YHA Not? 2013 365 Challenge #317

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

One of the unexpected side effects of writing Two-Hundred Steps Home has been learning all about the YHA and the many beautiful places you can visit in the UK. Even though I’ve lived here all my life, aside from a year in New Zealand, I’ve only visited a handful of places: the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dorset. I’ve lived in Manchester and Leeds and I’ve been to some lovely towns for weddings. That’s about it.

Using the YHA hostels as a framework for Claire’s travels was unintentionally inspired. The UK may not be a huge country but there is plenty to see (and write about). The difficulty is that there is no clear ‘route’.

When I travelled in Australia and New Zealand there was a general sense that you followed the coast round, or you hopped on an Experience bus that followed a preset route. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in the UK – having never been a tourist here – but I did meet plenty of people on my travels who thought Britain was just London, with maybe York, Edinburgh and Stonehenge thrown in for good measure.

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

If I were to travel around the UK, as I did around New Zealand, then I think the YHA hostels map would be a great place to start. They go to all the major destinations (although there do seem to be restrictions such as some are only available in the school holidays). In many cases the hostel is actually a spectacular building loaded with history, (if sometimes in need of some TLC, if the reviews are anything to go by).

When I have travelled in the UK it has never occurred to me to stay in a hostel – I’ve always opted for B&Bs or discounted hotel rooms – but I really wish I had. It’s almost too late now: the unfortunate thing about hostels is that they’re only really cheap when you’re travelling alone. With two adults and two children – once you add in breakfast – it can be cheaper to stay in a Travelodge, although infinitely lacking in soul.

Even so, I can see Family Martin fulfilling a long-held ambition of mine to visit Cornwall next summer. I think the hostels that Claire has recently visited will be high on our must-stay list, although I might think twice about the Eden Project, unless someone’s implemented Claire’s Gift Aid idea!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked around the bunkhouse with a smile. It wasn’t at all what she had expected. Her room was cosy, and she had been able to grab the proper bed in the corner, instead of one of the bunks. It would be nice to spend the night knowing no one was sleeping above or beneath her.

In the kitchen a cluster of small pine tables waited patiently for the next meal time. The farmhouse cottage feel enveloped her like a warm hug. In the courtyard a family sat eating a late breakfast, their bikes lined up ready for their day of activity.

Leaving her things in her room, Claire followed the advice of the bunkhouse manager and headed off to find the woodland walk into the village. The sun beat down on her bare arms and she thought it might be nice to be in the cool of the trees as the burning orb climbed up to the zenith.

Then lunch in the village, back to the hostel for the car, and off to explore the museum and the castle if I can manage it.

After taking a few sneaky hours to go surfing the day before, Claire felt a stab of guilt that she’d been slacking on work time. If she had to endure seeing Conor the following day, she wanted to make sure she had plenty to talk about. Even the woodland walk was a luxury, but it was difficult to know what to do with her time when she had such loose guidelines from her boss.

As she had hoped, it was cool beneath the trees and she made good time striding along beside the gurgling brook. All too soon the path left the shelter of the woods and came out in a residential road. Claire prayed it would be easy to find her way into the centre of the village as she paced along the path, her arms swinging at her sides.

Even as she walked, her mind clung persistently to the image of the hostel she’d just left. Something about the cottage atmosphere of the place wrapped itself around her, creating a hot sensation in her stomach that felt like yearning.

Oh good lord, I’m not getting all Cath Kidston, am I? I’ll be wearing a floral apron next, and be studying my Jamie Oliver cookbook to learn how to make bread. Oh how Polly, Molly and Sally would laugh. Maybe I’ll start watching Kirstie Allsopp programmes and make a stained glass window for my real oak front door.

The thoughts rang false, like a fake titter at a dinner party, and Claire realised she’d rather like to have a front door to make a stained glass window for. And if it was a little cottage with a scrubbed pine table, rather than a shiny modern flat with all the stainless steel mod cons John Lewis could provide, then that was okay too.

The realisation crashed over her like a North Atlantic wave. When this was all over, she didn’t want to return to her Manchester flat. Her dreams no longer involved Hobbs suits and holidays to the Maldives. Why travel all that way for perfect beaches when there were some right here?

Claire felt as if ice were sliding down the inside of her skin. She stopped suddenly, only vaguely aware that she had arrived at the harbour. She looked around in bemusement, registering the buildings and the harbour wall without really seeing them. It wasn’t a picturesque place, not like some she had visited, but the endless blue skies still shone overhead, lighting highlights in the whitewashed walls.

Suddenly Claire needed to escape. Turning quickly, she retraced her steps through the town and practically ran back through the woods to the bunkhouse. She wanted to lose herself in castles and museums, reports and recommendations, anything that would distract her brain from the images it insisted on creating. Images of a future she could no longer afford. Even a tiny cottage by the sea in this part of the world was far beyond her reach now.

Not unless I went back to work for Carl.

She shivered and ran on.


I Love a Wedding: 2013 365 Challenge #124

Gemstone Bay, Coromandel, so nice I came twice

Gemstone Bay, Coromandel, so nice I came twice

Today I get to live one of those other lives I’ve talked about through my Claire book. Well, I lay the seed anyway.

Writing really is a great way to experience a different life: you know, the one you could have had if you’d been in possession of all the facts earlier on. Although how boring would that be? Like taking my husband to New Zealand on our honeymoon and then driving him nutty by constantly saying I did this here, or We can do that, or Let’s go see this great beach I know.

Life’s adventures need to come without a map.

Our unconventional wedding in Stamford

Our unconventional wedding

However, since reading about YHA hostels, and how you can hire the whole building for many of them, I thought – what a missed trick. We should have done that for our wedding. There are some amazing buildings in the YHA stable and we could have easily filled the largest of them with hubbie’s friends. It probably would have been cheaper and the party could have continued all weekend.

I also wouldn’t have had a phone call the week before saying, “Your bride has been booked into my bride’s Bridal Suite.” which is not what you want to hear after six months of detailed planning.

So now I have a wedding to look forward to. I haven’t been to a wedding in ages, and if I’ve been getting a bit bored with Claire’s journey? Well, how much fun is there to be had at a hostel-based wedding? Hee hee.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“How many weeks gone are you?”

Kim and Claire sat watching as Sky and Jeff fought over the last hole. No words had been spoken since Kim’s revelation, but Claire wanted to reassure her friend that she had her full support.


Claire did a quick mental calculation. Four months, already? The baby will be due in September. She shivered. Trying to hide her unease, Claire smiled at Kim. “You’re not showing. When did you find out?”

“Two weeks ago.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” Claire could hear the hurt in her voice.

“How could I? We always said we would build up our careers before we had kids. If we ever had them at all.” Something in her voice suggested maybe she hadn’t been as clear on the latter point as Claire. “Besides,” she continued, her voice low, “I needed to decide what I was going to do before I told anyone.”

Claire thought about her friend going through that decision process alone. Not alone. With Jeff.

“How did Jeff take that?” Following on from what Kim had said earlier, she imagined him pressuring Kim to keep the baby.

“He said he would support me, either way. It wasn’t planned. We always said we would get married first and see where we were then. But now…”

Something else her friend had said came back to Claire. “But now you’re getting married and having a baby.” She hadn’t meant to sound accusatory, but she felt Kim flinch away from her words. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that how it sounded. My brain is still catching up.”

There was a pause, then Kim sighed again. “That’s okay. It’s taking a while for me to catch up and I’ve had longer to think about it. Yes, we’re going to get married. Jeff’s family are quite traditional and, though his mother hasn’t said anything, I know they’d be happier if the baby wasn’t born out of wedlock.”

Claire tried to imagine what her parents would think about it and realised she had no idea. Probably they would think the same and force her to have some hideously formal event at the Country Club.

“When’s the wedding? Will you have a big do?”

“We can’t afford it. Jeff’s wages are more than mine, but only just. Actually, your blog has given us an idea. We thought we might see if we could hire one of the smaller hostels and invite all our friends for the weekend. Ask them to pay for their room instead of bringing a gift. What do you think?”

“I think it sounds brilliant. There are some gorgeous buildings,” she gave Kim a cheeky grin, “and I can write about it for my blog!”


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‘Unable to stop Mothering’ Sunday: 2013 365 Challenge #70

Happy Mothering Sunday

Happy Mothering Sunday

It’s Mother’s Day here in the UK today. It’s always an odd day for me. We’re a loving family (most of the time!) and supportive of each other as often as we have the energy, so a special day of appreciation isn’t really required. That said, the idea of Mummy having a day off is always bandied about, as if it’s a possibility with two small children and when said ‘Mummy’ is a woman who doesn’t know how to be taken care of.

The day began with two small children standing outside my door with flowers waiting to be told they could come in. So cute. Although I think my little man was hoping to share in my chocolate egg treat. He didn’t want to leave the egg behind to go downstairs while I had a lie-in and later, when he came up to find I’d eaten it already, he was bereft.

It’s lovely to have a lie in, although I get them quite often these days as hubbie lets me go back to bed to finish my post.  There are some advantages to us both being unemployed! Today, though, I had a cream egg and a gossip magazine 🙂

My gorgeous Mother's Day cards

My gorgeous Mother’s Day cards

Then I was up, stacking the dishwasher and making pancakes as per my usual Sunday ritual, because I don’t know how to be anyone else and these things always need doing.

We went to the Farm, because it was too darn freezing to do anything else, and had great fun on the didibikes with Mummy and Daddy showing the kids how it’s done. At Grandma and Grandpa’s I got to take care of my Mummy, making tea and lunch while the grandparents played with the kids and watched the rugby. Home to feed the kids and cook a roast dinner for the grown-ups and that was Mothering Sunday for me.

I like to think that my failure to be ‘taken care of” or ‘pampered’ on Mothering Sunday is because I take ‘Mothering’ in its literal sense and I mother everyone else! I can only really relax when I’m by myself. Kids are back at nursery today so maybe I’ll squeeze some reading in between the novel revision and post writing. In the meantime I need to get on with my post and find some new way to torment Claire! 🙂


“Plague Cottages? Chatsworth House Sculpture Gardens? Seriously Claire, what part of High Adrenalin Activity or Celebrating the Outdoor Lifestyle did you not understand? People don’t want to read about the rich and the dead and it hardly fits with either the YHA or the Coca Cola brand. Are you deliberately trying to flunk the brief?”

Claire held the phone away from her ear as Carl’s voice whined out like a washing machine on spin-cycle.

“Oh you’d love that, wouldn’t you? You know I’m fulfilling your ridiculous brief to the letter. My followers are increasing steadily, I’m writing about every hostel I stay in and the places of interest in the locality. I can’t jump off a cliff every day, even if that would make your year. Particularly if they forgot to tie the rope.”

Claire inhaled and tried to regain control of the conversation. She looked around the layby she’d pulled into when the phone rang and wondered if there was any chance of finding caffeine in walking distance. Who knew how long her boss would rant at her on the phone and she’d left Eyam hostel without breakfast to escape the overpowering women who had turned up in her room after dinner.

She sighed audibly; a mother tolerating a difficult child. “Look Carl. You tell me exactly what I’m not doing and I’ll do it. I’ve never missed a brief or target and I don’t intend to give you the satisfaction of suggesting I’m doing so now.”

She scanned the horizon again, hoping to see a trucker’s café or something. Anything. I miss my hands-free. Who drives a car without it these days? She vowed to get a cradle for the iPhone at the next opportunity.

“Well I don’t know,” Carl blustered, “you’re the Ideas lady. Go read some other blogs with thousands of followers. Find out what they’re doing that you’re not. Inject some bloody humour into your posts for Christ’s sake. Julia says it’s like reading the Daily Mail.

Julia. I might have known Carl hadn’t actually read the blog himself. What is it with her? Did I offend her once, in this life or the last?

“If Julia is such an expert maybe she can devise some new activities. Better still, why doesn’t she come and finish off the brief, let me get back to what I do best.” As she said the words Claire felt a prickle run across her scalp like an Indian Head Massage.

I’m not sure I want to go back.

She shook off the traitorous thought and concentrated on keeping warm as the temperature plummeted in the stationary car. She didn’t dare leave the engine running in case it overheated without the fan and she couldn’t put the fan on because she’d never hear Carl over the noise. Not that that would be a bad thing.

“I’ve told you before, I need Julia here. But yes I’ll ask her to locate some activities for you, seeing as you seem to have forgotten how to carry out basic research.”

Bollocks. That was stupid. Now Julia has a free rein to make my life hellish. Idiot Claire, next time keep your mouth shut and your temper under control.

“Lovely. I look forward to embracing Julia’s input. Perhaps she could spare a day out of the office to join me in one or two of the activities?” Claire smiled, hoping her saccharin-sweet expression would wing its way to Manchester to make Carl itch.

“Good. I’ll tell her to get onto it straight away.” The phone went dead.

Bugger. How to shoot yourself in the foot with a twelve-bore.

Claire rammed the car into gear and turned the key hard enough to break it. As the engine fired into life she imagined Carl’s body prone on the road in front of her and wheel span as she shot out of the layby in search of vengeance. Or at least coffee.


Holding Chicks and Fighting Coughs: 2013 365 Challenge #47

The Winning Picture

The Winning Picture

I’m writing against the clock for today’s post. I normally draft the night before but last night, by the time the kids were finally in bed, I just about had the energy to crawl onto the sofa and not move until bedtime. Just as well, as I had a small child trying to elbow me out of bed for most of the night. I’ve had enough of ill to last a whole year!

It was a good day yesterday, just very tiring. We went to the Farm with a family who don’t go very often so were there for nearly five hours. The kids got to hold week-old chicks and have a go on the new didicars (which look fab – husband and I must have a go when it isn’t half term! Must teach the kids to propel them by wiggling…). Then home for quiet time and tea before our usual Friday night visit to my parents. Hubbie took the kids out to walk the dog so I could clean the house and little man cried all the way round after falling in a muddy puddle. It’s tough being two.

Adult Category Winning Photograph

Adult Category Winning Photograph

On a happy note two of my photographs won in the Farm’s Winter Photography competition, meaning we get a free annual pass (very helpful in this time of too much unemployment in our house!) We might have won due to the lack of entrants (most of the photos were either mine or my daughter’s) but a win is a win! I wouldn’t have selected the image they did as the best (it hurt me not to be able to digitally manipulate it as I do all my images – I love adobe photoshop) but apparently they chose it because of the depth of the puddle Aaron is standing in! I love that my picture of Humby Keith the Lincoln Longwool Ram was also a winner. He’s my favourite animal at the Farm just now.

The weirdest part of yesterday was my friend telling me her Mother has to have a biopsy, after writing yesterday’s post about Claire’s sister. It always freaks me out a bit when life mirrors art even in an unrelated way. It reminds me also of the responsibility to write sensitively about tough topics and make sure I do my research and get it as right as possible.


Claire gazed out over the water and let her thoughts drift away with the wake flowing behind the launch. She had intended to leave Bowness after her coffee but her sister’s phone call had driven all rational thought from her mind.

Besides, they have a Costa and I didn’t see it before I had that awful latte in the other place. I’m not leaving town until I’ve had a decent coffee.

Claire smiled at the irrelevancy. Coffee has never featured so heavily in my life as it has on this ridiculous journey. It seemed to represent some notion of urban civilisation that was essential to her being. The boat trip was a way to kill an hour or two before she could have more caffeine.

Turning her face into the wind Claire let the icy breeze drive out more important thoughts. She hoped the lap of the water would drown out the words echoing around her head but it only muted them and muddled them together.

“If it didn’t work for you, who does it work for?” … “You and Michael, you clicked. He adored you.” … “Where’s the hope? Where’s the hope? Where’s the hope?”

Was her sister right? Had she pushed away a man who adored her? Was a life without him a life without hope? Did her sister really envy her existence that much?

Wasn’t that what I wanted her to do?

The words, sharp and metallic, tore through the peace of the lake. Claire no longer saw muted shades of green and brown, glints of faint sunlight on the water, space and calm and beauty. No longer heard the lonely cry of the birds or the splash of the lake against the boat’s hull. Instead she saw the tones and hues of her pristine apartment. The sharp angles of her office. Heard the click-clack of her heels and the tip-tap of her keyboard. Her perfect world. What was there not to covet?

Claire inhaled, filling her lungs with unpolluted air. Her brain felt foggy and full, like a hangover of the worst proportions. Wrenching her gaze away from a view that only seemed to drag her into a well of introspection, Claire looked around the boat at the other passengers. She had assumed it would be empty at this time of year but the seats were crammed with huddling people, snuggling together against the icy wind. A quick survey confirmed something Claire didn’t want to acknowledge.

The people came in two by two, hurrah hurrah.

With a sigh Claire turned her face back to the Lake and waited for the boat trip to end.


Cards and Carpets: 2013 365 Challenge #46

Abstract Card Commission Complete! Hurrah

Abstract Card Commission Complete! Hurrah

Valentines Day is a bit different with kids in the house. I would try to describe it but it wouldn’t be better than the great post written by The Clothesline, so I’ll just shamelessly plug it here:

The First Valentines Day vs the Tenth Valentines Day

I’m not a big VDay person any more (maybe when I was sixteen) but it was nice to go to the coffee shop with my husband after dropping the kids off at nursery. Even if we did talk work before going to look at carpets.

I did manage to finish my cards commission by the skin of my teeth (my friend will be here to collect them in an hour) but I nearly forgot to walk the dog… All in all it was a normal day.

Claire’s post isn’t very romantic I’m afraid. It was the next thing on my list of topics to write about, it wasn’t meant to land on or near Valentines Day. That’s life I guess. It’s also quite long so I’ll keep my daily chit-chat to a minimum.


Claire chose a table in the corner of the coffee shop and sat down. The latte didn’t look up to Starbucks’ standard but the mug was warm and she’d tipped in sufficient sugar to mask any unwanted taste. Looking around the crowded room she felt the warmth spreading through her hands and down into her body. She let out a sigh and closed her eyes.

The phone rang for several seconds before she recognised the sound as hers. It rang so rarely she’d forgotten the brassy ringtone selected to be audible in bars. I should probably change it to birdsong or something. As she patted her coat pockets to find the source of the noise Claire noticed several blue-rinse grannies doing the same thing and let out a chuckle. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

“Hello?” Claire hoped it was a sales call she could ditch quickly. She hated trying to hold a personal conversation in a public space.

“Claire, it’s Ruth. Where are you? Robert said something about you losing your job and ruralising. I told him he’d finally gone senile.”

“I’m in a coffee shop Ruth. Can I call you back?” She heard an intake of breath down the phone and felt her happy mood drain away. “I’m not fobbing you off. It’s just hard to talk. I’m all pressed in with people.” She nearly said the blue-rinse brigade but realised her southern vowels were carrying rather too well above the northern hubbub. She drained the last of her coffee and pulled at her coat, all the while keeping the phone to her ear.

“Hang on Ruth, I’ll go outside. Do you want me to call you back, save your bill?”

Her sister agreed and Claire was able to put her coat on with two hands. She hesitated then pulled on her gloves and hat too. The Skoda was parked at the other end of town and she had no idea how long her sister would talk for. Even though the sun was shining it was still sub-zero by the lake.

The phone connected after one ring. “Thanks for calling back. I needed to talk to you. I already called Mum and Robert.”

Claire felt a heavy weight drop into her stomach. Ruth rang Robert; that could only mean major news. Hang on, she rang him before me? Shaking away the irrelevant thought Claire looked around for somewhere to sit down.

“What is it?”

“I got the test results back. They’ve seen something and they want to investigate further.”

“What do you mean something?” Claire took a sharp breath of icy air and began coughing. As the fit passed she processes the words. “Do you mean a lump? A tumour? Cancer?” Framing words around the thought made them too real.

“They don’t know. A lump, yes, but it could be benign. They won’t know until they do a biopsy.”

Claire had majored in arts at school, science was not her forte, but she had a feeling biopsies meant inserting needles where they didn’t belong. Ruth confirmed it.

“They said it will be done under anaesthetic so I won’t feel it.”

A shiver tore through Claire, chilling her from the inside out.



“Oh god.” The sunny street dimmed as the words took on sense. “Do you need anything? I’m in Cumbria but I can head down if you need me to take Sky.”

“It’s fine, Sky will be at school and Mum will pick her up. It’s not a complicated procedure. I just thought you should know.”

“Of course. I’ve been meaning to call and ask about your results. It’s just. Well.” What excuse was there? I’ve been swinging through the trees like Tarzan or following an Aussie I only just met up mountains I’ve only just heard of? Even by their family standards that was pretty lame.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to explain. It must be difficult, with your job and Michael.” Ruth trailed off, waiting. When Claire didn’t add anything she gave a small sigh. “You can tell us what happened you know. We won’t judge.”

Ha! Not judge? It’s practically the family motto. Claire forced the thought away. “Sorry sis, there have been a lot of changes. I’m not being coy about Michael, there’s nothing to say. He wanted something I couldn’t give him so it needed to end now before it imploded later. And I haven’t lost my job but I am fighting to keep it, using a skill-set I didn’t possess last week. But none of that matters if you need me in Cambridge.”

There was silence. Claire wondered if Ruth was even still listening or whether she’d gone to see to Sky. She waited, unsure what to do. Her bum was freezing to the bench and she’d lost the feeling in her nose. Do I hang up and call back? Then she heard an rush of breath and what sounded like sobbing. Must be Sky.

It took a moment to realise the crying was coming from her sister. “Ruth? Are you okay?”

The sobbing intensified and Claire listened helplessly, feeling awkward at witnessing her sister’s grief. She got up and walked along the street to get her blood moving. Eventually the sobs gulped to a halt and her sister’s voice wavered in apology.

“Don’t be silly. You cry if you need to. I can’t imagine how scary it all is.”

“It’s not that. Well, I am terrified. More about how it’s going to affect Sky. No, it’s just you had everything. The flat, the job, the fit bloke. If it didn’t work for you, who does it work for? What is there to live for? Where’s the hope?”

Claire’s heart pounded loudly, thrumming in her wind-frozen ears. A lump formed in her throat and she grasped for words. “You have Sky. She’s your hope, surely?” As she said the words Claire felt the falseness. She couldn’t imagine living her future for a child who would be ever ungrateful. At the same time it rang true and she knew it was the right thing to give Ruth hope.

“You’re right. I’m being silly. It’s just, you and Michael, you clicked. He adored you. We all hoped he’d be the one.”

We? Claire didn’t like the idea that her family had been discussing her love life in her absence. If she thought they talked about her at all she hoped it was to envy her new car or latest work achievement. Did Michael adore me? Images flashed through her brain like a movie on fast forward. They were good pictures, full of laughter and understanding. It made her ache with emptiness.

She heard a loud noise coming from Ruth’s end of the phone and for once was relieved to have their conversation cut short by her niece.

“You give Sky a hug from me, Ruth, and let me know how it goes tomorrow. I can be in Cambridge if you need me. Just call.”

Her sister murmured her assent and hung up, leaving Claire motionless and alone on an unfamiliar high street.


Laundry Baskets and Nene Valley Living: 2013 365 Challenge #45

Wriggly Worms - the many usages of a laundry basket #1

Wriggly Worms – the many usages of a laundry basket #1

I had some exciting news today. Our local free magazine – Nene Valley Living – has agreed to publish an ‘interview with author Amanda Martin’ that I wrote for them, focusing on the daily blog and the free Two-Hundred Steps Home ebook. The editor apologised that they wouldn’t be able to pay me for the feature (I had no expectation of payment, so was highly amused) as they don’t have much editorial budget. When I had stopped laughing I emailed back and said That’s okay, it’s the promotion that’s key. Hopefully I’ll be in the April or May edition, so watch this space. My first successful piece of marketing – hurrah!

I have decided that I need to get a professional photograph of me taken however, as the editor would like a headshot and the best I have is one I cropped from me heavily pregnant with my second child. I rarely wear make up these days and my hair is only straight on the annual event of a hair cut. Even though the feature is about ‘WriterMummy’ it would be nice to look vaguely professional!

Scary Monsters - the many uses of a laundry basket #2

Scary Monsters – uses of a laundry basket #2

It’s snowing here again. Not the 3 feet of snow my sister has had in Boston, more like a third of an inch, but it it freezing and I confess to being a bit tired of winter now. It’s hard to take the kids out when it’s cold as the whole time is spent putting hats and gloves back on and rubbing life back into frozen fingers. Friends came over and we turned the house into an indoor park with play tent, football goal and building blocks. Their favourite toy? Some old laundry baskets I have which turned them into wriggly worms and scary monsters. Bless.

Think Claire might get out in some more clement weather today just because I feel the need for it. Never mind that it’s probably never sunny in the Lake District in March, I think some poetic licence is called for.

Update. I decided to set Claire a little challenge instead, courtesy of a Youtube video I came across while researching Windermere. She’ll have to go hiking in the sun tomorrow.


“Your turn Claire.”

The bridge stretched ahead of her like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. She glanced down, half expecting to see a rushing torrent fifty feet below. Instead there was just a car park at a distance of less than fifteen feet. She searched for her Skoda in the distance then looked back down at the ground. It was a mistake. The bile rose in her throat before sinking down to churn up her stomach. She dragged her eyes back to the structure in front of her.

Dammit I knew this was a stupid idea. The bridge hadn’t appeared that wide when she’d driven underneath it. Now it might as well span the Niagara Falls. Tentatively Claire put one foot on the first of the planks and the whole structure shook as if a force seven earthquake had just hit Windermere. Claire quickly pulled her leg back and retreated inside the tower. She could feel several pairs of eyes on her, willing her on. Behind her a lad sniggered.

Claire inhaled, put one foot on the plank, then another. Willing herself on she gripped the ropes until they tore at her hands and forced herself to cross the bridge. Her heart swooped like a released bird as she reached the tree trunk and wrapped her arms around it.

I did it. I crossed it. She pirouetted round the tree-trunk, surveying the rest of the course.

The next challenge was another bridge. Okay, I can do that now. Except this one didn’t have any ropes to hold onto. You have to be kidding. What? I’m meant to walk across it just balancing? I’m not a circus freak. Claire wished she could have watched the person in front do it, but they were already out of sight further down the course. Claire wrapped her hands around her rope harness and pulled, making sure it would hold. Then she closed her eyes and put her foot on the structure. It tipped sideways, throwing her stomach to the ground.

“Bollocks.” The word slipped out and Claire looked round to make sure the person coming up behind her hadn’t heard. She saw a petit figure bouncing across the bridge and was faced with the prospect of sharing a small platform with a bouncy child or running across a few pieces of wood stretched between two ropes. As the sound of giggling came nearer Claire swallowed, urging her legs to move. It was no good. Her feet were glued to the platform. No matter how many curses she yelled inside the cavern of her mind her feet refused to move.

Eventually a voice permeated the greyness.

“Hey, lady?”

Claire turned to locate the source and her gaze met a pair of clear blue eyes peering up at her from beneath a giant helmet. It looked like a cheeky beetle. The child was younger than Sky. Who lets a five-year-old up here? Claire grimaced at the girl, not trusting herself to speak.

“It’s your turn lady. It’s okay. I did this twice already, it’s easy peasy. Besides, you can’t fall.” She leaned sideways until the rope at her waist went tight then took her feet off the platform.

“Don’t do that!” Claire’s voice was probably only audible to dogs. The girl laughed and swung herself back onto the platform. She grinned at Claire, then raised an eyebrow as if to say Go on!

Claire looked at the grinning eyes and felt her cheeks redden. I will not be shown up by a child. She turned, inhaled, and ran. Her body slammed into the next tree trunk and she felt the bark graze her cheek. As her heart rate slowed to a mere gallop Claire turned to watch the child hoping gracefully across the rope structure. It made her feel ancient.

She conquered a free step to a small plank, then contemplated a snarl of ropes that linked her tree to the next.

I’m not a spider or a rat. How does this work?

Reaching out, Claire took hold of the rope, hoping she didn’t get tangled or, worse still, break a nail. I’m glad Josh isn’t here. I can just imagine the grief he would be giving me right now. That’s if he wasn’t standing underneath passing comment on my derriere.

The next crossing looked like a stretched-out clothes dryer, the kind her gran used to put ginormous grey knickers on in the utility room. It felt as stable as a deckchair when she put her weight on it.

Slowly, carefully, Claire crept round the course, all the while trying to stay ahead of the girl, as much to avoid the patronising encouragement as the excessive bouncing.

At last she reached the end of the course, only then realising she was on a different tree to the one connected to the Indiana Jones bridge.

How do I get down?

Claire stood on the platform and looked over at the tower where she started. Then she noticed a small sign next to her. Zip wire? Oh no. How did I miss that?

“Go on lady, just step off. It isn’t scary.” Claire turned to see the beetle girl standing next to her on the platform. “I wish I could do the big zip wire but I’m too little.”

The girl gestured at the top of the tower ahead of them. Two stories above where they had started three people were standing on a deck. Claire watched them step off and slide gracefully away into the distance. That doesn’t look so bad. Oh, come on Claire, this is the only thing between you and a cup of tea. Swallowing down the sick taste in her mouth, Claire set her sight on the tower and stepped off the platform. She dropped before the rope took hold and sweat pricked at her forehead.

And then it was over.

“Well done Claire. So are you up for the triple-zip?” Claire stared at the earnest face in front of her and laughed so hard her ribs hurt.

“Sorry,” she said eventually, wiping water from her eyes. “Maybe one day. If you’d told me last week I’d be swinging around fifteen feet off the ground I would have said you were nuts.”

A whisper at the back of Claire’s mind said Climb the stairs. You know you want to. Get the ultimate shot for the blog. Make Josh proud. Claire looked at the corner where the steps led to the next floor. She took one step, then two. Then she shrugged out of the harness and headed back to terra firma.


A Righteous Reprimand & the 2013 365 Challenge #38

Not the roundabout but you get the idea

Not the roundabout but you get the idea

[Apologies for the repeat post and the lack of Claire instalment in the first one: see below!]

I got told off by a random stranger today. The worst part was it was entirely justified. Don’t you hate that? He’d paid for his daughter to go on one of these £1 rides you get in supermarkets, the same one my kids had just been on and my son had demanded “more more”. The ride has three seats so, without thinking, I whisked Aaron over and plonked him on one of the spare seats.

I’d never do that normally without asking the person whose pound has paid for the ride (even though I love it when people come and let their kids ride for free on my pound. The more the merrier).

When it had finished the Dad turned on me and told me how rude I was. I got defensive, lord knows why, because he was absolutely right. I apologised but it was too late, I’d lost some goodwill and was left feeling wretched for the rest of the day.

The irony of course is that I’m trying to teach my daughter not to be so sensitive to being told off. If I so much as ask her to sit still at the table too often she runs off sobbing (particularly if she knows she’s in the wrong.) How can I teach her not to take things to heart so much when I’m even worse?

I tell you, if I had possessed any tiny notion of how hard this parenting lark would be I would have remained single and celibate for the rest of my days. And here’s me, planning on changing Claire’s mind from being a child-dreader to someone who wants to be a parent. Don’t do it Claire, keep your independence and your sanity! 🙂

As I wrote this, a notification popped up in my Facebook account that my sister had shared a blog post: 10 Facts on Motherhood. The post is so spot on relevant to my day that I had to share it.

Apologies to anyone who got this post without the Claire attachment: I went to the coffee shop after dropping off the kids to finish off the post but couldn’t get on the internet. I have resubmitted the post with the Claire section included. I knew that auto-schedule was going to bite me one day.


“Hey Claire, how’s it going?”

“Kim, great to hear from you.” Claire settled into the corner of the faded sofa, ready for a long chat with her oldest friend.

“How is your Have Helly Hansens Will Travel life going?” Her voice sparkled like sunlight on the sea. “When did you last shave your legs?”

Claire’s shout of laughter caused a couple fiercely focused on their Scrabble game to look up momentarily. She smiled apologetically at them and laughed again more quietly. “This morning, actually. Our room is en-suite and Josh left as soon as we checked in to go stomp his teenage-angst out on the hills.”

There was a loaded pause before Kim shrieked down the phone. “Oh. My. God. Who is Josh, why are you sharing a room, where are you staying? Teenage angst? Have you shacked up with a younger man? En-suite? Don’t tell me you’ve given up already and checked into a hotel. You’ve only been gone a week. Tell me, tell me!”

Claire put the phone back to her ear as Kim finished talking and spoke thoughtfully. “Has it really only been a week?” She tried to count back to her arrival in Berwick but realised she wasn’t completely sure what day of the week it was. “Is it Friday today?”

“No, it’s Saturday, and you’re evading the question.”

“Which one?” Claire chuckled.

“All of them.”

Claire paused, letting her friend stew in her conjecture a little while longer before letting out a giggle. “Your ability to jump to the furthest conclusion is astounding. I’m staying at Ninebanks, a lovely hostel somewhere between Newcastle and Carlisle. Josh is an Aussie guy I met in the Kielder youth hostel who is travelling along with me for a while because I have a car. He is probably my age but is currently acting like he’s twelve. It appears most YHA hostel rooms are en-suite and has it really only been a week? It feels like a month.”

“Phew, thanks for the update. You had me worried. So, are you enjoying it then? You sound very relaxed, more than I’ve heard you sound for a long time.”

Claire was surprised at Kim’s observation. I don’t feel very relaxed. My boss is trying to hound me out, I’m sharing bunk-beds with a bloke I met two days ago and Michael keeps dangling himself tantalisingly in reach like a chilled bottle of bubbly.

She looked around the small hostel lounge, taking in the couple near the wood-burner still grappling with unknown seven-letter words. The only people who knew where she was were Josh and now Kim. It was, she decided, quite a nice feeling.

“I guess I am pretty chilled. The hardest part is deciding what to do every day. I try to have a plan but I keep getting scuppered by events outside my control. Some of the hostels aren’t open in the winter and now it turns out the lead mine isn’t either.”

“Lead mine? Seriously? Surely a diamond mine is more your style?”

“Last time I checked there weren’t too many diamond mines in Northumberland. I am working you know Kim. I need Blog Fodder every day. There are only so many things you can say about the floral duvet covers and the colour of the en-suite tiles. I’ll be damned if I’m going to shadow Josh in his current mood. Besides, I’m tired of hiking.”

“You’ve been hiking? Your idea of exercise is lifting a G&T to your lips and then working off the calories in an insane spinning class.”

“I love you too Kim.” For some reason the words, despite their truth, made Claire feel low.

“Sorry hun I wasn’t trying to be mean. I thought you prided yourself on your indoors lifestyle?”

Claire shuffled in her seat and pondered why Kim’s words made her defensive. Who am I trying to fool? Of course she’s right, I don’t fit in this world. I don’t want to fit in this world.

“Ignore me. My old life feels a long way away.” She described what she could see to her friend, trying to share some of the atmosphere of the hostel.

“It sounds great. Maybe Jeff and I should come and meet you at one of your stops. It’s about the only holiday we’ll be able to afford anytime soon.”

Claire paused as she tried to imagine Kim and Jeff in her new environment. It felt odd considering the merging of worlds, although not as strange as the idea of one of her work colleagues appearing amid all the faded furniture.

Lucky none of them would be seen dead here.

“Sure, why not. There aren’t many hostels near Cambridge but when I’m a bit further south we can see when you’re free. Anyway, tell me about Puck. How’s it all going?”

Claire settled deeper into the sofa and listened to Kim’s tales of her life treading the boards. She realised it was the first time in ages they had gossiped on the phone. Usually she was too busy working or socialising or sleeping to catch up with friends. Chuckling at Kim’s anecdotes Claire rested her head on a cushion and thought maybe she could get used to her new life.


Health, happiness and commentator’s curse: 2013 Challenge #36

The Twice Brewed Inn, Twice Brewed by Ian S

The Twice Brewed Inn, Twice Brewed by Ian S

Feeling pretty terrible as a Mummy today. I have spent much of the last few days falling out with my daughter because she hasn’t been listening properly, hasn’t responded to a question repeated several times or has asked me something I’ve told her many times already.

It turns out that she has (hopefully temporarily) lost the hearing in one ear. I want to take back the crossness and tears and wrap her in cuddles.

It terrifies me when things happen to the children because it feels like, in life, when I’m happy bad things happen. I generally try not to be too happy with my lot in case it’s all taken away. Things like when I had a car accident, found out my dad had cancer, discovered my dad had died in hospital, these things all came immediately after a period of intense happiness. Like Commentator’s Curse. You know the minute a commentator says “this batsman is on fire, he can’t hit a thing wrong,” that he’s going to be out next ball.

Hadrian's Wall - Sycamore Gap - photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

Hadrian’s Wall – Sycamore Gap – photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

It’s a silly superstition but one that feels real from repeated experience I know bad things happen and it’s how you cope that matters. But I can’t help but feel that if I hedge my bets rather than over-counting my blessings I can somehow prevent disaster.

My husband is taking my daughter to the doctor this morning.  I am waiting for them to tell me the results and I can feel the panic rise. Being unable to communicate with my children is one of my greatest fears. I have so much admiration for parents of children with autism or other things that hinder connection.

P.S. She has an inner ear infection. Nasty but treatable. Reading back through the post I wrote this morning I was tempted to delete it as it reeks of over-reaction. But it was genuine and real at the time and I think it’s interesting to read it with hindsight and see how things viewed through guilt and sleep-deprivation can seem HUGE.


The trill of the phone rang loud in the silent lounge. Claire and Josh had the place to themselves, having got back from their walk early in the afternoon. Claire twisted in her seat so she could retrieve her phone from her back pocket, only then becoming aware of the numb patch where it had been digging into her skin.

Claire, sorry to text again. I’m not stalking you I promise. It’s just I rang AJC and they said you’d left. I hope that’s not because of what happened at New Year. I’m sorry if it was. Forgive me. Michael.

Left? How dare they? What have they been saying to my clients? Claire felt the blood heating in her veins, surging up her neck to her face. She read the message again. And why did Michael ring work anyway? I don’t care what he says, it sounds like stalking to me.

Her mind twisted like tights in a tumble dryer. She wasn’t aware that her emotions were anything other than internal until she heard a snigger from Josh. She looked and saw him watching her with a questioning look on his face.

“I’ve never heard someone actually grind their teeth before. I always thought it was one of those things you read in bad novels when the author can’t think of a way to describe irritation better.”

Claire unclenched her jaw and forced her muscles to relax. “Just some seeds from my sandwich stuck in my molars that’s all.” She watched Josh with narrow eyes, waiting to see if he would contradict her. The sandwiches had been on white. He merely gave a wink and went back to reading a tattered paperback, holding it in one hand with pages turned over.

Claire put the phone down and pulled her iPad onto her lap. She opened her blog site dashboard with a sigh. The blank page of the “New Post” dragged at her like a cliff edge. A mind that could generate award-winning one-liners for Press Ads was bereft of words when faced with the challenge of penning something entertaining about her day. The best part had been arriving back at the hostel and wrapping her hands around a mug of tea. She’d even managed to ignore the chips and cracks and the teak-colour of the brew. Eight hours trudging in a ‘bracing’ wind had erased her fastidiousness for the moment.

Damn you Josh for convincing me to do a second circular walk when we finished the first one in five hours. Yes the Sycamore Tree was pretty but I could have lived without it. Although Cuddy’s Crags and East and West Crindledykes are going to make great Tags.

She looked at the two maps of her walks with notes scribbled on, barely legible because of cold, numb fingers. It was vaguely possible she could write something about the two circular routes that hadn’t been said before but it was still lacking in heart, whatever that was.

At least I have the photos of Josh to upload. He’s fairly easy on the eye: that should win some likes. She flicked through the images on her phone, trying to find the ones with most impact. It was a bit different to working with a lightbox in an editing studio. She chose a couple that made her heart beat a bit faster and set them to upload to the Cloud.  I should probably check with him before I publish them to the world. He might be in hiding or something although if he’s writing a blog back home they must have some idea where he is.

“Hey Josh, can I put a picture of you on the blog? That one of you up to your knees in the mud would be cool.”

There was silence from the sofa in the corner and Claire wondered if Josh had fallen asleep. The book hadn’t looked particularly thrilling. She glanced over and was surprised to meet troubled eyes peering around the pages of the upheld book. The expression on Josh’s normally carefree face jolted deep in Claire’s stomach and she was conscious of a strong urge to offer comfort.

“Er, sure, if you want. Or you could use the one of me on top of the wall.”

The one where the sun is on you and your face isn’t visible? “Maybe, although I’m sure you’re not meant to climb the wall so that’s probably not a great idea. Don’t worry, I’ll find something. I think you took one of me.”

She turned her head back to the laptop as if concentrating on her post. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Josh. His face remained focussed in her direction for a few moments before he sank back into his previous pose. Only the constant movement of his twisting feet gave anything away.

Cat, Tiger and Craft Book: 2013 365 Challenge #34

Amber's photo book and the one I made so Aaron wouldn't feel left out

Amber’s photo book and the one I made for Aaron

Family day today.

Had to write post #33 this morning as I was too tired and poorly last night, which nearly made us late for a birthday party (that and husband couldn’t get out of bed!). I’ve got behind on the daily blogging and am having to write too many of the posts with the kids awake. Must use the next nursery day I get to catch up as it’s impossible to write these posts with the kids yelling at me. (Plus the guilt is all-consuming!)

Parties are always touchy things – they can be overwhelming events and this one was no different. It was at an indoor play area (the kind with ball pits, crawling tunnels and slides).It’s the sort with two levels and Amber got upset if she couldn’t see a parent easily.

Thankfully husband and son came too so we took it in turns to go crawling around after the kids. Okay so I mostly chatted with the Mummies while Daddy did the crawling but that was only fair as I took them to an indoor play centre yesterday and spent three hours like a hamster in a cage.There was also a face painter which is such a great idea. My kids love having their faces painted.

Amber's Photo Journal Glitter-fest

Amber’s Photo Journal Glitter-fest

This afternoon we did one of Amber’s birthday gifts – a “make my own book” craft kit. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I’m a perfectionist so it’s tough watching her cover everything in glitter and stickers.

I spent the time printing out photographs and putting double-sided sticky tape on the back of them while trying to ignore the glitter-fest. I do get told off for taking over and sticking things straight but there’s always a fine-line between letting the kids do everything themselves and helping them create something they’re proud of and will continue to be proud of.

Amber as a cat

Amber as a cat

This evening was all about Rattle. Rattle is Amber’s comforter – a tatty, much loved teddy that someone gave me after they won it in a tombola and saw me with my baby bump. We used to have two (I tracked down a spare on ebay in the US when I realised how important it was becoming) but Rattle2 “went on an adventure” a year or so ago. We tracked another one down in the US recently and had it shipped to my sister. Unfortunately “new Rattle” has been rejected for, well, being too new.

Aaron as a tiger

Aaron as a tiger

Four years of love has made the original Rattle grubby, lumpy and chewed.

Anyway at bedtime this evening we realised Rattle had been left at the indoor play area. They were still open so we rang in a panic and they couldn’t find him. A very sad girl sat hugging New Rattle and sobbing. Thankfully I thought to text the party girl’s mummy and she had picked it up. Better still her wonderful husband drove the dozen miles over to our house to drop him off. Hurrah, child can sleep.

Right, time to think up a new adventure for Claire. I wonder what will happen today. I honestly have no idea until the point at which I open the Word document and start typing.


“Bagsy I get the bottom bunk; I rather fancy you on top.” Josh’s laughter rang round the small room as Claire glared at him and wrapped her arms around her midriff.

“It’s bad enough that you talked me into sharing a room with you. I can do without the suggestive comments. Don’t push me or I’ll go to reception and move to a dorm. Then you can pay for this whole room by yourself.”

“Surely you’d rather share with just me than a room full of chicks you’ve never met? They might snore.”

“You might snore for all I know. Besides I’ve learned my lesson on that one, I have ear plugs. And don’t think about trying anything either. I’m not interested in a travelling romance. If I hear you climbing that ladder in the night I’ll stick a pin in you.”

“Don’t get your pants twisted Claire I’m a perfect gent. I don’t pursue where I’m not welcome.” He said the words with a glint and Claire was conscious of a warm flush rising up her neck. Ignoring the betrayal of her body Claire dug through her rucksack to retrieve her night-dress and wash bag.

“Nice nighty.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re outrageous. Right, what now?”

“Now we explore.”

It didn’t take long to discover that the hostel had no hidden delights, apart from a little corridor conservatory along from the lounge which was probably lovely in the summer. The whole place felt in need of a refresh, particularly after some of the places Claire had stayed in already. It was like visiting her Gran’s house, before she died. At least it doesn’t smell of boiled cabbage.

“What do people do when they’re hostelling?” Claire sat on the edge of her chair and looked with puzzlement at Josh’s sprawled form.

“Whatever they want. Read, listen to music, chat, meet new people. If you’re lucky someone will start jamming.”


“You know, playing the guitar, singing.”

“Oh god, really? How awful.”

It was Josh’s turn to look perplexed. “What did you do to relax when you were at home Claire?”

Claire gave the question some thought. “I didn’t. I was either at work or out.”

“Where did you go out then? You must have had some fun.”

“Oh yes.” She thought about nights drinking with her friends. And then she remembered Susannah’s comments at her leaving party and wondered if they were really friends or just colleagues who bitched about her behind her back. Images of Sunday morning brunches with Michael, and walking in the park to let the wind blow away their hangovers, besieged her brain. They were unwelcome memories and she shoved them away.

“That’s different, though,” Claire continued. “That’s at home with friends and access to a decent wardrobe. What do you do with a sack full of unwashed clothes and no one to party with?”

“You don’t need clothes to party.”

Claire sniggered, drawing a ready grin from Josh. “I didn’t mean it like that but, yes, that’s one way to party. What I meant was you don’t need to dress up to have fun.”

Claire raised an eyebrow at Josh’s stained clothes, muddy trainers and unkempt hair. He wouldn’t even be allowed in to Tiger Tiger.

If Josh was aware of Claire’s critical scrutiny he didn’t show it. Instead he swung his legs down from the arm of the chair and sat forward, making eye contact. “I asked at reception when we checked in, apparently there’s a pub next door that does a bonzer steak pie. Come with me, we’ll have some nosh and I’ll show you how to be social when you’re on the road.”

Claire looked down at her travel-creased clothing and pulled at her greasy hair. “I could really use a shower and a change of clothes.”

“No, you come as you are. Most of the people in there will have been hiking Hadrian’s Wall all day. There won’t be any glamour, you’ll fit right in.”

Unsure how to take his last comment, Claire grabbed her purse and followed Josh out the door.

If nothing else it will be content for the blog. We’re only going to eat a meal and chat with some people, I used to do that all the time at work. How different can it be?


Burnt Mash: 2013 365 Challenge Day #30

Amber's 'paint your own tea set' gift. Spot the ones controlling mummy did

Amber’s ‘paint your own tea set’ gift. Spot the ones controlling mummy did

At 11.57 a.m. today my daughter was exactly 4 years old. She was also sick of birthday celebrations and even sobbed “I don’t know if I’m actually four or not” because we’ve been celebrating her 4th birthday since Sunday.

I have learned an important lesson about managing the amount of birthday stuff that happens. Although what the alternative is when a birthday falls on a week day I don’t know. I do have friends who manipulate when their child’s birthday is to suit them but, even though I’m not at all adverse to lying to my children, that is one lie I feel I would struggle to maintain.

(I heard a great story about a mother coming a cropper when her child started school and the teachers gave her a card and sang happy birthday when she didn’t know it was on that day.)

Indoor scootering... they want to go outside but I'm scared!

Indoor scootering… they want to go outside but I’m scared!

Anyway, the birthday is done. We spent the afternoon painting her ‘paint your own tea set’ and scootering around the kitchen. The last present has been given (and it was a great one – a doll that actually swims in water – thank you grandma and grandpa!). Tomorrow begins a new day.

As I write this post I am inhaling the scent of caramelised potatoes and carrots. Not because of some fancy dinner but because I burned the mash while my parents were here. I’m now trying to decide what to cook as well as what on earth I’m going to have happen to Claire this evening as I haven’t done any research today. I think it’s going to have to be something with her new Aussie friend.

Indoor scootering - a great way to burn off excess energy...

Indoor scootering – a great way to burn off excess energy…

I asked my husband last week what should happen to Claire next and he said “surely someone will hit on her?”

He said it with such confidence but I don’t remember anyone ever chatting me up when I travelled around New Zealand. Mind you I was suffering from panic attacks after coming off antidepressants so I probably didn’t give off a come-chat-me-up sort of vibe. I did have an incident with a hitchhiker but I’m saving that story for later on in Claire’s adventures!

My other task for this week is to pull together an electronic version of all the posts for January so I can have it available for people who want to catch up on the story. I’m struggling for a title, if anyone has any ideas. I’m toying with “Two-hundred steps home” because of the 200 YHA hostels and Claire’s journey but it’s a bit vague. I’ve never been any good at coming up with good titles. Any ideas gratefully received!


“Look, there’s Orion, although it’s upside-down of course. His sword’s pointing skyward, if you know what I mean?” Josh chuckled, the sound spilling out from somewhere deep in his throat. Claire didn’t understand his words but the swell of his laughter washed over her, resonating deep in her midriff.

They stood shoulder to shoulder gazing up at the glitter-strewn sky. It reminded Claire of something Sky might produce at school that would turn up in the post to Aunty Claire, dropping blue sparkles all over her cream carpet.

Standing in the freezing night beneath the myriad of stars Claire realised she had never truly seen the night sky before. In Manchester it was barely possible to distinguish the Big Dipper above the persistent glow of streetlights. Here, deep in the Kielder Forest, it was hard to see the dark of Space in between the sparkling specks of light. She felt like a child in awe of the sight above her.

Claire became aware of the gushing words filling her head and gave a mental shake. All this sky is making me poetic. Time for another G&T I think.

She turned to Josh, to tell him that it was time to go. His silence spread to fill the space around him as he gazed, rapt, at the display above his head. Claire shrugged and turned to stand alongside him again. There’s no real hurry I guess. He’s having fun and it took some effort to get here.

She thought about the skidding, spinning Skoda ride up the snow-strewn path and sighed. Halfway up the track she had stopped the car and made Josh drive, as much to stop his constant stream of advice as to soothe her tattered nerves. When they arrived at the Observatory it was to find that Public Viewing was cancelled due to the weather. Thankfully they were still able to access the decked areas and see the stars with the naked eye.

The word naked caught in Claire’s mind and she became aware, as if for the first time, of the man standing slightly too near her for comfort. She could feel Josh’s coat brushing hers, his woollen clad hands near hers on the railings. Her nostrils filled with the scent of cheap deodorant and cigarette smoke. Not smells that would normally have the kind of effect on her knees that they seemed to be having at that moment.

Josh was pointing out the constellations he knew, explaining which ones could be seen in Australia, upside-down of course, and which ones couldn’t.

“Did you know you can’t see the Pole Star if you’re as much as one degree over the equator? Amazing. We don’t have anything that fixed in the Southern Hemisphere although our stars are brighter, especially the Southern Cross.”

Claire turned so she could hear what Josh was saying without taking down her hood. It was freezing up on the observation deck. Josh glanced round at the movement and his words fell from his mouth and lay dead in the snow. He leaned forwards and raised a mitten-clad hand to Claire’s face.

Claire’s heart beat loudly but not as loud as the clamour filling her brain. What the hell? Oh God is he going to kiss me? I barely know him and he reeks of fags and oh crap it’s just too corny to snog the first Australian guy I meet. Isn’t that what all backpackers do?

Josh’s face came nearer, his breath steaming in the cold air, brushing warmth across Claire’s frozen face. Her eyes widened as the monologue shrilled loudly in her head. She was immobile with indecision. It would be awkward to turn away and avoid the kiss, but not as awkward as what might happen after they came together. The thoughts raced on, wondering if they would sleep together, wondering how that happened exactly if you were both staying in dorm rooms.

They don’t shag in dorms do they? With people trying to sleep all around them? Surely they get a double room? She wondered who ‘they’ were. Some alien species of traveling people? That’s me now, I’m a backpacker too.

Josh’s lips were almost at hers and still no plan of action had presented itself in her jumbled mind. His eyes were closed, a fact Claire found slightly disappointing. She couldn’t remember her first kiss with Michael – they were both too drunk – but she had some idea that first kisses were meant to happen with each of the people gazing longingly at the other until the moment when lips touched and fire exploded.

She felt the first brush of Josh’s lips against hers. They were rough and chapped, and his unshaven cheeks scratched her cold skin. His eyes flew open when she didn’t respond and he looked into her face then, his expression rueful but unabashed.

“Ah well, can’t blame a bloke for trying. You are very hot. Taken?”

He pulled away.

Claire remained still for a moment more as she processed events, unsure why she hadn’t responded. She had wanted to. Every part of her body was throbbing with the need to lose herself in someone’s kisses. Her traitorous brain, not for the first time, seemed to have taken over at the crucial moment.

“Um, no, not taken. Er, you just caught me by surprise that’s all.”

Josh grinned. “Ah, so I I’m free to try again at a better moment? Sweet.”

He turned back to face the stars as if they’d been discussing where to meet for lunch. Claire swallowed, her throat dry, and tried to detangle her jumbled thoughts.

Great, that’s all I need, another bloody complication. Oh Michael, where are you?

She turned and faced the night, seeking answers amongst the stars.