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

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


5 thoughts on “NorCon and Lots of Food!

  1. So much painting! Norcon was a blast wasn’t it? And yes I really, really cocked up on the number of books I needed. 🤣🤣 But you slayed it! I was so impressed. Reading your accounts of cooking your meals just took me straight back to when I was living in a flat in London and used to do that. Otherwise I used to end up spending a fortune on takeaways or just eat anything that wasn’t nailed down when I got in.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful hearing all the household details of your painting, getting rid of the last of the clutter, fantastic cooking marathon, (including Christmas gifts) and the new blue dishes.

    Your steampunk costume for NorCom was wonderful. You found all needed last details to make it perfect. I live the hat and necklace and the shrug looked like it was meant for the outfit.

    And the NorCom itself sounded like a blast. And what a successful amount if sales. That with what you made from the last of your clutter amounted in a nice financial haul.

    You have accomplished a lit, been thrifty and creative in your home preparations.

    And oh…I love how you set up your booth at NorCom with something special for each book to symbolize each story. It looked great!

    Have a great week coming up and all the best with the dining room decorating.

    Liked by 1 person

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