Birthday, Houdini Hamster, and Comic-Con!

So, it’s my birthday tomorrow. I shall be 55. Most years I would have so many things planned to celebrate the occasion, but this year I simply can’t wrap my head around it.

It’s Saturday, at the end of the first week of my two-week “staycation” and what have I done? Well, nothing much really. I did go for lunch with a friend on Monday, which was nice. I’ve rested, eaten nice meals, and had a few drinks. I’ve read during the daytime – unusual for me – and I’ve spent time with Franki and Mx R. Oh, and of course, I published a book on Monday as well.

Link on Books page

Pitch & Pace – book five of the Blackwood Family Saga – those who’ve read it say it’s the best one yet but launch day itself was a little disappointing. I know everyone is currently struggling with sales, and book five of an ongoing series is always a slow sell. Engagement is down on all social media platforms and people are buying less – which is understandable given how tightly squeezed people are. Still, I did expect a little more but hey ho, that’s how the life of a writer does go.

I’ve also been preparing for the first live event I’ve done since November 2019, when I shared a stall with other local authors at the Bury Christmas Fayre.

St Albans Comic-con is a fantasy and sci-fi convention and I’m sharing two tables with a couple of my local author pals – Rachel Churcher who writes dystopian sci-fi, and Mary McGuire who writes comedic sci-fi.

If you’re nearby – pop in and say hi

None of us knows much about the event and we originally booked it back in early 2020. It was postponed because of Covid – as so many things were – but when 2021 rolled around it was felt it still wasn’t appropriate to hold large events yet, so it was postponed to the 17th of July 2022, which is coincidentally my birthday.

Black Ice – link on Books page

I honestly never imagined my 55th birthday would be spent in a crowded sports hall in St Albans with a bunch of fantasy and sci-fi freaks dressed in cosplay and no AC. That’s right, it’s going to be one of the hottest days of the year and we’re stuck in a crowded hall with no AC. I was going to dress up in full steampunk regalia but decided it’s far too hot to be in a leather corset so instead, I have a pure cotton t-shirt with a lovely steampunk pocket watch and cogs design, a loose long cotton skirt and flipflops. We have fans and will take lots of iced water, and we will manage.

Erinsmore – link on Books page

None of us knows how many books we might reasonably be expected to sell. Enough to cover our costs, I hope. I have needed to spend rather a lot on this what with the cost of the table, buying books upfront, a tablecloth, book display stands, bags to put the books in, and a laminator. The last time I did an event, I noticed how people would pick the books up to read the blurbs, so in these days of not wanting people’s grubby, germy mitts all over my books, I have printed out the blurbs on paper and laminated them. These will go on the front of the stall so people can handle them and then I can wipe them clean with antibacterial wipes. Thus, saving the books from being damaged and helping prevent the transmission of Covid.

The Forest – link on Books page

As it’s a fantasy and sci-fi convention, I am taking Black Ice, Erinsmore, The Forest, and Lifesong. The three bigger books will be priced at £10 each – signed and with a bookmark and Julia Blake bag – and Lifesong will be priced at £4 if bought alone, £2 if bought with another book plus signed and with a bookmark.

Lifesong – link on Books page

Fingers crossed for a good day for us. It’s going to be an early start. Because I don’t have a car right now the others divided me up between them. Rachel called around Friday afternoon and took all my boxes of books and other stuff in her bigger car, then Mary will collect me at 6:30am on Sunday.

That’s right, I still don’t have a car. My financial advisor can’t even apply to draw down all my pension until the day after my birthday and then apparently it could take up to four weeks to get my money! So, I will be taking the bus and walking for a while yet.

We did have a bit of excitement early Thursday morning involving Franki’s hamster who came home with them from university. Regular readers of my blog will know the biggest thing we had to try and transport home after my car died up there, was the large crate which was Miss Moo’s enclosure. Anyway, Franki decided they wanted to buy another enclosure to keep here so they didn’t have to keep transporting an enclosure every time they came home. The plan was to buy a collapsible one to use and keep here, then whenever Franki came home they could bring Miss Moo in her little carrier on the train. So, this hamster would have their regular home and a holiday home. Talk about posh!

The enclosure was bought. It was huge. It took up most of the floor space in the little back bedroom which serves as an office and spare room. I was very unsure about this pen because it had no top. Don’t worry, I was reassured, the sides are so slippery she can’t possibly climb up them. She can’t get it. It’s not HER getting OUT, I told them, it’s the CAT getting IN that’s worrying me.

Precautions were taken, the window was fixed with window locks, so it was only open a crack, not wide enough to admit the cat, and unless someone was in the room, the office door was kept firmly closed.

All seemed well. Until one day they cleaned her out and discovered that one of the plastic panels that made up the base was slightly warped, so the hamster had managed to get her little teeth under it and had gnawed a small hole right through until she hit the carpet. But she didn’t stop there. Nope. She then proceeded to eat through the carpet and the underlay right down to the floorboards! Great, so now I had a small hole in the carpet. It’s under the desk and the carpet in there is old and cheap, so I wasn’t that upset.

first hole

They replaced the panel and put the heavy wooden wheel over where it had been. All seemed well.

Thursday morning, at about 3am, something woke me. I still don’t know what. Both my bedroom windows were wide open because of the sweltering heat so it could have been noise from outside, I don’t know. Anyway, I woke up, lay there blinking stupidly, and realised that now I was awake, I needed to pee.

I tried to convince myself that I didn’t, but it was no good, my bladder was insistent I really, really did. Groaning, I sat up in bed and switched on my lamp. I got out of bed and opened my bedroom door and saw something lying in the middle of the landing.

Have you ever had that situation where your brain refuses to believe what your eyes are telling it?

EYES: It’s that hamster!

BRAIN: No, it can’t be.

EYES: I’m telling you, it’s that fecking hamster!

BRAIN: Bloody hell, you’re right, it is!

I froze, staring at the little pile of black and white fluff. Once my brain had accepted that yes, it was Miss Moo the hamster sitting there, the first thought that dashed through my mind was that what I had predicted had come true. The cat had somehow got into the room, scooped the creature out of the pen, killed it, and discarded the corpse in true “cats are jerks” fashion.

I took a step towards it, a black beady eye blinked up at me, and her ears twitched.

So, it was alive then.

Shit, what to do?!

Realising I needed something to try and trap the critter in, I stepped back into my room and looked about. In readiness for Comic-con that weekend, I had piles of boxes standing in the corner in various states of being packed. Grabbing the emptiest one, I frantically tipped out the bookmarks it contained and crept back to my door.

Miss Moo hadn’t moved an inch. Flattened on the floor, she didn’t so much as twitch as I silently oozed towards her, the box held aloft, open side facing down, and holding back the flaps ready to slam it down over her.

Inches. I got inches away from achieving my goal.

Do you know how fast a hamster can move?

Like greased bloody lightning.

That wretched thing shot between my feet and straight under a large chest of drawers in the alcove outside my bedroom door.

At this point, I decided to call in the cavalry. I banged on Franki’s door and called their name. At the mumbled enquiry, I said – your hamster’s escaped – and ten seconds later a wide-awake Franki was at the door, with Mx Rys hot on their heels.

All three of us, in various stages of undress, knelt by the chest of drawers and looked under. There, in the furthest corner, eyeing us defiantly was Miss Moo. We fetched her favourite treats and then spent twenty very long minutes holding our breaths and attempting to bait her out.

Eventually, greed got the better of her, she crept out and Franki scooped her up, put her in the box, hurried with her back to the office and deposited her into her carrier.

We’re not putting her back in her pen, I told them, not until we know how she escaped. She can stay in her carrier until morning.

But the poor baby is stressed, they protested. We must set up her old enclosure and get her settled in that.

I snorted, having less than charitable feelings about the wretched thing, but went off to attend to my bathroom needs, which by now were somewhat pressing, and when I came back they had sorted her old enclosure out and were settling Miss Moo in it with some treats and fresh water.

Two very guilty faces looked up at me when I entered the office.

Umm, we moved the pen, they told me and found where she got out. And don’t worry, we’ll buy you a new carpet.

That did not sound good, but I was too tired to worry about it then and we all went back to bed.

big hole she chewed to get out

The next day, they dismantled the pen entirely and contacted the Amazon seller who had promoted it as being perfect for hamsters. It has now been returned to them with a strongly worded complaint plus several photos of the damn great hole Miss Moo chewed through yet another panel, plus the quite considerable damage she has done to my carpet.

big hole!

We’ve tidied the office, they told me, and we’ve vacuumed it thoroughly. Hmm, not to my standards they hadn’t. Hamster bedding and sawdust were still everywhere. I moved furniture to vacuum properly and when I moved the small, corner bookcase out from under the window I found what Miss Moo had done with all the carpet and underlay she had ripped up. She had established a second nest in the corner behind the bookcase. Like some sort of rodent “Shawshank Redemption” she tunnelled her way out of the pen, pouching all the carpet and underlay as she went, squeezed behind the bookcase, un-pouched to make a nest, and then, for good measure, ate another hole in the carpet there.

last hole

So, the carpet is completely ruined and will have to be replaced!

I honestly don’t understand why people want to keep hamsters as pets. They are nocturnal so you can’t cuddle or play with them during the day. They only live for two years. They chew through everything. And if they bite you they can bite to the bone and cause serious damage.

So, the verdict is in, Miss Moo is guilty of the crime of eating my carpet and will stay in a maximum-security prison for the rest of her life. She’s sulking about being back in the smaller pen after the palatial mansion she had started to get used to, but that’s tough.

maximum security jail

After all, she had a lucky escape. If she scrambled up the bookshelves and onto the windowsill, she could have gone out the window, fallen off the roof and ended up as hamster jam on the path below. She could have got under the floorboards never to be seen again. She could have got downstairs and been caught by the cat. Whilst Skittles isn’t the most proficient of hunters, something small and furry scurrying about in her house is simply asking to be eaten.

We’ll never know what went through that pea-sized brain and why she decided to squeeze under the door and run down the landing. Seriously don’t know how she managed to get under the door, the space is tiny. I do wonder where she would have ended up if I hadn’t opened my bedroom door? Would she have squeezed under my door and come into my room? That’s where she was heading. I’m glad she didn’t make it to under my bed. There is a serious amount of stuff under there and if I’d had to pull it all out at silly o’clock in the morning to rescue a fricking hamster, I would not have been best pleased.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. The hamster was caught and is safely ensconced in a pen she can’t escape from – and this one has a stout mesh lid so nothing can get in at her either.

My carpet is ruined, but I was planning to replace it at some point, so, okay …

Miss Moo – Master Criminal

After a month of staying with us, Mx R has gone back to Wales to spend some time with her family. I’m not sure when they will be back. I’m assuming in time for Franki’s birthday, but no doubt I will be updated at some point. The house already feels quiet without them, but it will be nice to spend some quality time with Franki alone.

I have another week off work and a severe hot weather warning has been issued for Monday and Tuesday so don’t think we’ll be going very far. I plan to start writing my next book so have made a deal with Franki. Leave me alone with my laptop for three or four hours in the mornings, then in the afternoons, we can do whatever you please. We have a big Tesco shop arriving this evening, full of meat and other nice things to eat. Mx R being a vegetarian has made meals interesting, so I’m looking forward to some simplicity in our meals again.

And that is all my news this week. Keep your fingers crossed that we have a good day tomorrow – if I could simply cover my costs and hopefully gain new readers, anything above that will be a plus. But I will let you know how it went next time, and if I got around to celebrating my birthday in any way.

Take care, everyone!

Julia Blake


4 thoughts on “Birthday, Houdini Hamster, and Comic-Con!

  1. Happy Birthday Julia.
    Yes, a strange way to be celebrating your birthday, at a sweltering Comic-Con convention. Well, at least I hope the fans were properly placed and you sold a nice amount of books. By the time I’m writing this the day is probably over. Hopefully you and your friends can have a nice birthday dinner and a couple glasses of wine. And I am sure you will have some good material for your next blog in two weeks. 😂

    The story of Ms. Moo has reached epic proportions. While very enjoyable for me, a reader, it was not quite so pleasant for you. I hope you won’t mind my mentioning that she is quite adorable, this Ms. Moo. She is a criminal with charm.

    So sorry it will still be a few weeks out before you get the funds to consider a new car. There goes the summer. But, thankfully you should be back on wheels before the autumn arrives.

    Enjoy your time with Frankie, and maybe do something special this week together for your birthday. I’ll wait for updates on the comic convention on Instagram and eventually in your next block

    And once again, Happy Birthday,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not such a fan of Miss Moo. Yes, she’s pretty but she’s a real pain in the backside. She makes so much noise at night we’ve had to move her out of Franki’s room as the wretched creature was stopping her from sleeping. As you’ll read in my next blog, Comic-Con was hot and exhausting but I think successful. We were all too sweaty and tired to even consider going out for dinner, so we all went back to our own homes to rest and recover.


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