You can tell a lot about a person by looking at the Facebook groups they belong to. So here’s a list of my top six (in no particular order):-

  • Running for fun – yes you can!
  • Charlotte Watts Calm
  • Yogis in the North East
  • Lurcher Appreciation Society
  • Simple Happy Life

These groups reveal what’s occupying my mind and heart right now.

Until today, Simple Happy Life was called The Gratitude Habit. Which is what drew me in, to be honest. I wanted to make a habit of gratitude and I wanted to be encouraged in that and accountable to others. This group was formed at the beginning of January by North East creative Sarah Raad with members from all over the world, all committed to posting a Gratitude each day in January. Sarah provided the prompts; we all shared something from our own lives and experiences.

This was the nearest thing I had to a New Year’s resolution this year and I’m still engaged. Which is good going for me. I’ve been pretty relaxed about it. I’ve not posted everyday. I found the prompt about kindness hard for example. I realised by reading what other members of the group wrote that I am not naturally a very kind person at the moment. My heart is not as soft and gentle as it might be. I’m living in a survival mode where I come first. I’m not beating myself up about that though. It’s just for a season, I know that. And for a good reason. It’s just how it is right now.

And as the end of the month drew closer, we each came to realise that we did not want to stop. As in so many things, when you start opening up and sharing from your own life, when you have a common purpose (gratitude in this case), bonds begin to form. This habit has become a good one. And has morphed into Simple Happy Life.

Today, Sarah set out the intention for the group going forward –

This is a group for gratitude, kindness and happiness, with challenges, prompts and discussions around those topics. I manage the group on a day to day basis but everyone is free to contribute thoughts, articles, images, anything appropriate that you wish to share. Please also feel free to invite like-minded people who you feel would like to be made welcome into a safe and lovely space for sharing our thoughts and ideas.

So there will still be plenty of gratitude. Gratitude underpins a simple, happy life. Gratitude makes all the difference. We can choose to focus on the negatives in life. To moan, to complain, to despair. But where does that get us? We all have been given so much. We all have so much going for us. We all have so much to be grateful for.

A simple, happy life sounds good to me.

I could do with a bit more gratitude and kindness and happiness.

And there’s an open invitation. Join us if you would like to.

And let’s all cultivate a Gratitude Habit.



Linda has already treated us to a series called ‘Live, Laugh, Love with Linda’. I’m sure you will have found inspiration to get out there and enjoy life, as I did. To keep it fresh, we’re changing it up a bit and now concentrating on three of Linda’s main loves – eating, reading and visiting new places.



For me, love is reading a good book. As I devour crime books, many are soon forgotten: the unbelievable, the boring or the weak! A good crime story needs something different to be remembered by me. ‘Death of the Elver Man’ by Jennie Finch is a book to remember. I instantly connected with the title, which reminded me of a childhood activity. I was taken back to standing in a stream trying to catch eels at around nine years old and realising how impossible it was. The book was set in Somerset. A probation officer starts a new job. One of her clients is blamed for the death of an elver man in the poaching underworld. Such a different setting intrigued me. Realising his innocence, she searches for the killer and becomes stalked herself. The customs, dialect and local ideas she encounters add to the atmosphere. Her car is an old banger that always lets her down. The book has its fair share of violence and description. I enjoyed this book, a debut novel, and was pleased to find another two already written by the same author, ‘The Moth Man’ and ‘Smoke and Adders’.


Love is a good meal and my absolute favourite is duck. Its pink, velvety, melt in the mouth texture simply delights me. The sauce with it is always a major interest. When I check out a menu, my eyes are always drawn to the duck and my choice is made. Starters of shredded duck are fab. I could make a whole meal of this starter. Ha ha! Duck with orange or plum sauce are really good. I once ate duck with tangerine sauce at the Ravensworth Arms Hotel many years ago, which I remember fondly. Recently, I went to The Old Mill at Consett. My husband recommended it five years ago and I decided to go last week. I just fancied somewhere new. Set on a country lane is an old mill house which curves around two ponds. The eclectic array of farm implements add to the warm interior. We sat near a coal fire…Mmm. Hoping for a coffee, my other half had other ideas. He pointed out the duck and a black cherry jus, whilst ordering steak and ale pie. It was divine! Succulent black cherries sat in a dark cherry shiny sauce, which swamped the tender duck. Well it was swamped when I poured the whole jug of jus out! This is now my favourite variation of duck. I love roast duck and curried duck is also tasty. I just love eating duck!


I love is a good place to visit … and CenterParc’s spa at Whinfell Forest is my favourite spa. Booking the twilight slot of 5pm to 8pm on a Saturday night in January is perfect. I love to dive into the hot outdoor pool. Yes, you swim outside. Yes, you swim in the dark. Yes, it is cold walking to the poolside. But entering the underlit, turquoise, hot water is wonderful. Swimming under the stars, or when it is snowing or raining, is incredible. Back inside are tiled steam rooms with beautiful scents. There is a pool with various jets to attack any knotted muscles. Three hours later, relaxed and rejuvenated you leave feeling that as an experience, it is amazing. I love it.

the state of being free from tension and anxiety
synonyms: mental repose, composure; calm, tranquillity, peacefulness, calming oneself, loosening up, unwinding, winding down

There is only one moment in my whole year where I feel completely relaxed. I’m in the water on the Monday morning at the end of my weekend away with friends at Centerparcs that I take every January.

It’s the moment that follows a weekend of unwinding, the moment that precedes thoughts of returning home.

It’s taken the whole weekend to reach the state of my body being free from tension. This year I had jaw and tooth ache as the tension that had been building up in that area started to loosen up (my husband had mentioned last week how I’d started grinding my teeth…)

It’s taken the whole weekend to reach the state of my mind being free from anxiety. I felt calm, at peace about the future. In that moment, all felt well with the world.

There was no flash of inspiration this year. Last year in that place at that time, the idea for Pretty Vintage Life first came to me. It was so exciting and inspiring. This year, I didn’t need exciting and inspiring. I needed reassurance and I got it. A calm composure that everything I had in place in my world was at it should be and that I only needed to focus my mind and body on carrying on with what has already been started.

So what is the recipe for arriving at this point of total relaxation once every year? What are the key ingredients?

  1. Laughter  Boy, did we laugh a lot. It started in Starbucks when we first arrived and carried on all weekend.
  2. Water  Water makes such a difference. The outside pool was so hot that steam was rising from the surface of the water. I could almost feel my anxiety melting away and the tension in my shoulders dissipating away into the water.
  3. Time and Space  Literally nothing to do. Nowhere to be. No one to please. I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.
  4. Comfortable with the others  This has taken time. The same group of us have been going away together once a year for 18 years! We go way back. We don’t see each other much through the year but as soon as we walk through the door, we pick up where we left off. We can be ourselves.
  5. Familiar surroundings  Not only is it the same people but it’s the same lodge. We have the same bed, the same layout, the same walk to the centre and pool and spa and restaurant. There’s no thinking involved. We relax straight into it straight away.

It’s OK that I only feel like I do right now once a year. This is my baseline. My measure of how it should be. Could be. I do relax at other times, of course I do, but not to this extent. This is my personal definition of relaxation. I know this is possible. I know there’s a Monday already in the diary for next January where I will feel this again.

And until then, I can work on not letting tension and anxiety build up in my system. I can remember to breathe, relax my shoulders and jaw. I can slow down and be more mindful.

Thanks girls, it’s been great. See you all next year!

Jean was an inspiring ordinary woman. Jean died twenty four years ago today. Jean was my mum.

It’s taken me a while to get to this point of seeing my mum as an inspiring ordinary woman. There was a lot of stuff that got in the way. A lot that frustrated me that I couldn’t see past. But today I am ready. Today, twenty four years on from the day that we lost her, I’m beginning to grasp just how incredible she actually was.

My mum was born before her time. She had so much creativity and energy and determination that at that time, was frowned upon by society in an ordinary woman like her. She was her father’s daughter (the best bits, not the ways in which his energies and charm were focused in completely the wrong direction). She had spirit, passion. She cared deeply and loved deeply.

My mum worked hard at everything she did. She had such drive. She gave her all. Incredible patience and perseverance too. Like that time she spent hours cutting out tiny ladybirds and beetles from wrapping paper for an activity at the Mother and Toddler group she helped run. Nothing was ever too much effort.

She used to teach Shorthand and Typing at Suffolk College. With her sister Margaret. They must have been an awesome duo. Both brimming with enthusiasm but both with such an incredible eye for detail. And a total commitment to their students too.

On a personal level, my mum gave herself 100% too. She was head over heels in love with my dad. You could see it in the way she looked at him and talked about him. She would never have a word said against him. She was so proud of him.

She loved her kids with all her heart too. That’s me and my brother and my sister. We were her pride and joy. She took such an interest in our lives, right down to the smallest detail. She kept lists to remind herself what to ask us about. And then there were her grandchildren. Ask them today about her and they would still say she was the best grandma in the world. She gave each one of them her full attention. Loved spending time with them, getting to know them and enjoying what they enjoyed. They meant the world to her. She made each one of them feel special and valued just as they were.

She was good at that. She made everyone she came into contact with feel special. She was a good friend. She started up a group called Young Wives which then became Friends and Neighbours as they all got older! She loved bringing people together, bringing out the best in people, looking out for people.

She made the most amazing jam sponge cake I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know how she did it. I’ve tried to replicate it and it’s never been the same.

My mum had her issues – plenty of issues. She struggled with her weight and health anxiety and depression. She carried tough stuff with her in her heart to the day she died. On that day, she still had the newspaper cutting in her purse announcing the death of her son who had died at four hours old. Thirty years before. She lived with a massive weight of expectation of what others thought of her.

Having said all that, my mum knew how to have fun. She liked pretty things. She had a special wooden musical jewellery box that she’d bought on a school trip to Switzerland and in it, she kept all her rings and ear-rings and brooches. I loved looking through them all. And she was very much in touch with her inner child. She loved family gatherings and board games, especially Scrabble. Her joy poured out of her as she stood in front of the chimpanzee enclosure at the zoo or fed the goats at Whitehouse Farm with her grandchildren. She knew how to laugh until she cried.

My mum was beautiful. She had the most sparkly blue eyes and really soft, flawless skin. She was great to cuddle into. And she had incredibly shapely legs. She was kind and gentle and saw the best in everyone.

People would look at me and my mum and tell me how alike we were. People still tell me how much I remind them of her. Perhaps you can see it in this photo. That’s me and my mum. I used to hate being told I was like her. I used to see it as a bad thing. The last thing I wanted was to be like her. She died at a time when our relationship was pretty strained. I was only 28. I wasn’t ready for her to go. I thought we had plenty of time to arrive at a more comfortable place together.

But twenty four years have past. Twenty four years is a long time. And my mum has established a very special place in my heart. Now I feel it’s a privilege to be compared to her. My mum is an inspiration to me. I feel her in me. Living on in me. I am like her in so many ways and now I am grateful for that.

In a different time in a different place with different circumstances, my mum could have been truly extraordinary. I have no doubt about that. But actually, she was extraordinary in her own way. She touched lives. She changed lives. She lives on in so many lives.

And so Jean, Mum, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, we salute you. I hope you’re too busy having the best fun to be concerned about us who are still here, but be assured, you are not forgotten. We still think of you and love you and are inspired by you.


I need to write about La La Land. I just can’t stop thinking about it, you see.

It puzzles me. Helen H and I went to see it together. Both motivated I think by a curiosity to see what all the fuss was about. I wanted to love it but was bracing myself to hate it.

And yet from the opening sequence, I was hooked. Completely consumed. Drawn into La La Land, where I wanted to stay forever. I couldn’t stop grinning. I loved the colours, the energy, the zest for life. Somehow it all felt so vivid. Larger than life.

I loved everything about it. Even the jazz. And I’m with Mia – I hate jazz normally. The film had a dreamlike quality somehow and yet it felt wide awake, more than wide awake. More real than reality. It was all about creativity and passion; self-doubt and vulnerability; vision and compromise. It rang true on so many levels. I completely got it.

So when about halfway through, the people in front of me got up and walked out, I couldn’t believe it. I nudged Helen H and raised my eyebrows as if to say ‘What the hell? Are they for real?’

I didn’t want the film to end. I didn’t want it to be over. This feeling, this experience. I turned to Helen H in expectation and said ‘Well, what did you think?’, fulling anticipating that she would be sharing the joy.

But no. She didn’t like it at all. I thought she was joking. How could she not like it? Apparently, she would have happily walked out with the people in front of us. I couldn’t get my head round that at all. I was so confused. I’m used to us not agreeing about most stuff, but this was different. I needed her to understand what I was feeling.

On the way home in the car, I said ‘I want to live in La La Land’ and her reply was ‘You already do. You live in La La Land all the time.’ I couldn’t help hearing this as a bad thing. Like I don’t live in the real world or something.

I want to see it again. I need to see it again to see whether I got it wrong the first time. Other friends have been. Other people I felt sure would love it and yet they weren’t crazy about it at all. Indifferent even.

The review of the film in The Guardian describes it as ‘a sun-drenched musical masterpiece’. That’s the world I visited in the darkened cinema that night. Let me pick out some more words and phrases from that review – sweet-natured, full of bounce, beguiling, unapologetically romantic, poster-paint energy (I love that phrase, don’t you?), simple story-telling verve, simplicity and charm…and so it goes on. So tell me, what’s not to love?

However, please don’t take this as a recommendation. I don’t trust my opinion any more. I’ve lost faith in my judgement. I want you to see it because you may love it like I did and that would be a wonderful thing for you to experience. Or you might be asking for your money back. I really can’t be sure.

I would say this though: if any of you want to see it and have no one to see it with, let me know and I’ll happily come with you.