn’t yet told a living soul.

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Mandy is sixty-two and had been a widow living alone for three years when we met. At first she started encouraging me to get out more, driving twenty-four miles to take me to and from weekly coffee mornings at the village hall she lived across the road from. I hadn’t told her how alone I was or that she was forcing me out of the bubble I’d built around myself so people wouldn’t be able to see how sad my life had become. I didn’t need to.

She and her husband, Dick had been married for thirty-one years and were still as deeply in love as the day they met when he passed away. He was the other piece of her; her support system, her cheerleader, her lover and her best friend. She would tell me that in that chance moment of meeting him, he had reawakened the true side of herself that had been hidden under a blanket of sad and difficult life experiences up until then. He’d woken up her spirit; inspiring and encouraging her to be who she’d always wanted to be. He’d picked her up when she was down, shared joy in her successes, sadness in the failures and spurred her on through it all. Dick devoted his entire life to making Mandy’s tAaMqg4heart feel like she was dancing in sunshine. He made her laugh easily and for longer than anyone she’d ever known. Mandy often shares the funniest stories about the things they got up to together. In a series of very frank anecdotes that begin with, ‘I miss my Dick’, which she allows me to have a guilty, childish giggle about every time she says it – usually aloud and in tiny coffee shops full of people – Mandy has showed me what real love is supposed to be like. And it was her who made me start to realise the many ways I didn’t have it in my own life. In return I’ve tried to make her see that knowing it was possible she herself might be able to have it again in the future. Not exactly the same, I say to her, but something every bit as good because now we both know it’s out there.

‘Heather,’ she tells me all of the time. (And I mean ALL the time). ‘When a man loves you – really loves you – he’ll take a bullet for you.’

I immediately picture myself leaning over the body of a beautiful-but-dead man with a gunshot wound in his chest, saying, ‘Ahh, so that was him!’

What she means, in her quirky, round about way, is that a man in love will do anything to keep you. Dick was the man that would take that bullet for her, and his death left Mandy lost, alone and staring into the gaping hole that was once her life. She no longer felt like she had anyone to keep her – or to save her. And she instinctively knew, even though I was smiling and joking on the outside, I was almost as sad and lonely inside as she’d been after Dick died. She not only became my rescuer, but she began teaching me some of the most important lessons about love that I’d had so far and she had no idea she was doing it. Neither of us has an answer as to how she knew I needed to meet her and hear her stories, but she was there to hold my hand just in time to witness my entire life fall apart in similar ways her own had three years earlier.

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Mandy’s late husband, Dick

Neither of us have an answer as to how she got a notion to turn up unannounced at my door at two o’clock one afternoon, the first after my marriage had fallen apart for good. She had never dropped by without telling me she was coming before, and she found me trembling from the stress of it all and alone, having not yet told a soul what had happened. I opened the door in my pyjamas and dressing gown, flung my arms around her and wept.  Magical Mandy somehow knew I needed a friend that day

…and there she was.

She was there again not long afterwards.

Because in the midst of all this, as you’ll see from my previous post, a fortnight before Christmas my 25 year-old son, Ryan, passed away. When the police came to tell me he’d died, they asked a lot of questions the fog in my brain could barely compute, let alone answer. One was whether I could recall the last time I saw him.  ‘No,’ I said, suddenly feeling like the worst mother in the world. I lived in the country and Ryan in the city. We spoke all the time but for geographical reasons, coupled with my inability to drive, I hadn’t got to see him as often as I’d liked of late. Then, in the midst of all the continuing questions a memory came to me in a flash: I’d seen him just six days earlier in Glasgow. The reason was because Mandy had an important appointment in the city and she felt anxious about travelling on trains so I’d offered to go with her. We’d arranged to meet Ryan afterwards. It was the first time Mandy had met him and, as it turned out, the last time either of us saw him. I recalled him in the moment then, smiling and waving goodbye as he left us at the pedestrian crossing outside Pizza Hut in Argyle Street. But what had we said to each other? I suddenly wanted to remember every, tiny detail. I couldn’t recall much in that moment, even the fact of the date – the next day had been my birthday.

20190521_151056_0000When my son died multiple people kindly said, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ There were hundreds of messages, all providing the greatest of comfort to me during this most horrific of times. Yet of the people I called the night he died: his father, his brothers and sisters, my family and a few very close friends, only Mandy didn’t say any of the usual things. Mandy, who had my daughter Luci staying with her that night, was able to provide something even more precious that nobody else could give to me. She knew what I needed to hear because 1) she’d been in a similar place herself not too long before, watching the walls of a previous life she’d never see again crumble before her blinking, unbelieving eyes and 2) she was standing beside me on that final day I spent with my son. When someone close dies you want to know if you’d told them all the things they meant to you when that real, live, If Tomorrow Never Comes moment happens. Did he know how much I loved him? Mandy’s gift to me on that darkest night of my life was a minutely detailed reminder of what my son and I spoke of the very last time I saw him alive. She told to me over and again on the phone, aware that I was engulfed in a cloud of fog and sinking into the abyss without even being there in the room with me. I wasn’t in the room with myself, truth be told. Mandy knew she had to tell me more than once for it to sink in. And after our phone call ended, she texted it to me so  I could read it again and again and again; so that I never lost it. I didn’t: 20190521_124332

On 15th of June Ryan would have turned twenty-six and I won’t lie, nothing inside of me is even remotely looking forward to that day. Yet no matter how huge the loss of him is to me, I know the world does not stop. My son wouldn’t want me to stop living. If anything, losing him has taught me to live and love even harder than ever before, be authentic, genuine, brave, say what I mean – what I feel – to everyone who’s important to me and to make every single day of my life count. You have to let go, trust and be who you are, just as my son was able to do in his short life. After taking a flight to Bristol with Ryan’s ashes for his father to scatter at sea with all the family down there, I kept a small urn back for myself. I have sat with it in my bedroom for five months now, pondering what we might do, Ryan and I, as a special occasion just for us.

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Dancing with Ryan

I spoke to my therapist about it who asked me if I’d considered the idea of doing something creative, taking Ryan along with me as I go. He advised making it something Ryan would thoroughly appreciate and be proud of me for. It would be the perfect tribute to my son – proof that there is life after loss. I’m now ready to reveal what I decided on. It is to journey with Mandy along Scotland’s North Coast 500, sharing the driving as I finally passed my test in March! Woo hoo to that, it’s taken me long enough. As we have magically and inexplicably found each other at a point in our lives when we were both grieving and alone, this seemed the perfect thing for us to do. We plan to wild camp, something we’ve tested in my back garden, giggling like a couple of ten year-olds as we dived into the near collapsing tent we’d tried to put up. And as my son was a drag queen who took to the stage in Glasgow regularly without a care for how anybody felt about that, we plan to dance on every beach we visit along the way, come rain or shine.

I am working on a 61094308_2277382525649264_7218714807568957440_nbook about this time of my life that will include our adventures and journey together through grief and loss. I guess my aim is to spread the word about the power of finding happiness and friendship and how it can save us in the darkest days of our lives. Mandy and I will be living proof of that – providing we survive out there of course. It will be a celebration of my son and Mandy’s husband’s lives. Two women of a certain age, wild camping and driving a 500 mile coast road, one of them having not long passed her driving test. Watch out world…

Dancing With Mandy will be about pride; personal pride, family pride and gay pride, while sharing our worst, most vulnerable experiences out loud. It’s to demonstrate the sheer power of two and of humour. You can find out more here:

Dancing With Mandy.

“Mandy, I think I have to write a book about us and our North Coast 500 road trip.”
“What, like Thelma and Louise?”
“Yeah. Well, sort of.”
“And who will I be in the story?”
“You’ll be you. Mandy.”
Mandy pauses, and a smile that goes all the way to her eyes brightens the room once more. “Well,’ she says finally. ‘I don’t mind being the one that gets ravished in the beginning.”

To be with us on our journey, which begins on 16th July 2019 for ten days, FOLLOW #dancingwithmandy on Instagram

The Transformative Power of Humour

Far too many people, in my opinion, don’t appreciate the full and incredible power of humour in its capacity to support and to heal. As a comedy writer, I’ve always been aware of it on a level; but as a mum whose son recently passed away, I finally see it in the way that I think I always needed to.  I see it anew; it’s importance to my own road to recovery not least at the forefront of my wish to bring it to you today.

Seven years ago I met the most amazing man on Twitter called Hywel Jones. Hywel was dying of cancer, and what led us to very quickly become friends was a trait that we shared in equal measure – his gallows humour. Hywel was quite literally laughing in the face of death and I was in awe of, and thoroughly inspired by him. I wrote a post about this incredible man and our unique and wonderful friendship, which you’ll find here:

HOW TO BUILD A FRIENDSHIP IN 100 CHARACTERS.

Hywel is the reason I began to write novels. My first book, THE NEW MRS D, is dedicated to him. What he taught me in the sadly short period I had to know him was that I should stop wasting my time waiting for permission to let loose with my imagination. I was forty-one, and had always, always wanted to be a writer yet never believed I had talent enough to give it a shot.

Fast forward to today, as I enter the fourth month since my son, Ryan, died, I am looking at the world again through a new and much improved pair of glasses. Sunglasses, even. Because in those cripplingly painful early days I would have told you that when my son died, my sun died. Yet neither of those things actually happened. He isn’t gone, he’s just moved away for the rest of my life. And only this morning I found my sun very much alive and well, washing my face with gold as I sat on a bench in the garden drinking coffee. Okay, blinding me a little bit is closer to what really happened…20190405_065532

On the 25th of December, 2018, my youngest son, Kyle and I were together alone, experiencing the saddest Christmas morning of our lives. I’ve raised five children, and am one of six; so have enjoyed forty-seven years of busy, family Christmases. This one was a day I only wanted to see over and done with. No presents were exchanged that morning between Kyle and I. Neither of us was looking forward to lunch with my sister’s family, not because of the kindly offered company, but because we were as far from being in a festive mood as Theresa May is from being loved and adored by the nation today. Yet here we are,  in a photo Kyle took of us together that morning. My eyes are wet from tears, and are indeed puffy from a fortnight of crying and sleeplessness. However, these particular tears were from laughter. We had both been in hysterics.

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He posted the photo on his Facebook page on Mother’s Day, with this message:

This picture was taken on the most difficult Christmas morning either of us have had to face. We couldn’t get my phone out of the charging dock so we just took the photo from inside a cupboard and it made us both laugh despite everything. There is always a reason to smile and the person I learned that from is my Mum.

Laughter has indeed been a survival mechanism, shared between myself and my children, often played out in front of a world that doesn’t always understand it. We understand and embrace it, completely.

Ryan was diagnosed diabetic at the age of two, and we spent too many days and nights together in hospital; me at his bedside and him strapped to infusions looking like death while at times being precariously close to it. Yet we were often found laughing like drains at the most banal things throughout – in the middle of an acute, critical care setting. Nurses and doctors have at many times walked by frowning at us; shaking their heads with looks that said, ‘Don’t they realise how serious this all is?’ Of course we realised how serious it all was. We had years of experience and were frequently shattered by it all. But it was still funny when a rather elderly nurse let out a small, barely audible fart as she bent to write the result of Ryan’s blood pressure check in her notes one day. My son was in diabetic ketoacidosis, with the odds stacked against him – and helpless with laughter after she scuttled away looking mightily embarrassed.  I, a worried and terrified mother at his bedside, almost wet my pants.

Ryan was a drag queen with a love of Disney films, his favourite being Beauty and The Beast. A few weeks prior to his death he had managed to buy himself the Belle dress, and while my youngest daughter, Luci and I sat discussing what we should dress him in for the funeral – which was to be a cremation – she suggested the Belle dress.

‘But it’s brand new!’ I said, before our eyes met and we both fell about in a fit of giggles. Why? Because we had the same thought at the same time in one form or another: it was okay to burn Ryan, but not the dress. When I relayed the story to the rest of the kids later, they all laughed. People outside of our family might not be able to grasp this alien concept – how on earth can you laugh at a time and a thing like that?

Because that’s who we are, who we’ve always been, and who we’re always going to be. It’s how Ryan was. He would tell you, as Kyle told his Facebook buddies, that it’s what I (inadvertently, I might add) instilled in him.

As anyone who has experienced the death of someone close will know, there are many administrative tasks that have to be undertaken in the days that follow. For me, one of those was a visit to the hospital mortuary for Ryan’s belongings and a medical certificate that would allow me to register his death. Accompanied by Ryan’s dad, his wife, Kyle, my eldest daughter, Becki and her partner, I arrived at Glasgow’s humongous Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Feeling lost, we all gathered round a map of the building and it wasn’t long before a friendly passerby, no doubt noticing our puzzled looks and the scratching of heads, walked up and asked if he could help us. His bright, wide smile fell as Kyle replied,

‘Yes, can you tell us where the mortuary is, please?’

The poor man bumbled a reply, looking extremely uncomfortable, before taking off as fast as his legs could carry him. As we headed in the direction we’d been sent, Kyle, with a wry smile, said quietly to us:

‘Yeah, can you tell us where all the dead people are?’

We all erupted in laughter, despite the misery of that God-awful day.

Humour can help us all –  adults and children alike. Perhaps, children especially. Just ask my grandson, Jaydon, who was treated to a pile of books from me on his birthday, including educationally-important titles such as, I Need A New Bum by Dawn McMillan.

My six year-old nephew, Charlie, is a bright, beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed hurricane. He is such a meltdown-prone, angry child at times as was his mother when she was his age. I laughingly remind her of this when she’s embroiled in one of her many exhausting battles with him.

One day, while my sister and I were taking him and his brother, George for a day out, we found ourselves stuck in traffic. Charlie and George predictably seized upon this moment to have one of their sibling spats.

‘Oh, you’ve got anger issues!’ George finally huffed, throwing his arms up in frustration as Charlie went in to full on devil-child mode. I turned round in my seat and grabbed Charlie’s foot to inspect it.

‘You’ve got angry shoes?’ I said; releasing the foot before throwing him my best puzzled-amazed face. Both boys erupted into laughter; anger abated, fight over. Now every time the boys come to stay, as Charlie throws one of his famous and colossal strops, I fix him with a stern stare and say,

‘Are you wearing your angry shoes again?’

He’ll fold his arms, purse his lips tightly and stomp off to the bedroom so I can’t see that he’s dying to laugh. A few moments later he will appear back, repeating the angry shoes joke to all like it was his. He can have that one. God, I love that stroppy little fella. And I have an inkling he loves his bat-shit crazy Auntie Heather. And those bloody angry shoes.

I should put a quote in here about the many medicinal benefits of laughter, but I think it’s best demonstrated by the sheer strength I managed to find today to be able to write this post at all. It’s my first post in a year that has been fraught with more difficulties than the one that put every minute of it into perspective: the death of my beloved eldest son. Nothing can ever top the sea of pain I’ve fought to hold my head up in since I experienced first-hand that life-altering moment every parent dreads: the day a policeman arrived at my door to tell me my child had died.

If you search Google for inspirational quotes that offer an excuse – not that I personally believe you need one – for frivolity in the face of pain, you’ll come across: ‘A good laugh heals a lot of hurts’, ‘A smile is a curve that sets everything straight,’ and ‘Laughter is God’s medicine.’ When you feel, as I have at times, like the sunshine disappeared from your life, these might be the last things you want to read. You’re probably going to want to tell all those do-gooders that wrote them to fuck off, to be frank. But I’m here on the page today to tell you that they speak the truth, and I should know.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘earth laughs in flowers.’ My favourite flower on this earth is the sunflower. The sight of them reminds me that the sunshine is still very much there in my life, as is my son. I’ll see him later.

We only live once and as each of us live, it doesn’t hurt to be aware that we’re simultaneously on our way to die. Let’s die laughing.

**This post is dedicated to my son. I love you, Ryan. Today, tomorrow and always xx

PS that little nurse farting was funny.

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Two years ago I wrote a book about bereavement, and if you’d like to give my coffers a boost by paying the writer, I’d sincerely appreciate the download. You’ll find it here: I HATE THAT YOU BLOODY LEFT ME.

Need another laughter in the face of adversity blog post? I once fell off a treadmill – do enjoy my humiliation: WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?

Happy Birthday, Dear Spike

This morning I realised that one of my comedy heroes, Spike Milligan, would have been a hundred years old today. There was nothing else for it but to write my own tribute to the man who, from beyond the grave, gave me permission to ‘Never lose the silly side of myself’.

This is a direct quote from my second novel, I HATE THAT YOU BLOODY LEFT ME, and was written into the blurb for the book after I had been reading a lot of things about, and written by, Spike. The line was a doff of the hat to my comedy hero, whose genius helped me when I was down. The reason was that while working on this book, I was undergoing a period of doubt about my comedy writing ability – a crisis of confidence, if you will. I had previously unleashed my first novel, THE NEW MRS D, upon the world and had stumbled ill-advisedly into reading a few of my poorer reviews. One particular Goodreads reviewer, who simply wrote, ‘zzzzz’ stuck in my mind for far longer than it should have done.  I did manage to stamp out this demon once and for all in a unique and funny way, by reading it aloud in a series of videos on the Mean Reviews for the Compulsive Readers website. You can see one of them here:

While I was in the throes of the inability to let my comedy mojo loose, I was able to reason with myself that comedy is a subjective thing. Reading some of the impassive responses to Spike’s hysterical letters only served to confirm this further. What an individual finds funny can depend on a lot of things, including our background, personality and sometimes even our ability to laugh at ourselves. There are those who will nod their heads in acknowledgment while giggling hysterically at an anecdote, and those who will frown and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ My biggest critic is my beloved husband, someone with an entirely different sense of humour to mine, who has been known to tell people, ‘My wife writes comedy. Apparently, she’s very funny.’

And so it was that I turned to Spike Milligan in my hour of need, who has always been a favourite of mine. To quote Michael Palin in the Radio Times this week, ‘The Goon Show made me aware that it was all right to laugh myself silly.’ This is exactly what reading some of his work over again gave to me at the time – Spike made it okay to be silly, and right at that point in my life, I needed permission to be. I read PUCKOON, where in what I feel is a stroke of genius, he would have conversations between himself and the characters, such as:

‘Author? Author? Did you write these legs?’
‘Yes.’
‘Well I don’t like dem. I don’t like dem at all. I could ha’ writted better legs meself.’

I bought MAN OF LETTERS and howled at some of the many correspondences he was legendary for having had with famous celebrities and businesses over the years. The one here was sent to the Marketing Director of Tetley Teabags.

Whilst being one of the funniest, most original talents on earth, it is widely reported that Spike was also dogged by uncertainty. He had mental breakdowns and was in a constant battle with his inner demons. I have been lucky to have not fallen prey to the extremes of depression, but the uncertainty, I get. I really get it. To quote Laurence Marks in his 2011 article for The Telegraph on the difficulty in writing comedy:

 ‘On the very first day of our lives as professional comedy writers, my partner Maurice Gran came to work, had a cup of tea, looked at his watch, and said to me, “It’s half past nine. I suppose we’d better go upstairs and make 15 million people laugh.’

That is pressure.

For a long while I’ve had a theory that the world of publishing shies away from comedy fiction novels like mine, with no romance element, when they aren’t written by already successful comedians and actors. It’s largely unchartered territory area, as far as I can see, (and please do feel free to correct me with some examples in the comments because I’d love to find some). But I think that may have a little to do with the subjectivity of humour. Publishers already know when an actor and/or comedian has been successful in appealing to a wider audience and, as such, they can be sure of a good return on a comedy novel from them. It leaves the relatively unknown comedy writers out of the running and you can find yourself stuck in a rut of uncertainty, unless you seek out inspiration from the masters. It lets you know that staying true to yourself can get you there, as others have done. You can find the confidence to keep your originality through observing the work of those that have, or had it in spades.

‘Dare to never lose the silly side of yourself.’

Even though the book is now over six years old, I still get appreciative emails from readers about THE NEW MRS D, many of whom might be surprised to learn that I suffered from extreme bouts of self-doubt whilst working on the comedy element of my second novel. I had a majority of readers begging me for another book, and a minority of people leaving reviews that questioned my ability to write a book at all. Guess which ones shouted the loudest to me?

Spike Milligan’s brilliance genuinely drove me on. He was a genius who could make anything funny, while calling out those that ‘Didn’t get it’. The note scrawled on top of the entirely professional response letter from K Pringle at Tetley (below) sums everything up. In the pursuit of attempting to cheer the world up, you win some, you really, really lose others.20180416_115606-e1523879803656.jpg

As the dear, wonderful and sadly missed Spike advised us, ‘The best cure for sea sickness is to sit under a tree.’ With his inimitable spirit in mind, I’m off to cure my combined addiction to – and fear of – comedy writing by never attempting to work on another book or blog again, just in case one person doesn’t get the joke. Until later this afternoon.

Thank you Spike, and Happy Birthday. I’d have loved to have read your reply to that telegram from the Queen.  X

Exercise, Ovaries and the Meaning of Life

The late, great Victoria Wood is one of my all-time comedy heroes. With lines like, ‘Take my knickers off and my ovaries will ‘ave fell out or something,’ I challenge you to watch this genius step aerobics scene without splitting your sides. God, I miss her.

I read an article in Reuters this morning, entitled, When Heart Disease Runs in the Family, Exercise Tied to Lower Risk. I sat on this thought for a little while, wondering whether my youngest daughter would mind being buckled to me while I used the step machine. Concluding that she really, really would, I scrubbed that idea. Yet the truth hit me harder than she did when I suggested it. Heart disease does run in my family. It runs harder then we all have, judging by the look of things.

I’ve been thinking about my own morbidity a lot, which has driven me to exercise. It started, as I’ve written about previously, as I entered perimenopause and began thinking every cough or earache I have means I’m going to die. The solution to the problem has to be to take more exercise, yet I’ve had to alter my approach somewhat. All of a sudden, working out on a step machine while listening to Alicia Keys and belting out, ‘This girl is on fire!’ has become less of an empowering chant and more of a literal experience. So instead of _Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant!giving in to this overwhelming fear of death, which is definitely connected to the fact that when my dad was my age he only had seven years left to live, I’ve begun to try and turn all my new anxieties into something positive. I’ve come to realise there is (sometimes) much to learn from those we’ve lost while figuring out the way to make our own lives fuller and longer.

My father died when he was just fifty four. The ultimate cause was the last in a series of strokes that began as early as when he was in his thirties. A late life onset diabetic, he had to have his leg amputated due to complications and spent his last years in a wheelchair. This after being a young, fit corporal in the Royal Engineers and later, a damn fine architect forced to quit very early in his career due to ill health. Because, as it turned out, my dad was not such a damn fine architect of was his own health and longevity. He smoked like a chimney, was addicted to sugar (he liked to take carnation milk and syrup in his coffee) and was morbidly obese. It still hurts my heart to recall the times I eagerly ran errands to the shop for him each day after my step-mother left for work, because I would get to keep the change. I was sent to fetch what I wasn’t to know were prohibited chocolate bars and sweets for him, things that had been banned from the house and that he was no longer able to get out to collect for himself. Not a big drinker, my dad’s drug of choice was sugar and it, along with the cigarettes, took him from my life when I was fifteen.

My mother was a chain-smoker and died more recently. She was seventy-four and suffered from, among many other things, chronic obstructive airways disease. Something that will stay with me forever is the fact that during her last days in hospital, terrified from her experience in an induced coma in ITU and unaware she was dying, she told my sister and I that she would never touch another cigarette for as long as she lived. She was quite correct. Mum was a diabetic too, and had a lifelong battle with her weight. When my sister and I went to clear out her home after she’d died, we found boxes of Slimfast shakes everywhere. I cried, remembering that mum had been ecstatic at waking from a coma to find she’d lost around forty pounds – a feat that had alluded her, despite her best efforts, for all of her adult life.

_Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant! My parents have taught me more very valuable lessons than they could ever know. It is how they lived that has influenced the way I have. It was their addictions to tobacco and sugar, the resulting chronic illnesses and the realisation that both of them would have had so much more time had they known what I know today. Both of my parents had heart disease too, hence my interest in the Reuters article. I’ve never smoked, and have read everything on insulin resistance, fasting and type 2 diabetes reversal going, my favourite books on the subject being Dr Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code and The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet by Dr Michael Mosley.  The latter resulted in my easily losing a staggering twenty-seven pounds in two months! My eating habits are far healthier – and more informed – these days than it ever was in my twenties and thirties. I fast three times a week and feel all the better for it. I will never be a slave to sugar again, unless Gerard Butler coats himself in chocolate and gives me a call.

Yet I can’t find, nor understand, the will to engage in punishing exercise. In my younger years I did try hard to join those I considered to be the elite fitness folk, i.e. everyone with a gym membership card that gets used every week, and not just for scraping ice off car windscreens or to remind them of that loan they defaulted on after going for four months then giving up. I went to the gym once, and it resulted in a cardiovascular accident of a different kind: my public humiliation by treadmill, which I wrote about in my article, Who’s Laughing Now. Now news items like the one I read today, coupled with my advancing years, are making me worry all over again about whether I’m doing enough to avoid an early demise.

I confess, I don’t go to the gym anymore and it’s because I’m older. I’ve developed a more laid back perspective on life in general, and that includes anything connected to exercise. From years of listening to people brag about lifting fifty, I find myself pushing fifty and wondering what it was all for. Do I want to run for hours on a treadmill where the scenery never changes? Isn’t breathing in the fresh air of outdoors preferable to the CO2 and sweat of forty other people? Do my personal health objectives have to include letting a fit twenty-two year old monitor my vital statistics? Why did I even ask that last question? (Scrub that and file under life goals – Ed).

The fact is exercise, whilst important, shouldn’t feel like a chore. It’s like everything else _Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant! in life. Time is precious. I want to spend it engaging in what I love, never what I feel forced to endure.

I have two, regular workouts of choice: walking my dogs and freestyle dancing in a sporran.

The first began as something I had to do, but developed along with my deep love of the countryside. Where I live now, out in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, this exercise routine has frequently and unexpectedly launched me closer to Sportswoman of the Year than I ever thought I’d get. I’ve broken the four minute mile while been chased by Galloway cows; I’ve invented and competed in the world’s first solitary version of Tough Mudder in Socks by trudging up boggy hills without realising I’ve left my boots stuck in the mud at the bottom, and I hold the current record for most falls on my backside. I’m less of a fell runner and more of a ‘fell running’ kind of person.

dancing in a sporran
An OAP dancing in a sporran

And never let it be said that I don’t take the advice I write into my own stories. Dancing in a sporran was an activity I invented for a character in my book, I Hate That You Bloody Left Me. Elderly widow, Fleur Brookes, would put her mobile phone inside her husband’s sporran, plug in her earphones and dance away to rap music. Being married to a Scotsman myself, this has been my favoured method of keeping fit ever since. The beauty of it is being able to harp back to the days where I liked to dance about my bedroom, behind closed doors, pretending I was Suzy Quattro. I’ve been down to Devil Gate Drive a lot in secret recently, and no one knew until today. I do this mostly in the afternoons as I started walking first thing in the morning, after reading that working out early could mean you get more sunlight, a key to setting your body’s circadian rhythm. It’s been reported that people who bask in early sunlight tend to be thinner. This could be true. I live in Scotland, where basking in early sunlight results in your double chin being eaten by ten thousand midges.
Anyhow, I’m still alive and so are you as you’re here reading this. So between us we must be doing something right. My work in progress has a leading character who works out by letting a neighbour’s dog chase her up the street. There’s an idea I won’t be adopting in the near future, given that my nearest neighbour breeds and sells Boerboels, which aren’t Christmas tree decorations, as I first thought.
Have a lovely, healthful week.

_Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant!

Why Didn’t You Tell Me I was Getting Old?

I’ve started to worry about a lot of things lately. Even worse, I’m waking up in a panic at night without fully knowing why. But I found out that Google does:

“The hormones oestrogen and progesterone work together to regulate mood. The declining levels of these hormones during the menopause mean that a woman at this stage of life is more susceptible to anxiety and other menopausal symptoms.”

It’s the M word again. Everything I go to the doctor about these days seems to turn out to be because of it.

Feeling a weird skipping in your chest so you’ve downloaded an app to get a smartphone-captured ECG that’s definite evidence of your impending death? Calm yourself, it’s just the M word.

Waking up with both cheeks burning, finding out your face is red too, and then wondering how on earth you managed to embarrass yourself so badly while you were asleep? Hot flashes, caused by the M word.

Experiencing a sudden, unexpected sense of impending doom, even though you threw your weighing scales in the dustbin some time last year? The M word.$RQGSMYM

Forgot the name of your neighbour? Heather, you live away out in the Scottish hills and miles from anybody – it’s called a sheep. Brain fog is a common symptom of, oh, what was that thing called?

I’ve been lucky to have been quite a cheery soul for most of my life to date, yet now stress has begun to affect everything, from my ability to concentrate on my writing to how well I can (or can’t) hold in a pee. My heart’s in my mouth every time someone makes me do star jumps. Or it could be my right boob. Billy Connolly did an hilarious stand-up about incontinence knickers back in the eighties, and even though I now live this thing, it never fails to amuse me. I still laugh, but not as hard – and my reasons are two-fold.

There are things that keep me awake at night now, like worrying about whether Kenny Loggins is having any trouble getting into his computer. And, if I do the GAPS diet will my teeth fall out? How do you get hands-free earphones in your ears? Did Cameo ever find out what the word up was? But however daft, random or unreasonable the angst, my heart’s always hammering like my daughter’s due in from school and I haven’t finished my family-sized Dairy Milk chocolate bar yet. And every time I experience chest pain I start thinking about getting a funeral plan. Then, after I’ve burped, I tell myself it’s about time the kids paid for something. What is sadder still, I’m no longer empowered reading Eleanor Roosevelt quotes like, ‘Do one thing everyday that scares you’, because now I’m scared I might accidentally do two.

_Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant! (5)I have to say, because it would be depressing not too mention it, that it isn’t all doom and gloom as I reach what I can only hope will be the middle of my life. Age has brought with it some new-found joys. Like not caring what people think of me as I share the fact that I really do wet myself laughing and I no longer want or need to fight anybody who accuses me of being a less than capable mother. I’ve worked hard all my life, raised five kids on a shoestring without any of them falling off and none of them ever resorted to calling Childline; they all knew I never paid the phone bill. Now all but one have left and they haven’t raced back home because they weren’t taught to cope independently out in the real world. At least, I don’t think so. I might have to put the batteries back in the doorbell to let you know for next time.  And now I’ve blinked and I’m a grandmother of two.

Then there’s the relationship high that came with my advancing years. The fact that after a series of false starts and highly unsuitable partnerships, I’ve finally met the love of my life and we’ve been together for ten years this week. It’s Bunnahabhain scotch to be honest, but my husband Stephen is coming in a close second as well.

After being on earth for forty-seven years I’ve collected some knowledge: I now know six answers during episodes of Mastermind, and not just when the contestant’s chosen specialist subject is puddings.

I’ve become closer to my sisters than ever before, a necessary transition, as we now have a firm pact in place to race cross-country to give the other’s chin a shave if one of us ever ends up in a coma in hospital.

But it’s all part of the circle of life; a new phase to keep us all guessing. Youth is, as they say, wasted on the young. Or is it that the young are wasted and the rest of us are running around looking for our youth? Anyway, I’m off to try some of that HR tea they’re all talking about. It’s got to be better than that green stuff.

Hot Tub Springtime Machine

spring in the garden
Me as a snowdrop

The first day of Spring has sprung, and again we have the promise of new beginnings, plus a lot of dead leaves to pick up. The hardy little snowdrop has appeared again in my garden, having endured the harshest of winters in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Which leads nicely into my telling you about the month I’ve been having.

Yes, we had some fun in the extreme winter weather. Yes, there were occasions when I was up to my thighs in snow and travelling home in the car was like flying through space on the Starship Enterprise. However, we also had a lot of fun being snowed in. I made warming bowls of soup, fresh bread and churned up some butter – aren’t I the saintly/homely one? – while Mr H went to face the extremes, digging out the car and chopping loads of fire wood. We were like the proper country folk of yore, with a Vauxhall Astra and a bread maker. Okay, so I cheated a little bit.

FATLE4XHLZRSWMK.LARGE
Me as a Weeping Angel

Yet like the snowdrop bulb waiting under the frozen ground to bloom, we did suffer real hardships. We bought tonnes of candles for the anticipated power cuts that never happened for more than a few seconds at a time. There are no street lights where we live, so walking through a very dark cottage with the lights flickering on and off did mean I could freak out my fourteen year-old daughter. All it takes, in case you want to have a go, is appearing to be approaching in a series of quick, statue-still moves like a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who.

Then, of course, the private spring supply of water we love so much froze up on a Saturday night while we had visitors round for dinner and (one or two) drinks. Being twelve miles from the nearest village, our visitors tend to stay the night and-it’s-nothing-to-do-with-alcohol. This was fun without a supply of water. I was melting snow on the wood-burning stove to fill the toilet cistern half the night, because as we know, alcohol inhibits secretion of the anti-diuretic hormone (Fancy! I learned that in nursing college). The ‘do not flush when it’s only a pee’ policy seems to stop working when you’re a little bit three sheets to the wind. It was flush and be damned! Which is exactly what having no water feels like, incidentally.

Invited by our farmer/landlord, we raced round to take twenty bottles of water from the

galloway-stand
Not me as a Galloway coo and her calfs.  And three of her babies too =)

tap in his cow shed. Being up close to his Galloway cows, who have chased me through the hills in the past, was enough to give me more chills than I already had. Stealing their water right in front of them no doubt puts my face on their ‘GET HER NEXT TIME’ list. Galloway cows don’t see a soul but the farmer for months out in these hills, so they aren’t known for being the friendliest of creatures, as I found out when two of them decided to chase me one summer. I’ve hiked all over Scotland and never been afraid of cattle until I met the Galloway coo. With apologies to vegetarians, I have enjoyed many a steak dinner, but I never thought I’d become one.

So at the end of all this we headed down to Dawlish in Devon to visit my son, who works

violet_beauregarde_blueberry_ball_by_girard1020-db1ckkv
Me in the Hot Tub

on a holiday park down there and booked us a gorgeous, luxury cabin with a hot tub for the weekend. They had running water too, which was nice. Now, I have to confess I had never before been in a hot tub, and hadn’t intended to try it, particularly on that rainy night when my son and his girlfriend invited us in. It was raining for Pete’s sake, I could get wet! However, they coaxed me in eventually, and there I was, bringing sexy back in my purple t-shirt which kept filling with air from the bubbles, making me roll around in the water like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And the truth is I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time. It was a ridiculous amount of giggly fun. Everyone should try the drinking in the hot tub at night experience at least once.

That weekend I had treated myself to a little spring-is-approaching, time to get my arms

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Actual me with my fake tan face (Don’t look at the camera or you’ll look cross-eyed, don’t look at the camera or you’ll look cross-eyed… dammit!)

 

out fake tan. It was a new one I hadn’t tried before. First impressions? The quilt cover, my dressing gown and a couple of white towels. That holiday park won’t be having us back anytime soon. Apparently you aren’t supposed to go in with fake tab on, which I wasn’t to know. Interesting to note though, if you’ve seen the very funny film, Hot Tub Time Machine, and fancy a visit to Dawlish. This hot tub really was one. I got in then came out an hour later as me before I put my tan on. Two hours of soaking later, I was me at eighty years-old.  Three hours later, crawling out after copious glasses of gin, I was a toddler again. Amazing.

So that’s my March-going-into-spring written out for you. It’s been fun. Now I really must get back to my work in progress, a new book called ‘The Ballad of Jeanie Burrows,’ which is a comedy about a middle-aged woman who meets the ghost of Scotland’s Favourite Son. More news on that soon!

PS If you liked what you read I’m always grateful for a book download, which you can do by clicking the novel of your choice below. The proceeds go towards keeping me writing, so thank you for every, single one. Much love and gratitude, Heather xx

 

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Menopause? Me? I Don’t Believe it!

Have you ever seen this clip from Father of the Bride?

I remember howling with laughter at Steve Martin playing the man-at-the-end-of-his-rope character raging in a supermarket when this film came out around fifteen squillion years ago, without having the slightest inkling of an idea that one day I would turn in to this person.  Because I can now stand up in a room full of strangers and declare it: I am this raging, Victor Meldrew screech queen who spends hours in supermarkets comparing brands AND ingredient lists, fuming about the cost of things like I’m a roadie for Rip Off Britain.

‘If this item is sugar free, why is it more expensive than the one with sugar?’
‘Why is every supermarket’s own brand bread cheaper than their bread flour? How are they doing this? Why are they doing this to me?!?’
‘Why is cream cheaper than butter when they’re essentially the same thing?’
And on that subject, there’s my husband’s absolute favourite (I’m lying):
‘Why does unsalted butter cost the same as salted? They took out the salt!’

I’ve been making my own butter recently in order to, ahem, ‘beat the bastards.’ In my house we call it Angry Butter. And we have Angry Yoghurt too, as well as Very Pissed Off Bread, which I bake knowing everyone else in the house hates my homemade version anyway. I get that idea from the snuck into the breadbin loaves of Warburtons I keep finding (one pound ten, I ask you!) alongside the still untouched fresh loaf I produced with my own loving hands (breadmaker) two days ago.

Oh the joys of perimenopause! Everyone in my immediate family has had to learn how to humour me carefully and with absolute military precision because my oestrogen is on the happy plane out of here, taking my patience and sanity hostage as it goes.

I used to be so cheerful strangers would come up to me as I stood waiting for a bus in the freezing rain, munching on a bit of chocolate cake and grinning like I’d won the lottery, and beg me for my weed brownie recipe. These people just couldn’t understand how much I loved chocolate back then – before my bum started storing it for the chocpocalypse.

And may I just say, I don’t want to pay £1.45 for four tiny pots of bio yoghurt! Yoghurt contains full cream milk and a few live cultures you can get from adding three tablespoons of shop bought live yoghurt to it. That is it. After that first tub, you never have to buy any again as you can use three tablespoons of your last batch and – the best news of all – you can make it in a simple thermos flask. Milk costs around 45p a pint. Yoghurt… (Does a quick calculation, remembers she’s crap at those) doesn’t.

This new, bitter, ranty and outspoken me has had to pull back from social media a little too. I happened upon a woman who had posted a photo of her backside in her Twitter feed today. She was wearing a skimpy thong and had posted it with the message, ‘Dreams don’t work unless you do.’ It took all that I had not to reply, ‘I don’t know about you, but my dreams don’t involve showing everyone my arse.’

Everybody, and I mean everybody, better keep me away from the Facebook page reviews section for Dyson. Having purchased their V6 Animal vacuum cleaner last year only to find it a) can’t clean up pet hair and b) can’t be emptied without covering yourself in everything you just hoovered up, an email war has been raging away between us. Two replaced cleaner heads, two filters and three entirely new vacuums later they are still laughing in the face of my threats to post YouTube videos of the thing being pushed fourteen times over the same bit of dog hair until I eventually give in and pick the stuff up with my hands by not giving me my effing money back. Don’t get me started on my nearest bakery who I made a twenty-six mile round trip to for a special, pre-ordered loaf only to find they had none left. Twice.

Is it me or is it them, I ask you? What have I become?

This guy:

I’m completely with you, Victor. I don’t believe it either. I actually think that the online review system might have been waiting for me to reach this stage of my life. ‘Hello, I’m Mrs Very Bloody Angry and I want to tell everyone on Facebook that your peppermint teabags have NO pepper in them, whatsoever.’

But there are advantages to being don’t-give-a-fuck years old. For the first time in a zillion years, I switched from olive oil (£3.95 a litre) to the equally healthy rapeseed oil (£2.00 a litre). I’m thinking about what’s in our food, what we are spending and how we can reduce that spend; and we’re all healthier because of it. We’re also well on the way to looking after those pennies so the pounds can look after themselves. If I see any stray pennies on the floor I’m no longer ashamed of looking like a pauper. I pick them up, thank the universe for the money and remember that Tesco charges you 5% for converting your change into vouchers you can shop with. Then I get angry again, but you see my point.

You need to agitate cream in order to turn it into butter, and by that I don’t mean ripping its lid off, waving it at the cat’s mouth and shouting, ‘churn or you’re going in.’ And you need to agitate a woman to make her see the world for what it is, then become determined enough to try to change it. I’m intent on doing that, one batch of homemade yoghurt at a time.

To Every Woman and her Daughters.

I’ve felt so empowered after reading the experiences of sexual harassment from women all over the globe, and the exceptional tweet seen here from @annevclark since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, that I’ve finally decided to recount one of my own. It’s something I’ve never fully been able to explain or tell people about and my decision to put this here is because of the thought that it might help any woman, anywhere, as all the tales I’ve seen bravely shared online have helped me do this today. I hadn’t told a soul this until this morning. Not a soul. Today I’m ready to change that.

At forty-six years of age I’m learning to drive. Not an odd event in itself; my instructor tells me he recently taught a woman who went on to pass her test at the grand age of seventy. Yet while I don’t know this particular lady’s reason for learning so late in her life, I know that a particular incident sparked the fear and anxiety that has prevented me from fully committing myself to do this until now. Since I was first gifted a series of driving lessons from my mum and abruptly stopped them, over thirty years ago now, I’ve been terrified of the driving test itself. Nobody ever knew why, not even me. Not really. I remember my mother asking why on earth I had stopped taking the lessons and that I made some lame excuse that I can’t even recall today. For years since those early lessons my friends and family have expressed their disbelief at my never learning to drive, even though it has held me back over the years, both personally and professionally.

Only now am I ready to reveal the real reason I stopped those lessons: My driving instructor, a man I was left alone in a car with for an hour a day, once a week for around twenty or more weeks, was sexually harassing me. It began with small innuendos and probing questions. What did my boyfriend and I get up to? What made me decide to wear that V-necked top today, was it because I knew I would be seeing him? Had I missed him since last week?

I was seventeen.

There were moments when he behaved in ways I couldn’t quite understand my uncomfortableness about, like the time he asked, in what seemed to me to be with angry, almost possessive undertones, if I knew a man I’d waved to as I let him cross the road at a local pedestrian crossing. Then there were the days his lewd behaviour was more obvious, as he held his hand over mine on the gear stick, instructing me to ‘caress it as though it was a man.’ All of this was done with a smile and a wink, like it was a joke – a bit of banter between us. And I confess that I laughed along, never really being certain about my natural, internal reactions to the behaviour: the fact that I felt physically sick when he made some exaggerated, unrequired lean over me to point to something on my side of the car and that I frequently tried to stifle my recoils at his smiling pats on my knee. It was just a bit of fun, why were all of my instincts telling me he was a sick, perverted crank?

When the time to do a mock test arrived I had become so anxious by his continued inappropriateness, something I safely labelled ‘bizarre behaviour’ in my seventeen-year-old head, that I fluffed it all and I remember quite clearly the way he shouted at me during and after it. He knew I was capable of doing all of the driving manoeuvres we’d gone over in the past twenty or so weeks, why was I ‘ballsing it all up’? I never took another lesson with him afterwards and from that day to this, I’ve never sat a full, practical driving test. I’ve had lessons over the years since but always quit them quite early in, a deep terror of the driving test being the given excuse to everyone I know. It was the one I told myself too.

Until today…

Quite honestly I don’t know if this man’s behaviour has been lurking deep inside my unconscious mind when it comes to the anxiety I’ve had over taking a simple driving test ever since it all happened – nearly thirty years ago now. But it has always seemed to me (secretly) to be entirely possible. I’ve recounted the story of this man to family and friends, often with a wry smile and a comment on what a dirty bugger he was, but I’ve always felt unable to admit that it caused me so much angst. It seemed silly. In a way, I suppose I have colluded with the idea of the humour of the situation, the way society as a whole has treated the ‘pestering’ of women. Now for the first time in my life I’m ready to openly accept that this was easier than admitting that it frightened and has even continued to hurt me.

Like most women, I have many other far worse stories of times when I’ve felt or been physically threatened and abused by men in my lifetime. There are differences in the ways that I’ve shared some of these events though, and I realise now that it’s because there are those I’ve been able to speak of feeling justified in my horror and revulsion and others I’ve supressed through guilt, confusion and embarrassment. The most common questions I’ve had for myself when going over these things in my mind: Was it my fault? Am I/was I overreacting? Did I bring this behaviour upon myself? Today, after reading the countless stories from other women online I know the answer to all of the above is no, no, NO.

Just the other day I recounted a cautionary tale to my teenage daughter, who is about to take her first train journey alone. It was of a time when I was fifteen and travelling home from school on the top deck of a public service bus and a man got on and sat right beside me, even though there were countless other double empty seats. This stranger didn’t make any inappropriate comments or touch me, he just started chatting right away as though he knew me (he didn’t) and I instinctively felt uncomfortable. I couldn’t explain this to anyone, all I knew was he had invaded my personal space without the need to. After enduring a few minutes of this and even returning polite conversation, I pretended it was my stop and went downstairs to get away from him, only to be chastised by the driver for standing on the crowded lower deck while there were so many seats upstairs. He told me to go back up or get off the bus. Embarrassed at being called out in front of so many people, frightened to go back to where the man was waiting and ashamed to admit the reason I’d come downstairs when he hadn’t actually done anything that I could say was untoward, I got off and walked home. It was winter, and a thirty minute journey in the dark alone. I felt at the time that there was a good chance I’d put myself in more danger choosing to take that walk than going back upstairs on the bus, so when I got home I didn’t even tell anyone what had happened because I felt stupid. But had I been?

I used this example to show my teenage daughter that it is never okay for someone to make you feel uncomfortable and that it is ALWAYS okay to ignore, walk away and tell a nearby person you feel safer with that, even for reasons you cannot explain, you need to get away from that first person or persons. My ideal world would be a place where all women could feel safe to do this without further questioning from anybody, because the first, most important weapon we have in our self-preservation arsenal is our instincts. I often wonder how many terrible crimes against women and girls would not have happened had she felt empowered to react on those instincts, move away and tell somebody as the dangerous situation began to unfold.

This was two years prior to the driving instructor incident. Both were moments when I felt uncomfortable, yet the second – the one I removed myself from – was one where nobody was touching or inappropriately commenting to me while making light of it. It is interesting to me that I reacted to the first far quicker than the second. I took over twenty weeks of driving lessons. All I can surmise is that there was nothing confusing thrown in to cast doubt in my mind that something bad was unfolding the first time. The driving instructor, whilst being more direct in his advances, cleverly acted in a ‘this is acceptable’ way with his jokes, double-entendres and feigned-affectionate touches which made me question my own first instincts. In other words, I was successfully manipulated the second time. I won’t let that happen to my daughters today.

I once walked through a lonely alley, both arms laden with shopping, feeling certain I was being pursued by the man walking behind me. I stopped, put down my bags and turned around to look him in the eye as he approached me. He seemed to visually pause and shrink away, looking uncertain. Then he asked me the time. I told him I didn’t know, holding him in a steely stare. He looked at the ground and scurried away. This is the way we ALL need to deal with the predatory harassment of women – accept that it is happening and finally begin to face this monstrous thing head on. Stop pretending we don’t know it’s there.

Over the years I’ve recounted my tale on the bus to those I hoped might learn something from it, remarking almost apologetically that my reaction may be perceived as an overreaction but stressing that, for reasons I could not explain, I had felt unsafe and that was key. I remember that feeling well, have felt it many times since and am aware that ‘gut feeling’ was all that was needed to take myself out of a potentially dangerous situation. Only now as an adult, mother and grandmother can I say with confidence that it was the RIGHT thing for me to do. That day I was wearing a school uniform. There could be no mistaking the fact that I was a child travelling alone, and a grown, strange man made an uninvited approach and invaded my space for dubious reasons. This is often the first, subtle step on the road to grooming a child. Let’s tell all of our children that it’s okay to move away. It may save their lives.

I want to say thank you to all the women who have shared similar experiences online, which is where many of us get most of our information in this modern age. You have reached us. You have been heard. It directly led me to share mine here and I sincerely hope my story helps someone. We have to keep talking and sharing.

A few months ago I passed my driver theory test and my second driving lesson, with a wonderful, patient and kind instructor, is next Monday. Wish me luck!

A final thought for you – if you have Twitter, this really should be shared. #time4change

 

The Day I Tried to Murder a Spider With My Boobs

Mercifully, this post will have no photographs. And now the highest bounce rate of any blog I’ve ever posted before – perhaps for two reasons. 😉

Firstly, I’d like to assure all the animal loving people, of which I would include myself, that no actual spiders were harmed in the story you are about to read. Said spider went on to live a glorious life, probably under my sofa, where it will be allowed to live out the rest of its days undisturbed – such is my commitment to houseworky-type tasks. There was a moment where I may have unthinkingly caused death by squashing, but all I can say in my defense is that I panicked.

That said, I’ll move on.

This morning, having just returned from a two week holiday in Fuerteventura, Linda decided to call her kid sister, a skint writer-type who hasn’t had a holiday abroad in five years, to tell her all about what a great time she’d had. The conversation went something like this:

Me: ‘Hello, this will need to be quick because you’ve caught me when I’m dying to go to the loo.’
Linda: ‘Helloooo! How’s you?’
Me: ‘All good here thanks. How was your… wait… ARGHHHHHHH!’
Linda: ‘Hello? Heather? Are you alright?’

Okay, I’m guessing she asked after my welfare at this point. What followed, I suspect, were some strangled wails and furtive rustling sounds on the line – if that’s the noise a person makes while doing the David Brent Dance in the conservatory with your top over your head.

In a flash (literally), I was back on the phone, having probably just given my next door neighbour a bigger heart attack than I was having.

Me: ‘Oh my God, a spider just crawled across my chest! I’ve flicked it away but I’m not sure if it went down my top!’

And that’s when my big sister delivered the strangest, I-never-want-to-hear-this-again advice ever:

Linda: ‘Quick, squash your boobs together!’

So begins the tale of the day I tried to murder a spider with my breasts. It is also the day when somebody, who shall remain nameless, attempted the German Clap Dance with her boobs. Round of applause please? No, not with those…

We never properly finished the call, namely due to the fact that we were both in a tearful state of hysterics. Neither of us could speak, but this isn’t such an unusual event when it comes to telephone conversations with my sister. O2 must love us, given all the money they have pocketed for what must equate to around three hours of hysterical, we-can’t-speak laughter during our phone conversations over the period of a year. But let me tell you, today was one of the scariest of my life and I am now left wondering if I have any special, spidey powers. If my boobs start climbing any walls, you can be confident I’ll run back here to let you all know.

To think I  nearly missed all this fitful laughter by going to the loo and sending her a text instead of answering. Which leads me to the real killer  – that moment when your sister reminds you she has known you better and for longer than anyone else.

Linda: ‘Your standing with your legs crossed so you don’t pee yourself now, aren’t you?’