Stormy Waters Ahead

Since last week’s blog, a lot of you have been enquiring about the situation re a new lodger. Well, I am afraid it’s not good news. When we spoke last week, I had offered the young chef the room and he had come back saying he couldn’t afford all of the deposit in one go, and would it be okay if he paid half with the rent before moving in, and then half the following month?

After much thought, I had decided to accept his compromise and messaged him back that it was fine to do this, on the strict understanding that it was a one-off arrangement and in no way meant I would be lenient with rental payments in the future. In the viewing he had indicated that he was able to move in straight away, so I asked when he would like to pick up contracts and my details so we could get things organised.

He took ages to get back to me, then messaged saying that as he didn’t actually want the room until the end of October there was plenty of time for him to collect the paperwork. I was stunned. He was expecting me to hold the room for him for a month on a vague promise that he might be moving in without any kind of firm commitment from him.

I messaged back that I had been under the impression he wished to move in straight away. No, I have a very busy month ahead, came the reply. The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt about the whole situation. So, I messaged back that if he wished me to hold the room for him then he would need to sign the contracts stating an exact moving in day and pay the £500 deposit. After all, this would be beneficial to us both. He would have the peace of mind of knowing that the room was his, that I would be deactivating the ad and not showing it to anyone else. The deposit would also have been paid, so by the time he moved in at the end of the month he would presumably have been paid again and could then just pay the first month’s rent without any need to split pay the deposit.

It would also mean that I would have assurances he was serious about moving in. After all, if I held the room for him and then during the month he changed his mind or found somewhere else, it would leave me with no rental income for yet another month and having to start all over again. I felt it was a sensible and fair arrangement for us both.

Back came a furious message. No, he was not going to pay me anything until the end of the month, and then it would only be half the deposit and the first months rent, so I wouldn’t get the second half of the deposit until the end of November – as I’d agreed. Well, for a start I hadn’t agreed to such a delay in payments, and secondly, I really didn’t like the way he was talking to me.

I told him no letting agency or landlord would hold a room or property for that amount of time without a deposit being paid and contracts being exchanged. It was unfair of him to expect me to do so, and it was strange that he couldn’t see it this way.

A stream of furiously angry messages came back at me, one after the other, all sent within minutes of each other. I was being greedy. I was being unreasonable. I had agreed to his terms and now I was going back on my word. He would give me £750 at the end of October and then move in. He would give me another £750 at the end of November. He was not going to budge on that. Take it or leave it.

I left it. I also didn’t answer any of his messages. I had no desire to engage with someone who was clearly unreasonable and quite possibly deranged. Miss F rolled her eyes about the whole affair and asked, what did I expect from a chef, that this is what most of them behave like. Nice as pie when you first meet them, but cross them in anyway, and it’s a knife being waved in your face as they morph into a Gordon Ramsey wannabe.

So, that was the end of that. By this time, a whole weekend had been wasted on this individual, so I didn’t reactivate the ad until Monday morning. No problems, I thought, someone much better will come along. But they haven’t. At the time of writing this on Saturday morning we haven’t had a single enquiry. Not one. This is unheard of and worrying. Normally, even if response is sluggish, we have a few. But all this week my inbox has remained empty – not even the usual time wasters asking for the impossible.

Is it because no one looks for rooms except at the weekends? Is there something wrong with my ad or the look of my room? Or, and I think this is more likely, is it because suddenly the very real probability of going back into some kind of lockdown is looming and people are holding off on relocating until either we all know what’s actually happening or lockdown is over?

I think a lockdown of some kind is going to happen. On last night’s news, it was announced that the furlough scheme is being restarted. Mortgage providers are offering more mortgage holidays, and Scotland are going into an emergency total lockdown for two weeks over the half-term holiday. I think it is not a question of if, but rather when.

This has left me with a dilemma. Should I press on regardless for my search for a lodger, or wait and see what happens? If a short-term lockdown is imminent, then maybe I should hold fire. After all, we don’t want to be stuck in our home for however long the lockdown is with a total stranger. If we are careful, if the furlough payment is as generous as before, and if I extend my mortgage holiday then we would be okay-ish financially.

But if the lockdown went on for as long as it did before, things could get a little tight. Winter is a more expensive time, energy bills are higher, you seem to eat more, and then, of course, there’s Christmas.

Christmas has increasingly become the most stressful and least favourite time of year for me. Working the hours that I do, means I don’t even get that wonderful long break over the festive season that I used to get. I do miss those days of working in an office when we would break for Christmas around about the 20th of December and not go back until the first week of January. Now, I get three days off before going back on Boxing Day and plunging into the January sales and our peak period.

But the world is standing on its head this year. The pandemic and social distancing mean that hordes of shoppers piling into our shop to spend spend spend simply can’t happen, so what will that mean for us? What will it mean for any business that relies on those few brief weeks at the beginning of the year to make most of their profit?

I’ve had messages from family members asking if it’s okay if we don’t do presents this year, and my reply is a heartfelt “YES”. I used to spend an absolute fortune on presents for family and friends, but gradually it has been whittled down until it is literally immediate family and closest friends. Having little money to waste, the Christmas season itself is an expensive time what with the tree, festive food and drink, cards and all the other miscellaneous bits and bobs that don’t seem to cost much individually but added together come to a frightening waste of money.

It is ridiculous how much one, usually quite boring day, costs. The amount of stress that is involved and sheer hard bloody work. I used to love decorating the house until it looked like a Victorian Christmas card. Now it’s a chore, just one more thing on an ever-increasing to-do list. I’m not sure if it’s my age, if it’s the final realisation that the perfect dream of Christmas we all have is simply that – a dream – one based in nostalgia and fantasy and bearing no resemblance to the reality of cost, stress, exhaustion, overeating, and bickering families.

I know this all makes me sound like a terrible Grinch, a real Scrooge who is bah humbugging the whole “magical joy that is Christmas”, but I think I’m only speaking aloud the true feelings of most women. Ask any woman over the age of thirty if she likes Christmas – hook her up to a lie detector first – and ask for an honest answer about how she really feels about it. Most will be forced to admit that it’s a disappointing drain on finances, time, strength, and mental wellbeing.

Maybe we all expect too much. Perhaps lowering those expectations is the way to cope with it. After all that has happened this year, and facing the very real possibility of a Christmas spent in lockdown or at the very least, restricted as to who we can see and where we can go, perhaps being forced to have a low key Christmas will help people to sift out what is important and what is just glitter.

Being with family and friends is important, but not if it’s going to risk their health or yours, so accept gratefully having the time with the family you can be with, and set up zoom meetings with those you can’t. We are lucky that technology exists so that grandparents sheltering or not allowed to come into your home can watch your children open their presents on Christmas Day. You can carry your mum off into the kitchen for a long chat online whilst you prepare the sprouts and baste the turkey. You can even set up the laptop at one end of the dining table and share your Christmas dinner with family.

Fun fact, apparently turkey breeders are one step ahead of everyone and are breeding their turkeys smaller this year. No point having a bird that can feed twenty if you’re only allowed six people in your house.

Learn to appreciate the small things. Being safe in your home – a lot of people don’t have that basic right. I cannot begin to imagine how people living in toxic and violent relationships coped being locked up all these months with their abusers. Having your family around you – think about those poor university students who’ve been told they’re not allowed to go home for Christmas but must stay in their dorms! Having access to clean water and good food – again, many across the world don’t have this. Technology – as I said above, this isn’t the 1970’s! We can communicate with each other in so many wonderful ways now and even the elderly who had no time for the internet before, are now appreciating that it can be a tool for good.

So, what am I doing for Christmas this year? I honestly have no idea. Being so uncertain as to what the situation will be, I have put even the merest thought of Christmas to one side. Talking with Miss F about it, we have made the decision not to worry about a tree this year and keep other decorations to a minimum if we even bother with them at all. Christmas will happen, and it will be a simple affair – and maybe that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.

One tiny silver lining from the pandemic is that the works Christmas Roadshow has been cancelled. Oh, I am devastated. However, shall I get over it? …… Oh wait, I just did. Again, call me a Grinch, but having to be up at 5am to squish into a car with my work colleagues and drive for three hours to attend a frenzied, evangelical like event where the Head Office Team on stage consistently scream “Are we having fun!?!?!” at the heaving mass of nearly 2000 employees sweating in mandatory Christmas sweaters, who have to scream back with ever increasing fury. The terrible food, the long motivational speeches in the afternoon, and then that long drive home. No, it’s one thing I can quite happily do without this year.

So, that brings me back to the original question. What should I do about finding a new lodger? Should I wait until after lockdown, but that could be a long time in the future if lockdown even happens at all. Should I reactivate the ad this week and hope someone wonderful comes along? Even if I do put up the ad again though, it’s no guarantee that anyone will respond to it. I am at a loss what to do for the best, so I’m doing nothing. Much like Christmas, I have put the problem to one side to concentrate on things I can fix, like finishing my current book and getting it off to my editor.

It is now standing at over 120,000 words and I can’t believe how quickly I have hammered this one out. The original notion of this story first sprouted in my mind over two years ago when another author I was following on Instagram was putting together a collection of re-imagined myths, legends, and fairy tales. I was invited to take part and an idea for a retelling of a classic, much loved fairy tale popped into my head. I had written about 3000 words of it and had a sneaking suspicion that some serious cutting would be needed if I were to trim it down to the required 7000 words or under, when suddenly the project was at an end.

The author in question disappeared from Instagram forever. I am still not entirely sure what happened, there were rumours of illness and even of intense cyber harassment, but as I never did get the full story it’s not something I can comment on. Anyway, for a few days the idea was kicked about that maybe all the authors involved could still publish the book. But there was too much hard work involved and none of us really had the time or the inclination, so the project was shelved.

Fast forward over two years to this summer. I had been working hard during that time publishing three original books and re-publishing all my others. The Book of Eve had been successfully launched in early August and it was time to turn to a new project. Looking through all the various started but never completed stories I had still saved on my laptop I came across this funny little take on an old fairy tale and ideas began to pop.

I began to write furiously in mid-August and by anyone’s standards to have managed over 120,000 in just six weeks is astonishing. The story has poured out of me like water through a breached dam. The original 3000 words were eventually deleted as they no longer fitted the plot that was weaving itself under my fingertips. The notion to make it steampunk occurred early on and it’s given the story a crisp edginess that I love.

I have sourced images for all my main characters and have been posting a character aesthetic board each week on Instagram and Facebook to raise interest in the book. It seems to be working, and so far, no one has guessed which fairy tale I am retelling. But that will all change next Wednesday when I introduce the main character and then the cat will be well and truly out of the bag.

There is even a map for it. Miss F discovered a fantastic map-making website that is only £4 a month. In her element, she has been translating my rough doodle into a wonderful map that will help all the readers to visualise this fantastic new world I have created.

And a funny thing happened with one of my characters. Originally a tiny, barely even there, character, he is the aide to one of the main villains. He sits at his desk outside the door and checks in the weapons of anyone going to see his boss. And that was it. That was the extent of his participation. Until one day last week he strolled into my head and sat himself down. The conversation with him then proceeded something like this.

HIM: I’m not happy with my role within this story. I feel I have more to offer.

ME:  What? No, go away, you’re the doorkeeper and that’s it.

HIM: But I could be so much more. I AM so much more.

ME:  No, you’re not, now bugger off.

But he wouldn’t. He kept buzzing in my head like an annoying brain mosquito until a few days later when I hit a snag in the plot. There was information that the villains had, that I somehow had to make sure the heroes found out about. But how? Round and round the problem went in my brain, until a cough from the corner interrupted my thoughts.

HIM: I could help you with this problem.

ME:  You? How could you help?

HIM: Because what you don’t realise is, I’m not just a doorkeeper, I am actually a spy. A long term, undercover operative for the good guys who has been feeding information back to them for years.

ME:  ………

HIM: ……..

ME:  Keep talking.

HIM: How about if I learn this information and pass it onto the good guys?

ME:  That could work… deep sigh … okay, what’s your backstory?

He tells it to me. It takes a while. It involves going back and making one tiny tweak in the story, but nothing major and the annoying thing is it totally fits. It not only makes complete sense, but it solves my plot snag and quite a few other issues in one fell swoop. Dammit, he was right. I did need him.

ME: But I haven’t even given you a name.

HIM: I don’t want a name. I just want a bigger part.

And that’s how it goes when I am writing. My characters basically do what they want, and I merely write it all down. When I told Miss F what had happened, she looked at me as if I was mad. But can’t you make them do what you want them to do. You ARE the author, after all. I snort laughed until I cried. I may be the author, but I have zero control over my characters who are all a bit feral, very headstrong, and likely to bite if provoked.

Anyway, the book is nearly complete. I must start sending it to my editor on the 15th of October if she is to have any chance of editing it in time. I am really up against a deadline here and maybe that’s why I’ve been inspired to write as fast as I have. There’s nothing like a clock ticking to focus the mind. I will keep you posted.

In other news, my work has gone very quiet. I think anyone who had the money and the intention to replace their bed has now done so, and people are holding onto whatever savings they have. Fearful of what the future holds, they are choosing to spend their pennies on toilet rolls and pasta again. Seriously, did we not learn last time? Or maybe we did all learn only too well that if we didn’t lay in a few extra supplies for ourselves, greedy bugger Joe over the way would clear the shelves of bog rolls and buy enough pasta to build a mountain!

Miss F has done a few shifts at the restaurant where she works, but more of her shifts have been cancelled than she has worked. Expecting to be cancelled yesterday, she was relieved when they confirmed they wanted her in and when I picked her up at ten the carpark was full of people all leaving. Apparently, they had been crammed to capacity, and again I think that’s because everyone is expecting to be locked down again soon, so eat, drink, and be merry while you can.

Her lovely work placement at the doggy day care centre has sadly been postponed due to the pandemic and the fact that the local colleges and schools are proving to be shockingly bad at social distancing, enforcing the wearing of masks, and generally coping with the situation. It was feared that she might contract the infection at college and pass it onto the owners of the dogs through handling the animals. I can understand the reasoning, and she has been assured that once it is considered safe to do so, her place will still be there. Hopefully, she will manage to clock up enough hours to meet the college requirements once some sort of normality has been achieved, if it ever is.

Her hours at college have been seriously cut, and the rest of the time she is supposed to be learning online. However, once again the college is not coping with the situation very well. Teachers not turning up for virtual lessons, so the entire class sit before blank computer screens for 45 minutes. Miscommunication between teachers which leaves the students unsure where they are supposed to be going, what they are supposed to be doing, and even if they have a class or not. Faulty or missing equipment, or the teachers simply not understanding how to use it, has caused major disruptions to lessons. This complete ineptness is seriously impacting on Miss F’s education and I worry for all this year’s students.

Anyway, it is now almost eleven on Saturday morning. I must go and have some coffee and look up how to make pulled barbeque pork. I picked up some pork fillet going cheap whilst shopping yesterday, and Miss F has requested that I try to make pulled pork with it. I think she needs cheering up and she will be hungry after a long shift at work this afternoon, so I’m going to try. After all, how hard can it be? It’s just pork, pulled, right? And it certainly can’t be any harder than the completely lactose free lemon meringue pie I made from scratch yesterday. That turned out pretty good, a little runnier than usual but dairy free products do tend to have that effect. At least it tasted delicious and you would never guess there was no dairy in it at all.

Take care everyone. I feel there are stormy waters up ahead again so batten down the hatches and make sure your own lifeboat is warm and safe, and I will chat to you all again next week.

Julia Blake

One thought on “Stormy Waters Ahead

  1. I’m so excited about your new WIP of the retelling of a the fairytale. Looking forward to Wednesday’s reveal. Sorry about the chef. But it saved you a disaster with him. But now you have no lodger and the dilemma of the possible lockdown. So sorry. A mess! And yes, Christmas! More conflict. Keeping it as low keyed as possible is best. Your daughter gets it and you don’t have little ones. That would make it much harder. And what a mess with your daughter’s college situation. Here most everything is on-line while on campus! So you pay to be on campus and not go to classes. But the online courses seem handled efficiently and you get to do all your courses. I have two nieces and a nephew at university. I wish you all the best with a lodger and what looks like another lockdown coming. Really feel for your situation. It sounds tighter and more strict than here. All my best,

    Liked by 1 person

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