Cats, Coats, and Christmas!

It has been a busy week, and I still haven’t returned to work. I was supposed to go back on Thursday, but rather unexpectedly, my company decided to honour my pre-booked holiday rather than claw it back to offset the extra furlough pay I received. I had resigned myself to losing it, so this was a much-appreciated surprise, and the bonus time at home has been wonderful.

Of course, the week kicked off on Monday with the launch of my eleventh book, the fantasy steampunk retelling of Snow White – Black Ice. For once, Amazon behaved themselves beautifully. Both the eBook and paperback version were listed in plenty of time, and they were linked correctly. I had figured out how to use universal links, so with just one click people were taken to their local Amazon listing of the book where they could purchase it.

The support I received was staggering, all day my promotional posts were shared and boosted. People were posting pictures of the book they’d just downloaded, and ever more inventive stories were posted on Instagram with friends finding wonderful steampunk and Snow White related images and music.

My videos were received very well, and it was generally a fantastic day. The book was listed in the fairytale category, which is a reasonably large one with over 250,000 books listed on the UK site alone. Black Ice peaked on launch day at number 141 in the category and reached number 19 in hot new releases. For an unknown indie author with a zero advertising budget this is remarkable. By the end of the week, when I checked my sales figures, I was quietly happy with how I had done. Particularly gratifying is that I sold almost as many paperback versions as eBooks. Again, this is almost unheard of for an indie author, and I think it shows that readers appreciated the effort that had gone into the book. They wanted the paperback because they knew it would be beautiful and something to put on their shelf and treasure.

My author copies all turned up on Saturday, and I spent a very pleasant afternoon signing and parcelling up all those copies that are going to my team, and those that have been bought by readers keen to have a copy signed by the author – no matter what the postage costs.

The UK came out of lockdown on Tuesday, and Thursday morning I had to go into town to complete some chores. I had to go to the Post Office to get all my foreign Christmas cards safely sent in plenty of time. I’d managed to book a check up at the opticians, and I wanted to drop off Miss F’s new coat – well, new to her, it’s one she inherited from me – at the dry cleaners.

When I was walking around, I noticed something strange. The couple of times I ventured out during lockdown, the town had always seemed busy and, apart from inside the shops, no one was wearing a mask. However, on Thursday everyone seemed to be wearing masks, even though lockdown was now over. It’s a bit strange, that during the lockdown no one seemed to care, yet the moment it’s lifted everyone is suddenly very mask conscious. Maybe people think by finally being sensible and obeying the rules it will mean they will be able to mingle at Christmas.

We are having an extremely quiet Christmas this year. The new rules mean we can’t have anyone in our house at all. We can’t meet other households in a restaurant, so can’t even go out to dinner with family and friends to swap cards and presents. You can meet outside, but quite frankly the weather doesn’t really allow that. So, we’re down to leaving things on people’s doorsteps, which sort of detracts from the joy of present giving.

So far, there is not a single decoration up in the Blake household. There seems little point even bothering. If no one is allowed in our house, Miss F is now working Christmas Day, and I’m working Boxing Day, it all seems a bit pointless.

I know the government are saying there will be a five-day relaxation of the rules over Christmas where you can meet and mingle at will, but that seems a silly and dangerous thing to do. There seems to be this unspoken assumption that the virus couldn’t possibly be so unsporting as to infect someone over Christmas. Sadly, I don’t think the virus got the memo, or if it did, it really won’t care. It will be interesting to see how the infection and death rates are in January. My suspicion is that they will rise sharply, and then we will all be back in lockdown again. Maybe it’s me being unfeeling, but I simply cannot see the point of risking infecting your friends and family – or indeed, getting infected yourself – for the sake of a dinner!

Miss F and I will celebrate our Christmas simply and quietly on Christmas Eve. We will exchange gifts and Skype with my parents so they can watch Miss F open her presents. We will have a nice dinner and watch movies and play games.

On Christmas Day itself, I have to drive Miss F to work for midday, and then pick her up again at 5pm. She asked me if it was okay if she worked at Christmas, and to be honest, so long as we get one day together, I wasn’t too fussed which day it was. Working on actual Christmas Day means she’ll get double her hourly wage rate, plus the tips will be incredible. Also, I am back to work on Boxing Day, so it made more sense to make Christmas Eve my day for drinking and eating to excess, because then I’ll have a clear day to get over it before returning to the madness of work and the Boxing Day sale.

I am almost finished all my Christmas shopping. Only one or two more presents to get and then I’m done. Most of my cards are written and either posted or delivered. Our Christmas dinner is in the freezer already. There is no point having a whole turkey between just the two of us, and anyway, neither of us particularly like it. So instead we have a leg of lamb which we will have with all the trimmings. I have bought for myself the world’s smallest Christmas pudding, and a teeny tiny Christmas cake – Miss F doesn’t like either of these. For her, we have spent a stupid amount of money on two tubs of Ben & Jerry’s dairy free ice cream.

I can’t believe how unstressed I am about Christmas this year. Normally by this time I am worrying myself silly about presents – what shall I buy? How much should I spend? Can I afford it? When are we going to see these people to swap presents with them? I’d be wondering when I was going to find the time to decorate. When could we go and get the tree? Where would we stand it this year? Normally, I dismantle my writing desk and store it in my bedroom over the festive period, so I have nowhere to put my laptop and nowhere to work.

And then there’s the expense. Not doing it this year has really highlighted just how expensive Christmas can be. All those presents to be bought! Well, this year I’m buying for hardly anyone. All that food and drink. We’re not seeing anyone this year, so I’m not hosting any Christmas get togethers or putting together a four-course meal for a dozen people – which I have frequently done over Christmas. And then there’s all those little things that individually don’t seem much, but which add up to quite a lot. The festive napkins and table decorations, the wrapping paper and bows and ribbons, the little gifts to put on the Christmas dinner table, the candles… it all goes on and on.

Who knows, maybe this year will see a move away from the sheer consumerism of Christmas. Maybe people will realise that you don’t need all of that extra stuff to enjoy what is supposed to be a simple day of giving with your loved ones. Maybe. Or maybe next year people will spend to excess to make up for not doing it this Christmas.

My poor cat has not had a particularly good week, bless her. Tuesday, she sat on my lap and something jumped on her. Yep, she’d picked up fleas from somewhere. Then the stupid creature decided to pay a visit to the log basket, where she got absolutely filthy. There was nothing for it – we were going to have to give her a bath. Now, we’ve tried bathing her before. It did not end well. She fought like a thing possessed, scratched my arms to pieces, and fled the bathroom. So, we had to come up with a cunning plan.

We have a couple of those collapsible crates which I use as laundry baskets because when not in use they can be folded and put away. We took the unsuspecting cat into the bathroom, put her in the bottom of the bath, and then placed a crate upside down over her. Miss F held it down whilst I adjusted the shower hose attachment on the tap to the correct temperature. Then I sprayed the cat through the holes in the crate until she was soaked. She did not like it one little bit and let us know – loudly and violently. Then I lathered up my hands with cat flea shampoo, pushed down one of the end flaps of the crate, and went at her.

I felt a bit like a vet with my arms up the bum of a cow trying to birth a calf. I couldn’t tell which end of her was which, so just had to grab and soap randomly. She squirmed and tried to push past me to get out. But I was determined. I’d taken off my socks and rolled up my jeans and was squatting in the bath with my arms in the crate up to my elbows. I kept going. Rubbing and scrubbing at her! I found her tail and soaped that up and down. Then I found her neck so did all around that – it’s a favoured spot for fleas to lurk.

She cursed at me. She thrashed around like a tormented soul. I suppose I’m lucky she didn’t bite me. But I kept on going until I was sure every inch of her had been thoroughly lathered. Then I retreated and quickly put the flap back up. With Miss F leaning determinedly on the top of the crate to stop it’s pissed off occupant from fighting her way free, I turned the shower hose back on her through the holes and kept spraying until the water ran clear from the crate.

We turned off the water. Gave her a moment to calm down. Then quickly lifted the crate, scruffed her, and rolled her in a big towel with her head sticking out the end – like a burrito. We took her into the front room where a warm fire was already blazing and sat before it, cuddling her in the towel, and trying to soothe her.

She shook with rage – or fear, it was hard to tell which – in the towel. Eyes slitted, she stared at us in betrayed anger. I kept speaking to her. For some weird reason, even though it was mostly me who had performed this indignity on her, she seemed to calm at my voice and get more agitated at Miss F’s. Eventually, we began to rub her dry, then we unfolded the towel and sat her in front of the fire with a big pile of Dreamies cat treats to show her how sorry we were for water boarding her.

She ate the treats and began to groom herself. It was a cold and wet night, so we weren’t going to let her out for several hours, so she had her dinner in front of the fire – which she seemed to enjoy. Once she finished licking herself, I put the flea treatment on the back of her neck, and I’m hoping it’s done the trick. Fleas are notoriously difficult to get rid of, so the next day I took all the sofa and cushion covers off and washed them. I vacuumed the sofa and chairs and gave the carpet a good vacuum as well. Finally, I sprayed the whole ground floor with flea killer.

The poor cat had barely got over her awful experience, before I was bundling her in her pet basket and taking her to the vet for her yearly jabs. Honestly, you’d have thought I was taking her to her execution the way she carried on in the car. Lurching about her basket and uttering death threats the whole way there. But it had to be done.

As well as sorting the cat, and having my optician’s appointment, I finally managed to book dental appointments for Miss F and myself. We usually go every six months for a check-up, but our appointment in April was cancelled because of Covid. It had been over a year since our last check-up and I was worried if we didn’t get in soon, then we might all be back in lockdown in January. Luckily, we got a cancellation for next Tuesday afternoon.

On Friday, I had my usual fortnightly zoom chat with my local authors group, which is always wonderful. Being able to talk to like minded people is so wonderful, and not seeing their eyes glaze over when you talk about your books is a relief. The session was almost at an end, when Miss F burst into the room all wild-eyed and panicked.

HER: Did you take my new coat to the dry cleaners?

ME:  Yes, I told you I was going to.

HER: I know, but I didn’t think you already had!

ME:  I took it yesterday, why, what’s the matter?

HER: You didn’t think to check the pockets! My house keys and work mask were in there!

Oops. No, I hadn’t thought to check the pockets. I only gave her the coat last Saturday so didn’t think she’d actually worn it enough to start carrying possessions in the pockets. I’d forgotten she’d popped to the local shop in it earlier in the week, and obviously had needed her mask and had taken her keys to let herself back in.

Quickly, I said goodbye to the others and rushed across to the dry cleaners. Luckily, they had the keys in a bag under the counter, but there was no sign of the mask. They claimed it wasn’t in the pocket, even though it was as it was wrapped around the keys. I’m wondering if whoever pulled it out of the pocket simply threw it in the bin. It’s a shame, because it was a really nice cloth one that matched her work uniform and fitted her face properly. I’ve ordered her another one – as it is kind of my fault – but it won’t be here until next Tuesday. So when she went to work last night she had to wear a spare mask we have. It’s a russet tweed coloured one and suits her, but it’s enormous and almost covers her eyes. So, she’s not happy with me.

Finally, we awoke to a quite respectable fall of snow Friday morning, which is very surprising for the UK in December. I can’t remember the last time it snowed before Christmas – and as for a white Christmas, well, we’ve not had one of them since I was a child. It looked very pretty for an hour or so, then the temperature rose, it stopped snowing and it all turned into muddy slush puddles. Luckily, it didn’t freeze so I wasn’t slipping about on icy country roads when I went to collect Miss F from work that evening.

I can’t believe this year is almost over, or that I’ve had over four months paid holiday from work. I tried to make good use of that extra time, and I don’t think I would be in the same position I am now if I’d been working as normal. Writing and publishing a book takes an enormous amount of time and energy, and this year I’ve published two original books, and re-edited and re-released four existing ones. I honestly believe I’d still be working on them if lockdown hadn’t happened. So, silver linings are there – you just have to look for them.

Speaking of books, I have updated the books page on this blog so if you wish to purchase any of my books there are now fully working universal links which will take you to the books listing on your local Amazon. All my books are available in eBook and paperback format, and they are now all free to read in Kindle Unlimited.

As we go into the final month of 2020, please try to stay safe and look after not only yourself and your family, but everyone else around you. Please maintain social distancing and continue to wear masks. The vaccine is apparently close, but it’s not here yet, so we all need to be sensible.

See you next week.

Julia Blake

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