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  1. Last month I got a phone call from France. It was my penfriend's brother inviting me to a party near Avignon for his sister's birthday. I've not seen her for 20 years, but I know that despite my French and her English being a bit rusty, we'll get on just as well as we did on all our school exchange visits between South Tyneside and St. Denis. That's the kind of friend you need. Friends that don't hold a grudge because you've not called them for a decade, and who you feel delighted to hear from when their name pops up in your inbox.

    Then there are the other sort that you've picked up somewhere along the way. Those people who suggest that you might like to meet up, and you agree because it seems rude not to, and then ends up taking up more time than you give to your own best mates. When the phone rings and you see the name you think, "Oh lord, now what?" instead of "Oh good!" And you know that when you say, "How are you?" you're in for an hour's worth of the latest catastrophes: relationships, jobs, whatever.

    I've had my time as a high maintenance friend. We all go through difficult phases, and I appreciate the hours that people spend listening to my tales of woe in the 90s. I like to think that I'm passing it forward by allocating some of my friend time to taking my fair share of it back again. But that means there's less time for the people who are never any bother at all.

    Some of the HMFs take advantage of the self-employed:

    "Good you're at home. I'll come over then."

    "I'm writing a book!"

    "Oh I won't be any bother."

    Some self-help books tell you to dump the friends who are too much effort. I don't think that's kind and I don't think it would make you happy, but I do think that you have to watch them, ask yourself why you take them on, and make sure that you don't get overwhelmed. Some problems can't be solved by friends alone; they need people with prescription pads.

    Nope, what I suggest you do is have a look through your address book and get in touch with the really lovely people who are no bother - your low maintenance friends - for no reason at all except that you like them, and would love it if you heard from them unexpectedly; the friends for whom you'd drop everything, empty your bank account and book a train to Avignon just for a party. I'm seeing four of my mates over the next week, I've had an afternoon out at the V&A with another and lunch with one more. Do it now.

  2. It's Tuesday. Out of my window I can see white clouds and grey clouds. For May, it's not that warm. But the bees are buzzing around the interesting sprays of tiny white flowers on next door's palm tree. (I know! In Ealing!) and the flowers are blooming in the row of little front gardens. Yesterday I spent eight hours in two different accident and emergency departments, first Charing Cross Hospital, which isn't anywhere near Charing Cross, then the bright shiny new one on the Fulham Road. There's nowt wrong with me; I was with a friend who'd had an argument with a sharp implement and lost. Thank goodness I had my knitting with me; there's a lot of waiting around to do. Anyway, after eight hours watching ill people getting patched and despatched, I am seriously appreciating my current good health.

    Incidentally, if you ever have a choice, go to Charing Cross; they are lovely. At the other hospital I got told off twice, once for standing in the wrong place and once for sitting in the wrong place. It was the stroppy blonde woman in white, hair up, thinks she's the boss of you. Although it's fair to say that the plastic surgeon who's going to see if he can repair the damage today was a very nice chap. She's going straight into the next novel, and then we'll see if she starts being a bit less supercilious.

    So for today, I'm going to appreciate whatever the world chucks at me, even if it rains. And I'm going to write up my notes ready for next time I write a hospital visit into a work of fiction. Every experience is useful, even eight hours hanging around in A&E.

  3. It's a lot harder to get rid of stuff than aquire it, don't you think? Buy something, and it's put right into your hands or delivered to your home. A couple of cicks on eBay and you've bought yourself a bargain. It takes a lot longer to sell something: take and upload your photograph, write your copy, set the postage, wait to see if it sells, pack it up and take it to the Post Office. I find it a lot easier to fill up my home than empty it.

    But, I've got to make space (if only so I can stop tripping over things and find enough space to sit down on my chairs and eat off my dining room table) so some of it's got to go. Probably about half of it.

    I packed up three big boxes of stuff and took it to the Salvation Army shop, a nice place where I once picked up a fabulous 36-piece Wedgewood breakfast set for not much money at all. Closed. Next day they were open, but they don't take donations after 3.30. Next day, open but they'd had too many donations that day so I had to put it all back in the car again. Drove around the corner and found the British Heart Foundation shop. Lovely people. They even sent out the team to help me unload it all. I'll be going back there.

    But for the moment, I'm off to eBay to sell a pair of shoes. It's curiously rewarding to watch the house slowly empty itself again.


  4. Not just your feet, your whole body was made for walking, but how much do we do? Not nearly enough. Last week we got some free stuff from Amazon. As a reward - depending on how you look at it - for being one of Amazon's top 1000 reviewers, I got invited to apply for free stuff as long as I review it. It's got a downside. If you write something bad, its publisher will send out an army of web monkeys to give you an "unhelpful" vote but the ASA are looking into that so I'll leave it for now...

    So a big parcel turned up and beneath all the cardboard were a set of scales, a blood pressure monitor and a pedometer, with instructions to download the software from So we did. I've not had a set of scales for, well, not ever come to think of it. So Mr. R. and I set off on our quest so see if we can fit into our smallest clothes. We don't want to be as thin as when we were kids, just as thin as when we met. Mr. R. is putting his Paul Smith shirt buttons under a great strain at the moment.

    I got first dibs on the pedometer. We're supposed to do 10,000 steps a day to stay fit. Days one and two I didn't leave the house and did around 1,100. 11%. Not good enough. Day three, I walked to the Post Office instead of driving and taught a yoga class. Up to 6,000, Day four, I taught another yoga class, walked to the tube station, walked from Holborn to Oxford Circus, up and down Regent Street, and home from the tube again. 11,000 steps. That's all it takes to go from slob to fit.

    Today I've yet to leave the house and I've only done 547. 123 of those were from last night as it resets itself as midnight, assuming that you've gone to bed by then. (Daft machine.)

    So this week, I recommend that you get out and about a bit. Get walking. Just knock one stop off the tube or the bus journey and you'll add in a thousand steps. If you drive, don't park as close as you can to where you're going. And I'm off to the Post Office to keep the calories from accumulating, the heart ticking over nicely and to post a couple of parcels while I'm at it.

  5. My Auntie Viv, who is an extraordinary person and just finished an M.A in Fine Arts, had a problem with her knee. So went to her doctor and he said that it was wear and tear. She told him that this was ridiculous because she'd had two knees for the same amount of time so there was no reason for one to wear out but not the other.

    So I thought about this and started to observe my knee use. Did I use them equally? Did I heck as like. No, I have a leading leg, and it's my left. When I walk up stairs I go left first, so when I walk up kerbs, my left leg does the work. If all staircases had equal numbers of steps we'd use both knees equally, but I think it's kerbs that do it, kerbs and steps up to people's houses, which often have one or three steps. Don't know why, but check for yourself. So if we continue to step up with our leading legs without thinking about it, it stands to reason that one will wear out first.

    Today, for Tuesday. I'm aiming to do things with the other side from usual. For example, pressing the space bar on my computer keyboard with my left thumb instead of my right. Try it; it's hellishly difficult. But I've had right thumb injuries - ldeading all the way to my shoulder - and I think this is what's caused it. I've aldready had to switch mouse sides. As I played the piano for years I'm closer to ambidextrous than most, but this is tricky. Even putting my socks on the other side first took some serious concentration.

    Tonight I shall be teaching yoga at the hall down the road. We spend a lot of time in yoga balancing both sides of our bodies because it helps to balance our minds. If you do a yoga posture on one side then come back to the centre it feels seriously odd, as if one side of the body is awake and the other is still snoozing. After all that we do tend to come out feeling mentally balanced at the end of a class.

    So for reasons of practical joint wear and tear, and to aim for a calm, balanced approach to life, have a crack at left-right equality. Carry your bag with the other hand. Some things we can't change, like where the brakes are on a car or the Oyster pads in a tube station, but otherwise, put the balance back and see how you feel at the end of this Tuesday.