Note Number 57…A Writing Retreat…

Note Number 57…A Writing Retreat…

I’ve just returned home after four nights away in the beautiful Devon countryside, in the village of Sheepwash. It was a writer’s haven. Good healthy food, endless cups of tea or coffee, (and delicious wine), homemade cakes, flapjacks, gluten-free or vegan if required. Debbie Flint knows how to look after her guests at Retreats For You

Wine O’Clock…Table Laid for Dinner…Debbie working hard in the kitchen.

I loved my bedroom which was spacious, well-appointed with kettle, tea, coffee etc., towels, bathrobe and slippers. A writing desk close to the window where I could look out to a street in the village.  My one concern had been that I would have to share a bathroom (although large) with three other guests. I need not have worried. I never once met anyone coming in or out, nobody ever had to knock on the door to disturb me and I didn’t have to knock on the door to get anybody out! There was another bathroom on the ground floor, so we all managed very well thank you.

Retreats for You the big white house in the corner. My lovely room. The Village Square  and Pub at Sheepwash. Two lovely horses walking by my window. 

This was a screenwriting retreat organised by Retreat West . Our teacher, for three mornings was C M Taylor, or Craig to us. You can follow him on Twitter @CMTaylorStory. He shared his screenwriting and novel-writing expertise with us and we were all enthralled. Well, I’m easily pleased. NOT TRUE! This week I have learnt; techniques for structure, planning, character building (fictional character that is not mine) and so much more (what a cliché cop-out). From a personal point of view, I recieved some solid advice about which point in the story to begin my novel, which I hope to finish one day AND I would like to write the screenplay for it. A girl can dream can’t she?

the gang

All working very hard…(I need a haircut!)

Above all it was a productive, fun week with lovely people, all with one common interest— WRITING.

Amanda, Sylvia, Gayle and Craig…hope to see you all again soon and Debbie of course oh and Linda and the lovely young… something beginning with N…but not Ninette, I am so bad at names (help me out here screenwriting chums).

I am going back in November for the flash fiction retreat run by Retreat West, you can find the link here…hurry, there are only two spaces left!

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I have borrowed a book from the library in the Phonebox, I went cycling twice in my four day visit, I had a brilliant time. Devon is a beautiful county 


Trip to England…family…friends…fabulous…

Trip to England…family…friends…fabulous…
Beautiful English Countryside
Beautiful English Countryside

I know you’ve all been dying to know how we got on with the cat and the dog on our drive to England from Italy.
Well…it is not something that I would wish to repeat – at least not with the cat who miaowed for most of the 1200 miles (poor chap) but took less than twenty-four hours to settle in his new home in Essex where he is being thoroughly spoilt!

Mickey, settled in Leigh on sea, looks as though he's been there forever!
Mickey, settled in Leigh on sea. He looks as though he’s been there forever!

We were full up with luggage and at one point Jpeg did try to get on top of it all so that she could be closer to us!

Our little polo packed full...only a tiny space left for Jpeg
Our little polo packed full…only a tiny space left for Jpeg
Jpeg on top of the luggage...poor dog
Jpeg on top of the luggage…poor dog

Most of the stress of the trip was caused by the fact that our Italian vet wrote the wrong date on the animal passports for their last check and the dog’s worm tablet which had to be no less than 24 hours before entering the UK and no more than120 hours, a big enough margin but of course he had to make a balls up of it – and he also omitted to put in the time but wrote next year’s date instead! Goodness knows why. When I realised his mistake I called him and he just said, ‘change it, it’s no problem.’ But of course I did think it was a problem and I was convinced that the dog and cat would be impounded at Calais because I had tampered with the passports. I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before we left and had little rest on our two nights en route. First night in Aosta, second in St Quentin.

Mickey taking it easy with The Man in our hotel in San Quentin
Mickey taking it easy with The Man in our hotel in St Quentin

As it happened everything went well at Calais, but I was so nervous I couldn’t get the scanner to work and read the animal’s microchips, particularly the cat who was absolutely terrified when I lifted off the lid of his box and a stupid man with a huge black Labrador allowed said Labrador to put his humungous nose up the cat’s bottom!‘I’ve got a cat here!’ I shouted but he was an ignorant self-important man who ignored my obvious distress and went about his own business not caring what happened to me or my cat. The French animal immigration lady tried to remain calm but obviously thought she was dealing with an idiot (me) so she spoke loudly and slowly,
‘You are doing eet wrong. You must make ze circle movement over ze shoulders of ze animal, you are not following my instruction!’  I bloody well was following her instructions – I needed help, where was The Man when needed? Thankfully, he was close by and able to   hold the dog while I got the hang of the scanning machine.

Relaxing at Calais after arduous scanning at 'animal passport control'
Relaxing at Calais after arduous scanning at ‘animal passport control’

Travelling with the cat and the dog was bad enough, but imagine taking a ferret?  It must be quite a popular animal to take abroad because they even have a tick box dedicated to them on the pass for your car window. We didn’t see a single ferret – or horse for that matter, but they would be a little difficult to smuggle in one would imagine.

1 dog, 1 cat, no ferret (although you could be forgiven for thinking the ferret box had a positive tick!)
1 dog, 1 cat, no ferret (although you could be forgiven for thinking the ferret box had a positive tick!)

The dog was as good as gold throughout the whole of the journey, jumping in and out of the car no problem.  She seemed to loved England, all those different smells and no problem with the language.  During October she slept in several different locations and as long as she had her bed, her food and we were close by she never made any fuss. For five days we left her with friends in Bristol and we were told that she behaved impeccably – although when we went to collect her there was no way she was going to  let us out of her sight or out of any door without her!

Picnic at Ashton Court Bristol - Jpeg loved it!
Picnic at Ashton Court Bristol – Jpeg loved it!
Jpeg's friend Luca in Devon
Jpeg’s friend Luca in Devon (and his owner Caroline)

It was wonderful to be back in England seeing friends and family. We visited, Dorset, Devon, Bristol and of course Essex where we left Mickey the cat. Although travelling around for nearly 4 weeks, I didn’t manage to catch up with everyone – it’s impossible. But we’re hoping to be back again in early 2016.

The Edge of the Cliff in Dorset - The Jurassic Coast
The Edge of the Cliff in Dorset – The Jurassic Coast
The Man enjoying the Coastal Path
The Man enjoying the Coastal Path

We drove all over dorset and couldn’t believe how many public footpaths there were.  In Italy you are free to roam almost anywhere but I think the walks in Devon, Dorset and probably most of the West Country, might take a lot of beating.

Dorset Pigs seen on our walk along a public footpath
Dorset Pigs seen on our walk along a public footpath

Of the small towns we visited Beaminster (pronounced Bemster) was one of our favourites – and I discovered my cousin lives there so we met up with him and his wife for lunch in Bridport, a lovely Dorset town full of bookshops, antique shops, craft shops and tea shops!

The Square in Beaminster
The Square in Beaminster

Some of the other things we did in England…

  1. Went to the cinema to see live screening of Giselle by the Bolshoi.
  2. Ate pub lunches.
  3. Walked miles down public footpaths.
  4. Went to a two-book launch in Exeter,  Sophie Duffy‘s Bright Stars and Cathie Hartigan’s  Secret of the Song. Have read Sophie’s and can highly recommend it-great read. Have only just started on Cathie’s so will let you know how it goes – it’s a good beginning anyway!
  5. Went to London and saw Sarah Mayhew and Sadie Hasler (Old Trunk Theatre Co) in their production ‘Pramkicker’ – fantastic! Superb script and brilliant acting from two very talented actors.
  6. Met my brother and his wife  for dinner in London – we’re managing it almost yearly now!
  7. Also met up with my sister in Thames Ditton…she had been poorly and in hospital so a timely visit. She’s better now though…at least she’s supporting the bar at the local pub again so she must be okay!

I hope you like this small collections of photographs from our visit. Whilst in England I celebrated my 65th birthday with family and friends, naturally my lovely granddaughter  (all the way from New York!) had to blow out the candles on my cup cakes. (Why didn’t anyone tell me I had a silly tuft of hair sticking up on the top of my head?)

Blowing out the candles
Blowing out the candles

On a more poignant note, our family came together from around the world and one morning we scattered the ashes of my lovely son Tosh who died in 2011 in a tragic accident. Now there is somewhere for his extended family and his friends to pay their respects if they wish. A beautiful plaque in the garden of remembrance two, in Arnos Grove Cemetery, Bristol. I’m looking forward to visiting it often.

Tosh Plaque

It’s olive picking time again in Italy so plenty to get on with now we’re back and…the sun is shining! Yeah!

Country Car Mechanics, the same the world over….love em!

I cannot believe it has been over a month since I last posted! That is quite disgraceful. No excuses. I’ll try not to let it happen again. Hope all my followers have missed me…I don’t want to know if you haven’t.


A few weeks ago my car began making a terrible swooshing noise and a ‘red light’ flashed on and off on the dashboard. I took it to the local garage man who came with me for a test drive. He was a little unsettled by the right hand drive situation and felt the need to grab hold of the door handle and even grabbed the hand brake at one point. He paled when a car came in the opposite direction as he was used to being a passenger on the other side of the car. The short trip may have affected his subsequent diagnosis.

He shook his head and tutted, as they do, and told me sadly that the cambelt had gone and I was looking at possibly as much as €3000 to fix it.

I was allowed to drive it home and think about it, but not to drive it anywhere outside the village, just ‘piano, piano’ quietly and slowly. I discussed it with my man and we were both pretty gutted as the car is only 6 years old, a VW Polo 1.2.

We talked and thought and googled, (it is a verb you know; to google). Our googling came up trumps there is NO cambelt in the VW Polo 1.2 2007 cars. YIPPEE!!!

So back we went to the car man and gleefully told him, ‘This car has no cambelt’. He scratched his head and said it must be some bearings in the gearbox then. He’s a good and helpful mechanic despite the lack of knowledge re the cambelt.

He’s had the car now for two weeks, I’ve been down twice but he hadn’t had time to look at it. Today I paid another visit and this time my little car was up high on the ramp things, it’s innards sitting on the bench. He smiled. We’ve ordered the part, it will come tomorrow the car will be ready on Thursday at the latest.

‘How much will it cost?’ I asked.

‘Not much. It’s not so serious.’ He picked up one of the parts on the bench and tried to explain, ‘this we need new, this is not so bad, if it had been these..’ he pointed at a large mechanical thing with lots of cogs, the gear box I’m presume, ‘it would be serious but this is not so much.’

‘But, how much? ‘ I asked again,

‘Not much, it’s not serious.’ Oh, so unhelpful.

So, ‘not much’ could be anything, let’s face it, everyone has a different conception of expensive and cheap. Some people might think that €500 is not much when it could have been €3000 but €500 is a lot to me at the moment. I’m hoping now it might be less but thinking about the entrails of the engine strewn all over the bench I’m wondering how much labour it will take for him to put them back and close it up., tidily.

The thing is, a similar thing happened to me in Devon in 2011, with the same car. I drove a few hundred miles from Cardiff to Devon and began to have a problem with a juddering sort of action. I took it to the local garage and he when I told him how far I’d driven he was horrified. ‘I wouldn’t drive it another two feet!’ he said. I can’t remember what the problem was now but it involved ordering a part and they needed all sorts of intricate details about the car so they could get the right bits.

When I phoned them the next day the conversation had been much the same as the one I had today. The Devon mechanic also said, ‘it won’t be much’ and when I asked again he said the same thing but in a different way, ‘it’ll be a good job, not that expensive’, but refused to give me a price. It turned out to be less than £150 so I’m hoping that all country garage men think the same and that the bill for the Polo this time will be just short of €200…

Somehow I doubt it, but I’ll let you know.