Greek generals waiting in the wings?

32 years on I arrive once again at Santander on a ferry from Plymouth. This  time alone and on foot. I am picking up again my journey following in the footsteps of Laurie Lee who walked through Spain in 1935 , unaware that the country was already irrevocably set on a momentous civil war that would change it and Europe for ever.

Last month I travelled to Vigo where Lee landed in Spain. This time I am traveling to Orense in Galicia to walk south, along the Via De La Plata, towards Zamora. I lived in Santander for  two years in the 1980s with my first love and where I took my wife, not  the same person, two years ago for a short holiday.

A year ago my wife, out of the blue, decided to divorce me. I stand outside  C/Santa Lucia 15, and gaze  up at the 3rd floor balcony. Behind the shuttered window ,  I am lying with my first love. She pronounces sadly but definitively that I will not be the father of any child that she might have. We do not part for several months, years even, but that was the beginning of the end.

I wonder alone around old haunts but this visit I  am accompanied by the ghosts of two former lovers. There weren’t the signs in the bars of “crisis menus” that I had seen in Vigo, Valladolid and Madrid one month earlier. Santander was always more prosperous and protected from the economic storms of the rest of the peninsular.

I search for an old friend, not seen for 25 years. He has left the family travel agency business. He was the boss. Something feels wrong. Somebody else looking at a second chance in life?

I track down  the red-haired vivacious M who had fallen head over heels for  L, way back in the distant past, a “bombonero” man, in my previous life in Santander. L, in his vivid orange overalls,  would effortlessly sling a couple of heavy metal gas canisters on his shoulders and race up the stairs of the city’s flats. He was all rippling muscle and entirely defenseless against M’s Scottish charms. L would fly those steps. At the thought I recall Cortezar’s description of the uniqueness of a stair which perhaps put into words the thought process of an Egyptian pyramid architect or an Aztec master craftsman). L’ s life was unencumbered by such thoughts, mine dominated by them. Cortezar said…
No one will have failed to observe that frequently the floor bends in such a way that one part rises at a right angle to the plane formed by the floor and then the following section arranges itself parallel to the flatness, so as to provide a step to a new perpendicular, a process which is repeated in a spiral or in a broken line to highly variable elevations. 

Ducking down and placing the left hand on one of the vertical parts and right hand upon the the corresponding horizontal, one is in momentary possession of a step or stair. 

Each one of these steps, formed as we have seen by two elements, is situated somewhat higher and further than the one prior, a principle which gives the idea of a staircase, while whatever other combination, producing perhaps more beautiful or picturesque shapes, would surely be incapable of translating one from the ground floor to the first floor.

I had stayed recently in a hotel in Madrid on the Gran Via, Hotel de las Letras, in which the public and bedroom walls were not decorated with pictures, but with quotes from , mainly Spanish and Latin  American, writers. At the foot of the stairs was the quote from Julio Cortazar. It resonates as my personal emotional journey is a steep climb with many false steps and stumbles along the way.

As I make my way through Spain,I am reading the “Snow Leopard” about the quest in Nepal , by the writer, of a glimpse of the unattainable mythical creature . The process of the journey applies balm over raw grief, a product of a lost soulmate. A beautiful tale punctuated by devastating insights into the inner turmoil of a man’s loss. The book was a tip from Emily Barr , the writer, as a good read to take on a personal journey of discovery . I am not searching for an elusive snow leopard but I am seeking something as I retrace the footsteps of Laurie lee through Spain. Peter Matthiessen, the author, is grieving for his wife, and embarks on a journey through Nepal in search of a glimpse of the creature, real enough but rendered mythical  by dint of its invisibility to the human eye when in its native surroundings. Subtly interwoven into the story of his journey are slender threads of insights into his  buried feelings. These observations snag on the weft of the tale,momentarily, but are soon unpicked and the pattern continues to unfold. Matthiessen, at the start of his journey, talks of “Knowing that at the bottom of each breath there was a hollow space that needed to be filled.”

My hotel in Santander is on C/ General Mola, named after one of  Franco’s fellow rebel conspirators, reminding me of the city’s affiliations and my ex landlord, one of the conspirators who threw his weight behind the infamous  Lieutenant General Tejero, he of the handlebar moustache , who held the Spanish Parliament hostage on that infamous  day of 23 Feb 1981. The king, Juan Carlos, according to the accepted narrative, intervened decisively and ordered the rebels to go back to their barracks. Another version has the king, the figurehead of the old order and establishment, losing his nerve at the moment of truth, and betraying his fellow conspirators. Take your choice.

I recall the controversy in the 1980s  in Santander, when Franco’s statue, in a main square, had to be removed in order to build a car park. It never returned but I muse that perhaps it is there waiting in the wings for a dramatic return when, as some diehards of the right would no doubt like to think, the inevitable failure of democracy leads to a return of the old values … Over in Greece, I can see the old Generals dusting themselves down too, waiting for their moment.

Why do all goalkeepers cheat at penalties?

“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”- Albert Camus.

Ok, the gloves are off!

I have been writing this blog for six months and I have avoided the subject of football throughout this time (more or less) and I have not ranted. I am about to do both so look away now if you might be distressed by this.

Incidentally, I can be calm and rational, I really can. How do I know? Because The Guardian says so today in the paper and online.  

I am writing this wearing my favourite Philosophy Football T-Shirt bearing the above quote from Albert Camus. He was a half decent French/African writer but crucially also played football as a goalkeeper for Algeria.

Yes, so this is a blog about having a second chance in life as a writer so what’s that got to do with football I hear you say. Well I would put forward in my defence, Nick Hornby, John Crace, Emily Barr (come back to her), Colin Shindler (for Jim and Rhianna).

So back to Emily. She is a successful writer who used to write a column for Guardian Sport.She spoke as an MA Guest Speaker at University College Falmouth recently and admitted that the column about a young women living with a football obsessed partner was fictitious. It got me thinking though and I realised that I could well have been that person.

Who else would be so preoccupied with the fact that goalies cheat every week with millions watching on Match Of The Day, Sky Sports( and the odd few on ITV) and NOBODY notices except for me… and that’s the problem, I feel more and more that it’s just me. It’s affecting me, my writing, it’s a conspiracy. I need to get it sorted!

To get technical for a moment- and no I am not going to touch on the current offside law(but I could do because it is an abomination)-if a side is awarded a penalty, the goalkeeper must stay on their line until the penalty is kicked. But they don’t, every week they jump forward a split second before the kick, narrow the angle, and more and more kicks are saved illegally.

Gary and the boys scratch their heads about why more and more penalty kicks are missed BUT they know, all the players, referees, linesmen, commentators know but nobody says anything. Now, Albert Camus knew all about conspiracies and feeling like an outsider and he played football for Algeria as a goalkeeper. He would sort it out, but he can’t, he’s dead. So I have to!

I have had letters published on this issue by the Guardian and the Observer ( though David James wouldn’t discuss the issue!), I have tweeted on the subject with @thesecretfootballer, who admitted the whole thing.But the cover up goes on. The popular You Are the Ref strip discusses ball-to-groin outrage,huge punts and metal toecaps but it doesn’t go near the penalty scandal. Why? Someone put me out of my misery please?

Ok, so does this one obsession make me a total football nerd, perhaps not, but I have previous. Consider the following:

  • Supporting a team for 50 years whose last major success came in 1963 when he was eight..
  • Forcing a non- football loving girlfriend to listen to the crackly BBC World Service and keep a written detailed record, minute by minute, of the first half of the 1981 cup final.I arrived home in time for the second half. She left me a year later
  • Buying his six year old daughter a Goal Net for her birthday and made her stand in it for hours on end in the wind and rain while he scored goal after goal.
  • Purchasing a ticket for a Spurs game in Madrid knowing that it coincided with a holiday break in Edinburgh with his mother and wife. Despite having the full backing of a certain Alistair Campbell to go to the game (Long story but I was his chauffeur on a charity gig that he did and we spent all day talking football-he’s a Burnley nut- and discussed amongst other things Tony Blair’s alleged sighting of Jacky Milburn playing  for Newcastle. “Seize the moment” he said but I bottled it. We lost 4-0 and my wife divorced me 6 months later anyway. Alistair, by the way, was amazing on the day and is a brilliant ambassador for Mind.
  •  Considering a tattoo having noticed It seems to be the fashion amongst his younger writing student colleagues. Ankles, shoulders and just above the groin seem to be the preferred locations of choice.  A Tottenham Hotspur Cockerel would be the only possible design choice! Could be another ball-to-groin-outrage!

So, football nerd or not, I will leave that to others to decide, I will conclude this rant by making a simple request.

Watch football today, live,  or on the telly ( listening on the radio or following online is no good) and decide for yourself how many goalies cheat on St Patrick’s Day 2012 and tweet me about it on @hotspurman.

Should a referee, two linesmen, a fourth official( plus two more in European games) spot this cheating if you and I can with our naked eye? I think so but will Gary, Alan, Lee, Mark, Alan or Adrian, Gareth, Andy refer to it. I don’t think so, they will be too busy looking at borderline offsides or shirt pulling.

Perhaps their editors should ask them?

Good, glad I got that off my chest. Now, what’s the team news for today’s big match.

Incidentally, I can be calm and rational, I really can. How do I know? Because The Guardian says so today in the paper and online.  

PS  Happy 25th Birthday to that six year old daughter for yesterday! She has escaped to Milan, sadly not to see a football match.

My Many-coated Man – A Surreal Week

I came to Falmouth 6 months ago to learn the craft of becoming a writer, I had a Second Chance in Life to realise an ambition. It followed a low period of my life, redundancy, divorce, bereavement. It has not been an easy journey but, at times, a satisfying and rewarding one.

The last week of February has taken me on a surreal journey, a product of my decision to dive into the fast flowing waters of academic life beside the sea in Cornwall.

The week starts with the arrival in the post of a beautiful new book, “To the River, A Journey Beneath the Surface” by Olivia Laing, An account of a walk along the length of the Ouse: the Sussex river made famous by the author Virginia Woolf , who loved it and lived by it, but who drowned herself in its waters in 1941. The opening lines of the book are:” I am haunted by water. It may be that I’m too dry in myself, too English, or it may be simply that I’m susceptible to beauty, but I do not feel truly at ease on the earth unless there’s a river nearby.”

The week continues with me wandering fairly aimlessly down Falmouth’s high street that skirts the meandering edges of the bay. I pass the Falmouth Booksellers, resplendent with its new vivid, swirly aquamarine display promoting Diving Belles. This is a lyrical debut book by Lucy Wood, a  recent graduate from the Exeter MA Creative Writing course, a sister to my MA Professional Writing course at University College Falmouth. The book brings to life the rich and magical Cornish cornucopia of myth and legend : a folkloric cocktail of sea, sirens and mermaids lolling on blanched sands and bathing in moonbeams.

  I glance cross the road and strike gold.

 A second- hand shop. A bare utilitarian window display. Twinkling like a jewel sits a rare and coveted book.  A signed 1955 first edition by the poet and writer, Laurie Lee.  He of Cider with Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. He, that sparked my lifelong love of Spain and language and words.

I had to have this small book of poetry “My Many- coated Man.”  I did have it and bore it home, unopened, a treasure to savour.

On Friday, I join the University guest speaker of the week, Sylvie Saunders,  from the design agency, Pearlfisher. Sylvie has, what must be the best job title in the world,” Head of Words.” She specialises in Design and Packaging and has clients like Innocent , Jamie Oliver and Maldon Salt. She has to tell stories using sometimes just 4 or 5 words, spare, sparse minimal prose to conjure up magic. She is good at it.  I can relate to this as I await to see whether my 62 word story, Blood Cell, one of a hundred such stories in 26 Hidden Treasures, gets the green light for publication by Unbound. It looks very likely which is great news.

 Sylvie wraps up the talk and hands out her business card. Can a business card be a thing of beauty?

 I think perhaps it can, hers is a single block of greeny- blue texture with the solitary word, Sylvie, swimming across its centre, in white.It is beautiful and minimal and just floats past the eye.

I go home and open up My Many-coated Man at page 15 and read the following from the poem “Song by the Sea.”

Girl of green waters, liquid as lies,

Cool as the calloused snow

From my attic brain and prisoned eyes

Draw me and drown me now

O suck me down to your weeds and fates,

Green horizontal girl

And in your salt-bright body breed

My death’s dream-centred pearl

I look at Sylvie’s green rectangle of green in my hand.

I go back, that evening, to that same small stretch of street in Falmouth, seemingly alive with early Spring magic, and slip into the Poly and listen to The Roving Crows, a band voted the best Irish Celtic rock folk band in 2011. My eyes and my ears are drawn to, and bewitched by, Caitlin Barrett, a water sprite of a girl from the Emerald Isle who caresses and coaxes her fiddle to evoke her Celtic ancestry and to tell stories of grief and love and hope.

The Awakening of the Muse

Double Deadline Friday

All writers need inspiration to get the creative juices flowing. I have just had a Double Deadline Friday on my MA Professional Writing course at University College Falmouth.  Deadlines gird the loins but sometimes the spirit is lacking. David Lodge wrote a piece for the Guardian Book Club last month and spoke of the myriad range of influences that helped to develop the plot of one of his best selling novels, Small World. Amongst those he listed were: Homer’s Ulysses;James Joyce;Excalibur ( Film by John Boorman”);T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land; Arthur Kingfisher.

 I thought it would be interesting to look at one of the pieces I submitted for Double Deadline Friday, ” A Shaft of Light” a short story of a man revisiting his childhood with slightly surreal and ghostly undertones. See full version of the story.

This is what I came up with:


 Macbeth- a text I studied for GCSE; Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold; To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf;The End of the Affair by Graham Greene; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens;The Ice Lovers by Jean McNeil;The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy;The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes.


Sicily Unpacked BBC.


A performance of Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid at Tremough Performance Centre,University College, Falmouth.


What he Wrote by Laura Marling ( a beautiful haunting song) allegedly based on love letters found from a First World War Soldier, stationed at the front, to his wife back in England. 

A Photograph

Bar Girl in a Brothel in the Red Light District, Havana, 1954- Eve Arnold.

Arnold captures and transmits that elusive quality that Cartier-Bresson defines as “The silence in somebody.”


The Clashing Rocks of Greek Mythology.

Some of the influences are easily detected in my piece:  the Catholicism of Graham Greene ; the three ghosts of Christmas; the three witches of Macbeth. Others like the sound of Laura Marling and the photographs of Arnold; they must work at a more indefinable subconscious level, but I know they helped to awaken the dormant muse as Double Deadline Friday approached.

Second Chances In Life

Writer, Photographer, Singer, Spy?

The observant amongst you will have noticed the title of this blog, “thelittlesummerofthequince,” a translation of the Spanish phrase “El veranillo del membrillo,” meaning Indian summer.

I am having my own Indian summer as I strive to become a writer and enjoy a second chance in life. This comes relatively late in my life after a long career in local government and a recently failed marriage and redundancy. Second chances in life can come much earlier though.

The new quince logo for this blog, launched today, has been designed for me by my niece, Elisabeth Murphy, a talented Fine Arts artist. She is 17 and currently applying to University. For a number of years she has been set on studying Fine Arts and had a clear idea on how she saw her future career. Her parents recently took her to Russia, to St Petersburg, to see the city’s great art houses and galleries.

During a visit to The Hermitage, Elisabeth’s attention was drawn to a small exhibition of the work of Annie Liebovitz , the leading contemporary photographer. The exhibition changed her life and she is now set on studying Photography. I was intrigued by her change of heart and fascinated by her reasoning. She is interested in capturing life in its most perfect form and her “still life”style of drawing illustrates this. She explained that when she saw Liebovitz’s work, she realised that her drawing could never match the perfection of the photographs and needed to become a photographer. As a writer I can understand her need to capture the beauty of life in all its layers.

My daughter, Ellie Larke, studied Drama at University but had not been totally convinced of this choice. She finished the degree course but by the end had already decided to change course and embark on a career as a jazz/folk/blues singer. She has chosen a hard course but I am impressed, not just by her undoubted talent, but also by her persistence, determination and spirit when faced by setbacks. She spent last summer touring the USA, catching her idol, Paul Simon, on his worldwide tour,playing gigs and researching the music scene. Singing is a specialised form of storytelling which engages the senses at a level beyond the reach of most writers and I envy her this ability.

My brother is a taxation expert who used to work in one of London’s tallest buildings in the City. For several years he managed to convince a friend’s young daughter that he was in fact a spy and the building doubled as the headquarters of MI5.

I recently reread John Le Carre’s ” Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, a classic spy novel featuring George Smiley, one of my literary heroes and I was struck by the similarities between fiction writing and spying.

The writer as a spy?  Well we do often strive to deceive the reader, good invariably confronts evil in our books and creative tension and plot are maintained and driven by conscience and morality. We all live double lives, our real lives and our lives as we see them and justify them to ourselves.

Stories, photographs, songs, espionage, they all form part of our everyday lives and define our existence.

The quince, as drawn by Elisabeth, is a bittersweet fruit, like life really.


Second Chances in Life


2012 sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens on the 7th February 1812 in Portsmouth. Accordingly there will be a surge of interest in the great writer. Claire Tomalin has written the definitive biography of Dickens and in a recent article, Ignorance and Want, in the Guardian Book Club series, edited by John Mullan, demonstrated the continuing relevance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to today’s world

Scrooge, the main character, is given the chance on Christmas Eve to change his embittered, cold and miserly approach to life: a product of his unhappy childhood. He is visited by three ghosts, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.  The ghost of Christmas Present introduces two ragged, destitute, wolfish children, a boy called Ignorance and a girl called Want. They are the children of Man. The spirit evokes Scrooge’s own earlier words, in response to a question from Scrooge about the children, “Have they no refuge or resource?”, when he replies “Are there no prisons…are there no workhouses”. Tomalin reminds us that such an exchange could take place in today’s unequal society and at a time when the government tells us that we are “all in this together.”

I read the story on Christmas Eve in front of a roaring open fire at my mother’s house as I spent my first Christmas as a(nearly) divorced person, apart from my (soon to be) ex-wife and 24 year old daughter who had chosen to spend Christmas with neither of her parents. I had not read any of Dickens’s works before, not good for an aspiring writer!

A Christmas Carol is an inspirational and evocative work written by Dickens in response to the unremitting poverty of life in London in the 1840s. Scrooge is a good example of someone who earns a second chance in life by adopting a new positive outlook and facing up to personal challenges. I can relate to this and I have certainly had many conversations over the past couple of years with my own personal ghosts of past, present and future.

So as we enter 2012, I have survived my first Christmas in my new life, surrounded by my extended family, if not my immediate one. The Christmas Carols that I have been listening to have had a subdued feel.

Hopefully, like Scrooge, at the end of his story, I shall have no need for “further intercourse with Spirits” in my quest to become a writer and change my life around.

Second Chances in Life

Biographies of Place and Time

As a writer, I am fascinated by the process of capturing the elusive sense of time and place when writing about my travels through life.

As part of the MA Professional Writing University College Falmouth course that I am currently studying on, we have a regular guest writer slot on the timetable. Last thursday, 9th dec 2011, Michael Bird, author of “The St Ives Artists; A Biography of Place and Time” spoke to MA students about his approach to writing about artists, writers, art and culture, particuarly in Cornwall.

He talked about the growth of the St Ives Artists movement that flourished in the 1950’s. Artists like Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth were attracted by the light and landscape of the cornish area. Michael chose a lovely phrase to capture the inspirational and subconscious effect of an artist’s surroundings on their creative work “real landscape flowing into the unconsciousness.” He talked of the liberating effect on his own work of escaping from “suburbia” to the wild coastline of Cornwall.

 Through my advisiory work with Ty Newydd, National Writers’ Centre for Wales, I was asked to take part in a 26 Treasures project this spring which involved pairing 26 writers with 26 objects from the National Library of Wales . Each writer was asked to write a sestude ( 62 words) about the object.I was paired with a self portrait by the award winning welsh based artist,shani rhys james. Like Michael Bird, I was heavily influenced by the constants of time and space, in completing the task of capturing one moment of an artist’s life.

The results have been published online in English and Welsh on the 26 Treasures website and were displayed and judged this year at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. The story behind my piece can be seen on Creation Stories. 

The experience was a seminal one in helping me to decide to give myself a Second Chance in Life and come to Cornwall, like Michael and several before him, to explore my capacity as a writer.         

 ** The publishers Unbound are planning to publish the 26 Treasures collection, involving such writers as Alexander McCall Smith, Gillian Clarke as well as aspirant writers like myself. We need your support in achieving this.  Please see Unbound 26 Treasures if you might be interested in helping. There are 80 days and counting to achieve our target.

A nice literary christmas present for someone perhaps?


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Second Chances in Life

36 Steps to Democracy in Spain

On the 20th of November 2011, a General Election was held in Spain. It was won comfortably by the centre right party “ Partido Popular”.

36 years ago to that day, the Spanish Dictator, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, had relinquished his 36 year hold on Spain by the simple act of dying. He had held the reins of power since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, when a military coup overthrew the democratically elected Republican Government. The violent three year war fundamentally divided Spain and Spanish families and was seen by the wider world as a seminal struggle between the forces of good and evil, left and right, fascism and democracy.    Franco was not going to be divested of his power by any other means than death following a protacted period of illness.  

  I was there in Spain that day, in Seville, on the 20/11/1975, allegedly studying for my BA in Spanish Studies. My tutors, back in England, were  ready to summon me and my fellow students home. I remember thinking, in a romantic moment, that my favourite writer, Laurie Lee, had also found himself trapped in Spain in 1936; caught in the crossfire of early fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He had been rescued in a rather melodramatic fashion by a British naval boat destroyer, patrolling off the coast of the Costa del Sol.

My tutors had no need to worry; they had feared a blood letting; a rising up of an oppressed people seeking justice. It didn’t happen and it has not happened since.  Spain had chosen to take the easy way out and entered into a collective pact of national amnesia, the so-called “Pacto de Olvido”

They have sleepwalked through the last 36 years.

However, significant undercurrents of concern and tension have been stirring lately. Not enough to emerge as a significant election issue, given the depths of unpopularity to which the incumbent socialist party had plummeted-a result of harsh counter austerity measures.

The concerns have been sparked by a recent controversial decision by ex Prime Minister, Zapatero, which may  prove to be his lasting legacy to the nation. This was the introduction of legislation to allow the exhumation of old civil war mass graves that had lain undisturbed for 72 years. The older generation have always been well aware of their precise locations but have not had the will to start digging into the past.  Their grandchildren do have the will and a period of national reflection is guaranteed.  Jason Webster, a new writer on Spain, has captured the new zeitgeist perfectly in his recently published book “Guerra”.

Interestingly, a final act of the outgoing Government has been to publish a report that it had commissioned which recommends the exhumation and removal of Franco’s body from the controversial ” Valle de los Caidos” memorial which literally claims to be a monument to the ” fallen” of the Civil War.  In reality it remembers only the dead of the victorious fascist dead. It is a recognition that a period of reflection and reconciliation cannot be entered into whilst a Monument to the dead of one side in a civil war remains as a National Museum.        

I have a passion for Spain and a desire to see social justice done there.

I am enjoying a second chance in life.  I am studying to be a writer after a torrid few years of redundancy and divorce. I am having an Indian Summer in my life, or as the Spanish would say, “Una Veranilla del membrillo”, which literally and deliciously translates as “the little summer of the quince”

Spain, with its new generation, has a similar window of opportunity to reflect, look deep into their souls and start afresh. Will they take it? The election result was not a good start but there are 36 good reasons why I think that this will not be the end of the story.



Getting it Right First Time Round

Swimming Home is the title of Deborah Levy’s latest well reviewed novel, her first for 15 years. She was speaking about the novel at an event, hosted by University College Falmouth Department of Writing, last Thursday 25th November 2011.   

For me one really interesting story emerged from the Q and A session that followed the reading of an extract from the novel. This told of a serendipitous encounter that radically changed the course of her life as a writer.Levy had been asked what had been the most critical step in her finding her true voice as an author and becoming the writer that she is.

  This is what she told us: during a gap year before she was due to go to a traditional English university to study mainstream English Literature , she had been working at a small art house cinema in Notting Hill, London. One week it was showing films by the illustrious director,Derek Jarman.Jarman had asked Levy what she was planning to study and Levy had shared her plans.  He took her under her wing for the day, a remarkably kind act by the distinguished director and took her to an art exhibition by Joseph Beuys     a performance and installation artist.

The exhibition switched a light on in Levy’s head and she, as a result, decided to change course and study Performance Writing.  She ended up studying at Dartington College of Art , now incorporated into University College Falmouth  and the rest, as they say, is history.   

So: what’s this story doing in a blog devoted to grasping Second Chances in Life?

Simply, I guess,  that it illustrates that getting it right in the first place can save an awful lot of time  further down the line.

 We are not all as lucky perhaps as Levy, which is where” Second Chances in Life” come in.

Last Chance Saloon


Are you drinking in the Last Chance Saloon?

Christmas is coming, the new year approaching, has 2011 done it for you?

Coming up for retirement ? What will they be saying and thinking about you as they hand over that clock that will tick its way all the way to the end?

Do you fancy a new life ? No need to go down to the sea and fake a disappearance, how about going down to the sea and become a writer , that’s what I did !

I have been made redundant and been divorced over the past two years. 

 I have come down to the sea to start again and embarked on a full time 1 year MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth.

As a writer you read and as I have read during these first few days I have found some rich inspiration.

The Sense of an Ending is a novel, by Julian Barnes, that has just been awarded the Man Booker prize for 2011.


You might think it strange to start a new blog with a story about an ending but stick with me.

I  prefer to think of it as the end of my first life. I read the book just as I started my new life by the sea in Cornwall .

The book is a sumptious bittersweet story of the ordinary and contented life of Tony Webster, viewed in flashback and narrated by Tony himself. During the course of the novel we see how the prism of memory and perspective distorts reality. Tony talks of how we unwittingly paint our own picture of ourselves and our lives, one that suits our needs and one that without which we could not keep going. 

” Our life is not our life merely the story we have told about our life, told to others but-mainly-told to ourselves”

Tony comes to see by the end of the novel that there is little left of certainty in his life to cling to and he is left to deal with remorse and emptiness. I feel many similarities with Tony, in my case a 25 year local government career notable for nothing much if I am being honest, happily married for 17 years with a gorgeous daughter. Like Tony I am now divorced.

I look back on my life and marriage and wonder at the veracity of my personal narrative over the years. One of Julian Barnes’ characters comes out with a perceptive take on why history or the past or the truth is so often perceived in different,often opposite ways, by people who have occupied the same space or time.

 ” History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacy of documentation”

The divorce, unlike my redundancy a year earlier, has come as a surprise. I am still reeling from the shock, feelings are still raw, senses still numbed. I have moved away, left soon to be ex- wife behind, left my home behind, my daughter, my memories, my cats.

Again a coincidence in timing but Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, in her new collection of poems “The Bees” has penned a short, devastating but beautiful piece :”New Vows” which resonates painfully at a personal level to anyone grieving after a divorce.   

 ” From this day forth to unhold, to see the nothing in ringed gold,uncare for you when you are old…..”

I am a baby boomer, I have it all, career, state of the art pension deal, golden retirement beckoning….It doesn’t feel like that.
It is not easy: there is the grief of a lost marriage; a crudely ended career; a difficult reevaluation of one’s first life. A first life that can only be reviewed through one perspective only, a flawed one, your own very subjective personal memory.

Second lives do not flow naturally, they do not cruise along on waves of youthful bloom and zest, they need to be negotiated, bodies cared for and re-invigorated, demons fought and setbacks surmounted. There are ups and downs.

I need to find my voice as a writer and I need to find my voice as a person.
I want to write about my passions, Spain, community and social enterprise, translation, sense of place, home grown local food, and what it’s like to go through a life- changing experience.

 I want to tell my story and that of others who have sat at a table in the last chance saloon and refused to go quietly into the night.

I have started an MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth as a significant step towards earning a living in my second life as a writer.

I would like to share my journey through my own personal Indian Summer which coincided with a real one as we entered Autumn this year.
I have not been born again and I have not, yet, transformed my life but I have taken that all important first step.

Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to make that resolution, do it today and change your life….forever!