I can’t say that I have anything in common with Prince Charles, other than a love of gardens, but when it comes to packing a suitcase for going away, we both seem to have difficulty.

His problems are along the lines of how best to transport the dish of favourite salt and the case of martini (a flunkey comes in useful there), while mine centre on how to squash the lid down on a too-small case and should I have packed that third pair of shoes.

Charles will undoubtedly need his salt and his martinis, according to a new biography that’s been picked to pieces in the media recently, but I certainly won’t need even a second pair of shoes, let alone a third.

I guess you’ve either got it or you haven’t when it comes to packing a suitcase. If there isn’t a team of manservants or even a fairy around, then it’s a matter of judgment about what goes in and what has to be left out because it’s too heavy. Prince Charles, lucky chap, doesn’t have to worry about baggage weight restrictions. Ryanair regular he is not.

Those three pairs of shoes that somehow found their way into my case won’t register in my memory, which will be wiped clean by the awful palaver of the journey.

Once unpacked and the case stowed away, the things I’ve brought with me simply because I’m on holiday are instantly forgotten and I end up wearing and using whatever I’ve worn and used at home.

So much for that special ‘being on holiday’ feeling. Anything I might have bought especially for the occasion, adding it excitedly to my holiday trousseau in the weeks beforehand, is overlooked in favour of the comfortable and the familiar. Whose big idea was it anyway to get those pastel-coloured crop trousers? Who did I think I was kidding?

Those so-not-me trousers that, the second I saw them in the shop, shouted ‘Sunshine! Be a devil and let the air get to your ankles!’ stay on their hanger in the wardrobe of wherever we might be staying. Playing safe, and being on automatic pilot in the mornings, I pull on whatever was the uniform-of-the-day back home, enjoying its friendly, unchallenging fit. I’d only get those pastel-coloured trousers dirty anyway, and who wants to spend their holidays washing clothes? Not me.

Clothing from home is one thing, habits from home quite another, and anything that reminds me too much of housework is not given a moment’s consideration.

We once went on holiday with friends and while Geoff and I wore ourselves out on the first day, exploring the city and making interesting discoveries, they astonished us by staying in their room to iron all their newly unpacked clothing. Only later day did they emerge into their new environment and, with military precision (he’s ex-Army, so it figures), quartered their surroundings and learnt their way around.

Geoff and I, of course, expended six times as much energy throughout our week’s stay by continually getting lost, never recognising anywhere we’d been before and, even on the last day, failing to find the street where our hotel was. Someone’s moved it, we concluded, before eventually stumbling into it by chance.

Our cool and savvy friends never once got lost. They even presented a cool and savvy front in the evenings when we met for a meal. They wore clean, pressed clothing, something different every day, while we, well, let’s just say we didn’t.

Our excuse, naturally, was that we didn’t have room in our suitcase, when in reality it was because thoughtful packing is just not our bag.


I was surprised to wake up on Monday and find myself still alive. I had confidently expected to be bopped on the head and written off by that lump of space junk heading for Earth.

A hefty chunk of burnt-out Chinese space station landing on my noddle would have rounded off my week nicely, but in fact it headed not for Dorset but to the South Pacific A wise move, and in this present climate I think many of us might well head in the same direction.

It seemed right that I’d be the target for a bit of space debris since for a week I’d been living life dangerously, albeit without intending to. For some reason, so many things I tried to do ended up in chaos: broken, dropped, mislaid, snapped in half, or any number of other calamitous denouements.

The disturbing trend started with a tooth, or, more accurately, an ex-tooth in the form of a crown, which suddenly decided to jump out of position and land on my tongue. Now it had cost me a great deal, both in money and in courage, to accept that little devil into my life and I was affronted, to say the least, to find it had made this bid for freedom.

The fact it did it while we were away in Cornwall added an interesting little complication. With Easter and long shut-downs approaching, and the knowledge that we’d be seeing all the grandchildren and I really didn’t want to terrify them with a witchy smile, I realised I had to do something about this vacancy in my lower left jaw, and quickly.

Long story short: a delightful and efficient dentist called Lily reunited me with my crown.

I will never fathom how NHS dental practices work, but I learnt that even though I have my own dentist in Dorset, I am now also registered with Lily and her practice in Cornwall for the next two years. I am sorely tempted to drive all the way to Cornwall next time I need dental attention. She was wonderful.

It turned out, as the days went on, that the leaping crown was only the start of my mini-dramas. There was the large carton of yogurt that I could swear leapt out of the fridge of its own accord and spewed all over the kitchen floor until it achieved at least twice its original volume; the cake mixture that, for reasons best known to itself, spread half in the cake tin and half across the worktop; the driving directions I gave so confidently to Geoff that took us 16 miles out of our way; the museum lift buttons I pressed that delivered us three times to the wrong floor; the wine glasses that came out of the dishwasher in pieces; the purse that performed a remarkable disappearing trick for several heart-stopping minutes, only to reappear from its hiding place, exactly where I’d put it.

And so on. It pains me too much to try and remember any others, but there were quite a few more. It was not a good time. Geoff was particularly nervous and kept looking at me a bit sideways. I don’t blame him.

Maybe it was to do with being in Cornwall, the land of pagans, piskies and pasties, where oddness is positively ordinary. However, the incidents continued even after we’d returned home, prompting Geoff to suggest the calamities could be happening just because it was me. After all, I was the common factor.

Of course he’s right, but I would never tell him so.

I suppose grey skies and hour after hour of rain have to be expected in this country, but somehow, when I’m on holiday I am rather affronted by it.

Even so, being footloose in Cornwall is a treat in (almost) any weather and Geoff and I are making the most of our pre-Easter break in a lovely house near Falmouth. It’s the holiday home of friends who have kindly insisted we would be really helping them if we would give it an airing. Happy to oblige. Very happy, in fact.

It’s the second year we’ve been here, back in the beloved county of my childhood, but last year we were a month later and managed to go out and do a great deal of exploring.

This year, with rain falling like icy needles, we have been less adventurous, although a sunny day in Fowey was an unexpected treat within 24 hours of our arrival.

We went there to meet friends for serious nattering and lunch. OK, and tea. And cake. Geoff had a scone, making sure he put the cream on top of the jam, the proper Cornish way, thus not running the risk of being drummed out over the border into Devon.

After regaining our car from where it was parked near the top of the mountainside from which Fowey tumbles down so prettily into its harbour, we restored our lungs and other organs to their correct positions. The effort of the climb up a near-vertical hill takes its toll.

While Geoff dealt with the mess on the car left by a seagull with tummy trouble, I checked my phone. Among the emails, one caught my eye as its subject line was ‘Fowey’. But I’m in Fowey!

The email was from a London friend, Isla, a work colleague from years ago, who owns a holiday let in Fowey. I’m at the flat, she wrote, and the French guests I was expecting have just cancelled. Would you like to come and stay?

I called her from the car. You won’t believe this, I said, but we’re just down the road! She did believe it when we pulled up outside her flat two minutes later.

There followed almost two hours of wall-to-wall chatter as we caught up on each other’s news and she showed us round the flat: three bedrooms, each with an ensuite, large, light-filled rooms, beautiful gardens, a heated indoor pool – definitely the stuff of holiday dreams. Maybe next time, I thought to myself, but didn’t dare hope.

It was strange seeing Isla so far from where we normally see her, which is either in London or at our house in Dorset. Here she was, in an altogether different domain, wringing everything out of life in her recently adopted county. Like me she feels passionate about Cornwall and is undaunted by the long journey west, chugging down the A303 in her campervan as often as commitments allow.

When we’d arrived at her flat she was busy sorting bits and bobs to take to a charity shop. You wouldn’t like my old 12-string guitar, she asked, and so now Geoff has a new addition to his stable of instruments. He had the good sense to draw the line at accepting Isla’s father’s old set of bowls, or I might have had to administer some firm kind of punishment with those as my instruments of torture.

We headed back to our beautiful holiday-house-in-the-rain grateful for the joy that friends – and the occasional extraordinary coincidence – bring to our lives.

After the whole of Sunday incarcerated in the house because of the snow, ice and general unpleasantness of all that was going on outside, I wrote an email to my friend Denise.

It was, I’m ashamed to say, an email packed full of envy. She and her husband have turned their backs on all this, filled their suitcases with light, summery clothing, and gone to Sydney for a month. They’re visiting their son, daughter-in-law and baby grand-daughter, partly to use up a stack of air miles but mainly to be with the baby as she celebrates her first birthday.

You don’t know what you’re missing here, I whined. It may all look pretty but, goodness me, it’s inconvenient and people are skidding and sliding and having accidents all over the place. It’s the usual chaos of blocked roads, heroic emergency service personnel and schools closing down. You know the sort of thing, I droned on. It’s all bearable as long as you can keep warm, don’t lose any vital services and don’t actually have to go out and do anything.

In other words, I summarised, my life has, again, ground to a halt for the duration of this so-called ‘weather event’.

Well, that’s funny, Denise replied by email overnight, because my life has also been halted by the weather. In her case, she explained, it was because of the heat, the intolerable, blistering, relentless heat of a Sydney summer – even with its normal thermostat on high.

She too was skidding and sliding through the day, but for melting reasons, not freezing ones. Red-faced, boiling, sweaty – the picture of herself that she painted seemed so hard to imagine as I topped up my tog level of jumpers.

Denise said the birthday party for her grand-daughter was held in a park. What a great idea: you just lay everything out and scoop it all away into rubbish bags at the end. No stains to remove, no trodden-in lumps of cake to winkle out from between floorboards. But the ambient temperature was in the upper 30s, so it may have been light on post-party effort but it was horribly heavy on endurance.

Denise found it so uncomfortable she couldn’t wait to get back to her son’s house, even though it has no aircon. Just being in the shade and within cooler walls is a help.

And then there are the mosquitoes. Oh yes, she’s waging a war with those, too. To me, that is misery heaped upon misery. I like to be warm, in fact I love to be in a warm climate with a reliable, benign yellow sun in a cloudless blue sky – who doesn’t – but shimmering heat that never lets up, and mozzies too, no thanks.

I’ve been there, done that and got the too-hot-to-wear T-shirt as a reminder, but the strongest memory is of my abject misery at being the mozzies’ target. No-one else would do: it had to be me upon whom they feasted, leaving me with wildly itching bumps and a raised temperature, thus scotching any possibility of actually enjoying myself.

My sympathies winged their way back to Denise. My apologies, too, for thinking we were having a worse time of it, weather-wise, than they were. Snow may be a dratted nuisance and bring everything to a halt, but it has its moments, transforming landscapes into works of breathtakingly beautiful art.

Enough is enough, Denise and I agreed. All we ask is a little moderation in these extremes and we can all be comfortable. All, that is, except the mosquitoes, for whom nothing is too extreme.

Basil Fawlty is alive and well and still living in Devon. I can tell you this because Geoff and I have encountered him at a B&B on the coast.

We should have known the wiry lunatic might still be haunting the area, even though we were some way from his old habitat of Torquay.

He’s shorter than he was on the telly, and his limbs don’t operate on lengths of elastic. He is less irascible, too, but age can do that. It can slow you down, change your ways a little, and, in Basil’s case, even stop you being quite as rude to guests as you once so famously were.

Our Basil wasn’t rude, just fantastically inept, but he was Basil all right.

“Would you like tea or coffee with your breakfast?” he asks. Geoff says he’d like tea, I’d like coffee. This proves too much for Basil. He doesn’t make a note of our order and by the time he reaches Sybil in the kitchen, he has forgotten.

He returns some time later with a pot of tea for two. As he’s setting it down and spilling it a little, he suddenly jerks his head towards me and says: “Oh, but you were having fruit juice, weren’t you?” I explain that no, I wasn’t, but I would like coffee. Definitely not tea, I smile sweetly.

He looks confused and returns to the kitchen. He emerges with a pot of coffee, which he places carefully next to Geoff.

We wait until his back is turned and make the changes required to ensure we each get what we want. I pour my coffee – just a little at first because the first dribbles are not encouraging. I was right to be cautious. A tentative sip reveals it to be as closely related to coffee as fizzy lemonade is to a Sicilian citrus grove. I stick to water.

Basil is a talker, a very enthusiastic talker. We think he’s swallowed the page of the B&B host’s handbook which encourages ‘engagement with your guests’. There’s a limit, Basil, there’s a limit.

We’d hardly got over the threshold with our bags the evening before when he’d launched into a tale of woe about a guest’s messy footprint on the carpet. This then turned into a catalogue of messy footprints he had known, and how, when he ran a pub . . .  come over here and let me show you a painting of our old pub, do leave your bags, do you know the village, you don’t, well let me tell you about it . . . and so on, and on.

When we eventually reached our room, tiptoeing for fear of adding to his tally of messy footprints, we wondered whether it might be an idea to barricade ourselves in for the weekend. The chances of getting downstairs and out of the front door without being engaged in more one-sided conversation seemed unlikely.

For our two breakfast-times, each featuring some crazy kind of Basil-ish pantomime, we freeze and go mute whenever Basil comes near our table. We cannot spare any more time listening to his anecdotes. Life is just too short.

You are a nice man, Basil. You’re cheerful, but my word you’re boring. Please, please, leave us alone. Let us admire your garden while we munch on the toast Sybil has made – about an hour ago, to judge by its texture.

We never see Sybil. We speculate about her and I worry. Is she out there splatting rats, or pouring oil over a demented Manuel? To be honest, anything seems possible here in Fawlty Towers Mark 2.

Walking like a penguin never appears anything less than chronically laughable, even when you’re a penguin, but with ice on the ground it really is the best way I know that (almost) guarantees staying upright.

Now the penguin days are past, superseded by the awkward sway of a frogman in full submersible kit as my favoured gait through floods, I can pause to look back on the whole snowy experience of last week.

Was it only such a very few days? At times it seemed as though this was how we were going to have to live from now on, the cabin-fever and cancelled plans being a normal part of daily life for ever.

The birds got lucky as we ensured they didn’t go without while their bath was frozen: they received regular fresh water supplies and some interesting meals as well. Geoff was almost tempted to go out there and join them, if his wistful expression of longing was anything to go by when I delivered another tray of goodies to our feathered friends.

And then, suddenly, it was over, and our world turned into a mix of muddy sludge and cold drips. That was on Saturday afternoon, when the rise in temperature meant the penguin walk was put away for another time and I braved a supermarket for the first time in a week or so.

What’s this? Empty shelves? It was like being in Russia 30 years ago. Not that I was in Russia then, but I’ve seen enough pictures to know what a dispiriting sight it was. It was so strange to see it replicated here, in a comparatively prosperous town, where shoppers had swept the shelves clear of bread, cakes and milk.

It was panic-buying for the most extraordinary reason: the bad weather might be over, but, well, you never know what might happen next, and anyway, while the shop’s got supplies we’ll have ’em, thank you.

Stripped bare, the shelves represented how irrationally some people can react when caught up in a particular mood. The vegetable shelves were empty, too, adding to the general air of hopeless poverty, but that was because, understandably given the road conditions, there’d been no delivery for two days.

But bread and milk, all delivered that morning? I imagine the panic-buyers must have stuffed their freezers with the booty and will be living off it for months. Fortunately, I wanted neither bread nor milk, but others did and had to search elsewhere.

I saw one man walking along the street holding aloft a large bottle of milk as though it was a trophy of war. Perhaps it had been. Who knows what bloody skirmish he might have had to engage in to tick that one off his shopping list.

There is nothing like a shortage to cause panic. Back in the early 1970s, fears about inflation caused people to hoard first sugar and then loo rolls. The result was much elbowing among shoppers as they scrapped and struggled to scoop up what remained available to buy. Random. Bizarre. Ludicrous. All those things and more, yet a good illustration of the weird, wonky years of the Seventies.

Stockpiling items that might be useful is only what squirrels do. We aren’t doing anything different, except it does seem a bit daft to do it when there isn’t an obvious need. We’re hardly going to pass out through hunger on the branch of a tree if we’ve failed to hoard bread or milk, but squirrels might, and so hoarding is a life-saver.

Here’s hoping it never becomes a life and death matter among humans.

It’s been pantomime time here at Hill Towers for the past fortnight. Geoff has played his traditional role of Squire Supremely Sensible while I, of course, slotted easily into the wholly typecast role of Silly Sally.

The script wrote itself as we went along. It started with the sudden discovery that my passport was about to expire. Geoff found this out when booking flights for our holiday in Italy in late June. He had to enter the number and expiry date of my passport on the airline website and, on examining the now slightly dog-eared document, saw with a shock that it would cease to be legal in mid-March 2018.

Its expiry had always seemed so far in the distance, aeons away in some futuristic year. But suddenly that space-age date was upon me and I needed to act, fast.

I went to the government website and started to apply online for a renewal. The first few steps were easy. This won’t take long, I thought, complacently. Oh, what’s this? They want a new photograph of me? The old one won’t do?

OK, so a quick selfie on my phone should do the trick. It didn’t. I couldn’t keep a straight face, and it went downhill from there. Could you just take a quick snap of me, I asked Geoff.  He did, inside the house and outside, against the plain-coloured garage wall.

Each time I uploaded the resulting mugshots to the section on the form where it was automatically checked for size and several other requirements, the photo was rejected. Mostly it was because the outline of my head couldn’t be determined and there was light on one side of my face.

We tried again and again, over about eight days, each time in a different light, against a slightly different bit of wall, with and without flash, inside and outside the house, before and after a fierce brushing of the hair to achieve the necessary clean outline, and in moods that varied from light-hearted (“We’ll nail it this time”) to furious and despairing (“What more can we do to get it right?”).

Round about Day 10, knowing time was running out and I’d soon have to admit defeat and go to a shop with the right equipment and the right person to operate it, I happened to be with a friend who is a keen photographer. “Here’s a challenge,” I said. “Could you take my passport photo?”

She duly did, and sent it to me later by email. I uploaded it, full of hope, on to the passport website.

Fail! The image was too small and there was shine on my face. Another double whammy. Geoff and I decided to give it one last shot. Out we went once more into the freezing cold. Click-click went Geoff, the first dozen times on my phone and then a dozen more with his camera. Let’s see how many of these will be rejected for shine or shadow or lack of outline..

By now I was sick of the sight of my face, looking sternly into the lens, appearing depressingly older with each successive shot. Even if it worked, surely no self-respecting country would let anyone over their borders looking like that.

I held my breath while the bossy automated arbiter on the website came to a decision. Success! Where all I’d seen before were large red crosses, suddenly there was a big green tick. What a triumph!

Squire Supremely Sensible and Silly Sally danced a happy jig before the curtain came down on the latest Hill Towers pantomime.