The area of West Yorkshire where I now live is about as far away from the coast as it's possible to be in this country. I do miss the seaside, and so every once in a while I have to drive down to the South West and sniff the seaweed, as it were. Take the ozone. I've just returned from a bracing weekend away in Somerset and Devon, visiting old friends - all writers and musicians.
On Saturday I looked in on my band mate from The Gents, Richard Madelin, who's recently had a quadruple heart bypass. Yipes. He has a scar from throat to belly button, which I suppose is to be expected, but the one running the entire length of his leg came as a bigger surprise. This is where an artery has been removed in order to provide the necessary pipework for the operation. The immediate thought that occurs is, 'Hang on. Weren't you using that?' Maybe, as Richard's wife said, this was merely a B road, sacrificed in order to make way for the new bypass. I'm not sure that I have too many such disposable bits left, so please God the same thing never happens to me. Get well soon, Richard.
Sunday lunchtime I played with a bunch of nutters from art college days, The Glad Band. This outfit goes back even further than The Gents, some forty years, which is just plain scary. We manage to get together every half decade or so, and folk come to see us less for the music, which was always pretty ramshackle, than to marvel at the fact that we're all still alive. 'How many kidneys do you suppose they have between them?' people ask. And really it's anyone's guess. I've said before that Glad Band stories have no place in a blog that's visited by youngsters, but I have enough material for a whole other publishing career should I ever run out of ideas for children's books.
In Exmouth I stayed with writer friends, the lovely Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, who always make me feel as though I've been to a spa and psychotherapy session in one, to emerge invigorated, an altogether better human being. And if they, by contrast, are left drained and lacking the will to live, they never let on.
Mal and Ellie have a new book out: Cloud Tea Monkeys, exquisitely illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. The production is of a quality rarely seen nowadays, beautifully printed and stitch-bound, it really is special. I worked with Juan myself some years ago, although - like Mal and Ellie - I've never actually met him. It's a funny old business, co-producing a book with someone who lives thousands of miles away, your lives converging for the duration of the project, to then separate without (in my case) having ever spoken.
All in all a great weekend, and now I'm back. Sea air and renewed friendships have had an energising effect, and I open up my laptop with a fresh resolve: to take more holidays.