If we were having coffee, I would be telling you the things I learned about life from playing Candy Crush.

I deleted Candy Crush from my tablet a few weeks ago. It’s a life-sucker. I replaced it with the YOU app, which gives me something healthy, beautiful and life enhancing to do every day. That means I get my online kicks from sharing that I did 10 squats, or tidying a drawer in the kitchen, or enjoying a moment of peace. Much better than the thrill I got from swiping shiny, pretty coloured shapes around a screen.

I did learn some useful lessons from Candy Crush, along the way, as it were, and I’m going to share them with you today, my friends. That means you will never have to play it yourself. Thank me later.

  1. You can get a buzz of achievement from something that’s essentially meaningless. That applies to many things in life: Likes and Shares; buying a new pair of shoes or a recipe book full of beautiful pictures of beautiful people living a beautiful lifestyle. Those things aren’t going to make you any happier long term.
  2. You can do things for a long time, and feel you’re pretty good at them, and still mess up. And that doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or bad at what you do. It just means you messed up.
  3. There are no second chances. If you swiped the blue one left instead of right,there is no “undo” button. You are stuck with that choice. Think carefully. But be aware of number 2.
  4. The candies never fall the same way twice. Actually, statistically, they probably do. I can’t imagine the number of possible variations on a grid, but in theory, you could get the same one twice. And on another planet far, far away, there is another you sitting reading these words, who will go on to win the local lottery,and have 4 beautiful children who never use foul language, and celebrate their birthday by driving their brand new sports car into a swimming pool of champagne – but that’s not going to do you much good, right here, right now.
  5. Just because something is pretty and shiny and a bit addictive, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, I would suggest looking carefully at things that are pretty and shiny and a bit addictive, because, chances are, they are not good for you.
  6. Other people will use up your bonus help things much more quickly than you will. Just saying.
  7. When your kids complain about you spending too much time on line, you neeed to take a long, hard look at yourself.

There you go. That’s what I learned. So now  you don’t need to download it. You can spend 5 minutes reading this and then go and do something more interesting instead.

I did this for you. Because I care about you. Now go and make real candies, or go for a run, or read a book, or write a poem – something that will give you a real buzz of achievement in this beautiful real world of ours.

The best way to stop weeds

Actually, I was in the vegetable patch. And what I said was “The best way to stop weeds is to plant stuff”. Himself was hoeing and I was hand weeding round the walking onions. The sky was blue blue blue, and the ground was hard, but gently moist once you got below the surface. The pea shoots are just starting to twine themselves around the sticks, there are artichokes sprouting up (pull them out! They want to take over the world!) and the birds are going crazy. We have a big colony of rooks at the top of the field, and they are raucously sociable. It’s like living next to a student bar for birds.

Anyhow, that’s what I said, and then I pondered what I’d said in that way you do when you’re working with your hands outside, and I realised that that, pretty much in a nutshell,(that could be put onto a soft focus nature picture), was a valid, positive,philosophical stance to take on life.

Or maybe I’ve pinched someone else’s idea without realising it. Maybe it’s on a million motivational posters out there. I don’t care. I thought it up in my own head, in my own vegetable patch, and I’m sharing it with you.

Keeping it open

For me, the worst thing about this whole cancer secondaries has been the feeling that doors are closing for me; the feeling that life is shutting down.

I have always loved new beginnings, new adventures. I’ve always loved having a sense of opportunity – of lots of opportunities. I’ve always assumed that there will be something new – at the end of this phase of life I’ll try something else. Even with jobs I’ve loved, my happiest day has been the day I put in my letter of resignation.

This cancer thing, though, is limiting. It puts a question mark over everything. Should we book this holiday? What if…? Could I move jobs? What about moving house? Could I even get a mortgage? How long should I stay in this job for? This job that’s getting harder and more stressful all the time?

In the beginning, I turned from being someone who said “Yes” to being someone who said “No”. I stepped back from taking on more responsibilities at work. I accepted that this was where I was. I even censored my own bucket list, for goodness’ sake – scared of wanting things I couldn’t have.

But the first thing my husband did – after he’d scooped himself up off the floor, and then helped me scoop myself up off the floor – was book a trip to Finland, to see the northern lights. And he has kept on believing in me as someone who can say “Yes”.

I still feel that my path is narrower than it was before my diagnosis. I live my life in the chunks between oncology reviews. I think about the future, but with a little set of brackets in my head (“what if…?”). But I try to say “Yes”.

And if there is a trick to all this, that’s it. Saying “Yes”. “Yes” is hope, and fun, and joy, and love, and all the things that make up this glorious, wonderful, amazing life. It’s also pain, and fear, and worry, but they are part of life, too. “No” takes you somewhere dark and cold and small. Even when there aren’t many things to say “Yes” to, I think it’s still better to reach out to them than to back away.


It is easy to forget to be grateful. I’m not even sure what we are grateful to – not to a God, because we are secular humanists, aren’t we? Maybe to other people. Maybe to the world. Maybe to blind chance. Maybe even to ourselves.

These things don’t always notice your gratitude. But you will.

It is easy to skim over the small details that make up a life, and concentrate on the big events – the exams passed, the holidays, the parties, the promotions. And they are fantastic – though the fizz wears off  pretty quickly – but as the Mad Hatter points out, it’s much better to celebrate un-birthdays than birthdays. There are 364 of them a year.

I have kept gratitude journal on and off for a while. It’s something I like to do. I enjoy recalling and recording the beautiful, transient moments that make life a little better. It’s funny what comes up: the time my dear friend’s teenage daughter gave my little girl a manicure (and that’s a long time ago); the perfect combination of bacon and avocado; the work colleague who brought me a cup of tea because I looked tired.

I wonder what it would be like if you did the opposite? If you kept a journal of things that irritated and annoyed you? Things that got you down?

I think I might have effectively done that for a while as a teenager. I’ve often tried to keep diaries and not succeeded very well, but I’m pretty sure that if I could track them down I’d find they were pretty moany. I’m also pretty sure that if I read through them I’d find I’ve forgotten most of those terrible things that made my life so desperately unhappy. Or they’d look so laughably trivial I really wouldn’t understand why they made such an impact.

My life is a mosaic of good and bad moments – and quite a few that pass by unnoticed. Drawing my attention to the good moments reminds me why I’m alive and why I want to be alive.

So happy unbirthday to you.

Living with dying #1

Ha ha ha. You’re dying. I’m dying.

That’s the nature of life. It is transient – a bird flying from window to window of a lighted hall. We all know that. But it’s really hard to hold on to that idea – to really believe it.

I was discussing immortality with my 12 year old the other day. I said I quite fancied the idea of living for ever. He shook his head (he’s so wise!) and said “Think about it, Mum. The whole universe is a cold, dead, empty space, and you’re still hanging there, all alone.”

I sometimes wonder what he reads.

Nevertheless, he’s right. And even if they believe in the immortality of the soul, most people are kind of upset when other people they love die, and most people kind of accept that if there is any kind of immortality it is in some other state, not this actual physical body, on this actual, physical planet drifting onwards through infinity.

I am probably marginally better at believing I am going to die than most people are, just because I’ve been given a bit of a hint as to how I’m going to go. Those little nodules lurking in my lungs are going to blossom and grow and eventually starve me to death. Something like that.

For the last few  years I have, from time to time, thought about how to approach the process of dying. I have wondered how much time I should invest into worrying about it. I have wondered whether I really need to floss EVERY night. I have worried about how things will be for my kids, what I’ll be missing from. I haven’t worried too much about pain, but I have worried about nausea. Not all the time, obviously. I buy new clothes. I go on holiday. I go to work. I empty the dishwasher.

Most of the time all those thoughts and worries sit in a little box on a shelf at the back of my head. But I thought maybe it would be worth taking the box down from time to time and unpacking it a little. Examining the contents. Sharing them with you. Letting you know about the things I do to keep that box safe.



The Railway Mother

I loved The Railway Children. I loved the film, and I loved the book. Husband and I lived for a couple of years in the village at the end of the railway line, and apparently the end of the film (“Daddy! My daddy!”) still reduces my 6 foot two, beardy, Northern brother to tears.

I re-watched the film with my children, of course, and then re-read Rainbow’s copy of the book. It’s a film that kept very true to the book (apart from a judicious cropping of a canal-barge-fire-rescue episode). (Take note, Peter Jackson. There are no girls in The Hobbit. )

Digression. Sorry.

So. Mother to Bobbie, Peter and Phil. What can we learn from her?

Well, she’s fun. She enjoys spending time with her children, and they enjoy her.

She’s brave. When her husband is whisked off to prison she doesn’t collapse. Oh no. She ups and offs to be poor in the country – bread and butter or bread and jam; worries about the doctor’s bill; only one servant (and she doesn’t live in). And she makes a living for herself, by herself.

She can be relied on. She takes in the tragic Russian, and the boy with the broken leg.

She speaks French. Beautifully.

She lives in the moment, too. When she sells a story, they have buns, to celebrate.

She lets her children take risks, even though it hurts her.

And I love her relationship with Bobbie. I love Bobbie.

It’s funny, re-reading a book you loved as a child when you are an adult.  Your perspective changes so much. But the mother in this book is a real person. She’s fun, and brave, and can ice buns. But she also worries, is afraid, is hurt at times, and we catch glimpses of it. And it’s a relief for me when Bobbie discovers what the terrible secret is.

That is how family life is. Parents worry. Children pick up on that. It’s not a good thing, but it’s not a bad thing either. It just is how it is. And even though things aren’t always great we can still enjoy the buns.