When a cousin up north suggested we spoke to each other via Skype, rather than knock out lengthy emails at irregular intervals, I readily agreed.

Good idea, I wrote back. I was a dab hand at Skype years ago and I was sure it wouldn’t take that long to track down the headphones-microphone combo and the clip-on camera required to turn my PC into a humming two-way communications centre.

We promised we wouldn’t make any judgments about appearance: bed-head hair and bleary eyes would be perfectly acceptable at any time of day. It’s years since we’ve seen each other anyway, so it’s likely Kate will, correctly, attribute all my blemishes to anno domini – and genetics. If she’s flawless, I may have to unplug her, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Geoff finally tracked down the necessary accoutrements in the cellar, dumped there in a bag following their last outing circa 2011. Between us, we fathomed how to attach them and get them working, once we’d activated Skype.

That wasn’t as easy as it might have been, because although I first registered quite a few years ago, I’ve changed computers twice since then and Skype seems unable to get its head around this. I don’t exist, it would seem, so after many angry attempts I registered again with a different name. This time it was big enough to approve of me.

Every single step I took once I’d registered seemed counter-intuitive and unlike anything I’d ever done before with Skype. Could it be possible that they’ve changed so much since I was last an enthusiastic Skyper? What was once logical and simple was now akin to wading backwards through treacle.

Geoff set himself up too, so we could talk to each other and test everything was in full working order ahead of this momentous hook-up with Kate. The squealing feedback was deafening and we felt a bit silly sitting next to each other saying things like ‘How are you today?’

When Geoff took his Skyped-up tablet into the sitting-room we carried on our silly conversation further apart, but I still found it difficult to stop giggling and commenting on his bald patch. He gave as good as he got, mind you, and I now have a serious thing about my chins. Who knew a blurry camera could be so unforgiving?

The next thing I had to do was send a Skype contact request to Kate, and once she’d accepted that, we could talk. Just before I did so, I double-checked everything was still behaving. It wouldn’t do for me to let the side down in this two-way deal.

Oh no! The camera wasn’t working. Dead as a dodo. Kaput. I dusted the lens, pointlessly, and stared at it for a long time. Still no reaction.

Yes,  I know the answer would have been to pick up the phone and speak to Kate like any normal person would, but we both fancied the idea of a face-to-face chat for the first time since a family wedding 40 years ago.

What do you do when one bit of equipment lets you down? You turn to another, which is why I am pinning my hopes on my iPad, which I find not only has a Skype app but a built-in microphone and camera. The only trouble is, I’ve had to register with yet another name, leading to even greater confusion.

Geoff’s given up and was last seen in the cellar with a bag containing an obsolete camera and headphones – talking to himself.


Sometimes I wonder about myself. It can feel as though I have a self-destruct button permanently in the ‘On’ position.

The most innocent of pastimes can land me in hot water. Take the time I was out walking in the woods – and please note that I was actually walking, when in those days, five years ago, I was more inclined to run wherever and whenever I could. Walking along, minding my own business, looking carefully where I was going, I somehow tripped over a tree root, although I maintain it jumped up at me.

The damage – to me, not the root – was horrendous. It would have been less painful and more quick to heal if I’d broken my leg, but no, I had to do something worse than that. I tore the tendons in my ankle and they took six incredibly painful months to mend.

The incident was not helped by the fact I was more than a mile from home and there was no mobile phone signal deep in the woods, so a lot of brave hobbling was necessary.

If an innocent walk were not enough to make me wonder about this propensity for self-destruction, I cast my mind back only 10 days to when I was walking in town with my shoulder bag for company. A small voice in my head asked, cheekily I thought: “Should you really have that on your shoulder? It’s not doing you any good, is it?”

The voice was, of course, supremely wise. Whereas most people’s shoulder bags might contain just what is necessary for that particular outing, mine always have my whole world stuffed in them: something for every eventuality, including, when I last looked, a carrot and headcollar in case I run across Shergar.

By the time I reached home, the shoulder which had borne the burden of the monstrosity was aching. Later, the ache turned to a pain, an unconscionable pain that I could hardly bear. It was a trapped nerve.

I slept barely a wink, preoccupied not only by the pain but by thoughts along the lines of how different it might be if Geoff had been a physiotherapist or even a witch doctor. As he is neither of those things, I hurried off in the morning to my favoured acupuncturist and miracle masseur and emerged later with a happy smile and an untrapped nerve.

Six days later, the other shoulder got in on the act and I winced my way back for more remedial treatment. Ah, such blissful relief.

Now then, what’s between the shoulders? A neck. Not wanting to be left out, my hitherto well-behaved neck then contrived to trap a nerve (presumably because my muscles were in an unusually weakened state). The pain was so intense I couldn’t stop being sick.

As it was the weekend, a temporary DIY remedy was called for: I chose a bag of quinoa from the freezer (we’re out of peas) and it numbed me a treat. As my son said, when I told him what I’d resorted to: “Only you, Mum. Only you.”

The quinoa and painkillers got me through the weekend and on Monday I was back to the miracle man who got me smiling again.

I’ve cast aside my trunk-like shoulder bags in favour of a miniature cross-body bag and adjusted my computer chair so I’m not staring up at the screen but straight at it. No, I know none of this is rocket science, but take it from me, that bag of frozen quinoa certainly is.

It is dusk and I am parking the car in one of those time-restricted slots outside a railway station. I’m lucky to have found a space as demand appears to be high, judging by the number of drivers going round and round.

It took only two circuits for me to find this space, so in I go. The angle of entrance is awkward, so I need to reverse in order to straighten up.

I only need to go back a little way. I look behind, through rear windscreen, mirror and wing mirrors, and spot a dark vehicle several yards away, but suddenly the beep-beep of the parking sensor on the back of my car alerts me to an obstruction that is much closer than that. Two beeps, followed by a horribly clear thud.

My heart sinks as I realise I’ve hit something. But what? It certainly couldn’t be anything as large as a car or I’d have seen it.

I park quickly, jump out and go to look. Instantly, a man’s voice starts yelling at me: “What the hell were you thinking of? You’ve hit my car!”

I look where Mr Furious is pointing and see quite possibly the smallest car in the world: a tiny dodgem-like thing, not unlike a super-sized slipper, with a piece of plastic hanging off it where my car obviously made contact.

Frankly, no wonder I didn’t see that little squit of a thing, I feel like saying, but actually what comes out of my mouth is a veritably volley of abject apology. I am beside myself with remorse. I’ve never even pranged into a leaf in all my driving days, let alone another vehicle with someone in it.

I have not a leg to stand on. I reversed into him. The fact he neither tooted to warn me of his presence nor got the hell out of my way when he saw my reversing lights go on, is not an issue here.

Mr Furious pushes the bit of flapping plastic back into place with a satisfying click but then points to a small dent on the bumper. It is his wife’s car, he explains, and she will be distraught to see it’s been damaged when she comes off the train.

He is still very, very angry but has managed to stop shouting into my face. I say I think we should swap names and contact details but find that I can’t see through the tears that are falling involuntarily.

I can’t help crying. I am sorry, I explain to Mr Furious, but I have just spent the afternoon saying goodbye to a close relative who is dying and I really don’t think I can bear this as well.

He suddenly softens as he can see my distress is genuine. He puts his hand on my shaking arm and goes into a most affecting apology for his behaviour. It was an instinctive reaction, he says. Yes, of course, I gulp. I understand. We are a right pair of helpless specimens, one sobbing and one consumed by guilt for shouting.

We part, eventually, and with the help of several tissues I make myself presentable.

The next morning Mr No-Longer-Furious calls me. We both launch into at least 100 more versions of the word Sorry, and then he says, “I don’t want to make any more of this. The damage is negligible. Let’s pretend it never happened.”

I say Thank-you approximately 200 times and we part friends. What a nice world we live in.

As the nation plumps up its cushions ready to sit and watch the first of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series on Sunday evening, perhaps now would be a good time to consider a pre-emptive strike.

Rather than wait until the end of the six-parter, when the message, hopefully, will have been dinned into us that we need to clean up our act or two-thirds of our planet will be irredeemably damaged, we should start now, right now, to do our bit.

There’s no-one else but us, those of us privileged to be living on this planet at the moment, who can commit to do anything about the huge task involved. We cannot turn around and point and say, “But look, there’s a worldwide task force over there who’ll do it for us. They can roll up their sleeves and do the job.”

It doesn’t work like that. We have to roll up our own sleeves, literally and metaphorically, and make the effort. First of all, let’s stop buying plastic bottles – or at least think twice before doing so and only do it if there really is no alternative. Even then, take care to dispose of the bottle in your recycling bin – or, better still, extend its life by reusing it any manner of ways (a plant pot, watering device, rocket or 101 other ways of engaging an imaginative child) – and then recycle it.

Here’s a depressing clutch of statistics: we use 38.5 million single-use plastic bottles every day in the UK. Every day! Then there’s the 58 million cans every day. With only half of them being recycled, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many litter our roadsides, pavements, beaches and oceans.

I am fortunate to be within reach of a shop that does more than its share towards protecting our future: it sells much of its stock loose, so you can take along a bag or a bottle and get it filled, and refilled, with anything from oats, flour and chick peas to washing liquid, fabric softener and loo cleaner. It’s a great business and one that serves many purposes, among which is the opportunity to polish one’s halo.

Of course this thing about doing one’s bit for the planet is not about feeling sanctimonious. It’s really about putting the wheels back on the handcart that’s heading in a direction we don’t want to go. Just picturing the change in the seaside flotsam and jetsam over recent years gives me alone pause for thought.

In my carefree beach-going days as a child there was little more than a few bits of driftwood and some nuggets of smelly black tar (“Don’t touch, it’ll go everywhere!”). Now, it is sometimes necessary to step over heaps of washed-up junk stretching the length of a beach, every piece graphically telling a story of Man’s thoughtless abuse of the innocent planet.

It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose, during which it can kill marine life, affect the ecosystem and scar our beaches.

There’s a strong movement now, headed by the poor, benighted Surfers Against Sewage (and doesn’t their name tell us a lot) to get a deposit system introduced on plastic bottles and cans as a means of increasing recycling and reducing marine plastic pollution.

There’ll be objections, of course, but really we’ve only ourselves to blame. Something has to be done, and this is a good, positive way to start.

It would be a fitting tribute to Sir David, by the time Blue Planet II has ended its series, to be able to say, “We’ve got the message!”

I wasted a whole ten minutes of my life reading something in a magazine, when I could have been staring out of the window at a nicotine-yellow sky and speculating on how close, if not actually nigh, the apocalypse really was.

Which was better, I wonder: getting myself in a state about the state we’re in – the tail-end of hurricanes, an airborne invasion of Saharan sand – or reading up on what to wear for the party season?

I managed to glance at the strange sky while also reading, so I’m now not only well informed on the changes I must make to my wardrobe if I am to sparkle on the party scene but also clued-up enough to join a debate on whether that sky was more Pantone 121C than Dorset Cream blended with a touch of Pale Hound on the Farrow & Ball paint chart.

As far as the party season goes, I regret I am far from ready to knock ’em dead. It seems I must first consult my wardrobe, try very hard not to despair and run away screaming, or even laughing hysterically, and then – and this is when the fun starts, apparently – rush out excitedly and invest a minimum of £1,999 (yes, the comma is in the right place) in something dangerously sheer. That would be like a cliff face, then.

Not just dangerously sheer, but with flounces in unexpected places (isn’t that what toddlers are prone to?) Colourways – we don’t talk colour in these circles, it’s expanded into this more important-sounding term – are edgy and exciting: that’ll be navy-blue with, shock, gasp, a touch of pink. That sort of edgy colourway.

The Little Black Dress is Out, I learn. Cut a dash with a tuxedo instead, preferably in a pastel colourway with contrasting detail.

I read about a designer called Magda Butrym. Yes, really, that is her name and yes, I’m sorry, but it did make me snigger a bit. Anyway, I like her a lot because although she puts ruffles and frills on some of her things, and is inclined to remove shoulders from her clothes (covering both shoulders is so last year), she says this, which gladdens my heart: “I love to mix a dress with jeans and party shoes – sparkly shoes instantly make jeans look elegant.”

I’m not interested in either the dress or the ‘elegant’ angle. It’s Magda’s reference to jeans that fills me with hope for the party season. I read on but I cannot seem to find any mention of a thermal vest and big jumper anywhere, although I like to think she’d allow them – as long as the shoes were sparkly.

Now I’m thinking that instead of negotiating with Geoff over the purchase of a £1,999 piece of cliff face masquerading as a wisp of silliness, I could merely apply some glitter to my winter boots for the necessary sparkle. With the vest, the jumper and the jeans, I’m good to go.

I am well-informed. I am the savvy woman with fashion at her neglected fingertips. I know what’s trending this season (actually, I did, briefly, but now I’ve forgotten) and I am going to be one step ahead once the invitations start rolling in.

That is assuming one or two do. You can’t be sure since there’s precious little to get in a party mood about these days. But if there’s a drought of exciting opportunities to go out and jostle for space by someone’s else’s fire, I can spend my miserable evenings picking the glitter off my boots and blotting out ungrateful thoughts about Magda.

Far too often, eating out is a lottery. Get it right, and the occasion is a delight and something to celebrate. Get it wrong, and an attack of the glooms is eclipsed only by the uncomfortable feelings around the middle (and the purse).

Geoff and I have learnt over the years not to have very high expectations. Too many times it’s been a case of ‘Well, that was OK, but I wouldn’t rush back.’ It isn’t that we have impossible standards – frankly, the kitchens at Hill Towers don’t exactly twinkle with Michelin stars – but we do like the basics of a warm welcome, an interesting menu and attentive service when we go out.

(Note to all waiting staff the length and breadth of the land: attentive service does not mean pointlessly chanting ‘Enjoy!’ every time you plonk a plate of food down in front of a customer. It makes a lot of people shudder with supressed anger and knot their ankles for fear of springing up, grabbing your lapels and nutting you. OK, slight exaggeration, but boy it is annoying and I refuse to believe you’d lose your job if you didn’t say it. Incidentally, do we think this habit was imported from America?)

I am really happy to say that since the weekend, our expectations have been raised several notches, thanks to an experience at a pub that could not be faulted in any way.

We met up with our son and daughter-in-law and two small grand-daughters, aged five and two-and-a-half, at a midway point between our respective homes. Now I know that having little ones in tow in a restaurant doesn’t always bode well for anyone, whether it’s us, other diners or even the children themselves, for whom sitting, conversing with ancients and eating a meal probably wouldn’t be their number one choice of activity.

With this in mind, I called the pub a few days before to book a table for six, requesting a high chair for Clemmie and suggesting they might like to put us somewhere not too close to others, in case they were not amenable to ankle-biters.

I need not have worried, because in fact the girls behaved impeccably, absorbed by our company and the treasures of the moment they’d brought from home as well as by the puzzles and books provided by the pub.

What was disruptive, though, were the two dogs that barged their way past us to the next table where their owners let them toss around the soft toys that the landlord and his family had put in a box for children to play with. I shall at this point substitute all my invective about thoughtless dog owners with one word: ‘Grrr.’

The menu was terrific, interesting, inventive, focusing on local produce and everything freshly cooked. All of us, Poppy and Clemmie included, were so spoilt for choice we dithered spectacularly. In due course, our meals were all served at the same time and even though no-one exhorted us to ‘Enjoy!’ we certainly did.

To say the staff were thoughtful would be to understate the enormous trouble they took to ensure we had a relaxed and happy meal together. The service was seamless, unobtrusive, utterly professional and with a friendliness that made us feel we were valued and special to them.

As if all that were not enough, the pub has an enormous car park so there’s no anxiety about having to squash in between a pair of tractor-sized 4x4s.

In short, it’s a place that has absolutely nailed how to host its customers, turning what is rocket science for so many into a perfect art form.

I’ve never been a particularly good present person. Happy to receive presents, of course, but a bit lacking in inspiration when it comes to thinking of things for others. As with everything, I try hard, my intentions are good, but I am liable to fall short.

It is true that I sometimes surprise myself with wonderful ideas, and make a mental note that such-and-such would be ideal for so-and-so’s birthday six months hence. Sadly, the mental note, as with 99 percent of things committed to memory, promptly flies straight back out of the tiny slot through which it entered, leaving me bereft, as ever, once that birthday comes round.

Christmas is another trauma altogether. I have found over the years that my only way to cope in respect of the ‘what to get for whom’ dilemma is to place myself in a state of suspended animation until the 24th and then panic, big-time.

This time of year is particularly difficult because there are so many birthdays of friends and family that my inspiration drains away faster than you can say gift wrap.

One of my problems is that if I hit upon a formula, I dare not let go. This means, for example, that our poor daughter-in-law is almost certain to end up with something to keep her warm. Theirs is a very cold house so my instinct is always to wrap her up. Her stocks of thick, cosy hats, socks, jumpers and scarves could probably kit out a Polar expedition team.

It’s always worse when the luckless person on the receiving end of one of my gifts is a brilliantly inspired present-giver themselves. My sister-in-law, Geoff’s sister, for instance, just has a gift for it, if you’ll forgive the wholly intended pun.

She always gets it right. What, then, to give her for her birthday this year, after so many lack-lustre efforts on our part in the past? Geoff and I pooled our thoughts for so long that despair set in.

I know, I suddenly screeched. A voucher! Do you mean a book token, asked Geoff. No! A voucher for a day out! We’ll take her for a day out and fill it with surprises.

Geoff designed the voucher and put it in with the birthday card. We got her favourite cousins on side, arranged a date and planned the outing.

It was a great success, though I can take little credit for it. We picked up the bemused birthday girl from her home and drove her through the stunning Dorset countryside to a lunch rendezvous with the cousins, who she had not seen for a few years. They were lying in wait, their presence still a secret to her.

Surprise, surprise! Oh, the hugs, the happiness and the huge, huge smiles. It was wonderful to behold, and to be a part of.

Lunch followed, with not a gap in the chatter, and then we migrated south to West Bay. The plan had been to take a post-prandial walk, but the weather was dire and so we did the only thing Brits can do under these circumstances: we sat on a bench and ate ice-creams.

The wind may have blasted our faces, sent our hair all over the place, whipped flecks of ice-cream on to our clothes, but it didn’t matter. It was daft and wonderful and utterly memorable.

Our photos of the day only need one caption: Five Go Mad in Dorset.