Tag Archive | memoir

Nanny and New Technology


Part memoir/part short story

It was raining heavily. So what, you might say but for someone still stuck in the Eighties, babysitting requires mastery of new technology not to mention the bravery of using public transport.

They did offer to collect me but their town house sits resplendent, devoid of parking and one journey out of Band D on a Friday evening ensures a lost spot for the weekend.

Why don’t I drive, you may ask? I hold a blemish-free licence and a not-too-old car but these days I easily decline.  Driving is no fun anymore.  Drivers are getting younger, have less hair and shiny heads which dazzle one in the headlights.  This same breed drives faster and switches lanes without warning. Tailgating is illegal but how does one shake off these nuisances when they persist in filling the rear mirror?

The one-way system in the town centre requires three circulations before I find Linden Gardens. Finding no parking space, I am unable to turn back and am then required to drive headlong into a maze of narrower one-way streets, with those irritating small humps every five metres and myriad No Entry signs.

Even if I do, on a rare occasion, find a space near enough to their home, parking is not a straightforward ‘jump out and slam your door’ job, as completing the scratch-off details on their residents’ parking permit is impossible if you have a) forgotten your glasses and b) forgotten the permit. No wonder I have little compulsion to use my car,

The first time I used the train, I arrived bright-eyed and fresh at the station, marvelling in my discovery of stress-free travelling, only to be confronted by an ‘Office Closed’ sign. How, I screeched at the blank glass, am I to get a ticket?  No problem said the greasy-haired cyclist leading me to a large machine on the platform.  Having disclosed my destination, name and address (now sure to be burgled and bereft of my analogue tv), he forces cash from my hand, feeding it into the contraption’s hungry jaws.  “How much?” I squawk as the ticket drops down minus any semblance of returned loose change.

“It’s cheaper online” he says as he pedals away.

My heart sinks at the reference to technology. At this rate, the car could return to favour, but, no ……, the prospect of driving headlong onto the pier haunts me.

This time, despite the rain and the dark of winter, I have conquered the internet but am informed my ticket can only be collected from the same self-service machine. There is no escape.  Neither is there a manned office, a guard with a flag (as in olden times) or the greasy haired cyclist of last week.  However, I manage the ticket machine, the trip and the taxi ride to be met at the door by the departing parents keen to see the start of the show.  I hear words like oven, microwave and dishwasher as Hannah provides a lightning tour of her new kitchen, a wall of white behind which these items lurk.  Then it’s mobile numbers, Sky, baby alarm (she won’t wake up they say), automatic sliding doors, windows, kitchen cupboard doors and entry phone each with its own separate hand control – “It’s all very simple” Hannah assures me, and they are gone.

I am left in a sparsely but expensively furnished room with a blank TV screen, a white wall at one end behind which somewhere is my dinner and the curtainless wide patio doors. Another door leads to the hallway and the baby’s bedroom.  Baby will not wake up was manna from heaven to my ears.  I attempt to locate my lasagne using the remote control on the breakfast bar.  After several failed attempts at tracking down and starting the microwave, the oven is purring and the dishwasher door is opening and closing only not slow enough for me to grab a cup and plate.  I give up the idea of eating and try to obtain BBC 1 via the TV remote.  What I get is not BBC 1 but a recording of Deal or No Deal, my television pet hate.  My attempts to change channel result in volume overload and unbeknown to me the baby alarm can work in reverse – not a good thing with an eight-week-old.  Blaring TV, crying baby and failed attempts to stop oven and dishwasher working in tandem result in an element of panic during which I pick up the wrong hand control which operates the sliding patio doors.

As I said it was raining heavily and little did I know that the control for the doors also activated the windows (open) and the interior lights (off) – easily done without my glasses to read the display. I decamped quickly to the nursery where for I sang nursery rhymes and was rewarded with a smile.  The simple things in life don’t change do they?


Grandma’s  Poetry Book is available by post via dcastle32@talktalk.net or on my website http://www.dicastle.co.uk

This poetry collection spans sixteen years capturing the experience of a first-time grandmother on her sometimes wobbly journey in her new role. It includes many facets of unmissable moments and childhood milestones, some humorous and others more poignant, even sad.  Such treasured times can easily be forgotten so the book acts as a nostalgic memoir. Touching and funny in turn, readers will be reminded of the joys of witnessing childhood development and the effect on their own lives. Even those yet to reach grandparenthood including fathers, aunties and primary school children have already enjoyed reading this book. Grandma’s Poetry Book makes an ideal gift for new grandparents, birthdays, Christmas and Mothers’ Day and many readers have returned to buy more copies for friends and relations. Each poem has its own laugh-out-loud illustration by an artist who has been likened to E H Sheppard.

Some comments have included ‘Pam Ayres meets Winnie the Pooh’, ‘made me laugh, made me cry’, ‘charming book’ and ‘every grandparent should have one’.


Our new book, Should I Wear Floral? And other poems on Life Love and Leaving will be out shortly. Follow me on twitter @dinahcas and on Facebook – Di Castle – Writer to hear of updates and see sneak previews of illustrations and poems.





No, not Downton as in the Abbey but something many of us neglect in our lives.

In Mslexia magazine, Adrian Magson observed that an overworked brain is not creative. This is important if we are trying to write. How many of us find that we become absorbed in what we are writing only to find that when we read it through the last paragraph demonstrates that we have become blunted.

The same day that I read Adrian’s article an email popped into my inbox from a friend who mentioned having a free day and asking if I had free days. Hmmm yes, I said. I have free days, free evenings, PJ mornings, sofa days and plenty of down time. What I do in between is productive and creative.

I also have exercise mornings and outings which have nothing to do with writing. Well, I have to keep the non-writing partner in my life happy.

In fact, I am so pleased with how I balance my life these days that I am reminded of my 35 years of teaching when I felt guilty not getting up on a Saturday morning. I was exhausted. I had few hobbies other than writing and walking my dog and my writing muse was notably absent through those years. Often I felt I had not recovered enough to return to work on a Monday but my inner voice told me that ‘life’s like that’ and that is what happens when you are working.

But I did spend time on my garden and during the summer months I sat at a picnic bench on my lawn working my way through Open University material catching up on what I had not done during term time. As I was on contracts I had little teaching between early June and mid September so I squashed reading and drafting of assignments into four months. When I finished, I told myself, I would write.

What a mistake! I should have seen the value of writing for writing’s sake, and not ‘for an assignment’, as a necessary part of my health plan. Now, as a full time (just about) writer I wonder why I stayed so long in the profession instead of turning my talents to writing. What a waste of time ………………….. or was it?

I don’t think so! Instead of seeing it as wasted time in earlier years of not writing, I prefer to think that I was in a period of non-writing for a reason. Call it experience or down time, these years were a necessary part of the formation of my identity and interests. I learnt so much from colleagues, in service training, studying with the OU and from the students and I can still recall many humorous times stored up for when I make a start on ‘that one’.

For now I need to polish my next book of poetry as the illustrator has made a start on the drawings. Should I wear Floral and other poems on Life, Love and Leaving will be my second humorous poetry book. Grandma’s Poetry Book is doing well and takes time with its promotion. My 1950s memoir is in the editing and fleshing out stage and there is a large chunk to put in the middle of Deaf not Daft (growing up with a deaf sibling).

And when I have done all that I shall return to my book on my teaching career. Whether I continue the fiction idea or whether I make it a self-help book I am still to find out.

For now I am off for a walk and some down time before my yoga lesson tonight.

The two hours I do on my return should, if my thesis is correct, be startlingly creative and brilliant! Well, it might.





In MsLexia issue 64 Adrian Magson suggests not to overwork an idea but to go back, adding to them from time to time. Rather than sit and sweat over an idea and will it to become something more, he reckons it is best to let things lie, quieten down. His view is an overworked brain stunts creativity.

Adrian uses the term ‘writing in layers’ and on reading his super piece in my favourite writers’ magazine I immediately identified with his purpose. For that is how I write. I jot down an idea and at some stage go back to it in my notebook and add something to it. Then I put it on the computer and more creative juices flow to find more to add to something that is now perhaps a paragraph or a few lines of a poem.

Grandma’s Poetry Book began in just that way. I would jot down in my writers’ notebook an idea or a chance remark and sometime later, the next day or even a few days after some more words would spring to mind. I would add another layer to what was a fairly short verse. I am a great believer in printing out drafts however short and however bad they seem. I carry the print out around and on the bus or the train I might pick it up and scribble further ideas on it. When I thought Grandma’s Poetry Book was ready to go to the publishers I found many poems incomplete and sparse. Again I printed the needy ones out and took them around with me. I don’t know where my writing comes from. It is said writing comes from the sub-conscious which is why we can never be sure why we have written what we have put down on paper. This is said to account for the healing power of writing and why writers will say they ‘have to write’. I have written about writing as therapy for depression on my blog http://www.dimindmatters.wordpress.com

I have never been a writer who can plan and plot and work from A to B and I tend to write my books ‘all over the place’. I write something I have thought of in the place where it is the most appropriate and it fleshes out my previous draft and ideas. Never more so than on writing my memoir, Red House to Exodus, growing up in Harpenden in the 1950s, which should be completed by this spring. I wrote memories down in a log as and when they came to me and then researched around the dates, the ideas and concepts so that I could make links with the state of the country, society and family life around that time. Even now, at the editing stage, I am finding more crucial, life changing events, which have made me the person I am.
One aspect I am writing about is my interest in the Second World War and the plight of the six million Jews who perished in the concentration camps. Some of the war films I saw in my teens at our local cinema affected me deeply and I have, since then, held a deep interest in the affairs of Israel and the anti-Semitism that still persists today. It has led me to book a trip to Krakow in March and include the trip to Auschwitz and Birkenhau. I am firmly of the belief that everyone should make this trip or a similar one to remind them of a horror that must never be repeated.
I know that when I return there will be more layers to add to my memoir and not necessarily directly related to the event. The visit is about re-engaging with emotions and stirring ideas and hopefully putting them across in a way that will delight and interest the reader.

I do hope you enjoy my memoir when it comes out. Watch this blog for more details.
Meanwhile, Grandma’s Poetry Book, is available from me by post. Email me at dcastle32@talktalk.net with your address and the number of copies you want. Yes, they have been selling in twos – one for each grandmother in the family.

Now to get back to some more layers. Thank you, Adrian, for such a lively and thought provoking article. You made me realise that what I am doing is OK. So I will keep going in my rather chaotic fashion, adding and layering my writing until I am satisfied it is fully fleshed out.

MsLexia comes out four times a year.
Visit my website http://www.dicastle.co.uk

Life Writing Master Class at Winchester Writers’ Festival

I’m late. These new buildings at Winchester are confusing but the yellow T shirts on legs direct us efficiently to where we should be. On the second floor, I see through the glass door that the room is full – one seat left.

‘Are you Sathnam?’ I now know I may have mispronounced his name but if I did he gives no sign.

A nod and a smile and I feel at ease. And relief! He hasn’t started.

This is the Friday Life Writing Master Class of the Winchester Writers’ Festival weekend in June. My new notebook itches to be opened, christened with words of wisdom and pearls of advice. My pen hovers.

This is make or break for me. I have one overladen memoir and another on the brink of completion. I want to go away and be published.

Sathnam Sanghera joined the Financial Times in 1998 and worked as its chief feature writer and a weekly columnist before moving to The Times in 2007. He is the author of The Boy With the Topknot – A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton. He is our tutor for the day. I’m told he’s the best …… and he is.

Getting to know you? Hmm I’m an ex-teacher of 35 years with countless staff development sessions behind me. I have suffered many indignities in ice breakers. I’ve had to tell a neighbour my most embarrassing faux pas or tell the group what fruit I resemble.

But I’ve never done this one. Two truths and a lie. That’s new.

A useful ploy at writer events is to ensure you are remembered. I take care with my dress not wanting to be invisible but not so garish that I look common. This could be my first marketing opportunity after all.

So what did I say? I have a deaf sister. I grew up in London. I live in Swanage.

This allows me to correct several people before they get to the truth. Why they all think my lie is living in Swanage surprises me the most. So they switch to the ‘deaf sister’ fact. Sorry I DO have a deaf sister. She is the mainstay of my memoir of growing up with a deaf sibling. Eventually they discover the lie is that I grew up in London. So I say I grew up in Harpenden – the essence of my memoir of growing up in the fifties.

Sathnam  tells us how he got published. I love talks by authors where they disclose their journey to publication. His book of growing up in Wolverhampton in a Sikh family sits in front of me waiting for the author’s signature. He tells us his dilemma was what to write that would be acceptable to his large and extended family. Luckily his parents didn’t read but he did sit down to interview his mother. The family history was dark and he needed to rustle up a fair amount of sensitivity. Procrastination followed, then an Aarvon Course. He read books and emailed writers. All this time his brothers and sisters were having arranged marriages but he resisted the pressures to follow suit.

Fascinating exercises followed. The first one was Your First Day at School. Some delegates could not remember so they fabricated what happened. I fell into this category. My account is coloured by the fact that my sister attended boarding school so none of the teachers remembered my older sibling which seemed to elicit some favouritism for some especially if the brother or sister was one of the brighter pupils. My account, which appears in my memoir, demonstrates my horror on not experiencing the same type of school as that attended by my sister. I look for beds, wonder why I haven’t brought a large case and my soft toys and cannot understand the lack of carpet and awful, smelly, outside toilets. It reads as how I might have felt than what I actually remembered.

The aim of this exercise was to teach us that we often cannot remember key dates and events in our lives and the importance of asking members of our family for their memories of us and how we behaved. Sadly, for me, I have no relatives left except my sister but she has memory problems and so my resources are limited. Reading other memoirs, we are told, may give us a frame of reference, a structure or enlighten us on what certain events might be like. Using newspapers and day-by-day encyclopaedias allow us to include world and national events.

In the afternoon, a lively debate on ‘truth’ and writing our obituary gave us plenty to think about. The discussion about titles of memoirs also led me to rethink my own book title. I left the room simmering with ideas.

Sathnam’s memoir The Boy with the Top Knot now has pride of place on my bookshelf. It is signed with the encouraging note ‘one day you will write something better than this’. I am not sure about that. However, the book has opened my eyes to aspects of Sikh culture and I am hoping my book of growing up with a deaf sibling, Sharing the Silence, will provide similar insights into the world of the Deaf.

Roll on Winchester 2015. I just can’t wait.