How can we make the best of things in uncertain times, especially if you are on your own? Annette Shaw shares advice on embracing new adventures and nurturing a happy social life


I never expected to be on my own. I was supposed to marry a man I’d met in Paris, become a mother, and subsequently entertain a multi-generational family on a sunny terrace with plates piled high surrounded by love and laughter. Some 45 years ago a major life derailment meant a rethink and a resilience strategy of monumental proportions. Severe panic attacks led me to prescription tranquillisers; the subsequent withdrawal trauma left me, the once fearless traveller, with residual agoraphobia. To put this into context, involuntary addiction takes away much of the everyday human experience from cuddles to culture. And I’m still a work in progress!  

Working from home, throughout the 1990s I helped small businesses with basic tax issues. But in the evenings, I taught myself to be a writer. This led to the publication of features in the national press and the chance to interview many well-known and interesting people. 

However, there is a well of sadness about the years of being housebound. I’m not a mum or a gran. My expectations in every sense had to be modified. I needed a counter-balance to the feeling of deprivation. So, how can you make the best of things, even if you are on our own? 

  Great British Life: Yoga teacher Alex RossYoga teacher Alex Ross (Image: Alex Ross/


The basic premise of self-leadership has a lot going for it as Alex Ross, a Bridport yoga teacher, explains. ‘My mission is to offer people additional tools so they feel more physically and emotionally strong in themselves. Then, whatever economic and political winds blow, they know they can remain calm, centred and energised – prerequisite for motivation.’  

Alex, who formulates home-based and group sessions to suit varying abilities, concludes: ‘We need firm foundations within to survive and thrive. Yoga is a discipline that will never leave you.’ She’s right, and if difficult decisions need to be made, it's far better to do it with clarity of thought. So, investing in a yoga class to give you that inner strength, both physically and mentally, could be the right move towards taking back control in your life.   

Resources: Alex teaches at Bothenhampton Village Hall, she also does online Zoom classes and sessions at her studio just outside Bridport The British Wheel of Yoga is where you can find qualified yoga tutors in your area

Great British Life: Sue Smith owner of Windy Corner Cafe in West Bay with their famous full English breakfastSue Smith owner of Windy Corner Cafe in West Bay with their famous full English breakfast (Image: Annette Shaw)


Smarter choices with limited resources   

Money buys choices. But choosing according to circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean a bad outcome. ‘Coffee culture’ is thriving in Dorset, there are many great options, but be discerning. A people fix could be having brunch (often cheaper than lunch) in a happy café. With sea views, cheery staff and pleasant background music, the family-run Windy Corner at West Bay, which is local to me, ticks all the right boxes.   

Eating together is nourishing on so many levels, yet it doesn’t have to be overly expensive. It’s the relationships that count. I introduced several friends to deliveries from Lovely Lunches. We get together in one house and enjoy a hot, tasty meal with no ambiguity about cost or anyone going rogue with the wine list! Or host a pot luck brunch, lunch, supper or afternoon tea, where everyone brings a dish or cake to share.  

Resources: Windy Corner Café offers a full English breakfast, sourced from local suppliers, in three sizes (including veggie), from £6.45 Home delivery from Lovely Lunches from £10.50 for two courses. Areas include Dorchester to Lyme Regis and villages between

Great British Life: Good friends who met through swimming - Penny Yarnold and Kathy Woodley at a birthday lunchGood friends who met through swimming - Penny Yarnold and Kathy Woodley at a birthday lunch (Image: Annette Shaw)


Reaching out and dealing with grief  

Dealing with grief is very personal. When Kathy Woodley’s husband passed away four years ago, to her credit, Kathy never stopped reaching out to life. At the age of 72 she downsized to an apartment at Brewery Square, Dorchester, where the in-built community was a stepping stone to new social activities. Joining an aquafit class at Highlands End, Eype (approx £6) brought more friends into her circle, including her swimming teacher Penny Yarnold. They celebrate special occasions with a posh lunch, and have perfected DIY retro picnics at Hive Beach, for 10 or more - thermos mugs, corned beef sandwiches, pineapple and cheese sticks, sausages get the idea. Trying new things can often expand social opportunities.      

When mega stress strikes, the key to keeping equilibrium is not to deny tears but to find a place for them within the structure of your day. When my work was finished, I used time-controlled crying as an emotional release and healing, like a pressure cooker releasing steam slowly. Fast-tracking to the tissues was often through music with pieces like Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell. Then the sad spell was reversed with Heather Small’s Proud, topped off with Morecambe and Wise’s Positive Thinking. What music brings on your tears or smiles?    

Resource: Penny Yarnold runs a Swim School at Highlands End Leisure Club in Eype, teaching children and adults to swim (1:1 or group), or to improve their swimming, as well as leading a twice weekly Aqua Fit Class (from £6.50). More at or contact Penny via or 07970879047  

Great British Life: Amanda Rendell's dogs enjoy their walkies with the Facebook group Beaminster & Bridport Social Dog Walking Amanda Rendell's dogs enjoy their walkies with the Facebook group Beaminster & Bridport Social Dog Walking (Image: Amanda Rendell)

Tapping into local events 

When it comes to culture and entertainment, Dorset is blessed with a number of low-cost options, such as a night out for the price of a drink, and freebies such as exhibitions, concerts or talks. The local media will flag up events near you. Live gigs make you feel as if the world’s still turning and you’re still connected to it. For example, Dorset-based singer Nina Garcia, who started her musical journey with her family’s folk-rock band The Sydling Stompers, performs her fiery fiddle driven Celtic music at pubs and venues throughout the county, find where her latest gigs are at  

It’s not actually a requirement to own a dog to join the Beaminster & Bridport Social Dog Walking enthusiasts. With over 300 members, it operates as a private group accessed via Facebook, it organises walks in West Dorset plus quizzes and meals. ‘We walk in all sorts of places from beaches to hills,’ says Amanda Rendell, who is a member. ‘I love the forests for tranquillity. Me, my dogs and good friends.’ Find Beaminster & Bridport Social Dog Walking on Facebook and request to join the group. 

Great British Life: Valérie Defendini, a French national and teacher based in West DorsetValérie Defendini, a French national and teacher based in West Dorset (Image: Annette Shaw)

Exercise your brain 

Did you study French at school? It maybe many decades ago, but research reveals that the vocabulary you learnt then is still in your head! The same applies to German, Spanish or whatever languages you may have taken as a youngster. Valérie Defendini, a French national and teacher based in West Dorset, put a post on her local neighbourhood site ( asking if anyone would like to join French conversation classes, with a twist. Intrigued, I immediately volunteered to host meetings at my home, adding a new focus and friends to my week. ‘What makes my approach different,’ says Valérie, ‘is brain training with a second language. I begin with a look at current affairs. Forming an opinion in English, and then translating that into spoken French is an excellent mind workout.’ We certainly have a lot of fun chatting about France, and there sometimes pain au chocolat to go with the coffee! 

Resources: is a website where local communities come together to greet newcomers, exchange recommendations, and read the latest local news. Valérie teaches French for beginners right through to advance level, one-to-one or groups 

Great British Life: Some of my local book group at The Seaside Boarding House, Kathy Woodley, Annette Shaw and Janey JohnsonSome of my local book group at The Seaside Boarding House, Kathy Woodley, Annette Shaw and Janey Johnson (Image: Annette Shaw)

Reading to your happy place  

Whether it’s a date with an imaginary friend, a self-help improvement or curling up with a cosy crime, paperbacks and hardbacks are your besties. Growing-up, I was always dotty about books – my Saturday job was in the local library, and reading remains my go-to happy place. Also, being a bookworm is relatively low-cost. Charity shops sell online for example, even best-sellers, Oxfam had Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club for £4.99. Reading is stimulating. It helps develop empathy and tolerance, reveals other points of view and enriches your inner world. Belonging to a book group is even better and extends your range of genres. Check out your local library to see if there is a book club local to you.   

Resources: U3A has a list of book groups in Dorset, also worth checking out is  

Great British Life: Simple Pleasures, a book to dip into Simple Pleasures, a book to dip into (Image: National Trust Publishing)

Simple pleasures and silver linings   

Many years ago, a panic attack glued me to the wall outside my office. A colleague, who knew I was being bullied, took my arm and said with such conviction, ‘One day you’ll see, that because of this, you’ll become who you are.’ Teetering on the edge of an abyss with all my hopes and dreams about to fall with me, that seemed like a tall order.  

Fast forward to a sunny morning in Cornwall and I’m having coffee with Terry Waite CBE. In January 1987, Waite was captured in Beirut whilst he was attempting to secure the release of hostages. He was kept in solitary confinement for four years and was a hostage for almost five. So, when it comes to being on your own, Terry has vast experience to draw on, this was the theme for his book Solitude: Memories, People, Places which we were discussing. ‘We see how solitude shapes the human soul,’ says Terry, ‘and how it can be a force for good in our own lives, if we can only learn to use it well.’ Terry and I had our own lock-ins for different reasons, but I think he would agree when I say it makes you cherish life’s joys. His wisdom and compassion will never leave me. With that in mind, I’d like to end by recommending Simple Pleasures: Life's Little Joys, a book by Clare Gogerty. It’s a celebration and a gentle reminder of 100 everyday things we can all enjoy: fresh sheets at bedtime, hot buttered toast, dancing in the kitchen. As Julian of Norwich, an English mystic and anchoress of the Middle Ages wrote: ‘All shall be well...’  

Resources: Solitude by Terry Waite CBE, published by SPCK at£16.99. Simple Pleasures by Clare Gogerty, published by National Trust at £8.99.