School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 3

The meal that evening was the first time they were all together again since the barbeque on the beach, and it felt like a world away. Blandford had, once again, left for the night leaving a colleague guarding the door. The day had been a long one but as Anna had bought the makings of a massive lasagne with her she’d got on with cooking, especially as it was clear that Blandford wasn’t going to get to her statement today.

Elden was the first to speak. “I haven’t told the children yet but I can’t imagine they will be very upset.” He clearly viewed this sentence as self-explanatory, but, of course, Barry didn’t understand.

“Not upset?”

“Oh, yes, sorry, Janice and I have only been married for five years and to say she wasn’t a maternal type is the understatement of the century. The children live most of the time with their mother and we were seeing less and less of them. This week they are with my parents and next week I had planned to take them to our house in France on my own, just to spend some time with them.”

Everyone continued eating quietly, respecting Elden’s need to talk for as long as he wanted. “I realise that it was a mistake to marry Janice but I wouldn’t have wished this on her. Have the police said anything about what they think happened?” He looked around the table in anticipation.

“What? You mean apart from that you did it?” the laughter broke the tense atmosphere and Anthony’s witty retort earned him a slap on the back from Colin. Anna looked at Anthony. He was much younger than his partner and clearly spent much of his time working at the fitness club showing clients how to use the equipment. He was fit and lean with strong features and a broad smile. Probably very photogenic, Anna thought, marvelling that he was such an accepted member of the group, considering the age difference. On a roll now, Anthony continued, “Are we still going to get some golf in this week?”

“I don’t think it is appropriate for me to join you, but don’t let me stop you.” Elden was pragmatic. “I guess you’d better clear it with Blandford though.”

The men moved into the lounge after dinner. Anna hung back, not liking the assumption that the women would clear away, but wanting to be part of the conversation. Indra was subdued and Anna got the distinct impression that there was a complex history between her and Rebecca. In contrast, Rebecca chatted about her work, her exhibition and her frustration with Robert. It was clear that Janice and Elden’s wasn’t the only marriage that was difficult.

“What shall we do while the men are playing golf?” Anna tried to change the subject. “As they are going out that way, we could go to St Ives?”

Indra’s enthusiasm for the idea brightened her demeanour considerably. “Oh yes, I would like that” she declared. “Let’s go to the Tate Gallery, their coffee shop does amazing cake.” It wasn’t quite what Anna had in mind but she knew someone at work who would be thrilled with some Tate Art postcards. “That’s arranged then.”


Persuading Blandford to let them have a day “off” was surprisingly easy, especially as Elden was remaining behind and would be available for further questions. Following last night’s conversation in the lounge, Barry was of the opinion that, in concentrating heavily on Elden, Blandford didn’t seem to be making much headway. In contrast, Anna’s ability to listen, notice the detail and ask the right questions meant that she was, he thought, probably close to wrapping it up. As they travelled alone together in the car, it was a good opportunity to catch up.

“Most of the conversation in the lounge last night centred around the Fitness Club. They all seem to be involved in it but they can’t work out what’s going wrong” Barry began. “They are talking about bringing in a forensic accountant to go through all the books.”

“Elden, Robert and Neville have all put a lot of money into the business,” Anna replied. Barry had learned not to be surprised at what she knew, or ask how she knew it. “I would think analysing the accounts is going to give them answers they don’t want to hear. Did they talk about Janice’s involvement?”

“Briefly.” Barry replied. “From what they were saying, Janice and Colin worked together to set it up, drawing up the Business Plan, securing investors and purchasing equipment. I also think Janice was involved in appointing the first staff.”

“Now that is interesting,” Anna responded, “So it is likely that she bought Anthony in? I wonder if Colin knew him before he started working there?”

Barry wasn’t sure how that was relevant. “I’ll see if I can find out today.”

“Also see if you can find out if Janice was still involved in the payroll. It seems to me that Janice was intent on bringing the Fitness Club down,” Anna said thoughtfully. “It is strange after all the work she put in but I think she was manipulating everyone to try to make that happen.”

“Really?” Barry looked even more confused. “Why?”

“I’m not sure, maybe to punish Elden for the failure of their marriage and his siding with his children. She was clearly planning to discredit everyone in the group, one way or another.”

“Clearly,” Barry smiled, knowing that most people would join him in thinking that it wasn’t clear at all.

“I need you to do something for me today Barry, while you are playing golf. It is important but you have to be subtle.” Subtlety had never been Barry’s strong suit. “You are going to have to be observant. Look out for anything that isn’t quite right.”

“That isn’t much to go on,” Barry grumbled.

“I know, but if I tell you what I’m looking for you’ll be too obvious.”

Barry had to concede that his wife knew him well. “OK, I’ll do my best.”

Anna, Rebecca and Indra arrived in St Ives and headed straight for the coffee shop where they discovered that Indra had been right, they did sell amazing cake. Indra chose a huge slab of coffee cake. “I’m having a holiday from being a dentist,” she laughed. It was the first time Anna had really seen her smile and, as Rebecca went off in search of facilities, it seemed an appropriate time to ask Indra. “You are such a close knit group, how did you all meet?”

Indra was pleased to talk about her friends. “Well, Neville and I met at university and the practice opportunity came up in his home town after we graduated so we went for it. Neville, Robert and Elden were all thick as thieves at school along with Colin’s older brother, Jeremy, and that is how they got into golf, they played together as often as they could during the sixth form. How they all managed to get decent A Level results as well, I don’t know.” Anna laughed, pleased that Indra was opening up.

“Elden’s first wife was a local girl, she was lovely but she moved away when Elden’s head was turned by Janice, around the time she first started working with Colin on the Fitness Club.” Indra looked thoughtful, her love of gossip getting the better of her. “I think Colin is driven by the memory of his brother, Neville says it was always Jeremy’s dream to get into sports psychology, he’d accepted a place at Loughborough University.”

“Talking about me?” Rebecca bounded up to the table. “The ladies is miles away,” she laughed “what did I miss?”

Anna interrupted Indra’s denial that she had been the topic of conversation, “How did you meet Robert?”

“Oh, err, how dull, OK, well…” Rebecca seemed completely flummoxed by the question and took a sip of her coffee. “A boyfriend liked to play golf so I hung around in the club house on cold days and met Robert. He was so handsome and wise, a lot older than me of course, and when my boyfriend dumped me for someone else,” she shot a swift cautionary glance at Indra, “Robert was there for me and swept me off my feet.”

“Come on, lets get moving, I want to visit that fudge shop on the front after we’ve been round the gallery.” Indra bustled them all along on their afternoon exploration of St Ives.

“They are good golfers, that is for certain.” Later that night, after an evening meal of Chinese takeaway, courtesy of Neville and Indra, Anna and Barry took a walk down to the beach. Hand in hand, and with the light fading, they reached the sand and paddled in the lapping water. “I must get some more practice in if I want to keep up, Neville’s a left-hander like me but he’s got a much lower handicap.” Anna wasn’t really interested in their golf skills. “There are some things, to report,” he continued, smiling at her obvious impatience. “Firstly, Robert had to buy a new glove, which was odd because I was with him last weekend when he bought one at the club. He looked all through his bag but eventually just went back to the golf shop.” Anna looked thoughtful. “The second thing was that Neville couldn’t find his putter, can’t play without that, but we found it in Robert’s golf bag.”

“In Robert’s bag? Could it have fallen out in the boot room?” Anna asked.

“You tell me, you’re the only klutz when it comes to golf bags, everyone else manages to navigate around them.” Barry chuckled.

“The one and only time I’ve knocked them over, none of the clubs fell out and I didn’t see a glove, no” Anna replied indignantly, although she had to concede that golf bags did seem to throw themselves about when she was near.

“Things are becoming a lot more organised in my head now.” Anna waded a little deeper into the surf. “Janice had such a lot to be angry about, I just wonder who she pushed the hardest.”

“Are we in any danger?” It was the first time the thought had crossed Barry’s mind.

“I don’t think so,” Anna replied. “Of course I wouldn’t want to let the murderer know that they are about to be rumbled, so you might want to be careful what you say but I think this has been in the planning for a while, very clever it is too. We just need a few more strands of evidence to take to Blandford, he has got to be the one that concludes the case.”

“OK,” Barry pulled her away from a larger wave, “I don’t want to lose you, and I think our children would be quite upset,” he joked.

“Who would make your cheese rolls?”

“Quite.” Barry laughed “Disaster.”

Collaborate to Innovate

 I read an article by the Harvard Business Review recently entitled ‘Innovation is as Much About Finding Partners as Building Products’ (link) which inspired me to go back to my love of applying Industry Strategy to Education.
The article asserts that the desire to innovate is no longer enough in any industry to guarantee success and that the task of creating innovation in today’s world requires such a range of qualifications and skills as to be unaffordable for any business other than the largest organisation with massive resources to draw upon. In Industry, you have to think of all the specialist and regulatory knowledge required in areas including strategy, technology, data analysis, production, marketing, finance, HR, health and safety, as well as understanding the efficiencies of the physical assets, before you can even begin to innovate.

It’s the same in Education in the UK. How can all our schools, working mostly (but not always) in isolation possibly hope to find any time to innovate to a degree that might go towards enabling the service as a whole to take a leap forward?

Harvard and I, we are convinced that collaboration is the answer.

And I’m not talking that well-meaning ‘come-and-share-our-training-provider-for half-a-day’ sort of collaboration. I’m talking about identifying your core skill, finding a partner to work with on improving it further and then sharing it far and wide.

So, what are you really good at?

As an employee of an Outstanding School, Teaching School and newly formed MAT you would think that we have a lot to offer. We have got some amazingly talented teaching staff and exceptional data analysts, we have an extremely effective technical team, and a clear strategy of where we want to head, but I have been dismayed at the barriers that are put up around us by other schools.

Contrary to what you might think, I believe this school, as a unit, is the right size. I don’t want a merger, I don’t want to force you into a MAT (although I believe the benefits we would both gain are considerable), I don’t want to make anyone redundant and I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I do want to share our skills and work with you to improve the teaching, learning, assessment and business functions of both our schools. After that, I want to make what we’ve learned available to other schools because you can bet that the school down the road has got an idea to improve it even further!

As Harvard points out, for collaboration to work effectively the old and the new have to work together. Your experience has a lot to teach me, of course, but what if bringing your experience to tweak my new idea blows Education out of the ball park for the next generation of students?  I don’t believe I am being over optimistic when I say that the opportunities we currently have for both formal and informal collaboration could lead to a reinvention of Education in the UK, giving us the solutions, productivity and advances in delivery that we would wish for. However, it is going to take a real exchange of ideas and we are going to need to get over this anxious concern about competition and loss of identity. Yes, like anything, it is risky, but so is standing still and I know I’d rather keep moving forward.

Caution – Superficial blog alert!

She's devoted to her careerSometimes I like to shop. This doesn’t occur very often so I need to grab it when it happens and try to update my working wardrobe. I say ‘try’ because I am easily distracted by unsuitable-for-work shoes and anything in brown, which Barry insists is not professional.

So, having seen some other blogs giving advice on what to wear, I thought I’d offer my view…

First of all, the rules (there are always rules). On non-pupil days you can skip through the school in your pants for all I care, but when school is in session I have rules.

  1. Denim is for the weekend. I don’t want to see school staff in denim and those black denim jeans are going to have to be very fresh out of the shop to pass under my ‘scruffy’ radar.
  2. Men should wear a collar (sorry if that is sexist – but there it is). I can take or leave a tie but if you are going to wear one, it needs to be properly done up.
  3. Skirts – if I can see your pants, it is too short, if you trip on the stairs, it is too long.
  4. In my view, the demise of the ‘modesty panel’ is a sad loss, I don’t think the cleavage is an appropriate accessory in school workwear.

Now that is out of the way…what to wear? I do think men have it pretty easy anyway. They can go for the perfectly acceptable “smart casual” (see rule 2), or the suit. Women have it a little more tricky so read on.

The Suit – I like a suit. I feel in control, professional and smart, ready for anything the day might throw at me. I’ll wear a suit if I know I’ve got a sticky meeting. I quite like mis-matched (but complimentary) pieces and I like a proper shirt underneath. I don’t think you can go far wrong with M&S especially if you can throw it in the wash and then wave the iron over it for a return to good-as-new, all the better. (Link to the suit below)


The Dress – I am a bit of a sucker for the fitted dress. I have a few beautiful ones in my wardrobe, with a jacket or a cardigan you can feel smart and fabulous. I love Hobbs, which I know are a little more pricey but worth saving my pennies for I think. This one is gorgeous. (Link to the dress below) but I’m not sure I like the shoes, even if they are brown.


The Separates – OK, so most of my wardrobe is a mishmash of smart skirts and trousers, shirts and blouses, heels and flats, cardigans and jackets. This lets me ring the changes constantly depending on my mood and what I’ve got planned for the day. One find I’ve been pleased with recently is the shirtbody. I may be late to the party but all those female TV FBI agents must be keeping their shirts tucked in somehow, I thought. So I googled it and bought two. They have changed my life. (advice – go 2 sizes bigger than you normally would(Link to shirt below)


Finally, I have two more experiences to share on the working wardrobe;

  1. Clothes last much longer if you don’t wash them too often, you can either try not to break into a sweat at work if you can help it, or you can buy decent wicking underwear, which brings me to…
  2. In my experience of working in a school, you are going to need a vest. Yes, all year.


P.S. I’m just brazenly copying pictures of the clothing I like from websites, I have no links to anyone and I’m not getting anything in return. I’m practising for future funding linkage as, yes, I still need to work on earning that MUGA!

School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 2

DI Blandford had an irritating vaping habit. Not in the inhaling of it but in the constant fiddling with the vaporizer in his pocket. A tall and dark man with a friendly face, Anna thought that if he paid as much attention to what the people around him were saying, rather than his additive checking that the liquid nicotine was still safe in his jacket, he might learn something to help him with the case.

Blandford stood in front of the rather ugly fireplace, with its layer of ash left over from the last fire of spring in the grate and the recently spent whiskey tumblers on the hearth. He quietly surveyed the group. The lounge was bathed in the blue lights of the emergency vehicles still shining outside the front door. Everyone had been ushered into the front room so that the experts could get to work analysing the scene in order to piece together the chain of events that had led to the tragedy.

Anna knew he was waiting for someone to speak and, of course, he wasn’t going to be disappointed. Barry, with his dislike of silence and love of gory detail that came as a result of having a mother who had been Ward Sister of an ICU, couldn’t resist. “Do we know when Janice was attacked?” Anna was grateful that he had at least tried to ask the question gently in front of Elden. Blandford shook his head but saw it as an opening and turned towards Barry. “Could you tell me who you are, Sir?”

In a rather subdued fashion, they all gave Blandford their name and address, explaining why they were here, each of them giving a little more information as if trumping the last with what they thought would be important background clues. Anna was less forthcoming, she didn’t want to talk about what she already knew in front of the others until she was ready, so she was careful to stick very closely to what she was actually being asked.

Now wasn’t the time to discuss the situation in any depth, it was gone 3am, by the time the emergency teams had completed their work. Blandford ascertained that they all intended to remain at the house for the week and seemed content to let them retire for the night, to resume his work in the morning. A police officer was to stand guard as reassurance until he returned later.

Anna looked at Blandford as he patted his jacket pocket. She knew, of course, that this meant that he thought Janice had been murdered by one of them, and the police presence was to ensure that no one left the house in the night. Elden was offered a sedative, which he accepted, and they all went upstairs to bed.

“You’re not really planning to sleep are you?” Barry was still clearly wide-awake and wanted to talk about it. “Come on, I know you know stuff, tell me what you are thinking. What can I do to help?”

“OK,” Anna started. “I don’t know much for sure yet, neither of us know these people very well, but have you noticed that they are all inter-connected in some way?” Barry hadn’t. He really was under the impression that they were just a group of golf buddies who had hit upon this idea of a Cornwall tour and he felt very pleased to have been asked along too.

“No, unfortunately that is not the case.” Anna continued searching in her mind for an example that she felt confident enough to share. “I think we have to assume that one of them killed Janice and we need to get to the bottom of why.”

“How could it have been one of them?” Barry looked shocked and confused. “Janice came back to the house on her own when we were all together on the beach. We all came back up to the house and went to bed. That is when Elden found her. She’d been dead for a good half an hour I overheard the doctor say. It couldn’t have been one of us, and anyway, if she had been stabbed when we were in the house, we would have heard, surely!”

“I hope you’re not including me in that ‘us’” smiled Anna. Barry gave her a dry look and sat down heavily on the bed. “I think I know how it was done.” Anna revealed as Barry’s eyes widened, “I’m just not sure yet by who, that’s what we need to find out.”

“I can’t imagine Blandford’s going to have much success, unless he gets someone to confess.” Barry observed and then shifted slightly, realising he had sat on his toilet bag. He pulled it out from under him and peered inside to find, as expected, that his sudden weight had caused toothpaste to explode over everything.


The expanse of blue sea sparkled in the morning sun as Anna pulled the curtains on the new day. It was mid morning but she wasn’t surprised to find the kitchen deserted, it had been a long night. The coffee machine was similar to the one they had at home so Anna was able to switch it on and went looking for cups. On opening the door to the boot room, Anna sent all the golf bags flying on her way to the fridge. “God, it’s like being at home,” she muttered as she picked up all the bags, balancing them back onto their triangle stands and noticing again all the sand on the floor. The door to the outside was open and she smiled at the police officer. “Would you like coffee?” Anna asked.

Colin was sat at the kitchen table when she returned to the coffee machine, his head in his hands. He looked up when she entered and tried to smile. “Morning, you making coffee?” She poured him a cup and then delivered one to the officer outside, reluctantly going back inside.

“Barry tells me you own the Fitness Club?” she ventured, hoping to take his mind off whatever was weighing so heavily on him. “Yes, not for much longer though.” He looked like he might be about to cry. “You’re in finance I heard, I just can’t work out what is going wrong.”

“Not exactly,” Anna replied “but it is a big part of my job, what do you think is wrong?”

Colin seemed relieved to be given an opportunity to talk about it. “Our turnover is really close to the original business plan that Janice helped me put together. I think all the overheads and expenditure are as we forecast, but the club just doesn’t seem to be making enough to cover the basics. I’ve got a massive water bill coming up and I just don’t know how I’m going to pay it.” Colin put his head back into his hands, his nose practically dipping into his coffee.

“I thought I could smell coffee.” Rebecca came into the kitchen from the boot room, clearly having been for a morning swim. She was a tall, beautiful woman with long limbs and an ethereal look about her. “Where do the cups live? I’d better take one up to Robert too.” Anna could hear Neville talking to the policeman outside who was telling him that DI Blandford was on his way over. It wasn’t going to feel much like a holiday today and she wondered wryly whether the DI might consent to taking statements on the beach.

Blandford, on arrival, had clearly decided to start with the men, and Elden in particular, presumably working on the age-old theory that it was most likely the husband who had despatched his wife. Anna went out into the garden to look for a quiet place to read, someone to talk to and to see if the sun loungers were at all comfortable.

Rebecca was already there. “Mind if I join you?” Anna asked and Rebecca started as if she had been falling asleep. “Best not to fall asleep in the sun” Anna laughed. “No. Thank you for waking me. I am so tired recently. I’ve been so busy with work, my exhibition and all the other demands Robert makes on my time.”

“Exhibition?” Anna enquired. She usually kept up with what was going on in town, and hadn’t heard about an exhibition. “Oh no, not my usual country craft market stuff, I’ve got images going into a top London gallery in September. It’s very exciting, they think it will make my name in the world of erotic photography and want me to display in a gallery in New York next year.”

“Wow, that does sound exciting.” Anna was impressed with Rebecca’s sudden enthusiasm. “How did you come from estate agency to that?”

“The estate agency is Robert’s thing, I’ve been trying to support him but it is hard to keep finding interesting ways to make a tiny kitchen look spacious. I just started taking photographs of something I found more appealing, the human body.”

Anna could sense Barry was approaching long before he actually appeared. “Blandford’s looking for you, Rebecca.” She lifted herself off the sun lounger and smiled. “Right, my turn I suppose.”

“I’ve been talking to Neville.” Barry obviously had something to tell her. “I found out that Neville, Robert and Elden were all friends at school with, get this, Colin’s older brother”

“That’s interesting” replied Anna “Why is he not enjoying this holiday of a lifetime instead of us?”

“Because,” Barry’s voice quietened, “He died just before they all went off to university and Neville gave me the distinct impression that Robert had something to do with the death. He told me that Robert has never forgiven himself. You were right, all these people have been living intertwined lives for years. How did we get ourselves involved in this?”

“We…?” exclaimed Anna as she slapped him with her book.

One of the most important policies you probably don’t have…

She was bleeding heavily that week. The changes taking place in her body were both expected and completely normal, but terrifying none the less. The worst of it was that it was just so unpredictable. The fear that accompanied the possibility of leaking all over her uniform effected her focus and ability to function at school. The abdominal cramps affected her appetite, as well as her desire to be active, and a myriad of other personal symptoms left her a walking bundle of stress and discomfort, just when she needed to be at her most attentive. Most difficult of all, she was experiencing waves of exhaustion and heat like never before. She wasn’t sure who to discuss the issues with or how the school could or should accommodate her needs, so she waded on through, knowing it would settle down eventually. 

I know everyone would join me in sympathy for this 14 year old girl going through puberty. As school leaders and teachers we can point her in the direction of pastoral care or a counsellor, we can understand if she needs to rush out of class to find a bathroom. We can reassure her. We can find her a skirt out of lost property or we can ring home if it all becomes too overwhelming. After all, it is a perfectly normal part of growing up. 

But what if I tell you the ‘she’ is actually me? What if tell you that, as I hit the menopause, I am beginning to experience these symptoms and I sometimes find them overwhelming, stressful and terrifying. 

Do you understand when I need to rush away to find a bathroom? Do you happily sit in a cooler atmosphere because I am a walking furnace today? Do you grasp why I’m snappy because I have other stuff going on in my life and, right now, it isn’t all about you?  

Are you, as my line manager, aware of, and sympathetic to my needs? Are you proactive in helping me cope? Do you, as a school, have a protocol in place to support and reassure me if I have to drop everything at very short notice – even a class full of pupils? And, if I talk about what is going on, can you promise you won’t think me unprofessional, lacking in capability or ready to be retired?

There are guidance papers online on ‘Working through the Menopause’ that everyone should read and, most importantly, use to promote an open culture for discussion and understanding. No one is asking for special treatment, unreasonable amounts of time out or even much in the way of attention, but with three quarters of the teaching population in the UK being female, (and a considerably higher ratio of support staff) it is an issue that is going to impact us all one way or another at some point in our career. 

After all, it is just a perfectly normal part of growing up. 

School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 1


The house stood high above Porth Temple beach with its secluded golden sands, surrounded on three sides by cliffs made up of a steep grassy incline that was climbable with care. The warm blue waters lapped against the sand, washing up small shells and pebbles, wet and shining with seawater in the bright sunlight. The end of July was the very best time of the year thought Anna as she lay on the beach looking up at the cloudless sky, deep turquoise in the afternoon light. Her hands caressed the warm sand, gently and naturally sloughing off a whole year of school work and making her hands feel cleaner and smoother than they had felt since last September.

“Aren’t you glad we came?” murmured Barry lying beside her. Anna had taken some persuading to come to Cornwall with Barry’s golf club friends, who had cooked up this idea one night in the Members Bar. To them it had seemed like a fabulous idea, renting a large house where they could all unwind, the men could disappear to the local courses and their partners could enjoy the beach and the local amenities. Anna was all for a relaxing break but having spent a year leading the business functions of a large Academy Trust, she wasn’t feeling the most sociable or over keen on a bunch of golf chums dictating her precious holiday!

“It’ll do” she replied with a smile.

The first day of the holiday had been one of unpacking, exploring the house, meeting her holiday-mates and then scrambling down to the beach for an afternoon swim and sunbathe. Anna reflected that she had the kind of skin that didn’t burn easily, but Barry needed lots of protection (and sun cream, she smiled) so she set herself as an example and lathered on the sun cream before settling down on the sand, and to the promise of a wonderful week ahead that was forecast to be unusually warm and sunny, even for Cornwall.

“What do you think of the gang?” Barry asked. He had a tendency to talk and liked to fill any silence, unless of course, the golf, or the rugby, or the cycling, or the snooker, or the darts, or any sport for that matter, was on!

“They seem nice, I haven’t really had chance to get to know them yet. Give me some background.” Anna knew full well that Barry didn’t know them very well either. He wasn’t a committed golfer, just liked the occasional round when the sun was shining, and, in Anna’s view, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time when they all decided to embark on this adventure together.

Barry started absent-mindedly looking through the picnic rucksack searching for anything that might involve cheese. “OK, well Robert is an estate agent, he’s got that popular independent agency in town, you know the one that puts banners on all the traffic light railings. He is married to Rebecca, who also works in the agency. I hear she is a good photographer and takes all the house shots as well as selling more arty images at the craft market.”

“No children?” Anna asked.

“No, don’t think so” Barry almost triumphantly exclaimed as he discovered the cheese rolls at the bottom of the bag. Taking a huge bite he continued. “Then there’s Elden and Janice, I don’t think either of them work. Elden was something in the city and retired early. He told me that they like to spend a week away while the grandparents have their three children. Colin and Anthony both work at the Fitness Club. I think Colin owns it.” Anna gave a wry smile, knowing that Barry hadn’t been near a fitness club since his rugby playing days ended abruptly when his tibia was pushed through his knee cap by a deep depression in the surface of the pitch.

Barry continued to munch on the cheese roll. “Neville and Indra are both dentists.” Barry was pleased to have been able to describe the whole group and looked for approval from his wife. “Anything else you want to know?”

“No I’m sure we’ll get to know them this week”, Anna murmured, beginning to doze, “as long as we don’t have to spend every waking moment with them.”
“I’d like to spend every waking moment with this cheese.” sighed Barry as he polished off the roll and brushed the crumbs onto the sand.

As the afternoon rolled on, the others in the group joined them on the beach to chat and the sun began to sink down towards the horizon. Rebecca had bought the makings of a barbeque with her and the men bravely went off in search of something that might sustain a flame for long enough to char a sausage.

“What do you do Anna?” asked Indra, who Anna had already decided was just a little too nosey for her liking. “I’m the Business Manager in a school.” Anna replied, anticipating the blank looks. “I don’t teach, I support the teaching with finance, personnel, premises management, that sort of thing. The vague looks of her female companions cleared but they went back to gossiping about goings-on in their hometown. Anna was used to this. Just because she loved her job, didn’t mean anyone else would be the least bit interested and they usually weren’t, probably because they didn’t understand. Anna didn’t care, she quite liked being enigmatic.

The hunter gatherers bustled back with their armloads of wood and kindling, all sporting some fabulous splinters, but pleased to have been able to provide for the meal. Rebecca set about lighting the fire and then finally allowed Anna to get it alight before the matches completely ran out. “Resourceful” said Barry proudly, jabbing his wife with a sandy thumb.

The evening sun sank beneath the sea as the barbeque flames licked at the meat. The sausages were edible but Anna was surprised to discover that the dentists were not cooks. The food arrived on her plate already in bite sized pieces as Neville and Indra had hacked it apart trying to ascertain whether it was cooked. As the warmth of the sun dissipated Anna was pleased she had bought her jumper. Living in the middle of UK, she was a practical clothes shopper, if the outfit didn’t go with a cardigan and wellies, it was unlikely she’d get much wear out of it. Even in Cornwall she’d come prepared for the mosquitoes, evening breeze and splinters, but Anna felt sorry as, eventually, the cold got too much for Janice. A small slim woman, like a mouse Anna marvelled, with a pretty but pointy face, short hair and wearing a light summer dress which was doing nothing to keep out the chill. “I’ll go back to the house” she eventually conceded.

“Are you coming back?” Anna didn’t think Elden sounded overly concerned. “No, I’m tired, all this sea air – you stay – I’ll have a bath.” Elden kissed her lightly on the forehead like she was eight years old and Anna grasped Barry’s big hand for reassurance, holding it tight as if to say, “please don’t ever treat me like a china doll.” Barry squeezed back, he knew what she was thinking.

They watched Janice clamber up the cliff and wave at the top, from the beach they could see her enter the house and turn on all the lights, upstairs and down. The building shone like a lighthouse and Anna wondered what the combined wattage was and how that effected the electricity bill, before reminding herself that it wasn’t her problem here.

An hour later, after much getting-to-know-each-other laughter, ably assisted by a couple of bottles of Cotes du Rhone that Anna had been given for helping to organise this years ‘French Exchange’, the evening ended and the group of friends doused the fire and headed back to the house. The lights were still ablaze, guiding them up the cliff towards the front door.

It was locked.

Anna had earlier tucked her key into the rucksack with the cheese rolls so opened the door to let everyone traipse in with sand falling off their clothes and shoes onto the hall carpet which, Anna observed, had been worn bare by the years of abrasion from inconsiderate beachcombers. The house was eerily still and everyone agreed the long day had taken its toll. “To bed!” declared Barry, lifting his wife into his arms and bounding up the stairs.”Goodnight all”, Anna caught the envious gaze of Colin and Anthony at this display of affection but they didn’t see Barry go into their room and dump her unceremoniously onto the bed. “Either I stop doing that or you cease with the school dinners already” Barry smirked, as he pretended to stretch out his back. “Now, where’s my toothbrush?”

Minutes later, the quiet night was shattered by a loud scream from downstairs, interrupting a fruitless search for his toilet bag, Barry and Anna raced downstairs. Elden stood in the kitchen over the body of his wife sprawled on the floor in a congealing pool of dark red blood. She had clearly been dead for quite sometime. Anna automatically went into first aid mode but the large kitchen knife sticking out from between her shoulder blades told Anna that there was little she was going to be able to do to help Janice. “Call 999” Anna hissed at Barry, as he reached for his mobile phone.

“I don’t understand, I came in here for a glass of water” Elden sobbed. “Can you help him? He’s going into shock” Anna looked pointedly at Neville who stood rooted to the spot. “Come on old chap, lets get you into the lounge” Robert took control and stiffly man-handled Elden away from the scene. Anna avoided Barry’s eyes. As a dentist, Anna had expected Neville to be more used to dealing with an emergency. Rebecca followed her husband out of the kitchen looking ashen-faced herself while Neville and Indra continued to make like statues, frozen in time. Colin and Anthony sat heavily onto the kitchen chairs as if their legs could no longer hold up their toned bodies, desperately wrapping their arms around each other, trying unsuccessfully to hold their world together.

In the distance, the wailing sirens drew closer, piercing the night with their harsh lights and sound, announcing the arrival of strangers to their holiday idyll. Anna sighed. This was going to take some explaining. Not just what she knew, but how she knew it.

Should you write a blog when you’re feeling down?

This is my first. 

Of course, I know what the problem is. 

I’m tired. 

There is a lot that I’m worried about at work. I’m not sleeping well. I’m not eating properly so my stomach hurts and I become lethargic. I’m not moving about as much as I usually do, so my stomach hurts and I become even more lethargic. Housework gets neglected as life continues to sap every ounce of energy within me. 

Then…everyone is cleverer, prettier, thinner, fitter, wittier, more successful, (less superficial, I hear you think) than I could ever be.

My smile wavers, I feel cold and I sit and watch my ankles swell. The spiral heads downwards, encompassing an oppressive, bleakness that only I can drag myself away from…when I’m ready. 

I’m convinced that it is OK for us to embrace the whole rainbow of our emotions and use them to improve, inform and restore us back to health. 

I’m never going to be happy all the time but buried under my duvet with no one to see, I can clasp the despair for a few minutes, experiencing its negativity, before allowing it to flow through me and then out the other side.

My wellbeing is not served by my pretending that I don’t occasionally feel fear, grief, worry or self-doubt and I’m not helping myself if the effort involved in constantly projecting a smiling face outweighs the benefit. 

Only by allowing the emotions in, being gentle with myself and taking time for me, can I then work my way through them, enabling the transition back into me, the positive person with the catchy mantras and ‘solution-oriented-problem-solving’ skills that serve me so well 99.9 days out of 100. 

Is it OK to write a blog when you’re feeling down? I think so. Yes.