Slow and Steady Wins The Race

First of all, I’d like to apologise for this week’s blog coming to you a little later than normal. When you read about the kind of week I’ve had, you’ll understand why. For a start, my shifts this last month or so have been all over the place. When I first started at my current job, my shifts used to change every week and I never knew where I was, but my boss did try to ensure I had chunks of days off in a row. I only work three days a week, so he’d try to make it so they were sensibly proportioned with days off. Sometimes this wasn’t easy, as we were a team member down for the first six months after my start date, so I pulled a lot of overtime during that period.

Then the other part-time lady started, and things settled down a bit. Gradually, it seemed to shake down that I would work Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and the other lady would work Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Ok, it meant we both had to work a day at the weekend, but at least you always knew where you were and could plan things well in advance. Besides, with Miss F having Thursday off the same as me, it wasn’t so important having the weekend off. I only work 10am to 4pm on Sunday’s, so not too long, and Miss F tended to catch up on her sleep in the morning and get her college coursework done in the afternoon.

Then my boss went a bit crazy and suddenly I was doing day on, day off, day on, day off, which I absolutely HATED. Ask any woman if she wants a shift pattern like that and she’ll tell you no. Working like that, it meant I’d get up on my one day off with household chores to be done, shopping, ironing, running errands and catching up on social media, then it’d be back to work next day. Then the next day off it would be more of the same so I never got a chance to have any downtime or time to just relax or read, let alone do any writing.

I knew the other part-time lady was also getting fed up with it, she has a long-term medical situation going on, so knowing exactly what days she has off is essential for her when booking her various hospital and consultant’s appointments. So, we confronted our boss together and demanded he put our shifts back to how they were. He seemed genuinely shocked that we weren’t “thrilled” that our working days were – as he put it – “mixed up to make it interesting”. For a start – no. Middle aged, hard-working women do not want things “mixed up”. We like to know precisely where we are and having those four days off in a row are a godsend.

Having the Friday off, at least, is important to me. I have to get Miss F to her work placement by 9am and while that gives me plenty of time to get to work by before ten, it means I can’t go and pick her up at 2pm and have to ask my mother to do it. I don’t like having to do that, not only because I don’t want to put her out, after all it’s a nasty long drive there and back on twisty country lanes, but also because my mother is such a terribly, dangerous driver she scares the living daylights out of whoever is unfortunate enough to get in the car with her. Miss F has pleaded with me to get my shifts back to normal so I can pick her up, even offering to phone my boss and cry, if that’s what it took to make him agree.

But she didn’t have to resort to that, faced with our united determination my boss capitulated and I’m happy to report that from next week things will be back to normal. But, getting back to this week, and me explaining why the blog is a little late this morning. I had the Sunday off, but had a ton of laundry and housework to tackle in the morning, then in the afternoon took Miss F to get her tortoise. As you know, she was trying to decide what to do as the Indian Star Tortoise she wanted was proving impossible to source locally. Yes, she’d tracked down some dealer called Gary who lived in Guildford and had some for sale but, to be frank, the whole thing smelt a bit fishy.

All the experts agree that buying a hatchling that’s under two years old is cruel and unethical. They are too young to be removed from their mothers, so any dealer offering babies under two is clearly not that concerned about the creature’s welfare and happiness. Gary offered her a 2019 hatchling, so alarm bells were ringing all over the place. It was also such a long way to go, he wanted paying up front and that’s always worrying, plus there seemed no comeback if the tortoise turned out to be sickly or damaged in some way.

I employed my usual method when Miss F has to make a decision and a choice between what her heart wanted, and what her head knew to be right. We sat and discussed all the factors and then I left her to it. A couple of days later she came to me with a decision made. She’d done more research and decided to get a West Hermann Tortoise instead. Now, these are very small tortoises so won’t outgrow the tortoise table she’d already bought for at least twenty years. Best of all, Swallow Aquatics – a local reptile and fish showroom only a thirty-minute drive away – sold two-year-old hatchlings.

This seemed a much better prospect, safer and more ethical, and I was relieved it was a decision she’d reached with minimal prompting from me. We drove to Swallow Aquatics after first calling them to make sure they had them in stock, they did, lots of them. After some umming and ahhing, Miss F chose a little one that came to the very front of the tank to check us out.

You can just see him at the front bottom right

We filled in all the paperwork – buying a tortoise is a bit like adopting a baby, and I’d had no idea how much was involved. Miss F handed over £175 of her hard-earned cash and received a certificate of birth and registration, and a teeny tiny tortoise in a clear plastic box that had live crickets written on the side.

So small…

We got him home and into a warm bath to wash all the dust and other substances off him, then introduced him to his new, spacious home. Honestly, this tortoise is living the dream, his own swimming pool, food on demand and a cosy warm bed section filled with fresh timothy grass for him to snuggle down in at night.

West Hermann Tortoises come from the South of France and as this guy seems to have a proper little man syndrome, he’s been called Napoleon. Now, I didn’t think I’d get very excited about a tortoise, but I have to admit he’s actually very sweet and has a proper personality. He likes his head being stroked, he loves chin rubs and adores his bath, where he splashes about ankle deep in warm water, enjoying having his shell gently washed with cotton buds.

He’s funny too and I have a strong suspicion he has a quirky sense of humour. One morning, for some reason he decided to dump a ton of dirt into his swimming pool and turn it into a mud bath. Quite how he managed to do it given the size of him, I have no idea. He then sat there and looked at it, then looked at us, then back at the mess he’d made, as if to say – “I did this, fix it.” Miss F picked him up and he sat on her palm blinking his tiny eyes at us. “What did you do?” she asked him, and his reply was to open and close his mouth several times at us, almost as if he was laughing.

What you smiling at?

Monday, I had off, so spent the day catching up on shopping, chores and housework, and I also managed to get a couple of hours in sourcing illustrations for Erinsmore. It sounds like it should be a fun and easy job, but it’s quite hard work. I want the illustrations to obviously have the same vibe throughout and match a general aesthetic for the whole book, and I want each chapter illustration to reflect something that happens in the following chapter. It’s time consuming, but it is fun.

Tuesday, I had to do my last two hours of work ever for my freelance job. This marks the end of an era. I first started working for Mr G way back in 1987 when I was running a secretarial agency from my parents dining room. He had just gone it alone as an accountant and needed a freelance secretary. Right from the word go we clicked, having the same sense of humour, and I enjoyed doing his work. Over the years, his practice went from strength to strength and he always promised that if ever he needed someone full-time, I would get first refusal of the job.

The nineties came and home computers became more popular, gradually, the need for the services my business offered dwindled, until eventually I closed my doors in 1996 and had to look for a proper job. I worked for Allied Carpets for two years as a full-time sales consultant. Although I enjoyed the work and the pay was phenomenal, it was the type of job that could consume you if you let it. I worked long hours, sometimes all weekend, and of course I no longer had bank holidays off. At the same time, I was still doing Mr G’s work, having transferred some of my equipment to my newly converted office basement. People told me I was crazy, to still be struggling to do his work on top of such a demanding “proper” job. My response was always – “Jobs may come, and jobs may go, but Mr G’s work is always there.”

Eventually, the inevitable happened, I realised I’d reached burnout. I was working too hard. The job was taking over my soul. Yes, I was earning good wages, but most of that was going on much needed alcohol, along with meals out, takeaways and ready meals, because I was too beaten up to cook most evenings and the first thing I reached for when I got home was the vodka bottle. Something had to give, and then came my day off. Much longed for, I’d planned to spend it with my fiancé just having some us time. My boss had already telephoned three times by 10am. I turned off my phone. He called my fiancé. We turned off his phone. He called me on the landline. We put the phone on answerphone and switched off the ringer. Then he resorted to faxing me. Enough was enough! This was my day-off, I was outraged he felt he had the right to disrupt it so much. We had a blazing row over the phone, where I basically told him to f***k off, and that if he wanted me to come back to work the next day, he needed to leave me alone to enjoy what was left of my precious day off.

Ten minutes later, my phone rang again, about to scream my resignation down it I saw from caller ID that it was Mr G. He was wondering if I could call in for a minute, he had something very important to ask me. Intrigued, I popped around the corner to his office where he sat me down and offered me a job. A nice, calm, civilised job, away the shark eats shark atmosphere of the sales floor, where I would only work weekdays, never weekends and certainly never bank holidays. Ok, he couldn’t offer me such a high salary as I was getting from Allied Carpets, but still, what did I think?

What did I think? I burst into tears and accepted on the spot.

I worked full-time for Mr G from 1998 until Miss F was born in 2003. Going back after my maternity leave, I went back flexi, part-time, three days a week. I was very happy; he was a kind and thoughtful boss. A father of three children himself, he understood about things like having to suddenly dash off to pick up a child who’d fallen in the playground or was ill. Without his support, flexibility and sympathetic understanding, my life would have been a lot harder when my marriage exploded in 2004 and I was abruptly left a single mother trying to raise a child completely unaided.

In 2016 though, he decided to partially retire and although there would still be a few hours a week work from him, it certainly wouldn’t be enough to support me. I had to find another job. It was so hard. Being on the unemployment scrapheap at 48 was really hard. I suddenly realised how cushy I’d had it working for Mr G, how well he’d paid me, and how much I’d come to count on being able to change my working hours as I needed to. I began job hunting. It was awful. I hated it. Mr G had reassured me that he wouldn’t make me redundant until I’d found somewhere else, but still, I knew he was keen to take a step back and enjoy his retirement.

For the next year, I bounced about from job to job, never finding anything that quite fitted. During that time, I was also diagnosed with a long-term, serious medical condition which necessitated medication and surgery, so that didn’t help, and I did have to use some of my small redundancy pay-out to get by.

Finally, in September 2017 I started the job I have now, and life settled down a little. However, I still continued work freelance for Mr G as and when required on my days off. But now, even that has come to an end and I’ve done my last piece of work for him. It truly is the end of an era. I have very mixed feelings about it. Yes, it was easy work and the generous salary he paid me will be sorely missed, but it did eat into precious time off and was sometimes very hard to fit it. But time never stands still, so I guess all I can do is accept and move on.

After my final bout of filing for Mr G on Tuesday morning, I spent two hours trailing around every single charity shop in town trying to find an outfit for a 1920’s Speakeasy party I’ve been invited to. Going home empty handed, I did what I should have done right from the word go and logged onto eBay and bought something off there. I also accidentally bought a dress from Hong Kong which wasn’t going to get here until long after the party, but luckily, I managed to cancel that and get a refund. The dress I bought has arrived and it fits, but I’m convinced it makes me look fat. However, I’m convinced everything makes me look fat, so hey. And that was Tuesday.

Wednesday, I’d sold a few things on eBay so had to parcel them up and drive to the post office to send them off. Then I drove the thirty minutes to spend the day with my friend and formatter Becky Wright of Platform Publishing House, to brainstorm about Erinsmore and sort out what was happening with it. On the way home, I swung round the supermarket to collect the week’s shopping I’d ordered the night before. And that was Wednesday.

Back to work Thursday. I know a lot of people write and do things on their books in the evenings, but I honestly don’t know how they do it. I was aware I still needed to write my blog. Normally, on my usual shifts, I have time to write it during the day on Thursday, Friday or even Saturday, but I was working all three days this week so wasn’t sure when I would get around to it. I knew it wouldn’t happen Thursday evening, Miss F was home, the house would be noisy, she’d want the TV on in the room where my desk is, so it would be impossible to construct a blog under those circumstances.

I’ll write it Friday, I thought, after all, I would be home just after five and would have the evening to myself.  Miss F always catches the 5:40 bus to work and is gone until I have to leave to pick her up at 9:40. Plenty of time to write at least half the blog, then I could finish it when I got home from work Saturday as she’d be at work again.

Well, you know what they say about best laid plans. I had a customer walk in five minutes before I was due to go home. They then proceeded to waste my time for almost an hour before leaving without buying anything. Grinding my teeth in hungry frustration, I drove home an hour later thinking at least the house would be quiet and empty, so I could just have a quick dinner and then get on with the blog.

I walked into a wall of sound. Music playing. Miss F in her PJ’s noisily unstacking the dishwasher in the kitchen. I stopped and stared at her.

“What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t get to work, there’s a telegraph pole down on the road and the buses have all been cancelled, I’ve called work, they’re ok with it.”

“Oh.”

“Nana dropped off a ton of wood for you that Grandad’s sawn up.”

I looked. Three, large dumpy bags were standing in the middle of the kitchen full of logs and kindling. I groaned. That meant I needed to lug them outside to the log box and stack them all, in the dark, in the rain.

“I was hoping, as I’m home, we could have a fire tonight.”

I groaned again. That meant the fire had to be cleaned out and re-laid.

“Did you remember you stripped off all the beds this morning?”

I groaned. No, I hadn’t, so they had to be remade.

“Oh, and the cat’s just been sick on the bathroom floor!”

By the time I finally sat down to eat my dinner it was gone eight o’clock. The only silver lining to the evening being that as I now didn’t have to drive to pick Miss F up from work, I could have a glass of wine with dinner, or maybe two. But of course, no blog got written that evening.

Next day, Saturday, because I’d worked an hour longer on Friday, my boss said so long as we weren’t busy, I could leave off at four. Good, I thought, because I must get my blog written before I went to pick up Miss F from work at 9:40.

I was home just after four and did all the essential things I had to do in terms of feeding livestock and putting laundry on, and had an early dinner as I was hungry. I promised myself a ten-minute rest then I’d tackle my blog, so I laid my head back and shut my eyes, only to be jerked awake by the cat leaping on me. Completely disorientated, I blinked around, it felt late, it felt really late. I peered at the clock, it was 9:30pm, I’d been asleep for over three hours! Quickly, I pulled myself together and went to get Miss F, so obviously nothing was written on the blog last night.

And now it’s Sunday morning. I really meant to get up super early and get it written and posted by the usual time, but once again, my body had other plans. I didn’t wake up until gone 8:30am so it was already too late to pretend I’d got the blog all written beforehand in the normal way. Sorry. I think my body is trying to tell me something. Luckily, even though I’m back to work tomorrow and Tuesday, I then have three days off, I’m working Saturday, and then I have a whole glorious eight days holiday in a row. Bliss. But I know it will go by in a flash, because days off always do.

Anyway, I need to get a move on. It’s now 10am and I’m meeting a fellow local author for coffee at 11am and I still need to get ready and have breakfast. Busy day, as usual, but at least I’ve had lots of sleep.

Things will be back to normal next week, I promise, and I hope you can forgive me for making you wait for A Little Bit of Blake and I hope your coffee didn’t go cold waiting for me.

Have a great week, as usual, I’d love to hear any thoughts or comments.

All the best

Julia Blake

2 thoughts on “Slow and Steady Wins The Race

    1. It’s so funny, the cat really isn’t quite sure what to make of this moving pebble, and Napoleon has no fear of her even though she’s massive compared to him. He sticks his head out and looks at her and she sniffs him all over, looking very confused.

      Liked by 1 person

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