The Beach Hut

The Beach Hut

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Coffee Morning

I went out to coffee this morning.  There were six of us and, wanting to try somewhere different, we went to a local pub which is famous for its Christmas decorations.  We arranged to meet at 11am and after waiting out in the rain for 10 minutes for the pub to open the doors we entered a veritable grotto with walls and ceilings literally covered with gold, silver, red and green tinsel and sparkling garlands .......  and the coffee was pretty good too!

There’s something special about morning coffee, I’d much rather go to coffee with friends than go out to dinner; talking and eating is something of a skill that I haven’t quite acquired– I enjoy my food too much to let it go cold while holding a conversation.

Anyway, we were still there an hour later, deep in conversation.  Apart from our group there was one other table occupied by a small party, but that wasn’t good enough apparently.  As the waitress cleared the tables she asked if we would be ordering a meal, and when we said no, she replied that if we weren’t planning to order they would need the table.  We all left, leaving a totally empty pub behind us!  I wonder if they had the lunchtime rush they were obviously expecting?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Arty Breaks writing retreats

When I last wrote in my blog I was about to leave the security of a full-time job and I admit I was feeling more than a little trepidation; how I would pay the bills and what I would do with my time were firmly at the top of those concerns. In fact I never expected to stop working.  I could never understand why people who won the lottery always seemed to leave their job; I thought I would want to continue even in a voluntary capacity.  No-one was more surprised than me when I reached the decision to stop going out to work.

I’ve always really enjoy work, lots of it.  For the last three years, on top of the full-time job, I’ve been engaged in a distance learning degree with the University of Wales, I’m now on the last level of my BA in Voluntary Sector Studies and expect to graduate in June 2014, I’ve also been developing my writing and have had a couple of short fiction items published in print and online. So, you see, I really do like to be busy with lots of ongoing projects. 

It’s been three months now since I left the job and things have moved on; I’m still studying for my degree, I’m still writing – although no new published items to crow about yet.  In addition, I’m now volunteering for half a day each week in my MP’s constituency office, and, and this is what I’ve been leading up to:  I’m setting up my own business!  I’ve got a website and everything!  Good ol’ BT, however, is keeping me waiting until next Monday (26 November) for my phone line, and then I can print my stationery.  What’s the business?  What’s it called? ………

………Arty Breaks writing retreats will run weekend writing breaks in Eastbourne throughout the year and we’re currently taking reservations for January and February 2012.

For more information about Arty Breaks please check out the website,

So much for the question about what I am going to do with my time - sorted!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Bacon sandwiches

My husband and sons follow the Muslim faith and, while they don't follow all the rules strictly, they don’t eat pork.  This means that it’s easier for us all to never have pork in the house and when we eat out although I may eat sausages or bacon or ribs (yummy!) the rest of the family never do.  It’s not just a matter of not having pork or pork products on their plate, no pork must have been cooked with the utensils used to cook their food. 

This issue has caused some funny, some embarrassing and some very awkward moments.  Here are some examples:

Chinese restaurant
Me: “Does this special fried rice have any pork in it?”
Waitress: “No.  Just peas and ham.”

Market stall
Me: “Do these chicken sausages have any pork in them?”
Stallholder: “Only the skins.”
Me: “Pardon?”
Stallholder: “ONLY THE SKINS.”

Beach cafe in Corfu this summer
Me: “We’d like to share a pizza please.   We’d like all the toppings but no ham.”
Waitress: “No ham?”
Me: “That’s right.  Tomato, mushroom, onion, pepper but no ham.”
Waitress: “ok, no ham.”
She returns proudly carrying a large pizza for two to share and my heart sinks as she places it carefully on the table between me and my husband.
Waitress: “No ham.  Bacon!”
He settled for a Greek Salad and I had way more pizza than I really wanted!  

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tomorrow's My Last Day at Work

Tomorrow I'll be leaving my place of work, the place I've worked for the last 14 years, to the day.  I've moved around a lot here, I started when my youngest son was 5 and I was appointed to a new project as a part time admin assistant and over the next 14 years I moved from there to PA to the Chief Executive, Volunteer Manager, back to PA with Operations and HR Manager thrown in - by now I was working full-time (phew!).

Today is the day UK students receive their AS and A Level results and in the office there were very proud parents who's children were either (apparently) indifferent to or disappointed by their results.  'Ultimately,' I said, 'it's only ever the latest thing you do that counts.'  It's true for examination results, GCSEs, NVQs, AS and A Levels, Degrees (Under or Post Grad) but it made me reflect on my own experiences in the workplace too.

By the time I started with this latest company I'd had four full-time jobs; the first two were secretarial - I learned shorthand and typing at college, then I moved to London and got a job with a local authority as, what do you think?  Yes, a secretary.  However this was a promotion - I was secretary to the Assistant Director of Housing and I wouldn't have been appointed to that role if I didn't have the recent experience behind me.   Five years later I grabbed the opportunity to move up - and to the side a little - to become a Rent Arrears Officer.  This was a great job involving meeting people and helping them fight their way through the red tape of the benefits system, giving debt advice, attending court and ultimately (not so good) attending evictions (now that's a blog in itself).

When I moved my family out of London to the south coast to run a hardware shop I was leaving a good, solid career with a local authority and a better salary than I was to see for the next ten years.

After just four years in the shop I moved on again, this time broke, dejected and feeling utterly hopeless and I started to look around for another job; I was an experienced debt counsellor and housing officer, surely the world was my oyster.  It wasn't.

Eventually I found a job as a part time admin assistant.  And this is where my blog started.

It's only ever the last thing you do that counts.  I'd been out of the housing business for four years - my skills and experience were out of date and no longer relevant.  Now I'm leaving my current job and intend to take a break,  try my hand at writing and finish my degree.  However, unless I manage to write a Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey blockbuster, I'll be back in the job market at some point, and then will an employer be interested in an unqualified HR or Volunteer Manager with lots of outdated experience?  

And those young people receiving their A and AS level results today - they only have to get them into university, after which it will be their degree that counts and no-one will ever again ask about their A level results.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

My Lucky Day

I had a win on the Euromillions recently.  It was the week they promised, “100 UK Millionaires”.  I was quite extravagant, I paid £10 for 5 lines; one for each member of the family.  I’m not a gambler by nature and I rarely even do one line on the lottery but I fancied my chances here; there would be 100 winners after all.

As a child Sunday evenings at my grandparents’ house would often mean a game of cards or a Beatle Drive and the grown-ups thought playing for pennies would make it a bit more interesting.  I didn’t.  Even though the pennies were given to me to play with I didn’t want to lose any of them!  “OK”, said Mum, “we’ll play with matchsticks instead”.  Not me – what let someone take my matchsticks?  No fear! 

Little has changed really.  Perhaps I’m just a bad loser, but I’ve never really understood the ‘fun’ in gambling.  Some say playing the Lottery isn’t really gambling; but what else can it be when you pay money in the hope of winning a large sum and in reality, usually, don’t get anything back?

Anyway, that week when 100 UK Millionaires were created, I had a win.  You’re probably wondering what I did with my winnings.  Well, £2 went on another lottery ticket and the remaining 80p went on a (small) bar of chocolate to celebrate!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

How do you know when you've reached middle age?

My children tell me I’m old, but then our children always think we’re old, don’t they?  Mine thought I was old when I was 29!

It was comments from two friends at different times, however, that made me realise I’d crossed the line into middle age.  One came from an actor friend who had been cast in the play, Rebecca, and happened to tell me that they were having problems casting some of the parts.   I joked that I might just try out for one of them.  Now I don’t remember much about Rebecca, but I don’t think there many roles in it.  There’s Rebecca and her husband, of course, the horrid Mrs Danvers and few smaller parts, I think.  Now I don’t know what I expected, I’m sure I didn’t think myself Rebecca (herself) material, but I was somewhat taken aback when my friend suggested I’d make a good Mrs Danvers!  My mouth probably dropped open; I was certainly speechless for a few seconds before coming to my senses and laughing it off.  I can’t help thinking how awful it must be for those beautiful actresses who go from Rebecca to Mrs Danvers in just a few, short, years – no wonder they try to hold back the time with cosmetic surgery; I’m beginning to think about it myself!

The next time was a year or so later.  I was recounting to a young (30 or so) (female) colleague how a friend and I had met an Olympic athlete on the train the night before, describing this drop-dead-gorgeous hunk of a man, with bulging muscles and eyes like pools .... well, you get the picture.  Anyway, she just laughed and said he was probably used to having ‘middle-aged women swooning over him’!  Well, if the Mrs Danvers comment hadn’t quite spelled it out before, this time it hit – yes, I was officially middle aged.   Now where’s my Horlicks?

Friday, 30 March 2012

My First Critic

Throughout my working life, whatever my job, I’ve always written; letters, reports, press releases and magazine articles.  In one of my previous jobs I worked for the same organisation, in different roles, for 14 years. I had the same line manager for 12 of those years and until the last year at every performance appraisal, no matter what comments I received for all other aspects of the appraisal system, I could be confident that I would receive an ‘excellent’ for my writing.  I write.  I always have.  It’s something I’ve always been good at.  I’m never going to write great literature or an academic paper and I’m unlikely ever to be famous, but I can write. 

In actual fact I invariably received an ‘excellent’ in 90% of the comments on my performance appraisals, often with particular commendation for my writing.  Imagine, then, how I felt in that last year when I received an ‘acceptable’ for ‘written work’.  Nothing had changed.  I was still me, I’d been in the same job for four years, I had the same line manager but suddenly, without any warning, I was told that I wasn’t such a good writer after all.  I felt as though someone had whipped the chair away just as I was about to sit down, leaving me to fall, not to the floor, but through the floor into the space below, and the space below that and, perhaps even, the space below that.

Being told by someone I had huge respect for that I couldn’t do something I was so confident about made me doubt everything about myself.  Perhaps there were other things I couldn’t do that I thought I was good at.   I thought I was a good listener, good at helping people work through problems, a good trainer, organizer, co-ordinator.  Perhaps I was only ‘acceptable’ in those skills too?  I was devastated.

Since then I’ve joined a writing group, had some work published, in print and online and I’m preparing to write my first novel. 

Critics - do your worst!

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Real Syria

I spent Easter of 2006 in Syria.  Staying in Damascus with my husband and youngest son we spent the days sightseeing and evenings dining in the most exotic restaurants you can imagine, my favourite was on the top floor of a tall building in the old city with views right over the souk and mosque and where we watched men and women dancing and even watched a display of swordsmanship.  As I watch the news night after night showing the death and destruction in this wonderful place I wonder how long it will be before I can return. 

The following piece is something I wrote a couple of years ago for a writing group exercise – I hope it will give my readers a taste of the real Syria.

The Marketplace

The tea was strong and sweet and as I sipped the delicious nectar from the delicate, decorated glass stikaan the sounds of the souk seemed to retreat into the distance and I relaxed in the shade of the fabric shop in the Old City of Damascus.  The shop was part of an old-style Arab house built around a small courtyard complete with a gentle, bubbling fountain in the centre and that is where I sat to savour my refreshment.  Around me the house itself rose on numerous storeys leaving the courtyard in perpetual shade.

I’d arrived at the shop after a long, hot walk along Straight Street.  This was where St Paul was rescued by Ananais after he was blinded by the light on the road to Damascus and Ananias’ house can still be found within sight of the little shop where I was now relaxing.   The city is steeped in history, ancient history and parts seem unchanged from those times long ago.  The street itself is, indeed, very straight and very long, one mile long, stretching across the whole of the old city and leading from the busy Hamadya souk with its labyrinth of narrow passages all under the cover of a steel roof, complete with its many bullet holes showing evidence of the numerous uprisings against the French during the 1940’s. 

The souk in this part of the city is open to bright daylight and the small shop fronts lead back into darkness in the shelter of the ancient Roman-built colonnaded thoroughfare.  Each tiny shop with its own speciality: soap made from local olives or melons cut into square chunks; perfumes selected and mixed before your eyes; tooth-rotting sweets; delicious cakes; handmade toys, delicately woven fabrics and clothes, leather shoes, socks made from the finest silk; ice cream made as you watch – strawberry, vanilla and pistachio and, of course, the spice shops with sacks of whole and ground spices on display – red paprika, yellow turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla - the aromas and colours assail your senses and mingle with the scents from the perfume and soap shops and the fruity tobacco of the hubble bubble pipes being smoked in doorways.   In one particular shop I took the opportunity to look at a selection of exquisite wooden furniture; there was a range of pieces from enormous six-drawer sideboards and tall wardrobes to small hexagonal side tables.  Each piece was covered with intricately carved Mother of Pearl flowers telling the story of the Damascus Rose or geometric, Islamic, patterns.  This is where I found what I wanted to take home with me, a small coffee table decorated with delicate flowers. However, I would be travelling home alone and was concerned about dealing with such an item at the airport, so I left it where I found it, tucked away in a dark corner of the shop.

If you take the time to roam the alleyways of the main souk which has grown around the Umyyad Mosque sooner or later you’ll come upon the tomb of the great Saladin, opponent of Richard the Lion heart during the Crusades.  A constant stream of visitors come to pay their respects at the tomb of this respected leader who’s castles dot the landscape further north on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.  In front of the walls of the old city there is a majestic statue of this same Saladin mounted on a rearing horse and waving his sword as though about to charge into battle.

You can listen to stories of his triumphs and bravery in a certain roadside cafe any evening, it’s worth listening to even if you don’t speak Arabic, the storyteller is so passionate and expressive, his actions so meaningful you can’t fail to come away feeling you’ve witnessed a battle with this great military leader. 

The Umyyad Mosque itself is built on the site of a Roman Temple and a later Christian Church, it is here that the head of John the Baptist is buried, it is also here that our own St George has been sighted – I say Our own St George, but he also has a very important place in Syrian history, although if you ask, as I did, you get the same old story about him saving a maiden from a fire-breathing dragon.  This is the largest mosque in the city and during Ramadan 2,000 people break their fast here each evening at sunset, it is quite a sight to see 2,000 places set for dinner on the polished tiles of the open air courtyard, each place prepared carefully with plate, bread and fruit with the rice and meat being served hot to each person. 

While I waited for my second cup of tea to cool, I took a few moments to explore the fabric shop, which had seemed to beckon to me as I passed earlier in the day.  The main room was filled floor to ceiling with shelves and the shelves were filled with neatly folded fabrics of every colour and combination of colours you could think of.  What I needed was a tablecloth large enough for my dining table at home.  It was new and I was anxious to keep it covered to save damaging the smooth, rich colour of the surface.  However it was very large and all my existing cloths had proved to be just an inch or two too short.  The Syrian proprietor, James (for this was the Christian quarter of the City), showed me numerous cloths and I wanted them all but I came away with a hand embroidered navy blue cotton cloth which would compliment my pure white china, and a multi-coloured thick damask day cloth which reflects the colours of the spice market; rich golds, reds, browns, yellows and greens and even now, 4 years later, every day when I come home from work and see my table with the damask cloth I’m briefly transported to that oasis of calm beside a small fountain in a little shop in Damascus.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Gamekeeper

He appeared from the wooded area at the side of the drive and he came striding down the path towards us.  He was carrying an enormous weapon under his right arm and supporting the barrel in his left hand.  “Do you call that a gun?” he might have said to the policemen at Heathrow Airport, “this is a gun”.  And he would have been right, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before, or want to see again. 

We were in Dorset following in the steps of my husband’s (Lee’s) grandfather who was born at the end of the 19th Century near Wimborne.  We’d seen the church where he was baptized, the school where he taught in 1910 and now we were trespassing in the grounds of the house where he was born to the Butler’s daughter in 1888.

“There it is, turn up there,” Lee said.

“I can’t, it’s private,” I replied.

“Just go on up the slope for a bit,” he said.

And I did, and we found the house, and here we were, face to face with the Gamekeeper and his gun!  “You’ll have to get out and talk to him,” said Lee.

“Why me?” I asked.

“Well I can’t,” he replied.

So I got out of the car and took a few timid steps forward and said, “I’m really sorry, I think we’ve wandered onto private land.”

“Yes you have,” the Gamekeeper replied in a distinct West Country drawl.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the gun.  “We just wanted to see the house. You see my husband’s grandfather was born here.”

“Well you can’t come any closer, there’s nobody in.”

“That’s a shame, it’s a lovely house.  He was the Butler’s grandson.”

“Was he?”  He moved the gun slightly, perhaps to remind me that it was there; as if I’d forgotten.

“Yes.  Well, we’ll just turn round and leave then.”

“That’d be best.” 

As I turned the car round I saw him sling the gun over his shoulder and walk slowly back towards the woods.

I was certainly pleased to get back to our Travelodge that afternoon, and in one piece!