GROWING UP WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

 

Do parents in violent relationships have any idea of the impact domestic violence has on children? Even if a child makes a fuss, some parents are in denial, because domestic violence is so much part of the way the family lives, day to day. They refuse to accept that their children are aware of what is  going on.

When children are questioned, they may deny that they have witnessed domestic violence, through fear and loyalty to their parents. But children can play out what is happening at home when they are at nursery or school. Parents are often horrified when they find out that their children are mimicking their behaviour, but that’s what children do. They model their behaviour on what they see and hear, and if what they see is fighting, violence, shouting, denial and bullying, that will be what they think is normal and what they will play out in their own lives at school.

Mental health statistics show that children exposed to domestic violence and a chaotic lifestyle with no secure home and no constancy, may suffer from emotional issues during childhood and mental illness in adulthood. Often, parents do not believe that violent behaviour in the home will harm their children. I have heard parents say such things as, ‘kids are adaptable,‘ and ‘they’ll get over it.’  They won’t, and what they have witnessed may well turn them into adults who behave in the same way.

We already have issues in the UK with aggressive young people who flout authority. We saw this expressed in 2010 with the London riots. The unemployment and financial meltdown we are going through will not help these youngsters, many of whom have had difficult childhoods. But if we can educate parents from the word go, if we can get through to them that their behaviour will impact on their children, maybe they will understand that they, and they alone, are responsible for what their children experience within the home, a place where most domestic violence in front of children occurs.

My film, THE LOST CHILD looks at children who grow up in a family where there is parental mental illness : www.thelostchild.co.uk  When I was commissioned by Lancashire County Council to research and write the film, I decided that the story would be told from the child’s point of view. It seemed to me that sometimes, adults forget the voice of the child. The film is thankfully, still in use across the UK and now, in Australia.

We know that many children have lost their lives through violence and child abuse. There must also be a sea change in how people view such issues. There has been a culture of ‘don’t get involved’. We are allresponsible for the safety of the children in our community. Whole neighbourhoods have banded together to search for missing children in the past. I think we must be just as committed when we think that a child we know might be experiencing domestic violence. It’s time we stood up for our children. With the child poverty this country is now experiencing, it’s essential. There will be more children needing help and our Children’s Services are stretched to the limit. But don’t let any of that put you off. If you think a child is in danger, report it. You may save lives.

I would be very grateful for comments of experiences, if you would be kind enough to share them in the comment box below. Or write to me at lynferrand@aol.com  I am about to start my research for a new project on this subject. Thank you.

HEDGE FUNDS OR CHILDREN?

Dickens at the Blacking Warehouse. Charles Dic...
Dickens at the Blacking Warehouse. Charles Dickens is here shown as a boy of twelve years of age, working in a factory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the mother of four adult children, I’ve been pondering on their childhoods and my parenting skills. I have always worked. Why did I work? My reasons were were purely economic. How did I cope? Like working women today, I enlisted on the help of grandparents, neighbours and then nurseries and child-minders. It was predominantly my domain, this juggling. My husband did his best but he left for work each morning without, I suspect understanding how it made me feel. I didn’t mind. Our joint goal was to do the best for our kids and that meant meeting their financial as well as emotional needs. It was never easy for me because guilt was the predominant feeling whenever I left them, sometimes screaming and kicking, sometimes all smiles. But despite my guilt-ridden, sleepless nights, all four of them survived.

Now they are grown I ask myself did I do enough? Was I good enough? No, I don’t think I was. Trying to juggle so many parts of my life at once, probably made me Jack of all trades and master of none. Caring for small children is like tight rope walking over Niagara Falls. One slip and there is a disaster. You have to be on the ball 24/7 and it’s exhausting. Raising kids with the added stress of both parents needing to earn a living, it really is not surprising that the incidence of mental illness has been slowly escalating over the past 50 years.

I have always maintained that kids are kids until they turn 25. We  tried to reel out the financial and emotional lifeline that connected them to us, slowly. When they first left home, desperate for independence, if we didn’t hear from them for weeks, we didn’t chase them. We waited for them to come to us, but we had strategies for checking up on them, so that we were reassured that they were okay and managing their lives effectively. Was this the right thing to do? Not so sure now. Looking back, I think we should have kept them close for much longer. Today, parents moan about kids living at home far longer than they would like. They complain about the cost, the inconvenience, the lack of privacy. But having your kids around is what makes life worth living as you age.  There is no pain more acute (apart from childbirth) than a lonely old age when you have had kids and they want nothing to do with you. And this is happening so often these days.

Our kids and our grandkids are the MOST important people in our lives.  Even when there are times when we can see they didn’t give a toss about us, we are hooked – we love them, no matter what they do or say. From that first cry to the present day, when our eldest son is almost middle-aged, we want to know what they are doing, how they are coping, what they like or don’t like, when can we next see them? They make our life. When they act as if we don’t exist, we feel it. It hurts.

We  put a huge amount of energy into working out the best way to keep the lines of communication open. We want to remain engaged with them and you can only to that if you are connecting. But what if a family row means they refuse to contact you? It takes time, commitment and emotional intelligence to heal such rifts in families. You have to take the rejection, because they will reject you. They will go away and come back and go away again and it will hurt.

Now that two of our children have become parents, we worry much more about them more than we used to. Life had changed so radically in the past twenty years. There is so much out there to taint the lives of children. In the past, particularly our Victorian past, children were sent up chimneys.  Dickens illustrated very clearly how children were used and abused in the UK just a hundred or so years ago. Although we may not live in Victorian England, the social problems kids face in some homes have a Dickensian ring to them.

Apart from our own parenting failings, what makes children anxious and troubled today? The Good Childhood Inquiry was commissioned by the Children’s Society.  The report said that the lives of British children have become “more difficult than in the past.”  It also says “more young people are anxious and troubled”. A panel made up of 11 experts including eight university professors, says its conclusions in the report are evidence based. They point to ‘excessive individualism’ as the cause of many of the problems children face. This must be replaced by a value system where satisfaction comes from helping others rather than from chasing personal success. They say that attitudes must change and new policies must be put in place to expedite the damage already done. They recommend the following:

• Abolishing SATs tests and league tables in English schools

• A ban on all advertising aimed at the under 12s and no TV commercials for alcohol or unhealthy food before the 9pm watershed

• Stopping building on any open space where children play

• A high-quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people

It puts forward the notion that ‘Children with separate, single or step parents are 50% more likely to fail at school, have low esteem, be unpopular with other children and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression.’ There is also the implication that working mothers have contributed to the damage done to children. ‘Most women now work and their new economic independence contributes to levels of family break-up which are higher in the UK than in any other Western European country.’

What do they mean? Today, as it was when I was raising my four kids, families need two incomes just to survive. The implication that we all work simply to get the luxuries is ludicrous. The cost of electricity, gas, mortgages, insurance, clothes, food goes up, almost daily. Raising kids is hugely expensive. To imply that women are working simply to achieve economic independence from men and that this contributes to family breakdown is unacceptable to me. However, this apart, I do believe that some of the recommendations put forward by the panel are valid. Here are a few more:

• A civil birth ceremony conducted by a registrar in which parents publicly accept the responsibilities of parenthood

• Free parenting classes available around the time of birth

• Free psychological and family support if relationships struggle

• Rules making it easier for parents to stay at home to rear their children

I think that this report wants to expose and confront the ‘me’ culture, however  the government has done little about it. The proposals are too radical and we are in the middle of a recession.

Downing Street states: ‘The report mirrors the ambitious plan for improving children’s lives and outcomes we set out in our Children’s Plan, which aims to give every child the best chance in life, and we are pleased that the review acknowledges the positive impact that the Children’s Plan is already having on children’s lives.’

Rowan WilliamsArchbishop of Canterbury commented that society has become ‘tone-deaf to the real needs of children… In a climate where the mixture of sentimentalism and panic makes discussion of children’s issues so difficult’.  I don’t want to sound cynical, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There has to be more and better affordable child care in this country. The contribution that grandparents make must be valued and working conditions for mothers must be flexible. Sadly, many employers make few concessions for working mums and sometimes they can be quite hostile, all adding to the stress parents and particularly working mothers feel. It’s a question of priorities. Investing in our kids, both financially and emotionally is insurance for the future, because our kids are the future.

Family in tall grass
Family in tall grass (Photo credit: Jackal of all trades)

All we can do as parents is try to understand what loving our children really means. Doesn’t it  mean listening to them, being there when they need you, giving them space when they don’t, respecting them, hugging them, kissing them, laughing with them, taking your responsibility for creating happy memories VERY seriously, eating home cooked meals with them, putting magic and wonder into their early childhood years, engaging with them in art, music and all sorts of culture, keeping them in touch with their extended families and most of all, loving and enjoying them? Isn’t raising kids a national responsibility? We are all culpable if children suffer.

All this takes TIME. Most parents struggle to find five spare minutes in the rush to earn enough just to survive.  Today, ordinary families are struggling. In the past few years we have seen bankers suck up obscene profits, while many children in this country live in deprivation and poverty. That is disgraceful. We seem to have got our priorities all wrong.

BEGGING BOWL POLITICS

I am really worried about our government – note the word ‘our’ because we put them there. They are accepting huge donations from wealthy and influential people, including property developers. All parties have been involved in this bun fight in the past, but currently the Tories are taking both buns and biscuits. In the last three months, Conservative party accepted £3.8 million pounds in donations.

Our Prime Minister, David Cameron has admitted that he and his senior ministers have entertained a whole host of extremely wealthy people this year. The list includes business leaders who have given the party hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations, so that they can be part a Mr. Cameron‘s special ‘group’.

Some of the people who handed over this money appear to have a less than attractive track record when it comes to business dealings.  Read the article written by Rowena Mason on 20th August to get a list: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9488353/David-Cameron-raises-1.3-million-from-donor-dinners.html

Donations
Donations (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

Is it really right that our government should accept these large donations? This is ‘begging bowl’ politics. Political parties are becoming servants of those who wield the real power in this country, and I think they are abusing that power because they are not, like politicians, accountable to us, directly. The salaries of politicians come out of the public purse which is made up of the taxes that we, as constituents, pay. And there is another point. Many of these wealthy business men avoid paying tax – this has recently been revealed and it is a scandal.

It is also the Taxpayer who has bailed out the failed banks, yet some of those being wined and dined by the Conservatives have benefited from those failures. I quote from Rowena Mason’s article in The Telegraph: ‘These included Sir Paul Ruddock, the hedge fund boss who profited from the collapse of Northern Rock, Ed Wray, the founder of gambling company Betfair, and Roger Nagioff, a former executive at failed bank Lehman Brothers‘.

These meeting between Cameron and his ministers and those donating such large sums to the party, should take place in an open forum where we can all hear what is being said. The culture of secrecy and these cosy relationships are undemocratic and dangerous. They smack of an elite who are excluding the voters and running our affairs for us in a way that is unacceptable. These are habits of the past. They have to change. We are told we live in an era of supposed transparency, or is that just so much spin, yet again?

What I find particularly worrying is that the list includes property developers. The property market is in meltdown. It is the latest casualty in a disastrously flawed financial system that is based on debt and creating more and more debt.  The developers and the government are looking for a way out. Will it be at the expense of the planning laws, which are there to protect the public from exploitation? It is disingenuous of the government to expect us to believe that accepting donations from developers has no effect on their policy making.

SPEAKING OUT

Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the UK, we fight to preserve freedom of speech. Yet, how many of us actually pick up the pen or the laptop and write to express our views when we feel something is not right? Are the young and the old guilty of a ‘head in the sand’ attitude? Letting your world shrink, so you are simply concerned with what affects only you, is limiting.

We need to become far more politicised. We have to show our elected representatives that we will ask questions and that they are accountable to us, their constituents. It took me a long time to understand this. The ‘don’t make a fuss’ mantra was recited often in my childhood home. But then, I was born after the second world war, and people had become used to keeping their mouths shut. Today, we are encouraged to speak out, but how many of us do?  It’s much easier to keep quiet and hope the issue that concerns you will simply go away and you will not have to do anything. But justice needs fighting for. You have to stand up for what you believe in, for what you know in your heart, is right.

I often think that the country’s moral compass is slightly awry these days. We are bombarded with news, with so much information, that it’s really difficult to keep track of what is trivia and what is really important and needs serious consideration. Some things are blindingly obvious. For instance, if you hear about child abuse or patent fraud. But other things are more subtle.  And if you do speak out, the danger is that you can be patronised or ridiculed or worse – ignored.

Emails can be deleted. Although I use them all the time, they are no substitute really for a good old-fashioned letter. There are your words, on a tactile page, in black and white, written by you, holding a pen that you know is mightier than the sword!  I make many mistakes when I write, and that for me is a good way to learn. But you have to have the courage to make mistakes. By mistakes, I don’t mean grammar or spelling, I mean expression – the way you tell the story, the way you reach the person you are writing to. Anyone who has learned to write can put sentences on a page and hope the reader will be hooked and listen to the thoughts expressed on paper or in an email, but how often do you stop and think of the impact your words will have?

If you consider what is written on a daily basis in the tabloid newspapers, how you read that piece about chewing gum being discovered on Mars or the man who has three penises, you may deride such articles, but there may also be a part of you that thinks, well it’s in print, so maybe there is some truth in it. You might think, if you consider yourself to be an intellectual, that there is a subtle sub-text happening in these stories; that they are really about something else, like subliminal advertising. You may just eat your hamburger and have a good laugh. Or, you may believe.

Fighting to maintain our freedom, in all sorts of areas, is an ongoing battle. Maybe we have to be sure we understand what freedom is, these days. Like the moral compass, freedom seems to have fuzzy edges now. Perhaps we need to identify how the notion of being free within society is changing? We have seen how easy it was for journalists employed by The News of The World to invade the privacy of innocent people in the most despicable way. This was going on for a long time and it was only because people spoke up, that this way of using the freedom of the press was shown to be distorted and, quite frankly, wicked. But in the offices where this was happening, it was probably seen as quite normal, a way of just ‘getting a story.’ The employees of that newspaper who were acting in such an amoral way, were limited. Their world had shrunk and blinkered them to what they were doing.

When you write about something you feel passionate about and you make that writing public, as all of us who write a blog do – you open yourself up to all sorts of criticism and sometimes, to abuse. That’s the risk you take. But if you feel that something is not right; if you are sure that the issue you are writing about is causing hurt and upset, if you want something done about an obvious injustice, then  please take courage, and write about it. The Internet has given millions of people the chance to do just that. Of course, it will be abused. Some people will write things akin to the story about the man with three penises, but use your own moral compass. Yes, you do have one…

Write with passion and write with a sense of justice and generosity of spirit. Write the truth. If you are not sure what the truth is, don’t write it down for the world to read. Send it to people who can reassure you that you are correct in what you are saying.

If we want to preserve freedom, words of truth are at the front line.

WARDEN OR ABUSER?

The Age UK logo
The Age UK logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking after vulnerable older people is a serious responsibility. Abuse of older people comes in many forms.

This is what Age UK say about the issue:  http://www.ageuk.org.uk/

If you know an older person who is being abused or who may be at risk of abuse, then you might find our information useful. Whether you know the individual involved through your role as a professional, carer, relative or friend, we all have an important part to play in safeguarding them from abuse.

The information in this factsheet is aimed at raising your awareness and understanding of the issues of abuse and it also covers approaches to safeguarding older people.

Any form of abuse is unacceptable, no matter what justification or reason may be given for it, and it is very important that we are aware of this and know that help is available.

The information in this factsheet is correct for the period April 2010 – March 2011. However, rules and guidance sometimes change during the year.

This factsheet describes the situation in England. There may be differences in the legislation, guidance and procedures in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Readers in these nations should contact their respective national Age UK offices for information specific to where they live – see section 12 for details.

Contents

  • Recent developments
  • What is elder abuse and safeguarding?
  • Different types of abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological/emotional abuse
  • Institutional abuse
  • Discriminatory abuse
  • Guidance and legislation
  • Review of the No Secrets guidance
  • Mental capacity, deprivation of liberty and human rights
  • The Transforming Adult Social Care agenda
  • Who might abuse an older person?
  • Why might someone abuse?
  • Where might abuse occur?
  • How statutory services can help
  • What can someone who is experiencing abuse do to stop it?
  • Making the first step
  • If someone is in a care home
  • Living in supported/sheltered accommodation
  • Different types of support
  • If you witness or suspect abuse
  • The duties of professionals
  • Reporting abuse and “whistle-blowing”
  • The new Vetting and Barring Scheme
  • Useful organisations
  • Further information from Age UK

Factsheet 78  April 2010 – AM064 19 of 37  DOWNLOAD THE FACT SHEET FROM AGE UK.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

This quote from the Age UK website interested me:

Narcissistic abusers

These are motivated by personal gain, the ‘what’s in it for me?’ mindset, not

the desire to help others. These people tend to neglect or financially exploit

other people.

An example of this could be a neighbour who suddenly takes an interest in an

older person’s welfare. The older person is finding it difficult to manage

household tasks and shopping, and has accumulated a few debts. The older

person’s house is worth around £150,000. The neighbour develops a

relationship with the older person. He offers to do his or her shopping, helps

with the garden and does a few maintenance tasks. A few months later he

offers to buy the house for £70,000 and says that the older person can live in

it rent free for the rest of their life. He puts pressure on them and convinces

them that they cannot manage without his help.

________________________________________________________________________________

This story should warn us that even those who appear to have the welfare of older people at heart, may not.

It also applies to sheltered housing, where a developer has managed to get planning permission only because he has promised to build houses for the over 50’s. He and his colleagues may appear caring and concerned but his real motives may be very different.

Misrepresentation is a very real threat. Glossy brochures can convince older people that facilities for them will be provided if they buy into such a scheme, only to find that the developer will procrastinate for years and fail to honour contracts and provide what was stated in the sales literature.

If this happens, residents on such developments have legal redress. They should get legal advice immediately. There may be a case for breach of contract and misrepresentation that if proved could mean that the courts will award damages and compensation to the buyer. They might even have a case for Rescission. This means that the original contract is dissolved, the buyer can hand back his house, get his money back and get damages and compensation. The law is complicated, but misrepresentation and breach of contract are serious misdemeanors.

Elder abuse, in all its forms is happening on a daily basis in the UK. Organisations such as Age UK can help.

In my opinion, the qualifications needed by anyone with the title Warden whose job it is to look after the welfare of senior citizens, needs to be carefully monitored and investigated before they are employed.  As one grows older, trust becomes very important. You need to be able to trust the people who wear these labels: Warden or Professional Carer. You need to know that they have the right motives to do the job.

LISTEN TO THE CHILDREN

In the UK, there is an organisation called FAMILIES NEED FATHERS :  http://www.fnf.org.uk/
This is a quote from their website: FAMILIES NEED FATHERS seeks to obtain  for the children, the best possible blend of both parents in the lives of children; enough for the children to realise that both parents are fully involved in their lives. Legally, parents should be of equal status. Responsibilities and obligations, caring and financial, should be fairly shared between the parents.

In the best of all possible  worlds, this would happen. I know this organisation does amazing work and thank goodness they are there. But there are fathers and families who are unreachable by any charity and only come to light when there is a tragedy and the police become involved. So, how can such families, who see themselves as outside the mainstream, who are anti-authority and refuse help, be reached? Television programmes might help. TV soaps are watched by millions, but to take just one – EastEnders, the story lines are either totally unbelievable or full of violence and family conflict that only seems to get resolved when a character ends up in jail or there is another murder.

I made training films using drama. Careful research lead me to understand that my films had to reach people by touching their hearts as well as their heads. In my award-winning film, THE LOST CHILD, I told the story from the child’s perspective. It was her story. That is the crucial thing is all of this. When parents split up, they often descend into a vortex of recrimination, anger and lies and it the children who are caught in the middle. The children must be listened to. Parents need support, of course, but children must come first.

Children’s Services in the UK have taken a lot of flak in the past and they should be accountable. But they do an incredibly difficult job and they must be supported at every level, as well as monitored effectively, so that mistakes are limited as much as possible. Children’s lives are at risk when these mistakes happens. Agencies must strive to work together, not just by co-operating but also by collaborating, so that the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing. Bad decisions means higher risks for children.

In the project I was commissioned to create for Lancashire County Council, there had been three serious incidents in the county where children had been harmed by their mentally ill parents; two resulting in the death of a child. The serious case reviews found that inter-agency communication and cooperation had broken down in each case. It appeared that each organisation involved had its own targets and priorities, a narrow focus and a failure to see joint working as important to the welfare of children and parents with mental health problems.

The multi-agency training team recognised that there were:

  •  Barriers to joint working within and across agencies
  •  Poor communication between and within agencies.
  •  No shared consistent method of intervention for working with adults with mental ill health and their children
  •  Poor collaboration: Mental health and child care staff worked individually with the adult or child respectively rather than collaboratively   considering the whole family.
  •  No single or joint-agency training for over 5 years on this topic
  •  The needs and wishes of service users were often not taken into account in service delivery or training
  •  Inadequate risk assessment of adults from child care workers and inadequate risk assessments of children from adult mental health workers
  •  National agenda about communication and cooperation, for example the Inquiry by Lord Laming into the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000.
  •  Risks to children of not implementing this training

The aspirations for the project were:

  • Reduction in the numbers of incidents of deaths of (or serious harm to) children.
  •  Enhanced staff knowledge that could be applied in practice
  •  Improved communication, networking and information sharing within and between agencies.
  •  Establishment of a shared agency referral system and approach.
  •  Implementation of a shared protocol.

 Target groups were identified. They included staff working in multi agency statutory, voluntary and private organisations and agencies requiring specific knowledge of the issues that affect all members of service user families. The delegates who participated in the project included Child Care and Mental Health professionals from Health and Social Services (across Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Care Trust  and Morecambe Bay Primary Care Trust), Police, Women’s Refuge, Voluntary Organisations, including Service Users and Carers.

The project was successful and follow-up research showed that the incidents of violent crimes against children reduced following the project. Now, some years on, I do not know what statistics in that area would show today. I can remember that the objectives for that project were very clear:

  • Launch the initiative and the protocol.
  • Heighten the profile.
  • Allow staff to communicate.
  • Incorporate service users perspective
  • Effect an emotional and intellectual response
  • Allow staff to learn what others do and their remit.
  • Create training materials for use with the DVD

The DVD THE LOST CHILD is still being used in training across the UK. There is a saying that it takes a whole community to raise a child. How true this is. We are all responsible for the children in our communities. We all have a part to play in how society looks from a child’s perspective. We all have to listen to children and do the very best for them. They are our future and the future of the world. For more information about THE LOST CHILD DVD go to: http://wwwthelostchild.co.uk

FOOD FOR WRITER’S BLOCK

Working on my new book last week, I came to an impasse. That’s what happens when you embark on a new literary journey. I wouldn’t describe it as writer’s block, so much as a deep desire to do something else. It was mid morning. There was a packet of 00 flour on the work top in my kitchen and a couple of eggs in the fridge. There was also a need in me to produce something creative that I could eat, rather than edit.

I have always been a bit greedy. I guess having Italian parents is the reason I like food so much. My mother was a fabulous cook and the gene was passed on. All my kids can cook well and one of them is an excellent chef running her own hotel. I like to think they learned at their mother’s knee, just as I did. There was one particular dish that was the signature of my family when I was growing up and that was home made pasta. This amazing combination of eggs and flour is the food of gods! You cannot eat it without feeling you have gone to heaven without dying.

This recipe is also a great one for writers. It does something to any stuck author’s stagnating brain. It turns on the cells behind your forehead. Believe, me – I an vouch for its amazing, regenerative properties. One plateful of mama’s pasta, cured everything and tunes you up, so you could scale heights you’d never imagined. On that day last week when the words would not come, I grabbed the flour and the egg and set to work.

Make this and LIVE!  For the sauce, you need three leeks, one or two red onions, 3 fat cloves of garlic, a couple of fresh sage leaves, tomato puree, water, stock or wine  and salt/pepper. For the pasta, you need 300 grams of 00 flour and 1 large egg. Start by making the pasta.

Measure the flour and throw it onto a table or work top that gives you space to knead it and roll it. Put music on. This will be messy but fun, a bit like sex. Turn your flour into a replica of Vesuvius – a mound with a caldera in the centre. Break the egg into the centre and start to bring the flour and egg together, using the tips of your fingers. Mix until it forms a dough. Then knead like crazy until the gluten has taken a good bashing and you have a nice ball of Playdough, pale yellow and tactile. Wrap in some cling film and leave for a bit, while you make the sauce.

Peel and chop the onions and the leeks. Peel the garlic and chop. Chop the sage leaves into strips. Pour a good slosh of olive oil into a pan and add the vegetables. Cook gently until they look and smell gorgeous. Lower the heat and add wine, water and a good tablespoon of tomato puree. Don’t add too much liquid, as the sauce mustn’t be too liquid. You can use half a chicken or veg. stock cube it you think it needs more flavour. Simmer the sauce on a very low heat while you get stuck into the pasta.

Start to roll the dough, turning as you roll. Continue until you can see light through the pasta dough. It should be really thin. If you have a pasta machine use that, but if not, use a sharp knife and cut long, thin strips of dough. You now have tagliatelle. Boil a large pan of salted water. Add a spoonful of oil and chuck in the pasta. It will cook fast, so taste often. When it is ‘al dente’ use a colander spoon to remove the pasta from the water and toss it into the sauce. Add seasoning and stir.  Scatter on good grated parmesan cheese and serve. It will feed two people well.

Enjoy! If you make and eat this, you will know that you will never go hungry again. The pasta dough is the basis for all sorts of pasta dishes. Ravioli is great. Make the filling out of spinach and ricotta cheese, or chicken livers, garlic and bread crumbs. Make up your own filling. Anything goes.

You will find that your writing skills are honed after a plate of home made pasta. You might need to have a sleep for twenty minutes after eating, but it will be worth it. You will work through the night, without complaining.  You will finish chapters as if a person possessed. Such are the magical properties of this wonderful food.

Pizza Hut, eat your hat!

WALKING ANYONE?

English: Tom Daley, British diver, at the para...
English: Tom Daley, British diver, at the parade in London to celebrate the achievements of British competitors at the 2008 Summer Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am feeling bereft. That may be because I have woken this morning with a stinking cold – in August? No, I think it is because THE GAMES will be over today. I have watched an event every day, and been enthralled by every one. From the opening ceremony to yesterday’s spectacular track events and Tom Daley‘s diving, it’s been magic. I was never that interested in sport, apart from show jumping (see Jilly Cooper’s novels) and ice skating (I did it as a child). But these past two weeks have made me realise what I’d been missing.

So, I have been asking myself these questions: why didn’t I do more sport as a kid, and why didn’t I encourage my kids to participate in sport more than they did? The answer to the first question is easy. There just weren’t enough opportunities when I was growing up. As as I went to a convent, getting too red in the face was frowned upon. We did do netball and I always played Centre – can’t quite remember what that entailed apart from getting very red and quite sweaty. What I do recall is how the nuns ran about like mad bats in their black habits and white whimples, yelling at us to ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ Not many balls went into the net when I was on the team, however.

We did have one claim to Olympic fame, however. Judy Grinham. Judy went to my school and was a heroine. Now a grandmother, she competed in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melborne, winning the the 100 m backstroke in 1 minute 2.9 seconds, which was a world record at the time. She was a lot older than me and my only real connection to her is that we were both educated by the same nuns and both went to Gladstone Park swimming pool in Neasdon, London. All I can remember about that pool is being thrown in by a group of local lads who thought it would be funny to see a 10 year old drown. But it felt great to know that Judy had won that medal. She was lucky. She obviously had parents who encouraged her; unusual in 195o’s. Girls were supposed to be secretaries for a couple of years before they sacrificed themselves to husband and children.

My sporting life ended when my kids came along, although I did keep up the skating for a couple of years and managed not to break anything. As far as my children were concerned, only my last child competed in any way. She was mad on horses, so most weekends were spent in muddy fields, praying that she didn’t fall off and break her neck. (This is guaranteed to give any mother tinnitus). She gave up when she went to university, but she still rides for pleasure, so something came out of all those frantic weekends. A wall in her bedroom, covered with rosettes…

There is one sport I would like to take up seriously these days. Walking. I don’t mean an amble down to the shops but a serious, swing your bottom from side to side, wear all the right gear, have a very focused look in your eye type of walking. I really will have to pluck up the courage to join a group. Groups encourage you and make you feel inferior at the same time, but they do get you going. They can be very serious and the wrong type of hat or rucksack may cause murmurings. You have to get it right if you join a group. There are acres of walking country where I live, yet I very rarely get out there and do it. I have walking boots, which is a start. But as yet, I don’t have the kit and the right socks. I believe you have to wear several pairs if you are serious about walking; an cotton internal pair, a pure wool top pair… I’m sure there are more. They must be applied to your feet like skin on an onion and I believe they prevent blisters? I have never walked anywhere for more than thirty minutes without getting blister somewhere on my feet.

As today is Sunday, I think I will start with a walk across the local beach. Watch this space if you want to know how I get on…

 

 

WRITER’S WOUNDS

Severe suffering caused by Writer’s Block

Writers must take risks.  My current risk is about looking at my work and seeing where an echo of myself can be found in all those words. I have just read an article about the British writer Will Self. I admire his work and although some see him as a maverick, I think he is one of our best writers today. You can read the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/05/will-self-umbrella-booker-interview

In the article, written by Alan Hollinghurst, Will says: “I don’t really write for readers…  I think that’s the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer. I mean, I’ve said in the past I write for myself. That’s probably some kind of insane egotism but I actually think that’s the only way to proceed – to write what you think you have to write. I write desperately trying to keep myself amused or engaged in what I’m doing and in the world. And if people like it, great, and if they don’t like it, well, that’s that – what can you do? You can’t go round and hold a gun to their head.”

In my world, I am at that stage as a writer of novels, where I would quite like to hold a gun to the heads of my readers and force them to read and review my work. Because without their opinions, their reviews, their discourse about my book, I cannot know if I am really a writer, as opposed to a purveyor of useless words, strung together with inappropriate punctuation. But, I must concede, that as writing novels is a new process for me, I have thought about my readers and what might amuse them, for a novel is entertainment, however high or low brow it may be, isn’t it?

A diary is written for oneself, isn’t it? But, many diaries become published and many writers use the genre to write books – Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend or  The Diary of Samuel Peyps. There is one thing they have in common, however. A diary is someone’s inner world. It’s the closest you get to opening a door in someone’s forehead and stepping inside. This applies to a diary that is a work of fiction. The writer enters the mind of the character. But I guess, all writers do that? My characters become so real to me, I could name them in my will. They are part of an extended family that I will never abandon. In fact, I am probably closer to some of them than I am to my real family, at times.

At the moment, I am having second novel-itus. That means, I have started the book and have got stuck at page 42. Didn’t that wonderful writer Douglas Adams say in his book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that 42 was the secret of life? I always get stuck at page 42. Is that saying something to me? Will I find the secret of life if I just get past that page?

Could it all come down to rampant self-criticism? I either berate myself too much or too little. I’m either furious because the last 42 pages look like utter crap or they read like the Bible or I am convinced that the book, when I get past 42, will make me a million. A hearty walk in a stiff breeze is the only answer. Writing is a painful process. Now, I sound like a martyr.  I say again, it’s painful. Why? Because you are alone. You are easing the story out of yourself in a a process that can leave you empty, (any allusion to private functions is purely anecdotal) You have no one but yourself to turn to for approbation or contempt. Of course, you can read every page to a friend, lover, spouse or the postman, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will say it’s wonderful. After all, we like to please.

To get a real and unbiased view of your book, you must treat it like a wound and allow it to be poked, prodded, picked at and have the skin removed, layer by layer, till the offending wound is down to the bone. Then there will be suggestions that will include operations, dissection,  amputation, possibly a complete turn-off of the life support system. You may have to go back to a very obscure synapses at the centre of your brain and start again.

That’s the risk writers must take. If you put your mind on a page, someone will spread jam on it, you mark my words.