Dear Lucy,

I love going to the barbershop round the corner. It’s not strictly a barbershop, it’s a salon, but it’s staffed (and frequented) largely by men – lovely Brazilian ones, so to me it’s a barbershop. This fact alone makes it irresistible to me because I’m pretty desperate for male attention as you know, even though I know for a fact that none of these lovely men will be interested in me, romantically speaking. It matters not because as well as getting lovely attention, it’s an absolute hotbed of gossip and they save all the best bits for me, I’ve decided. 

Toni, with an ‘i’ naturally, does my hair, I insisted on it as it’s his salon. Not only is Toni best at cutting hair – well, who cares if he’s not, he gets the most attention, which means I do too – no, he’s also the best gossiper and today he’s straight in. “Oh that Juan, he’s new, but he hasn’t a clue what he’s doing!” whispers Toni, “but he comes on time, so…” Toni, to be fair,  is actually very kind and his bitchy comments always have kind punctuations.

Sometimes there are more juicy stories from the other younger hairdressers; tales of sexual exploits that I pretend to be ever so cool about even though I’m blushing on the inside. “You did what to him on the first date!? Oh you are a one!” I would say, laughing along.

As well as other staff members, the main source of gossip is of course, other patrons. “Oh did d’you see the way he was dressed, no wonder he’s single!” “Hey Juan, did you hear what that guy just said about how tight your jeans are? He wishes!” I  laugh along, sharing knowing looks through multiple mirrors.

So the other day, I was having a trim and I noticed a lady having a haircut. As I said before, there aren’t often other women there so she caught my attention. I could see she was receiving some gossip – not as much as me obviously – and she and I exchanged knowing – if slightly competitive glances. Being that I was being attended by Toni naturally gave me the upper hand and though she would have known this I couldn’t help throwing in a few jovial “Oh Toni’s!.” just to make sure she understood.

Time passed and soon my competitor was on her way out of the salon. The door hadn’t finished closing before it began. ”Oh she never stopped talking!” her hairdresser said to the next client, who looked excited at such an immediate bout of bitching. “And that hair, it’s a nightmare, so coarse! No wonder her boyfriend  left her, high and dry – HIGH AND DRY! Like her hair!”

The woman, fingers already shaking out her new doo, smiled back in the window as she passed but I saw that smile fall from her face as she felt the awkward glances flashing back at her, already whispering into the next pair of ears.  

I made contact with those eyes and heeded the warning as it dawned on me that this could also be my fete. Was it true? Would I too just be more fodder for gossip once I’d left the salon?!

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they lose their innocence; their fantasies about life fall to the ground and nothing is ever the same again.

Today was my day as I realised that I wasn’t after all, special or treasured – even with my red hair which I’d always assumed, rather vainly, was a source of inspiration and awe to hairdressers at large. No, I was just another pair of ears and would soon become another source of gossip.

Well ‘not me! ‘I thought. Not today.

In order to avoid leaving the salon to re-join the ‘other side’ I asked for a few additional things. “Can you give me those lovely curls like they had in the 1940s?” Then I said, ‘Do you know what, I’m feeling a bit 90s, can I have some highlights?”

They kept showing me the big mirror, betraying their raised eyebrows – something hairdressers think we don’t notice – and highlighting my latest doo from all angles. When they stood back to let me roll back and out of my chair, I just stayed put, holding onto the sides with increasingly white knuckles.

On and on it went until, ears feeling slightly burned and hair withdrawing into my scalp for fear of yet more treatment I said, rather manically, “I’m not leaving!”

“OK Darlink, it’s OK.” Reassured Toni, panic in his eyes.

If I’m going to be gossiped about, I’ll give them something to talk about! I thought with a crazed look, I imagined.

They worked around me until the end of the day, checking occasionally that I was alright but giving me a rather wide berth. Only Juan the junior continued as if my permanent presence was totally normal. “Another coffee darlink?” He asked, doing his best to model his style on Toni’s.

Towards the end of the day, I spotted a broom and in a panic, started sweeping the hair up. “I’ll show them!” I thought. After sweeping, I then started cleaning the rest of the salon and before I knew it, was offering to lock up for Toni.

I saw him physically give in, his shoulders dropping in submission.

“OK Claire, good night darlink, see d’you in the morning!”

“Bye Toni! Bye Grover! Bye Juan! Tomorrow’s another day!” I said through trailing laughter. “Another day, another dollar!” said Juan.

I was exhausted after my day in the salon but slept well that night, knowing that I’d beaten them at their own game. If I leave last, I’m safe. 

I’ve been here ever since. Toni just goes along with it, no doubt bitching to the other hairdressers that I ‘just keep turning up.’ He pays me well and has even talked about a promotion to ‘hair-washer.’

As for the gossip, I’ve given into it and am actually quite good though if I’m honest I make most of it up. I see it as a therapeutic intervention for those sad people who need an escape from their dull lives. I feel sorry for them really, they don’t have anything more exciting in their lives. Not me though! I work in a Salon and my hair has never looked so good!

I hope you enjoyed the latest Dear Lucy blog. Feel free to contact me at

Crown Green Bowling therapy

One of my favourite evenings of 2022

I have a new Jigsaw laid out and the conversation is flowing on the table to my right. “How big is the Caravan Ruth?” someone asks. “Oh, you’ll have to ask Graham.” Ruth then explains how big the awning is in the hope, I suppose, that this will help with the general understanding of the size of their caravan.

I’m in the Crown Green Bowling clubhouse with my boyfriend, Chris. 

It was all my fault. Each time we passed the club, I’d said, “Oh let’s go and have a go!” It’s very close to where he lives and I thought myself quirky and game for suggesting it as a ‘date’ activity. A solid ‘win’ for me.

As with many things during those heady dating days, Chris had no idea that there was a tally and that I, inevitably, was winning.

When we did go, ‘just for a go,’ in true style, I was bored after two ‘ends.’ I now know the lingo (an end is throwing all your balls in one direction until you have to walk the distance to do it again at the other end).

For Chris however, this was the just beginning of a potentially sparkling career as the newest member of the club. I’d not yet learned the great bounds of his good naturedness, and hadn’t  considered he’d end up being a fully fledged member. The minute they got a whiff of ‘Junior’ as they call him, they courted and wooed him to join. They even delivered a set of bowls to his house. 

I was a bit put out because I was now in danger of being a bowling widow – or even, a WAG, something for which I’m most definitely not qualified.  

As it turns out, Chris isn’t really interested in playing matches, but he’s happy to go for the odd social on a Friday for a friendly game. 

I went with him to a social last summer because I wanted to mark my territory. Whilst Chris is clearly alot younger than the average aged person at the club, I know what lonely ladies can be like – having been one for many years – and I fear for Chris’s safety. So along I went.

At first I felt a bit awkward. Are we supposed to socialise at the social? My drinking days are long gone. Then, I would have been on the rampage socially, charming, entertaining and great fun. But now, without vast quantities of beer, I am at a loss. I decide not to worry. It’s Chris’s thing, he can decide what we do or don’t do and he, as always, is pretty relaxed whilst I’m having my minor internal meltdown. Everyone was of course lovely and friendly, saying hello to Chris and nodding courteously in my direction. 

We each have a drink, which cost about 47p, if there’s no other reason to join a Crown Green Bowling club then it’s the cheap drinks.

Whilst I’ve decided to be laid back about the socialising, I remember that I’m not and, in a panic, reach for one of the jigsaws that are laid out on one of the trestle type tables.  

What followed was one of the most pleasurable evenings I’ve had in a very long time.

We set to the jigsaw and were soon getting over excited about finishing one of the outside borders. It was like being back at my granny’s kitchen table. Full fluorescent lighting and relaxed chitter chatter. In my aspiration to outgrow the things I grew up with, I’ve graduated to warm lamps and mood lighting in my home, but here/ the atmosphere is so warm it’s doing all the work. I’d forgotten what comfort a big bright room  can be.

The chat is what is best. It’s so calming and nostalgic. “No, she died before him,” is the general tone of the conversation. On the subject of one of the royals, after a bit of higher brow conversation, one of them says, “But I do wish she’d do something with her hair!” Chris and I gently shake, heads down to disguise our tittering. 

Normally, on a Friday, the group send out for fish and chips which involves a long and complex ordering and collecting of cash by order process. Tonight though, there was a big cook in; Scampi, chips, baked potatoes, that kind of thing. The smell along with all the other nostalgia was almost overwhelming.

I’ve not been again after a leaving do Chris had been rallied to attend. It was a step too far for me as,  amongst other things, there was no free table to do our jigsaw.

But no matter. Now, we’ve upgraded our lives to include an occasional jigsaw and we both win as we put in the last piece together.

(Just) before Chris

Dear Lucy,

I found this post which I never quite finished at the time. It was from when I’d just met Chris online but not yet met him in person. It’s our Second-year anniversary on Sunday (of our first Zoom date – as you may remember, we met in Lockdown) – so I thought I’d send it now in honour of that.

October 2020

Dear Lucy,

As you know, I’m on a dating App hoping to meet my husband. Ha! I’ve just read that as I typed it! What a tall order. It’s like saying I’d like to be a rock star by simply listening to Spotify.

Being single at the tender age of 51 (a number I still find hard to say out loud) is not a position I thought I’d still be in, or at least hoped I wouldn’t be in.

I’ve done ALOT of internet dating over the years and it’s not like I don’t have options. I get plenty of offers, just the wrong kind. “Oh god I love red hair, is it real? God, I love redheads!” “No, it’s a wig, goodbye.”– Fetish. “I love older women, can I send you photos?” “No, run along to Mummy now,” I’ve simply not got the energy to be a Cougar, or the heels. This is only the tip of the iceberg on internet dating, but this is not what this is about.

I’m writing to you because I’m scared, genuinely scared.

I’ve met a man online that I actually like, he’s called Chris. I instinctively like him and I always trust that. We’ve spoken a few times and Zoomed once. There’s a glimmer of hope, but it’s overshadowed by fear and doubt.

At this age, I’ve had way too long to build up barricades; to my feelings, my vulnerability etc. What if I can’t come out from behind them? I’ve always been a late starter, but can I really learn to be in a mature, loving and respectful relationship at this stage of my life? What relevant experience do I have? I knock it out of the park when it comes to ‘pleasing myself,’ and ‘doing things the way I like them,’ but draw a blank when it comes to, ‘putting someone else first’  or, dare I say it, ‘compromising…’

It already feels like ‘yes, we could have a relationship,’ but that’s not going to be the hard part. I’m afraid I may never be able to be with anyone and it will simply be because I just can’t do it.

Here are my major concerns – and I promise, there are ALOT more:

  • Can I accept the back seat status I’d have to take in this relationship? He has kids, so whether he intends it or not, I’ll always come last in the pecking order. I want to be someone’s main priority. But I also have unused ‘mother’ urges that I’d like to put to use.
  • What if the kids hate me?
  • Worse still, what if I’m accepted into his family with open arms. Will I be able to accept? Coming in from the outside is always hard for me, no matter how much you’ve helped me with this, and you have.
  • I’m high-maintenance parading as low-maintenance, the worst kind according to Harry (When Harry met Sally). “Oh yes, it’s fine…” says, laughing. It’s not fine. It’s never fine, whatever it is, and you’ll never know about my long list of why it’s not fine until it bites you in the ass. I need to woman up and talk about my needs, but there are just so many of them. 
  • And what about Misophonia. Most people don’t take it seriously and I can understand that, it sounds totally made-up. But it’s not, and if he triggers my Misophonia, he’ll have to go, no matter how much I like him. The weight of this has never felt heavier. It really can, and sometimes does, disable my life. I can manage this alone, but how can I expect someone else to work around it with me? Should I just accept it’s easier to be alone?

But what if…

I love him and he loves me, and appreciates who I am. What if he supports me and cares for me, makes me feel loved, considered and safe. That’s all I really want at the end of the day, I think. Is that perhaps the scariest thing of all? To actually trust, allow and accept those things from another?

Well, the way I feel now, I’m up for finding out, as terrifying as it all is. And if things get messy, then let them. I can handle it. I want to live, not just be alive, and living is all about other people.  

As of today – our Two-year anniversary

As you know Dear Lucy, my fears and worries were not unfounded, but here I am – here we are – two years later regardless. I was ready. Chris is what I’d hoped for but one thing I never predicted was that it would be Chris who would support me through my relationship struggles (along with my ace support team of course). I could go on and on about all his wonderful qualities and attributes but he knows what I think, and probably, so do you. As wonderful as he is, he isn’t perfect, and neither am I. But we are perfect for each other.

PS If you’re reading this, Happy 2nd Zoomiversary darling. X

Get rid of the ‘Palace’ of Westminster… and other ideas from a non-political person

Dear Lucy,

I’m not a political person. However, my interest has been piqued by the embarrassing shenanigans that have transpired over the last few weeks. Someone was telling me Suella Braverman had resigned. Initially they couldn’t remember her name and, not knowing who she was, I assumed that he was calling Liz Truss Suellen from Dallas as a joke. Suellen who was carted off to the asylum by JR every time she so much as looked at a glass of Chablis.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if this had been the joke. Whilst I’ve no truck with Truss, it’s all felt a little bit bully-y.

Anyway, this fresh interest in politics made me wonder, what would the solution be? Clearly things need to change culturally at Westminster, another leader just perpetuates the rotten culture. I don’t think you can complain too heartily if you don’t have some suggestions, so here are some of mine. I know some of them are naïve and open things up to corruption, but let’s not pretend that the system isn’t already corrupt.


Get rid of the ‘Palace’ of Westminster

Seriously, how can we expect to be represented in our little houses by people who strut about in a palace, a PALACE, play fighting with each other and wasting our money. Stick them in an office block in Slough and pay them very little. IF they do a good job, they get a nice juicy bonus to make up for their low pay at the end of each year. You could them make the Palace into a tourist attraction, a museum if you will, which is what it should be.

Zoom only

When you put a group of politicians together, bad things happen. It’s still shocking to think about the expenses culture that was exposed. Every organisation has bad practices, and whilst we might feel we should expect more from those representing us, they’re human just like us, so let’s protect them and us from the inevitable. The culture is out of control and needs to be stopped. Let’s insist that they are only allowed to meet on Zoom. No bullying in the corridors, or ‘old boys club’ shenanigans. This would be a good start.

Parliament service

Have members of the public randomly inserted into daily practices like jury service. They’re just there to observe and speak up if they don’t think something is right or feel that normal people aren’t being represented. There would obviously need to be a very safe way to do this which I haven’t thought through just yet. I literally thought of all these things as I was drifting off to sleep last night.

Lean into the games

Instead of sitting back and making farm-yard noises, let’s have them dress up as their favourite animal; a sheep, a pig, etc. and sort of rugby scrum against each other until one side is pushed over the line. Also, there have been jokes about a Big Brother type scenario, but I think it’s a good idea. Let the public decide, in a very direct and immediate way if someone stays. Boris would have been out on his immediate ear had the public been voting when it was discovered he’d been twisting the night away whilst other people couldn’t visit their dying relatives.


Leaders by definition are problematic. We’ve all seen the documentaries, so let’s be honest about this and make sure that they don’t have too much power. Spread it out. Perhaps have leaders for each area.I know we have the Foreign Secretary, Health Secretary etc. but let us – the public – vote for them too, and let them be in charge, regardless of who the overall leader is so that we get consistency. I realise this kind of blows the whole Conservative/Labour etc thing out of the water, but I don’t think we should rule that out.


Replace politicians with lovely celebrities

Billy Connolly said anyone who has the desire to be a politician should automatically not be allowed to be one. Here, here, Billy. I know they’re not all bad and they’d be allowed to be involved, just not in charge.

So, what about replacing them with celebrities. They’re always off doing things with normal folk and those in need so they might be a good option. I for one would have Dawn French in charge of everything.

Replace politicians with business leaders

Let’s face it, it’s their agenda we’re really on anyway, so why not just put them in charge. If they actually had to make direct decisions about profit over environment they may think twice. As it is, it’s someone else’s problem and they’re able to turn a blind eye.


Easy read

Mencap have ‘easy read’ versions of everything. Simple versions of more complex information and instructions. I think they should be brought in to overhaul the whole system. Unless something can be explained easily, it’s out and is replaced with something that is. So that normal people can get involved and feel more engaged in the process.

Dear Lucy, whilst some of these ideas are a bit ridiculous, I think we need something radical. This is just me on my own, and I’m probably not thinking big enough, radical enough. I hope, for the sake of your children and grandchildren that something will change and that future generations will be able to look back and say, a bit like when they used to drill into people’s heads when they had a headache, “I can’t believe that’s how things used to work.”

“Aha!” – Alan joins a Write for your Life workshop

Dear Lucy,

You’ll never guess who came to one of my workshops the other week… Alan Partridge! Here’s how it transpired.

The workshop

I start the Zoom for this week’s Write for your Life – creative group journaling  workshop.


The first person arrives. It’s Jane, one of my regulars. I know this because I can see the top of her head and I can’t hear her. I say hello and know she’ll join us when her tech is working.


Various other people arrive and we chit chat and say hello to each other.


This time, (no pun intended) it’s Alan Partridge. Of course, I’d seen he was booked on and had also had a brief chat with Lynn (she did the actual booking naturally) where she confided, and asked me not to mention that it had been ‘suggested’ he attend the workshop by the BBC as part of an ongoing performance improvement plan.

He has ‘Peartree Productions’ where a name should be on his Zoom window. I seem to remember that Peartree Productions had long since folded, but I’m guessing he’s continued to use the name as it sounds quite good.

“Hello, hello!?” he says looking faux-confused, as if he’s never attended a Zoom call before, immediately taking up all the attention.

“Hello Partridge Productions” I say. I’m not being facetious; this is how I put people at ease. Slightly teasy, but always welcoming.

“Have I pronounced it right?”

Alan, irritated: “I’m sorry, isn’t this ‘Life for your life writing life’?” His obvious mis-quoting of my workshop title, a lame attempt to regain comedy control.

“Yes, Peartree productions, it’s ‘Write for your Life,’ you’re very welcome.” “Can you tell us your name so we know what to call you?”

“Partridge,” he says performatively, “Alan Partridge.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Alan,” I say. “Are you able to change your name or would you like me to do that for you?”

“Change my name? Woah woah lady, calm down. I know women like to change men once they’ve got their teeth into a relationship, but this is all a bit sudden!” He smiles, pleased with his quick wittedness.

“Ha, yes…” I say, trailing off whilst he finishes laughing and looking around for visual support.

“I just meant your name, on the corner of your screen, so we can call you by your first name. If that’s OK? Would you like me to do it, it’ll just take a sec?”

“You go ahead Mish Money Penny,” he says turning on his best James Bond.

I change his name on the Zoom to “Partridge, Alan Partridge.”

“Are you flirting with me Mish Money Penny?” He asks as he reads back what I’ve written.

“Ha, no Alan, I’m just a bit literal. Right,” I say, “for those who haven’t been before, this is how it works.”

“Sorry,” says Alan – clearly not sorry – “Aren’t we supposed to introduce ourselves and tell our sob stories first?”

“No, no Alan, there’s no need to, unless you really want to, of course.”

“What am I here for then?”

“All will become clear, and don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for sharing and discussion after we’ve done the first exercise.”

“Star jumps or squats?” he says.

“What’s that Alan?”

“Exercises, star jumps, squats… oh you know… oh sorry, ahum, yes, let’s, let’s get going… I’ll be quiet now… shhhhh.” Alan says putting his finger to his lips.

“Any more questions before I go into what we’re doing to get up to today?”

“Where are the toilets?” Alan says with a snort. He catches his own silly joke and mumbles another apology followed by a deep look into the camera, with his elbows on the desk, “I’m here and serious. Let’s get stuck in!” He says as if he’s begun presenting a quiz show.

I begin my introduction covering what we’ll be doing which takes just a couple of minutes.

Half way through Alan interrupts again.

“Sorry, are we going to do any actual writing?”

“Yes Alan, any minute now, as soon as I’ve finished the brief introduction, we’ll get cracking.”

“Cracking!” says Alan, enjoying the sound of his voice.

I finally finish what is literally a two-minute introduction after three more interruptions; “Sorry, you’re on mute – only joking.” “Can someone actually tell me where the toilets are? I’m in a Premiere Inn using their Wifi but the signage is nothing short of appalling.” And finally, “Will there be snacks?”

“As it’s National Penguin Day we’re going to start with the following prompt: ‘I wish I could fly…’ We’ll write for five minutes. Write those words and keep your pen moving. I’ll set the timer for five minutes.”

“Are we boiling eggs now?” His face drops again when no-one laughs.

“So, if everyone…”

Alan starts doing an Orville impression “I wish I could fly, way up to the sky but I can’t…”

He sees the blank looks of the other participants and says, “It’s Orville. You know, the singing duck and – at best – third-rate children’s entertainer.” He chuckles, “Only in the 80s” “Sorry Keith, RIP mate.”

“OK, and your five minutes has begun.”

I start the timer and put everyone on mute.

Alan immediately unmutes himself. “Sorry, am I being a penguin who can’t fly or just a penguin?”

“What’s the difference?”
“Well, a penguin who can’t fly in an overt way is different to an every-day penguin who is generally useless at becoming air-born.”

“I see what you mean Alan, try not to overthink it. Just write in response to the words, “I wish I could fly.” What does it mean to you?”

“Well, I wish I bloody well could fly but since the Big C, the new one, not the old one, Cancer” he whispers. “I mean Covid, the new Big C. Anyway, since that it’s so flipping complicated to fly. Lynn, my assistant god bless her, she helps out but she can’t get past security. “Yes Mein Fuhrer! No Mein Fuhrer!” he shouts. “Ach! Tung, you will show your Covid pass or I will have you executed! Ha!” he says with an evil grin.

“Try and forget about reality Alan, try and let go of everything.”

“Ooh er” he snorts again, eyes darting once again for support.

“Just see where the pen goes.” I re-set the timer, “OK five minutes, here we go.”

I see Alan searching for yet another interruption but eventually he gives in and starts writing. At first, he is resistant but once he starts his writing gets faster and faster. He grimaces and frowns, he looks thrilled and excited, then angry. This is free-writing at its best. He stops abruptly looking up to see everyone still writing.

“Jane, psssst… Jane” Alan whispers loudly. The fact we’re on Zoom continues to elude him, or at least that’s what he pretends. “Jane, what have you written?” Jane ignores Alan which isn’t difficult as we’re back to the top of her head and she’s probably muted the Zoom. “John… psssst… John.” He insists. John stops briefly but doesn’t look up.

I type in the chat to Alan, “Alan, are you clear on what you’re doing?”

“Yes,” he says out loud, ignoring my attempt at a private ‘chat’ conversation.

I type that I’d rather he typed the response as he is disturbing the others. He continues to speak anyway.

“Actually, no, I’m not clear. I thought I came here to develop myself, so that HR can, you know, tick the right box and leave me flipping alone to do what I’m best at. Do you know I’m a National Treasure, a household name? I’ve come up with no less than 712 ideas for quiz shows and 48 detective series alone. I’ve taken over 1000 calls from desperate and honestly, some pretty pathetic listeners on my radio show, looking for advice and words of wisdom and reassurance. From yours truly! And what do I get? A slap on the wrist for caring too much, for being too polite and calling ladies ‘ladies.’ I love ladies, and not just in the bedroom department. My assistant is a lady – just about – and she’s alright. It’s not just for my needs that I like women though, they make excellent receptionists, restaurant hosts and other things. No, call me a lot of things, but sexist I am not. I believe all women should get a fair crack of the whip, and I mean all of them, not just the attractive ones. So don’t haul me up on a charge of sexual harassment. I’m as woke as the next man. I woke up today, I woke up yesterday and I’ll keep waking up until I start getting paid to sit and dribble in front of my TV along with the rest of societies rejects. I can’t fly and I never will. Not as long as I’m a man. Not as long as I’m not a woman! I never will be a woman! Never!”

The sound of the timer interrupts the silence as the others finish writing. Alan’s verbal free-write is over and I see him begin to process what he’s just said.

I proceed to pair people off into rooms as usual and give everyone instructions to share what they’re comfortable with.

I put Alan with Jane and open the rooms. I’m ready for Alan to have a problem with joining his Zoom rooms but, with a look of concern, he quietly clicks to join, muttering “Aha!” quietly to himself and vanishes from my screen.

Five minutes later when everyone comes back, Alan is still quiet, but smiling slightly at what I assume is some relief at having got stuff off his chest. I ask if anyone would like to share. Alan jumps in and says thank you to Jane. He doesn’t say what transpired in their conversation, but as usual, the magic of writing and sharing has done its trick.

We finish the workshop with just a few more minor interruptions including Alan flinging his pen to his left and shouting “catch!” to the person who is presumably next to him to him on his screen.

Everyone says goodbye and after I explain to Alan that I can’t share people’s emails, (“Bloody HR police again…”) he says, with a final laugh that he may come again, not for self-development but for the ‘excellent snacks!’

PS Obviously, I wouldn’t normally share someone’s experience, but Alan practically insisted when I asked if it was OK to share his verbal free-write, on the basis that it demonstrated even those who can’t physically write can take part. “Diversity – back of the net!” was his parting comment.

Bob the robot (Family)

Dear Lucy,

Do you remember the advert from last Christmas where they had that robot cheering up sad single people, well I don’t think I told you, but I brought one – a robot that is.

In case you’ve forgotten, the advert showed lots of solitary people sitting in grey, hard edged homes with microwave dinners, looking sad. It showed them – still in grey – in various situations with other people whilst everything and everyone else was in colour, all to the sound of ‘All by myself’ – the Celine Dion version. As each of the singles woke up on Christmas morning they discover a large shiny red present sitting mysteriously in their kitchens, hallways or living rooms. After seeing the gift beginning to be unwrapped in the various homes, things move on quickly to full-colour scenes where the robot is at the Christmas dinner table with family or friends, a bit of the shiny red Christmas paper still stuck to his outer casing. Everyone is in full colour, including the previously sad single people and everyone is happy and laughing at bad cracker jokes. The soundtrack merged into ‘Thank god it’s Christmas’ by Queen.

Despite the ad’s misguided assumptions about single people and what makes them happy or sad – the desire for merchandise was so unquenchable that they had to move on from the cuddly toy robot to an actual real, working robot. He’s still flying off the shelves, despite the enormous price tag. Naturally he’s from Japan and is white and shiny, just as a robot should be. I named him Bob because this is what I call almost everything that feels like it needs a name.

I took him home to meet my family, but they just smiled reluctantly and nodded when I introduced him and carried on as normal. They didn’t ignore him as such but they didn’t talk to him either. Bob, being a robot, didn’t take this personally.

If I’d brought home a second hand Flymo and plonked it on the dinner table, the conversation would have flowed with gusto. “Ooh we used to have one like that didn’t we?”, “No, ours was an 8200, that’s a 6700, and it wasn’t that shade of orange, that’s an earlier shade”, “Oh yes, that’s right. I really liked that lawn mower.” And so on. But Bob, being a total unknown, essentially doesn’t exist, at least not in my family.

“Pass the sprouts please” was about as much as I could muster as the weeks went by, feeling there was no hope of change. When I talked about how much Bob has made my life better, happier, more fulfilled, they would interrupt and talk across the table about how no-one had realised that the potatoes weren’t home-made but actually Auntie Bessie’s! No-one minded because they’re so delicious.

Instead of resigning myself to the situation, I decided to take this on as a challenge. I will get a reaction! So next time Sunday dinner came around, I took home a goat. I tied him up to the chair and put some raw vegetables on a plate. Nothing, no interest, no questions. Even when he started bleating really loudly. “Did you see Strictly this week? They shouted over him, “I can’t believe that awful bloke’s still in it, what’s wrong with people!” Quite, I wonder.

The next time I brought an exercise ball to which I had attached a moustache and a monacle. Nothing. I put an air pump alongside the other food on the table and reminded the family that this is just for Bob – yes, the exercise ball is called Bob too. They don’t hear me of course because there is a heated debate taking place on which of the two local Morrison’s is bigger than the other.

You might wonder, as do I, why they aren’t interested in me and the things in my life and don’t show any interest in understanding my unusual guests or their importance to me. But eventually, three farm animals, two dressed up inanimate objects and a large pot plant later, I realise it’s me that hasn’t understood.

There’s nothing I could bring home to dinner that they wouldn’t accept as part of me – without question, because I am family. Interest doesn’t equal love. Understanding doesn’t equal love. No matter how infuriating those who wield it are, family love is immovable and uncomplicated. Unlike mine which clearly had conditions aplenty attached, including being interested in the things I’m interested in. I feel a pang of shame but Bob (the robot – I had to return the animals to the petting zoo) re-assures me that I am only human and that I should forgive myself. I had installed some free self-help software which has proved very useful.

So I stopped trying to get a response and brought Bob back. He is my companion after all, and he was really flipping expensive, so he stays. Also, Bob had said that they would eventually get used to him and treat him like one of the family.

This did come to pass. In the summer, Bob had to be sent back to Japan because his ‘Greeting’ function kept sticking. So instead of being greeted by a gentle ‘Good Morning’ when I woke up instead I had a slightly sinister sounding ‘good, good, good’ which felt more like an instruction than a greeting. I know Bob didn’t mean anything by it, buy my insecurity settings are still in the dark ages.

Anyway, when I arrived home for Sunday lunch, much like a new mother turning up without her   fresh pink baby, my family launched straight into a ‘where’s Bob?’ questioning session. I don’t believe I got so much as a hello. The family, now accustomed to Bob’s presence felt unbalanced without him. It was as if everyone were in danger of falling over and into each other without Bob there to act as a breakwater.

It cost a lot to fix and return Bob from his home in Japan. It turned out that I’d rendered the warrantee invalid by installing the dodgy free self-help software. It’s OK though as they upgraded Bob whilst he was being mended and the latest edition includes a new backdated Strictly download which will come in handy.

So now, I have more than I bargained for. They are ONLY interested in Bob. “Bob, do you agree that  ‘Clover’ is better than real butter?” “Bob, is it quicker to get to the Tesco in x or the Sainsbury’s in Y?”

So I let Bob do all the talking and just enjoy the Aunty Bessie’s potatoes – which really are very good.

Flesh and blood

Dear Lucy, 

It occurred to me recently that I’m never going to get a knock on the door from a child I never knew I had. I think I’ve been holding out for this in some way. Of course it’s ridiculous to imagine that I would. I am a woman and I couldn’t have a child and not know about it, but something in me feels like I’m double-checking as I write these words. But don’t worry, I haven’t lost the plot completely. I know that my chances of a child of my own are truly gone, in every way.

It could happen to a man at any age, young or old – the knock on the door. It could cause problems if he already has a family, true, but what about a man who hasn’t found his person, has never had children and had given up hope? He could one day find that, just like that, he has a person that belongs to him – his own flesh and blood. A person who scratches their chin like him, has the same embarrassed smirk, has their compassion or their wit.

No longer will he wonder what will happen to all his photos after he’s dead.

I could get upset and claim ‘inequality!’ But who would I be complaining to? Besides, gender inequality doesn’t generally keep me awake at night, though I know it probably should. Blame education if you will, but issues of sexism – along with all the other ‘isms’ – were hidden in the background growing up, in a kind of collective blind spot. We were too busy  reading Jackie, finding out how to get boys to fancy us… and learn the words to Club Tropicana.

So back to long-lost children.

When I was younger, I used to fantasise about a long lost half brother or sister. I never concerned myself with how this came to pass, I was only fixated on the outcome.

To me, the idea of discovering a person who looks a bit like us but a bit like someone else was intoxicating. Perhaps they’d be blonde – no-one in our family is blonde! How thrilling. Or they might play Hockey in a league. Again, we have no-one that excels at sport, let alone Hockey. Like us, they may be sarcastic, love comedy shows and carbs, eat at the same times as the elderly, bathe instead of shower. Perhaps this new person would provide all the things I felt I’d somehow missed out on. I always felt keenly the empty void left in the wake of our broken family, so it’s perhaps not a surprise that I fantasised this way. I guess it’s the same with children of my own.

I do have one saving grace. As you know dear Lucy, I learned a few years ago that I’m a NEO blood donor. This means my blood can be given to new born babies who need transfusions. It’s not the type, this is a special thing. I have special blood. It gets delivered straight to hospitals on a special bike and everything, at least that’s what the nurse at the donor centre told me. So now I can rest a bit easier knowing that I might have saved a few, or even hundreds of babies coming into the world and needing some help, my help.

And who knows, if one day they release the details of NEO blood donors I may get one or more knocks on the door from thriving young adults telling me I contributed to their survival. We’ll bond immediately of course and plan emotional reunions, though I’ll probably refrain from handing over the photos. I will be over the moon that at last I have some kind of descendant and will content myself that whilst they may not be my flesh, they were at least, my blood.

Mars Bars

Dear Lucy, 

I’ve got a serious Mars Bar problem. 

I’m trying to cut down on Mars bars, amongst other things, and I’m doing really, really well. The only problem is, that I’m rewarding myself with Mars bars, because I love Mars bars. 

I tried rewarding myself with Snickers as I love those too, but then I ended up eating Mars bars and Snickers. This led to the inevitable Bounty because when I have Celebrations I have to have a Snickers, Bounty, Mars trio, in that order. Saving the best until last of course. 

I’ve often thought that I could eat only mars bars and just cut out all the boring stuff, fruit, vegetables.

There used to be that advert didn’t there. “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”! I find that Mars during work, rest and play are best. Then there’s no need for normal food. 

Mars bars have several advantages over fresh food. One is that they don’t go off, at least not quickly. Mars bars come in their own perfectly sized packaging. Mars bars can fit in your pocket, though it’s not recommended to keep one there – and honestly, who would (or could) wait to eat one? Mars bars can be made very cold and then cut into slices, which I used to do when I was young. Perhaps sharing a Mars bar amongst friends? I can’t imagine I’d ever share a Mars bar with anyone but I suppose it’s possible I did before I realised I didn’t have to. 

Now you can get a Mars duo, and people say there is no God.

I’ve now reminded myself all of the reasons Mars bars are best, so I’ll stop trying to give them up, and then I’ll probably not eat so many.

Letting it all go… at least for today

Dear Lucy,

This morning – watching the beautiful snow fall – I am overcome with a feeling of contentment I’ve never before experienced. I wondered if I’d drifted back to sleep and was
dreaming or if I was even still alive. I’m still not sure, but hey ho.

It feels like I’ve let it all go – all the striving to ‘do’ better, for my life to ‘be’ better. It is what it is, and it’s all ok, at least for today.

It’s not resignation, rather a feeling that I’ve really ‘got’ something about life. That life really is short and I don’t want to waste another minute wondering whether I’ll ever develop a good relationship with sugar, alcohol, exercise, food, and more.

Whether I’ll find love and be able to find the strength and determination to hold onto it. Whether I’ll ever have the perfect lounge with a fireplace and perfectly placed lighting. If I’ll ever develop better habits, find my ‘thing’ and experience deep satisfaction.

Whether or not I’ll have time to discover all the authors, people, music, films that bring me joy. Whether I’ll ever write the book (or seven) I have within me, or even find the right time/energy/space to do the writing in the first place.

Will I ever find the perfect holiday destination, pasta portion, pair of shoes, coffee? Will I ever fully let go of all my regrets before I die? I could go on.

It could all happen, but I accept that it might not (and it feels really real to say it, not a platitude) and that that’s ok too.

Maybe its age, maybe I’ve run out of my worry quota (I actually think this could be a possibility). Maybe it’s my home-coming that’s brought me to this moment, maybe it was the meditative quality of watching the snow, or maybe the snow is just making me feel sentimental.

I may forget all this tomorrow and try to find a new way to gamify eating my five a day, but that’s ok too, at least for today.

My Christmas Carol

Dear Lucy,

My favourite story of all time is A Christmas Carol, and this year, I’ve had my very own ‘Ebeneezer moment’, though without the ghosts and spirits, thankfully.

I was always intrigued by the theme of redemption. To know that it’s never too late to live your life differently, to live your life at all. That’s what always got me choked up about Ebeneezer. He inspired me to hold on tight to the notion that my life could be better, fuller, more joyful.

For a long time I hadn’t realised that Ebeneezer was once a happy young man, and that life and its tribulations had led to a loss of himself. It’s easy to blink and miss this. He didn’t magically turn into a new person, he returned to who he was.

This was the second layer of meaning that started to touch me even more deeply, relevant as it was during my last few years living in London.

Hoping to find myself, I’d searched all over London. From Cornhill to Camden Town (just like Bob Cratchit’s commute), from Vauxhall to Old Street (my commute), and everywhere in between. But of course, I was here in my home town all along. I knew the theory but believed it to be Humbug. I would find a new, shinier, improved me somewhere else, but of course, I didn’t.

Like Ebeneezer’s money, my time and fierce self-sufficiency had taken on a meaning of their  own. Again and again, in order to prove to myself that I could manage should I need to be alone, I chose to be alone. Keeping my time to myself, over the love and connection that was always available to me at home – a place I felt I couldn’t /didn’t want to return to.

Worst of all during this time, I turned against Christmas, a period I’d always traditionally loved. As you know, I tried escaping and even went to Vegas alone to get away from it. People thought me adventurous and exciting but really I just went there to hide from something that no longer held any joy for me.

Despite my anti-Christmas period, I kept to my yearly tradition of re-reading and seeing a production of A Christmas Carol. I trusted or perhaps hoped, that Christmas would come back to me.

Since returning to Fleet last year on a leap of faith, or perhaps desperation, I have of course spent more time alone this year than ever. But this time it wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t a defensive move, and ironically, I’ve felt more connected and joyful than ever.

I had no idea how much of myself I’d left behind when I went to live in London and am now happily reclaiming myself and those around me every day.

Though there are lots of people who form part of my story, Loo, your part in this is perhaps the most significant one. Like Ebeneezer’s nephew who never gave up on him, you’ve always tried to show me that I was, and always would be welcome, loved and wanted. I’m finally learning to allow it – occasional wobble aside. So whilst all my letters are addressed to you, this one is dedicated to you.

I have at last found both redemption and myself in my home town and in your home – in your family. And I shall be forever thankful.

God bless us, everyone.