A String of Christmases

Throughout my life, I’ve almost always been with my parents at Christmas time.

In common with many people, I spent all the Christmases of my childhood with my family. When I was at university, I always came back home to see them. And then when I was living in London in my twenties, and my mum and dad separated for a few years, I would be with my mother at Christmas, and my dad and siblings would come around too.

When my parents were in their 60s and 70s (having long since reconciled) they had what Mum once described as the best time of their marriage. Christmas 1990 was particularly memorable for them because they were in Australia with my aunt and cousins―alas, I was in London with a viral infection, laid low for 3 weeks.  My ex-husband made Christmas dinner for himself and his friend, and I couldn’t eat a thing.

A couple of times I spent Christmas somewhere more exotic than dull December in England– once with a boyfriend in Corsica, and in 2007 I spent a freezing 3 days with a friend in Prague; I haven’t been as cold before or since, but we found a terrific bar which played Aerosmith and where they served amazingly cheap brandy!


Everything changed for our family in 2008, when my mother developed Alzheimer’s―this was the beginning of 4 very difficult years for my dad; it’s not easy to suddenly become a carer when you are in your eighties. I went to see them every Christmas, but as far as Mum was concerned it might have been midsummer; her perception of time and place was one of the first things to go. Life is almost always very tense when you live with a person who has Alzheimer’s because their moods can vary between aggressive, frightened, argumentative and even violent, and you can’t always reassure and calm them.

In 2012 Mum went into a nursing home, the delightful Westgate House  which we chose with great care. For the next 5 years I would always go and spend Christmas with my dad – unlike my siblings, I wasn’t married and had no children, so it was easy for me to do so. We’d visit Mum, but of course she didn’t understand it was Christmas Day.


I loved those quiet Christmases with Dad―up early to go to Communion at the lovely local church, home to open a few presents and telephone relatives, lunch, visit Mum, then Christmas dinner that we’d planned earlier, usually ordered and collected from Waitrose or M&S. Then an evening of Morecambe and Wise, or possibly Inspector George Gently or Last of the Summer Wine.

Dad’s idea of pushing the boat out was to buy a large bar of Green & Black’s chocolate to share over 5 days; my parents, having been teenagers in WWII, still had the attitude that one mustn’t be self-indulgent―I’m the only person I know who habitually lost weight over Christmas! There was something I loved about the safety and predictability of it all, and I told Dad that, as long as he was still around, I would always spend Christmas with him.  Now and again, I would think about how lovely it would be to go away somewhere, to a really nice hotel, maybe even abroad; I asked Dad if he’d like to go away for Christmas, because he loved hotels, but he said he didn’t like to leave Mum, even though he knew it was all the same to her, and she was well looked after.

In September 2017, Dad died suddenly. 2 years later, I still feel an enormous hole in my life, and I miss him terribly. Exactly 18 months later, Mum died peacefully in her care home. I had visited her there for the 2 Christmases before, and last December she recognised me and gave me the most wonderful smile, which is one of my most treasured memories.


And now, of course, I can travel anywhere in the world the fancy takes me for Christmas – apart from the one place I really want to be.

Us 5 Christmas 1994

Me and my family 1994

Living on the Edge in Las Vegas (with Aerosmith)

Yes, that’s just what I’ve been doing! Aerosmith (my favourite rock band, if anyone’s a) interested or b) sick of hearing that fact, see a previous blog post here) had a residency for 3 months at the Park MGM, to celebrate Aerosmith’s 50th anniversary. Someone said that if I wanted to go, it’d better be now while they’re all still around …

Mind you, nobody would guess that Steven Tyler is 71 years old from his appearance, bouncing joie de vivre and occasionally gasp-inducing athleticism. And the rest of the band look pretty darned cool as well.

My friend Jenny and I bought extremely good tickets way back in October when they first went on sale. 25 years ago, we went on a trip to the West Coast of the USA to see 5 gigs in 8 days, and this was a bit of a reunion, meeting up with some of our American friends and fellow fans. When we met again on the first night, although we’ve not seen them since and have only communicated via social media, we all felt like old friends. The afternoon before our first show, we were taken on a tour of the Aerosmith resident museum and shown around the stage by their chief technician, who rejoices in the name of Haystack (they wouldn’t let us take photos of this, apart from this one of us in front of the show’s special logo).


Our first concert was on 2nd July, and we were actually on the stage – yes, on the stage. Here I am at my post, before the band came on.


You can see how close we were. I was wearing this hat in the hope that Steven would want to wear it (we Ariens love a hat!), and indeed he did – he came running over and grabbed it off me, as he sang a verse of ‘Last Child’. Then he ran around the stage and it fell off his head. At this point all I was thinking was, ‘I want my hat back!’, but he returned, put it on his head again, and gave it to me. This made my week, as you may imagine, and for the next few days fans kept coming up to me and asking if they could touch the hat. Even the guy who did all the lasers for the show came to talk to me, and gave us a set list. (Here I am with the hat, and Steven singing to me with it on.)

The second concert on 4th July was equally terrific (how do they do it, I wonder!) and this time we were in the few front rows of seats, so we had a different view, which meant we were able to enjoy the show without seeing so much of how the huge machine worked (all the black-clad technicians racing around and busting a gut to make sure everything went smoothly). At the end, the stadium was showered with red, white and blue balloons and confetti.


If you haven’t been to Las Vegas, all I can tell you is that it is just like you see it on the TV – constant lights, noises of slot machines and gamblers whooping, completely crazy themed hotels, extremely hot and dry (it’s in the desert) and dedicated to self-indulgence. This is why, the few times that I have been, I really want to go home after about 5 days. Which we did, just ahead of the second earthquake in Ridgecrest, CA, the first one of which we’d felt the repercussions from on 4th July. Our plane took off before our hotel started shaking, so I’m told, which is just as well, as we were on the 25th floor – yikes!


So – back to Blighty, my green and pleasant land, and back to normal life, which I’m very happy about, as there are few things that I enjoy more than sitting at my desk, proofreading. (Yes, that’s true, otherwise I’d find something else to do!) But very occasionally, my inner and outer rock chicks join hands and go out to party.

(My grateful thanks for the photos go to my friends Becky Heald-Freeman, Nancy D, and of course my partner in crime, Miss Jenny Aero Smith!)



Literary Chats in the shade of a Saxon church

The world of the writer, reader, reviewer, book blogger, editor, copy editor and proofreader – (l fall into the last group) – is of necessity a solitary one, so it’s such a treat to talk to authors, buy their books, and meet and chat with other readers.

So off I went last weekend to the the annual Literary Festival organised by Cally Palot-Watts, in the village of Earls Barton, where my parents lived for 30 years.


The first person I met was Sue Moorcroft, who was being interviewed about her writing career. Sue is the very successful author of novels about life and love, published by Harper Collins. See her books here. She has also written scores of short stories for magazines.

I’ve met Sue at the London Book Fair and other literary events, and am always impressed by her work ethic, her well-deserved success, and her all-round friendliness.


Next a most enjoyable, informal talk by Louise Jensen and Darren O’Sullivan, artfully presented in the form of a conversation.

Louise and Darren

Louise started writing after a life-changing accident, submitted her first book to a whole host of agents and publishers, experienced two false starts with agents, but is now traditionally published and translated into 25 languages. Louise is not immune to hero worship; she admits to being starstruck when she met Amanda Jennings. You can read Louise’s blog, with all her info and short stories here.

Darren started out as an actor, and began writing in between what he termed ‘scarce’ acting jobs. Find out more about him and his psychological thrillers here.

My final visit was to Jane Isaac, author of crime novels. Jane, having always had a fascination for studying new subjects, went on a creative writing course and discovered her love of writing fiction with a twist in the tale. Her first book was taken on by an established agent; you can read about her and her books here.

I’ve had so many dealings with Jane over the last few years; I’ve proofread some of her short stories, and we’re in regular contact on social media, so I actually felt as if I’d met her in person before, even though I haven’t. I was impressed that she spoke for 45 minutes without a script – judging by one particular story about research into the preservative qualities of concrete on dead bodies, she could make a living in stand-up comedy if she ever needs a second career!

Throughout the weekend, I noticed that these authors had so much in common.  I expect these aspects of a writer’s life will be most familiar to any authors reading this, too:

  • The ups and downs: ‘Terrific! I’ve just been taken on by a great agent!’ ‘Darn, the agent can’t find me a publisher.’ ‘Great, there are two agents competing to take me on!’ ‘Ah – one is giving up the business, and the other’s changed his mind…’ ‘I’m so excited, they want me to write a second book.’ ‘Just one problem – I haven’t got a plot.’ ‘A new idea – I’m so excited!’ ‘Oh no, what if I’m deluding myself and it’s undiluted garbage?’ You get the picture.
  • You guessed it, they work hard. Sue and Darren are conscientious plotters, with a series of charts, papers and Post-Its along the wall of their writing space. Louise, on the other hand, says that, while she doesn’t exactly make it up as she goes along, she lets the story and her imagination guide her as she writes. Jane, unusually perhaps, writes her chapters out of order. Sue and Louise keep office hours, Darren and Jane not so much.
  • Drafting and redrafting, until they’re sick of the sight of the book. All these authors expressed a willingness to make changes if they’re suggested by someone who knows what they’re talking about, for example a trusted editor, a reputable agent or publisher.
  • Research – yes, it must be done. Sue is planning to go to Malta to research her next novel (a tough job, but someone’s got to do it) because, as she says, looking it up on Google isn’t enough, you have to see the colours, breathe in the smells of a place, listen to people talking. Darren visited the location where his character intended to hide a corpse, and asked locals where the best hiding places might be – yes, a potentially risky move, rather like when he visited a museum to see if it was possible to move an exhibit from one place to another!

A terrific weekend, and thank you so much to all who put so much hard work into it. A chance for us to live in the world of books for a couple of days, alongside new bookish friends.



Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams

This weekend I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, to see the Christian Dior exhibition – over 200 rare haute couture garments, featuring designers such as Dior himself, John Galliano and Yves St. Laurent, spread through 11 rooms. It’s wonderful – I entered each room and gasped at the beauty of not only the dresses, but also the magical staging, with a combination of lighting and music that was of the very highest level of artistic excellence. I thought you might like to see some of my photographs!

V&A Poster

Here is Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday dress. Dior was a great admirer of the Princess. See what a tiny waist she had in those days!

Princess Margaret dress

This is the classic New Look.

Some of the amazing ballgowns:

The short one in the picture below was worn by Nicole Kidman on the red carpet.

Mexican dresses:

Mexican dresses

Some John Galliano fabulousness!

Galliano costume

My favourite dress of all; unfortunately they don’t sell it in the gift shop. I just think this would be the perfect gown for attending a glamorous function on the arm of Tom Hiddleston – (because that might happen to me, you never know!)

My favourite dress

And the final dress in the final room, surrounded by mirrors.

Farewell from the exhibition

A thoroughly uplifting experience all round, and a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning.


Thank you, Steven Tyler!

I first heard of Aerosmith when I was 30, and that was over 30 years ago. A colleague said to me that if I liked Van Halen, I’d like Aerosmith – to my eternal shame, I said, ‘Who are they?’ Aerosmith – Shame

I saw the video of Love in an Elevator and thought, I’ve seen them somewhere and I like them! So I started buying the albums, and watching them on all the TV rock shows. In 1989 the band came to London, and my sister and I saw our first Aerosmith concert, and met them in Tower Records when they were signing. How young we all look.


I joined Aerosmith’s official fan club at the age of 33 (I know!) and went on the trip of a lifetime to the West Coast of the USA – 5 Aerosmith shows in 8 days, all seats in the front 5 rows, meet and greet with the band, who are the nicest guys ever. That was it, my life was incomplete without their music. I’m still in touch with a lot of my American friends, nearly 25 years later. A few years after that I ended up running the band’s official European fan club, which meant I got free tickets and backstage passes – yes, sometimes life really does begin at 40!

Joe, Julia, Steven, Tom - Copy

In 1993 I met two people who would become lifelong friends. I was waiting with my sister outside Tower Records to meet the band (bit of a pattern here!), and got talking to Jenny and Paul in the 4 hours that we waited in the cold. This is what we used to look like in 1994.


A couple of days ago we all met up in London to see Steven Tyler at the Forum, Kentish Town. He is now aged 70, and is fit, energetic, charismatic and in great voice. So now, for all the great friends, for the best music that can cheer me up no matter what, for the good times that are still coming, and for being the greatest rock god ever, I say again, ‘Thank you, Steven Tyler!’

Oh, and since I wrote this, Jenny and I have arranged to go to Las Vegas this summer to see Aerosmith at the MGM, for their 50th anniversary, at which we look forward to meeting up with some of our American friends from 25 years ago. We’re going to two gigs, for one of which we’ve got tickets actually sitting on the stage – after which I’m sure I’ll feel a new blog post coming on, so watch this space, fans of the Demon of Screamin’, Joe F**kin’ Perry, Joey, Brad and Tom!