Taking The Leap – a short story

Step one, book a cottage. Step two, remember teenage years. Step three, meet Mimi…

I knew I should have bought a new swimsuit. Even my daughter, Lily, shook her head in disgust at this limp black excuse of a swimming costume, with its baggy and bobbled bottom, as I put it in my case for my one-woman-trip to Cornwall.

‘That’s tragic, Mum,’ she said, sitting on my bed and scoffing at pretty much the entire contents of my holiday wardrobe.

‘I know,’ I shrugged, screwing it up and chucking it next to my second-best fleece. ‘But who’s going to care? It probably won’t be hot enough for swimming anyway.’

I was right about nobody caring, but wrong about the weather. Ever since I arrived in Cornwall, the sun, a stranger all summer, has finally made a show-stopping appearance. Today is blisteringly hot and the sun is beating down on me and my hideous black swimming costume, that I’m trying to yank further down my thighs.

I’m standing on a rock, overlooking a tiny cove I read about in a pamphlet left at Spring Cottage, which I’m renting for a week. The cottage is half a mile from here, pretty, with a wildflower garden, and it’s three doors up from a picturesque pub, which of course I haven’t been to. I’m hiding here, licking my wounds. Trying to get over thirty-five years of Harry.

The rock is big and flat and the water below me is bright blue and sparkling in the sun. My Vogue towel – that I’ve had since my teens – is laid out on another smooth rock behind me. Harry – my soon-to-be-ex-husband, who asked for a divorce three months ago – hated it. He said it was threadbare and didn’t suit a middle-aged woman with the fashion sense of a flea. But I’d collected Vogues, as a teenager. I had a dream about working there, once upon a time. Instead, I’ve worked most of my life for Haringey Council, Planning Department. That’s how far from Vogue I am.


Damn, I’m not alone. I haven’t seen a soul in the three days I’ve been in Cornwall, until now. I’ve been to one secluded stretch of beach, or I’ve sat in the cottage garden and read; in the evenings I haven’t stayed up beyond nine thirty.

‘Are you taking the plunge?’

The sun is in my eyes, so I raise a hand to shade them. I can make out a woman clambering up the bank to the rocks. She’s wearing a bright orange swimming costume, yellow Crocs and a pair of pink swimming goggles stretched tight on top of wet hair. She has a mischievous face, which looks like it could break into laughter at any minute, and she’s about the same age as me.

‘No, I expect not,’ I say, backing off from the edge.

‘Why not?’ she asks. She’s on the rock behind me now. She has one Croc on the corner of Vogue, a striped towel over her arm.

‘I’m not brave enough,’ I say.

‘Well, you must want to,’ she says, hand on hip, ‘or you wouldn’t be standing there. Don’t you take leaps in life?’ she asks.

‘Not anymore,’ I reply, surprised by the question, but I find myself adding, ‘but when I was a teenager, I did this sort of thing all the time – jumping off rocks.’ I did. I was quite the daredevil. Leaping off rocks, whooping into clear cool water below. I met Harry on a rock by a lake in Norfolk, one summer, on holiday, when I was eighteen. He and I jumped off that rock several times together and, in the evening, we went to the pub and drank cider and shared a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. And then, one day, a few years later, we got married. And on a later day, it turned out Harry hates all sorts of things about me but loves plenty in another woman, his twenty-something PA – predictably enough.

‘Then you need to bring that teenager back,’ says the woman. ‘Stand clear!’ She drops her towel, slips off her Crocs and as I step back, startled, she charges for the rock edge, leaps high in the air and jumps clean into the water. There’s a huge splashing sound; I step forward and gingerly lean over the edge but there’s no sign of her, just ripples shimmering in the sun. Then her head pops up and she’s laughing, pushing her hair back from her face. ‘Come on in, the water’s lovely!’ she shouts up.

‘No, you’re alright,’ I shout down.

She swims swiftly to the side of the cove and clambers up the bank, dripping everywhere and grinning her head off.

‘Are you busy tonight?’ she asks, grabbing her towel and briskly rubbing herself down with it.


‘Doing anything?’ She rubs the towel vigorously on the top of her head.

‘Well, no, I was going to make myself some egg and chips and then have…’

‘Come to the pub,’ she says crisply, then glances at the neon green Fitbit on her left wrist. ‘The Hope Inn. Beer garden, eight o’clock. I’ve got to dash,’ she says, trotting off down the bank. ‘Pilates.’

‘Ok,’ I mumble, mostly out of bewilderment, but she has already disappeared, the stripy towel over her shoulders, like a superhero.

The beer garden of the pub is busy. I almost didn’t come, and I still might turn around and go back to the cottage, but she’s spotted me, the woman from the rock, and is waving to me enthusiastically from a bar at the bottom of the garden. She’s wearing a long emerald green kaftan and what looks like a whole lot of confidence; I’ve cobbled together an outfit of jeans, flat sandals and a broderie anglaise blouse, my make-up applied with an extra layer of fear. 

‘There you are,’ she says, as I approach with caution. ‘What are you having? I’ve got a bottle of Prosecco here.’

‘That would be lovely,’ I say, feeling like an alien.  

She grabs a fresh glass from the bar. ‘I’m Mimi,’ she says, pouring Prosecco into it, ‘what’s your name?’

‘Gillian,’ I say.

‘Very pleased to meet you. Why are you here on your own?’

I’m a little shocked, but, somehow, the words just fall out of me. ‘My husband ran off with his PA. I’ve come to get over it.’

She nods. ‘My brute of an ex-husband ran off with someone half his age. I sat in my house for three whole years feeling sorry for myself, then I decided to get out there. Forced myself to, actually. To take that leap.’ She grins, showing perfectly white teeth.

‘I wish I could do that,’ I say, ‘but it seems I’ve forgotten how.’

‘You have to be brave,’ she says, looking at me intently. ‘You have to fake it until you make it.’

‘Fake it?’ I sip at my Prosecco.

‘Yeah. I pretended I had confidence even though I didn’t. Walked the walk until I could walk it for real, you know?’

‘I don’t think I could do that,’ I reply. Who is this woman, I think? How have we jumped into this conversation, straight off the bat?

‘It’s easy,’ she says. ‘You just look out to the horizon, see the bigger picture, and you go for it. Get back to the person you used to be. Drink up, let’s get mingling.’

The sun goes down behind the bar, but it’s still warm. Some music sparks up. And as dusk envelops the beer garden, I follow Mimi around as she chats easily to people and introduces me to strangers. Her face is animated, she is having a great time. At first, I pretend I’m having a good time, too, putting myself out there – all those years with Harry, I let him do the talking – but after a while, I find I actually am.

‘Oh, and this is Tom, He’s from London, too. And single,’ Mimi winks, as a man walks past us holding a pint. Tom, who has a nice face, gives us a merry salute and returns to a group of people over by a makeshift stage. ‘Karaoke’s starting up in a mo,’ Mimi adds. ‘Get ready.’

‘Oh no, I don’t think so,’ I say. ‘I…’

 Approximately twenty minutes later, Mimi is levering me onto the stage and two minutes after that, I’m attempting to sing ‘I Will Survive’, with Mimi an emerald apparition beside me. I am hesitant at first, my voice faltering and too quiet, but I look out to the crowd, friendly and cheering, and channelling Mimi’s words about faking it until you make it, I decide to give it my all. I grip the mike and let loose…                                                                       

The sun is even fiercer today and glittering off the water below. I’m on The Rock again. I’m wearing a new swimming costume I bought this morning in a little village boutique. It’s bright turquoise and sleek and flattering; Lily would be very surprised. I look down at my toes, the nails freshly painted bright coral, like I did them when I was a teenager, and I hear a rustle from the grassy bank to my right. It’s that friendly-looking man from last night – Tom, from London. He’s sitting cross-legged on the grass and appears to be sketching some wildflowers in a notebook. He glances up and catches my eye.

‘Hi!’ he calls over.

‘Hi.’ I could feel self-conscious in my fashionable new swimming costume, but I decide I’m not going to be.  

‘We met last night in the pub. I enjoyed the karaoke,’ he says, a surprising twinkle in his eye.

I laugh. ‘Oh dear, it was terrible, wasn’t it?’

‘I thought you were fantastic. Great fun.’ His smile is warm, and I feel a blush rise to my already hot cheeks.

‘Faking it till I was making it,’ I mutter to myself, shaking my head, but I am smiling, too.  I haven’t been ‘great fun’ for a long time. ‘Have you seen Mimi today?’ I ask him. The sun in my eyes, I look down the bank, but there’s no sign of her.

‘Mimi? No, I think she’s gone. Someone told me she’s only here for a few days each summer. Quite the enigma,’ he shrugs.

‘Yes,’ I say.

‘Do you think you’ll go to the pub again? I’ll be there tonight.’

‘I might do,’ I say.

‘Great.’ His smile broadens. ‘So, are you going to jump?’

I look down at the water, a sapphire mirror glistening in the sun. I look up into the blue of the horizon where a lone bird soars and then is gone, out to the big beyond.

‘Yes,’ I say to Tom. He has lovely eyes, I think. ‘Yes, I am.’

And I take a deep breath, and I leap.

Current obsession!

Currently OBSESSED with this show! I was browsing Netflix one evening, absent-mindedly clicked on a clip of some women getting on a private jet to go to Vegas, gave the first episode a try and – BAM! – HOOKED!!

How can there be SO much drama between so few women? How can there be so much to argue about, over so LITTLE? How can EVERY party, restaurant meal, trip away, charity event, shop opening or dinner party end in such full-on CARNAGE?


It’s utterly, glamorously, trashily addictive: I love the clothes, the shoes, the houses, the husbands (oh, Mauricio…), the holidays, the jets and the non-stop madness. Fabulous!

My not-quite-happy list…

I’ve been struggling a little bit mentally the last couple of days, so here’s a list of things that are keeping me relatively sane and not-quite-happy:

1. Dungarees. I bought some a while ago, from FatFace, tried them on, loved them, but then nearly sent them back. Surely I’m too old for dungarees I thought, surely I will look a bit tragic in them….I ummed and aahhed but, in the end, I decided to keep them, but only to wear on days when I wasn’t going out anywhere. So, that’s now. I wish it wasn’t but it is.

Today I am wearing them and I feel pretty good in them, and just knowing I’ve been brave enough to put them on (oh, the teenage daughters are going to have a field day with this, which seems kind of apt, as they are ‘field’ kind of attire…), makes me smile.

2. Books and box sets. I’ve just finished The Morning Show with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon and I bloody loved it. I had no idea what it was about, when I embarked on it, other than it was set on a US morning news show. Wowsers! It was certainly a whole lot more than co-anchors not getting on….and Steve Carrell is FANTASTIC in it. If you have Apple TV, do check it out.

3. Telly. I’ve always been a massive telly addict but none more so than now, and I want comfort telly all the way. I want Rick Stein, cooking a fish on the side of a canal in Venice, I want the WTF nonsense of 90 Day Fiance (total trash TV, can’t watch more than two episodes in one go without brain explosion). I want any and every episode of Sex and the City.

4. Chocolate. Goes without saying. Just a little, every day.

5. Bike rides

6. Sunshine.

Things I’ve learnt this weekend…

1. Bedraggled, scraggy-looking cats who’ve had a cone on for ten days following surgery, can make themselves look BEAUTIFUL again after a matter of mere hours, once they are able to wash themselves again. Fudge went from dejected zero to bouffed-up fluffy hero in about three hours twenty minutes. He was beside himself to be allowed out again; he trotted off through the back door like the king of the realm … the wind in his fur and the world at his paws. Magnificent. And I think he has forgiven us for his captivity. (I’ll post a photo when he comes in…)

2. I have perfected a new move, in the new socially-distanced supermarket environment. I call it The Lean. When Sandra and her basket of non-essentials come up the aisle a bit too merrily and look like they’re veering carelessly in my direction, I lean like Pisa over the baked beans to keep the two metres thoroughly upheld, whilst maintaining a side-eye WTF glare. Oh Sandra, don’t you know how serious this is?

3. There is nothing like a bike ride down a country lane on two fully inflated tyres.

Bike rides and box sets…

My son and I went out for a bike ride yesterday. My bike had a flat tyre. We have two bikes that have had flat tyres for AGES – we haven’t attempted to do anything about them for ages, either. Neither Matthew nor I are very technically minded (this is an understatement, in my case. Anything mechanical I just stare at blankly and say ‘what…?’ and I’ve never even been able to get my head round how the telly or the landline phone works… fairy unicorn magic, right?) and we don’t do out cycling as often as we should, so the bikes have just sat there, in the shed, tyres flat. Except now I REALLY want to go out cycling. Really, really, really.

My son hopped on his bike yesterday afternoon; I plonked on mine and immediately felt deflated. As we set off down the road, it was like riding something with a squelchy welly as a tyre. And about as effective. It was like cycling through mud. My poor legs, already in recovery from a frantic Joe Wicks ‘The Body Coach’ workout that morning, were killing me. I got hot. I took off my woolly scarf and tied it round the cross bar. I looked ridiculous. My son was about two miles ahead of me and four times as fast. Nice jogging neighbour passed us (at a safe distance). I smiled and gave a cheery wave. With my welly boot tyre and my red face and my thick Fairisle scarf tied round my bike, I looked utterly ridiculous.

It was not a great success. Since then, Matthew and I have both stared forlornly at the bikes. The bikes have looked blankly back at us. Then, at 5am, awoken by a post-op cat who needs to be intermittently let into the conservatory to do his business inside a flower pot, I looked online and saw that Halfords is still open and doing bike repairs, as the Chief Medical Officer has decreed cycling is a Good Exercise and they have all the right distancing measures in place. We’re going to take the bikes in tomorrow. By Sunday I shall be coursing down the road, waving at nobody at all, on the crest of an inflated wave…

In other news, I’ve always been fond a good box set and never more so, at the moment. I can highly recommended The English Game, on Netflix, recommended to me by a friend during a Zoom video chat the other night (the new girly get-together. We brought wine). It’s about football in the late 1800’s and how a working class team from a Northern Mill team reached the final of the FA Cup, but it’s also about women and motherhood and the class divide and loyalty. Well worth a watch!

PS. Just had a call from the vets and the dreaded cone is off! Hurray!

Cats, cones and home school…

Well, I’m afraid I haven’t been getting on with my memoir challenge AT ALL – I still can’t quite bring myself to do it – read about real lives at the moment. I’m not sure what to do. Do I cancel the whole thing, delete the reviews I’ve done so far and forget all about it? Do I try again after a while, and read less than 50…? Maybe I will just adapt what I’ve done so far and go with the flow…It’s really no biggie, is it? I’ll just write what I want to write here and see how things go….

We’re Week Two into homeschooling and things are going ok so far. I have a year 10 and a year 8 child, both getting on with their work really well, and a year 13 daughter who is doing nothing at all, because A levels have been cancelled (we were so upset, but have accepted it now), and whose only current goal is to TIDY HER ROOM.

And a cat.

On the first day of Lockdown I had to venture out to the vets to take him to a pre-booked operation (doing the admin for it with the vet through the window as they weren’t letting people into the surgery, all felt very strange…). Since he’s come home, we’ve had all sorts of shenanigans…the cone was off after two hours, as Houdini managed to somehow, very quickly, shake the damn thing off in a couple of ninja head flicks (…mass panic ensued); he’s broken through a taped-up cat flap with a mirror propped against it, Andy from Shawshank Redemption-style; and he ran out of the house when I was dealing with a spider at the back door, to pitch black fields opposite our house, never to be seen again, we feared. Luckily, all stressy scenarios were quickly rectified – a cone re-tied, a cat flap re-fortified and a nonchalant cat returning ten minutes later to saunter past the back door without a care in the world, grabbed – and he is still safely behind bars (and cone) with us all.

He’s received a lot of love. Tablets hidden inside microwaved white fish. Attempts to put him on the litter tray and, when that failed, a large plant pot full of soil. He’s had his fur brushed and his tummy tickled and his ears scratched, because he can’t do it himself.

The cone is hopefully off tomorrow. He has been SO cross with us, having to have it on, we will all be enormously relieved!

An interlude…

I’m going to be a bit behind, I think, with my challenge of reading 50 memoirs in a year. I haven’t been able to read about real life for a little while, for obvious reasons. I’m hoping to get back to the memoirs again, when I feel able to, as I would like to continue with this. I started On Chapel Sands by Laura Cummings and am enjoying it so far, but have had to break off from it and start reading a gorgeous rom com instead, Sunrise at Butterfly Cove, by my friend Sarah Bennett. I’m hoping to get back to On Chapel Sands when I feel ready!

This morning I’ve done a very surreal waltz-like Aldi shop, with my trolley, keeping that safe distance from everybody (although it was very quiet in there) – and with a pair of winter gloves on and my hair up, so it wouldn’t flop over my face as usual and have to be fiddled with. I hated the feeling that everyone was wary and almost suspicious of everyone else. I tried to catch a couple of people’s eyes and give a couple of smiles, but no-one was really having it! And I was worried I’d accidentally get too close to someone and get barked at or something (and burst into tears!). But, it was fine. Everyone’s feeling the same, aren’t they?

Anyway, now I’m going to settle down continue editing my next book, in between supervising my kids with their school work, when needed, although they are old enough to get on with it themselves (in their dressing gowns, at present!). There’s already been a slight altercation over gradients, which luckily I was not called upon to assist with, in the end (thank you, YouTube), but we’ll see how we go…

The Tent, the Bucket and Me, Emma Kennedy

I’ve never been a camper. My husband and I don’t believe in it. We tried glamping once and it wasn’t a good move. Despite having a blow-up bed, a proper duvet and an Aztec throw, we were absolutely freezing and I clung to his back like a koala all night, trying to keep warm and failing. I also thought, as a glamping/camping virgin, I’d sweetly lay my pyjamas out on my glampy pillow, before we went off festival-ing (80’s bands. Can I just put it here that Go West are still AMAZING?), only to return at 3am to find them, to my virgin horror, damp through and hideous. It was my second camping experience. The first was Guide camp, which also left me pretty unimpressed and with a lasting fear of chemical toilets… 

Anyway, Emma Kennedy and her mum and dad used to go camping a lot, in the 1970s. Every camping holiday they took ended in complete disaster, and this book tells all the sorry tales of their adventures.

It is HILARIOUS. I read some of it while watching 90 Day Fiancé with my husband (how addictive is that programme, by the way? Well, not so addictive that you can’t read at the same time as watching it, but you know what I mean…) and kept bursting out laughing, which really annoyed him, but not enough for him to ask me what I was reading as that would be, like, indulging me. Some of these camping stories are unbelievable, and often quite revolting (they make the time I fell over and got covered head to foot in mud at Brands Hatch seem incredibly tame), but the way Emma writes about them is very, very funny indeed. If you need cheering up, or want to read something funny before bed, or have disastrous camping stories of your own that haunt you and you want to read about someone far, far worse off, then this is the book for you.

I loved the 70s nostalgia (I actually gasped when I saw the mention of the book Fattypuffs and Thinipers) I enjoyed the writing and I found the relationships between only child Emma and her parents, Tony and Brenda, really quite endearing. A great read!

*Next memoir: On Chapel Sands, by Laura Cumming

Educated, Tara Westover

I’d seen this memoir around a lot; it’s one of those books that, wherever you look at the moment, it seems to be there, but, although I’d seen it everywhere, I knew nothing whatsoever about it, apart from it was about a girl who grew up with no formal education. I was intrigued enough to download it, but when I started reading it, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it at all. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘misery memoir’ and have tended to steer clear of them (do you remember when Sue Townsend satirised them in the Adrian Mole books? If I recall correctly, his mum, Pauline Mole, was writing one entitled A Girl Called “Shit”? That used to make me howl with laughter…). I don’t want to be miserable; I don’t want to read about real-life misery, particularly if it’s relentless. So, I have avoided the genre. But, I’m supposed to be reading memoirs of all sorts and detailing all sorts of lives, and this book intrigued me enough to read on … even once I knew exactly how miserable the set up of Tara’s life was.

Tara Westover was raised in a Mormon family in Idaho – a family of, quite frankly, crazy survivalists, who were off grid, anti-government, anti-medical intervention (which considering how many accidents they had was particularly crazy) and (again, quite frankly) abusive (that brother…. bloody hell!) Tara is not allowed to go to school. She has no birth certificate. She is forced to work in the family’s highly dangerous junk yard. Her life is grim, dangerous, grubby, scary, bigoted, and devoid of any chance to thrive. Yet somehow, against the odds, Tara does just that (although the path to a meaningful life, free of her family, is very difficult indeed) and ends up with the very best education of all, studying at Cambridge University. The story of how she gets there is truly amazing.

This book made me angry and sad. I was appalled at times, flinching at others – sometimes I wanted to put the book down and flounce off, to go and eat cake, have a hot chocolate and read a rom com; to immerse myself in loveliness and walk away from Educated‘s gritty reality and unpleasantness. I wanted to wash my hands of it, like Tara did of the grime after another day in the junkyard. But still I read on. Partly, because this book is beautifully written… if Tara Westover writes any fiction, I’ll be first in line to read it. But mostly because of the hope threaded throughout this narrative, even though it is a hope that is dangled, at times, then whipped away again; a hope Tara often extinguishes herself by her sometimes exasperating drive to keep going back home even though it’s the worst possible place for her: that house, that family, that mountain…

This is a compelling story of triumph against adversity. The triumph and the hope in this book are hard won and eloquently detailed and they come at a price, for both the writer and the reader: Tara continues to be estranged from several members of her family; I’ll be haunted in a tender but bleak way by this book for quite a long time – it has given me the most complicated book hangover. But I loved it. It’s magnificent. Everyone should read it.

Right, I’m going to read something light now. I’m going to read The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy, about hilarious camping holidays in the 1970s. This may be accompanied by cake and hot chocolate…

Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a pop star, Tracey Thorn

My brother was really into Everything but the Girl, and everything he was into, I was also subjected to, mostly – in our teenage years – because he had a record player in his bedroom which was somehow wired into my bedroom, so every time he put a record on, I’d have to listen to it, too. I suffered through every musical phase he ever went through: from electro pop to Ska to heavy metal to punk to soul to Gothic rock, and back again. And the thing was, I gradually came to love all his records. He had pretty good taste. We do a lot of reminiscing these days about music.

One of the things we reminisce about is a family holiday we spent in Brittany and how Everything but the Girl was the soundtrack to that holiday: the windy sun-scorched beaches, the barbecues behind our picturesque gite and the long, TV-free evenings where a tragic, sixteen-year-old me pined in a really satisfactory way for an unsuitable boy I’d met in the Smash Hits ‘pen pal’ section. Everything but the Girl, which my brother played endlessly, was a perfect accompaniment to my teen dreaming – the melancholic, lilting and wistful nature of their songs providing the perfect foil to my own delicious malcontent.

My brother’s been talking about lead singer Tracey Thorn’s autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen for ages. ‘You’ve got to read it,’ he said. ‘It’s great,’ and, following him, just as I did back then (he has good taste, after all), I finally read this book.

This is a really fascinating read. Tracey talks about how she first got in a band at sixteen, as a guitar player, then became part of an all-girl band, The Marine Girls, a year later (my brother was also into The Marine Girls, of course) – gradually realising she could sing (and what a voice!) and sharing the vocals with one of the other girls . How she met the other half of the band, Ben Watt, at Hull university and pretty much moved straight in with him. How they became Everything but the Girl and enjoyed success while she was still doing her degree. How she slotted into the 80s music scene but never really felt part of it. How the journey of a band is not linear, but a winding road with ups and downs, full of stops and starts and, often, surprises (for example, the success of the single, ‘Missing’.).

Tracey has a very dry sense of humour which I adore, and drolly gives a wry punchline to many a funny story. (Look out for the George Michael anecdote which I loved!) As a feminist woman in a male-dominated music industry she has a brilliant slant on things, to how her first band The Marine Girls were treated, to hair and clothes and awkwardness and how to carry herself, as a pop star, to motherhood and love and writing and performing and how everything in her life informed her art and vice versa.

I read this so quickly and was really engrossed. I loved the writing style and wanted more. Luckily, Tracey has written two other books: Naked at the Albert Hall and Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia that I will also be reading… before my brother has a chance to.

*Next memoir: Educated, Tara Westover. *