Laundry: The gift that keeps on giving

It’s still January, but at least yesterday was payday. Trust me, it didn’t come a moment too soon and at least it was a reasonable amount. Bizarrely, because of the way they figure out overtime and commission, my pay at the end of February will be the big one, because that’s when I get paid for my overtime and receive most of the commission for all my sales during peak. I’m back to work tomorrow, Sunday, for six hours, and must sell at least £700 to hit my monthly target. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all depends on how busy we are and who walks through the doors. I’d like to manage to reach my target. Although I have sold an incredible amount this month which, of course, I’ll be paid for, it would be satisfying to hit the ridiculously high target they set. Course, that means next year they’ll set me an even higher one, but ho hum, I’ll worry about that next year. Who knows what will have happened and where I’ll be by then? If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that life can turn on a tuppence.

So, what have I been up to since we last chatted? Answer, not a lot, so this will probably be a shorter blog. Not only do I not have a lot to tell you but I’m desperate to get back to my work in progress. Yep, that’s one thing to report. I’m writing again and it’s bloody marvellous.

Writing is one of those things that it’s not until I go back to it I realise how much I love it and how much I’ve missed it. I’m currently writing book two of the Erinsmore Chronicles and managed to get a measly 5000 words down last June. Then life proceeded to kick my butt and continued to do so until last week, so I never seemed to have the time, energy, or inclination to get my backside down in that chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

It’s so wonderful to be back in my magical land of Erinsmore. All your favourite characters from book one are here – older and a little wiser maybe – plus some exciting new ones. As the dragons came back at the end of book one, more of Erinsmore can be explored from their backs so there are lots of descriptions of the characters flying about the land. There are going to be mermaids, pirates, and seers, oh my, and even … oops, nearly gave away a massive spoiler, but trust me, it’s going to be epic. If you haven’t read book one yet, then the purchase link is on the books page so why not click and buy so you’re ready to continue the adventure in the summer when hopefully book two is going to be released?

Now then, how did the visit by Franki and her three friends go? Very well, is the answer. I was at work on Sunday the 15th when they arrived, so came home to find a house showing signs of their arrival, but as they’d gone out for an early dinner I didn’t meet them until they got home. Everyone seemed happy with the sleeping arrangements, so that was all right, and they had a reasonably early night as they were tired from the early start and the long drive.

Monday they were up and off quite early. The original plan was to go to Linton Zoo in the morning then Franki and I would visit her grandma in the hospital in the afternoon. Dinner was whatever Franki was planning to cook, and I was also invited, which was nice.

Linton Zoo is tiny, more of an animal park, so I knew they wouldn’t be there long and would get back with plenty of time for Franki and me to walk to the hospital – parking is an expensive nightmare – and even call on her grandfather on the way back, then come home via the shop to pick up anything else she might need.

But, as you all know, the best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere under the heading “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Going up to my room, Franki beckoned me into hers and explained in an excited whisper that as one of her friends loved aquariums they weren’t going to Linton Zoo but were really going to the Sealife Centre in Southend. Southend?! That’s blinking miles away down on the south coast. What about our plans to visit the hospital in the afternoon? And Grandad? And go shopping. Don’t worry, she airily dismissed my concerns, we’ll be back in time.

Reader, you know exactly what I’m going to say, don’t you? They left, and I settled down in the quiet house, turned on my laptop, and dived back into Erinsmore. By two, the time they should have been back, I dropped Franki a text. Still here, came the reply, don’t worry, leaving soon. Hmm, it’s quite a long drive back from Southend, at least two hours. Even leaving straight away they still wouldn’t be back until gone four.

There was nothing I could do though but watch the time tick away until finally, Franki messaged that they would be back soon. By now it was gone five, far too late and dark to walk to the hospital, I would have to take the car and pray we found a space and had enough change on us to pay the parking fee if the car park didn’t accept cards. And forget visiting Grandad on the way back, that would have to wait.

Franki then sent explicit instructions on things I needed to get out ready for dinner as the revised plan was her friends would prep it and warm the oven whilst we were at the hospital, then pop the pasta bake in when we let them know we were on our way back. Hmm, I was hungry so had a quick slice of bread and butter to stave off starvation.

They arrived back. Franki jumped in the car, and we were off. It’s only a five-minute drive to the hospital and luckily we found a space I could squeeze into. We went to the ward my ex-sis had told me Grandma had been moved to. She wasn’t there. She’d been moved again. We trudged back downstairs and found her. She was awake this time, which was a relief. I had been afraid she might sleep through the whole visit and not see Franki. She was a little confused, to begin with, but was calm and friendly – we had been warned she might be aggressive and bad-tempered, but no, she was fine. She’d just had dinner but hadn’t eaten much of it. To be honest, it didn’t look very appealing, so she’d only eaten the dessert. I guess at that age, no one is going to tell you not to.

We chatted for a while, small talk, as she smiled and nodded and made random comments that did make me wonder how much she was understanding. Her eyelids drooped and it was clear she was about to fall asleep, so we said our farewells and dashed back to the car park. To my relief, the first twenty minutes of parking were free and as we’d only been nineteen we got away without having to pay anything.

Franki phoned her friends to let them know we were on our way and to enquire which flavour of ice cream they liked. Vanilla, chocolate, mint choc chip. Okay. We made a brief pitstop at Waitrose where Franki picked up the dessert and I grabbed a bottle of wine for myself.

Dinner was nice. They are a lovely, funny, and interesting group of girls. Afterwards, we all played Cards Against Humanity, which I won. I’m never sure if I should be proud I usually win this game, or ashamed of my filthy and inventive imagination.

I was working Tuesday and the girls were visiting Banham Zoo. Not so far as Southend – only 45 minutes – they set off in high spirits. I wouldn’t see them until late that evening as I was working until six and they had a table booked at a local pub for 5:30, so I wished them a great day and went to work.

I was working the same long shift the next day as well, and the girls planned an easier day staying close to home. Franki took them into town, it was market day, so they walked about, explored the Abbey Gardens and the ruins, and went to Moyses Hall which is a small local museum. Franki even managed to fit in a visit to Grandad in the afternoon, when her friends came home to chill out. Again, they cooked at home, and I was invited. It was nice not to have to cook for myself when I got home from work.

Thursday I had the day off and the girls went to Colchester Zoo which is over an hour’s drive away. It’s a large zoo and would take them all day to wander about, so they’d booked a table at a restaurant there to have dinner before coming home.

I had a nice treat planned myself as my old boss and his wife were taking me to lunch in a fancy Mediterranean restaurant in town. Our booking was for 12:30 and as the restaurant was only a ten-minute walk away, I set out at 12:15 to be on time. They were a little late getting there due to trouble parking, but I looked at the menu, gulped at the prices, and was very relieved I wasn’t paying.

It was a lovely lunch, and it was so great to see them again. I worked for Mr G for over thirty years, and he knows me probably better than anyone else. I hadn’t seen him since the previous Christmas and hadn’t seen his wife since I stopped working for him six years ago. I filled them in on everything that has happened to me, and they gave me all the news about their grown-up children and their exploits all around the world.

I walked home at three feeling full and a little bit squiffy, but at least I didn’t have to worry about cooking for myself or anyone else that evening. The girls came back, happy from a great day, and bundled down the basement to watch a film. They had an early start and a long drive the next day, so I think an early night was planned for everyone.

The next day, they were up and off by eight. It was lovely to have them for a visit, but also nice to have a quiet and empty house again. I set to stripping off all the beds, staggered by how much laundry their visit had created. In total, my washing machine and dryer went on six times that day. Six!! I shudder to think what that’s done to my energy bill. All the laundry and other housework chores meant I barely wrote at all on Friday only managing 800 words.

I was itching to get back to Erinsmore, so Saturday I was up early and plunged in, managing 3000 words before I stopped to cook dinner.

I worked the next three days and when I’m at work I can’t write. I know some authors can burn the midnight oil and hammer away at the manuscript in the wee small hours. I am not one of those authors. By the time I’ve done a full day at work, cooked, eaten, and cleared away dinner, I’m done for. All I want to do is relax on the sofa and binge-watch something on TV or read.

As I’d worked three days in a row, it meant I had my four days off together which is great – love it when the shift pattern works out like that. Wednesday, I wrote 4000 words. Thursday I wrote another 3500. Friday I only managed 1000. I had chores I couldn’t put off, plus had a book review to write, and it was the fortnightly zoom chat with my local author group at 1pm, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time to write and was pleased I even managed 1000 words.

In the evening, the whole street had been invited to a neighbour’s house for a little celebration of the Chinese New Year. She is Malaysian and a fabulous cook, so the food was gorgeous. Homemade prawn crackers, spring rolls, spicy meat rolls, prawn toast, soy sauce chicken, and a lovely cheeseboard. I stuffed my face and was so full when I got home that I was able to put the dinner I had planned back in the fridge for Saturday night. I’ve been trying to spend as little money as possible so I’ve been eating up all the weird and sometimes unidentifiable leftovers in the bottom of the freezer. It can result in some strange dinner combinations. Tonight, I have a tiny portion of homemade veggie lasagne left over from our Christmas party, cauliflower cheese left over from my grand cooking session last September and homemade chilli fries made with the single large potato in the fridge. It’s fine. It’s food.

I estimate I have about another three meals left in the freezer before I’m down to the rogue peas in the bottom and the remains of a bag of ice. Once it’s empty, I plan to defrost and clean it, then go shopping for food and start again.

And now it’s Saturday morning. It’s eleven and I haven’t had breakfast yet. I desperately wanted to dive straight into my work in progress but knew if I did, I would probably look up when it got dark and realise I still needed to write my blog. So, I’ve written it first, with the reward of big fat bacon and egg baps and a pot of coffee for brunch to spur me on. I can hear my tummy making little growly noises, but the blog is written, so yay, it worked.

A nice brunch, then I can settle down and write with a clear conscience knowing the blog is done and dinner is in the fridge. Bliss.

I’m back to work tomorrow for one day then have the following week off. I plan to write, but there’s the freezer to defrost, I need to do a big shop, the house needs a thorough clean, I want to shampoo the carpets, plus I have a book to beta read for one of the authors in my local group. Hmm. A week off sounds like a long time and surely I could practically write the whole book in that time but looking at all the other things on my to-do list I can see that week slipping by way too fast.

Oh well, I’ve started writing, that is the main thing, and if I’m clever with my time management I will surely find the odd hour here and there to write. I will tell you next time how it goes.

Have a great two weeks everyone.

Julia Blake

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DIY, Blood, and a Horrible Mistake

Does anyone else feel time passes differently in January? It’s only two weeks since New Year’s Eve yet it feels like an aeon ago. I can barely remember Christmas it seems so much time has passed since then. It’s only two weeks until the end of the month but I know it will drag. Already my bank is texting me – are you aware you’ve dipped unto your overdraft? Yes, thank you for your concern, but I know, trust me, I know. Why is there so much month left at the end of the money?

So, what have I done in the century since we last chatted?

Work, I’ve done a lot of work. As I told you last time, the week between Christmas and New Year was mega busy and I worked five long shifts in a row before having the New Year weekend off. New Year’s Day was spent taking down the Christmas tree and, as I predicted, it was a long, hard, horrible job only relieved by the countdown of the top twenty Take That songs on Radio 2, followed by a Robbie Williams interview and concert. All together now, Let Me Entertaaaaiiinnn You. (So funny, my spellchecker wants to change Take That to Take Those).

Back to work last week, only four long shifts and a reduced target. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was still mahoosive compared to normal but almost half the previous week. Again, I managed it by the skin of my teeth.

On my day off on Friday, I had hospital appointments to have bloodwork and my boobs checked. The bloodwork had originally been done in February 2020 as part of my Over 50 Well Woman Check Up, but then the plague hit, and all non-essential doctor appointments were cancelled. I wondered what had happened to my blood test results and when I last saw the doctor before the summer when I went down with laryngitis, I asked about it.

HER: I can see the results.

ME:  Okay, good, so does that mean I don’t need to do it again?

HER: Weeelll, we’d like you to do it again.

ME:  Why?

HER: There are causes for concern.

ME:  Really? What causes?

HER: It’s best if you have fresh blood taken so we can see what’s going on.

ME:  Is it anything I should be worried about?

HER: These results are over two years old, and a lot could have happened in that time.

ME:  But should I worry?

HER: Just get the bloodwork done asap.

Huh, well, I guess if it was anything serious they would have contacted me, or I would be dead. They didn’t and I’m not, so I’m not going to worry until I know there’s something to worry about.

Last Friday afternoon I walked to the hospital. It’s only a twenty-minute walk and I didn’t want to try and park in the hospital car park or go to the hassle of arranging a second mortgage on my house to pay the fees. It was a gorgeous afternoon, blue skies and sunny, and as part of the walk is through the water meadows it was quite pleasant.

I left an hour earlier than necessary because my ex-mum-in-law had been taken back into hospital, so I planned to visit with her first. It was her birthday the following day, so I had a card and present for her. No flowers though, apparently it’s okay to take a patient food but you can no longer take them pretty flowers to cheer them up.

When I found her ward she was fast asleep and although J-, my ex-sister-in-law, tried to wake her up she remained stubbornly sleeping. I took my long-suffering ex-sis for a coffee in the cafeteria, and we had a chat before I left the present with her and went for my bloodwork appointment. I was over thirty minutes early so expected to have to wait. But no, I’d barely taken out my reading glasses and opened a book on my phone before I was called in.

The nurse didn’t hang about either. Coat off, tapped my arm looking for a vein, in went the needle and five pots of the red stuff were taken. I was very relieved she’d found a vein in my arm this time because previously they had to take it from my hand which was unbelievably painful. They want to see how my anaemia is progressing and are also checking if my B12, Vitamin D, and calcium levels are okay. Also, liver function and bone density. They are checking if I’ve somehow managed to do the menopause without realising it and they’re also testing for diabetes. It runs in my family, so it’s best to keep on top of it.

When I got to the breast department, I was running forty minutes ahead of schedule and expected to have to wait. But no, once again I was whisked straight in and the whole procedure was done and dusted in ten minutes.

I planned to either catch the 5:30 bus home or phone a friend who’d offered to pick me up, but as it was over an hour earlier than I expected to be done plus still light and dry, I decided to walk. I felt fine despite the vampires taking my blood and figured the exercise would do me good.

Oh, if anyone is wondering, I had a letter yesterday confirming that I’m all clear on the boob front, which is good to know. Still waiting for the bloodwork results.

Franki is coming home tomorrow for a brief, five-day visit. She’s coming with three friends, so I’ve been busy this week figuring out where everyone is going to sleep, tidying rooms, and making up beds. Two of her friends said they didn’t mind bunking down together so long as they have a duvet each so they’re sharing the king-size bed in the basement. Franki is in her old room in the four-foot bed. It made sense because the tortoise is in there and she is used to his nocturnal noises. The last friend is in the single bed in the office. So, four sets of bedding to launder once they’ve gone. Never ends, does it?

Anyway, they have a week’s break from university due to exam timetabling and have embarked on a mission to do as many British zoos as possible. We have three all within driving distance and during January the entry fee is low. Probably because it’s cold and half the animals will be in hibernation and the other half curled up in their homes keeping warm. Colchester is a big zoo, Banham almost as big and they will need a whole day for each. Linton is more of an animal park than a zoo and will only take them a few hours.

Their accommodation will be free, of course, and I think they’re planning on cooking here a couple of evenings and eating out the other two. I’m not too sure of their exact itinerary, it’s on a need-to-know basis, so no doubt I will find out as and when. All I know is I have been absolved of all catering requirements which suits me just fine as I’m at work for three of the days they’re here.

It will be nice to see her so soon after Christmas although it feels like an age since she was here – it’s that weird January time thing again – and it will probably be the last time I see her before the summer break.

She’s going to Wales in the February half-term and the trip to Cornwall is happening during the two-week Easter break. It’s okay. Time goes by so fast that I’ve no doubt I will blink, and it will be summer. Besides, what with texting, WhatsApp, video chats etc, it’s not like it was even just a few years ago when your offspring went away to university, and you had to be content with an awkward duty phone call once a week.

In the two weeks since Christmas, I’ve been decorating again. I know, I know, I think I have a problem. My name is Julia and I’m a DIY addict. You may remember before Christmas I managed to get one-half of Franki’s old room decorated. The room is small and full of furniture, so it wasn’t possible to completely clear the room and do it all in one go. Instead, I had to push everything over to the right-hand side and paint the left-hand side wall. I was also able to sand down the bedside cabinet and the chest of drawers and repaint them. I then ran out of time, so it had to stay that way during the festive season.

Anyway, this time I pushed everything over to the left-hand side so I could do the right-hand side. Well, I tried to push all the furniture. Franki’s large dressing table fell apart when I moved it. It’s only four years old and it wasn’t even that cheap, but it’s a flat pack which didn’t go together too well. We’ve had problems with the drawers and one side was wonky. I pulled it out and two of the drawers fell apart, the side cracked, and the back support creaked alarmingly.

I looked at it. Thought about it. Then left a voice message for Franki asking how attached to it she was because I honestly didn’t think it could be saved. By the time she messaged back to say she didn’t care about it, and I could get rid of it, I was halfway through dismantling it. Taking it to the recycling centre last Friday morning I asked which dumpster I should put it in – it’s MDF so I wasn’t sure if that counted as wood or not.

Chuck it all in the wood one, I was told, even the mirror, it’ll be fine.

Duly I lugged all the bits out of the car and made several trips to what I thought was the wood dumpster and threw it all in. It wasn’t until I was about to throw in the last piece that I realised I had accidentally thrown it all in the plasterboard dumpster, not the wood one. Oopsie. Quickly, I threw the last bit in the correct dumpster and drove away. It’s all on the top so I’m sure they’ll notice and sort it out and I can’t be the only idiot who’s done that.

I started painting. The colour on the walls I was painting over was a rather aggressive teal painted over a bright Barbie pink painted over a flowery wallpaper. Ideally, the whole lot should have been taken off, the walls primed and then painted afresh. But I didn’t have the time or the patience to do that. When I decide to replace the carpet in a few years I’ll take off the lot and do it right, as well as varnish the woodwork and paint the ceiling. For now, this will do.

There are three chunky shelves in the fireplace alcove which were chipped with grubby white paint with jewel hearts stuck on the edges. I prised off the jewels, sanded and primed the shelves ready to refresh with a coat of dark grey furniture paint that I still had quite a lot of.

Honestly, that tub of paint has been like the leprechaun’s never-ending bottle of beer. It did all the woodwork in the basement and the bathroom. The front door and radiator cover. The knobs and tops of the Welsh dresser and basket unit in the dining room, and the tops and knobs of the chest of drawers and bedside cabinet in Franki’s old room.

It’s now painted three large shelves, two sets of pegs to go on the door, and a free-standing mirror and there’s still plenty left!

I had half a tin of the pale grey emulsion I’d used on the left-hand wall, although I had finished that off with a coat of the slightly darker grey from the basement as I felt the paler colour hadn’t quite covered all the teal. Anyway, I painted the radiator with three coats of darker grey and a couple of coats of clear lacquer. I had enough of the paler grey to do two and a half coats on the right-hand wall, so finished up what was left of the darker grey behind the shelves.

I let it dry and next day examined it closely. It looked blotchy as if the paint hadn’t gone on properly. There was nothing for it, I needed to do another coat. Scrutinising the wall I’d painted before Christmas in the harsh light of day, I decided that could do with another coat as well. I still had half a tin of the colour mineral stone which we had used on the staircase down into the basement and in the window. I decided to paint both walls with a last coat of that. Talk about 50 Shades of Grey.

Painted the right-hand wall. Put all the books back on the shelves. Moved all the furniture back over and started putting the final coat on the left-hand wall. Not even one-third into the job I realised I wasn’t going to have enough paint. Bugger. Surely I could make it stretch? Nope. I was down to the lumpy bits clinging to the sides of the pot. Maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe it wouldn’t notice.

I stopped and had lunch. Went back and had a look. A massive demarcation line stretched from ceiling to skirting board at the midpoint where I’d run out of paint. Double bugger. There was nothing for it, I’d have to go and buy more paint. I went to Wilko where the original pot of mineral stone had come from two years before when Franki and I painted the basement stairwell. Please let them still have it, I silently begged.

They did, phew, but only in the big pots. Arse biscuits. With no other choice, I had to pay £15 for a big tub of paint knowing I needed barely a teaspoon of it. I finished the job.

I made up the bed ready for Franki to sleep in. As the large dressing table was now gone it left a big gap in the other alcove. I got the little desk from my room that had originally started in my room over a decade ago, then was Franki’s dressing table until I bought her the big one four years ago when it went back into my room. Realising most lodgers were requesting there be a desk in the basement, I decoupaged it a year ago and put it down there. Then it came back up to my room in the summer and now it’s gone back into Franki’s room. The mirror has stood on the tallboy in my room for thirty years. The fourth chair from my new dining set makes a nice little dressing table set that guests can use.

I’m pleased with the results. The room is small and with the four-foot bed moved to the centre of the room it makes it smaller, but it has a cottage vibe to it now and is very pretty, Perfect for guests or if Franki needs to use it as she does this weekend.

Washing out my big faithful brush that has been my constant companion since I began all my projects back in September, I was dismayed when the bristles started to fall out in the sink. I stood there, looking at the brush silently falling apart and knew just how it felt.

I’m almost out of things to tell you, except for something that happened last night that is awful but funny in a horrible grim way. As I told you, my ex-mum-in-law is in hospital in quite a bad way, and, well, to be honest, none of us is hopeful. Quite late in the evening, my phone buzzed, and a message popped up on WhatsApp.

Mum has suffered from heart failure and is at home with palliative care and I’ve moved in until the end.

I was sad but not surprised.

I’m so sorry, J- is there anything I can do to help?

Just a coffee or lunch or something at some point would be great.

Absolutely, if you ever need a refuge you know where I am.

I then took a deep breath and video called Franki. Gently, I told her what had happened. Trying to comfort her, we made plans that she would visit her grandmother whilst she was home next week. Hanging up, I looked at WhatsApp to see if my ex-sis had responded. She had, with a thank you. Looking at her message I noticed the tiny profile pic and a horrible certainty gripped my heart.

It wasn’t my ex-sis.

I clicked on the profile. Nope. Not J-. It was an old friend I hadn’t heard from in ages and certainly hadn’t expected to see on WhatsApp messaging me to let me know the news about HER mother.

Oh.

Crap.

I had just told my daughter her grandmother was dying.

She wasn’t.

Quickly, I called Franki back and explained the situation. She stared at me. Burst into hysterical laughter.

FRANKI: Do you mean to tell me I’ve been crying my eyes out for ten minutes because somebody else’s grandmother is dying?!

ME: Umm, yes.

FRANKI: I hate you. I really hate you.

ME: I hate me too.

There was more conversation in that vein – I’m sure you can imagine. But, oh my gosh, wasn’t that dreadful? I can’t believe I made such a mistake. But to be fair to me, it was late, and no names appeared on WhatsApp just phone numbers and, to be brutally honest, I was kind of expecting a message like that.

So, on that note, I need to go. It’s now almost three on Saturday. I still have the kitchen to clean before they arrive tomorrow. I didn’t think this was going to be such a long blog, but it’s over 3000 words.

Take care everyone and I look forward to chatting with you next time.

Julia Blake

Goodbye 2022. Hello 2023!

It’s New Year’s Eve and all the madness of the festive season is a dim and distant memory. After working five long shifts since Boxing Day morning, I have the whole weekend off and hadn’t grasped how exhausted I was until I awoke at almost ten this morning and realised I’d slept eight solid hours – unheard of for me.

I have quite a busy weekend planned. The tree and all the decorations need to come down. The tree was a cheap Norway spruce and has deposited a thick carpet of needles so I dread to think what it will be like by the time I’ve pulled all the ornaments and the lights off. Naked, I imagine. I must cut all the branches off and bag them up, before storing the trunk behind the log box to season and clean up all the mess. It’s a mammoth job and one I’m not looking forward to, but I’ll save it for Sunday because I want New Year’s Eve with the tree lights. I’m alone tonight, but that’s okay. I’m too tired and poor to want to go out partying.

Did you all have a great festive season? I hope so.

Some of you have enquired whether Franki and Rys got home safely after all the shenanigans with strikes and cancelled trains. Thankfully, they did, although it was touch and go. As they left Nuneaton station they saw all the later trains being cancelled on the board and worried the train they were on would terminate at the next station. Keeping me posted, they travelled further and further south, with me poised to get into my car and go and collect them. You can imagine my relief when I got the message they’d caught the train in Ely and were on the last leg of their journey.

It was so nice to have them safe and warm at home. I showed them the newly decorated dining room, the finished bathroom, and Franki’s old room which had had a partial redo and then took them down into the basement.

They were thrilled with it. The king-size bed that could be accessed from each side, the dimmable lamps, USB charging ports in the bedside cabinets – it all met with their approval.

They were staying until the 23rd and, as you can imagine, we had a lot crammed into those ten days. We were celebrating Christmas on the 17th so much preparation was involved. There was our tree to select and decorate, presents to wrap, and last-minute food shopping. Our Christmas Day dawned, and I was surprised at how much it felt like Christmas. I’d put their stockings out in the lounge after they’d gone to bed on Christmas Eve, so they sat there in their pyjamas and had fun opening all the little gifts they were stuffed with. We had breakfast, played games, and I cooked dinner – thankful I’d done so much preparation the day before. My parents arrived on the lunchtime bus, and we drank prosecco before having dinner. Afterwards, we opened presents by the tree and then played games until suppertime when I laid out a huge cheeseboard.

The next day we went to friends for midday mulled wine and nibbles, before the three of us headed to the pub for an early dinner. We had tickets for the pantomime at six. Growing up in Malaysia as she did, Rys had never been to a proper pantomime, and it was fun watching her reaction to it.

I had to work Monday, so they took the opportunity to spend time with a friend. Tuesday was our “Boxing Day” and in the morning I made a big pot of chilli beef and a veggie lasagne for the party we were having Wednesday evening, before catching a bus over to my parents’ house for games and dinner.

Wednesday was my last day at work. Originally, I thought I would be working until six and as our guests for the party would be arriving at half past, it was going to be a tad stressful getting everything done in time. Then I was told I’d leave off at 4:30, which was much better. As it turned out, we were all done by one so were able to leave off then.

The party was good fun. There were eight of us in total, so we played silly games which everyone enjoyed and ate lots of food. My chilli beef almost all went – there were three portions left to go in the freezer. The veggie lasagne wasn’t as popular, but with the bunch of carnivores coming, I’d expected that. I had eight portions left to go in the freezer, but it’s delicious and will do me for meals during the busy month of January.

Thursday, the last day before they went back. Franki had her dentist appointment, so they left early for that. I had chores to do and laid a fire and prepped dinner for the evening. When they got back we took the hamper I’d made for Franki’s grandparents around to them, and then they both spent a couple of hours packing their cases – honestly do not know why it takes them so long. Packing to leave somewhere is easy, you know exactly what’s going into the case. After that, we had dinner and watched a film and had a reasonably early night. They were catching an early train to Wales the next day and although so far it hadn’t been cancelled, with the way things were going there was a strong possibility it was going to be.

I took them to the station, then came home and stripped all the beds and started doing laundry. Four machine loads went through that day. What with three beds – Rys had been napping in Franki’s old room – that was another set of bedding I was left to strip, launder, iron, and remake. I tidied the house up, then got ready for a drinks party I’d been invited to at the neighbours. It was a festive Friday happy hour, like the ones we hold in the street during the warmer months, only in a neighbour’s large and beautiful house. I assumed it would only be drinks and a few nibbles, but it turned into a games evening which was great fun.

Christmas Eve. I woke up alone with nothing to do. This felt so odd and unnatural. Normally on Christmas Eve, I’ll be in a tizzy of prepping for Christmas dinner if I’m hosting it or dashing to the shops for last-minute shopping, secretly wrapping presents, taking the hamper around to the grandparents, maybe even going to the cinema or out to lunch. I’ve never had a Christmas Eve let alone a Christmas Day without Franki and it felt very wrong. In the evening, I was invited to a drinks party at a friend’s house, so at 5:30 I laced on comfortable boots, stuck a chilled bottle of prosecco in my backpack and set off to make the twenty-minute walk to their house on the outskirts of town.

Although it was still early, everywhere was deserted. Not a soul was on the streets, and barely any cars passed me. As I walked, I passed houses all ablaze with Christmas. Wreaths decorated doors and curtains were open allowing me to catch glimpses of magnificent trees and families gathered around tables or the TV, all together for Christmas Eve.

I felt like the little matchgirl with my nose pressed enviously on the windowpane and I felt very, very alone. Which was silly, because although I was alone, I wasn’t, if you know what I mean. Nevertheless, I was pleased when I reached the party and friends were there with hugs and well wishes and mulled wine to warm me in every way. I had thought I’d be walking home alone, but a group were also heading into town, so I had company for all but the last five minutes which was nice. Once home, I settled in for the rest of the evening. It still didn’t feel like Christmas.

Christmas morning seemed just like a normal day off. I got up. Showered. Had breakfast. I was invited for Christmas lunch, along with my parents, at my brother’s girlfriend’s house. I didn’t have to leave until one, so the morning was spent reading and scrolling social media.

Dinner was very nice, and it did feel Christmassy, although I honestly don’t know how she managed to feed so many people without a hostess trolly. But it was all lovely. I was sleeping at my parents’ house so could drink. I had to work the next day but not until 10:30. I had taken my uniform with me and planned to go straight there in the morning.

It’s been a very long time since I slept in that room, and I don’t remember it being so hot and airless. I couldn’t sleep, I tossed and turned, feeling like I was lying in a pit of lava. I was so hot. I couldn’t breathe because my sinuses were so blocked. In the end, I sat up and read for three hours. Consequently, I was shattered when I got to work and struggled to keep going during the day.

I had been invited to a Boxing Day party that evening back at my parents’ house, but I didn’t finish work until six and by the time I got home I was dead on my feet. Sense prevailed. I stayed home and had dinner and an early night.

This week I’ve worked five long shifts. We were busy for most of them and if there is a recession, then no one told our customers. I had a huge target which I was doubtful of hitting, but I did with some to spare and now have the weekend off. I had a glass of wine last night and a simple dinner, then slept a solid eight hours without stirring – this is unheard of for me so shows how exhausted I was.

So, that’s you all up to date and now it’s New Year’s Eve, the last day of a strange year of two halves. January to June was uneventful. Franki continued to enjoy being at university. She and her girlfriend Rys came to stay for most of Easter. We had the Queen’s Jubilee, and my road held a large street party. Sadly, the weather was cold and rainy, but in true British spirit, we layered up with warm clothes, put up gazebos and ignored the rain.

I published Rambling Rose, book three of the Perennials Trilogy, and wrote and published Pitch & Pace, book five of the Blackwood Family Saga. I was confident about writing the sequel to Erinsmore and getting it published during the year.

In February this blog changed from being a weekly one to a fortnightly one. The reasons for this were mainly because I had been finding it increasingly stressful and time-consuming. My life is a busy one and trying to find the time to blog every week was hard. The other part-timer at work quit this month so I was working an extra day a week which meant it was even harder for me to find the time.

In May, an Instagram friend and her husband visited from America for a couple of days, which was lovely.

Everything was jogging along in a normal and predictable pattern and then June hit, and bam, life did a 180, threw all its toys out of the pram, and proceeded to kick my arse.

Mid-June, I drove to the university to collect Franki and Rys to come home for the summer. It was going to be a long busy day as all Franki’s belongings had to be placed into storage and I was going to try and do it all in one day. It was hot, one of the hottest days of the year, so I set off very early and had a speedy and uneventful journey up. Then life decided to put a turd in my tea kettle and the gear stick came off in my hand at the university. The car was dead. RIP Basil. It had to be abandoned at the university and were it not for the kindness of one of Franki’s friends who drove us all the way home, I honestly don’t know what would have become of us.

I had no money to buy a new car straightaway, I had to wait until after my birthday in July when I could draw down a small pension. I was without a car for two months and discovered the sheer inconvenience of having to rely on public transport when my place of work is an hour’s walk away.

I bought a new car but had nothing but problems with it and eventually, my mechanic found so many issues with it that the seller had no choice but to take it back and refund my money – four days before the warranty expired.

My boiler was replaced causing three days of mess and upheaval. My bathroom was completely ripped out and replaced causing weeks of inconvenience.

After seventeen years of taking in lodgers, I finally decided enough was enough and my last lodger moved out on my birthday in July. Once he had left, Franki and Rys moved down into the basement just in time to avoid the worst of the heatwave that gripped Britain with temperatures soaring to over forty degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s been a great year for me for book fairs, markets, and a couple of Comic-Cons. I kicked off with St Alban’s Comic-Con on my birthday. The first thing I’d ever done like this, I had no idea how it would go but, to my delight, I did very well, selling almost all the books I’d taken.

A local Maker’s Market was established in my hometown and my local author’s group decided to block book two tables for the whole year. Within walking distance, it took place on the last Sunday of every month. I had a pitch in August, September, October, and November, selling £50 each time the first two months, then £100 the second two.

At the end of September, there was Norwich Comic-Con, a much bigger event with anticipated attendance in the thousands. It was brilliant fun, and I did very well, selling £318 worth of books. I thought that couldn’t be beaten but at the little local Maker’s Market Christmas Fair the last weekend in November, I sold £320.

Of course, the big news event during the year was the death of our beloved Queen. Millions flocked to London to pay their last respects and there was a public holiday for the funeral.

Meanwhile, I was busy decorating the house. The basement was repainted in tones of grey to give it a fresh and contemporary feel.

After Franki returned to university in September, I continued to decorate on my rare days off. The dining room took me over a month because the walls needed four coats, the woodwork needed three, plus I was renovating an old Welsh dresser and basket unit, which took ages. With a new carpet, curtains, hearth rug, sofa cover, and table and chairs, the room is now a beautiful tranquil haven. I barely finished in time for Franki to come home for the Christmas holidays.

I feel the second six months of the year barely gave me time to stop and breathe, let alone write, and my plans to publish the sequel to Erinsmore seem laughable now.

A new part-timer was employed at work in August, so my days off went back to normal, yet all my time was taken up with decorating and bookish events.

And now time has turned and once more a new year is upon us. What will happen in 2023? If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that life is unpredictable. Change can lie just around the river bend (as Pocahontas would say) so there’s no point in making plans and resolutions.

I do intend to try and write more. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to. The bulk of decorating has been completed. Once January is over I won’t be doing any more overtime so will have four days a week off. Oh well, best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere.

Whilst I’ve been writing this I’ve taken breaks to clean the house, do laundry, and take down all the decorations in the dining room. It’s getting late and dark and I’m hungry. I’m planning to take part in dry January again so will make the most of the half bottle of wine I have left ready to accompany a steak dinner before going cold turkey tomorrow.

I’d like to wish all my friends, followers, and readers a very Happy New Year. Here’s hoping that 2023 is a better year for us all. I want time and space to write more, read more, and rest more – is that too much to ask for? Maybe, I’ll have to wait and see.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Julia Blake

Six More Sleeps Till Christmas

By the time you read this, there will only be six more sleeps until Christmas. And before you all run off to check the date, no, I haven’t lost my mind or opened too many doors on my advent calendar. Because Franki is going to spend Christmas with her partner’s family in Wales, we are celebrating Christmas Day on Saturday 17th December – a week sooner than everyone else. Yes, the time has come when I must share my progeny at Christmas.

When we discussed it way back in September, Franki said it made more sense for me to have them the week before Christmas and then for Mx R’s family to have them from Christmas Eve until New Year. She is correct. I must be at work by 10:30am on Boxing Day and will then be working right through until the new year, so if they were here I would hardly see them, let alone be able to celebrate.

Hence why our Christmas Day will be next Saturday. This is great but means I have a week less than everyone else to prepare. That’s fine though because it’s not like it was suddenly sprung on me, I have known for months that this is the case. Am I ready? Sort of, yes. I will be. Most of my presents are here and wrapped. There is one more thing to come from Amazon – oh, and a tiny stocking present that they’ve gone very quiet about, and I have no idea when or even if it’s turning up. Nearly everything is wrapped, all my cards are written, with many handed out already and all that needed posting went last Monday. What with all the postal strikes sending early seemed wise. All non-perishable food has been slowly bought over the past month or so. I have a huge grocery shop to collect tomorrow morning. A menu planner and the last-minute list have been written. The one good thing about celebrating Christmas on a normal day is that all the shops are open so if anything has been forgotten someone can pop out and get it.

So, yes, I am as ready as I can be a week before Christmas.

When we last spoke, I was on the verge of doing the two-day Maker’s Christmas Market. So, how did I do? I’m happy to report that I did phenomenally well. Way better than anticipated or hoped for. Saturday was an insanely busy day. The town was packed solid with people looking for the big pre-Covid Christmas Fayre Bury St Edmunds used to hold. I think there was some confusion with the bus companies, who have been accused of misleading people. I know some people had come a long way expecting the third biggest fair in the country, only to find four or five venues holding markets and a few stalls. Still, it meant bigger crowds for us and a lot more sales for me.

As I walk to the market pulling my little trolley with two boxes of books and all my stall paraphernalia I was limited as to how many books I could take but honestly didn’t expect to make much of a dent in my stock. At lunchtime, when we had a brief lull, I had to run home and grab another bag of books because I was almost out. By four when the market officially closed, it looked like a plague of locusts had gone across my stall. In all, I took 36 books on Saturday and at the end of the day I had only three left. The table resembled how a table should look at the end of a very successful dinner party – all crumbs and wine stains.

I trundled my trolley with two empty boxes home ready to fill up for Sunday.

Sunday was another busy day although not as manic as Saturday, and I sold 19 books that day. In total, I sold 52 books, £320 worth. Which is incredible! To put this into perspective, my most successful sale so far had been at the Norwich Comic-Con. I sold £318 worth there, which is good, but the stall cost me £75 plus petrol money there and back. In comparison, the Maker’s Market cost me £10 and no petrol because I walked there.

I have some books left, of course. Back in the summer, I made the rookie mistake of ordering the same amount of each of the books in the Blackwood Family Saga and the Perennials Trilogy. If I’d stopped to think about it I would have realised that I was never going to sell an even amount. People aren’t going to take a chance on a whole series by an unknown author, they will buy book one and see how they get on. Even though I did order a few more copies of Becoming Lili and Lost & Found – books one of the Perennials and the Blackwoods, I still ended up selling out of them. Once book one was sold out, I had to take the rest of the series off of the stall. But it doesn’t matter, there will be other sales in the new year, and I will sell them then – once I’ve got more copies of book one.

Monday arrived and with it the new bed for the basement. I was pretty sure it would fit, but there was some doubt in my mind about the headboard because it’s quite large. The two-man delivery team arrived, and I showed them the basement. They sucked in their breath doubtfully. We’ll see if we can get the headboard in, they said. Get that in, and the rest will be easy.

They pushed and shoved, there was a moment of panic, and then it was down. Now, I’m not going to say too much about the bed in this blog because it’s a bit of a surprise for Franki when she gets home for Christmas. She knows there is going to be a new bed, just not what it’s like. I haven’t taken any photos of it yet, so I don’t slip up and accidentally post it on social media. All I will say is it’s gorgeous and I’ll show you next time what it’s like.

The bed was assembled, and I ran around the house tidying everywhere. I rushed to the shops and bought things for dinner. My friends were arriving on the 6:30pm train and I knew that Ms E was having a big posh lunch with her brother in London, then meeting Mr J and they were travelling down to Bury together. So that meant she wouldn’t be hungry, but we’d be starving. The answer was obvious – a charcuterie board.

I bought nice pate, French bread, brie, mature Cheddar, Cornish Yarg, and goat’s cheese with parsley. There was an assortment of salami, olives, fresh rocket leaves, redcurrants, and grapes. With a nice bottle of wine and a tiramisu for dessert, I thought it would satisfy everyone’s appetite no matter how big or small.

They got here safely, and it was wonderful seeing them after such a long time, we sat by the fire with candles flickering and ate and drank and talked until I was falling asleep in my chair.

Tuesday morning, we had breakfast, then Mr J was going to Harwich for the day on the train to meet up with a friend, whilst Ms E and I were going to wander about town, do a little shopping, and have a light lunch. They were taking me out to dinner that evening so we wouldn’t want much. My cousin arrived unaware that Ms E was there and was so surprised to see her again after such a long time. We worked out that the last time they met was at Franki’s christening over eighteen years ago. I ground coffee beans and made big cups of coffee and we talked, and the years simply fell away as if they’d never been. I think it’s important to have friends who knew you way back when, because they remember you as being young and silly and still see you that way.

After my cousin left, Ms E and I wandered uptown and did some serious charity shopping and mooching about the small artisan shops Bury is lucky enough to have. I took her to the Market Cross where we had a lovely lunch and a big glass of mulled wine each.

I then had an absolute win. I needed a new winter coat because mine wasn’t thick enough for the cold weather forecast to come our way. I also needed boots that didn’t leak. My old ones were worn completely through and were beyond saving. In one charity shop, I found a pale grey Marks and Spencer fully lined wool coat that fitted me to perfection for only £14, and then in another, I found a pair of brown real leather ankle boots for only £6. Brilliant. I then blew £14 on a scarf to go with the coat, and £44 on a pair of Mustang sneakers to replace my fifteen-year-old pair that had cracked across the soles. Oh well, you save where you can in order to spend where you must.

We went for dinner at Edmundos which was lovely, but every time someone came in or out of the doors a blast of frigid air came gusting in. After dinner, we walked about Bury and looked at the lights and decorations, before winding up in the Dog & Partridge for a nightcap and then making our way home.

Sadly, I had to work on Wednesday. My friends were going to a nearby small town to visit Ms E’s father and said they would cook me dinner that night. It was so nice coming home to a warm and lit house, with people pleased to see me and cooking me a steak. It was a lovely evening, and the meal was delicious.

I had to work again on Thursday so said goodbye to my friends in the morning because they would be gone by the time I got home. It was a lovely visit and we agreed it mustn’t be so long next time.

I had Friday off and my new table and chairs were delivered in the morning, and I had an authors’ zoom meeting in the afternoon, so didn’t get a chance to put them together until Saturday. The instructions said it was a two-man assembly and that it would take an hour. Nope. One determined woman thirty minutes. I love the set. It’s only a small set, the same size as my old table and chairs, but less chunky and more elegantly shaped so they appear smaller. The tabletop and chair seats are natural wood, and the rest is painted pale grey so it fits nicely in my new dining room – as you can see from the picture.

If you’re wondering what that is standing on top of it, that is the hamper I’ve made for my in-laws. I make them one every year for Christmas because they neither want nor need “stuff”. Instead, I buy all the things I know they will enjoy and then make a hamper from an old box. It looks great and rather than simply buying a food hamper which would be a lot more expensive and contain mostly things they don’t like, it’s custom-made for them.

In my last blog, I said I was on the hunt for a new hearth rug and curtains for the dining room. Well, here they are. A luxurious silver-grey fur rug which is lovely and soft, and a pair of beautiful silver damask curtains with the most outrageous tiebacks ever.

I had to work Sunday, but only six hours and honestly, it was hardly worth me being there. We are in our slowest time of the year now. No one is thinking of buying a new bed or mattress this close to Christmas and, if they are, they’ll wait until the sales start on Boxing Day. Luckily, I’d had a customer comeback during the week, so I was well and truly through my target – in truth, I think I’m through until Christmas – so I sat back and let my two colleagues take point.

Driving home from work on Sunday it was great to know I had the next eight days off, but boy, did I know they were going to be busy ones.

Monday morning, I was up early. There had been so much packaging around my table and chairs it filled half the dining room and there was no way it would fit in the bin, so I’d booked an 11am slot at the recycling yard. I had my grocery shopping to collect between 11am and midday, plus I needed to find chair cushions. My new chairs were lovely, but my word they were hard on the bum. I’d looked online but couldn’t see the colours clearly as I wanted to try and tone in with the sage green on the walls. I searched locally – Dunelm Mill had some nice green and white gingham ones that looked perfect for £10 each. I work next door to Dunelm so normally would have been able to pop in during my lunch break and collect them. But I wasn’t at work, I had a week off, and I couldn’t wait until I got back because I had a friend coming for dinner that evening so needed them ASAP. Maybe I could jump on the bypass between dumping rubbish at the skip and picking up my shopping. Yeah sure, I thought, I can manage that. I can’t miss my slot at the skip, but the shopping I had until midday to collect. So, be at the skip bang on 11am, then five minutes on the bypass would get me to Dunelm Mill. Charge in, grab cushions, back to Tesco. Yep, totally doable.

I checked stock at my local branch of Dunelm, and yes, they had at least four of the cushions in. Would I like to buy and pay for them online, the website enquired, then collect them at your leisure? Ooh, that’s a good idea, oh wait, leave at least four hours before being able to collect. Bugger! It’s now almost ten so that’s no good. I’d just have to go and hope they still had four in stock. I loaded my car with all the packaging, my old stereo system I was getting rid of, the old sofa cover, plus a bag of tatty old bedding I had finally asked myself what I was keeping it for. It was 10:30, I had time to quickly rush across the road to Wilks and get more Christmas cards and a few other bits and bobs. Dropping moisturiser into my basket I happened to glance across at their homeware section and you’ll never guess what I spotted. Only the sage and white gingham chair cushions I was planning to dash to Dunelm to buy. They were the same but were £6.50 each so considerably cheaper. There were four left. I grabbed them. And I saw a pack of four placemats and coasters which were the right shade of grey for the dining room – additional note, when I put them on the table that evening, the dim lighting in the dining room made them look sage green, so that is brilliant.

Time saved is a truly wonderful thing. Thankful I didn’t have to make the trip to the other side of town now, I drove to the skip and enjoyed immensely throwing things in the dumpsters. Then to Tesco to grab my shopping, home, unpack it, and then across town to Marks and Spencers to collect a present I’d ordered for someone. It’s been a while since I ordered anything to collect, and I dashed up two flights of stairs to where the collection point always used to be. Nope, it was the bureau de change now. Umm, okay. I wandered about before finding an assistant. Oh no, she chirped, it’s all the way back down on the ground floor now, in the corner, by knitwear.

I trailed all the way back down. In the corner, by knitwear, a long line of pissed-off and weary-looking women waited, phones clutched in hand. Silently they shuffled forward and showed the man in the little hatchway their collection number on their phone. He disappeared into the bowels of the shop and his place was taken by a bored-looking teenager. The next woman shuffled forward as the first stepped aside. She showed her phone to the teenager who also vanished as the man came back with a parcel, handed it to the first woman, as the next in the queue shuffled forward and showed him her phone. And on. And on. Until it was my turn to present my phone and receive my package.

Then I had to brave the food hall.

Originally, I was going out to dinner with a friend that evening. Then she texted at the weekend saying wouldn’t it be nicer to cook at mine? Umm. Nicer for whom, exactly? I did get her point about eating out being so expensive though. She suggested pizza but, to be honest, I’ve never been that keen on pizza and since Covid, it’s always a coin toss as to how disgusting it’s going to taste. I decided to cook my signature dish which is chicken in creamy white wine and tarragon sauce. I checked my cupboards. I had the tarragon – a good start – and there was a bottle of prosecco in the fridge left over from my birthday in the summer. I could use that instead of white wine. So, all I needed from the food hall was two chicken breasts with the skin on, cream, new potatoes, and nice veg of some kind. My friend was bringing dessert plus wine. Easy. A quick dash about the aisles and I’d be done and on my way home.

The food hall was horrible. Jammed solid with miserable-looking shoppers, we moved with a herd mentality trying to get to the shelves. I couldn’t find the cream, they’d moved it, bastards. Veg baffled me. My brain seized and I couldn’t think of what to get. In the end, I grabbed a pouch containing broccoli, carrots, and baby corn, thinking that will do. I picked up a bag of salad potatoes. Now, chicken. I fought my way through the masses to the meat aisle. Plenty of chicken. Plenty of packs of chicken breasts. None with the skin on. The skin is essential in the recipe, you season it and brush it with honey before roasting. Nope. Pack upon pack of naked chicken.

I gave up and headed for the tills. Each one was choked with a long line of fed-up shoppers. It was too hot in the shop. We were all wrapped up for the bitter cold outside so faces were red and bodies were beginning to steam. I tried the self-serve tills. Managed to get to one declaring it was cash only. That was okay. I had lots of cash left from selling various bits of furniture and from the Maker’s Market.

Are you sure you want to use this till? The message flashed up.

Yes, I’m sure.

Are you really, really sure?

Yes. I’m. Sure!

It is cash only; did you notice that?

Oh, for f**ks sake, just put my food through!

The till shut up and let me put my shopping through, then had a conniption when I told it I didn’t have any bags because I had my own.

Unknown object in the bagging area! It shrieked.

Yes, it’s a bloody bag!

Next to me, a woman was trying to convince her till that yes, bananas were a real thing, and it absolutely could scan them.

We looked at each other with a shrug of weary resignation.

I hate these bloody machines, she muttered.

We looked about. The shop was heaving, and the queues were buckling around the deli aisle. An assistant strode by, studiously not looking at the self-serve section in case anyone needed help.

Excuse me, I called. Reluctantly, he came over and waved his magic card at our tills to get them to calm the heck down and do their jobs.

With great relief, I grabbed my offending bag and left the shop.

Butchers, on the way home.

Two chicken breast fillets with the skin on, please.

Certainly, madam.

That made me feel a little better.

Home. The house was basically tidy, it only needed a quick vacuum. I prepped dinner, laid the table, and put a crackle log in the fireplace. If you don’t know what one of those is, it’s this kind of log thing that you put in the fireplace and set fire to. It gives you three hours of fire-like effect without the mess, fuss, and heat of a real fire. You need a working chimney or else it will smoke you out, but they’re brilliant when you want a fire, but you don’t, if you know what I mean.

Dinner was cooked and in the hot trolley, the dishwasher loaded and on, the kitchen cleared, relaxing music on the stereo, and candles lit, I was able to breathe for the first time that day. My friend turned up clutching dessert and another bottle of prosecco, and we had a lovely evening. It was nice not to have the noise and fuss of a crowded restaurant or the mahoosive bill at the end of our meal.

Tuesday I began decorating the spare room. Yes, yes, I know I said I wouldn’t do any more until after Christmas, but it’s a very little room and I’m only putting a coat of paint on the walls, oh, and painting the bedside cabinet and chest of drawers. I worked all day and was pleased with how much I got done.

On Wednesday I drove out to a friend’s house in the countryside and spent the day with her. We had a lovely lunch, and as she is a fellow author a wonderful chat all about books and all things writerly. Normally, I don’t leave hers until three but as it was getting dark and cold, I left at two to get home earlier and avoid the school-run traffic. It also meant I had time to go shopping and pick up the last bits of Christmas shopping. That evening I sat and wrapped almost all my presents – and then the lounge needed vacuuming again.

Thursday my parents called around for coffee and a chat, and then I spent the whole afternoon decorating, and the evening finishing wrapping presents.

Friday, I had a doctor’s appointment first thing, so of course, I overslept and had to rush out of the house with my hair still damp from the shower. Franki had asked me to check with the dentist that they had picked up her message cancelling her appointment on the 5th of January. It had been made way back at the beginning of the summer when they thought they would still be home for Christmas. But plans have changed, and they will be back at university by then. Franki had left a message, but no one had returned her call so she was worried the appointment hadn’t been cancelled and she might be fined.

The dentist is close to the doctors, so after my appointment, I went there and enquired. Yes, I was reassured, the appointment has been cancelled. Would she like to make another one? Well, unless you can fit it in over Christmas, then probably not, I laughed. We can see her first thing on the 22nd of December, they told me.

I dithered. I knew that was the day they were leaving but wasn’t sure what time their train was. I tried messaging her, no reply. I phoned and left a message. Unsure what to do, I made the appointment figuring if it was no good I could cancel it. I checked that as a full-time student she is still entitled to free dental check-ups. She is.

I hesitated, then decided to go for it and ask.

This is the dental practice I’ve been with for over forty years. A while back they went private with a mere check-up costing £90. A bit beyond my pocket. Luckily, because I had a child under the age of eighteen and was on a low income I got my dental for free. Then Franki turned 18 and that all stopped. I was told I was now a private patient liable to pay private fees.

I stopped going to the dentist. I haven’t been for eighteen months. I explained the situation to the nice lady.

I’ve been coming here since I was a child, I said. I really don’t want to go elsewhere. Do you think you could see your way to…

Taking you on as an NHS patient. Absolutely, I can see how long you’ve been with us, and you’ve never missed a check-up, so … there you go, that’s done. Would you like to book an appointment?

Umm, okay. When is the next available one?

9:30 next Monday morning?

That’s fine. I’m off that day.

Perfect, there you go.

I left in a bit of a daze. For almost two years I’ve fretted about not having a dentist and then by asking in person it was all sorted.

Oh, and in case you were wondering. Franki isn’t leaving until the 23rd so the dental appointment was fine.

At home, I got into my scruffs and did a bit more painting, before stopping to get ready for my work’s Christmas dinner. There are only five of us so it’s never going to be an uproarious, photocopying your arse, shenanigans in the stationery cupboard kind of party. And anyway, head office wouldn’t cough up that much. We get £25 per head to spend on a meal. This year, my male colleagues wanted to go to a Mexican restaurant in town. They said it was good and I really didn’t care, so a table was booked.

How was it? Umm, disappointing. For a start, my boss fell ill so couldn’t come. Normally, we are the only ones drinking so split a bottle which doesn’t make it too expensive. Without him there I was facing the options of a whole bottle to myself or paying £7.50 for one glass! I stuck to water. The restaurant was crowded and very noisy, every table full of pissed-up people having office Christmas meals. It was a freezing cold night and although the restaurant was warm, once again we were near the door which let in gusts of frigid air every time it was opened. I was in a flimsy velvet top and by the time our starters came was shivering and wishing I’d worn a vest.

The food was okay, and I mean just okay. Everything on the menu came wrapped in a giant, stodgy tortilla, and my beef enchilada was served with what looked like a pile of baby sick, but I was reassured was refried beans. Either way, it was sloppy and tasteless. We were served at 7:30, by 8:45 I was home and in my PJs and dressing gown trying to get warm and feeling very unwell. Far from a wild night out, all my colleagues wanted to do was neck their food as quickly as possible and get home. To be fair though, two of them had been in the shop all day, and two of them had to work the next, so weren’t up to a night of revelry.

I was quite unwell in the night. Dodgy food? Chill in my stomach? Who knows. But I felt better by the morning so luckily it was only a temporary ailment.

And that brings us to Saturday. A day spent mostly painting, although I did have a long video chat with Franki first thing, during which she received a message from the rail company stating their trains home on the 15th had all been cancelled due to strike action! Panic ensued and Franki ended the chat to try and figure the situation out.

She called me back an hour later. She’d managed to get practically the last two tickets on a train coming south on Monday – so three days earlier than planned. It means she will be missing a couple of lectures, but the teachers will simply have to understand. She’s booked the tickets, and we’re praying these trains aren’t cancelled as well. If they are, I really don’t know what we will do. I’m working Tuesday and Wednesday, plus I’m not confident enough to drive my new car on a busy motorway in bad weather conditions. I will keep you posted,

And now I really must stop talking. I think this is the longest blog I’ve ever written for which I apologise, but there was so much to catch you up on. Now I need to go and put a coat of varnish on the bedroom furniture, then sort out dinner for myself. At least I won’t have to worry about food tomorrow because I’m going for a very posh Christmas lunch at my brother’s lodge – which I’m sure will be heaps better than last night’s meal.

Take care everyone. There will be no blog in two weeks’ time because it will be Christmas weekend and I’m sure you will all have more important things to do. Instead, there will be a special “round-up of 2022” blog on New Year’s Day.

I’d like to wish everyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas. To be honest, I have no idea how many of you there are, but whoever and wherever you are, have a fabulous holiday season and I will see you in 2023.

Julia Blake

Light at the end of the tunnel

It’s a cold and dark pre-dawn Friday and I’m up early. I have work today but not until 10:30, however, I plan to leave an hour earlier than necessary to go shopping. There is a large home store next to the shop and I want to check it out for new curtains and a rug for the dining room because it is finished!

Yes, finally, after almost two months of work and living with it upside down it is done. The new carpet was fitted on Wednesday, and I spent the rest of the day moving the furniture back into place, washing all the crockery and glass that lives in the Welsh dresser, and arranging everything to my liking.

I’ve included a few pictures of the stages of the process and the finished results. The room is a lot more grown-up and tranquil now. I painted the room bright yellow ten years ago, and the dresser has been blue for over twenty, but it was time for a revamp. As we grow and change so should the environment around us. All that’s lacking now is a hearth rug and curtains. I had planned to go grey, but seeing everything in place I feel that 50 Shades of Grey is a bit much so now I’m thinking of something lighter to lift the room,

I was up by five on Thursday and worked until gone six that evening tidying, polishing, cleaning, and vacuuming the whole house. It’s such a relief to have everything clean and straight again. I hadn’t fully appreciated how stressed living in an untidy house had made me.

The new bed has been ordered and will be delivered on Monday, which is just as well. Wednesday evening, I had a message from old friends I haven’t seen in years.

Hi honey, we’re passing through Bury next week, any chance we could stay?

Umm yes, when?

Monday evening through to Wednesday morning?

By a lucky coincidence, I have Monday and Tuesday off. I had planned to go out with a friend for lunch on Tuesday so had to rearrange that, and my cousin is calling around early Tuesday morning to collect birthday and Christmas gifts from me for her kids (and have a nose at all the changes to the house). She is only coming for a quick coffee though and she knows my friends so I’ve left that appointment, it will be nice for us all to be together again after so many years.

Now I’m hoping (a) the bed does come Monday as planned. (b) It fits down in the basement – I mean, I’m pretty confident we can get it down there, but it is a very narrow staircase with a 90-degree angle at the top, so… and (c) there are no faults with it.

Just in case, there’s a plan B. I cleaned my room and will put fresh sheets on the bed on Monday – just in case they need to sleep there. I also cleaned Franki’s old room and made the bed in there so I will have somewhere to sleep if we resort to plan B.

It will be wonderful to see them again. Although we’ve exchanged the odd message and Christmas cards, I haven’t seen them in ages. I’m trying to remember how long it’s been. At least six years, possibly longer. Time slips by and people get so busy with their lives, and I’m more guilty than most at that. Suddenly it’s six years since you last met. Yes, they do live down on the South Coast, so they are not around the corner, and we’ve had all the Covid shenanigans in the meantime, but even so, I should have made more of an effort. It’s important to have old friends who knew you when you were young. Anyway, it will be wonderful to see them. Their train gets in the early evening so I will put together something simple for our supper, then they’ve offered to take me out for dinner on Tuesday which will be lovely.

So, what else has happened aside from two weeks of non-stop work and furniture painting? The Maker’s Market was fun although I didn’t do as well as I expected. The previous month I sold £97 worth of books so anticipated selling more than that because we’re closer to Christmas but in the end sold £90. We did clash with Remembrance Sunday and there was a parade, a service in the cathedral, and a few other activities so perhaps that was it. But £90 is still not bad for a day’s work.

It’s the two-day Christmas Fair this weekend, hence why I’m trying to write a big chunk of my blog now. I’m at work today and will be off to the fair first thing in the morning so am running out of time. It has been advertised everywhere so we’re hoping for a good turnout. There will be double the normal number of local authors selling a huge range of books from contemporary to sci-fi to fantasy to dystopian and everything in between. We will sign the book if you wish, include a bookmark, and even gift wrap it for free. If you’re anywhere near Bury St Edmunds over the weekend why not pop in and make a start on your Christmas shopping? I’m looking forward to it and have my Christmas sweater already. I even have a Santa hat that I may, or may not, wear.

Last week I worked Monday and Tuesday. Driving home Tuesday evening, I detoured via the supermarket to do a week’s shop to save time over my two days off. I planned to get my head down and finish the furniture because I was running out of time before the carpet was due to be fitted.

I had a later start than planned on Tuesday, partly because I always struggle to get going on my first day off, but mostly because the cream furniture paint proved to be useless. It gave barely any coverage, and I quickly realised I’d need many coats. I thought about it, then walked to the local hardware store and bought different paint. This time I went for the same wood paint I’d used on the woodwork in the basement, bathroom, and on the front door and radiator cover. It was lovely paint and went on well. It was also very forgiving. I chose a flat pale grey instead of going for cream, hoping that would need fewer coats.

By the time I got home, changed, and was ready to start, it was almost midday. Cursing at the later-than-wanted start, I worked furiously. Delighted to find the paint flowed on like melted chocolate or self-levelling screed, and that it was easier to apply than the primer, I made up for lost time and when I finally stopped for dinner that evening the first coat was on as well as some of the second.

I managed an early start on Thursday and painted like a demon, only stopping when two more coats were on, and the furniture was done. Cleaning up, I was surprised when the doorbell went, and it was one of my neighbours.

HER: Julia, is that your new car out there? The Toyota Yaris?

ME:  Yes, it is. Why?

HER: You’ve got two parking tickets.

What the hell?! I pulled on my shoes and ran out into the street. Sure enough, two bright yellow penalty notices were under my wipers. Stunned, I looked at the dashboard where my resident’s permit should have been. It wasn’t there. With my neighbour’s help, I searched the car and finally found it wedged far under the front passenger seat. It must have flown off the dash when I parked Tuesday night and because it was dark and I was worried about getting all my shopping into the house, I didn’t notice.

I was gutted, Two fines are £70 and if they’re not paid within a week the charge doubles. Thursday morning, I tried to call the fines department in the council. No phone number for them anymore, you must now appeal online. I did so, explaining what happened, that I was a resident and had a legal permit so would have no reason not to have it in my car, that it was a new car, so the permit holder normally attached to the windshield had gone with my old car and I hadn’t had time to replace it. Basically, I begged and grovelled. Now I wait for their verdict. I’m not holding my breath. Yes, I am allowed to park in my street because I have purchased a permit, but the rules state it must be clearly displayed in the vehicle and I can’t argue mine was because it wasn’t. To be fair to the warden as well, it’s a new car so he wouldn’t have recognised it as belonging to a resident, and none of the neighbours knew it was mine either. It was only when it sat there for two days outside my house gathering tickets that one thought to come and ask.

As for my new car, I’m getting better at driving it and haven’t stalled it in ages. I also managed to figure out how the heater works and filled it with fuel for the first time. Muttering “diesel, diesel, diesel” under my breath the whole time, I remembered not to put petrol in because that would have been a Very Bad Thing.

As the dining room is completed, I’ve ordered a new table and chairs set. I’d seen a great extending one in Argos which would be handy for when I had several people around for dinner and wanted a larger table. The set with only four chairs couldn’t be delivered until the 22nd of December. Hmm, no good, we are having our Christmas dinner on the 15th plus a party on the 21st, so I needed it sooner. A similar set had six chairs but could be delivered on the 9th. I ordered that, figuring I’d find somewhere to keep the spare chairs.

The carpet was fitted, and I moved all the furniture back into position. Standing in the considerably reduced space, I thought about the size of the table I’d ordered. I fetched a tape measure and checked. Yep, as I suspected. Although it would fit in the room lengthways, it was so deep you wouldn’t be able to get between the table and the arm of the sofa. I took a deep breath. Went back to the website and found a smaller, non-extending set, that I know will fit the space because it’s the same size as my old set. I called Argos and explained the situation, and they cancelled the big table and six chairs. I then ordered the other set, it’s coming on the 2nd of December, so next Friday, which is good.

I worked last Saturday, and Sunday was my day off, although I did an indoor sale with my mother so not sure if that counts as a day off or not. She had a ton of rubbish to get rid of from her loft and as it’s not car boot sale weather and I simply didn’t have the time to try and individually sell them for her – honestly don’t understand why she chose NOW to send poor Dad into the loft to get everything down when it could have waited until things had calmed down a bit. Anyhoo, there’s a monthly indoor thrift sale in a nearby village so we booked a table and went along on Sunday to see what we could get rid of. And there was a LOT of stuff to shift.

I even took along a few of my books to test the water and see if it would be any good for myself and maybe the other local authors to have a regular stall at. The short answer is no. I only sold one book, and that was to a fellow trader who recognised me and bought a copy of Becoming Lili as a gift for a friend. The rest of the grey hair and anorak brigade who passed through either looked at me blankly when I asked if they were a reader or barked an emphatic NO and scurried off.

On Monday I received the code for my staff discount on the new bed for the basement. The delivery was quicker than I thought it would be – only a week – so I figured I’d better try and sell the old wooden bed and mattress that was already down there. I listed it and the tiny wardrobe from Franki’s old room on the local Facebook Marketplace Monday evening.

I was stunned by the response. By lunchtime Tuesday I could have sold them both a dozen times over. Perhaps I should have asked more, but it’s so hard to tell. The first person who contacted me said they would call around that evening to collect the bed, and that was fine, so I gave them my address. But then things went a bit strange. She sent a message saying I would have to pay the shipping fees for the bed but that she would add that cost to the price of the bed and put it in an envelope which the courier would make me sign for.

It all seemed a bit off and my spidey senses were on overdrive. Finally, I told her I wasn’t going to sell her the bed and contacted the next person on the list to let them know they could have it. Then it occurred to me that I had given a stranger my address and told them I was at work all day.

Yeah, possibly a dangerous situation. I explained the situation on our streets WhatsApp and within minutes neighbours who were home promised to keep an eye out for anything strange going down at my place.

Anyway, everything was fine – it was just my suspicious nature – and a young girl and her parents came first thing on Wednesday to dismantle the bed. They were driving away as the carpet fitters arrived, so that was perfect timing. The guy who wanted the wardrobe came early evening. He’d looked at my profile on Facebook and wondered if he could buy a book from me for his wife. He chose Erinsmore, I signed it for her, and he took it and the wardrobe.

Then I spent the whole of Thursday getting the dining room back together, preparing the basement ready for the new bed, and cleaning the whole house from top to bottom. It’s so wonderful to be straight again.

It’s now Friday evening. Since beginning to write this blog I’ve been to work. I went an hour early and found curtains and a soft fur rug which is now down in front of the fireplace – much to my cat’s approval. Yesterday I packed everything ready for the fair tomorrow so all I need to do this evening is bring it all downstairs.

Will my life calm down anytime soon? Probably not. But for now, I’m all caught up. There is homemade lasagne to reheat and wine to be opened. The fire is lit, and I’ll find something to watch on Netflix.

So, this is me signing off and saying take care and when we next speak it will be the end of my week off work, so I should have lots to tell you.

Julia Blake

More About My Car

Hello everyone. Here we are, halfway through November already. Honestly, where has this year gone to? What a rollercoaster two weeks it’s been since last we spoke. I don’t know where to begin because I have good, bad, and indifferent news. Firstly, because I know you were all worried, I managed to pay the cheque to my bank. The machines have been updated so accept my First Direct MasterCard, so it was all good.

Okay, what about the car, I hear you ask. Deep breath and are you sitting comfortably because the whole situation has changed? The short story is, Ruby has gone, and I have a new car. Yep, it all happened quickly but this is what occurred.

As you know, last time we spoke, I was hoping she would behave herself for the three days I had to go to work and then she was going back to the garage for them to go deeper with their inspection. Well, she managed to get me to work and back although I had to grit my teeth at the bunny hopping and the wanting to die at every red light. Wednesday came so I took her to the garage and waited for their call. Spending the day priming furniture, I wondered what they would find.

At five that afternoon they called. The ABS pump was shagged, there were electrical issues, plus communication problems between the gearbox and the engine.

ME: Would they have known about all this when they sold it to me?

THEM: Oh yes.

I phoned the sellers and told them what my mechanic had found. They were frosty and hostile. I got so cross that I went beyond ranting and raving to cold white anger where my words were clipped and precise as I told them I wanted them to come and get the car and give me a refund.

THEM: We only have your word there are all these issues.

ME: Phone my mechanic. This is his name, address, and his number. I will call them and give them my permission to speak to you. I want this sorted.

I then called my garage, catching them before they shut for the day and permitted them to speak to the seller. I told them the seller claimed they couldn’t possibly have known about all the issues when they sold Ruby to me. My mechanic gave a bark of laughter and said, no.

Thursday. I spent the day priming furniture and fuming. At midday, the dealer phoned me. They were very sorry for all the inconvenience. Of course, they would come and collect the car at no expense to me and refund me my money minus a small fee of £100 to cover collecting the car. Fair enough. I agreed, and it was decided they would come the following Wednesday. I wondered what the mechanic had said to them and when I walked to collect the car I asked him.

I may have said something about the small claims court and that I’d be prepared to give expert evidence. I may have mentioned making an official complaint to AutoTrader. I may have told them that an honest review of them from you might be in order.

Whatever he said, it worked, so I walked home and carried on priming. My parents turned up. My dad’s van was leaking water so they took my watering can full so they could get home and drop the van off at their mechanic. I told them what had happened, and when dad got safely to his mechanic he asked him if he knew of anyone selling a little runabout. I might, his mechanic told him, I’ll make some enquiries and let you know.

That evening, I walked to the shop and bought a fat steak and a bottle of wine. I needed them. I also managed to get a Tesco collection slot for 9-10 the next morning and made sure I stocked up on the heavy things like cat food and loo roll. After all, I might not have a car for a few weeks. There was no guarantee the car my father’s mechanic knew about would pan out. Best I get the shopping now and, if need be, I could walk to local shops for anything else.

On Friday, I awoke early with the thought that after the weekend I might not have a car for quite some time. I lay there and thought about the dining room carpet that still needed to be ripped up and taken to the dump.

By 5am I was in my pyjamas, armed with a blunt Stanley knife, cutting the carpet up into more easily managed pieces, moving furniture so I could get to it, and ripping up the underlay – which was so old it almost disintegrated. I piled it all into the lounge, then showered and had breakfast.

By the time my parents turned up, I had been to Tesco and collected the shopping, put it all away, and loaded all the carpet and underlay into the back of Ruby. It only just fitted. When they walked in I was vacuuming all the dust and carpet fluff up from the house.

Dad came with me to the skip to help me get rid of it. As we walked out to Ruby he ran a hand appreciatively over her red curves.

DAD: She’s such a lovely car. Maybe you should try to get her fixed and keep her. She’s so beautiful.

We went to the skip. By the time we got back, after a drive of stutters and grinding, struggles to pull away at the roundabout and bunny hopping down the road, as well as the violent rattling from her nether regions, he had changed his tune.

DAD: Yeah, this car is a piece of shit. Get rid of her.

Over coffee, he told me that his mechanic knew of someone selling a Toyota Yaris, in good condition, with reasonably low mileage. Was I interested? Yes, I was. We phoned the seller and arranged to go and look on Saturday.

Anyway, it was a gorgeous little blue car that came with an extensive service history from my dad’s mechanic, had 80,000 miles on the clock, hatchback with four doors. It was perfect. The owner was asking £1800 but explained that it would need a new exhaust before its MOT at the end of March, so he knocked £300 off the price.

He took us for a spin in it. I listened to the engine. No grinding or spluttering. It sounded smooth. She handled well and felt a sturdy little drive. No rattles or bangs – driving Ruby had been like being inside a tin can.

ME: Does she have a name?

He thought about it.

HIM: Not really, but she is a rock and roll star.

I agreed to buy it but asked if I could keep it on his driveway until Ruby had been collected by the dealer, then I could sort out the tax, swap the insurance, and have my parking permit ready to put on the new car. He agreed, we sorted out the paperwork, and as soon as I got home I paid the money into his bank account thinking how lucky it was that my tax refund had come sooner than expected and was for £1600 thus covering the price for the new car.

Thinking about her name, I remembered how he’d said she was a rock and roll star, and the name Peggy Sue popped into my head. Perfect.

The next three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I was at work and every morning and evening would approach Ruby with trepidation. Was she going to start? Was she not?

I hadn’t heard anything from the dealer so texted them Tuesday evening. Are you still coming tomorrow afternoon? Yes, we are, they replied. We’ll collect the car, bring it back to the garage, check it over, and then issue the refund.

Umm, no, I don’t think so.

I replied that I was not comfortable with that idea. In short, the key and paperwork would not be handed over until the refund was in my bank. They tried to persuade me otherwise, but I held firm. This company had given me no reason to trust them, and I wasn’t about to start now.

Finally, a compromise was reached. They would come, check the car was okay, and then phone the garage to let them know everything was in order. A refund would then be paid directly to me. I would check my bank account. If all was present and correct, I would give them the keys and the paperwork, and they would then take the car.

Fine, they agreed. Just make sure you have the paperwork ready, especially the logbook.

Logbook? That was a thought. I tried to remember if I’d received one. I didn’t think I had. I searched through the paperwork. Nope, no sign of it. I phoned the DVLA. They checked. Nope, I was not Ruby’s registered owner. Legally, I didn’t own the car.

I couldn’t believe it. The dealer hadn’t bothered to send the change of owner slip to the DVLA, so they were still the registered keeper of the car. Fuming I phoned the dealer. I’ll go and check with the accountant she told me, and I’ll call you back.

Time ticked on. It was now gone 2pm. It gets dark earlier now the clocks have changed, and I wondered if they would still come that day. I texted her. Are you still coming? They’re now leaving came the reply. Nothing was said about the logbook. Presumably, if they were still registered as the owners that made life simpler. After all, I had the invoice so could prove I’d paid for the car so there was no way they could claim I hadn’t.

At 3:30 they arrived. Two mechanics who really couldn’t care less. They didn’t even check the engine or anything. They looked inside the car – I had vacuumed it all out that morning because two car boot sales, several bags of wood, and taking the carpet to the skip had left a bit of a mess – they phoned the garage. Everything seems fine, they reported. The woman on the other end again tried to get out of paying me, but I stood my ground, politely reminding her of our agreement. Then one of the mechanics took the phone away from me.

HIM: Just pay her. It’s cold and we want to get back.

She paid me. A minute later the money was in my bank, I handed over the key and the paperwork and watched Ruby be driven away forever. Not sorry to see her go. That car has been nothing but trouble. My mechanic called her a “Friday afternoon car” and said she was “unlucky” and that sometimes you get a car that no matter how much money you throw at them they’re never right.

Thursday. In the post, I received the logbook for Peggy Sue. The old owner had posted the change of ownership slip immediately which is what the garage should have done. I went onto the DVLA and registered to pay her tax. I can’t believe how cheap it is – Ruby was £14 a month, whereas Peggy Sue is £30 for the whole year! Absolute bargain, I paid it in one lump sum so it’s a few pounds saved every month. I then phoned the DVLA and got through to the very helpful Scott. Explaining the whole “not registered as the official keeper of Ruby but paid her tax which I would quite like to now cancel, please” situation. Absolutely, he said. This sort of thing did sometimes happen and there was a form which he would email to me immediately. I would need to download, print, and complete the form then scan and email it back to them. I could also cancel the direct debit on my end just to make sure. He also kindly checked the ownership status of Peggy Sue whilst he was at it. Yes, he confirmed, I definitely, one hundred per cent, was her owner.

I then called the AA and swapped the insurance from Ruby to Peggy Sue. I did wonder if I might get a refund because Peggy Sue has a smaller engine and is an older car. Of course, I didn’t. Instead, they charged me a £25 admin fee.

Dad called round on his way home from golf with a van load of wood for me. As we had a coffee I told him everything that had happened, and he shook his head in disbelief. We both agreed that pretty though she was, Ruby was no loss. I can’t help feeling I somehow dodged a bullet and was lucky to get my money back so easily.

After he’d left, I managed to do a couple of hours of priming. I’m fast running out of time. It’s a fiddly, long-winded job painting furniture and as the carpet is being fitted in ten days and I’m at work for six of those days and at the Maker’s Market tomorrow, it only gives me three days to get two coats of paint on the dresser and the basket unit.

On Friday, I squeezed in a couple of hours painting before my parents picked me up at midday. They were going to Tesco and as I didn’t have a car I asked for a lift. I wasn’t sure how late we’d be collecting the car and didn’t feel braving Tesco car park on a busy Friday afternoon was the best way to ease myself back into driving a manual. Talk about a baptism by fire.

I won’t lie, I was nervous about driving a manual again. I hadn’t had to think about clutch control and gears for over twenty-five years and it was a bit daunting.

And how was I? Okay. I was okay. Not as bad as I feared I was going to be, not as good as I hoped. I did stall her a couple of times, but I managed. I drove to work this morning and parked, and it was fine. Driving home, I did stall her when I tried to pull out of the parking space. Not sure why. I had my foot on the clutch and everything, but I got home and got parked outside my house so that’s good. I will improve. I’m sure after I’ve driven her a few times it will become so second nature again that I won’t have to think about it.

And now it’s Saturday evening. I’m home, there’s a fire blazing because after a couple of days of unseasonably warm weather when I managed without either the heating or the fire, it’s turned cold again. I have a glass of Tia Maria and coke, and there’s roast chicken and potatoes cooking. So, it’s all good.

Tomorrow it’s the Maker’s Market again and after dinner I will pack everything ready for an early start in the morning. I really enjoy these markets. It’s fun being with my author friends and I love chatting with people about my books and maybe selling a few. Last month I sold £100 worth so am hoping as Christmas is close that I might sell even more.

And that’s it for now. At least the whole sorry saga of the car seems to have been resolved. Hopefully, I will quickly adjust to driving a manual again and Peggy Sue will give me many years of trouble-free motoring. Fingers crossed.

Take care everyone and I’ll catch up with you in a fortnight.

Julia Blake

Happy Halloween!

I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon, waiting for the mechanic to call because … yep, you’ve guessed it … the car is broken again! The last time we spoke the car was back in the garage after a spectacular failure to start in Tesco’s car park. Well, after having the car for several days and examining it and cleaning various bits of it, the garage phoned to say they simply couldn’t find anything wrong with it, and that it was flying into life every time they tried it.

I walked to get the car. It started fine. It continued to be fine for almost two weeks, then today when I was trying to park outside my house after collecting my shopping, it died on me. Big Time! It wouldn’t reverse. It wouldn’t go forward. I could still change gears, but the car wouldn’t move. It was like it was paralysed. A message lit up on the dashboard in big, red letters – TRANSMISSION MALFUNCTION!

Transmission? I panicked. Isn’t that the gearbox? I know from bitter experience that once the gearbox goes in an automatic that is that. The only thing that can be done with the car is scrap it. I phoned the garage again. There’s no mechanic free right now, they told me, we’ll call you as soon as one is available to come around.

Please, I begged. The front of my car is sticking out into the road. I only need one careless herbert to come roaring up the road and that will be my front wing taken off.

That was at 11am, it’s now gone one and no one has called. I phoned the garage I bought the car from. Oh dear, they said. Keep us posted. The engine and gearbox are covered by warranty, but we will need to do the repairs.

Now, that’s all well and good, but they are almost a hundred miles away so it’s a question of getting the car there and back to them.

Surely, I said, it would be cheaper and easier all around for you to liaise with my mechanic about the fault and then pay them to carry out the repairs – if, the car CAN be repaired.

No, they said petulantly, we have our own way of doing things.

Great.

It’s a shame because otherwise, I had mostly good news. I’ve finished painting the walls and woodwork in the dining room, plus the builder has been back to take out the old window, fit the new smaller double-glazed one, plaster the ceiling and around the skylights, and finish the tiling.

He did a good job, and it will look amazing, but the bathroom needs a deep cleaning. Plaster dust coats every surface, there is plaster splattered up the walls, and tiny chips of tile everywhere just waiting to catch unwary feet.

It was on my to-do list for today, but instead, I’m doing non-messy jobs so I can stop and deal with the car when the mechanic calls – if he calls. How long can I leave it before calling back? I mean, I don’t want to be pushy or rude and although I don’t need the car until Sunday I am aware that the garage shuts at 5:30 this evening and doesn’t re-open until Monday. Maybe give it a little longer and then call them.

Why does it always break down just before the weekend?

I had a letter in this morning’s post from H.M. Revenue & Customs. The tax refund I thought I wasn’t getting until next April will be with me soon. No mention of how much, just that they will send me a cheque. A cheque? How very 20th century. Problem is, I don’t think I can pay a cheque into my bank account anymore. I bank with First Direct which is an online bank. Up until last year, I could use my local HSBC bank branch. Then First Direct stopped using Visa and swapped to Mastercard but HSBC machines weren’t compatible. I did not find this out until after a car boot sale when I tried to pay cash into my account and the machine wouldn’t accept my card. The assistant explained why, we paid the cash into Franki’s bank because she happened to be with me at the time, and she transferred it to my account. However, a cheque must be paid into the account of the named person so that won’t work. There is no longer a counter service anymore so that’s not an option either. I was going to call my bank and ask for suggestions, but I’m waiting for the mechanic to call so can’t use the phone until they do.

Why is life so difficult?

Correction, why is MY life so difficult? Yes, I know other people have trials and tribulations but seriously not like this. Nothing ever goes right, I face problem after problem, and to be honest, I am getting tired of it.

Soooo, what else?

Okay, as I said the bathroom is almost complete. It needs a darn good clean, including the glass in the skylights which are covered with plaster splatters. I guess that’s me back up the ladder.

Once the plaster is dry on the ceiling it will need three coats of paint. The dreaded pink Dulux again, but at least it’s so light and bright in the bathroom I’ll have no trouble seeing where I’ve been. All the pipes will also need two coats of paint.

I love the colours in the dining room. A soft classic green, it complements the new deep mahogany of the woodwork. As I’ve finished all the decorating in there I’ve put the light fixings back up and rehung our pictures.

When I last decorated in 2013, Franki and I made a piece of artwork, especially for the room. Buying a large, blank canvas, we used the colours in the room and splattered it with paint for a Jackson Pollock-type effect.

Although I still liked it the colours were all wrong, so I decided to have a go at giving it a makeover. I painted it with two thick coats of grey paint, let it dry, then splattered the green paint onto it as well as a little of the dark grey wood paint.

I like it. I think it’s restful and it goes well in the room. Plus, it was free and that is always good. I did take pictures but it’s so dark in the dining room even with the lights on that it’s not very clear.

The next step is the furniture. My large Welsh dresser and basket unit need to be cleaned, lightly sanded, and painted with two coats of wooden furniture primer. Then I will paint them both with a thick heavy cream gloss paint – except for their tops – these I will paint grey. All the wooden knobs that came off the basement furniture were saved, and I’m going to prime and paint six of them with grey paint to finish the look of the Welsh dresser. I will take pictures.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am that my tax refund is imminent. I think it’s going to be over £1000 which I desperately need. I have the builder and carpet fitter to pay. I want to buy a new bed and mattress for the basement, plus Christmas is almost upon us. I was seriously worried about how I was going to pay for everything so this couldn’t have come at a better time. Always assuming I can find a way to pay it into my bank account,

To save money, I haven’t yet put my heating on. Instead, I have been lighting a small fire in the lounge in the evening which is enough to keep the cat and me toasty warm. Last night, I knelt before the fire to put another log on and moved the fireguard to one side. I felt something run over my hand and onto my thigh. I looked down. A MAHOOSIVE spider was crouched there. Seriously, this thing was big enough to carry away my firstborn.

Now, I’m not afraid of spiders. But big, hairy, monstrous things that have the audacity to crawl onto my leg. Nope. Absolutely not. In a moment of blind terror, I grabbed the thing and slung it onto the fire. Where it hissed and vanished.

Do I feel guilty?

Maybe. A little bit.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely.

Sorry/not sorry.

On Tuesday we had a lady come into the shop to train us in evac chair handling. For those who don’t know what that is, an evacuation chair is a weird contraption that can be used to transport people downstairs in an emergency if they can’t walk or the lift is not an option – if there’s a fire, for example. The chair has skis fitted which grip the stairs and allow you to push someone down them safely. My male colleague got a glint in his eye when asked to push me down the stairs and I must admit to shrieking like a little girl when the chair slid over the edge of the staircase. Apparently, it is impossible to tip the chair over, but I wasn’t sure I believed that. After thirty minutes of training though, we were both pushing each other down the stairs – much to the howls of laughter of the few customers in the shop.

It was fun and broke the day up. Things are a little quiet at work right now, so any distraction was welcome.

It’s Halloween this weekend plus the clocks go back here in the UK. For the first time, I’m not doing anything to celebrate the spooky date. To be honest, it’s been the last thing on my mind what with everything else that’s happening and now that Franki isn’t here it all seems a bit pointless. Gaining an extra hour Sunday morning will be nice though, but unless my car is fixed – which doesn’t seem likely – or a colleague gives me a lift home, I shall be facing an hour-long walk home in the dark. So not looking forward to that.

It’s also the last happy hour with the neighbours this evening. I do enjoy our little weekly gatherings but once the clocks change it’s too dark and cold to want to stand outside.

I can’t believe we’re almost into November. Already I’m buying things for Christmas and making plans. My Christmas will mostly be happening the week before because Franki and Mx R will be arriving on the 15th and leaving on the 23rd. We have lots of things planned and luckily due to my shift pattern and being able to book my remaining eight hours of leave, I only work on one of the days they will be here.

November will be busy – what with trying to get all the decorating finished plus a Maker’s Market on the 13th and the two-day Christmas Fair the following weekend, I just know the month will whizz by.

It’s now 3:30pm. Do you think I should phone them? I think I should. I’ve been jumping up, my heart thudding into my mouth, and peering out the window every time a car has roared up the road. It’s not so bad whilst it’s still light, but once it gets dark I’m scared it’s going to be damaged.

Okay, spoke to my mechanic, they are calling around soon to get it safely parked and maybe have a look. I also spoke to the seller again. Apparently, I must pay all the transport costs for getting it to them and back to me again. So that’s going to be £400! And there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again. I’m at my wit’s end and don’t know what to do. I’m outraged I must pay to get it to them. It’s my bad, I should NEVER have bought a car from so far away but carried on looking locally. I’m wondering if it might not be a better idea to get my mechanic to look and give me a quote for fixing it. If it’s less than £400 get them to do it, then sell the car or trade it in locally for something more reliable. I hate this car so much. I think it’s cursed. I don’t trust it and I’m sick of playing Russian Roulette every time I need to go somewhere. Will it work? Will it not? Who knows.

Okay, deep breath. I should try and calm myself before the mechanic gets here. I will keep you posted as to what happens but send good wishes my way and keep your fingers crossed for me.

All the best.

Julia Blake

Update: Mechanics came and managed to get the car working, for now. Because it misbehaved for them, they were able to plug in some scanner-type thing and a few error codes came up including communication issues. So, it’s parked outside the house and fingers crossed it starts over the next three days and gets me to work and back. It’s booked to go into my garage on Wednesday for them to look, assess, and quote me. Once I know the score I can plan.

I’m thinking if it’s under £400 get my garage to do the work then sell the fecking thing. The way the second-hand car market is now I will certainly get back what I paid, maybe even more. I’ve even discovered why I struggled to buy an automatic locally. It’s because we have two American air force bases close by and most Americans can only legally drive an automatic.

As for me? Well, I will look for another car locally, and I won’t be fussed if it’s an automatic or not. I drove a manual for years, I’m sure it’s like riding a bike and I’ll soon pick it up again. Okaaay, the last time I rode a bike I fell off and ripped the skin off my kneecap, but I’m sure I’ll pick it up quickly.

Who knows, I may even come out of this with more money than I went in with.

Oh, and the cheque from H.M. Revenue & Customs arrived Saturday morning. My sums were a bit off, rather than the £1000 I’d hoped for, I got £1600. So that’s rather marvellous.

Still unsure how to pay it into my bank though.

I’ve Been Driving in My Car. Not!

I know what you’re thinking. It’s been two weeks, surely she’s finished the dining room by now. Umm, no I haven’t, not even close. It’s been a busy two weeks and trying to fit in decorating around work and everything else I must do is hard. Also, I’m a lot older than the last time I did a major decorating job. Back then, I could start work early and keep going until I was done. Now, I’m slower and get tired more quickly. I also must know my limits. When I’m tired, I get clumsy, and that’s not something you want to be balanced at the top of a stepladder with a full tin of paint.

I went into October full of good intentions but worked the first three days of the month. On my first day off I spent almost the whole day clearing and cleaning the dining room. I have a large Welsh dresser which holds all my best crockery and glasses. I rarely go in there and as I started pulling everything out and boxing it up, it was surprising how much stuff I have. I did put a few things with my old crockery ready to go to the skip and three old, mismatched glasses come from heaven knows where went to the bottle bank. It’s all piled up in the basement and it’s just as well the lodger moved out because it would have been a lot more difficult had he still been here. Especially as he wasn’t the type of person to understand and be patient with the state of the house whilst the renovations were ongoing.

Finally, I had no more excuses and could procrastinate no longer. I got into my old painting clobber and climbed up the ladder to paint the ceiling. It’s been a long time since I’ve painted a ceiling. The basement doesn’t count because it’s so low I only had to stand on a small stool to reach it, but all the other ceilings in the house are high – over eight feet – so that’s me, wobbling almost at the very top of a stepladder, clutching a pot of paint and praying I won’t drop it, or worse, fall off.

Again, I had the same problem with the Dulux paint that’s supposed to go on pink and dry up white. My house is dark and shady, and the pink is just not pink enough. It’s impossible to see where you’ve been. I resorted to touching the ceiling to see if it was wet.

It took all day but at last, it was finished, sort of. Getting down and looking at it in different lights, I know there are bits I’ve missed. Am I getting back up there to touch those patches up? No. I don’t think anyone is going to be sitting in my dining room, looking up at the ceiling, and judging me.

Then I started on the walls. It’s so awkward trying to paint in a small room with most of the furniture pushed into the middle and where you must be up and down a ladder, constantly moving it and trying to get into corners. It took me two days to get the first coat on, then I was back to work on Saturday and the Maker’s Market was on Sunday.

I enjoy these little local markets. The pitch is £5 so I only need to sell one book to make money. The previous two months I’d sold £50 of books each time – which, okay, isn’t going to set the world on fire but at least it’s a few sold, it’s spreading the word about me (and my fellow local authors), and it’s a chance to connect with readers at a personal level.

I expected this month to be the same, but we were much busier, and I was very surprised when I added up my takings at the end of the day to find I’d sold £97 worth of books – almost double what I usually do. I was offering a free gift-wrapping service and a few people bought books as Christmas presents, which was lovely.

Not so lovely is my car. Going to work on the first Monday of the month, to my horror it wouldn’t start. I tried and tried, kept turning the key and revving the engine, but nothing. Every single light came on across the dashboard, but the engine refused to start. Not knowing what to do – I was opening the shop and knew if I was late and the shop wasn’t opened on time, I would be in serious trouble – I phoned my boss and let him know the situation.

Take a taxi, was his curt response. A little taken aback I phoned a local taxi company and to my great relief they got to me quickly and I clocked into work with seconds to go before my shift started. Once I was safely clocked in at work, I phoned my parents and told them what had happened. Vastly relieved when I was told my father and brother would call around my house that afternoon and look at it, I planned to get the bus home when I left work at five. At least those two months without a car meant I knew the bus timetable by heart.

As it turned out, my dad and my brother got to mine so late that by the time they’d finished looking at the car – and not finding anything wrong with it and the wretched thing starting every time for them – it was almost five so Dad picked me up from work. I phoned my garage and told them the situation and arranged to take it in on Wednesday which was my next day off. Getting home, I tried the car, and it flew into life the first time. Okay…

The next day, I went out and tried the car thirty minutes before I needed to go to work. If it didn’t work then it would give me plenty of time to catch the bus. It flew into life. Great. I went back in and finished getting ready. Thirty minutes later, yep, you’ve guessed it, the car was as dead as a dodo. Climbing out and thinking I’d have to fork out for a taxi again, a neighbour came out and saw me kicking the tyres and doing a John Cleese on my car. Upon hearing the problem, he immediately offered me a lift to work which I gratefully accepted. I caught the bus home at the end of my shift, unable to believe after spending all that money on a new car that I was once again relying on public transport.

Wednesday and the car was very reluctant to start. Revving the guts out of the engine, I finally got it going. The garage is only on the other side of the town but there are five sets of traffic lights between my house and it, and every single one was red. Keeping my revs up because I was terrified the car was about to die, I could see other drivers giving me funny looks – no doubt wondering why I was being such an impatient arse. Dropping the car off at the garage, I walked home, going to the library and doing a few other chores on the way.

When the garage called later that day, they told me the battery was knackered and it had to have a new one. Cost – £100. Taking a deep breath, I told them to go ahead and then I phoned the seller I’d bought the car off. It was still under warranty and although I knew the battery probably wasn’t covered, I thought I’d try. Nope. Very sorry, the battery isn’t covered by the warranty.

So, the garage replaced the battery, and I went to collect my car. It started the first time, with no hesitation or stuttering. Great, I went to Tesco and did my shopping thinking, okay, it’s cost me £100 I hadn’t budgeted for but at least it’s now fixed.

Not being on shift the next day, it wasn’t until I went to go to work on Saturday that I found I still had problems. The car did not want to start. I revved and revved, foot pumping furiously until finally with a thump from the engine, the car started, and I got it to work. I work with men, so of course, they were interested in the problem and had endless discussions about what it might be. At the end of the day, they lurked in the car park as I tried to start the car. Pulling faces at my efforts to get it started and at the belch of purple smoke from the exhaust when I finally did, they cheered as I drove away.

Sunday was the Maker’s Market, and the garage was shut. On Monday, I phoned again to tell them there was still a problem. Bring it down, they said. After a few painful minutes of stamping on the accelerator and muttering curses, the car finally started, and I got it to them. They kept it for two days and then phoned me.

We can’t find anything wrong with it, they said. We keep trying it and it flies into life every time.

Not knowing what else to do, I walked to the garage. But, when I tried to start the engine it wouldn’t start. I tried several times then ran back inside to alert the mechanic. Very excited, he hurried out after me and I tried again. This time, yep, you’ve guessed it, the wretched thing flew into life every single time I tried.

At this point I have two theories – (a) the car hates me, and (b) the car is possessed by a demon that hates me.

I drove home, completely baffled.

Wednesday and Thursday. It was a fight both days to get the car to start and on the advice of the men at work, I phoned the garage and booked the car in for a full service, hoping it would sort out the problem.

Friday, my next day off. I needed to go shopping so drove to Tesco. But, when I tried to start the car to come home it was dead. Every single light lit up on the dashboard but there was nothing from the engine, no matter how hard I pumped the gas or how many times I tried. I phoned the garage, again. The mechanic was just finishing something and then he’d come and see if he could get the car started.

Twenty minutes ticked by. Concerned about the frozen food in the boot, I phoned my parents. They had said they were calling at mine anyway to drop off more wood for my fire, and I knew they’d probably be on their way. I explained what had happened, please can you come and find me in Tesco car park and take my shopping home.

I sat there a bit longer. The heavens opened and torrential rain smashed onto the windshield. I sat there, staring at it, thinking about the load of washing hanging on the line.

Life, I muttered, at least start using lubricant.

I called the garage again and got an answerphone. I kept trying the car. Nothing. There was a knock on my door, it was my mother. I opened the door and tried again to show her the problem – and the car started!

Follow me to the garage, I ordered, praying the car would get me there. I tried the garage again. We’re on our way, they said.

No, stay there, I told them, I’ve managed to get the car started!

Keeping my revs up, I babied the car to the garage, my parents following. They were in my father’s van so there was room for my shopping, but not for me.

I’ll walk home, I told them, and off they went.

I walked home. Luckily, it had stopped raining. On the way, I bought a bag of chocolate chip cookies. I wanted doughnuts, but there weren’t any, so cookies it had to be.

I had planned to paint that day, but by the time my parents had gone, it was lunchtime. I had no idea if the garage would call and I’d have to get changed and walk back to get the car, so I baked instead. Going through the cupboard I’d found half a bag of dried fruit, some candied peel, and half a bag of walnuts and had decided to make a big fruit cake. I had enough ingredients to make four cakes plus eight mini apple and cherry crumbles. The cake I portioned up, wrapped, and froze, so I have enough fruit cake to last until next year.

Pausing to have a coffee, I scrolled through Instagram and noticed a post by one of the authors in my local group. She was talking about going to a poetry and open mic event that evening. An event I had a ticket to but had completely forgotten about. Well, not so much forgotten about, but hadn’t realised it was that evening. Panicking a bit, I dashed about the house until I found the ticket, cooked an early dinner, and got ready to go. Briefly, I’d thought about cancelling. After the day I’d had, could I be bothered to drag myself out? But, I had the ticket and didn’t want to let my friend down, so I went and was very pleased I did. It was a fun evening. We both put our names down to read one of our poems and afterwards went for a drink. I think it did me good to relax and forgot about everything – even if it was only for one evening.

That was Friday. It’s now Saturday evening. I’ve spent the day getting the second coat on in the dining room. There has been no word about my car. My mother can give me a lift to work tomorrow before she goes to church, but as it’s a Sunday and there are no buses, that will be me either walking home or possibly getting a lift with one of my colleagues, depending on who is on. I’m at work on Monday but on a 9:30-5:00 shift which means I can catch a bus there and back.

I don’t know what I’m hoping for. I guess either something so simple that it’s easy to fix and ridiculously cheap or something that’s covered by the warranty. The situation is frustrating and stressful, and I could do without it right now. But that seems to be the way my life works. I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I must wait two days before any more decorating work can be done. I think the dining room will need a third coat and then there will be all the woodwork to sand, prime, and paint. Then there’s the Welsh dresser and the basket unit to sand, prime, and paint. The pipes in the bathroom need painting. Plus, I have decorating projects lined up for the bedrooms.

I might be finished by Christmas, at least, I hope I am.

I keep thinking one day I will be straight. One day I’ll be able to chat with you about how great things are. Sadly, today is not that day.

Take care guys.

Julia Blake

NorCon and Lots of Food!

What an incredibly full-on fortnight it’s been. And before you ask, no, I haven’t even made a start on the dining room yet, there have been too many other matters to attend to. The week off which I assumed would be ample time to start and even complete the dining room was taken up by bits and bobs that didn’t look like they’d take long when I wrote them on the list, then did.

All the woodwork in the bathroom needed a light sanding, two coats of primer, and then two coats of paint. I had loads of the grey wood paint left over from the basement so was using that. It’s a nice grey and tones in with the bathroom perfectly. Anyone who has painted in a bathroom will know how fiddly and time-consuming it is though. It’s not like a wall where once you’ve done the cutting in, you can bish-bosh it on. It’s almost continuous cutting in with all the skirting boards, the door, the frame, and around the glass panels in the door.

I took my time because I didn’t want to get paint everywhere. Much of it was done listening to the funeral commentary on the radio, with frequent breaks for me to dash through and see the important bits on the TV.

I found it incredibly moving and must admit I welled up a couple of times. It was all so beautiful, so solemn, and just so, so British!

Tuesday morning. I had an appointment first thing at the local recycling centre and loaded up the car with the old bathroom cabinet, the laundry basket, and a ton of old cardboard. A very nice man saw me struggling to lift the cabinet from the car, quietly took it from me and heaved it into the dumpster. We both listened for the anticipated smash, then pulled disappointed faces at one another as it landed intact on a pile of rubbish.

Then I shot off to the St Nicholas Hospice donation centre close by with a large box and a bag of stuff for charity. The fleecy hanging radiator bed that had traumatised my cat so much she’d refused to use it was on top of the box. The man took one look and pulled a face.

HIM: Sorry, nothing to do with animals.

ME:  Oh, what? Why?

HIM: Contamination, fleas, lice, infection, you name it.

ME:  But it’s never been used. You can see it’s new. My cat wouldn’t go near it.

HIM: Doesn’t matter, rules are rules, we can’t take it.

Meekly, I took the offending item back and drove to Tesco to pick up a much-needed shopping order. I was seriously out of food. Back home, I put away the shopping, and then put a message on the road’s WhatsApp asking if anyone wanted the cat bed before I binned it. Two minutes later a reply came. My neighbour over the road had seen the message during her lunch break and read it out loud. A colleague gave a little whimper, and when asked if she’d like it for Mr Socks nodded enthusiastically. So, it went to a good home.

The old radiator went on the local things for sale group and was sold for £15. The remaining three items went on eBay, and I got £50 for the lot. I posted them off last Monday and I’m hoping they reached the buyers safely, what with the Royal Mail strike.

And that’s all the clutter gone from my house. Not only is it a great feeling to have had such a thorough clear-out, but I made £230 from selling off unwanted things, which isn’t too bad.

I then spent the rest of the day painting the second coat of paint on the bathroom woodwork, and lightly sanding down the inside of the front door and the large wooden radiator cover in the hall. I also paid a trip to the local hardware store to buy paint for the dining room walls, more primer because I’d used it all in the bathroom, a small tin of white interior metal paint for the bathroom pipes, and a pot of good-quality heavy cream wooden furniture paint. When did paint get so expensive? That lot came to £80!

Wednesday. I managed to get two coats of primer on the door and the radiator cover. In between the coats drying I did laundry and housework.

Thursday. One coat of top paint on the door and radiator cover. Then a friend called around with the steampunk outfit she’d offered to lend me for Norwich Comic-Con (NorCon) where I had a stall that weekend. A long black ruched lace dress, various goggles and a genuine Sam Browne gun belt with leather pouch and gun holster to use instead of my normal boring money belt. Would it fit? My friend is taller than me and a good deal thinner. After she’d left, I tried the dress on. Holding my breath, I eased the zip up. Yay, it fitted. There were only a couple of issues. It was sleeveless and as my sleeveless days are over I would need something like a shrug to cover the tops of my arms. Also, whilst long and flowing at the back, the dress was shorter at the front. Considerably shorter. Think kissing the hem of my knickers shorter.

Gulp. I don’t have the confidence in my thighs to pull that look off. There was nothing for it. A trip around the charity shops was in order. Luckily, Bury St Edmunds seems to have more charity shops than normal ones, so I was confident I’d find something.

By shop four I was getting worried, so I popped into the fancy dress and party supply shop to see if they had anything. No shrug or something to wear under the dress, but they did have bowler hats for £5 which I reckoned with the goggles on would look fine.

My hat – feather was a gift from a pigeon

Two shops further on, I found a calf-length black silky evening skirt with a pattern of bugle beads for £3.50 which I figured would do. In a retro shop in the town centre, I found a simple black shrug which would cover the offending bingo wings, then in another charity shop, I found a heavy, black beaded, gothic-looking necklace. Perfect. My outfit was complete. Hurrying home, I found black tights that didn’t have a hole in them and tried everything on together just to make sure. Yep. It all looked okay. I then painted a second coat on the door and radiator cover.

Fellow author, Rachel Churcher, who was also doing NorCon, was going to drive up to the venue on Friday evening and claim our tables and make sure everything was in order. Therefore, she’d asked if we could get our tablecloths to her Thursday afternoon, so I wandered around to hers at about four-ish, arriving as the other author doing NorCon, Mary McGuire, arrived with her cloth.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon, so we sat in Rachel’s courtyard and drank tea and chatted until quite late. Walking home past the fish and chip shop, the aroma reduced me to a drooling, famished wreck so I bought fish and chips for my dinner and very nice they were too.

Friday. Examining the door and radiator cover, I decided they needed one more coat. I still had lots of paint left. Honestly, this pot of grey paint is like the leprechaun’s never-ending bottle of beer. Then there was just time to write and post a book review before it was the usual zoom meet-up with my local author group where we made plans for NorCon that weekend. We finished the meeting earlier than usual and I made sure my trolley and books were all packed up and everything was ready for a very early start on Saturday. Quick drink with the neighbours, then it was dinner and an early night.

Saturday. I’d set both my alarm clock and my phone so was awoken at 5am with both droning away in my ear. Blinking stupidly, trying to persuade my body it really did want to get up, I dragged myself out of bed and got ready. I was picking up Mary at 6:30am so needed plenty of time for breakfast, wiggling into my costume, and loading up the car.

Mary was waiting when I arrived, so we piled all her boxes of books into my car, and we were off. I was slightly alarmed at the number of books she was taking – over four times more than me – and wondered if I’d brought enough. Oh well, I thought, nothing I can do about it now.

We were off by 6:45, I knew the way to Norwich but would be relying on Mary to guide us to the Norfolk showground where the event was taking place.

It was a reasonably uneventful journey, apart from Mary’s route finder having a funny five minutes and taking us off the main road and detouring us through the back of beyond. Creeping along country lanes that were narrowing to the point of barely being wider than the car, we kept exchanging worried glances. After taking us a good twenty minutes out of our way we finally popped back onto the road we had been on and reached the showground before 8am. Parking in the traders’ car park, we found Rachel and her husband and lugged our first load to our table. We were in the creator’s aisle where you had to be selling something you’d created yourself. As we were opposite the guest stars who were there to sign autographs and sell photos and other such merchandise, we hoped we’d be busy.

Behind us was a small exhibit area where a martial arts group were offering light sabre lessons. They were amazing and a part of me desperately wanted to have a go, but all strapped up in a long flowing frock as I was, I didn’t think it was a good idea. Didn’t want to bust the zip. Besides, I was there to make money not spend it.

A frantic half hour followed as we set up our tables the way we wanted them and readied ourselves.

My table all ready to go
Erinsmore with dragon
Black Ice was my best-selling book
The Forest sold really well
Sold a lot of Lifesong as well

As we had two tables we originally had four of us splitting them between us, but at the last minute one person dropped out so Rachel offered the spot to an author we’d met at the St Alban’s Comic-Con. He only lived at King’s Lynn, so Norwich was closer to him than it was for us. His name was Mark Ashbury and he had published a couple of fantasy books. He arrived as we were setting up. A great guy, unfortunately, he couldn’t come on Sunday morning because he was volunteering at a duck sanctuary. I initially misheard him and thought he said a dog sanctuary and we talked at cross purposes for a few minutes before I realised my mistake.

Mark Ashbury

A fellow author friend of ours, Amy Warren, had a stall just around the corner so she popped over to say hello and buy a book from each of us. I hoped it wouldn’t be my only sale of the weekend.

Lovely Amy Warren

They let the early birds in, people started milling about, and we all held our breath in anticipation.

This weekend was a total unknown for us. Would we sell anything? Would anyone even talk to us? How busy was it going to be?

Well, I can tell you it was epic!! So much fun. Many people were dressed up and had gone to a lot of work and effort with their costumes. We had a steady stream of people coming to our table, chatting to us about our books, taking cards and fliers, and occasionally even buying. Driving home that evening with Mary, we tried to figure out how much we’d taken. Most of our payments having been taken on our card machines it was hard to tot it all up.

One funny thing, I had to get petrol on the way home and ended up flouncing into the petrol station to pay in full steampunk regalia. The man behind the till just raised his eyebrows in a bored, “seen it all before” look. I’d been invited to go to the pub for a quick dinner by Rachel and Alan so as soon as I got home I jumped in the shower, got ready in record time and was walking into the pub courtyard a mere thirty minutes after getting home. I’d also taken the time to add up my cash takings for the day which came to £47, so not bad.

Sunday. As our books were already at the show, Mary was able to take us in her Lotus – in which there’s barely enough room for me and my hat, let alone a ton of books. Right from the off, it was clear Sunday was going to be a different day. It seemed more alive and energetic compared to Saturday. The crowd were buzzing, it felt like we were busier and sold more, but again, until I had my card payment report come through it was impossible to tell for sure. (NB. I actually did slightly better on Saturday than Sunday, even though I would have sworn it was the other way around).

Mad Mary McGuire
Rachel Churcher with her impressive amount of books
Scary cyberman

One wonderful thing did happen, a young girl who’d bought a copy of Black Ice on Saturday, came back on Sunday to tell me she’d started reading it Saturday evening, couldn’t put it down, and that it was now her new favourite book, and she was telling all her friends about it.

Something like that is absolute gold for an author and it completely made my day.

It’s the Avengers – fabulous costumes
Yes, he did play the tuba
Dalek threatening to exterminate
Chewbacca

Getting home that evening I was utterly and completely drained. By the time I’d unloaded my remaining books from Rachel’s car – they’d very kindly brought everything home in their car because, as I said before, Lotus – gratifyingly, I’d taken three full boxes of books and only brought back one, got changed and fed the cat, I was ready for dinner and bed.

Thankfully, I had Monday off and devoted the day to catch up on admin, correspondence, and other stuff that had been lurking on my to-do list for months. Too exhausted to even think about making a start on the dining room – and besides, I was back to work the next day so what was the point – it felt good to clear the decks of all those annoying tasks that had mounted up.

Tuesday and Wednesday. Workdays so what can I say? Although I did have the report from my card machine come through and rather to my delighted surprise I’d taken over £220 at NorCon, which is brilliant. In all, cash plus card and discounting the £20 float I took, I sold £318 of books.

Thursday. Sick of living in a dusty, cobwebby filthy house, I set to and cleaned it from top to bottom. I love Autumn, but I hate all the spiders coming into the house to find shelter for the winter. Cobwebs, so many cobwebs. It was a breezy, sunny day so I took down my net curtains, washed them, and got them out on the line, then washed all my windows and surrounds thoroughly.

Yes, maybe I should have made a start on the dining room, but I can do that when it’s raining, and the windows were so grim I was ashamed of them.

Friday. I dashed to Tesco and picked up a simply enormous shop. I’d decided to devote Friday and Saturday to a major cook-in and fill my freezer with home-cooked healthy meals. With energy bills set to rise to scary amounts, it made sense to get all my cooking for the next month done in one go and then simply reheat my meal each evening in the microwave. It’s also tough cooking for just one so batch cooking then freezing down in individual portions seemed sensible as well. At the end of a long day, I’d done well, and my freezer was two-thirds full of neat little containers of single portions. But it was getting late, so I decided to save the rest for the next day.

Saturday. Early start, I needed to get cooking. I also needed to write my blog. Both these tasks I knew would take most of the day. When I’d been in Wilks the day before buying foil containers I’d noticed that they were selling off several sets of 12-piece dining sets in a lovely deep blue earthenware for only £8. I went home and thought about it.

Do you think it’s a good idea, I asked Franki over WhatsApp, if I get one of those dining sets for the Airbnb guests to use, rather than our tatty, chipped, and mismatched collection of crockery.

YES! Came the immediate answer.

I went back to Wilks Saturday morning, hoping there’d still be one left. Knowing my luck, I thought, they’ll probably all be gone. But no, there were quite a few boxes left. I looked at them. Hopped from foot to foot as I thought about it, then found an obliging assistant and got him to take three boxes to the till for me. They agreed to store two boxes with customer services for a couple of minutes whilst I took first one box home, then came back twice for the other two.

I unpacked and put them through the dishwasher, and heaved out all my offending crockery. It’s all going, every plate, bowl, and side plate, to be replaced with the lovely new set. They are a beautiful shape and colour and, unlike my old sets, fit perfectly in the new dishwasher. I know I didn’t need them, as such, but I wanted them, and getting a new set of twelve matching bowls, side plates, and dinner plates for only £24 is an absolute bargain.

And now it’s late Saturday afternoon, and the smell of shepherd’s pie cooking is wafting through from the kitchen making my mouth water. I’m almost done, there’s just the beef stew to put together and I’ve already prepped all the veg for it. I might have a portion of the stew for my dinner tonight, together with a cheesy stuffed jacket potato that I didn’t freeze with the others, and one of the eight mini cherry and rhubarb crumbles I made – the rhubarb came from my father’s garden.

Oh, and speaking of cherries. With the shopping were two large bottles of vodka which I’ve made into cherry vodka ready for Christmas for the family plus gifts for people.

I’m feeling a warm glow of thrifty housewife at all my hard work, and it does feel like something off Little House on the Prairie. Cooking meals to store for the cold winter ahead and looking for ways to save the pennies. Speaking of which, I need to go and lay a fire for the evening. Although it’s been reasonably warm today as soon as late afternoon creeps upon us the temperature drops. I’ve had a fire almost every evening for the past week, anything rather than putting the heating on. I don’t think I’m alone in deciding to think long and hard about whether I turn it on or not. Here in the UK energy prices have increased by 215% since this time last year and I think a lot of us will be going cold this winter. At least I’m lucky and have fires I can use.

Anyway, I’m getting cold sitting here and I think I need to check on progress in the kitchen. I’ve had to cook more mash topping for the shepherd’s pies because I didn’t allow for making four small ones instead of one big one, so I’ve had to put more potatoes on to boil.

As we head into October, I hope you’re all well and safe and that life is treating you kindly. Cheers until next time.

Julia Blake

Much Busyness and the End of an Era.

Many apologies for not posting a blog last week. What can I say? Time seriously got away from me. Although I had the week off work it was completely taken up with decorating, having a new bathroom installed, and getting Franki ready to return to university. By the time I fell into bed exhausted on Saturday night, I realised I had forgotten my blog was due and hadn’t written one. Never mind, I thought, I’ll get up early Sunday and write it. Nope. My body decided I was too tired and by the time I awoke at almost eight, I was running late for the Maker’s Market I was supposed to be at by nine. Anyway, more of that week later.

Firstly, of course, I can’t go on without saying something about the death of our beloved Queen. It was such a shock when the news broke, and it is difficult to process that her long reign is over. Whatever you may personally feel, it cannot be denied that she served this country and its people faithfully. No royal works as hard as she did, and she will be missed.

A true lady in every sense of the word, her devotion to her country was an inspiration. Listening to the comments of the people in The Queue, it is astounding how many have travelled so far and endured so long a wait simply to have a moment of quiet reflection with her. A truly momentous moment in history, we will never see the likes of this again.

RIP Ma’am, we are grateful for all that you have done for us.

How do I feel about Charles? I am hopeful he has inherited his mother’s strength of purpose and commitment to duty, but time will tell. He has big shoes to fill. Although I must admit, it does feel odd saying Long Live the King.

And now onto the blog.

Several of you messaged to ask about the blood-soaked crazy man running amok on my road after smashing his head through two of my neighbours’ glass front doors, before threatening others and finally being arrested by the police. They took him away and we assumed he’d be going to prison for quite some time. Nope. He was out the very next day on bail and once again living with his girlfriend in the block of flats opposite! This led to some anxious discussions as we feared he would once again come looking for revenge on us. For some reason, he holds us responsible for all his actions and blames us for calling the police. Mate, you threaten people with a knife, throw all your belongings out of a second-storey window, and smash up people’s houses with your head, of course, we’re going to call the police.

Anyway, a few days later we heard that he’d been sent to prison for a year. Not for all the damage to property, threatening behaviour, or even for attacking the police. No, he was sentenced for breaking a restraining order and a community order. Both Franki and I have given statements, twice, but I haven’t heard any more so assume we will not be required to give evidence in court, which is a relief.

In other news, my new bathroom is almost complete. There are a couple of finishing touches to do, and I’m still waiting for the builder to come and replace the window and plaster the ceiling, but the bulk of the work is now done.

Very sexy new bath

It was … interesting … the week the bathroom was installed. I had managed to take the whole week off work. The plumber was scheduled to begin work early on Monday and was confident it would all be complete by Thursday afternoon. Great, I thought, that all works out nicely. We were going out with my parents for dinner Thursday evening so it would be nice to have it all done. I planned to write my blog Friday morning, attend my local authors’ group Friday evening, and have Saturday to help Franki begin the mammoth task of packing up for university. Sunday I was going to be at a Maker’s Market all day, then it was back to work on Monday.

But as my regular readers will know, the best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere.

Monday. We were both up and finished in the bathroom by 8:30 – the time the plumber said he would be here. Time ticked on. At nine he texted me – running a little late, with you soon. Okay, that’s fine. At ten he phoned me. His tyre had blown in the middle of nowhere, he’d be a bit later than planned. Right. At almost eleven, he phoned again. He couldn’t get the tyre off so was waiting for the RAC. Very sorry, but I’ll be with you asap. Okaaay, deep breath, these things happen.

Whilst all this was happening, I was painting in the basement. The whole week off was earmarked for decorating the basement. At midday, I texted him asking what was happening and if he was okay. He called me back. I’m so in the middle of nowhere, he explained, that the RAC have only just found me.

50 Shades of Grey colour palette

I told him to be careful of the locals and if he heard banjos, to run.

I carried on painting. By this time, we’d managed to apply the first coat of primer to all the woodwork. Quite a large task as the original colour was a deep, chocolate brown and we were changing it to grey, so it needed a good primer/undercoat.

Mid-afternoon, another text from the missing plumber – be with you soon.

An hour later, another text – be with you really, really soon.

At four-thirty I texted him – would it be a good idea to write today off and make a fresh start tomorrow?

Back came an immediate reply – yes, see you tomorrow at eight.

Hmm, okay. I applied a second coat of primer, then washed up as best I could and made dinner.

Tuesday morning – I showered and again we made sure the bathroom was clear by eight. The plumber turned up just after nine. Because he was now a day behind, he set to with vigour ripping everything except the toilet out of the bathroom. A smashed-up bath and sink lay forlornly out in the garden being rained upon. Everything from the bathroom was stacked up on the dining room table. We were cleaning our teeth and washing in the kitchen sink. We had no shower. And, after a full-on day of decorating, trust me, I needed one.

Tuesday, we managed to get two coats of paint on all the walls. Franki helped a little, but she had a ton of university work to get through so the lion’s share of the decorating fell to me.

Big TV for guests. Secure cupboard for DVDs

I’ll be here bright and early on Wednesday, the plumber promised.

Will it still be finished by Thursday evening? I asked.

Oh yes, he assured me with confidence. I’ve really caught up today.

Wednesday morning dawned bright and sunny – with no sign of the plumber. At nine he called me; the builder’s merchant had let him down and my bath hadn’t been delivered. He was very sorry, but the bath was crucial and without it, he couldn’t progress any further. They’d promised him it would be delivered early Thursday direct to me, and he’d work until whenever Thursday night to get the job done.

I looked around my empty shell of a bathroom containing only a toilet and I did not share his confidence.

Still, I carried on painting. The ceiling had been done to the best of my abilities. My house is very shadowy, and I always struggle with painting ceilings because I can’t see which bit I’ve done and which I haven’t. This time though, I spent the extra money and bought the Dulux paint which goes on pink and dries up white. Brilliant, I thought, no more peering at the ceiling and having to resort to touching it to tell which bit is wet and which is still dry, this is the solution.

Only, it wasn’t.

Oh, I’m sure if you’re in a well-lit house and the painter has 20/20 vision it works a treat, but, as I said, my house is dim and shadowy – no matter how many lights you put on – and my eyesight is far from being 20/20 – more like 9 and a bit on a good day. Also, the paint was disappointingly not very pink at all. I’m not sure how pink I was expecting it to be, not shocking certainly, but maybe something a tad darker than it was. For all those of a certain age, you might remember the hint of range of Dulux colours that were popular in the eighties. There was bluebell white, oat white, daffodil white etc, all basically white with a whisper of another colour. Well, this pink was the rose white, in that you’d be hard-pressed to see it was pink at all.

Pretty new knobs

Muttering curses under my breath, I peered at the ceiling and dabbed uncertainly at where I thought it was possibly a different shade of white meaning I hadn’t done that bit yet. Franki came down into the basement and tried to be helpful. Shining her phone up at the ceiling, she pointed doubtfully – I think that bit needs doing, I think.

I did a couple of hit-and-miss coats then gave up. It’s better than it was and at least it’s clean.

We also managed to get the first coat of paint on all the woodwork and that was Wednesday.

Thursday. The plumber had pledged to be at ours by eight to make an early start to try and make up for two missed days now.

Unsurprisingly, he was over an hour late, but he went to work with gusto, throwing cheery motivational remarks our way as he took over the kitchen and started building all the vanity units. In hindsight, I honestly don’t know why he hadn’t come Wednesday and built all the units then. There were quite a few and they took him much of Thursday. He also could have taken away a van load of the rubbish, which would have saved time later.

We were supposed to be going out for dinner with my parents that evening. By mid-afternoon the plumber was showing no signs of slowing down, we still had no shower and, after three days of hard physical graft, there was no way I could be in polite society – or upwind of anyone. My hair was splattered with paint, we were both exhausted, and I was uncomfortable going out for the evening and leaving the plumber alone in the house.

So, we spoke to my parents, and they agreed it would be a good idea to postpone the dinner until Saturday, Hopefully, I’d be able to take a shower and wash my hair by then.

That left us with no dinner. I went and peered around the dining room door. The kitchen was crammed full of partially constructed units, tools, and plumber. No way would I be able to even heat up a pizza in there. We ordered a takeaway and took refuge in the lounge.

At going on for nine, I went through to talk to the plumber.

I think you need to admit defeat, I gently told him. Realistically, you’re not going to finish tonight.

He looked at me and his face fell. No, he reluctantly agreed, I’m not.

Go home, I told him. Get something to eat and get some sleep. We’ll see you in the morning.

Okay, he said. I’ll be here by eight.

So, that’s nine thirty then? I thought but didn’t say.

Off he went. I noticed that the huge packing crate the bath had been delivered in was still standing in the road behind my car. I knew the neighbours were probably not happy about it, so thought I’d put something about it on the road’s WhatsApp but went to bed and forget.

Friday. We awoke to some sarcastic comments about the crate on the WhatsApp page and hastily reassured them that yes, it would be going today.

The plumber turned up at eight-thirty – getting better. Meanwhile, work continued apace down in the basement. We’d decided to spruce up the large window area with some new grey, stick-down, mosaic effect tiles so popped to the shops to buy some. I’d decided it would be a good idea to get some thin board and cut it to perfectly fit the window area and stick the tiles onto them. My thinking was if ever rain got into that part I could lift the boards and dry it out. Also, it would be easier to clean and paint the walls in the future. I had begun chipping up the old cork tiles that were there and realised what a horrible job it was so figured if at any point I needed to replace the new tiles, not having them stuck directly to the ground would be a darn sight easier.

The first cork tile came up so easily you see, it had lulled me into a false sense of security that they’d all be that easy to remove. Of course, they weren’t! The rest had to be prised up with a chisel and hammer, came up in tiny pieces and took me most of the day to do. I also hurt my wrist from using the hammer so much.

When we got home with the two pieces of board and the tiles, the plumber was in the street cutting up the bath crate.

Are you up for a bribe? I asked him.

A bribe? What sort of bribe?

A cup of proper coffee and a custard doughnut.

There’s not a lot a man wouldn’t do for a coffee and a doughnut. What do you want?

I showed him the two pieces of board.

If I give you the measurements, could you please cut these to size for me?

He insisted on measuring the area again. Luckily, my measurements were spot on. He then cut them for me in a matter of seconds using his cutting tool thingie and Franki and I had fun sticking the tiles on. They really have made a difference to the window area and smartened it up nicely.

New floor in the fire escape

Saturday. No plumber, but then we weren’t expecting him back until Monday morning to finish up. We had the bathroom in – sort of. At least the shower was in, well, almost in. There was no sealant so the plumber told me to keep the water below the level in the bath otherwise it would flood under the tub. I was so desperate to have a shower, I didn’t care.

We had to get more tiles to finish the window, so we whizzed to the shop and then finished the last few pieces. We moved furniture back into place and Franki built the two small shelving units ready to go up in the basement. I tidied up the ground floor as best I could and cleaned the kitchen. On our way to the shop to buy tiles, we stopped at the recycling centre and disposed of the old radiator cover from the basement, a broken typing chair, and all the cardboard from the bathroom vanity units.

Mid-afternoon, I was able to stop, have a shower and wash my hair. It was bliss to be clean again. At four I had to dash to Argos to collect the new laundry basket I wanted, and then my parents turned up at five. As requested, Dad brought his drill to put up the two shelving units, and the new blind, and put a padlock on the cupboard door in the basement. We plan to store all our DVDs in there and Franki was convinced unless it was locked then Airbnb guests might steal them. Don’t think anyone in their right mind would steal her Barbie DVDs but hey ho.

We had time to do the shelves only, because, of course, they took longer than anticipated.

New shelves and blinds

Our table was booked for six-thirty, so we wandered down to the restaurant at six. It was very busy, and we had a lovely evening. It was so nice to relax, have a glass of wine, and have a meal that someone else had thought about, cooked, and cleared away from. The others had dessert, but I wasn’t hungry enough so instead, I had a tiramisu martini, which was the height of sophisticated bliss and a real treat.

Totally relaxed, we went home, and it was as I was cleaning my teeth that I realised it had been two weeks since I last blogged. Bugger, I thought, I’ll have to get up early and write a short one. But my body – possibly done in by a week of hard physical graft, a big meal, a relaxing evening, two glasses of red wine, and a cocktail – said no, and for once refused to wake at six as normal.

Opening my eyes at just gone eight Sunday morning, I realised I didn’t have time to blog as I had to be at the Maker’s Market by nine to set up ready for the doors to open at ten.

Despite being tired, I enjoyed the market. I sold about £50 worth of books but spoke to a lot of people and handed out lots of cards, so maybe seeds were sown which will later grow into book sales. You never know.

Monday and Tuesday were two long days. I was at work for both, then in the evenings was helping Franki to pack and cooking us nice dinners. The plumber was supposed to come Monday to finish the bathroom. He didn’t and I honestly can’t remember why not. But he came Tuesday and did as much as he could. There is a tiny bit of finishing up to do once the builder has taken out the window and plastered the ceiling, but the plumber told me to hold back £150 of the payment to cover those little bits.

One nice thing, when he found out I was a writer he got very excited and sent his wife the link to my website. Apparently, she was all over it and selected The Book of Eve as a good place to begin, so he bought a paperback copy off me which I signed and popped in a nice Julia Blake bag with a bookmark. When he came back on Tuesday he said she’d read the whole book over the weekend, loved it, and had told him to buy a copy of The Forest.

It just goes to show, that readers and selling opportunities can be found in the most unlikely places.

So, my bathroom is more or less complete. I’m now waiting for the builder, and he is waiting for the new window to come into stock. Life is all about waiting for one thing or another.

Non slip pebble stickers

Wednesday morning, we got up, showered, and packed up the car with all Franki’s things to go back to university. We were on the motorway by midday and had an uneventful run up to Cheshire to where Mx R, Franki’s partner, has rented a house with some friends for her next year of university. On a slightly different course to Franki, they must move to Chester university for their third year. We settled the hamster with Mx Rys – yes, that smelly, biting, noisy, carpet-eating pest of a rodent has gone!!! Forgive me whilst I do a little happy dance. Miss Moo will be living with Mx R now and I think Franki is relieved not to be a hamster single parent anymore.

We ate dinner and then they walked me around the corner to my Airbnb where I was staying the night. I was very interested to experience the whole Airbnb affair from the side of a renter and get some pointers for when I start my own business. There was a tray of tea and coffee things in the room, which was a nice touch and something I will certainly copy. But, I will add a couple of small bottles of water to the tray. When I got to my Airbnb room I realised I didn’t have any water. Yes, I could have gone downstairs to the kitchen and asked for some, but I could hear my hosts down there talking and cooking their dinner and I didn’t like to. I drank some water from the bathroom, but it tasted funny. I think fresh water in the room will be a nice touch.

And then there was the mattress.

Oh, the mattress.

Regular readers will know the issues I’ve had with almost every mattress in every hotel and guesthouse I’ve stayed in over the past year. This one, whilst certainly better than some, was a solid slab of foam no thicker than my finger. I was exhausted so did manage to sleep, off and on, but my back was hurting by the morning. The mattress is the most important thing in the room. It doesn’t matter how many fancy cushions there are, or individual sachets of coffee, if you haven’t slept because of the mattress then they were all for nothing.

Very thin foam mattress

Thursday, I was up early and gone. I had a quick breakfast at Mx R’s then we were in the car and on our way to Franki’s university by eight-thirty. Franki was panicking about the cupboard situation in their new house on campus. Apparently, there are good cupboards and bad cupboards. Franki had her heart set on the two cupboards in the kitchen island because they were a generous size and meant that the worktop above would be her space.

Fretting that somebody else might beat her to these desired cupboards, Franki jumped out of the car as soon as we reached the university and rushed off to register and get her key, whilst Mx R and I parked the car and lugged all Franki’s stuff to the door of the house and waited for them.

We needn’t have worried. Franki was the first person to move in so was able to stake their claim on the desired cupboards, and the freezer drawer and fridge space they wanted.

Leaving Franki to start unpacking all the things we’d brought from home, Mx R and I went to the storage unit to collect the first load of belongings. There were more than I remembered putting in there at the beginning of the summer and I wondered if someone had snuck more stuff in or they’d bred!

We filled the car with the first load and went back to the university. Unless someone has done it, they have no idea how much time it takes to transport an entire student’s life at the start of the academic year. Trying to help unpack, collapse boxes, and bag up rubbish as we went, I was relieved Franki was the only student in the house yet. It meant we didn’t have to worry about having mountains and mountains of things everywhere.

Mx R and I went for the next load. I hoped to do it all in two loads. Nope, the boxes kept coming out of the storage pod and I quickly realised it would take three trips. Back to university, we went. By now it’s gone midday. I’m seriously hungry and my blood sugar levels are crashing. I’m also tired, very tired, and when I get tired I get clumsy. Constantly tripping, stumbling, and falling upstairs, I knew I needed to have a break and something to eat and drink.

It was decided to do the supermarket run to stock up Franki with food and other supplies. They also needed a quick trip to the local B&M – a sort of sell everything superstore – for a few essential items, and I needed petrol.

By the time we’d done this and had a lunch break, it was gone two thirty and we still needed to get the last of the stuff from the storage pod. Mx R and I dragged ourselves reluctantly into the car to make the now familiar trip. It was coming up on school run time, so the roads were busier, and it took us longer than the previous two trips. I let the receptionist at the storage company know that the pod had been emptied. We’d paid at the beginning of the year so there was nothing else to do.

Wearily, we went back to the university and carried all the boxes up two flights of stairs. My legs were wobbling and before I could stop myself I fell up the stairs, bashed both my kneecaps and the box I was carrying crashed down with a horrible crunching sound. Horrified, I pulled the box open. It was a printer.

Oh, it’s okay, Franki told me, it was broken anyway.

Then why, I muttered through gritted teeth rubbing at my bruised knees, was I struggling up two flights of stairs with it?

It was getting late. Horribly aware I still had the long journey home and how tired I was, finally, at four, I threw in the towel.

Loading up the car with the broken printer, my overnight case, things Franki had decided they didn’t want and was sending back, plus all the boxes we’d salvaged and collapsed for me to keep until next year, I hugged them goodbye and pointed the car for home at four-thirty.

I don’t like motorway driving very much, but at least the radio works in my new car. Franki doesn’t let me listen to the radio when in the car with me and insists on playing her music. I don’t like the radio; she says, it’s all talking and shit. What they don’t understand is it’s all the talking and shit that helps keep me awake. Listening to the DJ chatter, the news, the weather, and the traffic reports pull me back into the moment. I think if it was a continuous wash of music there’s a real danger I would fall asleep.

I got home at seven-thirty, beaten up – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I unpacked the car and sent texts to let everyone know I was home. Fed the cat, had a plate of pasta, fell into bed, and slept for seven solid hours.

Friday. I wasn’t sure how much I would get done because of being so tired, but to my surprise, I cracked on with things and scrubbed the bathroom from top to toe. It may have been a new bathroom, but it was far from being a clean one. I stripped beds, did laundry, tidied the house, applied two coats of primer to the bathroom door and skirting boards. I sorted all the car boot stuff and loaded it into the car ready for an early start in the morning, realised there was a leaving do for a neighbour that afternoon and cooked some sausage rolls to take. There was quite a bit of food at the do, so I didn’t need to worry about dinner – which was just as well as I seriously need to go shopping. Then I chilled for the evening and had an early night.

Saturday, I was on the road by seven heading to the car boot sale. I really, really didn’t want to do it, but all that stuff had been sitting in the house for two weeks, so something had to be done with it. At the sale two weeks previously, we’d made £100. I didn’t expect to make anywhere near that amount this time. All the big items had been sold, plus it was colder, so I wasn’t expecting so many people. I was right, it was a much quieter affair. I was home by eleven and although I sold a lot of bits and pieces, once the pitch fee was removed I’d made £15 profit. Hardly worth it, but I guess it’s £15 I didn’t have before and a lot of rubbish gone. I will sort through what’s left. One or two things can go on the local Things for Sale Facebook page, some stuff will go to charity, and the rest will be dumped at the local recycling centre when it re-opens after the long weekend.

The rest of Saturday has been spent writing this simply enormous blog to make up for missing a week. I’m planning a nice dinner tonight in front of the TV. I may even light a small fire. The temperature has plummeted, and the nights are cold. I’m not switching the heating on though. Not until absolutely necessary. I have plenty of wood and coal and as there’s only me in the house I can make do with fires. I feel an early night is also in order as I’m back to work tomorrow for a six-hour shift before having another eight days off. It’s a pain going back for such a short time, but that’s the way it worked out, so hey ho.

And that’s it, you’re all caught up. Apologies again for missing last week, but I’m sure after reading this you can see how it happened. Take care and enjoy the weekend.

All the best.

Julia Blake