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Life and Death on the Beach

Today I found a body on the beach. Actually, over the past few months I’ve found several.

Most moving was the demise of Sid the squid. I say squid and Sid but, as I’m no expert, he (or she) could be an octopus. The website of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation informs me squid and octopus are cousins from the cephalopoda family so let’s cover both possibilities and call her  (or him) Cepha.

I looked into Cepha’s blue eye with sadness. Until the film My Octopus Teacher, I’d never thought much about octopuses. But the film has dramatically changed my perception, educating me on how amazingly intelligent and resourceful they are in their battle for survival. Almost human.

With its drooling red tongue, I was less moved when I stumbled across this dead clam. I mean, people eat these revolting creatures? Come to think of it, I once had clam chowder in Tofino. If I’d known about the red tongue I’d have chosen a burger instead. Except, believe it or not, it isn’t a tongue at all. It’s a foot, used to dig down and hide itself in the sand or mud. 

Sadly, the death toll didn’t end there. A couple of days later I found this little fella with his enticingly wide smile. For someone so thin his grin risks splitting him in two. I figure he must have good reason to celebrate. Maybe he’s laughing because he’s reached land – at last. 

Or maybe he’s celebrating the resilience of this inanimate object that’s sprung to life after escaping its role as road patrol. Dance on cone… (Click to see him dance!)

Click cone to see him dance!


Covid Christmas

“Leave it on the doorstep,” I shout. Clumps of cinnamon scented bubbles slide down my legs forming white rocky outcrops on the bathmat.

“I’m in the bath!” Well, I was. Now I’m shiveringly naked shouting through the open bathroom window at an unseen parcel deliverer. At this point I don’t care whether the parcel’s delivered. It isn’t for me. 

Virologist daughter’s online purchases have been prolific this year: four deliveries a day on average. Four deliveries means four interruptions for me in my home office. Delivery businesses must have a plethora of images of my slippered feet plus parcel in their data clouds.  

Thing is, I’m not a fan of online Christmas shopping. I prefer the real thing: window displays with Santa and fake snow, impossibly large sparkly baubles, trees decorated with engineering precision. This year I’ve barely been into Bournemouth town centre, so I’ve been looking forward to a special Christmas shopping trip. 

Oh, goodie – the 20ft gold and white reindeer is resplendent outside Beales – as always…but Beales, where are you? The usual gorgeous festive window displays have been replaced by ugly chipboard. Beales is shut, closed, dead. I imagine the gloomy barren interior that once teemed with the pretty and the practical. Several other shop windows reveal nothing more than blank walls and concrete floors. Debenhams is advertising its closing down sale. 

Downright depressed, I return home to find virologist daughter making paper snowflakes. That’s more like it!

“They’re lovely,” I say.

“Yes,” she says, holding one up so I can admire its intricate tracery. 

“Where did you get the designs – they’re beautiful?”

“Glasgow University. This one’s calicivirus.”

“Eh? You mean they’re all…”

“Virus snowflakes. This one’s coronavirus…”

Roaming 1

My plans to tread the ground in Barcelona, Bali and Australia this year haven’t quite come off. Infact, I’ve travelled no further than 20 miles from home – often on foot, thereby emulating my 18th century forebearers who probably wouldn’t have wandered more than 10 miles from their front door – in their lifetime.  

And there’s something very comforting about zooming in on my local neighbourhood, noticing the small changes: buds that’ve opened like hands; the smell of newly cut grass; a marmalade cat sunning itself on a car roof.

Once restrictions are lifted, however, I dig out my unused charity shop purchase: ‘100 Best Walks in Dorset’ and persuade son to roam with me. 


For our first outing we can’t resist the enticing prospect of walk number 38 encompassing Shitterton and the River Piddle. Let’s just say that Shitterton does not live up to its name – it defies it. A gorgeous elbow of pastel thatch cottages, its airbrushed perfection has us wishing we could move in. 

We’re doing quite well on walk 38 until we reach the instruction: ‘go left through a small steel gate.’

“There’s the barn…” says son pointing to a 40ft high farm building. “So the gate should be here…”

“That’s definitely a cow.” You’d think he’d know that – being a scientist an’ all. I hate cows. 

“Maybe it’s a shape shifting cow?”

Undeterred, we limbo under a fence, surprising a hare who gives us a look that loosely interpreted reads: ‘What the fuck?’ I feel your pain hare. How can a steel gate disappear into thin air?

Walk number 38, however, ends in culinary heaven at the scout hut in Bere Regis where a woman – nay, faery of the first order – is whipping up bubble pancakes topped with banoffee pie flavoured Purbeck ice-cream from a tiny vintage caravan. 

On the car journey home son decides to read our walk book more closely: 

“Mother, how long have you had this book?”


“It says here ‘published in 2006.’”

Fourteen years is probably long enough for a steel gate to disappear – or shape shift into a cow. 

Gr-owning Glory

My hair costs me the price of a weekend break per year. I know this because, since lockdown, I’ve missed three hair appointments, saving myself almost £150. 

Thing is, my hairdresser, Ray, has been tinting my hair to a shade approximating my schoolgirl blonde for the past 15 years. Thereby re-establishing the ‘real’ me: mousy with corn sun-bleached tendrils. This is the ‘me’ I’ve clung to up to my sixth decade.

Ray’s 5-weekly restoration of youthful me is so effective that I’ve only caught occasional glimpses of my shameful grey roots. To me, grey has always reeked of old, conjuring up pictures of my mother with white and steel curls, crumpled face and mis-applied pink lipstick.

After the first cancelled hair appointment during lockdown, I attempted to maintain blonde me by the application of a gold powder that promised to “banish all grey.” At a centimetre’s re-growth it worked – kind of, although it was a little too – gold, giving me the appearance of a mummified Egyptian queen. 

Three months into lockdown and the grey is creeping so far down the length of my hair that my crowning glory resembles a failed tie-dye experiment. But when I take a closer look at my grey hairs, lying as sleek and flat as strands of fine metal, they’re a harmonic blend of white, silver and gunmetal. Unlike the dull blonde, the grey hairs have the lambent glow of rain on glass. The beauty of my natural grey hair begins to feel ‘right’, as if I’m shedding a raw, unpolished persona – an authentic elegant me emerging from the shackles of moody youth. 

When Ray calls to arrange an appointment for July, I tell him I don’t want a colour, just a cut.

“You’re the third person this week who’s going gr-ombre,” he says cheerfully. As we book our appointment I feel liberated. I’m beautiful as I am. 

The relief in quietly discarding the Valerie that’s been bending to the wind of convention and its celebration of youth is tangible. With excitement I join the thousands of other women across the globe who’ve liberated their grey. 

Yes, Ray, I’m going gr-ombre.

Another Angle

Lockdown is enabling me to see the world from a different perspective. 

Last week I viewed my kitchen from an unusual angle – lying on the cold slate floor with my legs propped up on a chair. Due to daughter having contracted Covid19 at her lab we were all being tested for antibodies. The nurse didn’t take much blood but clearly more than I could spare, hence my dying fly. 

I’m not the only one in the family to adopt unfamiliar postures. Daughter and prospective son-in-law are regressing into primate state, largely due to spending hours hunched over a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a horse and cart.

“I was sure that one went there.”

“Part of the horses leg? In the tree?”

“There’s just so much brown…”

Though frustrating for puzzlers, minimal variation in colour is brilliant when looking at images of the presence of nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere over the world’s cities before and after lockdown. Wuhan, for instance has gone from deep purple (lots of pollution) to a pale yellow (fairly clean air).

Of course, this clean, breathable air comes at a price. Since we’re not flying or using our cars and our industries are in lockdown, economies worldwide are freefalling according to the experts. But I can’t help thinking the recognized perspective on the economy is, to put it bluntly, a bit crazy. Without a planet and people, the state of the economy is irrelevant. How did we come to organize such a daft system? 

I expect you’re dying to know the results of our antibody tests, eh? Negative. Which could mean that we have strong immune systems or that daughter’s Covid19 blood count was pretty low or that we kept her locked in her bedroom until she finished the jigsaw puzzle. 

Meat…and poison!

This de-cluttering malarky seems to be very popular. 

On yesterday’s walk two pine bedside tables standing forlornly on the pavement attracted my attention. I’d already painted them duck egg blue and replaced the boring wooden knobs with funky ceramic ones – in my head, of course – when it hit me: a) they’re too bulky for me to carry, b) Coronavirus could be lurking on the varnished surface and c) how do I know the residents of number 57 want to give them away? Maybe they’re storing them on the pavement while they defrost the fridge.

The people on my street’s WhatsApp group are much clearer about what they want shot of. Yesterday Elaine advertised a full set of Henry hoover tools she found lurking in the back of a cupboard. Virus or no virus, I snapped her hand off. Round brushy tool for upholstery, thin plastic tool for nooks and crannies – never has cleaning held such potential!

“Come here boy. Good boy,” says daughter to her new labour saving device.

I have to admit that our new pet does gobble up dirt as he scampers around the house. However, like a not very well trained dog, he does have his moments. Today he trapped me in the corner of the kitchen for 10 minutes while I shouted, “Bugger off!” 

He didn’t. 

Daughter eventually persuaded him to stop bullying me and Alexa sent him back to his docking station where he sulked for the rest of the afternoon. Who’s in control here, I wonder.

What is it they say about one person’s meat being another’s poison? Oh, Henry, you’re my man. 

Here is my Talking of Stuff on Mags4Dorset

Alone But Not Alone

I’m still finding it difficult to understand the dichotomy of self-isolation and social distancing with the sense of togetherness that Coronavirus is creating. We’re striving for non-contact under a threat that’s pulling us together. Our aloneness is our weapon against this virus – provided we all take up arms together.

Togetherness is everywhere: communal shopping lists; the plethora of hilarious videos that traverse the globe; the whoops of delight from kids and dads playing in the back garden – on a weekday. Yay!

On my daily walk I’m moved by the array of homemade rainbows. A particular favourite, spotted in my local pub window, was created by Barry, age 36! I’m also aware of a persistent humming, sounding a bit like Dr Who’s tardis landing.  A spray of water as I stride past a driveway reveals all – a jet washer. There must be an awful lot of jet washer owners in my manor – and some sparklingly clean patios. 

Another activity that has been taken up with gusto is ‘de-cluttering’. Marie Kondo has a lot to answer for. Over Easter, daughter cleaned out our lean-to. We now have two massive piles of ‘stuff’ in the back garden: pile one: refuse centre; pile two: charity shop, neither of which are open, of course. 

So, those of us who are well are making improvements at home – and if you stay up past midnight you might beat the other 349,000 people waiting to order online from B&Q.

But, for those people who are in hospital with the virus, and for their loved ones waiting at home, togetherness is not an option. 

Size Matters


Despite having spent most of the night in A & E, son is in fine fettle at breakfast. Daughter is writing shopping list.

“Courgettes!” I shout.

“Some in fridge already,” mumbles son through a mouthful of toast. 

“You can never have enough courgettes,” says daughter, adding one kilo to the list. 

“What is it with this family and courgettes?” Retorts son and, barely pausing for breath, “Have you read about those snake faith-based communities?”

“Err, no..” I shouldn’t encourage his lateral thinking, but I’m intrigued. 

“They have to hold a poisonous snake to join the community.”

“But they might die.” 

“So, you think we should be a courgette faith-based community?” says daughter, adding crème fraîche and pancetta to shopping list. “What would the initiation task be?”

Stone me!

And, in case you’re wondering – son spent the night in A & E passing kidney stones, so his verbal meanderings could be due to morphine. A & E was eerily quiet, son says; he was taken to a bed immediately. The bloke in the next bed had arrived at A & E because “His eyes had gone fuzzy,” after playing on his computer all day. The NHS nurses treated “fuzzy eyes” with respect and patience.  

Through March, I kept track of the global spread of Coronavirus. But the rate of growth is so depressing that I’ve stopped. I imagine Covid19 as a rapacious monster – a tsunami that devours… people. But daughter assures me it’s not huge. It’s actually a tiny speck, a particle.

“Like the sharp end of a needle?” I ask.

“No Mum, you can’t see it.” And she gives me a figure to the power of ten – or something. I stop listening because I can’t imagine anything that small doing so much harm. 

Haves and Have Nots

Trod on my diary as I climbed out of bed this morning. Before lockdown my diary was my constant companion. Now, its buff pages with their promises of ‘Yr 11 Macbeth’ and ‘Hair – Ray’ are a forlorn reminder of my previous life. I turn to next week: blank, blank, blank. Even my dentist has cancelled on me. 

My life has no structure: no comforting scaffolding on which to place an amble round charity shops or a walk on the beach. 

So how come I’m so friggin’ busy?

Learning Curve

In the ten days since lockdown I’ve learned Zoom, zooming friends I’ve not spoken to in months; searched the National Archives for my Dad’s seaman’s pouch from WW2; worked out with beautiful people in New Zealand courtesy of Les Mills….and mastered some of the features of WordPress. 

Biochemist son is currently taking apart pallets to build raised veggie beds and prospective son-in-law has swapped drill and claw hammer for measuring jug and mixing bowl, baking scrumptious chocolate brownies, quiches and… flapjacks today, I think. Thank goodness for Les Mills and crew.

And while we’re faffing about, daughter continues to toddle off to work in her lab for that organisation with only three letters. 


“So, society will be divided: the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’,” says son at dinner, fork poised, brow pleated as he surveys the three of us about to tuck into cheese and lardon quiche. 

“I suppose,” nods daughter sagely.

“So the ‘haves’ will become like a superior race….” Now we’re all looking at him with expressions that read: ugghh?

“The ‘have hads’ will need to identify themselves so they can move around freely while the rest of us self-isolate. They could wear a huge gold medallion around their necks…”

“Why not on their heads?” says daughter.

As usual, my lightbulb moment arrives via The Guardian and a relatively small article about anti-body testing and immunity passports for key workers. I get it: the ‘have hads’ and the ‘have had nots’.

Talking of Stuff

Requests via our street’s WhatsApp group have escalated. Started with a pint of semi-skimmed, then indoor television aerial to: can someone please pick up my reading glasses from Sainsbury’s? 

With COPD, Dad had no choice but to self-isolate. So far he’s taken his bed to pieces, cleaned underneath and reassembled it, created a running circuit in his lounge and de-cluttered his wardrobe. Is every self-isolater doing this? 

Like Juliet, he talks to us from the window of his first floor flat: “The brightness of his cheek would shame those stars…” Gosh, he does seem to have more colour in his cheeks than usual. I must ask daughter if she has a spare thermometer. 

We drop off sweet potatoes, broccoli and a chicken dinner. Headlining today’s shopping list: white emulsion. 

Continue reading “Talking of Stuff”