Happiness is a new top and free Prosecco

I’m having my booster jab Saturday afternoon – at least, I think I am. The information from the NHS is somewhat confusing as to how long after having the virus I’m allowed to have the booster. The text I received said four weeks, so I’m just about all right, but then other sources have said as long as six months. I’m not sure which to believe, so I will make sure I tell them before they stick the needle in and be guided by them. I hope I have no side effects this time, I have work tomorrow and can’t afford any more time off as my paycheck at the end of November was on the sick side.

It’s been a week of highs and lows. I worked Monday and Tuesday and it’s always quite nice getting the bulk of my hours over and done with at the beginning of the week. It means I can relax and enjoy my days off. Work was work. It is what it is. I envy those who have careers they enjoy. It must be nice to wake up in the morning and be happy to go to work. I’ve never had that. I’ve always had a job. The thing I had to do to earn money to pay the bills, but then I guess that’s true for most people. Thinking about it, I don’t know anyone who loves their work. I am hopeful for Miss F though. She is training to do what she loves and if she manages to find employment in the animal industry then she will never work a day in her life.

Wednesday was a day of shopping. There was the usual Tesco weekly shop and I picked up a few bits and bobs for Christmas whilst I was there. I was nudged into doing this because Tesco had very kindly sent me a load of vouchers to earn extra points on food and drink, so I picked through what I was going to buy anyway and made sure I remembered to take the vouchers with me. But … Yep, you’ve guessed it, remembering to take the vouchers is no guarantee of remembering to use the fricking things. Just as I swiped my card to pay, my brain very helpfully reminded me of the wedge of vouchers tucked in my purse. Bugger! I asked the assistant if there was any way to apply them retrospectively. No, she said. And that was that. Hate it when that happens.

I wandered about Wilkes which is a kind of mini-Target store and is handily located at the bottom of my road and picked up bits and pieces for Miss F’s stocking as well as cards and wrapping paper, then I went to Waterstones and bought the books that I’d been told my cousin’s son wanted for his birthday.

I was quite chuffed with myself about making a start on Christmas, but then looking at my calendar which is filling up already I realised how close it is and how very little time I have between now and then. I’ve set myself a deadline of trying to have everything done before I collect Miss F from the university on the 15th. We won’t get back until the 16th and the 17th will be mostly taken up with collecting our tree and decorating it. Every other day between then and Christmas I’m either at work or wish to spend the time with Miss F, not rushing around shopping and wrapping.

My mother invited me out to lunch on Thursday, and as she has loads of Tesco Clubcard vouchers we decided to choose a restaurant in town that still takes them – there used to be several but over the years they’ve either stopped accepting them or have closed. We selected Prezzo, a nice Italian chain of restaurants that have a varied enough menu for us both to find things we like.

Wednesday, I was sitting at my desk having a final look through book thirteen before sending it to the first beta reader when my mother phoned in a bit of a flap. She’d managed to order and download the Tesco vouchers onto her phone but was having problems booking us a table. Prezzo never answer their phone, she said. and although she’d left a message on their answerphone they had yet to get back to her. So, she’d gone online and tried to book, but there were no tables available for Thursday. I was surprised by this because it’s a big restaurant and it was only a Thursday, not a weekend, and still far enough away from Christmas that it shouldn’t be fully booked.

Are you sure there are no tables for Thursday? I asked.

Yes, she huffily told me. I’m looking at the days I can book and they’re only giving me the choice of today, tomorrow, Friday, then the weekend or next week.

Umm, so what’s the problem? I asked, now really puzzled.

Well, where’s Thursday? If they’re only offering today, tomorrow, or Friday, what about Thursday?

Mum, tomorrow is Thursday.

What? Are you sure?

Pretty sure, Thursday has a habit of following Wednesday and today is Wednesday.

Oh, right.

It doesn’t matter, I’ve booked it.

Whilst I’d been talking to her. I’d gone to the Prezzo website, found our local restaurant and booked a table for two for 12:30 for the Thursday – tomorrow.

Thursday was something of a red-letter day. Not only was I going out to lunch with my mother – something we hadn’t done in years, but I was getting my haircut in the morning. It’s been exactly two years since my last haircut, so I figured it was about time. Sitting having breakfast Thursday morning, I looked out of the window to see white stuff swirling by, quite a lot of white stuff. Within ten minutes it was coming down thickly and even settling. Now, I’m not one of those people who are very impressed by snow. Yes, it looks pretty in films and on Christmas cards, but I utterly fail to understand why people get so excited about it.

If it’s snowing it means it’s cold, very cold – and I don’t like the cold. It also means it will be treacherous to walk on and if it settles will turn into ice which makes it even more dangerous. Driving conditions will be hazardous and all the idiots will forget how to drive. Plus, here in the UK, everything grinds to a halt when more than a few flakes fall. We are simply not geared up to cope with it. Roads become impassable because there aren’t enough gritting lorries, and they tend to only do the cities and towns. Small villages become cut-off; their roads too blocked to even think about attempting to drive on. Public transport stops, with trains being cancelled due to the wrong type of snow on the rails – one wonders what the right kind of snow is. Schools are closed and parents are left unable to go to work because their children are at home with no one to care for them.

How can anyone think any of this is amazing, marvellous, and worth begging Santa for is beyond me. I think the people who whitter on about how wonderful snow is and how much they want it, either live in very hot countries where it never snows so it’s a novelty to them or in places where there is so much snow their whole infrastructure has been built around coping with the horrible stuff.

As I drove to the hairdressers it was coming down thick and my car’s ancient heating system was struggling to stop my windscreen from condensing up on the inside. This was the first time I’d used this hairdresser – I’d decided to not go back to my old one because she is too expensive, so I was switching to my mother’s hairdresser who charges half the price – mostly, I think because she’s not running a trendy saloon in town and employing people but has a little salon in her home. I’d never been to her before, well, maybe once a very long time ago, so couldn’t remember how to get there and was crawling along trying to peer at road signs through the snow – much to the annoyance of the people driving behind me.

The haircut went well, I am very pleased with it, and was relieved that she didn’t have to cut too much off because I’d feared my hair was dead up to my ears. Leaving the hairdressers, the snow was still belting down, so I drove back to town worrying about my nice new haircut surviving the walk to the restaurant for lunch.

Luckily, by the time my mother arrived, and we set off for the restaurant the snow had stopped, the sun had come out, and the weather was busy pretending it hadn’t misbehaved and tried to snow – snow? What snow was that then?

When we arrived at the restaurant, mum made sure the waiter knew we were using Tesco Clubcard vouchers because apparently that entitled us to a free glass of prosecco each. Why using vouchers warranted preferential treatment, I have no idea. I had heard that the hospitality industry is still suffering though. Christmas is usually their busiest time of year with all the celebrating and work Christmas dos that take place, but this year because of Covid and the fears over the latest variant to hit the UK, many companies aren’t holding Christmas parties or going out for meals. Which is sensible but is yet another kick in the teeth for restaurants. Perhaps by encouraging the use of vouchers and offering little freebie treats they hope to make people eat out more.

The restaurant was crowded so we wore our masks until we were safely seated at our table. They brought the prosecco which was a very unexpected treat and we looked at the menu. Now, I like pasta, but I always find the portions are too big for me in restaurants, so I end up bloated on carbs and don’t want a dessert, which is no fun. So, I chose the slow-cooked beef in chianti with tender stem broccoli and buttered potato rosti, which was utterly delicious and exactly the right size for me to eat it all and still have room for a slice of delicious tiramisu and another glass of prosecco. Mum had the chicken spaghetti carbonara which she said was delicious, but she struggled to eat even half of it and was too full for dessert.

Afterwards, we went looking round the shops looking for a new top for me. I have a few special occasions and treats coming up over Christmas and absolutely nothing to wear to them, so I needed a new top. I have a smart pair of black jeans and black boots which can go pretty much anywhere, but I was seriously lacking for something nice to wear with them – especially after the moths had decimated my wardrobe.

We tried Marks & Spencer. Hmm, I honestly don’t know who they are trying to sell to, but I think even grannies in their eighties would take one look and pronounce their winter collection as “frumpy”. We tried Next. Now normally I am successful in Next, and I like their clothes. Not this time. There was no in-between. The clothes were either too casual – thick jumpers and t-shirts – or way over the top bling. Gold lame shirts and sparkly beaded tops that any game show host would be proud to wear.

Disappointed, we wandered out of the shop and into Monsoon next door. I have never ever bought anything from Monsoon. Not only are their clothes a bit beyond my budget, but I’ve always found them too old for me and usually too long – Monsoon only cater for women of 5’6” and over. They also seem passionately fond of paisley and dresses, usually both. As I said, I’ve never bought anything from there before – oh, correction, we bought Miss F’s prom dress from there over two years ago.

This time, however, I found four tops that I liked the look of, so I went and tried them all on, and it was down to a long line dark green blouse with a thick black lace collar and nice buttons, or a blue thin silky knit evening sweater with a scattering of beads across the front. I liked them both, but felt the blouse was more an “all year round” top – beading is a bit Christmas only, well, in my book it is. It was expensive. That one top cost me the same as a week’s grocery shopping, but it is the only thing I am buying for Christmas, and it will cover at least five or six outings so it will more than earn its keep. I’ve hung it in my wardrobe surrounded by mothballs and I’m crossing my fingers that the moths are all gone now.

Sometimes, you simply have to say oh sod it, and get what you want.

I was so full of lunch that I didn’t want any dinner. Since then, Prezzo has very kindly sent me a code for a free bottle of prosecco when bought with £20 of food, so I’ve texted a friend to see if she’d like to do lunch sometime to help me drink it. She seemed very keen on the idea.

Friday morning, my landline rang. Now, the only people who call me on my landline are my mum, cold callers, and my boss because he knows I’m rubbish at answering my mobile, so I answered it with trepidation.

Hello, trilled a very perky female voice. How are you?

Umm, I’m fine. Who is this?

It’s me.

Me?

Yes, me.

I’m sorry, I’m going to need a few more clues than that.

There was a brief silence as the unknown caller thought about that.

Is this not Dale?

No, I’m not Dale.

Are you sure? It’s his number I dialled.

So convinced was she that I was Dale, that for a split second I wondered myself.

No, I’m not Dale, you have the wrong number.

Wrong numbers seem rare now, back in the days before mobiles and having everyone’s numbers remembered by them for us, I was always having people phone convinced they were talking to their friend, mother, gran, or even the lingerie department of Marks and Spencer! Once one old dear phoned me seven times over the course of one evening convinced I was her great-niece Caroline. We had ever such a nice chat and I’m not sure the last few times weren’t because Caroline the great-niece hadn’t been in, and the old lady was lonely.

Random phone calls nowadays are always boringly predictable. It’s usually someone trying to sell me solar panels, loft insulation, or trying to tell me my internet is about to be disconnected unless I phone this number now. Nice try, mate, I wasn’t born yesterday though.

I’m back to work tomorrow, then my shifts next week are weird. I’m working Thursday then sadly working the whole weekend to cover for a colleague being on holiday. Then I’m on holiday for seven days during which I will drive oop North to collect Miss F. Going back to work the week of Christmas, I’m working Monday and Tuesday, but only 10:30 to 4:30, then I’m off until Boxing Day when I’ll be working five days on the trot. Brilliant. Not.

Speaking of Christmas, the paperback versions of three of my books – Lost & Found, Lifesong, and Eclairs for Tea and other stories – are available at a special festive season sale price. Lost & Found and Eclairs for Tea have both been reduced from £8.99 to £5.99, and Lifesong is up for the tiny price of £3.99 – or local currency equivalent.

If you are stuck for ideas for stocking fillers, table presents, or even little extra gifts to go under the tree, then these would be perfect and at these prices won’t break the bank. The sale is on until Christmas so hurry and grab your copies while there’s still time to receive them before Christmas. Links are all on the book page.

Right, I’ve just got back from having my booster jab and so far so good. They gave me a great big list of possible side effects which I’m hoping I don’t get, but this time it didn’t even hurt my arm going in. Fingers crossed! I’m a bit fed up with Covid now.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Take care everyone and try not to stress too much about Christmas.

Julia Blake

It All Seems a Bit Unnecessary

And so, another week has turned and it’s Saturday again. A cold and wet Saturday, there was even a sprinkling of the white stuff on top of cars parked in the street this morning. There’s no doubt that winter is coming, and I’ve even had to reluctantly admit that Christmas is dangerously close, so I suppose I’d better do something about it. Miss F and I have agreed to only do stockings for one another his year, although I am buying her a new mattress for her university room so technically I guess that is a present as well. On Wednesday, I spent a couple of hours going around the shops and finding bits and pieces to fill her stocking with. I even bought Christmas cards and wrapping paper and had a discussion with my mother about Christmas Day and food.

It’s not that many years ago that by the end of November I would have finished all my Christmas shopping. Indeed, shopping for Miss F would have been started the moment her birthday celebrations in August were over. Plans would have been drawn up, lists written, and complicated schedules worked out and mapped out. Back then, I seemed to have more people to buy for, more money to spend, and more events planned for the festive period. But now. I find it hard to bring myself to care. I’ve always believed that Christmas is the ultimate in diminishing returns. When you’re a child, it seems such a magical time of year. There’s the tree and all the decorations, mysterious parcels appearing under the tree, parties and gatherings, carol services, and the school Nativity play, the pantomime and family visits. None of which, as a child, you need to do anything about because they all just happen.

Then there was the day itself, and again, it just happened with minimum input from you. Lovely food and drink, presents, and games, and special TV programmes and films. All fun, and all magical.

Then you get older, and year by year, you are expected to do more to contribute to the festivities. Presents are no longer bought for you to give to friends and family, you must shop and pay for them yourself. You are expected to help with food preparation and clearing up afterwards. But it’s still fine, the bulk of the work falls upon your mum’s shoulders – who, strangely enough, doesn’t seem to care that much about Christmas.

Then you become a grown-up, with a place of your own, but still, for a few years, it’s okay because you go home for Christmas, even split the days between your family and your partner’s family. Then you have children of your own and the number of presents you must select, buy, and wrap explodes out of all proportion. You decide to hold Christmas at your home because it will be easier with the kids, and that’s when it all goes pear-shaped. Because you hadn’t realised quite how much hard work Christmas is.

For most busy working women with families who expect them to simply make Christmas happen, the planning begins in September when the kids go back to school and from then on it’s three months of unrelenting work, worry, and preparation. Who is coming on what day? What food and drink do you need to buy? What presents are you buying? How are you going to deliver them? What’s the last posting date for Auntie Sue in Australia and Cousin Karen in America? What colour theme will the table be this year? Will you be able to find napkins in just the right shade? And on and on and on, until by the week of Christmas most women are exhausted, gibbering wrecks, desperately ferrying kids around from the school party to the carol service and the Nativity play. Tiredness is your constant companion, yet you lie awake at night muttering shopping lists under your breath and wondering if you shouldn’t get up and go and do the shopping at 3am. At least no one else would be in the shop. So, you do, and the shop is packed because every other woman had the same idea.

I remember Miss F and I hitting Tesco two weeks before Christmas to do the big shop one year. We had a hot chocolate in the restaurant first to keep our strength up, then chose a big trolley and worked our way around the aisles trying to find everything on our list.

It was chaos. Frazzled looking women were having muttered arguments with bewildered husband’s who just couldn’t seem to understand that NO, that stuffing will not do, and YES, it does bloody matter. A fight broke out in the chiller section over the last pack of pigs in blankets and whilst the two women were oh so politely offering it to one another, the tone in their voices indicating if the other woman took it then all hell would rain down, I sent little Miss F in like a skinny ninja to sneak the pack from off the shelf and it was in our trolley and we were gone before anyone caught onto what had happened.

It took two hours and cost over £200 and looking back, I wonder the heck I was thinking of. It’s just one day! I didn’t need all the treats and sweets and enough cheese to build a wall that I ended up buying. I remember a friend of mine once saying that during the run-up to Christmas she was always saying – don’t touch that, it’s for Christmas – then after Christmas plaintively saying – will someone please eat that up before it goes bad!

I remember I always used to be ill at Christmas. Right up until Christmas Eve I wouldn’t have time to be sick, too busy running myself ragged planning, shopping, wrapping, cooking, charging around visiting and delivering presents, to even contemplate the idea of being ill. Then on Christmas Eve I would finally sit down with a little drink in hand, look about the picture-perfect Christmas I had created and think – yes, it’s all done, everything is perfect, now I can relax and enjoy Christmas after all my hard work. But my body would say – okay, about that, now you’ve stopped here’s a nasty cold for you or a chest infection, or a sore throat, or even all three! Enjoy! Oh, and Merry Christmas.

So much excess, so much food, and drink, and money wasted on stuff you don’t need. For several years now, I’ve been scaling Christmas down to the point where I don’t buy for anyone other than nearest and dearest. Last year, we didn’t even bother having a tree. There seemed little point. Miss F was working Christmas Day and then I was working Boxing Day, we were barely going to be home. Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way with the UK going into tier four restrictions on Boxing Day so no work for me, and then the country going back into lockdown in early January.

We are having a tree this year because Miss F has requested one. But unlike most of the rest of the planet who seem to be competing as to who can get their decorations up the soonest, our tree won’t be going up until the 17th of December. Miss F doesn’t come home from university until the 16th and would never forgive me if I decorated the tree without her. I have a week’s holiday from the 13th of December onwards, so I will probably decorate the house before I go to collect Miss F from university though, just to get it done.

The plan was for me to drive up on the 16th, taking Miss F’s new mattress with me, pack up the things she wished to bring home for the holidays, then drive back the same day. But it is a long drive and with it getting dark so early I wasn’t keen on motorway driving in dark, potentially bad weather, conditions. Looking at hotels close to the university, I found a Premier Inn less than a mile away which will only cost me £50 for the night. I have booked myself a room for the 15th which is Miss F’s last day of university. The plan is I will drive up early afternoon, go to the university and somehow manage to heave a four-foot rolled heavy mattress up four flights of stairs, and leave the boxes and suitcase I’ll be taking for her to pack her stuff in. Then I’ll go to the hotel, check-in, rest, and relax, and freshen up before popping back to the university to collect Miss F and her best friend she wants me to meet. A table has been booked at the restaurant next to the hotel for seven that evening for the three of us to have a relaxed dinner. The girls will then either walk back to the university if the weather is fine, or we’ll get them a taxi.

Neither the hotel, nor the restaurant does breakfast, so I will have to throw myself on the mercy of Miss F to provide sustenance when I go back to the university the next morning to pack up her things and then head on back home. Hopefully not get stuck in too much holiday traffic and make it back before dark.

We then have three days together to collect our tree, relax, and do Christmas things, before I am back to work for two short days on Monday and Tuesday, then I have four days off over Christmas before going back to work on Boxing Day.

I hate working Boxing Day. It’s one of the worst things about my job and it seems so unnecessary. It’s not even as if we are that busy, but because our competition is open on Boxing Day, and many of the other stores in our retail park are, then we will be open as well so all those people who hate being home for longer than one day and absolutely must go shopping the day after Christmas can pile into our shop – and never spare a thought for the poor bloody staff who would love to be able to stay home with their family.

I have my parents coming for Christmas Day, possibly my brother as well, and an invitation has been extended to the lodger to join us because I honestly don’t think he has anywhere else to go. Whether he accepts the invitation or not is entirely up to him. It has been given because the thought of someone being alone at Christmas is sad, not when they don’t have to be.

So, that’s Christmas planned. Low key, not going crazy, and certainly not wasting money I don’t have – especially as my pay packet at the end of November was a bit light due to having three weeks off with Covid.

Speaking of which, my booster jab is booked for the 4th of December, and I hope my reaction to it is mild this time.

I returned to work on Monday after my three weeks off and had two very long days which left me exhausted and going to bed at nine on Tuesday evening and sleeping for twelve hours – unheard of for me – and very relieved I then had four days off to rest. This virus wiped the floor with me, and I still don’t feel right. I’m tired, congested, and my sense of smell and taste have yet to return. Hope they do before Christmas or it will be a bland and boring one, foodwise.

One last item of news – to celebrate Black Friday and the fact that it was published exactly one year ago – Black Ice, my fun and fast-paced retelling of Snow White, can be bought for the super low price of £1.99 or local currency equivalent, eBook version obviously. The sale ends at midnight on the 30th of November, so why not click on its link on the books page and snag yourself a copy for Christmas.

That’s it for now. Sorry about my demented ramblings about Christmas – it’s this time of year, it always makes me go a little peculiar.

Take care.

Julia Blake

Busily Doing Nothing

Sorry for the blog being so late today, but I ran out of time yesterday and didn’t have time to write it. Well, that’s not strictly true. After all, this week I have had nothing but time, but I was engrossed doing something else all day Saturday and time got away from me.

But first, a health update. As you know, I was due to return to work last Sunday after my two weeks off with Covid. I thought I’d be okay, I was feeling better, so I figured I’d manage a short six-hour Sunday shift with no problems. I thought wrong.

For a start, the sheer physical logistics of getting up, showered, and ready to leave the house for work exhausted me. I was opening the shop and trying to remember everything I was supposed to do gave me a headache. The shop was very busy and just so peoply. I found myself feeling stressed and anxious. I began to cough. I coughed a lot. My colleagues were not very happy with me – but weirdly the customers didn’t seem to care. The day dragged on. The headache got worse, as did the cough. Constant nausea that has been one symptom of the Covid ramped up a notch until I was gritting my teeth convinced I was going to hurl any second, but at the same time, I was ravenously hungry. And I was exhausted, utterly drained physically, mentally, and emotionally, all I wanted to do was crawl home and fall asleep on the sofa.

My boss had the day off as it was his daughter’s birthday, but I think someone must have told tales out of school because at 3pm – an hour before I was due to leave – the phone rang, and it was him.

HIM:  You’re still coughing, aren’t you?

ME:  Umm, only a little bit.

I then proceeded to have a monumental coughing fit down the phone that left me wheezing tearfully at the end of it.

HIM: Right, go home, now!

ME:  I’ve only got an hour left.

HIM: Doesn’t matter, go home now.

ME:  Oh, but…

HIM: NOW!

ME:  Okay. (actually quite pleased about it)

HIM: Don’t come in tomorrow until I’ve phoned you.

ME:  What?

HIM: I need to speak to head office about this, so stay home tomorrow and wait for my call.

I went home, wondering what the outcome would be of his consultation with the powers that be. Sunday evening, I couldn’t stop coughing and I knew I’d overdone it. My joints were aching and although I was hungry and wanted dinner, the feeling I was going to throw it back up again was horribly persistent.

Monday morning. I had no idea what was going to happen. Would I be going in at my normal time? Would it be a later start for me? Would I be going in at all? Uncertain, I got ready for work anyway even making my packed lunch and putting it in the fridge. I figured if I didn’t go to work at least my lunch was already made. At 10:30 my boss phoned me. We had a conversation. During which he expressed his own and the company’s concerns that I had come back too soon. That for the physical and mental well-being of my colleagues it was felt that I needed more time off. I had already come to this conclusion myself. Waking up on Monday the very thought of having to summon up the energy to drag myself back into work made me want to burst into tears so the offer of another week off filled me with absolute relief. Yes, the lack of pay was going to be a bitch, but sometimes you must put your health first. So little is known about this virus, but with any virus – not allowing sufficient recovery time can store up problems for the future.

We chatted and it was agreed I would take another week off and return to work the following Monday. Technically, I was supposed to telephone my boss every day but as he was going to be on holiday he requested that I didn’t, and really, what would be the point of me disturbing him just to cough down the phone.

So, Monday morning I stood down and contemplated another week at home.

It has been a week of doing absolutely nothing beyond the barest minimum to stay clean, fed, and the dishes and laundry done. I focused on getting better and because there was nothing else I could do; I threw myself wholeheartedly into finishing book thirteen.

I started to write on Monday with a word count of 153,781 and by the time I wrote The End on the manuscript on Thursday, it stood at a whopping 181,476 words. This means I wrote 27,695 words over those four days. That is not too shabby, even by my standards.

I thought I had finished it on Wednesday afternoon. I wrote an ending. Walked away. Then it niggled at me that the ending didn’t satisfy, that more was needed. I went back. I wrote another short chapter. This one tied up some more loose threads, but I still wasn’t happy with it. Over 500,000 words spread over three big books I have asked the readers to come on a journey with me. And now the journey was ending, it needed to end in a way that would make people happy. I went to bed Wednesday night still pondering. Waking Thursday morning the idea for a fiendish little twist in the tale suddenly occurred to me. Something that would jerk the reader awake. They would think the story was over, then this last chapter would be thrown at them, and their emotions would be thrown back up in the air and hopefully, their heart rate would increase.

I wrote that chapter. Was I now done? Yes, it was a solid ending, but … I felt Lili and her friends deserved better, so I sat down and wrote a little four-page encore that is actually called that – Encore. It’s a sort of where is everyone so many years down the road kind of thing and I love it.

And then the book was done.

I can’t believe it’s finished, that The Perennials Trilogy is finally done. The idea for this set of books about three women called Lili, Daisy, and Rose first came to me about fifteen years ago. In a flash, I saw the whole path these women would take. I wrote the first book Becoming Lili fifteen years ago but told no one other than a few close friends that I had plans for it to be a trilogy. Then life got in the way, I wrote other books, and although writing the rest of the trilogy was always on the cards, it got relegated to someday.

In 2016 I finally started writing Chaining Daisy but broke halfway through it to edit and publish other books I’d written over the fifteen years since I wrote Becoming Lili and write book two in the Blackwood Family Saga – Fixtures & Fittings.

Early 2018 I picked it back up again and Chaining Daisy was published in the summer of that year. It was well-received, and I had to finally confess that it was book two of a proposed trilogy so there would be a book three coming along, sometime. Then I got busy with other books and my busy author life and didn’t even think about starting the third book until summer 2021.

And now it’s done, the trilogy is complete, and I must confess to mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m happy and relieved the tale is finally told and that I have one complete series in my portfolio. But on the other hand, Lili and her group have been my friends and even my family for fifteen years. That’s a long time to walk around with the lives of characters buzzing about your brain. I will miss them. Will there be more Lili in the future? Possibly, or maybe their children will carry on the torch for them. After all, Becoming Lili starts in the 1990s so the next generation will be the right age to feature in any contemporary novels I write so who knows. Never say never.

Friday morning, I sat down at my laptop and with the very useful Word find feature I went through the manuscript looking for crutch words. These are words such as just, suddenly, really, felt, moment, immediately, definitely etc … words that sneak in but aren’t absolutely necessary and can drag the writing down. (An example of this is in that last sentence – absolutely wasn’t necessary – the sentence would have made as much sense without it.)

Pleasantly surprised how few crutch words I had used – really used only eighty times in a 181,476-word document is not too bad – I whizzed through and sharpened up the book and removed about 500 words in the process.

Friday afternoon was my zoom authors meeting and it was great chatting with everyone. This group of women have saved my sanity during the weird times we are all living through, and it’s so wonderful to have other authors to talk to.

Saturday morning, I was awoken at 6am by the lodger very noisily leaving the house to go to work. I’ve concluded there’s no point saying anything to him about it. He’s just one of those men who are noisy and don’t even realise they are being so. Luckily, it’s only once or twice a week and I’m an early bird anyway.

I lay in bed and realised that I was wide awake. Not only that, but my book was calling to me. Other than going back over the chapter I’ve just written; I haven’t read the whole book at all whilst writing it. I needed to do a complete read through from beginning to end to see how it all hung together. Did it make sense? Did the plot flow? Do the characters maintain the same voices all the way through? Most of all, is it any good?

When I was writing it I honestly didn’t know. I was too close and couldn’t see the wood for the trees. But reading it through yesterday – I read the whole 180,697 words of it tweaking it in places and sharpening it still further – I’ve realised it is good. Well, I think it is anyway.

Then I tackled pagination. Page numbering a Word document is something that is either incredibly easy or incredibly hard. If it’s a simple thing and you want it to start with page one and work its way through to the end with a number on every page then it’s easy. But, if you have section breaks with an illustration at the start of each section that you don’t want a page number on then it becomes a whole lot harder. I know how to do it but sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Taking a deep breath, I made sure I’d saved the document everywhere first, then I started.

After a few sticky bits and me swearing at Word, it was all going swimmingly – until I hit the last section – that little four-page encore bit, and there the computer said No. It didn’t matter what I did I could not get that bit to paginate without it either sticking page numbers on the pages I didn’t want it to or, even more annoying, deleting all the page numbers it had managed to insert correctly.

Finally, I gave up. It’s 90% done so when the lovely Becky Wright at Platform House Publishing goes through to tidy up my illustrations she will no doubt see in a flash what the problem is and will fix it for me.

Struggling with the page numbering, I suddenly realised it had got very dark, and that I was hungry, and when I looked at the time it was almost six and I’d been sitting at my laptop almost without moving for twelve hours! I’d had a bacon sandwich for breakfast at nine, but that now felt a very long time ago and my stomach was protesting.

Switching on lights and the oven, I searched for something quick and easy. I had a mushroom and camembert pie in the freezer, plus some fat chips. With some peas or something that would do. I was too hungry, and my brain was too buzzed to bother with anything else. Waiting for the oven to warm, I started going back through the book to check that inserting the page numbers hadn’t thrown everything out of alignment. It had, so I had to tweak paragraphs to make the chapters the right lengths again.

Obviously, when you put in a page number it takes up a space at the bottom of the page that might previously have contained the last sentence, so it pushes that sentence to the next page. That might not sound like a big deal, and if your chapter ends near the top of a page or even halfway down, then usually it’s fine, there’s room for the chapter to spread. But if the chapter finished near the bottom of the page then that line being pushed could mean that suddenly your chapter ends with one or two lines at the top of a blank page. Which I don’t like. It’s messy and looks unprofessional.

Engrossed in checking the book and tweaking where necessary, I did remember the putting it in the oven part of my dinner but sadly forgot about the taking it out part. By the time I thought about it my chips were on the crunchy side and the pie had a very blackened crust. Forgetting about the peas – I didn’t have time to wait for them – whilst my ruined dinner cooled down enough to eat I had one last look through the manuscript then saved it and sent it to Becky. She has a window in her busy schedule to beta read it for me next week so she will be the first person other than me to read it.

And now there is nothing more I can do about it until the feedback comes back from Becky. My other two beta readers have said they will be ready by mid-December to have the book sent to them to read over the Christmas period and I will be realistically looking for feedback from them next January. Making amendments, and a final readthrough and then writing the blurb will all happen during that month and then I will be looking at possibly a February publication.

And what’s next? Book five of the Blackwood Family Saga. Being such short books of only 50,000 words means I can produce one of those in a fraction of the time it took with this latest book, so I’m hopeful of writing that between working on the edits and publishing the third Perennials book so will be looking for an April publication for that. I try to publish a Blackwood book each spring. After that, I plan to write the sequel to Erinsmore as it’s long overdue and I know readers are waiting for it. But after that, who knows…

And now it’s Sunday morning and I am very aware it’s gone nine and my blog still hasn’t been posted. I am sorry, but writing a book is a bit like being pregnant in that your mind is distracted and everything else gets forgotten about.

Today I need to bathe the tortoise and clean out his box and I need to touch base with my boss at some point. There is my bed to strip, laundry to do, and I must ensure all is ready for my return to work tomorrow. To my surprise I’ve sold a video that has been sitting on eBay unnoticed for almost a year now, so I need to get that ready to be posted and try and figure out the new system of being paid that eBay has installed since the last time I sold anything on there. It’s annoying that the buyer chose to buy on a Saturday evening when the post office is shut on a Sunday, and I must go to work Monday, but I’m sure I’ll sort something out.

Take care everyone, sorry this has been a bit of a boring, book-obsessed blog, but it’s been a book-obsessed week. Hopefully, what with going back to work, I’ll have more to chat to you about next week.

Julia Blake

Out of Quarantine

No blog this week, because to be honest, what with being at home under strict quarantine I don’t have very much to talk about. I have spent the week writing, which was wonderful, and coping with the symptoms of Covid, which was not so wonderful.

I am feeling much better, but the cough is lingering and sadly I appear to have lost my sense of smell and taste. I’m hopeful they will come back, especially my taste. As you know, I love food and not being able to taste anything is dreadful. To not be able to smell bacon frying or taste it is grim, and one morning I had tea with off milk in it because I couldn’t smell the milk had turned, nor taste it had. It wasn’t until I was halfway down the cup and realised that the texture of the milk was odd that I recognised what had happened.

Everything tastes beige now.

I’m back to work on Sunday for three long days, which is a shame. I think I’m going to be very tired after two weeks of not doing very much, and the virus has wiped the floor with me, leaving me drained and fatigued. Today (Saturday) I have concentrated on making sure I’m ready for three days at work, so have arranged three easy cook meals and made sure the house is up to scratch. I’m not sure I’m ready to go back but have already sacrificed half a month’s pay to this virus, I can’t afford to lose any more.

Apart from feeling so ill, it has been wonderful being able to write all day and every day, and over the two weeks, I’ve been in isolation I have written almost 50,000 words which is incredible. The book is almost finished. Maybe another 20,000 words or so and it will be done.

My lodger doesn’t appear to have the inner resources I have and has been climbing the walls to get out. I thought he would want to be a little more sociable because we were trapped in the house together, but he seemed to want to be left alone and refused my offer to watch a film together or play cards or something, so I let him get on with it. The second the quarantine was lifted yesterday he was out of the house and didn’t come back for a couple of hours. He’s also back to work today which he was excited about.

Miss F was released from her quarantine at midnight, and I think she’s very happy to be back in her room surrounded by her friends and able to cook her own food. The food the university supplied her with – when they remembered to feed her, that is – wasn’t very appealing.

Am I weird that I enjoy being home so much? Maybe if I wasn’t a writer and didn’t have such a rich and varied online life, then I would feel the effects of cabin fever as well. It’s not even as if I sat and watched TV all day because I was too busy to even think about turning on the TV until I sat down to eat my dinner in the evening. No, what with frantically writing, reading, and spending time on social media, I didn’t have time to even think about whether I was lonely or bored.

Having Covid again, especially after being double jabbed, has made me afraid though. I think like many people I had grown a little complacent but being so ill from it this time around has made me extremely cautious. I will continue to wear my mask at work and if I go into shops. I will go back to collecting my shopping instead of going into the store. I will stay away from people because I don’t know where they’ve been. This whole sorry experience has taught me that even though I’m vaccinated it is possible to catch the virus again and be very ill with it.

Please take care everyone and apologies for the shortness of my chat. See you next week.

Julia Blake

It’s Corona Time Again!

It’s been a helluva week, and I don’t quite know where to begin. As I told you in last Sunday’s blog, I went to a party on Saturday and it was a late evening, so I wasn’t too surprised when I didn’t feel so great the next day. Self-inflicted, I told myself, as a headache nagged in the middle of my forehead, I had an upset stomach and felt a bit chesty and wheezy.

By the evening, it seemed a full-blown chest infection was settling in, which I could have done without. Never mind, I thought, I’m not back to work until Wednesday so hopefully, that will give me time to shake it off, at least enough so I can go back to work. Yes, I know going into work with a chest infection isn’t fair, but sadly with the UK sick pay being the joke it is, you are not exactly encouraged to do the right thing. If you call in sick, then unless you work for the government, the council, or kind employers, you will receive no pay at all for the first four days! After that, you will receive a paltry £3.50 per hour which is certainly not enough to pay the mortgage or any bills so you can see why I was keen not to have to take time off work.

I tried to take it easy Monday, although the bathroom and kitchen needed a thorough scouring and the floors washing. I didn’t realise how ill it would make me feel. Collapsing onto the sofa when I was done, apart from cooking dinner, I didn’t move for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, I woke up in a world of pain. The cough simply wouldn’t stop. Brutally hacking, it felt like my heart was trying to punch its way through my ribcage – like that scene in Alien – and my joints were all throbbing with pain. Sitting at my laptop that afternoon trying to write, I was disturbed by my lodger tapping on the door with something in his hand.

I’m so sorry, he said. I’ve just taken a test and it’s positive. I’ve got Covid.

Shit!

I took a test. It was an instant positive. Bugger. I waited thirty minutes to be sure, but the second line didn’t go away and besides, it explained how I was feeling. I phoned my boss to report the situation. Right, he said, you’re off self-isolating for ten days, go on the NHS website and order a PCR test just to make sure and keep me apprised of what’s going on. I ordered a PCR test. Then I sent Miss F a message. An hour later she hadn’t responded, so I phoned her.

ME:  I’ve got Covid, take a test.

HER: Shit!

ME:  I know, sorry, but take the test.

She took the test. It was positive. She phoned student support and within ten minutes had been frog-marched from her accommodation to an isolation pod on the other side of the campus. Given barely five minutes to get together enough belongings to see her through ten days in isolation, she was not very happy at all.

Everyone she had come into contact with since returning to university Friday evening had to take tests – they all came back negative so at least she hadn’t infected anyone there. I telephoned the hostess of Saturday’s party and told her what had happened. I phoned my parents, told them to take tests, tried to contact anyone else we’d been in contact with the week Miss F was home. But the weird thing is they have all come back negative, so we didn’t catch it from any of them, but, more importantly, we haven’t infected any of them which is a relief.

I have no idea where we got it from or who infected who. I know the lodger is blaming us. And I know that he thinks the cough Miss F came back from university with was Covid, even though I have assured him it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been. She’s had that cough since mid-September and the Covid cough does not last continuously for six weeks. Also, at university, they are tested three times a week before they are allowed to attend lectures or social events. Her tests are always negative. Finally, she took a test on the 21st before coming home on the 22nd so she didn’t bring it with her.

It’s possible she picked it up on the train coming home, but if that’s the case then somehow she managed to only infect me and the lodger and not a single other person she came into contact with. We could have picked it up the day we went to the beach – after all, it was crowded with idiots not wearing masks. It could have been when we went charity shopping on Thursday. Again, the shops were rammed with people not wearing masks. If we did get infected Thursday, then it’s a miracle we didn’t infect my parents because we went out to dinner with them that evening and got pretty close to them, but they are negative. None of my work colleagues has tested positive so I don’t think I picked it up at work.

It is entirely possible that the lodger picked it up and gave it to us. After all, he has been travelling on public transport to Cambridge for work. He works in a supermarket that is always full of people. He is busy blaming us – oh, not in an outright nasty way, but there have been insinuations plus it’s not my fault he has a really loud voice when he’s on the phone to his friends telling them what has happened – but there is a very real chance that he brought the infection home from work Thursday evening and Miss F and I picked it up Friday morning. It would explain why nobody else we saw that week has been infected.

Tuesday was a bad day. I can’t remember the last time I felt so ill. So much for the vaccine reducing your symptoms because if these were reduced, I dread to think how I would have been with full-blown Covid.

Supply wise I was okay-ish for food, but it was fresh stuff I was going to have an issue with. I went onto the Tesco website and to my relief was able to book a home delivery slot for between 4-5pm on Thursday. Worried about the lodger – I knew he didn’t have much in the way of food in the house – I told him I’d managed to book a delivery slot and would be doing my shopping list Wednesday afternoon. If there’s anything you need, I told him, you’re welcome to put it in my basket so it will be delivered and then pay whatever your shopping comes to into my bank.

Wednesday morning and my PCR test arrived. Read all instructions first, it told me. Well, I’m normally an “instructions are for wimps” kinda girl, but on this occasion, I thought I’d better do it by the book, so I read all the instructions and was pleased I had because talk about a complicated, pain in the arse, procedure. It didn’t help that I don’t have a smartphone so had to manually type in all the ID numbers, barcodes, and unique reference numbers that could otherwise have been scanned in. Although when the lodger did his later he told me that the scanning process hadn’t worked on his phone, so he’d ended up having to do it all manually as well.

Once it was all done, I was instructed to post it off in the nearest priority post box as shown on the map. There was one just around the corner and this is the conundrum – being in quarantine I’m not allowed to leave the house, but this had to be posted back to them ASAP! There was nothing else for it. I put on my mask, kept my head down, walked as quickly as I could to the post box avoiding the few people who were out, posted it off, and scuttled quickly home.

Mentally, I feel fine so at least I’ve been able to make the most of this enforced time at home and work on my book. It’s physically that I haven’t been faring so well. No temperature, or at least not that I’ve been aware of, and I haven’t lost my sense of smell or taste, thank heavens. No, my biggest woes were the brutal cough, the joint pains, and the fact I’ve coughed so violently and for such prolonged lengths of time I’ve bruised or wrenched my rib cage and spine. I’ve been informed it is possible to fracture a rib coughing, but I don’t think I managed to quite do that, although it bloody hurts like I did.

Poor Miss F isn’t faring any better. Although her symptoms aren’t quite so bad she is stuck in a tiny room all by herself with no fresh air, barely room to swing a cat, and no food. The university is supposed to bring her food, but they keep forgetting, and even when they remember it’s not very good food. One pot of cold chips for a whole 24-hour period is not exactly enough to keep body and soul together. And of course, I can’t get out to do anything to help her!

Thursday I telephoned my Mum, she was out and about in her village so popped into her local shop and bought a few snacks for Miss F and hastily posted them off guaranteed next day delivery so at least she would have something!

As the time of my Tesco delivery approached I made my plans. I would have my shopping bags and a laundry crate standing by the front door ready to decant my groceries from the delivery boxes into. I would wear my mask and gloves. I’d already put in the delivery instructions that I was self-isolating with Covid and please could the driver ring the bell then stand well clear. Surely, that should all be safe enough. I had a horror of spreading it any further than I already had.

Just gone three-thirty, I heard a van outside. Surely that wasn’t him? He was early. Frantically, I scuttled about the house gathering up what I needed. He got out of the van and wandered up and down the round, before heading over to the flats and peering up at them. Confused, I opened the door and called over to him.

ME:  Are you looking for me?

HIM: Are you number____?

ME:  Yes.

HIM: Oh, I wasn’t sure, I couldn’t see your number.

Oka-a-ay. Now my number features a lot on my house. It’s carved into pieces of slate twice on the gatepost. It’s on the bin. It’s on the door. It’s on a decorative plaque on the wall. And it’s on foot high numbers set into the glass above the door. But whatever …

I prepared my bags as he went back to the van and dragged out the first boxes. He came up the steps and tried to carry them into the house.

ME:  What are you doing?

HIM: Carrying the boxes in for you.

ME:  Didn’t you see the note that we have Covid in the house?

HIM: Well, yeah, but…

ME:  So, that means you shouldn’t come in.

HIM: Oh, well the other four Covid sufferers I’ve been to today made me carry their shopping in.

Whattttt?!

No wonder infection rates are spreading! Surely, common sense should have said to this guy no matter how kind and helpful he wanted to be – going into the homes of people who are self-isolating with Covid is not a smart idea! Presumably, he is then rocking up at some vulnerable old granny’s house and carrying her shopping in – what a kind young man you are – with her blissfully unaware that he’s been into four plague pits beforehand!

I looked at him over the top of my mask. He looked at me – his mask was across his chin. Slowly, he put his mask on, put the crates down on the step and went to get the rest from the van. I started loading my bags, emptying the crates by the time he returned and stepping back so he could swap the empties for the full ones.

HIM: Anyway, thank you for wearing your mask and gloves. None of the others did.

And that right there is precisely why we’re in the state we’re in. The other Covid victims he’d been to presumably think that as they already had the virus and couldn’t catch it again, well, not right away, there was no need for them to wear a mask, or gloves, or keep their distance because THEY couldn’t catch it. Never mind they might infect the driver who will then take it back and potentially infect all the other drivers, his family, his friends, and presumably any other poor sod who had a home delivery after those selfish articles.

He left and the lodger appeared to help me take all the shopping – mine and his – into the kitchen to be sorted. He had taken me up on my offer to tack his shopping list onto mine because it made sense.

Thursday evening, Miss F messaged that my parents care parcel had arrived so she had some sustenance in her prison cell. At least prisoners get three square meals a day plus exercise. I wished I could do more for her, but without being able to leave the house, wasn’t sure what I could do.

Friday morning, I awoke with a brainwave in my head. They sell food on Amazon, I have a Prime account so if I went on and ordered some snacks and treats for her, they would deliver them on Saturday direct to the university for free. Brilliant! As soon as I got up I went onto Amazon and ordered some cereal bars, crisps, and lactose-free chocolate to be sent to her. I know Miss F’s friends have been leaving food, drink, and other essentials on the doorstep of her pod, so between us, we would keep her from starving.

At lunchtime, I received an email with my PCR test results – positive. Not that it was a shock. I forwarded it to my boss as per instructions so it could be sent to head office and put on my file. Then Friday afternoon I had my normal zoom meet up with my local authors’ group. It was wonderful to speak to them. I’ve spoken to quite a few people this week – the lodger, my parents, Miss F, the Tesco delivery guy – but it was so nice to sit for a couple of hours, coffee in hand, and just shoot the breeze with them all. Afterwards, I made a healthy spicy beef and veggie chilli from scratch feeling it would do me the world of good.

And now it’s Saturday. So far today I have written a few more words of my book, messaged Miss F, and even spent ten minutes in the garden bagging up the enormous pile of leaves that the lodger swept up yesterday. He has had fewer symptoms than me, plus I don’t think has the inner resources I have, so was bored, and wanted to get out of the house. He asked if there was anything he could do in the garden, I said he could sweep up all the leaves if he wanted, so that’s what he did. He left them in a big heap at the bottom of the garden, so I figured I better bag them up before a strong gust of wind threw them all over the place again.

I have chicken in red wine for dinner tonight, which I’ll do with plenty of veg and roast potatoes as a treat. Luckily my appetite hasn’t been affected and I haven’t lost my sense of taste. I’m not sure about my smell. I’ll have to wait until my nose isn’t so blocked up to see if that’s been affected. I’m in quarantine until next Thursday and then must present a negative test before I’m allowed out. I’m not sure if that means a lateral flow or another PCR though. Hope it’s only a lateral flow test I have to do; I have those in the house and they’re relatively easy to do – not like the complicated PCR ones.

I can’t believe I’ve been infected again, after all, I am double jabbed, but that made no difference. I think many believe if they’re jabbed that they’re immune to being infected, well let me tell you, you’re not. You can catch it, you can pass it on, you can be extremely ill from it, and you can even still die from it. So be sensible. Wear the mask. Sanitise your hands. Keep your distance. As we go into the winter it’s only going to get worse, so be careful because I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on anyone.

Take care everyone, and I’ll see you all next week.

Julia Blake

Better Late Than Never!

Well, what a week it’s been! It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting here trying to summon up the energy to write my blog. I’m at work on Saturday then have a Halloween party in the evening so will have no other time to write it.

As you know, Miss F came home a week ago and I made the trip to a nearby town to collect her from the train station there. For various reasons, even though Bury St Edmunds is a much bigger town than Thetford, it is on a mainline whereas Bury is only a branch line. That means that for Miss F to catch a train direct to Bury from her university, it would involve a fifteen-hour journey with six changes including an hour-long tube trip across central London! No way. So, it suddenly occurred to me to check out the trains to Thetford – as it’s a mainline – and lo and behold, it was only going to take five hours and involve one change at Stockport. As Thetford is only a 20-minute drive away, it seemed a much better idea for Miss F to catch a train to there and I would collect her.

Her train was due into Thetford at 18:41 so I left home at 18:20 to ensure I was there in plenty of time. It was a filthy night, dark and rainy, and although I’ve been to Thetford several times, it’s more than thirty-five years since I’ve been to the station. Leaving a big dinner sitting in the hot trolley, I set off, eager to see my girl again.

There was a lot of traffic on the road which I hadn’t allowed for, with congestion in Thetford, and I had forgotten that the station is located down some twisty residential streets that had me wondering if I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. The station itself is tiny and is simply a place where trains stop. Judging by the faded glory of its old Victorian buildings it was once a bit more than that, and you can imagine it being the hub of the town when most travelling was by rail.

I parked outside and sent a quick text to Miss F to let her know I was there. Then I wandered onto the platform and wondered which side I needed to be – there were two tracks but very little information about which platform her train would be arriving at – but as most people were on the opposite one, I guessed that must be it and crossed over on the bridge as the train thundered into the station.

There was the usual confusion of people getting on and off, of greetings and farewells, and travellers trying to control wayward luggage. I scanned the faces of all the disembarking passengers but couldn’t see her anywhere. The train pulled out of the station and the crowd began to thin and I still couldn’t see her. That tiny voice of panic nagged at my mind, so I took out my phone and saw I had a missed call which I hadn’t heard because of the noise of the train and a text from Miss F – where are you? – I was about to phone her when suddenly she was there! She travelled down with another girl from university, and they’d got off at the other end of the train and I hadn’t seen her.

Driving back, she was full of excited talk about university shenanigans and adventures with her friends, and it was good to hear how happy and settled she is there. It is worrying when your only child goes halfway across the country at barely eighteen. When they’re so far away that if anything happens, it will take you hours to reach them.

After more than five hours travelling, she was tired and hungry, so we had dinner then a reasonably early night.

We were both woken at 5am on Saturday by the lodger trying to get out of the house to go to work. Yes, he is still incapable of opening and closing doors quietly, but what can I do?

I was supposed to work on Saturday, but my boss swapped my hours, so I had the day off and was very relieved I did. After a lazy start, we wandered uptown and treated ourselves to a luxury hot chocolate each which we sat and drank in the Abbey Gardens. It was a gorgeous sunny day, with squirrels darting about all over the place.

Once we’d finished our drinks, we wandered through town and booked a table for dinner with my parents the following Thursday at a local pub, then went to visit Miss F’s grandparents who were very pleased to see her. After a nice long visit with them, we went our separate ways – Miss F to go for a haircut and I to Waitrose to pick up a few bits for dinner and the rest of the week. Again, we were both very tired after being woken so early so had a nice dinner and an early night.

Sunday, I had to work, but Miss F was looking forward to having a day to chill and try to persuade the cat to forgive her for going away. It was quite funny, the cat wasn’t hostile towards her or anything like that, but there was definitely a passive-aggressive protest going on about her abandonment by Miss F. Every time Miss F picked up the cat for a cuddle, the cat would pointedly remove herself from her arms and come and climb into my lap.

Sunday evening, we had my niece around for the evening and we shared a Chinese takeaway, two bottles of red wine, and a glass or so of gin. The plan had been to play games, but we spent the whole evening chatting instead.

Monday was a day off as well, so we drove to the nearest seaside town to us which is Felixstowe. Again, it was a gorgeous day with blue skies arcing overhead and the sun glittering off the North Sea. We played on the tuppeny shove and spent lots of money to win some tut that was worth a fraction of what we spent to win it, but we had fun, so that’s the main thing. After that, we had chips sitting on the seafront. A very large seagull landed nearby and looked sideways at our chips, but a large dog chased it off so that was all right. We then slowly wandered back to the car as the sky was darkening – just making it to the car as the heavens opened.

Unfortunately, Miss F came back from university with a nasty cough – and no, it’s not Covid. During the first week or so of university, “freshers’ flu” swept through all the students. I think it was glandular fever. Anyway, many of them were left with a persistent cough – Miss F included. This cough has lingered ever since. Some of the other students went to their doctors and were prescribed antibiotics because it’s a chest infection and not much else will shift it. But … here is where it gets complicated.

When Miss F first got to university, she was told to register with the local doctor’s surgery as a student and they could then have access to her medical records back at her registered surgery in Bury St Edmunds. Miss F duly did as she was instructed. So, when this cough looked like it was going to stick around she tried to get an appointment with the surgery near the university. But … they don’t answer their phone, they don’t respond to emails, and it seems like they don’t want to give appointments to students – not even telephone consultations. Miss F then tried her surgery in Bury St Edmunds – the ones who have been her doctors since before she was born. But … she is apparently no longer registered with them so they can’t help her!

This is a ludicrous situation. At the age of just 18, my daughter doesn’t appear to have an NHS doctor!

So, nothing was done about her cough and a month later she still has it. A horrible, dry, hacking cough that is painful to hear. Monday evening, she tried again to get a telephone consultation with the surgery near the university. Your call has been logged, she was informed, someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

Note: It is now Friday evening, four days later, and no one has.

She then tried the NHS helpline. After a myriad of questions, some sensible, some bizarre, she was told someone would call her back. An hour later, someone did. A nurse practitioner called Carol who from the sound of her accent was in the West Country somewhere. She listened to Miss F’s symptoms – she also listened to her coughing up a lung down the phone – at the end of which she declared that she was not happy to prescribe antibiotics and suggested that Miss F take some cough medicine!

Cough medicine? For what is plainly a chest infection!

Understandably frustrated by all of this, Miss F asked me what she should do, so I told her to go and see the pharmacist in our local chemist the next morning. I’ve spoken to him before and he’s really good – so good that it’s a crying shame he couldn’t prescribe Miss F the antibiotics which he wanted to because, in his opinion, she has a chest infection, and they would help her to get rid of it. Because of the rules in the UK though, he wasn’t allowed to prescribe her anything other than a strong linctus to try and help shift it. But he did say if the cough didn’t clear by next week then she would have no other option but to go to A&E – for a cough that could quite easily be dealt with by a simple doctor’s appointment – because it’s impossible to get a doctor’s appointment anymore so you must go to the hospital and put yet more strain on the emergency services. The situation in the UK is now that ridiculous! Surely, it can’t all be blamed on the pandemic. Where have all the doctors gone? Why are they no longer seeing patients, and why are surgeries no longer answering their phones?!

Tuesday I was back to work, but Miss F was spending the day with a friend and having lunch out, so when I got home I cooked a quick meal for myself. We had managed to book Miss F’s second Covid jab for seven that evening in the nearby town Newmarket. I’ve been to Newmarket loads of times and Google maps told us that Pharmacy 4U – which was where the vaccine centre was located – was on the high street, so I was confident of being able to find it.

Running late, as usual, we parked on the high street and set off on foot to find the pharmacy which, Google maps reliably informed us, was nearby. Nope. Rushing up and down the street, we were confronted with closed shops and even boarded-up premises. Desperate – it was now five to seven – I jumped at a young couple walking by and asked them if they knew where Pharmacy 4U was? Oh, the vaccine place, they asked. Yes. Oh, that’s up on the racecourse, another mile or so out of town.

Fuming, we charged back to the car, jumped in, and raced out of town. Now we were into a part of Newmarket I didn’t know very well at all. Trying to slow and peer at right-hand turnings looking for the statue of the horse they’d told us to turn by, we couldn’t see anything! It didn’t help that it was dark, and I mean, really dark! There was no moon at all Tuesday night, so it was pitch black, with bright headlights coming at me out of the dark half blinding me. I couldn’t see bugger all and had no idea where I was or where I was supposed to go.

After a few minutes I realised we were heading out of town so must have missed it. Cursing, I turned onto a farm track and waited until I could pull back out into traffic and head back into town now scanning the left for the statue and the turning. I thought I saw something looming up in shadows, but it was so blinking dark I wasn’t sure if I’d seen anything or not. But there was a turning, so we took it, and it led us back parallel to the road we’d been on. There was nothing there! No signs, no clues at all that we were in the right place.

I turned back onto the main road, then saw that what I’d seen was the horse statue so we must have been in the right place. Fuming, I turned back onto the side road and this time we went further – almost to the gates of the racecourse itself – and there, finally, was a lit-up sign for Pharmacy 4U.

Pharmacy 4U, it informed us in bright red letters, has been relocated to Landwades Business Park, Kentford!

WTF!! We’d driven through Kentford to get to Newmarket so must have gone straight by it!

By now it’s gone 7:20 and Miss F’s jab was booked for seven. She was panicking that she wouldn’t get her second jab at all, and I was beyond angry that they’d moved the location without bothering to let us know!

Back through Newmarket, we roared, and out onto the road leading back to Bury. I knew roughly where Lanwades Business Park was – somewhere on the right – but the road was thickly tree-lined and due to the extreme darkness it was impossible to see anything until you were right on top of it. I slowed right down, indicating right, and crawled along frantically scanning the hedgerows for a turning.

Where is it when you’re looking for somewhere there’s always a car right up your arse being driven by some brain dead moron with no patience. Yes, I know I’m going slowly but you can see my indicator is on and I’m clearly looking for somewhere. Revving right up to the back of my car as if you want to climb into my boot and putting your headlights on full beam isn’t going to help the situation.

Almost into the village of Kentford, I saw a large plaque saying Lanwades Business Park and thankfully turned off the road, leaving the inconsiderate arse wipe behind me to roar off into the darkness. Cheers, mate, you were so understanding. Following the signs for Pharmacy 4U we parked, and Miss F jumped out and ran into the building. The door was locked as they’d finished for the evening and initially told her she would have to come back another day. Forcibly informing them that she couldn’t, she was home for a couple of days from university only, and that it wasn’t her fault as the location of the clinic had been changed without any kind of notification – they relented, let her in, and stuck the needle in her as they were asking her consent.

What a bloody palaver, but at least she’s had her second dose now.

Wednesday, I was at work and Miss F went to catch up with another friend and have a light lunch with them. Getting home from work, I did us an amazing dinner of thick sirloin steaks with all the trimmings, then Miss F’s godmother came round for the evening.

Thursday, her last day and a day off work for me. Having a good breakfast, we went uptown for Miss F to have her optician’s appointment – thankfully, she still has an optician! Her eyesight has deteriorated again so new glasses were necessary and when they arrive I will have to collect and post them up to her.

After that, we mooched around the charity shops and managed to finish off my fancy dress costume for the party I was going to on Saturday night.

Thursday evening, we went for dinner at a local pub with my parents. The pub is lovely, the menu is extensive, it’s reasonably priced, and the staff are friendly. Just one thing marred our meal out. A large family were sitting at a table on the other side of the room. Not only did they have a baby that occasionally let out the most ear-piercing shrieks, which was bad enough, but they also had a small yappy dog who barked constantly. Pitched at a shrill pain level, it was annoying for us all but particularly so for my mother whose hearing aid was reacting badly to the frequency of the yaps and causing her pain. On and on, the shrill cries and even shriller yapping went on, and the family did absolutely nothing to curtail either annoyance.

When I went to place our order at the bar, I asked the server if he thought the dog was going to yap all evening. God, I hope not, he replied, pulling a face, it’s so annoying, isn’t it!

Going back to our table, the server followed me over a few minutes later and said he’d reserved us a table in a different room, so we’d be away from the selfishly noisy family, so we quietly, and without any fuss, moved before our food was served.

The meal was lovely, we had a nice chat, and everything was going well, until the father of the noisy family brought the dog over to stand right by our table, yapping away. Then the mother walked over and called out to us – we’re leaving now, I hope you’re happy, we saw you glaring at us!

How bloody rude was that? For a start, yes, we are very happy you and your noisy dog are leaving, but as for glaring at you, seeing as we’ve been sitting in another room for the past hour and couldn’t see you how can we have been glaring at you?

We stared at them in disbelief as they left the pub, trailing their three or four small offspring with them, who were chanting – nasty people, we’re leaving! Which they must have picked up from their parents.

Miss F accused me of being a “Karen” because I was so annoyed not only at their selfish and inconsiderate behaviour, but the unnecessary comments made by them. I’m sorry but taking your dog into a restaurant is a privilege, not a right, and if your dog cannot behave and is spoiling the enjoyment of the other diners, then take the damn thing out or leave it at home altogether! Why are people so inconsiderate these days? Has lockdown made people boorish and rude because they’re not used to eating out anymore? Or have some people always been like that, and I’d just forgotten? If I had a dog, and that dog was prone to constantly yapping, then I certainly wouldn’t take it into a crowded restaurant, I would leave it at home. I don’t know, maybe Miss F is right, maybe I am a Karen, but the older I get, the less inclined I am to put up with other people’s bullshit.

And that was the end of Miss F’s stay. Friday morning, we had a full English breakfast to see her through the day and the long train journey, then I drove her to Thetford and saw her on the 12:41 train. Driving back to Bury I detoured to Tesco to do my weekly shop, drop off bottles at the recycling bank, and top up with petrol. Thankfully, all that fuel shortage shenanigans are over, although fuel prices have gone up. Getting caught in a sudden downpour when I was loading the shopping in and out of the car, by the time I’d got it all into the house, I was drenched.

Friday afternoon was spent stripping Miss F’s bed, tidying her room, cooking my dinner, attempting to write my blog, then at 5:30 I put on my coat and shoes and joined my neighbours in the street for a last Happy Hour drink before the clocks go back this weekend, the nights pull in, and the weather makes it impossible to meet outside.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to finish writing my blog on Friday, so I left it to finish on Saturday morning, but that didn’t happen either, then when I got home from work that evening I had a light dinner to cook and eat, and a fancy-dress party to get ready for.

So, it’s now Sunday. After a very late night, I slept in this morning, but then realised I hadn’t put my clocks back yet, so it wasn’t so late as I thought. I’m now off for three days and plan to write and catch up with housework. I think Miss F has given me her cough though because my throat feels like sandpaper and I can’t stop coughing, or maybe it’s a result of getting caught in the rain. Either way, I’m looking forward to three gentler days of taking care of myself and eating nourishing meals.

Happy Halloween Everyone! Sorry it’s a late blog this weekend, but better late than never, right?

Julia Blake

A blog explaining why there’s no blog!

This is a quick blog to let you know that there will be no blog this week. As you’re aware, Miss F is coming home this evening – her first time travelling on a train alone – I’m not nervous, you are, so I won’t have any time to write tomorrow due to wanting to spend the day with her.

Initially, I was going to have to work all weekend, but last Sunday my boss suddenly woke up to the fact that my daughter was coming home for six days, and I was having to work for four of them, did a little bit of jiggery-pokery and told me that if I worked Tuesday instead I could have Saturday off. Deal!

So, I’ve worked two days so far this week, Monday and Tuesday, and although they were really quiet, boring days I am already through my target for the month so I’m not too worried. That means I only have a six-hour shift on Sunday which isn’t too bad.

Not sure what we’ll do on Saturday. Miss F has a haircut booked for 2:30pm so we can’t go out for the day, but I’m sure we’ll find something fun to do.

The freezer, fridge, and cupboards are stuffed full of yummy things to eat, and, by special request, when we get back from the station at seven tonight there will be a dinner of BBQ maple belly pork and roast potatoes waiting in the hot trolley.

I’ve also spent the last two days taking apart her bedroom, thoroughly cleaning it, and putting it back together. My dad called round on Wednesday and helped me to shift Miss F’s incredibly heavy mattress off the bed and onto the landing so I could move the bed and clean underneath it. Ye gods, how disgusting was it under there! Cobwebs, dust, and enough hair to make another teenager. Spiders scuttled in all directions as I merciless committed arachnid Armageddon with the vacuum cleaner.

By the end of Wednesday, I was hot, sweaty, and filthy. Crawling into the shower, all I wanted to do that evening was eat dinner and fall into bed.

Thursday I finished sorting her room, made her bed up fresh, caught up with the laundry, and then made sure downstairs was clean and tidy. I don’t suppose Miss F will even notice or care how clean the house is, but I don’t want to have to waste a second of the next six days doing housework!

Today is Friday, and this morning I’ve written a couple of book reviews and made posts for the next few days. Saturday is the third anniversary of the launch of The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ which is still one of my most popular books to date. To mark the occasion, I am releasing a brand-new video trailer for the book on social media. Made by the fabulous Platform House Publishing, it’s my first video to contain not just a music backing track but have audio as well. If you’d like to view it, then it’s on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and there are links to it on my website.

If you’re an author and require an excellent team to create your book covers, promotional images, video trailers, and interior formatting, then I highly recommend Platform House Publishing. Professional, friendly, and reasonably priced, why not check them out and don’t forget, there’s a 10% discount code for their services on my website.

I’m also holding an international Giveaway on Sunday on Instagram, so if you’d like to be in with a chance to win a signed copy of the gorgeous paperback edition of The Forest, then look for my post to enter.

And now I’m sitting at my keyboard and waiting. Waiting for Amazon to deliver a colour changing bulb for Miss F’s bedside lamp because she took hers to university. Waiting for my dad to collect his stepladder which I borrowed to clean the inside of my windows. Waiting for 1pm when I’ll be in a zoom meeting with my local authors’ group. Waiting until 5:30pm when I’ll pop outside for a quick drink and a chat with my neighbours. Waiting until 6:15pm when I’ll set out for the station to collect Miss F. And waiting until 6:41pm when her train should arrive, and my girl will be home.

And while I’m waiting, I will cook dinner and get it in the hot trolley and maybe even get down a few more words of my book – because I doubt I’ll have any time to write next week.

And that’s about it. Sorry, this is only a short chat about how there isn’t a blog this week, but at least next time I will have Miss F’s visit to tell you all about.

Take care and stay well.

Julia Blake

The One With Two Theatre Trips

It’s a weekend without the lodger as he’s gone away until Sunday evening – all the way to Edinburgh and back on the train for a day and a half, rather him than me – and it’s nice to have the house to myself. Don’t get me wrong, as lodgers go he’s not bad and I’ve certainly had worse. Yes, he’s very noisy leaving the house at 5am to go to work, but at least it’s only twice a week. It is also temporary that it’s so early. He works at Waitrose which is a two-minute walk away so for his 6am shift he wouldn’t be leaving the house until 5:55am, but because Waitrose is currently undergoing a refit he is working at the Waitrose in Newmarket – a small town about twenty minutes away. Not having a car means he must catch the train so must leave at 5am as the only train that will get him there on time is at 5:20am.

I’ve had a few lodgers in the past that had early starts or worked night shifts and never yet encountered one who understood the concept of trying to be quiet when leaving or entering the house at unsociable hours. If it’s a work day for me as well, then I don’t mind so much, but if it’s my day off – which Thursday was – and I’ve not been sleeping very well so am exhausted, being abruptly woken by a heart attack because someone has loudly slammed the dining room door right under your bedroom, stomped along the hallway, jingled the door chain and lock as noisily as possible, then slammed the front door, that’s not so tolerable.

Lying there trying to persuade my heart to start beating again, I desperately wanted to go back to sleep but my bladder got in on the act, so I had to get up and go downstairs to the bathroom. He’d left the hall light blazing away – again! Staggering through the kitchen with my eyes half shut I didn’t bother to put on the light and banged my hip on the dishwasher door he’d left open – Again! I reeled around the corner into the bathroom and bounced off his bathroom cabinet door which he’d left wide open – AGAIN!

What is it with men and cupboard doors? I’ve had this issue with almost every single male lodger I’ve ever had. And thinking about it, my ex was the same. Go to cupboard/drawer, take out or put something in, almost shut the cupboard/drawer but then walk away without finishing the job. Why? Why!? Is it sheer male stupidity that they don’t understand the concept of how doors and drawers work? Is it laziness that they can’t be bothered to finish the job? Or is it more why should they have to tidy up after themselves when there’s a perfectly good woman in the house to follow them around and do it for them?

I have spoken to him about it. He promised not to do it again. He’s done it again, and this time I hurt myself twice because he couldn’t be arsed to simply shut the fecking door! I also had to talk to him about putting sharp knives in the dishwasher pointed end up – very nasty when you’re unloading the cutlery tray and a knife point goes right up under your fingernail!

He’s clearly not going to respond to a “chat”, no matter how many times we have one, and to be honest, I’ve asked him once, having to constantly have a go at him about it will simply lead to resentful feelings on both our parts.

No, there’s nothing for it, the sticky notes are going to have to come out. Please shut and please switch off light notes strategically placed. We’ll see how that works. I don’t want to lose him, but neither can I let it go. Leaving the dishwasher door down is dangerous, any further down and I wouldn’t have banged into it I would have tripped over it, and then that could have been something broken – either me or the dishwasher – neither of which is desirable.

So, I’m enjoying my quiet weekend. Whilst he’s gone I shall vacuum right through the house as I’m reluctant to do the lounge and the stairs knowing he’s underneath and possibly napping – see, consideration, it should cut both ways!

I have the tortoise Poe to bathe and clean out. If animals are as smart as people claim they are, why do they always poo in their only source of fresh water? I checked that his heat lamp had come on this morning and noticed a monster turd floating in his pool, so I have that to sort out. Deep joy.

Then there’s the bathroom and kitchen to clean as usual. I took Mr M through the cleaning routine last weekend, but it made sense for me to clean this weekend as well because he’s away and then he can clean next weekend. I’m working both days plus Miss F is home so having someone else do the cleaning will be helpful.

I can’t believe that Miss F is coming home next Friday. On the one hand, it feels like ages since I last saw her, but on the other, it seems like only yesterday I was helping her settle into her dorm room. She’s coming home for six days and unfortunately, my shift pattern crapped out and I must work for four of them, which is just typical.

Oh well, we’ll still have two days together plus the evenings. She certainly has a lot to pack into those six days. Two sets of grandparents to see, friends to catch up on, hairdresser and optician appointments to attend, her second Covid jab to get, and on top of that, she will have a ton of online coursework to do as it’s not officially a half-term holiday but a week of self-directed study. That means she doesn’t have to physically be at the university, but she’ll still have work she’ll be expected to complete.

It’s not been a bad week, there’s been work of course, which was work. I’ve also been to the theatre twice, which was wonderful.

The first trip was last Sunday when I went to see the Irish comedian Ed Byrne at the Theatre Royal with M, one of my friends from my local author group. We’d arranged to meet on the corner of a road between mine and hers and on the way to the theatre. I got there first and stood under a streetlamp until I realised it looked a bit dodgy and there was a chance I might earn a few bob whilst I was waiting for her, so moved to the opposite side of the street.

The bar at the theatre had removed the plastic-lined runways since the last time I’d been in July, so we didn’t feel like sheep waiting to be dipped when we queued up to buy drinks and order ones for the interval, although the bar staff were as slow as ever. For October it was a beautiful evening, so we sat outside until the curtain bell rang, and it was time to go in.

Ed Byrne is hysterically funny, but a bit of a potty mouth and it was funny watching the mostly middle-class, middle-aged audience reactions. They wanted to laugh because what he’d said was relatable and funny, but oh my goodness, he’d dropped the F-bomb three times in one sentence! M and I were in the back row of a side box and as the first half wore on and the row in front of us remained empty, we exchanged considering glances.

The interval came along, and the people in the front seats were still a no show so when we’d collected our drinks and were once again sitting in the garden, we decided to nab those seats when we went back for the second half. The sightline from those ones was better, plus they were slightly longer so there was more space.

After the interval, M went for a pee, and I went back to our box. It was still empty, so I slithered into the front row. Two seconds later, of course, the door to the box banged open and it was a man and his son. They’d arrived late and the theatre staff didn’t want them to disrupt the performance by making them climb over us to get to their seats so had sat them elsewhere for the first half. Bugger. Apologising, I slithered back out of the front row and sat in my seat, exchanging a resigned look with M when she came back.

It was a great evening. There is something about watching live comedy with an audience that makes the comedian even funnier. I think the audience feeds off the energy and humour of everyone else. Laughter is infectious – anyone who has seen that fabulous YouTube clip of a man suddenly bursting out into wonderful laughter on a crowded tube and within minutes has everyone laughing with him, even though they have no idea what he’s laughing at – will know that.

Friday evening was my second trip to the theatre of the week. It was my belated birthday present to my friend S, so I met her from work and we wandered down to the Dog & Partridge which is the pub closest to the theatre. We got there at 5pm and didn’t need to be at the theatre until gone 7, so we had a nice long leisurely meal with a bottle of wine, coffee, and Amaretto chasers. It’s a nice pub, lovely atmosphere, friendly staff, spacious, good menu, and the food is delicious. I had the scampi and chips last time we were there, which was delicious, so this time I had an Unruly Burger. Not sure why it was unruly, but it was fabulous – a thick burger smothered in cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, and mayo, with crunchy onion rings and sea salt and rosemary fries. Yum.

At about seven, we paid our bill, used the facilities in the pub rather than queue forever to use the ones in the theatre, and wandered the fifty yards into the theatre to order our drinks.

Again, we sat outside as it was mild enough to do so. Bearing in mind we were there to watch The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; the moon was suitably full and creepy with clouds wreathing it in true Halloween style.

The play was very good, although it did feel like the first half went on forever. At one point I was wondering if there was even going to be an interval. Luckily there was, and we were able to retrieve our drinks and once again sit outside to drink them. We could have sat in the bar, but there were a lot of people crowded in and it felt safer to avoid them and besides, we won’t be able to sit outside for much longer so we might as well enjoy it whilst we can.

The lodger had already left for Scotland by the time I got back, so I was able to lock the door, switch off all the lights and go to bed safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be rudely awoken at silly o’clock by him trying to get out.

As it’s just me, the heating went off yesterday before I went to the theatre and won’t go back on until late Sunday evening just to warm the place through before he gets back. It’s not that cold yet, and a thick cardigan and an extra pair of socks are all I need to keep me warm during the day. I’ve laid a fire, so once it gets later and the temperature drops I will sit and eat my dinner in front of a roaring log fire and save a few essential pennies by not putting the heating on.

I’ve taken a fillet of smoked haddock out of the freezer and will make a creamy smoked haddock risotto for dinner. I’ve been eating so much more fish since Miss F left and I’m enjoying the fact my diet is now so varied and healthy.

Tomorrow I’m back to work for a couple of days. I don’t mind my job, but it has become very high-pressured and wears me down to the bone some days. At least tomorrow it’s only a six-hour shift though, so not too bad.

And that was my week, that was. A quiet, jogging along, kind of week. I did manage to write a few more thousand words of my current work in progress, but I have resigned myself to the fact that it won’t be published this year. I may have time to finish writing it, but that is merely the start of the process and there probably wouldn’t be time to do everything else necessary to launch before the end of November. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to put my beta readers under that kind of pressure. It’s a big book, so it’s going to take them a while to read it thoroughly and pick up any parts that need amending. No, it’s better to wait and do it properly.

I hope wherever you are that you’re staying safe and keeping healthy and look forward to chatting with you next week. It may be a brief visit next time though, what with working all weekend and having Miss F home I will have to write it on Friday, and I don’t suppose much of interest will happen between now and then, so I won’t have much to tell you.

Take care.

Julia Blake

The Car, the Tree, and the Cupboards

It’s been a week of new beginnings, clearing the decks, random gifts, and remembering the good and bad points of having a lodger. Mr M has lived here for a week now and although I feared he would never find a home for the mountain of belongings he arrived with, somehow the room absorbed it all. It’s lucky that when I furnished the room, I ensured that plenty of storage was included and this, plus the large built-in cupboard in the room, means the lodgers have quite a lot of places to put their things away.

Saturday evening, his first night here, he treated me to a Chinese takeaway, and we sat and ate it whilst watching the new BBC drama “Vigil” set on a nuclear submarine. It was a pleasant evening, and I thought we were off to a good start. I haven’t changed that opinion, although like most lodgers when they first move in, there have been a few niggles along the way. Like many male lodgers I have had, he’s very lazy about closing cupboards and drawers once he’s finished with them and after a week of walking into the kitchen or bathroom and crossly slamming shut all the doors he has left open, it’s pretty obvious the hint has not been taken and I am going to have to talk to him and ask him to go that extra distance and close the doors that final centimetre or so.

Perhaps one of the men out there who read my blog can let me know what it is with men doing this because I just don’t get it. You’ve opened the cupboard, you’ve got out or put away whatever it is, you’ve almost closed the door the whole distance but then your energy fails you at the last and you leave it open, just by a little bit. Why? Why?! It is intensely annoying for several reasons. Firstly, it makes the place look like a student squat, doors left ajar and drawers half open makes for a very untidy looking room. Secondly, my kitchen and bathroom are quite small so leaving doors and drawers open eats into the space. Thirdly, I’ve smacked my head on enough half-open doors and banged my hip on drawers left unexpectedly open over the years to be tired of this game and not be prepared to put up with it. So, I must have a little “chat” with him about it this afternoon.

Another niggle is on the days he works he is up at silly o’clock in the morning and he always wakes me up. I’m not too worried about that – during my 17+ years of taking in lodgers I have yet to come across one capable of opening and closing the front door quietly – no, what’s bothering me is that he goes off at five in the morning and whilst I appreciate that at that time in the morning it is still dark so he needs to switch lights on, what I don’t expect is to find them still on when I come downstairs three hours later.

Who has he left them on for? He’s gone, so he no longer needs illumination. I’m in bed so I don’t need it and if it’s still dark when I get up, I’m quite capable of switching on the lights myself – I’m a big girl now, tie my own shoelaces and everything. And if he’s leaving them on for the cat then there’s no need because she’s either asleep or out, and anyway, she can see in the dark. So that’s another thing I need to have a little “chat” about. What with energy prices tripling the last thing I need are a bunch of lights blazing away unnecessarily for three hours or more. It is weird though because he claims he’s into conservation yet he’s wasting fossil fuel for no reason.

Every lodger though has had at least one little annoying niggle that has driven me crackers and I’ve had to speak to them about it. I’ve found that the best approach is to be upfront and direct. Look, this is what you’re doing, and this is why I’d rather you didn’t, thank you. And over the years there has been a variety of niggles. The leaving cupboards and drawers open thing isn’t new, and it’s always the men who are guilty of this. Then I had a woman who refused to change the toilet roll, and I don’t mean she left the empty tube on the holder, I mean she would take the cardboard tube off and throw it on the floor and that was it. So, when I went into the bathroom it was to find an empty holder and the toilet roll inner lying on the floor. Again, why? Why?!

The sheer laziness of most people always baffles me, like, they do almost the whole job but then can’t be bothered to expend that extra split second of time and energy to finish it and leave it for someone else – me – to do.

I even had one male lodger who refused to put his things in the dishwasher, instead would pile them up all around the kitchen. When I asked him why he was not tidying up after himself, his excuse was always that he didn’t know if the dishwasher was on or off and if the stuff inside was clean or dirty. Simply opening the door would have answered both of those queries. I think it was more that he didn’t see why he should shift his lazy arse to do it when there was a perfectly good woman in the house who could do it for him. He also used to leave horrendous nasties in the toilet for me to clean up and insisted on acting like the alpha male a-hole around the house. Umm, nope. There is only one alpha male in my house and that is me. He lasted a month and then I asked him to leave.

I had another woman lodger who cooked nothing but vegan food which stank the kitchen out and clogged the filter in the dishwasher with bits of kale and other veg. She also spilt a whole big bag of turmeric one day and we were still trying to clean off the bright yellow stains a month later.

When Mr M comes back from work this afternoon, we have already arranged that I will show him where the cleaning stuff is kept and how I like the kitchen and bathroom to be cleaned. They are easy rooms to spot clean and take less than twenty minutes. I ask that every other weekend the lodger cleans and then on the alternate weekends, I do. I think that’s reasonable. The only other cleaning requests I make are that they tidy up after themselves, use the dishwasher, and keep their room fresh because I don’t want to smell it in my house.

So, I will give a quick cleaning tutorial this afternoon to show him what’s what, then I’m going to clean again next weekend because he is away in Edinburgh for the whole three days and doesn’t have the time to do it. It works out okay for me because the weekend after that I am working both days plus Miss F is home for half-term, so it makes more sense for that to be his weekend for cleaning.

I then worked three long days on the trot, Sunday to Tuesday, and it was whilst I was at work on Monday that I and my colleagues received a bizarre gift from our company. Five long cardboard tubes were delivered – one for each of us – and inside each was a baby tree. Yes, you did read that correctly. A baby tree. And not just any tree, a Scots Pine. Okaaayyy. Umm, thanks, but why? I mean, I’ve had some random gifts over the years but this one takes the biscuit. What do they think we’re going to do with them? I’m guessing not many of their employees have gardens big enough to take a Scots Pine, after all, those things grow to be ginormous, so where are they expecting us to put them?

Even more alarming was the tag on it that said – grow your own logs – so, let me get this straight, I’m to somehow grow this baby into a big tree and then start my own lumber business? I’ve stuck it in a little pot for now and it’s standing on my desk, and yes, I know it can’t stay there for long but I’m guessing it won’t grow that much over the winter months and at least it will be warm and safe. Then, next Spring, I will see if I can find a friend with a big enough garden to give it a home.

I’m sure Head Office have their reasons for this strange gift and maybe they will let us know eventually. And I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but if they had a burning desire to give out pressies to their workforce to show how much they love us, then a bottle of wine, chocolates, or even a little extra something in our pay-packets would have been more practical.

Wednesday dawned, the first of my four days off in a row. I always struggle to get going the first morning off after a spate of long days on. Even though I make lists and am determined to get up and get going, my body doesn’t get the memo because it refuses to co-operate. Anyway, by mid-morning, I was sufficiently awake and caffeinated enough to start my list of chores. First up was answer some correspondence, do laundry, write my shopping list and pop to the supermarket. That done, I then had some lunch and parcelled up a book I was sending to a friend, and Miss F’s fancy dress outfit that she needed for a party she was attending mid-month. Walking to the post office, I detoured to the charity bookshop to drop off a bag of books I was getting rid of.

When I got back, I telephoned my garage. My car was due its MOT sometime towards the end of October, so I needed to book it in. Umm, you’re a little late, the garage receptionist told me. The MOT was due three days ago. Bugger! Shall I bring it round now, I asked. I think you better, she replied, you’re breaking the law driving about without an MOT.

And there was I – blithely driving to the supermarket and work blissfully unaware of my crime!

I drove to the garage located on the other side of town, tensing up when a police car drove past me, but of course, it ignored me. I had a bag of things to drop off at a charity shop on the other side of town so took it with me as my walk home would take me right by it and at least it would be another bag of rubbish out of the house and another chore ticked off my list. It was a lovely sunny day, so after I’d dropped the car off, I ambled home doing a little window shopping and making a start on buying my costume for a Halloween party I’ve been invited to. The theme is dystopian future and I’m not certain which direction I’m going in but found a couple of things I thought might do.

It was so nice being out. I picked up another couple of bits of shopping I needed and got home in time to cook dinner and watch another episode of Vigil with the lodger.

Thursday – after being woken at 4:45am by the lodger trying to get out of the house quietly and failing spectacularly – I did go back to sleep and woke again at eight feeling well-rested. Keeping my phone close to hand because the garage had promised to phone me if there were any problems, or to let me know when the MOT was done, I settled down for a morning of writing.

I have had to realistically examine the situation with my current work in progress. Even though it is standing at almost 100,000 words, I don’t think it’s going to be finished in time to publish this year. I mean, it might, miracles do sometimes happen, but it’s more likely that it won’t be. It’s a big book and being the last book in the trilogy means it’s an important book. There are so many storylines to complete and loose ends to tie up that I don’t want to rush it. The deadline I had set myself of the end of November is precisely that – a self-imposed deadline. If it’s not published by then, I shall simply have to wait until March.

Why wait until then, you might ask. Why not publish between the beginning of December and the end of February? Well, Christmas is traditionally a very bad time to be publishing a book. People are busy with Christmas preparations and usually, the last thing on their mind is buying books for themselves, so unless your book bears the title “Christmas Kisses at Mistletoe Cottage” or is a festive recipes cookbook, there’s no point publishing it.

January is a long and depressing month, with everyone on book-buying bans because of how much money they spent over Christmas, and February is just depressing full stop. It’s not until March, when spring flowers begin to poke through and nights pull out and the weather improves, that people’s thoughts turn to buying books.

You never know, I may even finish writing the book and have written another one so will have two in the pipeline ready to release in the spring. The next book I intend to write after this one is book five in the Blackwood Family Saga and as this will be a short book I can write and produce it quite quickly.

But we shall see, I know what’s happened to my carefully laid plans in the past, so I’m not holding myself to any firm commitments.

Thursday afternoon I had a lovely long zoom chat with a fellow British indie author. I needed some expert advice about physiotherapy and rehab after a serious spinal injury for my current book and had remembered that this lady is a physiotherapist so would have practical, hands-on knowledge. I messaged her asking if she’d be prepared to be a consultant, she agreed, so we set the meeting up. It was wonderful, not only did I get reams of information to use, but I was able to chat with a fellow author face-to-face. The rest of the afternoon I spent writing and trying to incorporate the information she had given me into my manuscript.

Friday morning, I phoned the garage a little bit worried. I needed to have my car back to be able to go to work on Sunday, and I knew they were closed on a Saturday. The mechanic hasn’t even looked at the car yet, I was told, but don’t worry, it’s next on his list. Okay, deep breath, it’ll be fine. I spent the rest of the morning writing, pleased with how it was going. In the afternoon I had my fortnightly zoom meeting with my local authors’ group, which was great as ever, but by the time I got off the call at 4pm the garage still hadn’t phoned, and I was getting seriously panicked.

If I’d been working the Saturday, it would have been all right because I could have caught a bus to and from work, but there are no buses on a Sunday so it would have meant me either catching a taxi (expensive) or walking (very long way, I really didn’t want to do that).

I called the garage again. I was very aware that they had squeezed me in as a favour because I stupidly didn’t keep a track of when my MOT was due, but at gone 4pm when they would close at 5pm for the weekend, I felt they were pushing it pretty close to the wire. He’s not quite finished, I was told, we’ll call you back as soon as he has. True to their word, at 4:30 they rang back. The MOT was done, and my car had passed only needing new bulbs and new wiper blades.

Such a relief. It’s an old car and I know one year it’s going to fail. But this was not that year, so I pulled on my boots and walked to the garage to get the car. The total bill was £70 which is not bad for another year of driving. Reaching home, I put together meatballs in a spicy bacon and tomato sauce which I then slid in the oven on a low heat covered in foil, poured a glass of wine, and went out to join my neighbours for the traditional Friday Happy Hour when as many of us as can, gather with a drink outside to have a natter.

It was a lovely evening, mild and balmy, and we lingered until almost seven when the group reluctantly broke up with people muttering about dinner and wandering off to their various homes. It is so nice to live in a small, close-knit street where I know everyone, and we do things like this. Coming back in – slightly woozy from two glasses of wine on an empty stomach – the house was warm and inviting with the cosy smell of dinner cooking. I had made enough to serve four, so cooked a little pasta and grated some cheese to go on top and settled down to watch a film while I ate. The rest has gone in the freezer for future meals.

And now it’s Saturday and the week has once again turned. I was awoken by the lodger trying to get out of the house at the butt crack of dawn but managed to go back to sleep until seven, when I came downstairs to find all the lights left on. Definitely need to have a “chat” this afternoon. Whilst he was at work this morning, I cleaned out and laid a fire ready if it’s chilly enough this evening to need one, I’ve swept up bagsful of mouldy wet leaves in the garden, sorted laundry and done a week’s worth of ironing. I’ve polished and hoovered the ground floor and emptied the bins. And now I’m chatting with you. If there’s time this afternoon, I will write a little more, and then when Mr M gets home, I will show him the cleaning routine and have a chat about lights and doors. Fingers crossed he doesn’t get upset. Tough if he does really, my house – my rules, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable asking him to not be wasteful with electricity and to shut cupboards when he’s finished with them.

A lot of you have kindly messaged me asking how Miss F is doing at university. Thank you, it’s so touching that after all these years of me blogging and posting about her, you feel you know her and are concerned about her. You’ll be pleased to hear that she’s doing well and is having a total blast. University life seems to suit her. She is very happy, has made lots of friends, and is experiencing student life to its fullest.

She has been voted onto the Student Council, which is a great honour for a fresher and has been offered a paid job on campus. This is a huge relief to me as I was worried about her finding a job in the nearby town which would mean her walking back to the university late at night. Miss F has been asked to be a Student Ambassador which will entail her travelling to schools and colleges to talk about life at her university and answer questions about all aspects of the course she is taking. It’s an exciting opportunity for her and will look good on her resume.

She often messages me and sends me funny photos and videos of what she is up to – although as the latest was a video of her drinking from a two-pint mug with a group of friends whilst an oompah band played in the background – I wasn’t sure if I should be concerned or not. It turned out it was a Bavarian night to celebrate Octoberfest.

I am so relieved that she is happy and settled and has made lots of wonderful new friends. She’s even considering once she’s completed her three years and attained her Bachelors, whether to continue her training to achieve a Masters. But that’s something she can decide in three years. Right now, she’s working hard and playing even harder, which is as it should be.

She’s coming home for six days on the 22nd and I’m looking forward to seeing her immensely. The only downside is I’m working for four of the six days that she is home. But she will have work to do and friends to catch up with, and we will have the evenings, so it will be fine.

Anyway, I thought this was going to be a short blog because I didn’t think I had much to tell you. Seems I was wrong. So, take care everyone and I look forward to chatting again next week.

Julia Blake

A Very Short Blog!

Happy October Everyone! Quick blog this week, a very quick blog, just to catch up and let you know how my week has been. The fuel shortage situation goes from ridiculous to absurd. When I went to Tesco to do my shopping on Monday, I had an inkling that buying petrol from there as planned wasn’t going to happen, when I encountered the back of the queue nearly half a mile from the actual garage.

Parking in front of the supermarket, I looked across at the long line of cars all waiting to get into the garage opposite and decided no way was I going to even attempt to buy petrol. I still had a quarter of a tankful; I could wait. I did, however, stock up on heavier items in my shopping, things like toilet rolls, cat food, big bottles of cooking oil, laundry liquid, and vinegar, tins, and heavy bags of potatoes. I figured if the fuel situation got any worse then I would have to shop on foot and the less bulky items I had to try and carry home, the better. As for work, well, there were plenty of buses going up to the retail park where the shop is located so I would simply have to catch a bus. So long as the buses could get fuel, that was.

The rest of Monday was filled up with small niggly jobs that didn’t take long individually but added together took up most of the day. In the evening, Mr M, my new lodger called around to collect contracts and my bank details and it all looked set for him to move in that weekend.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I was at work. Long boring days during which we saw hardly any customers and made precious few sales. I think my head office is a bit out of touch. There is nothing special about this week, there isn’t a bank holiday, it’s not Black Friday, there’s no mega sale planned. Added to that, there is a fuel shortage so people probably won’t be wasting petrol on unnecessary trips, and there is the worry about energy bills skyrocketing this winter so people might be thinking twice about spending money on an expensive purchase such as a new mattress. Considering all this what do my company do? Slap us with a massive target which I don’t think we have a cat’s chance in hell of achieving. Oh well, I shall have to see what Sunday brings – my next day at work. You never know, miracles do sometimes happen.

Tuesday evening, the rent money and the deposit landed in my bank account. To say I was relieved is an understatement. Yes, I’ve managed the past eight months, but it’s been a struggle, and going into winter with increased bills all around forecast, it’s nice to know I have some backup income again.

Then it was my days off and there were jobs to finish before the new lodger moved in, a book to continue writing, and petrol to try and find somewhere. I think I’m going to have to make a hard decision regarding my current book. I had hoped to publish it at the end of November, but it’s now the beginning of October and I’m barely halfway through writing the first draft.

Yes, I could probably finish writing it this month – if I put my mind to it – but it’s not just a case of getting it written, there is all the editing, the beta reading, the formatting, the cover to arrange, a video to sort, plus promotional material. It’s going to be a big book, so everything will take longer than say one of the short little Blackwood saga books.

Being realistic, I may have to put off publishing until the Spring. I don’t want to, because I do aim to get out two books a year, but this has been an extraordinary year with constant distractions and demands on my time. There simply hasn’t been the time. Again, if it was a shorter book I might have a chance, but it’s not, it’s already standing at 92,000 words and I’m only just over halfway through.

I will have to see how it goes, but the fact I’ve allowed myself to consider the possibility of delaying publication is a huge weight off my shoulders, and you never know, now that Miss F is at university, the new lodger is sorted, and life seems to be calming down, maybe I will perform a miracle and get it finished in time. Stranger things have happened.

Friday morning, I decided to get up at silly o’clock and see if I could find some petrol. I had planned to be at Tesco by 6am but due to a technical malfunction with my eyes – they refused to open – it was nearer 6:30 when I got there.

There was no queue, good, I thought, but when I got closer, I saw that the whole garage was coned off so no one could go on or off the forecourt. A big sign read “no diesel” but judging by all the cones I guessed there was no actual petrol either. Bugger, I thought, trying to think what to do. Reluctant to go home empty tanked, I nipped up onto the bypass, drove to the other side of town and into Sainsbury’s. There was only one car ahead of me in the queue, but nearly all the pumps bore yellow stickers proclaiming they were out of service.

Filling up, I went to pay and commented to the cashier how crazy this situation was, and that I’d been to Tesco, and they were closed. We’ll be closing ourselves soon, she told me, we’re almost out again. I drove home, happy that I had a full tankful and relieved I’d made the effort to get up extra early and go hunting for fuel when I did. Who knows, ten minutes later and I might not have got any.

Mr M told me he’d move in sometime on Saturday (today). I hate sometime because sometime could be anytime but is usually during the two minutes you’ve dashed to the loo. Getting up reasonably early, I showered and dressed as quickly as possible, with one ear out for the doorbell. However, as it turned out, he phoned me at eleven and said he’d be round in twenty minutes – which shows a bit of thought and courtesy so we’re off to a good start.

A friend helped him, and they had to make two trips. I crept through between trips and surveyed the pile sitting in the dining room. There was a lot of stuff, and I wondered if it would all fit it. But there’s a lot of storage in the room, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.

It will seem odd having a stranger living in the house again, but I’ve done this for over sixteen years, and it should be easier this time around, not having a child to remind to be quiet and not thump on the stairs or play their music too loud.

I’m afraid I need to go now, Mr M has just popped his head around to the door to ask about space in the kitchen, so I have to sort that out. Sorry, this has been such a short blog and hopefully, I will have more to talk about next week. In the meantime, take care and enjoy the weekend.

Julia Blake