The Ghosts of Us (Part Two)

It had been many years since the events I recounted previously. I never did return to the city; the memories were too painful and I wanted a fresh start. So my cat Muriel and I moved into a little cottage on the coast, near the one I’d stayed at after I left the city all those years before. We lived simply; she was happy running around the garden chasing field mice and I was happy going for long walks on the beach and painting. It was a lonely life sometimes, and I wished for human companionship but knew that it was my lot in life to tread my own path. I couldn’t be with another human being every day; it was too much for me. As I knew all too well, my need for solitude had become overwhelming in the past and had led me to resort to desperate measures.

In time Muriel passed away but I adopted a beautiful ginger Tom cat whom I named George. He was a faithful friend to me in my twilight years, providing the companionship I craved without my becoming overwhelmed.

The past continued to haunt me; I saw ghosts everywhere.

One evening, I was walking along the narrow path that led to the beach when I heard a voice behind me. Even though it had been decades, I knew immediately who it was.

“Hello, Duncan. It’s been a while.”

I turned around and saw my wife Julia, looking as beautiful as she had when I last saw her, on the day she died.

“How..?” I gasped.

“I’ve been watching you, Duncan. Everything you, where you go… I’ve been there ever since the day you killed me. I know where you live, what time you go to bed, what you eat for breakfast. All those little details that others would miss. And do you know why? Because, even after what you did to me, I still love you. I can’t rest. I can’t do anything without you.”

“Julia, please. Just leave me alone. There’s nothing here for you.”

“Duncan, tell me you love me. I can’t be without you. Just hold me, please.”

I walked towards her, wanting this to be over. If I held her for a while, maybe she’d leave me alone. I had loved her, but she loved me with a passion that I’d never known before, and it unnerved me. I’d been used to my own space, and I found her desire to spend every waking moment together overwhelming. I must have lost the balance of my mind; that’s the only way I can explain it. I pushed her down the stairs in a moment of madness; I told everyone she’d fallen and they believed me.

My way of atoning for my sins had been to spend the rest of my life in isolation, with only a cat for company. Now, Julia had come to me. She’d been there all along. I suddenly ached to hold her; to make some sort of amends for the terrible deed I’d done.

“I forgive you,” she whispered, as I held her in my arms for the last time. After a few moments, I pulled away, watching as her form dissipated.

I felt strangely empty. The ghosts had finally been laid to rest, but I felt lost without them. They’d been part of my life for so long that I found I didn’t know how to exist without them there. So, a few months later I said goodbye to George for the last time, walked down to the seashore and waded into the water, never to return.

Julia and I are together again. We get on surprisingly well in the afterlife. Our ghosts have achieved the happy harmony that our physical bodies never could.


How I really feel about self-help

This post is going to be a bit ranty but I need to get something off my chest. I suspect some others may feel the same way about what I’m going to address. If not, then fair enough but I want to say my piece and leave it at that.

There is a lot of bullshit out there. Specifically, self-help bullshit. There are a lot of people making a hell of a lot of money peddling their opinions as if they were facts*, and it’s not right. At best, it’s confusing and at worst downright damaging. Human beings have been around for thousands of years, God knows how we managed without life coaches but somehow we made it through.

I’m not going to deny that there is some useful advice out there, but for the most part we can use our common sense. We don’t need law of attraction, kale smoothies, or any other trend in order to live a happy and meaningful life.

*This is my opinion. If you have a different one, then fine by me. You do you, hun.



Objects with meaning – Captain Ted Funnel

I’ll be moving out soon, and I’m currently in the process of de-cluttering for the move. I don’t want to add to the amount of possessions currently in storage, so I’m trying to sell/give away as much as I can. Occasionally though, I find myself looking at an item and knowing without a doubt that I couldn’t give it away.

I got my inspiration for this post from the brilliant Magpie at Midnight, who wrote about objects with meaning earlier on in the year. I’m going to tell you about the things I’ve found around the house, and why they mean so much.

My first object is a cuddly toy who goes by the name of Captain Ted Funnel. We bought him on the Isle of Wight ferry this summer, on our on our way to Cowes to see the Regatta. He brings back memories of a beautiful day.


A few months ago, I wrote a letter to my eighteen year old self. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with the world, then today something shifted in my perspective. I had hesitated to share it because I was worried that it was critical of my upbringing and family (I don’t think it is but Nervous Nelly – what I’ve decided to call my mind – worries about these things). I re-read it today and realised it’s not criticising anyone, and if people see it that way then it’s down to them and not anything I’ve said. Also, I was inspired by a bunch of kick-ass women I met with earlier on this week. So, here is my letter. I wrote it when I was feeling positive and empowered, which I think is reflected in the writing.

Dear eighteen year old Valerie

You’re about to go to university in Edinburgh to study theology. In later years you’ll wonder why you decided to take this path, because it doesn’t really lead to anything. You’ll have no real idea of where your life is headed, and it takes you about twenty years to figure out the reason behind this – you grew up in an environment where certain expectations were placed on you and you weren’t encouraged to achieve your full potential. It takes time for you to even start to understand how this has affected you. Once it starts to become apparent, you’ll realise how limited your life has been, and everything will start to change. You’ll start to consider doing things you’ve never even dreamed of. You take a sailing course and consider moving abroad. You’ll start to become more confident in yourself and your opinions, and you’ll finally start living.

By the time you turn forty, the relationship you have with your family will be drastically different to the one that exists now. You’ll realise that your whole life has been spent stuck in a rut, unable to break out of the role of ’good daughter’ that’s been assigned to you. You need to start making changes now. Do little things to make sure your voice is heard. You spend a lot of time being a people pleaser, and it’s time to stop and think about what you want, and to be more aware of your own needs. Know that they are important. Other people are controlling your life. You don’t yet recognise that you’re caught up in a cycle of fear, which you need to escape. One day you will start to do this, but it will be much easier if you begin taking little steps now.

You’ll spend a lot of time feeling unlovable, but eventually you’ll meet a wonderful man who wants to help you achieve your full potential. He believes in you. The problem is, you don’t believe in.yourself. Only you have the power to change this. Start doing little things to stand up for yourself. Don’t miss out on opportunities because other people think you shouldn’t be doing those things. Work hard at uni, but enjoy yourself too. Make friends. Accept that people like you for who you are. You will get there, I promise. It may take some time, but I’ll be here waiting for you.

Lots of love

Your future self

The Ghosts of Us (part one)

I started writing this last week; today the story decided it needed a cat.
I’d had a terrible few months and I was tired of the city. Every place had its memories, filled with bittersweet nostalgia. I used to love spending time in cafes, going for long walks and meandering through the streets in a leisurely manner. Now, all those once happy solo endeavours had been tinged with the memory of doing them with someone else. And I didn’t enjoy them any more; not in the way I used to.
So, when the opportunity came for me to spend a few weeks house sitting on the coast I was excited. I saw this as the chance I needed to escape for a little while, and distance myself from the memories that seemed to haunt me. I’d taken sick leave from my job in an IT company after it all happened; being a worrier I was concerned about going on a break away while off sick, but my HR Department, surprisingly for me, was quite keen on the idea.
“There’s no problem, if that’s what you want to do,” said Hazel, the HR assistant. “It may help your recovery.”
I left the meeting feeling more positive than I had for some time, but my good mood was dampened when I walked past a restaurant we used to frequent. I could almost see the ghosts lingering at the table by the window where we used to sit. It was time for a change of scene
The next morning, I packed enough belongings to last me for a month of being away from home, and of course I took my beloved cat, Muriel, who’d never really got on with my wife.

When I can’t agree with myself

“Decisions – good and bad, sometimes good and bad at the same time, nearly always imperfect in some way – are what the fabric of a life is made out of, whether you like it or not”

This is a quote from a piece written by Tom Cox, who’s one of my favourite writers. I read it over six months ago, when I was struggling to come to terms with a big decision I’d made. I’ve always been quite indecisive, and I’d never understood the reason for this. After much to-ing and fro-ing this year between different life choices I’ve finally worked out the reason behind my inability to choose; I lacked confidence in my decisions. I didn’t trust the choices I was making.

I recently decided to take a career break, initially for the purpose of moving to France and improving my French. Since I made that decision my circumstances have changed; I’m still taking a career break but I don’t know where I’m going to be based, and I’ll be travelling solo. For the first month or so, I’ll be travelling round Eastern Europe. Narrowing down where to go was surprisingly easy. A well-known budget airline was having a sale and I booked a trip to a city I hadn’t been to and which would be a good starting point for further travel. I then printed out a map of Eastern Europe and worked out which cities were within travelling distance. I set a budget for accommodation, and stuck to it. By taking small steps, I realised that I could trust myself enough and accept that my decisions were ok.

So, if like me you don’t trust yourself to make good decisions, what can you do? I think these three things are really important.

  1. Be aware of your capabilities. You’ve been making choices all your life. Most of them have been small, but you possess the capacity for decision making.
  2. Trust yourself. You are the expert on you.
  3. Accept that you’re not perfect, and the decisions you make won’t be either. But that’s ok.

An evening in Garvagh

A few months ago, I was going through a hard time, and really wanted to get away for a few days peace and quiet. I’ve recently discovered Airbnb (after despairing at the hotel prices in Copenhagen encouraged me to look at other options) and so I decided to have a look at what was available. My criteria were that it had to be local and cheap. I checked out a few places that seemed okay but weren’t really what I was looking for. By deciding to narrow my price range down to £15 max I found a nice little place which sounded perfect.

On Friday I packed up my warm clothes, sleeping bag and pillow and made the journey to Garvagh. My original plan had been to arrive early and go for a walk in the forest; however there was a weather warning so I had to cut short my walk. I hadn’t been to Garvagh Forest since I was a child, and it’s more magical than I remember. I intend to go back one day soon to explore properly.


I was starting to get a little cold and the rain was getting heavier, so I went back to the car. I intended to drive into the village itself to find somewhere to have a cup of tea, but somehow ended up driving to a Spar just outside Coleraine where I bought a takeaway coffee and a flapjack, which I consumed in the car while waiting for the windows to de-mist. I then drove back to Garvagh to find my home for the night.

I arrived just before 4pm and let myself into the bothy. It was cosy, welcoming, and ideal for some solitude, just as I’d hoped. I’d had a message from the owner to say he’d be over later to light the fire, so I unpacked and made myself at home. The stove was similar to one that my parents had when I was growing up, which brought back memories of coming into the living room on a cold winter’s day and holding my hands over the stove-top to warm them.20181109_160048

I passed a very pleasant evening reading a book (The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir, which is one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a long time), eating the food I’d brought with me, and making cups of tea and instant hot chocolate. I could hear the wind and rain outside but didn’t mind. There was nowhere for me to go; I was safe and warm in my haven of solitude. Wrapped in a blanket, I watched Have I Got News For You, before deciding it was time for an early night. I went up to bed, got into my sleeping bag and climbed under a blanket.

I woke a couple of times during the night. Once I thought I heard a rooster; there were chickens on the property so my assumption may have been correct. The next time I awoke it was daylight, and I’d been in bed for almost eleven hours.   I got up, dressed quickly, brushed my teeth, then went outside to admire the view. There was no trace of the previous evening’s wind and rain; it was a beautiful day.