Operational Updates

I’m currently sat in the pyjamas I’ve been wearing for 24 hours, smelling of sweat and blood with every pore crying out for a shower, hunched over like an old crone, with the distended belly of a woman significantly more pregnant than myself. (Not that I’m pregnant at all, don’t panic.)

Gem in hospital

I had my first foray into the world of surgery yesterday.  Nothing especially major, but tell that to my whole body now. It feels a like a very small expert in the art of escaping prisons has been inserted into my tummy just for the challenge of sawing his way back out.

I rather foolishly hadn’t been too concerned about the pain beforehand. I’d accepted it as an evil but unavoidable aspect of something which in the long run would be good for me. I was worried about being scared, worried about waking up in a pool of my own blood, and worried about ending up with unsymmetrical scars. (Most distressed about the reality of the latter – hello control freak.)

But what really concerned me was the potential to make an absolute idiot of myself at some stage during the cocktail of anaesthetic, morphine, fentanyl, paracetamol, and god knows what else they gave me. And, as I stood throwing up into a hospital sink with my bum hanging out for all to see, it occurred to me that I was wrong to be concerned. While I struggled to pull my clothes over my spectacularly speckled red, yellow, and purple body, it didn’t particularly bother me who was looking. And as I finally dragged one foot after the other out of the joint, more than twelve hours after being admitted, wearing a woolly bobble hat, giant stripy scarf, fluffy dressing gown, ill-fitting trackies and sheep slippers several sizes too big for me, I discovered that when you feel truly crappy your ability to register humiliation vanishes entirely.

There was something almost cleansing about the whole experience, like it had been a baptism of blood and fire (literally) and I emerged innocent and naked but for a paper hospital gown, and pure albeit pumped full of opiates.

So as well as having the ol’ endometriosis fixed, my visit to hospital also cured me of all vanity and ego. Three for the price of one! And I’d quite like to remember how zero vanity feels, because apart from anything else the amount of time I saved in the morning by not doing my hair, putting on makeup, and finding a nice outfit was absolutely extraordinary.

So to summarise, next time I’m being precious about the antics of my fringe (I swear it has a will of its own), just punch me in the stomach and I promise I’ll stop caring.

Christmas Snapshots

I always enjoy the idea of winter. I like cuddling up by the fire, wrapping up in woolly jumpers, stuffing my face with mince pies, and being able to work from home in my pyjamas because of icy train tracks. (Especially that last one.) But on rare days where the sun shines through the bleak midwinter, I light up like a Christmas tree suffering from seasonal affective disorder. A brief cloud burst is all it takes to make me realise that when the world is grey, I feel grey. I like sunshine, and blue skies, and warmth on my face. When that isn’t an option, I use Christmas as a nicotine patch for summer.

Gem's tree 2014
Gem's Christmas Cake 2014
Christmas with a control freak can’t be an easy affair, and after countless tinsel based tantrums the rest of my family can’t so much as spy a misplaced bauble without shooting me a panicked sidelong glance and rushing to fix it before I explode like some kind of meticulous monster. I told my extremely dubious looking little sister that I didn’t mind what colour scheme we did this year, and managed to last about two whole minutes before admitting defeat and also admitting that we would be having a “natural, rustic theme with red and gold highlights”. I am not proud of myself. But you can’t deny it looks nice. (Well, you could deny it, but you would need to be confident you could take me in a fight.)

After the decorations are hung and the cake is iced (and the bowls are licked) getting outside into the cold is my idea of heaven. Ashridge is my favourite place for autumn colours, wintery walks, and a café full of home cooked snacks. Ted enjoyed getting his paws filthy, but didn’t very much like watching me and Rhys eat mince pies and hot chocolate. I’ve missed them both a lot, so an afternoon catching up with one and letting the other lick my face (I’ll leave that to your imagination to decipher) was seriously lovely.

Ted in the woods

Ashridge mince pie

Ted and Gem

After that there’s nothing much left to report other than wintery sunsets, evenings in front of the fire, cuddles with my cat, snoozing in my Christmas bed set, and chain smoking my White Company ‘Winter’ scented most-delicious-smelling-candle-in-all-the-land.

Sunset from Gem's bedroom

Bird decoration

My Cat

White Company Candle

Boat decoration

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!


A Perfect Day

Staring down the barrel of another winter, there’s nothing for it but to wrap ourselves in chunky knits and warm memories.

Before summer left us, I had a magical day of the absolutely perfect variety, that will no doubt haunt me for years to come in deep sleep and desktop daydreams.

It was a perfect day in a perfect week spent at Menabilly with my family. And it started very early – before the night had even left us. Armed with a torch and binoculars, I raced morning up the cliff path to watch the sun rise over the sea in a symphony of pink and orange. The silence was so complete that I could hear the fishermen talking from their boats on the waves below.

Menabilly sunrise1

Menabilly sunrise2

Menabilly sunrise3

If I’d had my paints with me I probably would have caught pneumonia on that hillside desperately trying to capture the wash of colour and the explosive moment the sun breached the horizon in a blaze of gold. Thankfully for my physical and mental health I made do with just my camera, and I arrived back at the cottage in time to catch the rest of my family finishing the last crumbs of breakfast. Some more hungry than others, we jumped in the car and headed into a fairytale – otherwise known as Tintagel. The legendary seat of King Arthur is perched on a Cornish cliff top on the north coast, and its rugged beauty had me immediately head over heels. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and there were ruins, rocks, waterfalls, caves and beaches to bounce around. It was my idea of absolute heaven.

Tintagel 1

Tintagel 2

Tintagel 3

Tintagel 4

Tintagel 5

Waterfall at Tintagel

Cave at Tintagel

Me on the rocks at Tintagel

When I was done clambering upon all that there was to clamber upon, and had finished imagining round tables, swords in stones, ladies in lakes, and all things Arthurian, we headed to Polkerris for dinner at my favourite restaurant – Sam’s on the Beach.

That night Sam’s outdid themselves: my huge bowl of white wine soaked spaghetti was so delicious that dignity went utterly out the window and I ended up wearing more sauce than makeup; they seemed to be exclusively playing a list of my favourite songs; and as we laughed, chatted, and enjoyed each other’s company we had the best seat in the house to watch the sun sink into the harbour.

Sam's on the Beach

Sunset at Polkerris

Chlo at Sam's on the Beach

Mum and Dad

Olives at Sam's on the Beach

Best pasta of my life

Sunset at Polkerris

So the perfect day ended as all perfect days should – with full tummies and full memory cards. And when winter bites, and you catch me with a glazed expression on my face, this is where I’ll really be.

Shining Autumn

The nights are drawing in. Darkness is gaining ground, slinking belly-down ever around the edges of the day, gnawing a little more precious light away with each blood orange sunset. The air is suddenly crisp and smells of damp earth, decay, and the imminent death of the year. Outside, conkers and pine cones are two a penny underfoot, and have crept indoors too, adorning hearths and mantels like little treasure-piece time-machines. Temperatures are sinking; step out in the morning and your breath heralds your entrance to the world in a rush of dragon smoke, and the coming bite of first frost threatens any still straggling berries. Autumn is here, a blackbird’s song on his lips, russet leaves in his hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind, eyes green as apples.

Ashridge Autumn

Winter obliterates; an icy dementia. Autumn’s memory is deep. Inside each golden frond lives still the balmy warmth of chlorophyll-fuelled summer, and the pale promise of spring. Autumn is the cinnamon and bergamot scented season of hot-buttered nostalgia, where a cup of tea can cure all.

Gem's breakfast in bed

Pine cones

Gem and Cat

At this time of year, my heart yearns for a nothing more than a dog beside me, a long road ahead of me, and an apple and blackberry crumble waiting for me when I come home. But a cuddle with my cat and a slice of two of peanut butter toast will have to suffice for now!

Magic Beans

I have started writing this many times over the last few weeks. Well, to be more precise, I have stared at the empty page in front of me for a few minutes before making a disparaging noise and flouncing away from my laptop with my nose in the air many times in the last few weeks. I’ve imagined the empty page floating in front of me like a poorly dressed up phantom every morning when I wake up, and every night before I fall asleep. But until about five minutes ago, I hadn’t written a single word – not even in my head.

You see, dear reader, my whole life right now is an empty page. And I mean that in the bestest, most wonderful, least terrifying way possible. Honest. (Well, maybe a bit terrifying. Just a bit. In a good way. Obviously. [Good terrifying, yeah? Like a sky dive. Or a polar bear who doesn’t get your sense of humour.] And yes, my voice is becoming more and more shrill as I type this. If you’re still reading then you should probably get a hearing test and double check that you don’t in fact have four legs and a waggly tail.)

To explain the current existential crisis, it helps to know that I graduated just over a year ago. At that point I was all loved up, had high hopes for a career in writing things, was planning to at some stage move in with the artist formerly known as Boyfriend, and dreaming about getting a dog. Fast forward to right now and I’m finding myself wandering rather aimlessly through life, constantly humming the Friends’ theme tune, and telling anyone who’ll listen that I’VE GOT MAGIC BEANS!” in a manner that is at best alarming and at worst psychotic. I am oh so very single, to the point where my mother has taken on the role of matchmaker/enthusiastic gal pal/pimp, keeps telling me I need to “put myself out there” and “have some fun”, and is one step away from going rogue and putting me on Tinder… or eBay. My job involves a lot of writing, but mostly only 140 characters of it at a time. I’m living the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll dream in my childhood home with my parents – if by sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll you mean cuddles with my cat, peppermint tea, and over-hearing old Sting albums. And the closest thing I have to a dog is my friend Jess. (She will understand that this is the greatest compliment anyone can ever be given, by the way.)

Puppy love with my Jess, circa 2010.

Puppy love with my Jess, circa 2010.

But! (And oh, I love that but.) When faced with the many not-going-to-plan areas of my life, my main reaction is relief. Relief at not having to fight tooth and nail to keep my plan intact. Relief at not having a plan at all. (I don’t even have a “pla”.) And I should be clear – I am a self-confessed control freak. If there were meetings for my ilk I’d probably be the chairman, because I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do a good enough job at it. (Imagine those meetings, by the way. They would never start late and absolutely everyone would take impeccably written minutes.) But the last year has taught me the valuable lesson that if there is no plan then nothing can go wrong. And my life had become a monstrous game of plan-Jenga (patent pending) with bits wobbling willy nilly, everything threatening to crumble, and me racing around like a lunatic trying to hold it all together. And now that – a year on – it actually and inevitably has collapsed in a rather anti-climatic heap on the floor, all the things I thought I wanted (apart from the dog, I’m still dreaming that dream) appear at best unrealistic and at worst pretty silly. I feel like a bird released from a cage or a balloon cut from its string or Batman after he escapes from that pit prison thingy.

So it would seem that I don’t want to be a shoe any more. Maybe I’m a purse, or a hat. Maybe I’m a book, or an umbrella stand. Maybe I’m a battle ship, or a god damn dragon. Maybe I can be anything I want to be because I’m 22 and in possession of a brain. Not to mention my winning smile. And my magic beans.

Welcome to the real world, Gemma. It sucks. But I’m gonna love it.

Friends Rachel Magic Beans

P.S. On a totally unrelated note, happy belated 20th birthday, Friends.

Picnicking Perfection

Picnic is my favourite word. I’m also a big fan of Akimbo, Wiggle, Kerfuffle, Whimsical, Pyjamas, and Sausages when you say it whilst moving your mouth as little as possible. Soshergis. But picnic is my favourite. Say it as fast as you can: picnicpicnicpicnic. Or as slowly as possible: pic-ker-nic. Whatever the speed you choose to utter it, it’s the best thing in my vocabulary (which includes gems like Sycophancy, Loquaciousness,  and obviously Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious) because as well as being easy on the ears, it combines two of my greatest loves: food, and the outdoors.

And you rarely say Picnic unless a picnic is on the cards. It would be a little bit superfluous (another classic) and more than a little bit mean. So in the spirit of sharing, I’m inviting you to be a sneaky fly on the wall at the very best picnic I’ve ever been on.

Gem and hamper

Once you’ve packed yourself up a hamper full of deliciousness, there are just a few more ingredients you require if you wish to achieve picnicking perfection. In the Gemma book of picnicking, these are as follows: a view (preferably of the breath-taking variety); a tree (the more romantically shaped the better); and a rug (must be featuring a checked pattern otherwise it’s scientific fact that the food won’t taste as good).

Coombe Hill view

Picnic tree

Picnic view

Picnic spot
Let’s just all take a moment to bow down before the utter perfection of this picnic spot. Coombe Hill, ladies and gentleman, was unbeatable on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at the end of July.

Gem on picnic rug

Picnic view


With the sun beaming, the harebells dancing in the breeze, the hillside awash with the sound of leaves rustling, the swaying sea of rosebay willowherb resplendent in all its purple hazey glory, and the vale spread out below us, we unpacked our treats. In my beautiful hamper – thank you so much Lucy! – and an extra canvas bag I’d squeezed: a mini bottle of Champagne; tea cakes and strawberry jam; the mother of all sausage sandwiches for my decidedly non-vegetarian picnic partner (comprised of caramelised onion and pork sausages in a cooked baguette with fried mushrooms, caramelised onions, and barbecue sauce, with cheddar melted over the top – salivate away, meat-eaters); roasted pistachio nuts; and last but by no means least, wafer cones, raspberries and Chantilly cream to create picnic-proof ice cream cones (patent pending).

Best picnic ever




Make-do ice cream cone
Sat up there, with good food, and good company, I felt like I was in some kind of strawberry jam and Chantilly cream flavoured dream. A few families were making the most of the school holidays, and dog walkers with various charming four-legged friends were enjoying the beautiful weather too, but up on the hill away from the world the murmered noise of play and far away conversations only added to the atmosphere. It’s by far the most peaceful I’ve felt for months.

Gem and teacake
With tranquillity seeping into my soul with every breath, it was easy to see why the commanding structure of Coombe Hill was erected here. Perched at the end of the ridge, where the view stretches to both sides of the horizon, is a memorial to the 157 men of Buckinghamshire who gave their lives in the Second Boer War. Overlooking the land for which they fought, and the homes where they lived, loved, and tragically never returned; I can’t think of a better place for their memories to linger.

Coombe Hill momument
The stone reminder that our existence is a fleeting one possibly explains why, of all the people with whom we shared our afternoon on the hill, my inner romantic was most drawn to a pair of elderly gentlemen who were sat on a bench quietly gazing over the vale with the manner of two people who have perfected the art of contentment. I hope that I’ll still spend afternoons sitting in sunshine watching the world go by when my hair is grey and my face is lined with a lifetime of memories.

Old friends
That’s a long way away though, and for now, I’m happy. I don’t remember a day that better matches my favourite Oogway quote so perfectly: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that is why it is called the present.”


Operation pull-funny-faces-at-the-last-minute-and-sneakily-ruin-Gemma’s-attempts-at-a-‘nice’-photo may well have been a roaring success, but I think that second one might be my favourite picture of us, ever.

Eventually, with much less stored in the hamper and much more stored in our tummies and on my camera’s memory card, we decided to head home into the cooling afternoon. And then, as if there wasn’t already enough happiness in the world on this sun-soaked English Tuesday, the breeze and my dress conspired to decide that this was the perfect moment to show Coombe Hill my knickers, and I very nearly have photographic evidence.

Happy ‘today’, everyone!

Admission of Guilt

I did an unbelievably stupid thing the other day. I mean, unbelievably stupid. Not like dropping-your-phone-in-the-bath dumb, or metal-in-the-microwave foolish: I’m talking stick-yourself-in-a-cone-of-shame, admit-you-aren’t-equipped-for-adult-life, write-it-into-a-sitcom stupid.

I don’t ever remember being so mortified by my own brain in such a private setting. My prior list of embarrassments – of which there are too many to count let alone recount – have, largely speaking, occurred in front of an audience. The time, years ago, where a poorly calculated maths lesson daydream allowed a friend to nudge me out of my oblivion and tell me, deadpan – causing me to walk across a classroom full of baffled students to an equally baffled headteacher – that the head wanted a word with me outside. The time, more recent that I’d like to admit, that I mistook a wandering albatross for a herring gull in front of an award winning wildlife photographer. The (countless) times anyone’s ever overheard me rapping along to the Lethal Bizzle classic, Police On My Back. (Not sure why people are so amused by a tiny law-abiding home counties white girl growling, in a Brixton accent, “Useta be a criminal, top car deala”.) The time last week, ahem, I mean absolutely ages ago, where I tried and largely failed to learn how to cartwheel in my lunch hour, in front of quite a high number of serious professional type people.

Anyway, I’m sure that the question of why shame seems to occur more often in public than in private has been much philosophised upon by great thinkers who doubtless know how to do a cartwheel. Let’s get back to me being an idiot.

I’d come home last Friday, shame-free, after an evening spent imitating taxidermy* at the Natural History Museum. That’s right, you heard me: no shame felt in doing this in a public place at all.

Gem at Natural History Museum

No. Shame. Here.


*Quick aside to make sure we’re all clear that this particular model of a giant ice age monster bear (yes that is its scientific name) is most definitely not taxidermy. Thank god.


I’d left Rachael at Victoria, navigated the packed tube without wanting to scream at anyone, meditated on the train and felt like a good little hippy, driven home with the windows down and the wind in my hair, and parked perfectly on the drive. It was all going so well.

I get out of the car. I lock the car. I grab the front door keys, open the front door, and then realise the car windows are still open.

And here, folks, is where everything went horribly wrong. It is at this moment that all logic, intelligence, and spatial awareness left me.

I put my hand through the open window. I put the keys back in the ignition. I start humming R. Kelly under my breath. (“It’s the remix to ignition, hot and fresh out the kitchen…”). I turn the key. (“Sipping on coke and rum, I’m like so what I’m drunk…”). I flick the window switch upwards. (“Bounce, bounce bounce…”.)

So just to clarify… My hand is inside the window, which has started to close. The keys are in the ignition. The car itself is locked.

And some kind of logic-less animal instinct kicks in. Rather than grabbing the keys, or hitting the switch to halt the window’s upwards trajectory, I pull my hand out of the shrinking space and out of danger. I guess I (unbelievably stupidly) thought I’d have time to pull the keys out of the gap at the last second. (An oversight for which I’m tempted to blame Indiana Jones.)

So I’m left standing on my drive, gazing with horror at my car; locked, running, and with the keys inside. I genuinely pressed my nose against the window in order to feel a little closer to my poor abandoned keys. I cursed my stupidity. I cursed my inability to hot wire a car. I cursed Lethal Bizzle for not going into more detail about his top criminal car dealing business. (Some tips would have been nice, Mr Bizzle!)

In the end there was nothing for it but wait for the spare keys to come home from London (with my sister, not of their own volition) a few hours later. My opinion of myself was pretty much as flattened as the car battery.

So yes, in summary… not my finest moment!