Enter a Writing Contest With a Big Green Difference

A few years ago, my husband Simon and I founded a writing competition with a difference. We called it the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize and it became fondly known as MOLP. It’s USP was our promise to plant a tree for every entry received and to fund the building of an urgently needed new classroom at Kundeni Primary School in Bore, Kenya.

A short while ago, the classroom was handed over to the Headmaster, James Kithi, and is giving 300 Kenyan children a safe and comfortable place to learn, click here for photos and an update. The Word Forest is situated next door to the school and is now eleven times the size of Wembley Stadium; that’s not bad for two short years of hard work on an almost zero PR budget.

To help money continue to flow into Bore to kit out the classroom with crucial resources and to expand the forest further, earlier this year we launched 5 Mini-MOLP writing contests, all of which had an environmental focus. We are currently in the throes of the last one before we open the doors for entries to its big sister, MOLP.

If you’ve taken part in the Mini-MOLPs this year, I hope you’ll agree the topics we challenged you to write about were deeply thought provoking. I believe the subject matter of this final competition sets the bar in the highest position of all.

We’re looking for a powerful piece of writing that reveals a truly heartfelt story in the Last Words Monologue.

The brief is simple and you have up to 400 words to play with: the film is about to end, the last of a species is about to die. Write the script of their parting words.

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Do You Want to Find a Simpler Way?

What a leading question.

By ‘simpler’, I’m referring to many things, but one where:

  • there’s a more sustainable use of planetary resources
  • it’s less cluttered with consumerist crud (physical and mental)
  • people are valued by their kindness, not their bank balance
  • positivity far outweighs negativity
  • communication is paramount
  • you actively move to share knowledge of your skills and learn from others
  • the common good and the bond of community, matter
  • food is embraced for being seasonal, organic and as local as can be achieved

If that all sounds a bit airy-fairy and unachievable, you may be right… for the moment anyway.

Whilst we await the arrival of the first round of ‘social chaos’ (for which read, drastically reduced petrol/oil supplies with all of its devastating knock on effects: essential food supply, keeping warm, commuting to work/school etc) we can certainly ponder how beneficial a quick shift to a simpler life would be.Continue Reading

Why I’m Patron of WAND

I’ve been an active, noisy patron of WAND, the Women’s Action Network Dorset, since 2011 and have spoken out many times about the plight of those affected by domestic abuse at public events, on the radio and in the press.

In 2014, I had the honourable task of chairing the multi-agency No Excuse for Abuse Conference as part of Domestic Abuse Awareness Week, which was jointly funded and co–hosted by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Dorset, and WAND. I met some incredible ladies there including the amazing soul responsible for Eve’s Law; read more here.

I have met lots of women with terrifying domestic violence stories during my time serving WAND and it’s no surprise to learn I’m a strong supporter of the Dorset Women’s Refuge. I do what I can to raise awareness and funds for this vital resource, hence this post.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you learn these vital organisations needs to raise their own funds in order to survive. The government should quite simply fund all safe refuges, countrywide, for women, men and the LGBT community (you wouldn’t believe how scarce these refuges are) allowing any monies the individual organisations manage to raise, to pay for gratefully welcomed treats for the souls who need to use the service.

There are many reasons behind my passion for helping WAND and they are fuelled by a report I read back in 2014 stating that Dorset police had dealt with a case of domestic violence, every hour of the day. Officers received around 700 reports of domestic abuse each month across the county and dealt with more than 36,000 incidents of domestic violence between 2010/14 – that’s crazy.

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Spiritual Quote: Dalai Lama

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“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Divorce Sucks, so write your way out of it

I had the delightful misfortune of having to go through that human mangle some years back and despite the fact that I have found love the other side of it, the scars still cut deep.

I was hurt, my kids were hurt and my bank balance haemorrhaged faster than the British economy. Uncertainty was the only thing I was certain of and my heart felt like a Premier Division football. I can remember even now the physical pain in my chest, as I ached to be the other side of the proceedings. Physically looking at the paperwork was a daily nightmare and watching the termination of something that should have been good playing out in solicitorial ping pong, grated the tender flesh of my very soul.

I bloody hated getting divorced and yet I wanted it so much – such juxtaposition and so many of my days wastefully lost during the process.

There are several ill advised coping mechanisms often used by people going through this particular living nightmare. They can be indulged occasionally, or to excess, and in no particular order they include alcohol, drugs, chocolate, chips, bitching about it, crying incessantly, staring at the wall, being quiet and retreating from the world, releasing maximum wrath on your ex, smearing them on your social media and using your children as emotional pawns.

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Vegan Decisions: Variety is the spice for life

Ladies, picture the scene and men, do your best:

Pre-vegan, pre-menstrual, pretty hungry and haven’t the patience and/or cannot sum up the will to knock up a plate of comforting goodness.

“Where are the crisps?”


“Hello the Fridge!”

I was deliriously happy to find out that I didn’t have to say goodbye to all of my fried potato friends – this list from PETA is very handy – because they are a source of instant mouth party when the mind is willing but the body can’t be bothered.

Forages in the fridge would often to be based around the quest for cheese and the classic snack of choice, cheese on toast with a splash of Worcestershire sauce, was dooable at a push. Of course, non-dairy cheese is delicious but I like to try and use it a little more sparingly, particularly as some of the ones I love are a bit more expensive than the dairy version used to be. On top of that, I have to drive between 20 minutes (Axminster or Bridport) to an hour (Exeter) to replace it; my favourite of the moment is Vegusto Piquant, oh my word that’s damned fine non-cheese…

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Vegan Decisions: to V or not to V?

According to fresh research from the Vegan Society released yesterday, there are now 542,000 plant munching vegans in Britain today and that represents an increase of over 350% since the last research was done a decade ago. Actually, make that 542,002 because they never got around to asking me or Simon and we’re right on board with it.

That’s one seriously fast rolling ‘lifestyle movement’, as the journos like to say.

Ipsos MORI spoke to around 10,000 people aged 15+ across England, Scotland and Wales. Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of The Vegan Society said, “More people than ever before are acting upon the health and environmental benefits of veganism and finding out what really goes on in the meat and dairy industries and deciding they do not want to contribute to the pain and suffering of animals,”

The demographics make for interesting reading. Apparently, a great many vegans live in urban or suburban areas (88%) compared with rural areas (12%). This is particularly evident in London, which holds the trophy for being home to 22% of all the vegans in Britain.

As a recent convert to a full-on plant based diet at 50, I must confess, I wish I’d made the shift years ago, but there’s little point beating myself up about it. While we’re on that topic, if you’re still sitting on the other side of the restaurant munching meat but looking for a reason to move, you shouldn’t either – regret is futile and self-destructive. I think there are so many factors that steal our minutes and cloud our vision when we’re busy getting on with life. The thing is, if you do go vegan, you’re more likely to have a longer one and that’s a mighty fine reason to migrate. I do recognise that making a proper commitment to this level of lifestyle change requires some serious thinking time and lots of cups of tea. You also need reliable information to nudge you towards that tipping point, as you contemplate filtering every morsel that passes your lips.

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Veggie Quote: Cesar Chavez

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“I became a vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy like we do. I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings.”

An Antidote for Winter: Vittles & Verse

Lyme Regis is the place responsible for nurturing and birthing some of the most creative thoughts that have ever rattled around my head and if I could do that languorous author thing where you just sit around and pour them out all day, I surely would.

Living in Lyme during the spring, summer, autumn or winter is nothing short of amazing. You might find this hard to believe but some people moan about being here off season, because there’s nothing to do; I think if grey cells were taxed, they’d be due a rebate.

Personally, I quite like the fact that the nights draw in early. You can hear Mother Nature keeping herself busy turning all the contrast and brightness down. I can wear my longest charity shop jumpers (I favour their kidney-warming capabilities over fashion any day). My overriding cooking dilemmas are what colourful veg and lentils to combine in today’s fart-foodie casserole and I can eat porridge more than three times a week without appearing boring. I enjoy keeping the warm in by drawing the 3.5 metre lined curtain across the single glazed, Grade II listed energy vampire of a window on the landing and I have a valid reason for turning on the three gorgeous old lamps in the office in the early afternoon. Their eco-bulbs cast a sumptuous soft glow around the room and they make me want to snuggle up with a large hot mug of tea whilst listening to classical music and writing life-affirming poetry and diary entries in secret books with beautiful covers that I’ll hide somewhere and my grandchildren will paw over them fondly when I’m long dead, saying, ‘Nanny West knew what it was all about, didn’t she’…

I’m also quite happy with the brisk reality of having no central heating because it presents me with a valid reason for taking my husband to bed early to fool around and keep warm, although keeping warm isn’t the primary driver (I’m not bloody dead yet). Unfortunately, the reality of work generally presses and like everyone else who dreams for a living, I have to dedicate most of my working hours to, you know, working.

On the subject of the weather, however, one personal downside to living anywhere during the chillier months is they tend to make me want to stay in during the evening. I am a very happy home bird, but if everyone that resided in a tourist reliant home town stayed in from November to February, their wonderful restaurants, cafes and shops would go bust in a heartbeat.

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Keeping Myself (mentally) Afloat

I have never lived so close to a big body of water and oh boy, what a body Lyme Bay is.

I can hotfoot it from my street door to the chilly English Channel in about 90 seconds and in an ideal world where I didn’t have rent, bills and mouths to feed I’d be in there every day. Unfortunately, the reality of work and kids dictates otherwise, but I do try to go down there three or four times a week.

Yesterday, as the late afternoon sun cast alien-like shadows on the sand, I sat on a cushion at the end of the groyne on Lyme’s Sandy Beach and contemplated my navel as I shared some hot, non-fish nosh from the chippy with my husband Simon. The tide was on its way in at a bit of a pace and for a while I sat mesmerised by the rhythmic continuum of saline water lapping up onto the concrete. It felt as though the salt on my seaside snack had been laced with mind altering drugs, because somehow, all the worries of my week were being sucked into the ocean by some benevolent force of nature – it was welcome bliss.

Mind emptied and belly full, I contemplated the stimulating joy of doing a great big swim across the bay. There are a bunch of keen local swimmers who go in for regular dips come rain or shine and there are two seriously hard-assed girls who indulge in a daily dip in their swimming costumes from about February while we mere mortals are still clad in vests, socks and cardigans – and that’s in bed! They go in the water looking sort of pinkish and come out red raw from the neck down, their blood desperately sloshing around just under the surface of their skin, flashing like a beacon telling them not to do it again.

I absolutely love being near the water, but much prefer being in it and thankfully, I have a relatively high threshold for chilly H2O. The old adage of, ‘You’ll be fine once you’re in’, is true, but the needle pin pain that envelopes your body as you give yourself over to the water makes you wonder whether you are being assaulted by a smack of jellyfish (and yes, that is the right noun)…

I can cope with being in far colder water than Simon and think this might, in part, be due to having lived in several bloody cold houses that had no form of central heating – even the mice wore jumpers. This is surely aided by having a super protective layer of woman lard, particularly around the midriff, bottom and top of leg area. It’s handy to be honest, not only does it slow down the signals of the real temperature reaching the brain up my frozen synapses, but like the disgusterous stuff I used to find in the washing up bowl after cooking sausages, fat floats and so does anyone that has a bit!

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