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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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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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Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

george wade

Lucy Kelson: George, I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.
George Wade: Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
– ‘Two Weeks Notice’.

This weekend I had my very first book signing event at the Waterstones store in East Kilbride, Scotland. It was a great and pime at my first signing... for a chick lit book?votal day for me, being a newly published author in the shop nearest my home, where I’ve spent many happy hours getting high on new book smell and about three purchases low on cash. And all with my big sister and various other members of my family watching and cheering me on.

The Waterstones staff were fantastic; so supportive and encouraging as well as taking care of my needs and sharing stories of other authors’ come-from-nothing successes to bolster my confidence. All in all, it was a fabulous day – a huge thanks to them for inviting me along.

But there was one moment that threatened to spoil it all at the very beginning. As I sat watching shoppers stroll by, all avoiding eye contact with me as though I had a clipboard and a ‘Market Researchers do it in the Street’ t-shirt on, the very first stranger to approach me smiled, picked up a copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ and glanced at the back cover for all of one second before placing it quickly back down with a scowl and taking off as fast as her legs could carry her.

Being perpetual jovial sorts, my sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘This is going well, don’t you think?’ I said, showcasing the books in front of me with a sweep of my arm like a model displaying prizes on ‘The Price is Right’ …and knocking my glass of water over them. (Oh yes I did).

Three down, twenty to go…

Don’t get me wrong, I do judge a book by its cover, but never without having read the entire blurb first. So what was it that made a person run away after having a glance at my cover and a read of the first two lines on the back?

I don’t know and I never will. But here’s my best guess. Dare I say, that brightly coloured, cartoon cover and the promise of a light-hearted, comedy novel that screams, ‘chick lit’?

The week before my first signing, I had responded to a comment left on a Facebook book club wall that asked something like, ‘does anyone else here hate chick lit?’ So I bit my lip and wrote what may have been a contender for longest Facebook comment in a thread ever. It went something like this:

‘As a writer of what has been called chick lit, I’d like to defend it if only because it depresses me that it gets such a bad rap, like it doesn’t deserve its place in literature. I read all kinds of genres and regularly have two or three very different books on the go at the same time but I never rule an entire genre out. I love to try something new, dipping in to different writer styles often. Chick lit has its place for light reading, for laughs, for comic escapism. I have had several men who professed to hating the chick lit genre read my book then come back and tell me they really enjoyed it. I was thrilled when science fiction writer Dylan Hearn, who took the plunge into something new for him, read my book then wrote a rave review and blog about it, admitting he had never picked up a chick lit book before.

I want to defend the genre because it is reading all of the dismissals of it that stops many women from writing what it is in their heart to write, for fear of being rejected by the ‘literary police’. Anything new, bold and original is exciting to find and nothing would ever be created if writers didn’t take the difficult step of bringing their stories out into the world. The fact is, we all have different tastes and to me, writing is not just a craft but an art. It should be a joy to bring that which you were meant to do out in to the world and, after all, art is about freedom of expression. It’s about capturing the imagination and taking it anywhere you wish it to go. An individual may hate the work of Van Gogh, but that doesn’t make him any less of the incredible & innovative artist that he was. It’s all a matter of personal taste. What sings to one person can screech like nails on a blackboard to another. And what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps you read one or two bad chick lit books. Perhaps, like me, you’re of an age where you’ve read countless books with will-they-won’t-they, she-hates-him-then-she-loves-him plot lines and think you can’t stand to read another. But then, if you are like me, you’ll remember that you loved these once and now you’re older, you’re perhaps looking for something different. It doesn’t make those kinds of stories any less relevant, they’re just not relevant to you.

I would ask anyone not to discount an entire genre based on some they’ve read or seen, as not all books in any genre are the same. The majority of chick lit writers are women and we should be encouraging more female writers to find their voice. The only thing I have to say that I don’t like about chick lit as a genre is the name. I’m 44 years old, I’m not now nor have I ever been a ‘chick’. I hope it changes to ‘contemporary fiction’ or something equally suitable. I’d like something that says I write commercial, comedy fiction for all genders.

And for the reader, let’s not be afraid that no one will ever take us seriously if we admit to liking a bit of easier reading and laughter – the best medicine there is. There is a lot to be said for so called ‘easy reads’ too. They encourage more people to read and that, we should all be able to agree if we’re true book lovers, is a fundamental and beautiful thing.’

Others have written on this very subject of course. In his article for Huffington Post, entitled, ‘Stop Being Literary Snobs and Embrace Chick-Lit’, Ben Mirza writes, ‘There’s a reason why these people hate chick-lit, and it’s nothing to do with declining standards. It is simply that these people hate escapism and frankly, hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

The hatred of escapist comedy reading is something I know many readers have and there is absolutely no wrong in this. To each his (or her) own. For me, one of the most interesting things about comedy is the fact that everyone loves to laugh, yet comedy books seem to be the target of the harshest critics, often accused of appealing to a readership of the lowest, common denominator.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading. Overall, I want books that test my intelligence, scare me a little bit, make me think, make me question things, freak me out, make me cry and make me laugh – and I can get all of these things in a year filled with reading a little bit of something from every genre. There’s a special place for all of it in my brain.

Lucy-Anne Holmes sums it up nicely in her 2014 article for The Guardian:

‘I’m not going to apologise for enjoying books that focus on women’s careers, families and love lives, as romantic comedy often does. As a woman – as a person – discovering what I love to do, feeling empowered to do it and falling in love have been pretty seismic events in my life, ones I can identify with far more than discovering a murdered body in a disused car park.’

So let’s not profess to be specific genre haters; let’s continue to be book lovers with open, hungry minds requiring nourishment from a wide variety of sources . And to those who still say they hate chick lit, I say, ‘that’s just silly. Have you read every chick lit book on the planet?’

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