Can a slow writer make a living as a freelancer? It appears that the answer is probably not!

I am a slow writer, and it takes me forever to write a blog. Having researched the subject of freelance writing it is clear to me that anyone who wants to make a living from the writing of articles and blogs needs to be able to whip them up in the blink of an eye. One woman in particular outlines her daily routine, and allocates 2 hours for the production of her commissioned articles (notice I say articles, in the plural!). Usually, I can’t complete even one blog for one of my websites in 4 or 5 hours, never mind 2, and so the idea of being able to make it big as a freelancer is probably a bit of a pipe-dream! 

It is my habit to edit as I am going along, and then re-edit before publishing; I then often return to the published offering and tweak it again. I tell myself that next time I am going to spit it all out beforestart the editing process, get it all down on paper first (well, on Google documents), but I just can’t seem to work that way… it feels incredibly uncomfortable to me.

I have my first little book, available on Amazon, that I know for sure needs to be edited again; it was my first offering and I am genuinely proud of the story and the characters within, but I can see the flaws in it. I still haven’t finished my third book, and I need to pick up the slack where my blogs are concerned. Like most people, I have a day job (I am self-employed but it is still a job in that I earn my living from it), and I have a busy family life… and I choose to attend kickboxing classes 3 to 4 evenings per week. I would retire from my current business if I was able to replace (and increase) the income, through writing. I have been doing it for more than 25 years, and am proud of the fact that I have managed to make it this far down the line – after all, many self-employed people end up against the wall, forced to go back to the drawing board to start again. However, I would, like so many others, love to write for a living. The competition is stiff, the opportunities few (apparently), and the potential for failure huge.

But I am not going to give up. I have faith that, one way or another, it will all work out in the end. I had a dream last night in which I was in despair about my progression in life, and suddenly the image of a figure (I think it was masculine, but I can’t say for sure), with huge butterfly-type wings, appeared before my eyes… and it was struggling to get off the ground. I immediately understood its dilemma; the wings were big and beautiful, but almost too much for the figure to handle… if it could only reach the point at which it was rising and hovering, rather than struggling with the vastness and weight, it would be able to figure out how to spread those spectacular wings and fly!

This very short blog has taken only a couple of hours to write, whilst watching the Indie 500 on television (for the first time), but that is because a) it is, as acknowledged, short, and b) the subject matter is fairly straightforward. Most of today has been taken up with the Monaco Grand Prix (Formula 1 is a BIG thing in this household), but still, other writers would have started and finished within 20 minutes (with or without Indie 500). I believe it does depend upon the subject material of a blog – I often have to think very, very carefully about how I am expressing things, and whether or not I am being ‘authentic’ – am I conveying what I intended to, and is it easy enough for the reader to hear me? The messages within this mini-blog are fairly straightforward: I am a slow writer; I would ideally prefer to speed things up in order to produce more content; I still have to figure out how to get the best out of my wings.  

 

“Nothing good ever happens to me!” You DO NOT want to think, say, or believe this!

Originally published on http://www.leannehalyburton.com

I have many faults (yes, really!), and I am likely to be a work in progress until I take my last breath… but I don’t believe I have ever uttered the cry, “nothing good ever happens to me!” And if I have, it would have been a long time ago, and I would have deserved a damned good shake from someone less entrenched in self-pity!

It is a phrase I have heard many, many times – and it is always a lie! Think about it: NOTHING good EVER happens to me. NothingEver? The last time this miserable phrase assaulted my ears was around 2 months ago, courtesy of someone who was having the kind of uncomfortable problems we all experience in life… someone in possession of reasonable health, with people on the planet who love her and whom she loves, enough money to live on, access to health care, technology, education, and transport… the precious things that are far too often taken for granted, especially by the habitually dissatisfied. This lady’s problem was a frustrating relationship issue, a situation that was being allowed to balloon out of perspective, overshadowing every other aspect of her life. And you might say, “oh, well, it’s just a phrase, something we all say at times – it doesn’t mean anything!” – and I would respond with, “Sorry – you are dead wrong there!”

Words are far more powerful than you might imagine, and although we all experience periodic dips (crashes, even) throughout our lives, it requires a certain kind of thinking to allow the offending statement to slip so guilt-free and easily from our lips. If we say it just once, without immediately thinking, “ouch, I really didn’t mean that, I do have so much to be grateful for, despite my problems – I am just feeling bad about this particular situation, right now, at this moment in time”, we are likely to think and say it again… and believe it. And that has the capacity to lead us to unconsciously seek out anything that validates the belief that… nothing-good-ever-happens-to-me. And who the hell wants to live under that miserable banner-heading (or associate too closely with anyone who does)?

Every aspect of our life has its own, individual energetic field, and we are always in the process of attracting and repelling. Our brain is aware of everything we think and feel, especially the stuff we repeat over and again, creating new neural connections accordingly… programming us to automatically replay and act out the old, familiar patterns. And our unconscious mind is continuously sucking it all up, even when our conscious mind has temporarily been distracted away from whatever the ongoing issue is… ready to bring it sharply to the fore every time we think about or experience something similar. It likes to match things, to join the dots; if we have unwittingly programmed our unconscious mind to accept that nothing good ever happens to us, it is duty bound to assist us in being right (survival instinct). It will cause us to be aware of, and even attracted by, circumstances that ‘prove’ our beliefs to be correct. Of course, that is not all that the unconscious mind is about, but its contents are all our own work – nothing gets in there that wasn’t generated by us, wittingly or unwittingly.

What are other examples of the kind of thinking we really need to avoid like the plague?

Why do bad things always happen to me?

Why does everyone let me down?

Bad things happen to good people.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Why am I so unlucky?

Why do I always attract the wrong people?

There is a tendency toward generalisation where destructive beliefs are concerned (another danger to be avoided), the biggest culprits being the words always/everyone/continuously. “I am ALWAYS unlucky!”, “you CONTINUOUSLY do things to hurt me!”, “EVERYONE lets me down!” Imagine being the person who is always and continuously kicked in the gut by everyone… whew, there is actually some kind of dubious power to be gained from that, I imagine!

So, when it is said that words don’t matter, maybe one-off or off-the-cuff remarks don’t carry too much weight… but never underestimate the potential cumulative effect of habitual negative thinking – the most insidious form of self-harm! We are all going to suffer at times throughout our lives; we are all going to want to howl at the moon, or stand on a mountain top and scream from the centre of our very being, or grab God/the universe by the short-and-curlies, throwing out our best possible punch… but if we retain even one ounce of awareness and gratitude, we won’t reduce the precious aspects of our lives to mere rubble. Whenever we take for granted the things that are a part of our everyday life (including the basic things that other human beings can only dream of), willingly buying into bitterness and resentment, we are signing up for the dark side!

Qu: “what is my life purpose?” Answer: you actually have more than one!

Originally published on: leannehalyburton.com

“What is my life purpose… what am I supposed to be doing?” is something I am often asked – but it is not something that I am able to answer… at least not in a short and straightforward way.

For the individual soul, defining our own reason for entering into the experience of life on planet Earth could possibly be the purpose; it would require of us a willingness to develop a curious and loving relationship with ourselves – an ongoing journey of discovery. We humans have an unhelpful habit of seeking answers and instructions that are black and white, simple to understand, and easy to follow… reassuring us that we are doing the ‘right’ thing. But ‘right’ in whose eyes, and in line with whose idea of how we should be developing, and what we should be achieving? God? The universe? Our parents? Society?

I don’t believe that coming up with one specific reason for our existence is necessary or even possible… at least not for the vast majority of souls who will travel through physical life. And again, for most of us, it is unrealistic to expect to be able to define an overall purpose when we are only part-way through our lives… as time ticks away, surely we are going to evolve and change, redefining our beliefs and perspectives (well, ideally, that is!). And if that is true, we need to be completely open to wisdom – the most valuable commodity in human life – as it enables us to become the best possible version of ourselves.

Wisdom

However, the thing about wisdom is that it is only ever available in hindsight… and even then, only to those who are open to it. Age and length of time spent on Earth do not automatically imbue us with wisdom, regardless of experience. It is how we perceive and process our experiences, how we choose to respond to those experiences, and who we then evolve into, that dictates how much genuine wisdom we are likely to gain. And promoting something, even if it is ‘spiritual’ or enlightening, doesn’t necessarily mean that we are wise; the real power lies in why and how we have come to know what we know, how we have changed as a result, and why we are compelled to share it with others… and why we may sometimes be compelled not to share it.

So, becoming genuinely wiser as our lives unfold is one major purpose that we all share… but not the only one.

Human creativity

I am fairly committed to the idea that all souls enter into the human experience in order to be creative – firstly, energetically, secondly, physically – and it is this that is the actual purpose behind human existence – even over and above the acquirement of wisdom.

However, just because that belief makes complete sense to me, it doesn’t mean that it is an immutable universal truth that should automatically be accepted by every other human being who lives; it may just be my own illusion, born of the way in which I perceive life, and therefore only true for me and those who see things pretty much the same way I do (and I imagine there has to be more than one version of ‘me’ out there!).

How does that work?

Just for fun, let’s take a closer look at this idea about creativity being an actual ‘life purpose’ and consider whether or not there is anything in it!

Scientists tell us that the universe is expanding and that the expansion slowed down before speeding up again (obviously over a period of billions of years!). So, this physical universe apparently never stands still or remains exactly the same, even for one second. Human life evolved within all of this activity; we are a functioning, working part of the whole, not an add-on.

However, as far as most of us are concerned, planet Earth is our home and it is this that we concern ourselves with (well, at least some of us do), rather than the bigger picture of the solar system within the bigger picture of the universe… but it is all relative. There is a rhyme, ‘big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them, little fleas have lesser fleas and so ad infinitum’. No matter how tiny the littlest flea is, it is still having an impact upon its host, which in turn is having an impact upon its host. Now, I am not saying that human beings are fleas, and that we are an infestation sucking the life force out of an itchy, irritated, fertile chunk of rock (well, not all of us anyway!) – I am just using this as a lighthearted way of explaining the knock-on effect. No matter how small we are, in comparison to that which is bigger than us, we are a part of it and, one way or another, we play a role in how it evolves and what it becomes, for better or for worse, without even consciously trying. The planet is constantly changing and mankind is playing a huge role in this; the experience of life on Earth is not the same as it was ten or twenty years ago, a hundred years ago… 200,000 years ago. We are creators first and foremost, but it is wisdom that dictates how we learn to use our creations, and what we then allow them to create. We can’t be too hard on ourselves when we realise that we have messed up because of something we previously didn’t know or understand – collectively or individually – but we can and should be ashamed when we consistently fail to learn and respond accordingly.

So, what has any of this got to do with your quest to figure out your life purpose? Everything, I believe! You are creative, and your creations are contributing to the ongoing, forward movement of life on Earth… which has to be the overall point, surely? Whether you believe in a creator or in evolution (and I cannot see much of a difference, to be honest, apart from the name), something wants the energy of physical life to continue, something wants exploration, discovery, forward movement, expansion – and something produced the working parts to help make all of that all possible.

You ARE creative!

“Ha!” you retort, “Well, that can’t be true; I am not the least bit creative. I couldn’t paint or write or sew to save my life!”

Oh, but you are! Right now, at this very second, you are creating a thought, an opinion, a belief, an attitude, and an atmosphere that ripples out and impacts others. It may be the merest hint of a ripple, or it may a tidal wave; just because it can’t be physically seen and touched doesn’t mean that it isn’t occurring. We can’t see the wind itself, but we can definitely see, hear and feel the effects of the wind!

Creativity begins with a single thought…

Creativity always begins with a thought, an idea, a dream, in someone’s mind. It cannot be any other way. And then it can be brought into physical existence through action (which can include non-action!). We are always, always creating something… good, bad or indifferent:

We can create a sense of inertia, apathy, and defeatism.

We can create hope, enthusiasm, and determination.

We can create a cup of tea, a snack, a meal, a banquet.

We can create a friendship, a team, a community.

We can create a relationship, a baby, a family.

We can create a work of art, literature, architecture, engineering, technology.

We can create an argument, a fight, a war.

We can create illness.

We can create a cure.

We can create poverty.

We can create wealth.

We can create peace.

We can create conflict.

We can create individually and/or jointly.

I need you and you need me…

And we are all in it together. No man, or woman, is an island. I will need you to help me express and act out my purpose, and you will need me to help you express and act out yours. I am often told, by clients, that their biggest desire is to ‘help people’… that they believe that this is their purpose in life. Well, in order to fulfill that purpose they obviously need people who are in need… and luckily there are billions of those around (including the ones who are struggling to define their personal purpose in life!).

Whenever I am asked to help someone recognise their life purpose, I know that they are feeling lost or experiencing an emptiness within. Often, these folk are getting on with everyday life, busy and appearing to be doing okay. The problem tends to be that they are doing what is considered to be the ‘right’ thing, tending to their practical needs, focusing on security and not wasting time on daydreams… in other words, living in the ‘real’ world. They may not be desperately unhappy, but often feel that there is something else they ‘should’ be doing. Sometimes they even know what that something is… but are afraid that it isn’t realistic, or that they will fail. A very unhappy young woman recently asked me about her job prospects, connected to an industry she wasn’t remotely interested in, even though she had just graduated in fine arts. I asked why she wasn’t developing a career in the thing she loved doing the most… and she replied that her father, who had never wanted her to study art, had convinced her that there was no money in it. I said, “you have to be joking! Are you aware just how popular up-cycling is at this current moment in time? People are falling over themselves to pay good money for professionally renovated items! Tv is awash with fine artists producing amazing transformations, and internet sites are attracting worldwide audiences. Of course there is competition, but there is also a ton of opportunity!”

Unfortunately, I got the feeling that she is more likely to go along with her father’s wishes than her own, spending her life yearning to express a natural, artistic talent, whilst working in a job she has no interest in. She could, of course, do what some people do and have a ‘day’ job whilst developing her real interests on the side. It isn’t unrealistic or impossible to do so, but in my experience too many talented people lose hope and heart, drifting further and further away from the activity that causes them to feel alive. I understand that time is often tight, but a few hours a week, dedicated to what we consider to be our real calling, is better than no hours ever! And in the bigger picture, those few hours can develop into something more.

We don’t have to save the world!

We often tend to believe that a life purpose should be something grand and heroic, and it is this mis-belief that creates a smokescreen, causing us to dismiss or overlook the things we really want to further explore. We are so busy looking at the wood, we fail to recognise the individual trees. Or we believe that, unless we are going to be the absolute best – THE number 1 – there is no point in trying. I used to think that way, but thankfully I managed to persuade myself otherwise. I love to write, even though I am unlikely to ever make a million pounds doing so… and so I write. I can, at the very least, improve my skills, but I also gain satisfaction from a finished piece, and from the appreciation of the small audience I have attracted over the years! I believe that producing written work is one of the purposes of my life, and even if I am not earning a living doing it, I am still creating, and scratching that emotional itch I have inside. I feel better for writing and would be sad never to do so again.

I believe that another of my life purposes is to question and delve, and to ask why? And another is to continue to explore and develop my relationship with the creative force of life (call it what you will – God, the Universe, the mothership… ). And there are certain practical things I really wish to sort out or achieve before I take my last breath, and this feels like a purpose to me. I don’t feel that my job, as an intuitive consultant, is my big life purpose… but it is an activity that allows me to delve and question, to educate myself on matters of the mind and the spirit, and to pass on the benefit of that to those who wish to accept and use it for themselves. Like everyone else, there are plenty of things I do regularly because I ‘have’ to… but they are merely the price to be paid for the experience of life on planet Earth.

It may be more obvious than you think!

Everything that exists in this world – that has anything to do with human beings – started as an idea in the mind of an individual creator. It’s all become physically possible thanks to the efforts of other creators… from the smallest contribution to the largest. And I mean everything, from destructive gossip to a life-saving cure. We could be happy with the idea that acting upon one of our life purposes is likely to enable someone else to fulfill one of their life purposes… even if we are not directly recognised for our contribution. Or it may be that we really need to feel that our purpose is to glitter and shine… to be seen, acknowledged and praised. It doesn’t matter; if we are genuinely okay with our choices and the direction our life is taking, even if we aren’t moving obvious mountains, that is a good thing… no, a great thing. But if we feel that something is missing, that there is a gap that needs to be filled, we need to start by looking close to home, asking some basic questions of ourselves. There are certain reasons we are all here, and certain reasons that are unique to us… and they may just be staring us in the eyes!

Sadness leads to belly-fat-busting failure…

I have to admit folks, I fell off the belly-fat-busting wagon. I haven’t increased my weight since the last update, but neither have I lost any. I have continued to attend kickboxing classes 3/4 times a week… but as for diet, carbs have been the order of the day.

The reason (there’s always a reason, isn’t there?): our beloved dog became increasingly weak and poorly, at one point showing sudden improvement only to start dipping again. We were having to carry her upstairs, lift her onto the bed and the couch and into the car, and we knew the inevitable was coming… the thought of which sent a shock wave through my chest, taking my breath away. When it reached the point at which we were having to hover over her every time she needed to move or go out to the garden, we knew it was unfair to keep her hanging on, just because we couldn’t bear to lose her. She was 15, which the vet gently insisted, several times, was ‘old’… and the steroids were no longer having the magical effect they once did.

So, on a grey Wednesday morning, as she lay on the couch, we stroked her as the vet administered the dose that would release her from the stiffness and the reduced sight and hearing that had clearly been depressing her. I had started drinking before the vet arrived (unable to face saying goodbye sober), and continued for the rest of a day that would become nothing more than a blur. She was the friend I had walked with daily throughout the woods and along the beach, season in, season out. Last summer, I video’d one of our walks, and I am so glad that I did. Although those times have now come to an end, and a new chapter has begun, I can revisit whenever I want to.

Anyway, I was back at kickboxing two days later, and it was a welcome distraction. Sensei has announced more than once that I am the fastest in class when it comes to jab/cross, and I am quick on my feet whilst sparring, and I am definitely not the first to be heaving and gasping during fitness routines… not bad for an old bird. But it is time (again) to address this tractor tyre that has taken up residence around my middle; I will feel, and look, so much better without it. And it is time to start writing again, as this is the first thing I have penned in weeks. I buried myself in working with my customers, going to kickboxing and reading; I hit the John Grisham’s with a vengeance until I could no longer stomach another lawyer-mafia-murderer story. Time to let the light in again.

 

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4 lbs lost last week… but I couldn’t stomach a high fat/low carb diet!

I lost 4 lbs last week, starting off on April 1st, following a high-fat, low-carb diet. I published a blog announcing my intentions, and included pics of how I look now, how I used to look, and the scales registering at 10 st 4 lb (144 lbs).

https://fabfit40plus.com/2019/04/01/pounds-of-belly-fat-to-lose-i-am-counting-calories-carbs-protein-and-fat/

However, I couldn’t hack it… which came as no surprise to me! I am a long-term calorie counter and had decided that I wouldn’t change that – but that I would also count carbs, fat, and protein. By the third day, I was struggling and yearned for more carbs. I was tired, my gums were sensitive (from eating more meat, I think), and I felt a bit flat. I understand that perseverance is required with a high-fat way of eating, but I wasn’t committed enough to put up with the discomfort!

So, back it was to straightforward calorie counting and selected carbs… and, as I say, I lost 4 lbs. I also attended 4 kickboxing classes and did some brisk walking (I have to say though, that by the end of the final class – last Friday evening – I was ready to drop!). I also repetitively used 2 x 1 kg weights whilst sitting on the couch watching TV, in an attempt to strengthen my arms and develop ‘muscle memory’ (as my instructor, who also happens to be my eldest daughter, calls it!). Punching outwards as fast as I can is more tiring than it sounds!

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I decided to lose weight steadily rather than trying to do it in a big rush, aiming at 8 st 12 lb (132 lbs) by mid-June for my 4th kickboxing grading, so have been having 1600 calories a day. I will probably have to reduce this periodically, in order to consistently keep losing. It takes effort but I am determined to give it my best shot!

So, what does an average day’s diet consist of?

Breakfast: cottage cheese or natural yoghurt.

Lunch: A large salad and a baked chicken breast, with low-fat mayo

Or low-fat cream cheese (with salmon or sweet chill) with low-calorie crackers.

Dinner: Fish or chicken or a pork chop, with veg.

Supper: Lemon or chocolate mousse, sometimes with a handful of grapes and berries.

I drink tea with a splash of skimmed milk (no change there, this is just how I take my tea), and green tea. I drink water whilst training, and always have some by the bed for during the night.

AND, I drank a bottle of red wine over the weekend (calorie-counted!).

I am not a nutritionist, and I don’t want to get into anything too complex or demanding; I just want to lose the spare tractor tyre that has taken up residence around my middle, have plenty of energy, and feel reasonably full. I am also not seeing this as a diet but as a permanently revised way of eating. It worked for me in the past, keeping the excess weight off for years until I allowed things to get out of hand. Sadly, I have found that the older you get the weirder fat behaves, choosing to hang around in the least desirable areas… and that metabolism stubbornly drags its heels. So be it. I just have to work harder than I used to… damn it! And yes, I know that most of my 4 lbs lost is probably water (I have been up in the night weeing more than usual), but who cares? It’s better off being flushed away than slopping around my belly and bum!

 

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Don’t Tell Your Father: a short story about a frightened boy, a special little girl… and karma.

DON’T TELL YOUR FATHER – a short story by Leanne Halyburton.

3826 words. Please note: contains strong language.

Description:

Ten-year-old Jamie, and his deep, inscrutable little sister Alice, have finally found a sense of peace and security under the roof of their beloved Aunt Lil. However, their father, a man driven by his own inner demons, seems determined to nip any happiness that comes his family’s way sharply in the bud… and when his sister Lil steps in to prevent him from dishing out yet another beating to his weary, resigned son, Frank immediately declares that they are hitting the road again. Devastated, and wishing that she’d kept her mouth shut, Lil comes up with a way of keeping in touch with her brother’s family… whilst praying that he doesn’t find out. Jamie, sworn to secrecy, knows the price he will pay if he discovers just what Lil has put into the paper bag of ‘snacks’ she insists on giving the boy for their journey. But Alice has Jamie’s back – and she proves to be more than a match for the man who’s rage and bitterness has led him to terrorise his own family.

Don’t Tell Your Father.

“Get in the car – NOW!”

    Jamie’s ten-year-old heart sank. Not again. “Dad, please… can’t we just…”

    “Shut your mouth and do as I tell you. Where’s your sister… Alice, Alice, where the hell are you?”

    “Mum…” Jamie implored, but Gill Martin shot her son a look that was half pleading and half warning. “Just get in the car Jamie,” she muttered.

    He clambered listlessly into the back of the old Ford estate, trying to hold back bitterly disappointed tears. Alice silently scrambled in beside him, her face deadpan.

    “Wait!” Aunt Lil came running towards the car. “I can’t stop you leaving, Frank, but at least let me give the kids a few snacks for the journey.” She dropped a brown paper bag onto Jamie’s lap, flicked her eyes towards it then back to his, and surreptitiously raised her finger to her lips. Jamie blinked, but couldn’t speak. He loved Aunt Lil… if he tried to talk, especially to say goodbye, he knew the tears would spill down his cheeks and Frank did not allow crying. It was for babies and weak people, he said.

************

    Frank Martin ranted and raged non-stop for around an hour, aggressively tearing up the road, gesturing at other drivers, pulling up bumper to bumper at traffic lights, forcefully slamming on the brakes and causing the heads of his wife and children to whip painfully backwards and forwards.

    “That stupid bitch of a sister of mine never learns to keep her mouth shut!” Spittle flew from his twisted mouth, hitting the windscreen and sliding down. “Well, you can all blame her for this one… she’s the reason we’re back on the road again. She just can’t leave things alone. Telling me how I should treat my own family, telling me I need to calm down! She’s always been the same… no wonder she’s single… no man could stand a day with that stupid, mouthy bitch!”

    Jamie bowed his head, hating his father with every ounce of his being. No-one dared speak… they’d all been through this before, a hundred times, and they knew the consequences of answering back or offering an opinion. Aunt Lil was the only one who wasn’t afraid to stand up to Frank, her eldest brother… but Jamie wished that she hadn’t intervened when he’d been about to dish out a good hiding to his son. Jamie could tolerate a beating, and they’d still be there, relatively safe, and with hope. Aunt Lil loved him and his sister, and life with her was… well, normal. She smiled and laughed, she hugged them, listened to what they had to say, took an interest in what they were doing. The last three weeks had been the best of his life… but when he got out of his snug, warm bed that morning, to the smell of toast and coffee, to the sound of the radio and Aunt Lil singing, he had no clue that it was all over. He should have known better than to believe that things were, at last, different – that he could believe in happiness. He should have known that his father would destroy every last bit of it.

************

    Lil sat at the kitchen table, sobbing into a wadge of toilet paper. “You should have kept your mouth shut,” she berated herself. “But I couldn’t stand by and watch him lay into that poor child!” She shook her head as if to dislodge the memory. If only Gill would leave him, take the kids and start again. She would help her, would do whatever she could, even against her own brother. Frank hadn’t always been so bitter, so violent. He’d always been a bit hot-headed, but he had been a good son to their mother, taking care of her in a way his father, Harry, never did. Harry was a drinker and a gambler, and periodically would react against his wife’s pleading and nagging with his fists. He died of stomach cancer years ago, quickly followed by his wife. Frank never spoke about any of it, but increasingly, as the years passed, his behaviour became more and more reactive, more antagonistic. And holding down a job was impossible for a man who expressed major resentment towards anyone who held any kind of authority over him.

    She hoped that when Jamie looked in the paper bag he wouldn’t give the game away. Apart from a couple of snacks, she had included a little mobile phone, her own number, and some cash. A hastily scrawled note told him to call her when he was safely able to and to keep the phone and the money secret, even from his mother. She told him she loved him and Alice and urged him to keep her updated. “Please God, don’t let Frank find out about the phone,” she prayed.

************

    The cheap motel was like any other they had used. The mattresses were thin and hard, the carpets stained, and the TV tiny, with poor reception.

    “You lot stay here,” Frank instructed. He was calmer now, but the slightest thing could set him off, and so no-one responded, and everyone did as they were told. “I’ll have to go and talk to someone at the council, tell them we’re homeless… AGAIN.” He spat the last word out as if homelessness was something that had been unfairly inflicted upon him and his family; as always, the victim of an unjust life.

    There was silence for a minute or two after he left, broken by Gill’s falsely cheerful “Well, it isn’t so bad here… at least we have a shower!”

    Alice stared at her mother as if she was a peculiar stranger.

    “It’s horrible,” she stated. “It smells like sweaty socks.”

    Six years old, deeply watchful, painfully direct… when she did actually speak… Alice was somehow ‘different’. Tumbling dark hair, deep indigo eyes that seemed to burn into whatever and whoever caught her attention, and a face that gave very little indication of what was going on in her mind. Alice did not ‘need’ Gill. She wasn’t the kind of child who desired attention and approval, she rarely asked for anything, and was happy to entertain herself, most of the time. There was, however, an unspoken closeness between Alice and Jamie… he knew he could trust her, rely upon her, somehow. Whenever he’d received a beating or a punishment, Alice would come and sit quietly next to him, sometimes placing a hand on his back, or his sob-shaken shoulders. She never spoke, but she was there. Jamie didn’t know what he’d do without Alice. He couldn’t put into words how he felt, but with her around he knew he was not alone.

************

    Jamie waited until Frank’s car merged with the traffic along the main road at the front of the motel, before casually informing his mother he was going to sit outside for a while.

    “Well… be careful, and don’t wander off,” she warned.  “You’ll need to be here when your father gets back.”

    “I know, I know, I know…” Jamie muttered, closing the door behind him.

    Their room was on the second floor, and Jamie turned right, heading along the balcony towards the wooden steps that led to the ground floor. In front of the reception office was a paved area with a few pot plants that hadn’t been watered for weeks, and a bench. Flaking green paint revealed faded timber, but it was clean and dry, and Jamie sat down, guiltily checking in all directions, before rooting in the bag for the phone and Aunt Lil’s note. He keyed her number in, heart thumping, and waited… within a split second, Lil picked up.

    “Jamie! Thank God! Are you alright? Where are you?”

    “Hi Aunt Lil,” he was so relieved to hear her voice he had to fight back sudden tears. “Erm… I’m not sure. We’re in a motel called Greenleys, opposite a pub called… erm… The Mitre.”

    “Where’s your father? And how is Alice?” Lil was worried… she desperately hoped her actions would not lead to further trouble for the children.

     “He’s gone to speak to the council, to tell them we’re homeless. Alice is in the room, with mum. She seems to be okay. I’m outside, on my own.”

    Homeless! Lil shook her head, angry and frustrated. They weren’t homeless until Frank made them so… again. They had a home with her until they could get back on their feet – she had told him that, over and over. But Frank had some kind of self-destruct mechanism in his head that would lead him to push and push until he had another reason to blame the world, another reason to fight, to become a victim. The problem was, he was taking three other people down with him.

    “Jamie, do you know how to text? I have added plenty of calling credit to the phone, but it will be safer for you to text me, rather than calling. Unless something happens, of course. I will always respond, I promise. But it is important for you to be safe. We’ll figure something out, I promise. Oh… and make sure the phone is set to silent!”

************

    Frank returned several hours later with fish and chips and a half bottle of whiskey. He didn’t say much, barely ate, and settled himself down on the double bed, swigging from the bottle. By 9pm he was snoring loudly. Gill gingerly squeezed under the quilt, next to him, and indicated to the children to keep the noise down. As if they needed to be told. The TV was barely audible, and Jamie lay on his back, staring at a moth high on the wall above his bed. It hadn’t moved an inch since they arrived… maybe it too knew better than to aggravate Frank.

    Alice, propped up in her hard, narrow single bed, was reading a book, using her finger to underline each word, her lips silently mouthing the story. Every now and then she’d stare intently at the colourful illustrations, as if willing herself to disappear into them, before turning the page. When she reached the end she’d start again… over and over, until she fell asleep, dark hair spread across the pillow, her face relaxed and peaceful, lips parted to reveal a gap where a new, adult tooth was barely poking through the gum. The book lay open, face down on her chest. Jamie gently lifted it and placed it on the chipped, melamine bedside cabinet. He envied her… wished he could respond to life the way she did.

    He had been hiding the brown paper bag containing the phone, battery charger, cash, and Aunt Lil’s note, under his blankets. He wriggled down, covering himself completely, and retrieved the phone, moving as slowly as possible. He typed in a goodnight message, receiving a response less than a minute later. Reading the message, he felt so much better… less sad and less afraid. He switched the phone off, slid it back into the bag, and lay awake, thinking and thinking, before drifting into an uncomfortable sleep. The moth still hadn’t moved, not even a leg or a wing… but it had a ringside seat to an unfolding human drama.

**********

    Frank awoke, stiff in his body, chaotic in his mind, at 7am, and disturbed his family by banging around and turning the TV volume way up. Jamie’s heart sank when he opened his eyes and remembered where he was. Panicking, he rooted for the brown paper bag, sighing with relief when he found it under his left leg.

    Alice slid out of bed and clambered over Jamie, heading for the tiny bathroom.

    “Don’t wee on the seat,” Frank shouted, sniggering, but Alice just rolled her eyes. She didn’t appear to be afraid of Frank, and Jamie wished he felt the same way. Having said that, their father rarely felt the need to punish Alice; maybe it was a male thing, a father-son thing. Or maybe Frank just hates me, Jamie concluded.

    “So… what’s the plan for today?” Gill ventured.

    “The plan? The plan? I’ll tell you what the plan is, my darling wife. I am going back to the wonderful, helpful council yet again, forced to beg on bended knee. I have an appointment at nine o’clock… and they had better come up with something or I will tear the place to pieces with my bare hands.”

    Gill didn’t doubt it. She sighed quietly and rubbed her aching head.

    “Are you okay mum?” Jamie could see that Gill didn’t look right. She was pale and seemed a little unsteady as she went to fill the electric kettle from the bathroom tap.

    “I’m fine son,” she reassured. “Just a headache. It started yesterday, thought it would have cleared up by now.”

    “You want to have my head,” Frank sneered. “Try banging your head on the same old brick wall, year in year out, always having to deal with the same kind of idiots, and then tell me about your headache!”

    Gill ignored him, but Jamie noticed the look that flitted across her face, and his heart went out to her. Okay, she didn’t stand up to Frank, she let him get away with everything… but what else could she do anyway? He’d only start on her, and then on them, because he’d be wound up and still looking for an outlet. They were stuck… trapped. A dark cloud descended upon the boy. He could hear his sister in the bathroom, running water, and singing, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. What was her secret, Jamie wondered for the millionth time? He wished he knew.

*************

    The atmosphere changed, the moment Frank closed the door behind him. Gill breathed deeply and sank onto the bed.

    “I’m sorry children,” she slurred. “I should take you out somewhere… but I feel dreadful. I just can’t shake this headache. I’m just going to rest for half an hour, and then we’ll do something…”

    “It’s okay mum,” Jamie responded, stroking the top of her head. “We’ll be fine… won’t we, Alice?”

    Alice shrugged, as if she didn’t care either way, and Gill gazed up at her son, gratefully.

    “Thank you, both of you. And Jamie… I’m sorry… ” Her words trailed off, as she lay down, closing her eyes, drawing her knees up to her chest. For a second, Jamie was tempted to tell her about the phone and the lifeline to Aunt Lil… but he quickly decided against it. She’d be nervous about it, and end up giving the game away. No, he’d say nothing… for now at least.

*************

    By 12 o’clock Gill could stand the pain no longer. She had used up the few painkillers she’d found in the bottom of her bag, and she hadn’t wanted to ask Frank to buy more for her. He’d make a huge deal about it, and she just couldn’t face it.

    “Children, I’m going to have to go out and find a doctor’s surgery, or a chemist. This is getting worse, not better.”

    She listlessly pulled her clothes on, then grimaced as she pulled a brush through her hair.

    “I think I have enough change in my purse. Please don’t wander off, and don’t open the door to anyone. I won’t be long… I promise… ”

    Uncharacteristically, Alice put her book down, jumped off the bed and wrapped her arms around Gill’s hips. Gazing up at her mother, she said “It will all be alright Mum. You won’t have to worry.”

    Gill couldn’t hide her surprise, and despite the pain, a delighted smile spread across her weary face.

    “Thank you, Alice… I… I appreciate that!”

    Alice nodded, as if it was a done deal, and went back to her book. For a second, Gill caught Jamie’s gaze, and an understanding passed between them. Somehow, the words of a six-year-old lifted their spirits, though neither of them understood why that should be.

************

“I know about the phone,” Alice announced, as she made her toy rabbit hop up and down on her lap.

“What? What phone… I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Jamie stammered. How could she know? He’d been really careful.

    Alice shot him a pitying look, before turning back to her toy. “I know. I know lots of things… ”

    Jamie felt guilty. He shouldn’t have kept it from her. He knew he could trust her… but he also had to protect her.

    “Well, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I wasn’t trying to keep a secret from you. I just… ”

    “I know,” she cut in, calmly. “It’s okay. You were afraid he would find out.”

    “Yes. How did you find out… did you hear me using it?”

    “No, you were very good at hiding it. I told you, I just knew.”

    Whilst they were alone, Jamie called Lil, speaking only for a minute or two. He explained about Gill’s headache, and how she’d gone searching for painkillers. Alice took her turn saying hello, but then Lil advised them to ring off in case Frank returned. She was relieved to hear from the children, but also concerned about Gill’s health. The poor woman… she must be at the end of her tether. There was no point in phoning the police, Lil reasoned. There would be little they could do. And the social services would only scare Frank off, dragging the family with him. No, she’d wait until they were settled again and then decide what to do.

************

    Jamie plugged the phone into the charger, hiding it behind the bedside cabinet. He left it for fifteen minutes and was just unplugging it when Frank roughly pushed the motel door open – they hadn’t heard his footsteps along the balcony… he must have been creeping up on them.

    “WHAT’S THAT?” he yelled, striding towards Jamie.

“Nothing!” Jamie fumbled with the phone, trying to push it under his pillow, but Frank grabbed at the bedding, dragging it onto the floor.

    “Give it to me… now!”

    Something in the boy’s head snapped… no, Frank was not getting hold of this phone… he would die before he’d hand it over. He snatched it up, leaped over the bed, and ran for the door, desperately clawing at the handle. Frank tried to grab him, but he wasn’t quick enough, and Jamie yanked the door open, furiously throwing himself in the direction of the stairs. There were several bags of rubbish on the landing, which caused Jamie to hesitate for a second, before launching himself over the top of them… and Frank, seizing the moment, clambered onto the banister, intending to jump onto the staircase, landing in front of his son.

    It all happened so quickly, but in slow motion… Jamie leaping into the air, clearing the black rubbish sacks, skidding down the worn, wooden steps… Frank dragging his bulk onto the banister, leaning forwards towards the staircase… losing his balance… grabbing at the railing, tumbling over the edge, shouting something Jamie couldn’t make out… and hitting the ground with a dull thud. And Alice… standing on the balcony, arms outstretched, palms forward… smiling.

************

    The policewoman was intrigued by the beautiful, inscrutable little girl, sitting alongside her brother, holding tightly onto his hand. Maybe she was too young to understand what had just happened… her impassive expression and manner certainly gave credence to that theory. The boy himself was shocked, face the colour of chalk, eyes wide and unblinking. He was clutching a small mobile phone in his free hand as if he would never let it go.

************      

    Gill Martin returned to the motel, holding a polythene bag containing a packet of extra strong painkillers, to see three police cars and an ambulance, parked at different angles, blue lights blinking and flashing. Looking up at the building, she saw that the door to the room that housed her family was open and a policeman was standing outside.

    “Jamie! Alice!” She screamed, running for the stairs. Immediately, an officer blocked her way.

    “Mrs. Martin?”

“What…? Wh…? Yes… what’s happened… my children!” She wailed, tears pouring down her cheeks. “Please tell me they’re alright… I was only gone for a little while… had to get… ” Her knees buckled, and the officer grabbed her arm, helping to steady her.

    “It’s okay… it’s okay Mrs. Martin… the children are fine. But we need to talk to you. Here, I’ll help you up the stairs.”

    The first thing she saw as she staggered through the door was the children, sitting side by side on one of the single beds, holding hands. She fell upon them, hugging them, struggling to breathe.

    “Oh my God… I thought something had happened to you… thank God… ”

    “Mrs. Martin, we need to talk to you… ” The policewoman gently but firmly led Gill away from the children, pushing her down onto a wooden chair. “There’s been an accident, I am afraid.”

*************

    The years go by so quickly, Lil sighed. Who would have thought it… Jamie, already 24 years old, and getting married – today!

    She sat, alongside her husband of eight years, Joe, a gentle, reflective man, and gazed at the back of her nephew’s head, as he nervously awaited the arrival of his bride-to-be. Claudia… a lovely, funny girl, just right for the sensitive, smart young man Lil loved so much. She squeezed Gill’s hand, and they exchanged smiles. The dark days were long gone, thank goodness. Frank’s death had been deemed to be accidental, his neck broken by the two-storey fall. The coroner talked about Frank’s disturbed state of mind and wished Gill and the children well. They were happy now… but a bruised spirit never completely heals. Lil still wept for her brother, privately… his mind and his behaviour had become incredibly twisted, but still, she had loved him… loved the Frank he used to be. But today was for smiles, for good times, for gratitude… for celebration.

************

    Jamie turned to see Claudia almost floating down the aisle, smiling, a vision in cream satin, and his heart skipped a beat. Briefly, he caught Alice’s eye, and she pulled her tongue out at him; he quickly flicked his eyes away, before she managed to make him laugh. Alice… he knew she had saved his life that day. He knew, and she knew… but no-one else on the planet would ever know. They never spoke about it, and he would take it to his grave.

    “I know you cared about us – in your own weird way… ” Jamie addressed Frank, in his mind. “And you taught me the most important lesson of my life. That there is a right way and a wrong way to love your family.”

    And, as he took Claudia’s hand, feeling like the luckiest man on the planet, Jamie made a silent vow: that his wife and their future children would never know one second of fear in his company.

The end.

 

 

Pounds of belly fat to lose: I am counting calories, carbs, protein and fat!

I am notably fatter than I was, and here is the proof.

This is how I look now:

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And this is how I used to look, not too many years back:

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And this is me today, 1st April, on my aged bathroom scales… 10st 4 lb. I was 10st for the longest time, no matter what I ate, becoming unhappily complacent… until I recently gained another 4 lb. It really is time to get to grips with this, and right now!

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I am 5ft 2” (I used to be 5ft 3”, so have shrunk a little!), am 61, and more than 28 lbs heavier than at my happiest weight.

I do NOT buy into something that I have heard too many times from middle-aged folk: “well, at our age we need a bit more padding”. Why? Have we suddenly started falling over every five minutes? The truth is, NO, we don’t need extra padding! What I do agree with though is that for various biological reasons, our fat settles itself on different parts of our body than it did when we were younger. 75% of my fat has taken up residence around my waist, the rest on my face, upper thighs and bottom. I look as if I am wearing an overstuffed bumbag around my middle. And although I am definitely fitter and stronger than I was, thanks to 3-4 kickboxing classes per week, I am still eating too much of the wrong kind of foods… and indulging in too much alcohol. And again, to those who say, “if you exercise regularly you can eat as much as you like without gaining weight” – NO, you can’t!

So, I have been a long-term calorie counter, and in the past it worked very well for me. I have lost a reasonable amount of weight twice in my life, keeping it off for years, courtesy of calorie counting – but I feel that it is no longer the magic wand it used to be, probably because my body has changed. However, I am struggling to completely let go of it, and having done a fair amount of research, I have decided to pay more attention to the balance between carbs, fat and protein, whilst counting calories. I am not a nutritionist and am not pretending to be any kind of expert – and I don’t want to get into anything too intense or complicated. I have looked into the Keto diet, but I don’t relish going into ketosis (plus, years ago, I tried the Atkins diet more than once and absolutely couldn’t hack it!).

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But I do recognise that I have been eating and drinking far too many carbs than can possibly be good for anyone, and that it isn’t just about the number of calories I consume… it is about the quality of those calories! I know that I HAVE to change… not next week or next month, but NOW!

Unfortunately, I have turned into a wimp, when once I was hardcore. Around 15 years ago I lost 4 stone (56 lb) within a couple of months, by eating only 600 calories a day and going to bed hungry every night. I would absolutely not recommend this to anyone as a good or healthy way to lose weight, because obviously it isn’t (though it didn’t appear to have any detrimental effect). Nowadays I struggle to be hungry for even an hour, which is pathetic given that there are so many genuinely starving people on the planet. I believe that my body has become programmed to react like a growing baby seagull, constantly and persistently demanding to be fed… because it knows for sure that I will comply. Well, now it is up to me to reprogramme my own body for its own good, and also for the sake of my personal pride. I don’t want to look like a 21 year old, but the fact is that I have been heading in a direction that is beginning to frighten me, never mind dishearten me. I have had enough.

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According to a website I looked at this morning, for my height, weight and activity levels, and in order to lose weight steadily, I need to be consuming no more than 1600 calories a day. That may well be almost half of what I have been eating on some days, I am ashamed to admit, but I am giving it a go… whilst being aware of the kinds of foods that are making up those calories. I am aiming for 8 st 12 lb, which will require me to lose 20 lbs, and then I will decide where I go from there!  

Anyway, I have a kickboxing class within the next hour, so I had better sign off. Now that I have made all of this public I am duty bound to put my money where my mouth is (luckily there are no calories in money!), and I will make periodic updates on my progression!     download