The One With All The Beds!

Good Morning! My goodness, haven’t these past two weeks flown by? I have been so busy that I practically met myself coming backwards and my stress levels have been at tsunami level. Firstly, what is happening regarding the new job situation? Well, as you know, I handed in my notice two weeks ago. There were some complications about when I was leaving and how much holiday I was allowed to take, but eventually, HR told me 27.5 hours. Looking at my rota though, they have only allowed me 25 hours, so I have been emailing people trying to find out where the missing 2.5 hours have gone and why I am being made to work them. HR passed the buck squarely to the guy covering as manager – they still haven’t found a new manager yet – so I emailed him. He is in the wind though and now no one will answer my emails so I assume I will have to just accept that they have stiffed me those 2.5 hours. Will I be paid for them? Who knows. I don’t even know how much of my commission I’m going to be paid. Some of it? All of it? None of it? I suppose I will have to wait until I get paid next week and see what I get. It will be very unfair if I lose the commission on sales I made which are not scheduled to be delivered until after I have left, but I don’t suppose there will be anything I can do about it.

I don’t know the starting date for my new job yet, some time from the 1st of June onwards is all I know. But I have dropped off all the paperwork they needed, so everything is in hand.

Now, the lodger. Well. As I told you last time, the lovely lady came and viewed the room and later said she wanted it and would like to move in the following Friday. As a parting gift, my old boss had given me five days off over the bank holiday weekend so on Monday I made a start dismantling beds, boxing up stuff, and moving furniture.

There were three beds in all to move. The giant king-size bed in the basement was going upstairs to the tiny box room. The single daybed already in the box room along with the desk, bedside cabinet, and small bookcase needed to be moved into Franki’s old room. Then, the small double bed in Franki’s old room needed to be moved down to the basement – along with a desk and chair, a bedside cabinet, and a small armchair.

I got up early and made a start. I had assembled the single daybed and the wooden small double bed, and they both came apart like a dream. I cleared the box room and moved as much as I could by myself.

Then I heaved the mattress off the king-sized bed in the basement and started to take it apart. My dad was coming Tuesday afternoon to help move everything so I wanted to be as prepared as I could be by then. Six bolts were fixing the wooden slats to the base. Five came out with no problem, but the last … the last flatly refused to budge. They were the type of fixings you need an alan key for and I knew I was using the right one because I’d already taken out the other five fixings easily.

I kept trying. Nope. I put my glasses on and had a closer look. This bed was assembled by two burly delivery drivers who clearly didn’t know their own strength. Peering at the fixing, I could see they had overtightened it so much they had mullered the inside of the fixing so there was nothing for the key to grip onto and so it went round and round, going nowhere.


I kept trying and trying. Nope. I swore. A Lot. That didn’t help either. I fetched my toolbox and tried every tool and gadget I could think of. Nope. By this point I was sweating like a pig and using language a sailor would blush to know. There was nothing for it, I was going to have to confess to my dad I was being a right big girl’s blouse and needed help.

Complicated arrangements were made for Tuesday.

Since the death of my dad’s old van, my parents are a one-vehicle family which, owing to their very diverse interests and past times, can lead to issues. Dad was playing golf in the morning, but Mum needed the car for some sort of church thing, I think. Dad’s golf partner who lives in Bury had offered to pick him up and drop him off so he could still play golf. It was arranged that the partner would drop Dad off at mine after golf. As this saved him from driving out to the village my parents live in, he was more than happy with this new arrangement.

Meanwhile, Mum would call around between her church appointments and drop off Dad’s tools ready for the afternoon. As a thank you, I offered to cook us all a nice roast lamb dinner to have after we’d successfully moved everything.

Monday evening, I placed my order on Tesco for everything I would need and booked a collection slot between 8 and 9 the next morning. I aimed to be as close to 8am as possible because I knew I had a busy day.

Tuesday – I was up and hit the ground running. By 9am the shopping was collected and unloaded, and a shoulder of lamb was roasting in the oven, along with potatoes and parsnips which I took out just as they were starting to crisp and set aside to cool. There was also a lovely wedge of Cambozola squelching on the cheeseboard for later.

I had social media to sort, emails to reply to, and more stuff to box up and move. Once the shoulder of lamb was cooked, I wrapped it in foil and left it to sit for a while. I then carved it into slices and placed it in a casserole dish. I made a thick gravy with the juices and covered the lamb completely and put the lid on. It would now only take about twenty minutes to reheat in the oven.

By now, my dad had arrived, so I made him a cup of tea and we sat in the garden to drink it and allow him a bit of a rest – he had just done 18 holes of golf, bless him.

I can’t get that bed apart, I told him, once we’d finished our cuppas. He took his toolbox and went down into the basement. Approaching the fixing with a confident grin, as it refused to play ball with him either, the smile slipped. Although I wanted the bed to come apart, I must admit to being secretly pleased it wasn’t just me being a girl, that the fixing was shagged (a technical term, apparently.)

He tried tool after tool, muttering things under his breath, eventually we had to chisel away the wood of the slat around the fixing and slip it out. It won’t affect the stability of the bed in any way, and we had no choice. This bed HAD to be moved.

Next, we had to get it out of the basement. The stairs up are narrow and there is a sharp turn at the top. It went down, but the headboard has two wings which were bolted on after it had gone down those stairs. We tried to bring it up without unbolting them. We got the headboard out. Just. With Dad pulling and me shoving underneath, we inched it up step by step and managed to angle it into the kitchen and then straight into the dining room. It was awkward getting it up the main stairs, but not as tight as the basement stairs had been and we got it into the box room where it filled all of one wall. I looked at the bulk of it and gulped. I prayed my measuring had been on point.

The rest of the bed came out easily and we assembled it in the box room. It fits, but the room is full of bed and there is only a narrow gap all the way around. I don’t think it’s practical for long-term use – there is nowhere for suitcases and travel bags to be stored when Franki and their partner come home. There is no room for even a chest of drawers, let alone a small wardrobe. I honestly think I will have to sell this mahoosive bed – lovely though it is – and buy a more sensibly proportioned double bed.

We heaved the king-sized mattress up to the dining room and left it there whilst we got on with everything else.

Then we moved Franki’s old small double bed down into the basement. Compared to moving the king-sized bed it was easy and went together like a dream. The small double mattress was an absolute pig to move though. Containing over 4000 springs and layers of wool, it weighs a ton despite only being a 4’ mattress. We heaved and grunted and strained to get it downstairs. I had taken the precaution of taking the pictures off the wall, but as we were shoving the mattress downstairs I heard a rip. Oops. Once down and in the basement I examined the mattress. A tiny hole had been made by a picture hook, but it is tiny and right in one corner where the pillow will go so it won’t affect the lodger sleeping. We brought down all the bits of furniture to go into the basement, then spent twenty minutes or so moving it around until we found an arrangement that worked.

The last thing we had to do was get the king-sized mattress up the stairs and into the box room. I was pulling it up and Dad was underneath shoving. It wedged in the stairwell and caught on the hall ceiling. It was just too wide to go up. We pulled and grunted and shoved and wiggled it. Nope. It did not want to know.

We rested for a minute, gasping for breath. Sweating and spent, I could not believe we were stuck on the final furlough.

It’s not going to go up, said Dad.

It f*****g well will, I snarled, and then I went all Hulk on it. Yelling and cursing, I gave an almighty yank and the mattress lumped up a step and then another. Flakes of ceiling paint fell, scraped off by the side of the mattress. It’s fine, it needs painting anyway. Together we pushed and pulled and strained and we got that bollocking thing up the stairs, into the box room, and onto the bed.

I thought I’d broken my poor dad. I hurt all over. Later, when I got ready for bed, I would discover I was covered in bruises from head to toe.

We stopped and gulped down glasses of water and I noticed the time; it was coming up to 4:30 and I knew Mum would be around soon. I turned the oven on to heat and took the partially cooked potatoes and parsnips out of the fridge.

Whilst Dad took a much-needed rest confessing he felt a bit tired – I wonder why! – I laid the table, prepared the veg, and slid the meat into the oven to warm through. The potatoes would only take ten minutes to finish roasting and the parsnips even less than that. I drizzled some honey onto the parsnips and put Port Salut and Cornish Tickler extra mature cheddar onto the cheeseboard. I washed and dried grapes and put them on the board as well. I opened a bottle of wine to breathe.

I then popped up to the box room and made the bed so we could see how it looked.

It does look good, well, it is a lovely bed, but it is far too big for that tiny room, and yes, it does have two massive drawers underneath, but you can’t fit suitcases in them. I need a double bed frame with space underneath to store bigger items.

I slid the potatoes and parsnips into the oven and put the veg on. I’d washed and scraped baby carrots, put peas on to boil, and put a portion of braised red cabbage from the freezer into the microwave to heat through. We poured out wine, dished up dinner, and sat down to eat. I was so hungry, and everything tasted so good. Best of all, there was enough to plate up two more meals for the freezer.

I hadn’t bothered with a dessert, instead, we had a simple cheeseboard with soft French bread and Cornish salted butter and fresh fruit. And it was all delicious. Dad and I were exhausted but satisfied with a good job done. And done just in time. I was at work on Wednesday and Thursday, two long days which wouldn’t leave me with any time to do anything, and then Ms E was moving in on Friday. She told me that it wouldn’t be until the afternoon, so that gave me time to clean the bathroom and kitchen, vacuum the ground floor, and make sure the room was ready for occupation. The rent money plus the damages deposit arrived in my bank Friday morning so we were all good to go.

She turned up with a lot of stuff and I did wonder how it was all going to fit in, but one advantage of my room and – as she later told me – one of the reasons she liked the room, was that it does have lots of storage.

Her daughter and her daughter’s partner helped her move in, so I stayed out of the way and left them to get on with it, only emerging to give her the key and show her how it worked. They disappeared off to have dinner, and I settled down to eat mine. It felt odd to have a lodger again and be aware they could come into the house at any time. But I managed to live this way for over seventeen years so I was sure I could do so again. She hadn’t come home by the time I went to bed. I was vaguely aware of her coming into the house at about 1:30am – I guess the celebratory meal stretched into an evening out – but she was reasonably quiet, and I think I was probably sleeping with one ear open just in case she had any issues with the lock.

I wasn’t working on Saturday, so I had tea in bed and read for a while before getting up. There was no sound from the basement, so I assumed she was sleeping off the stresses and strains of moving in plus a late night, and maybe copious amounts of alcohol. The day ticked on with no sign of her and I began to wonder if she was okay. I was also admiring her bladder control. At my age, there’s no way I could sleep until gone two in the afternoon without having to get up at least once to pee.

Finally, at almost four o’clock I could hear her moving about and eventually, she emerged.

I made a pot of coffee, and we sat down and went through a few housekeeping bits and pieces such as where the switch for the outside light was, where the bins were and which was for what, how the appliances worked and where cleaning products were kept, you know, stuff like that.

I asked what she was doing that evening and she said nothing, so I asked if she’d like to share a takeaway and watch Eurovision with me, which she happily agreed to.

It was a nice evening. We shared a Chinese and a bottle of wine. Eurovision was fun and all in all, it was a great bonding experience. I think this is going to work out very well.

Sunday I was back to work and if I weren’t leaving soon I would be in despair. Ridiculously high targets have been set for all of us, but no one is buying. Many days we don’t sell anything or even see any customers and there is a rising sense of panic. The day dragged and I was pleased to come home, especially as I had the next three days off. It’s amazing how much better I have been sleeping on my days off – yet another indication it is work that causes my sleepless nights.

Tuesday was busy because it was the day Mage Quest was due to be released as an e-book. It had been available to buy in paperback for a week and it was wonderful how many people had bought a copy and posted about it. Some had even read the book and already reviewed it. Quite a few pre-orders for the e-book had been placed and on the stroke of midnight on the 16th the e-book was sent to all those who had pre-ordered.

Was it a success? For an indie author with a zero publishing budget, it was as successful as I expected, although it did get to number 43 in the hot new Kindle releases on Amazon in its category, which was wonderful. I received a lot of support on social media, which is always heart-warming, and I finished the day on a high.

Going into work on Thursday, I was greeted with the news that I had to take a course on the new products coming into the shop, at the end of which there would be an exam. I was stunned.

Really? But I’m leaving soon.

Doesn’t matter, Head Office says you have to do it.

Sigh. I did it. At least it filled an hour in an otherwise long and dead day.

Today (Friday) was another day off and sadly I had a dreadful night sleep-wise. Barely managing three hours in total, when I climbed into the shower at 6:30 I was tired and gritty-eyed. I couldn’t even stay in bed and try to catch up with my sleep because I had to collect my shopping at 9 and had a doctor’s appointment with the rather lovely if improbably named, Dr Silk. I still think he sounds like the lead character in a medical romance novel. We’re trying to get the dosage of my thyroid medication correct because so far it has not made me feel any better at all so it’s back to the hospital for another blood test I have to go.

When I got back there was the shopping to unload and laundry to sort, then I settled down to write my blog because I’m back to work tomorrow and won’t feel like doing it when I get home. I broke at midday to have lunch and then it was time for the Zoom meeting with my local author group. It was a bit sad because it will be the last time I can attend the whole meeting. I have been told by my new employers that one of the days I will probably be working each week is Friday. Depending on when my lunch break is and how the staff room is set up, I might be able to pop in briefly whilst I’m eating lunch, but I will have to wait and see how things work out.

And now it is now. The meeting has finished and I’m sitting at my desk writing to you. The sun is shining through the window, and at 5:30 there is Happy Hour outside with the neighbours. I have a nice bottle of red wine to look forward to and pizza for dinner. I have one more day at work before I have ten days off, so there is that to look forward to as well. The lodger has settled in nicely and book fifteen was successfully launched. There is a feeling of things coming together which is gratifying. I hope, no I believe, that this job change will be good for me. Talking to Dr Silk about the stress I’ve been under he asked me what I did. When I said front-line, commission-based sales, he pulled a face and said – oh, not good, say no more. I understand now why you’re stressed.

I am sure some people thrive working in such an environment and I am good at my job, but it’s burnt me out and I’m done. It’s time to try something else although I can’t wrap my head around the reality of the fact I am starting a new job. It still doesn’t feel real.

Okay, I need to stop now. I do have something else to tell you, but it will have to wait until next time because it’s kind of a secret – I know, another one, but it’s a nice one – and I can’t spill the beans just yet because it’s not only my secret to tell. And on that note, I will say goodbye, take care of yourselves, and I look forward to chatting with you next time.

All the best.

Julia Blake



“The time has come,” the Walrus said. “To talk of many things, of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings.” Well, I’m not going to talk about shoes and ships or sealing wax – and although I did make a big pan of delicious braised red cabbage this week, I won’t be talking about cabbages. Even though I did forget about it and left it in the oven overnight. It was fine, I had turned the oven off, I just forgot the cabbage was in there. I found it the next morning, portioned it up, and put it in the freezer.

And as for kings – I think you’d have to be living on Mars not to know that Britain has a new king and that he is to be crowned this weekend. Today. I have the TV on and the long-winded run-up to the ceremony is happening in the background as I write.

Am I a royalist? I’m certainly not anti-royal. I think the Royal Family play a vital part in making Britain what it is. I think if we ever did away with the monarchy then we’d be reduced even further down the worldwide stage to being some impoverished and insignificant chilly little island off the coast of Europe. Spiralling ever deeper into recession and poverty and dreaming of long-ago glory days, Britain would be nothing. The pomp and circumstance of the Royal Family – despite, or maybe even in spite of the way some of them behave – is what elevates us into something out of the norm.

I feel it would be a shame to willingly throw away one of our greatest assets. I’ve had very strident anti-royals shout in my face about how much they cost taxpayers. Yet, they fail to consider the revenue the royal family generate in tourism, merchandise, and TV revenue. The whole world loves the pageantry that many in this country sneer at. I mean, how many millions of people around the world tune in to watch royal weddings, funerals, and coronations?

Anyway, that’s just my humble opinion. I don’t think the Royals cost us anything. I think they are a self-funding institute that does more good than harm, and honestly, are the anti-royals suggesting another Civil War, for heaven’s sake? Because we Brits did that once and look what we ended up with. Oliver Cromwell. A boring, self-righteous, bible-bashing prude who didn’t like parties or the theatre and didn’t see why anyone else had to right to enjoy themselves.

Hmm, not tempting.

Anyway, the Coronation is happening today and tomorrow it is my road’s street party. Once again, our road will be closed and we will hang bunting and flags, contribute food and drink, and enjoy ourselves despite the weather. It’s not looking good. I cannot believe we’re into May and I’m still having to put the heating on because it’s so cold.

Anyway, I hinted at things happening in my life which will mean big changes for me, and followers on Instagram will have gathered there was something AFOOT.

Up until now, I’ve been unable to say much because nothing was resolved, and I honestly have no clue who reads this blog. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life, it’s that everyone knows everyone and the only way to keep something secret is not to talk about it.

As you know, I told you a couple of blogs ago that my boss had handed in his notice. This was a complete shock to us all. I always thought he was such a company man that if you cut him in half he would have the company logo all the way through him – like a stick of rock. Apparently, he has been fed up ever since the lockdown and has been planning his escape. Whilst I am stunned at this level of duplicity because if I’d tried to keep such a secret inside me for almost three years, I think I would have exploded, I completely understand his motives for going. It started me thinking. I’m not keen on my colleagues. Individually, they are all right. Together they are backstabbing tell-tales who create such a toxic “back to school” vibe, that it has been making me more and more reluctant to go to work.

As our personal sales targets have risen to ever-unrealistic heights, the tensions between my colleagues have also risen. It’s a bit dog-eat-dog, despite our best endeavours to play the team card, and petty jealousies and resentments are rife. It’s stressful and unpleasant. I don’t think I fully appreciated how stressful I was finding work until my boss announced his departure. Suddenly, I realised the one person who acted like an adult and stuck up for me when the others were sticking their knives in was no longer going to be there. I wanted to vomit. This sick, tight knot formed in my stomach and wouldn’t go away. My boss had also been the only one with any understanding or sympathy for my writing. He always arranged the rota, so I had alternate Fridays off to attend my local author meetings. He would arrange my workdays so I could have the odd weekend off to attend book fairs and the like. There was no guarantee that the new manager would be so accommodating. I had the feeling they wouldn’t be accommodating at all.

Now, I dislike change. I resist it for as long as I can. I tend to stick to people and situations way beyond the point when I should have cut my losses and moved on. But. When I decide to do something, I tend to do it immediately.

Within three days of my boss dropping his bombshell, I had reactivated my old account with the online recruitment site, Indeed. Updated and tweaked my CV and had a trawl through the part-time jobs offered to see what was out there. If I was a healthcare worker I had my pick of hundreds of jobs. It was a sobering reflection of the crisis our NHS is facing when they are so short-staffed. Likewise, if I wanted to be a cleaner or work in hospitality. Whilst I would be very good working in hospitality, the pay is shocking and the hours worse. I wanted to improve my working situation, not make it worse. My current job pays very well, and I knew I would struggle to find anything to come anywhere close to my salary.

I applied for a few part-time roles as an administrator and in sales. I even applied to be a paid companion to the elderly. I was offered that job and the hourly rate was good, but they couldn’t offer me enough hours to live on. I went on a few interviews and was offered a couple of jobs – but on closer inspection, there was always something not quite right. The ad stated only occasional weekend work, but in the interview, I am told it was all weekend and every weekend. Or the ad was coy about the pay and when you outright ask it’s shockingly low. Stuff like that.

Anyway, I finally went for an interview at a local tile showroom. Straight away, everything felt right. Fantastic all-girl team that was welcoming, kind, and funny. The interview lasted over two hours and turned into an informal chat at the end of which I was offered the job. Yes, it’s sales, which I wanted to move away from, but it’s not so front-line, heavily commission based. There won’t be the cut-throat need to outperform your colleagues all the time. The shop isn’t open Sundays or Boxing Day – so there’s that. I was upfront and honest with the manager about my writing and my need for the odd weekend off. She was excited and encouraging about my books and said so long as she had enough notice, it wouldn’t be a problem. There were just two drawbacks. The shifts would still be a little bit unpredictable – not as much as where I currently am when I sometimes don’t know from week to week what days I am working, but still a bit uncertain. And then there was the pay. Without the big commission payouts I’d come to rely on, it would mean quite a big drop in income. Too big a drop if I was honest with myself.

Promising the manager I would think about it, I drove home with my head in a whirl. I had the next day, Tuesday, off and spent it thinking and looking at finances. I wanted the job but didn’t see how I could make the money work. The only option was if I did Airbnb. But that could only work if I had predictable shifts and worked the same days every week. It was unlikely I was going to find a job that offered that – not with my skill sets.

Work was … challenging … seeing how excited my boss was as he worked his last few days I grew ever more desperate that once he escaped, the prison door would clang shut on me and that I needed to do something fast.

I kept playing with the sums but couldn’t make them stack up. On Friday, I reluctantly phoned the manager of the tile shop and told her that although I would love to join them, the money just didn’t work. She was disappointed. I was disappointed. It was all horrid.

Work dragged on all the next week. I wasn’t sleeping. I felt sick all the time and on the verge of tears. A crop of hives erupted on the back of my neck. My stomach was … unsettled … if you know what I mean. I knew I was suffering from stress. I talked to friends about it. Things came to a head Wednesday night. I couldn’t sleep. I kept waking up. Finally, at 4am, I got up and made tea. I had the feeling I was standing at a crossroads and only I could tell which was the right direction for me to take. I went over the sums again and realised something. Even if I found this mythical perfect job for the same three days every week, say, for example, I worked Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I would only be able to let the room for Airbnb for three nights – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. At £50 per night, it would be £7800 per year mostly tax-free. Very nice.

BUT I realised, that was only IF I let the room every single one of those three nights, every single week of the year. How likely was that to happen? After all, there were going to be times I didn’t want to let the room – if I was ill, or away – and times I had no bookings. Wasn’t I simply swapping one stress for another? Trading in a well-paying job for the uncertainty of Airbnb. And then there was the constant bed changing and laundry. Potentially three times a week I would have to completely strip and remake a bed. And I would have to keep the house at a hotel level of cleanliness all the time.

More stress.

Airbnb was beginning to look like a bad idea. Then I thought about taking in a permanent lodger. I know I said never again, but I’d had lodgers for almost eighteen years with a small child and then a teenager in the house. If I could manage it then, surely it would be easier when it was only me in the house. Only two people sharing a bathroom. No noisy child to try and keep quiet.

Hmm, worth thinking about. It would also alleviate the whole “having to be there for check-in and check-out times”, there would be no bed to strip or laundry to do, plus no constant stream of strangers parading through the house. There would be only one person who would quickly become a friend. This would be their home. They would have paid a damages deposit and so were less likely to trash the place or steal anything.

It had been over a year since I’d advertised for a lodger and then the most I could get for my room was £500 per month. How much could I get now? I logged onto the letting website I use and checked out rooms like mine in my area. I was stunned to realise that prices for rooms had risen to £600 per month. About the same as I’d get for Airbnb, and it was guaranteed.

Excitement rose in me. Maybe this was the missing piece of the puzzle that I’d been looking for.

Then realisation crashed onto me. In my desire to do Airbnb, I had bought that mahoosive hotel-style, king-size bed with matching bedside cabinets that now filled the room. Perfect as the room was for overnight luxury stays, it was not set up for long-term living.

Oh, poop. What to do?

I found my tape measure and went down into the basement and carefully measured the bed. I then went upstairs and measured Franki’s old bedroom. Nope. Due to the narrowness of the room, the bed simply wouldn’t fit, no matter which way round I tried it. What about the small back bedroom? Although smaller, it was a box shape. I measured. I measured again. Yes, it would fit. Just. True. It would fill the space – the room would identify as bed – but it would fit.

The day bed, desk, and other bits of furniture in the back room could go into Franki’s old room to create a comfy sitting room/office for her when she came home.

The lovely sturdy grey wooden small-double bed that was currently in Franki’s old room could go down to the basement for the lodger to use. It would match all the colours down there, would provide the lodger with the best mattress in the house, and being more sensibly proportioned, would ensure the maximum amount of living space for the lodger.

It was doable. It was all doable. Yes. It would involve major dismantling and relocating of three beds plus other furniture, but it could work. It could be the solution.

Very excited, I messaged Franki. I needed to run the idea past them. I had promised that they would have the basement and the big bed every time they came home. I needed to see if they were okay with a slight change in plan. In my distraction, I didn’t notice the time. I’d been up since 4am and it was now only 7.05am. I had messaged a teenager at university on their day off at silly o’clock in the morning. It did not go down well.

A snappy reply came back. Then a video call from an irate teenager annoyed at having life-changing decisions dropped on them so early in the morning.

We talked. I explained. I reassured them that there would ALWAYS be a room in my home for them. But, if I didn’t find a less stressful job I would end up in an institute, sucking my thumb, and rocking quietly in a corner. And, if I didn’t find another source of income they would be sharing a cardboard box with me on the streets.

We talked for a while. Compromises were reached. Franki accepted we would put the king-size bed in the tiny boxroom – for now – and see how it worked. If it was ridiculously big for the room, then we would sell it and buy a more sensibly proportioned double bed.

Her terms?

That I did not attempt to sort out and arrange their old room, that they would do it when they came home in the summer.


And that in the summer we would make/buy a bigger and better habitat for Poe the Tortoise.


I then got ready for work, my head swirling with plans and possibilities. As I drove to work I saw I was a little bit early. The place that offered me a job was in the same retail park as my current place of employment. Much to my shock, as I turned onto the park I found my car turning left instead of right and I parked in front of the tile shop.

Still not quite believing what I was doing, I walked in. One of the girls I’d met before at my interview was standing behind the counter.

Hello, she said in surprise. What are you doing here?

Is the job still available?


Umm, I think, can I have it?

A big smile spread across her face.


Umm. Okay. Great.

It was arranged that the manager, who wasn’t in that day, would call me the next day to discuss it and I went to work still unable to grasp what I’d done. It felt surreal. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The next day, the manager phoned, and we had a long chat. She asked what had changed regarding finances and I explained about my plan to get a full-time lodger. I think she was a little concerned until I explained that this wasn’t my first rodeo, that I’d taken in lodgers for almost eighteen years with never a rent-free period.

When I went to work on Saturday, I took my boss to one side and had a quiet chat with him. I confessed I’d been offered a job and he was pleased for me and very supportive. He told me to whom I had to send my resignation letter and how to find out how much holiday I was owed. As I had Sunday off it would be the last day I saw him. We’d all had a whip round and bought him a leaving card and present, which he was touched and surprised by. I honestly don’t think I’ll get anything when I leave – a card at most.

The next day was the Indie Author Fair at St Ives, Cambridgeshire. Four of us were going in two cars and we planned an early start. I was driving and had never been to St Ives before so wanted to allow plenty of time for finding the venue, unloading the car, and then trying to find the car park which we’d been assured was close by.

Loading the car at the crack of dawn, I wondered what the day would bring. It was the first time the fair had been held so it was very much a suck-it-and-see situation. The weather was looking set to be a fine dry day and the roads were empty – it was a Bank Holiday weekend after all. We reached St Ives in good time, found the venue and, to our delight, a row of free parking spaces right in front. Perfect! The early bird catches the free parking spot. As we parked, the other half of our party turned up in their car.

The organisers turned up soon after and led us into the venue explaining that they hadn’t had a chance to set up yet, but if we wanted to leave our trolleys of books in the corner there was a Costa Coffee two doors down where we could go and get a much-needed coffee. Another author whom I knew off Instagram and had video chatted with a few times was also attending – and she too had arrived early enough to grab a free parking spot and join us for a bucket full of excellent coffee.

And what a day it turned out to be.

The organisers were brilliant and super helpful. The other authors were wonderful. The venue was great. And the crowds of people who poured in all day had come for one thing only – to buy books! I talked myself hoarse chatting to people about my books, and I sold, I sold a LOT. When I finally had a chance to add up the cash and card payments I had taken a total of £80 in cash and £194 by card, which is amazing for a small six-hour-long local Fair.

By the time I got home, I was beyond exhausted. The stresses of the past few weeks, not sleeping, the anxiety about my job situation, and the worry about finances, together with the early start, the drive to and from, and the long day being perky and bright, had left me wrung out. I ate something – I can’t remember what – unpacked all my boxes and put them away, then fell into bed for an early night.

Over the weekend, I received an official email offering me employment at the tile shop. This was real. This was happening.

Monday was a Bank Holiday, so the store was busy. We were down a member of staff because my boss had left, so we were kept on the go all day long and I didn’t have a chance to even think about writing a resignation letter, let alone sending it to HR. Besides, Head Office doesn’t work Bank Holidays – it’s only us shop staff that do that. Home, dinner, and another early night. Tuesday was my one day off and I had so much to do, so thought it best to try and get some sleep.

I was awake and up by 4:30am on Tuesday. I had so much to do and one day to do it in. I made tea and made a list. It was a long list. First, write my resignation letter, and try and persuade my printer to print it. It had a stroppy fit because I wasn’t using proper Epson ink. Get over it, I snarled and persisted until it reluctantly spat out the single page which I signed and scanned to my laptop. One copy was sent to my divisional manager with a copy sent to HR. There, it was done. No going back now.

Next, final check of the paperback version of Mage Quest, upload it and hit publish. Final check of the eBook version and upload it. I’ve taken the opportunity to polish Erinsmore as well, so uploaded the paperback and eBook versions of that. It sounds like a quick and simple task, trust me, it’s not. What with all the checking and double checking, and tweaking, and sending it back and forth to my formatter because it needed amending. Finally, it was done.

I made a universal purchase link for the book. This will direct people to the book’s listing on their local Amazon from wherever they are in the world. I also ordered my author copies.

Then I gathered together everything my website designer would need to make the page for Mage Quest on my website and sent it to him.

Then the book details had to be uploaded onto my Goodreads page and an author review written and posted.

I stripped and remade my bed, did two loads of laundry, tidied, polished, and vacuumed the basement. I also cleared the basement of as much stuff as I could.

I made posts for social media promoting the launch of Mage Quest as a paperback, its pre-order status, and the eBook sale on Erinsmore.

I had an hour-long phone call with my parents to update them on everything that was happening in my life – a book fair, a book launch, a decision to change jobs and take in a lodger – there was a lot to tell them.

I’d borrowed the Vax from them because my hall and lounge carpets and a couple of rugs desperately needed cleaning. I set it all up and away I went. Something was wrong. My socks were wet, and nothing seemed to be coming out of the nozzle. Looking down, I realised the pipe carrying hot clean soapy water to the carpet seemed to have a split in it and hot water was gushing out. Bum! I frantically tried to work with the puddles of water on the carpet and scrub it in and then suck the water out. It didn’t work terribly well but it got the worst off. Looking at the colour of the water collected in the base of the Vax, it was clear my carpets were very overdue for a good clean.

I finally ate dinner at gone seven, collapsed on the sofa and binged a bit more Broadchurch – I know I’m ten years late to the party but I’m really enjoying this tense British crime drama series. And then an early night. I was a big bit tired – can’t think why.

Wednesday I was on shift with one of my colleagues. I was unsure whether or not to tell him I was leaving, In the end, I did, and it was just as well I had because HR phoned up about it and spoke to him. That would have been a bit of a shock if I hadn’t already told him. Unbelievably, they are already advertising my job but not as a part-time position. No, it’s being advertised as a full-time role. Nice to know I wasn’t being completely paranoid when I felt pressured to do more hours.

So, it’s too late to change my mind now – not that I want to.

There was just the question of a lodger. Logging into my account on the letting website I use; I scrolled through the people looking for a room in my town. I decided I wanted to try for a female lodger, so concentrated my search on women looking for a room. One, in particular, caught my eye. Almost my age, looking to move because her family live here. Her interests tied in with mine and in her bio, she came across as quiet and respectful. I privately messaged her, along with four other women who seemed suitable.

Two never bothered to reply.

One came back immediately and said thank you for reaching out, but she’d already found a room close to her workplace. I wished her well and that was that.

One replied that she was not going to pay £600 a month for a room and that her budget was £425. I had another look at her list of demands on her bio – off-street parking, her own private bathroom, and a balcony! Jog on, Juliet, that isn’t going to happen, not with the way prices are now.

The original lady I’d spotted came back and seemed quite keen. We messaged back and forth, and arrangements were made for her to come and see the house Friday evening. I warned her that the room was not yet in the state it would be. That it was currently full of bed, but if she could picture the room empty I could show her the bed that would be going down there and the choice of furniture there was to choose from – desk, armchair, TV etc. So, she could effectively customise the room to suit her needs.

Anyway, Friday morning, I scrubbed the bathroom and kitchen until they shone, tidied, polished, and vacuumed everywhere. Had lunch, then went on my author Zoom call. Sadly, one day I know I will always be working at my new job will be a Friday so I will no longer be able to attend the meetings – unless I pop in for an hour during my lunch break. Then it was time for the potential lodger to arrive and what can I say? She was lovely, we clicked immediately. She liked the house, the room, the garden, and I think (hope) she liked me. She left saying she would think about it and discuss it with her daughter – who came to the viewing with her – and let me know. A couple of hours later she texted that she loved everything and please could she move in the following Friday.

Now, I just have to hope my dad and brother can come and help me move three beds and a ton of furniture before then.

There is a feeling of kismet about everything that is happening. I wanted a friendlier, less stressful work environment. One came along. I needed a lodger. One came along. Do I dare to hope that after many years of adversity and bad luck, the wheel has finally turned and I’m on top instead of being crushed in the mud?

I just glanced at the coronation to see Charles being helped into ceremonial robes. I hate to say this, but he looked like someone’s ageing dad struggling into a dressing gown.

And now I must stop. You must be fed up with my ramblings and I need to eat something and make a start boxing up all Franki’s belongings from the back room to keep out of the way whilst all the furniture is moved.

One last thing, Mage Quest ~ Volume Two of the Erinsmore Chronicles ~ is now available to pre-order in eBook format at a special low sale price of only £2.99, and to buy as a stunningly illustrated paperback.

Erinsmore ~ Volume One of the Erinsmore Chronicles ~ is currently on eBook sale for only £1.99. But Hurry. Official launch day is the 16th of May when both books will go up to their normal retail price of £3.99 each. Both books in all formats are available from Amazon.

Take care everyone and I’ll catch up with you again in two weeks when hopefully I’ll be able to report a smooth arrival of the lodger and that my departure from one job and commencement of a new one is all progressing as it should be.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Julia Blake

The One With The Toothache!

Hello Everyone. Yep, another two weeks have flown by, and it is once again time for our chat.  I know what you’re all dying to discover – what happened to Peter the Mouse? Well, the honest answer is, I don’t know. He’s no longer in the bathroom, that I am sure of. I took everything out, scrubbed it down with bleach, and then watched to see if his little “messages” appeared on the floor. Nothing. I wondered if he’d got into the kitchen and then under the cupboards. I wanted to give the kitchen a good spring clean anyway, so I pulled everything out of the tall cupboard where the ironing board lives, climbed in with a torch and checked on the floor down the back. There is a gap where a mouse could squeeze through from behind the fridge and I’ve had mice in there before.

There was evidence a mouse had been there at some point – a pile of tiny poops – but I didn’t know if they were Peter’s, or a past mouse visitor. I cleaned it thoroughly and put the trap down. I even sacrificed some of my Easter chocolate to make it extra tempting. And then I waited. I’ve checked the trap daily and so far the chocolate remains untouched. Looking again this morning, the trap is still unsprung but I think there has been a mouse down there. It’s hard to see – it’s dark even with a torch and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but I think there are tiny dark pellets down there. I’m not convinced this posh box trap is any good, so I might go and buy some cheap old-fashioned wooden mousetraps again and see if they work any better. But, for now, it looks like Peter still lives.

What else has happened? The answer is, not a lot. Well, obviously, stuff has happened, but some of it is stuff I can’t tell you about. I honestly don’t know who reads this blog and who knows who, so I’m afraid things are going on that I can’t talk to you about – yet.

For the authors out there, as you know, there is more unrest about Amazon and their latest crimes against indie authors. It has long been an issue that if you put your books in Kindle Unlimited then you agree to sell your eBooks exclusively through Amazon. This is fine, but when an unscrupulous hacker gets through Amazon’s lax cyber security and data scrapes your book and puts it up for free on a pirate book site, although it is absolutely none of the author’s doing, Amazon punishes them and punishes them hard, for breaking the exclusivity clause. Amazon shut down the author’s account so they can no longer sell through Amazon. This effectively ends the author’s career because although there are other places where you can sell your books, Amazon is the main marketplace.

Is this fair? No, of course, it’s not. It is Amazon’s fault the eBook has been copied, not the author’s fault. Often, the author doesn’t even know the piracy has occurred – until Amazon tell them their account has been closed with no right of appeal. This has been happening more frequently and has sent a tidal wave of concern throughout the indie community. Thousands of authors are pulling their books from KU and are going wide. Going wide means selling their books via other selling platforms such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Books, Apple Books etc, and the author is perfectly entitled to do this so long as their books are no longer on KU.

A petition was started to demand Amazon protect their authors better and stop punishing us for acts of piracy which are not our fault, and that we can do nothing to prevent. I signed it, as did over 50,000 other authors, but what happened after that I don’t know. I think Amazon quietly ignored it.

The latest event is even scarier. Amazon is closing down authors’ accounts for no reason – well, a reason is given, the rather nonsensical one that as far as Amazon is concerned, the author has had a KDP account previously. For some reason, this is considered a heinous crime. Now, I know of seven authors this has happened to and not one of them has ever had any other KDP account.

Again, they have no right of appeal and Amazon refuses to produce any kind of proof of this “previous account”. Indeed, they won’t even talk to the authors, instead send terse emails stating that the matter is closed, and no further communication will be entered into.

The axe is falling arbitrarily and it’s terrifying that it could happen to anyone. It could happen to me. This has made me stop and think. Yes, the majority of my pitiful sales come from Kindle Unlimited and I have a few readers who can’t afford to read my books anywhere else but through KU. But … do I earn enough from KU to risk keeping my books in there? Probably not. So, I’m thinking I must remove my books and go wide. I have fourteen books out there – with number fifteen due out in May – it’s going to take a lot of time and effort, and that’s something I honestly don’t have a lot of right now.

It’s a stressful situation and is giving me a headache. Most of the authors I know, and follow, on social media, are leaving Kindle Unlimited in droves. They are scared, and quite rightly so. Then there are the readers who are outraged that this is happening to authors they love, so they are cancelling their KU subscriptions. This is having an adverse effect on how much the authors remaining in KU are being paid for pages read of their books.

And then there are the AI-generated books. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is the latest leap in technology when AI is churning out books which no human mind has created. Rather they are an amalgamation of words stolen from elsewhere and put together to make a formulaic novel. For people who like to read the same type of book over and over again – think Mills & Boon type novels – then they will not be able to tell the difference between an AI book and that written by a human. For those of us who prefer our books to be unique and imaginative, it is a situation that is filling us with horror.

Kindle Unlimited is already filling up with these AI books. It seems that’s the way it is going and there is nothing to be done to stop it. Yet another reason to remove my books and go elsewhere. Kobo has started a reader subscription service – Kobo+ – which is gaining in popularity and doesn’t have the same Draconian exclusivity laws that KU does. I know a lot of authors are switching to them and who knows, maybe I need to do the same. Perhaps this change will be a good thing. Maybe I will make more money going wide than I ever did in KU, which was admittedly, not a lot.

So, that has happened in the past two weeks. In other bookish news, I revealed the cover and title of book fifteen. Mage Quest is Volume Two in the Erinsmore Chronicles, and the full paperback cover is below.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I love it and can’t wait to hold the proof copy in my hands. As soon as I’ve finished writing this I will be uploading it to KDP and ordering my author proof copy so I can have a final proofread. Once I’m happy it’s all perfect, it will be turned into an eBook and uploaded, and it will then be available to pre-order. It’s looking like the paperback will be launched at the beginning of May and the eBook a week or so later. I know it’s unusual launching the paperback first, but I’ve done it this way for my last two books, and it worked so well it’s going to be normal practice from here on. It gives me a chance to order my copy and copies for my street team so they have them before the official launch day (that’s when the eBook goes live) and can post their reviews and promotional posts with the actual book. I am also lucky that many of my readers prefer to buy a paperback so it means they can receive their copy by the time the eBook goes live and don’t have to wait – which is unfair.

In other news, the Indie Author Book Fair in St Ives, Cambridgeshire is nearly upon us. If you live anywhere near the venue or are visiting that weekend, why not come along and say hello? I will be there, along with three other local authors – Rachel Churcher, Jackie Carreira, and MT McGuire. We will have our books ready to sign and sell, along with bookmarks and other promotional material, and we’re always up for a chat. I was also lucky enough to be awarded a book reading slot at 1:10pm, when I will read a couple of short extracts from Black Ice, followed by a short Q&A session. If you can, please come along. It would be great to see a friendly face in the crowd.

Last Sunday, I had a niggly ache in my left hand, bottom molar right at the back. It was tender as I ate dinner, and I hoped it would be gone by morning. The next day, I awoke to a world of pain. My jaw, throat, ear, temple, and the whole left side of my face were swollen and puffy. It was throbbing with pain and my tooth was wobbling alarmingly in my gum. I phoned the dentist and managed to get an emergency appointment for later that day. Then I popped a couple of painkillers and tried to slurp up a bowl of cornflakes – even though it felt like my teeth were grinding on bone.

It wasn’t my normal dentist – he was on holiday – but a delightful man with such a thick South African accent I struggled to understand through his heavy-duty mask. I explained that this was the fourth time I’d had an infection in the same place over the past twelve years and that my dentist would prescribe me mega-strength antibiotics which would clear it all up super quick. He nodded, then mumbled something about the tooth might need to be taken out. Umm, I don’t think so. I managed a brave smile and said I’d see my usual dentist when he got back from holiday.

Clutching my prescription, I trotted round the corner to the pharmacy attached to my doctor’s surgery. Nope, they didn’t stock such strong antibiotics. They suggested Boots the Chemist. I went uptown, calling in at Superdrug on the way. Goodness, the dispensary exclaimed in horror, looking at the prescription. These are a bit brutal, no, we don’t stock such strong drugs.

I went to Boots and queued for ages behind a lady intent on coughing up a lung into the general atmosphere. No mask, no attempt to catch it in her hand or a hanky or even on her sleeve. Nope, old Cough Candy had a nasty cough and wanted to share. Being British, no one in the queue said anything. We merely rolled our eyes at each other and shuffled backwards several steps. Anyway, after Covid Cora had coughed and spluttered away, it was my turn and the dispenser looked at the prescription.

We don’t stock these, she exclaimed in outrage – almost as if it was crack cocaine I was trying to buy – I suggest you try Croasdales.

I went across the road to Croasdales. By now, my whole face was a painful puff adder mess of throbbing pain, and I was ready to bite the next person who told me they didn’t stock the drugs I desperately needed.

The lady in Croasdales looked doubtfully at my prescription which was a little crumpled around the edges. I’m not sure, she said. These are very strong antibiotics, so I don’t know if we stock them.

Please, I begged, give me drugs, you have no idea how much pain I’m in.

The lady looked at me and her eyes widened. Goodness, she said, you do look swollen. I’ll go and check out the back and see what I can find.

I perched miserably on a chair in the corner of the shop and waited. She was gone for ages. I wondered just what she’d meant by “out the back”. My imagination ran wild as I pictured her stepping out into a darkened alley and approaching a shadowy figure in the corner. Hood pulled over his face, he holds out a hand and takes the grubby notes she stuffs in his palm. Reaching into his pocket he pulls out a pack of contraband street drugs and furtively hands them over …

Here you are, she said, we did have some after all.

I thanked her, paid, and hurried home to take the first dose. I’ve had these before so know the score. Take on a full stomach. Absolutely no alcohol. Take a good quality probiotic with them. 90% of antibiotics prescribed are inert and although they say to avoid alcohol, you can have a glass or two without it causing much damage. The meds I have been prescribed are super-strength live antibiotics. This is why I have to take a probiotic as well because it will kill all the bacteria in my body – including the good stuff that you need to stay healthy. As for alcohol, well I learnt that lesson the hard way the first time I had this infection. Although I avoided alcohol, when my mum offered a bowl of trifle laced with some kind of alcohol I didn’t think and yummed it up, only to be sick as a dog almost immediately afterwards.

I’ve been taking the medication for four days now and it is clearing the infection up although it’s still very painful and my throat and ear are swollen and hurt whenever I swallow.

The last time we spoke it was Easter. I only had Easter Sunday off – much to the company’s disgust they are forced to close that day. Franki didn’t come home this year because she had gone to Cornwall for ten days on a university trip. Keeping me up to date with daily bulletins about her activities, I was rather startled to open a picture she sent me to find it was of my daughter with a very large adder wrapped around her wrist. I don’t like snakes anyway and as I know the adder is the UK’s only venomous serpent I was a tad alarmed.

Don’t worry, she breezily told me, I had a gauntlet on, so it was perfectly safe.

Looking at the picture again, I saw she was indeed wearing what looked like an oven glove. I was not reassured.

We’re in the Cheddar Gorge, she told me, where the largest adder sanctuary in Britain is, so I got to cuddle a snake and have cheddar cheese ice cream. Best day ever!

Hmm, I think this must be some strange definition of “best day ever” I hadn’t previously been aware of.

But, she had a great time and made it safely back to university without the snake – or the cheese ice cream – inflicting any damage. And now I won’t see her until the summer holidays. Thank heavens for things like WhatsApp, Messenger, texting, and video chatting on Instagram so we can stay in touch.

And I’ve run out of things to say and it’s coming up to almost eleven o’clock on Saturday. Time for a coffee and then tackle the chore of uploading Mage Quest. I do know how to do it – after fourteen books I should hope I do – but this is slightly more complicated as I have to create a new series, The Erinsmore Chronicles, and link it to Erinsmore so it shows as Volume One and Mage Quest as Volume Two.

Wish me luck.

Julia Blake

An Easter Mouse Tail

If you celebrate Easter, then I wish you a peaceful and happy four-day weekend with your family. If chocolate – lots of it – is your thing, then I wish you all the creamy yummy goodness. If you don’t celebrate Easter then I wish you a great Sunday. And if, like me, you work in retail and Easter Sunday is a single day off in a sea of long hours and even longer shifts, then take a deep breath, enjoy your one day off, and brace yourself for going back tomorrow.

Sorry, this blog is a little late this week. I have worked some long and weird shifts this week and simply have not had the time to sit down and write the blog until Sunday morning. Besides, I figured most people would be enjoying the long weekend so will be having a bit of a lay-in.

Work has been strange since we last spoke. As you may have gathered, I have become increasingly discontented with working every single weekend and every bank holiday, and I am more than done with working on Boxing Day. The pressure of the job is increasing as unrealistic targets are imposed, the recession is beginning to bite, and sales are harder and harder to achieve. I want to start a little Airbnb business to supplement my meagre income, but because my shifts are so unpredictable it’s impossible. People sometimes need to book accommodation months in advance so I must know which days I’m at work – so can block those days out – and which I can safely take bookings for.

The “finger in the wind” nature of my shifts makes this impossible. I am given a four-week shift pattern at the beginning of each month but don’t know my working days any further ahead than that. A friend asked why I couldn’t take bookings on workdays, but honestly, I’ve looked at it from every angle and it’s simply not workable. Guests might need to arrive at any point during the day and I need to be there to let them in, show them the room and the facilities, and give them a key. Yes, I know I could hide the key somewhere or install a key safe, but I don’t like either of those ideas and don’t want a total stranger letting themselves into my home when I’m not there.

I also need to be there for when they wish to check out – to ensure nothing is being taken with them that shouldn’t be and get the key back. Again, this could be at any time during the day. I think it’s the whole “having a stranger in my home when I’m not there” scenario that’s worrying me. Whatever the reason, I am decided I can only let the room on days I am going to be home. And then we’re back to the whole unpredictability of my shifts issue.

Then there’s working every single weekend. It used not to be such an issue but over the past year, I have attended numerous book fairs, sales, and comic cons. Not only are they quite successful for me, but I enjoy them. They take place at weekends. I work every weekend. Do you see my problem? Of course, the events are not every weekend and up until now, my accommodating boss has tried to rota me so if an event is taking place on a Sunday I work on Saturday. I have also used all my annual leave to cover a few whole weekend events. But … and now we come to the crux of the matter, and the reason why I am now feeling something needs to change.

My boss dropped a bombshell two weeks ago and announced that he’d handed in his notice. To say I’m shocked would be an understatement. I genuinely thought he was such a company man that if you cut him in half he would have the company logo all the way through him like a stick of rock. But no, the lockdowns made him realise how much of his young daughter’s life he was missing out on by working all weekend and every bank holiday. He’s had enough. He’s burnt out. And I don’t blame him. It’s not a job for someone with a family. It’s demanding, the hours are long and very anti-social. Working Boxing Day destroys Christmas not only for the worker but for their family. So, I applaud and understand his decision.

But, it has made me stop and think and evaluate my situation.

I’ve known for some time I am merely working to live. That my work/life balance is skewed. Whilst I had a sympathetic boss who tried to help and was lenient about my requests for changes in my shift pattern the situation was just about bearable. But, that boss will be leaving very soon. It’s left me wondering what to do.

We have no idea what our new boss will be like. A dyed-in-the-wool stickler for rules who will make me work all weekend/every weekend? Maybe. We simply don’t know. And it’s that uncertainty that’s making me question everything. Lots of hard thinking has been going on. What am I going to do? I don’t know, is the honest answer. Perhaps the new boss will be even more accommodating, but that won’t solve every problem or change the fact that I think I’m done with retail.

I will keep you posted – and if anyone in the Bury St Edmunds area knows of a part-time job with either no weekend work or is flexible enough to allow for the weekends I am attending shows to be taken off – please let me know.

In other work news, I attended a roadshow in Luton about the new ranges the company are introducing. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Luton before. I know I don’t want to go there again. Sorry, people who live in Luton. I’m sure some parts of the city are lovely – and the roadshow venue was very nice – but the rest of the place looked horrible, and the roads were a joke. Potholes bordering on sinkhole dimensions threatened to rip out the suspension on my boss’s car. Coming home, his Satnav threw a temper tantrum. Instead of taking us the most direct route down the motorway, it detoured us off into the deepest darkest countryside and through tiny hamlets and villages called Little Snoring Under Snot and other such names. The lanes got narrower, the potholes got bigger, the language in the car got bluer, and I swear at one point I heard banjos playing.

Eventually, we popped out onto a motorway and were able to find our way home. I arrived back with barely forty minutes to throw some dinner down my throat, freshen up, and then charge across town for the Poetry and Prose Evening I was attending to celebrate the launch of a fellow Writers of Bury & Beyond author’s book.

The following Sunday was the first Maker’s Market in the Market Cross. Originally, six authors were booked but three dropped out last minute due to Covid and other illnesses, so instead of sharing a six-foot table I had the whole thing to myself.

Bring more books, the organiser suggested.

That’s all well and good, but there’s only so much I can fit on my little trolley. I took more promotional material and bookmarks to fill the gaps with and set off, hopeful of a good day. It was sluggish though. The sun was shining for almost the first time this year, so I guess many people had gone out for the day. I did despair by lunchtime when I had only sold one book and not covered my pitch fee, but the afternoon picked up and in the end, I sold £42 worth of books. Not brilliant, but at least all my costs were covered plus I spoke to lots of people and handed out lots of cards, so you never know.

The next event is the Indie Author Book Fair in St Ives on the 30th of April. I am hopeful that will be a more successful occasion. It looks like it’s going to be quite a large affair so will hopefully be well attended. I am going with three other Writers of Bury & Beyond members and was lucky enough to secure a book reading slot. I’m going to read from Black Ice because people seem to respond very positively to it.

And now we come to the mouse. Ah, yes. The mouse. On Friday morning I came downstairs to get ready for work. To my surprise, my cat was lying in the lobby by the washing machine instead of her usual spot asleep on the rocking chair. I petted her, then disappeared into the bathroom to have a shower.

Lathered up with shampoo, I heard a loud thump on the bathroom door and stopped to listen. Skittles? I called. An answering miaow reassured me that it wasn’t an axe murderer but was my stupid cat – probably playing with a shoelace dangling from the shoe rack opposite the door.

I wandered from the bathroom wrapped in a towel to put the kettle on and found the cat right outside the door peering into the shoe rack. A suspicion stirred. Carefully, I pulled the rack out and a fricking mouse leapt two feet in the air and hurdled over the shoe rack. I yelped. The cat pounced. The mouse shot back under the rack into the corner, followed by the cat.

Catch it! I yelled. Kill it! Kill it!

I know that sounds very “Roman Emperor bloodthirsty of me” and like I am afraid of mice. I’m not. I think mice are sweet and adorable – in the right environment – and my kitchen at 6:30am is not the right environment.

The cat failed to catch the mouse which shot under the shoe rack, into the bathroom, and straight under the tub. Bugger. Not sure what to do, I had to finish getting dry and dressed knowing it was only a foot away from my feet. I rummaged through the drawers and found a mousetrap from the last time the cat remembered her hunter roots. I baited it with some ham and set it down by the tub. Closing the bathroom door, I left the trap to do its job, confident the mouse would be dead before I had to go to work.

Half an hour later I checked, the ham was gone, and the trap had not sprung. Damn it. I cut a piece of cheese and wedged it onto the bait spike and put the trap down again. I finished getting ready for work and just before I left, looked in the bathroom. The cheese was gone, and the trap was still sitting there. What the actual…?

This time I jammed half a grape onto the spike, thinking it would make the mouse pull on it and spring the trap. I went to work. All day, I wondered what I would find when I got home.

No grape. No dead mouse. The trap sitting there.

Aggh, I shoved more cheese on. Nope. The mouse ate that as well. This mouse must be seriously loving this hotel and planning on giving it five stars on trip advisor.

Before going to bed I pierced a hole in a frozen piece of mango and shoved it firmly onto the bait spike. Got you, I chortled, this will surely make you tug firmly enough to spring the trap.

I went to bed. Early in the morning, I stumbled downstairs to go to the loo. Sitting there bleary-eyed there was a flash of movement beside me – and the mouse ran straight over my feet and back under the tub! I was so shocked I nearly peed on the floor. I examined the trap. Half the mango was gone, and the trap still not sprung.

Now thinking I had a defective trap or a very clever mouse, I got dressed and walked to B&Q and enquired about mousetraps. I asked if they had a humane one because I had formed a grudging admiration for Peter – the mouse by now had a name – and didn’t want to kill him. Nope, they didn’t sell them. I bought a box-like contraption that promised to lure the mouse in, kill him with one quick snap, and then seal the box ready for me to dispose of his corpse in the bin. Sorry, Peter, but you’re going down.

By the time I got back, Peter had taken the other half of the mango – cheeky bugger.

I tried to figure out the instructions which were in every language but English. I baited it with cheese and went to work. Surely, I thought, when I get home it will be to find Peter dead in the box and that will be an end to it. Nope, you’ve guessed it, the cheese was gone and there was no dead Peter.

I baited it again – this time with ham – and went to bed.

So, what did I find this morning? Yep, that’s right. Peter still lives. This mouse must be approaching obesity by now with all this fine dining he’s doing at my expense. The bathroom is also starting to smell of mouse. I want him gone now.

I’ve jammed a piece of cheese in the far end of the box trap so he will have to stand on the trigger pad and tug at it. That was an hour ago. Hold on, I will go and peep at the trap … Nope, still intact with the bait there. As of now, Peter still lives.

Now, I know many of you will be rooting for Peter – I know I would be – but I can’t have a mouse living under my bathtub. Mice pee and poop constantly and it smells. Also, if I do get my Airbnb up and running I can’t expect guests to share the bathroom with a mouse. Can you imagine the reviews? I did try to buy a humane trap because I planned to take him to work with me – why yes, it is “Bring your mouse to work day”, did you not get the memo? – and set him loose in the big patch of woodland behind the store. But B&Q didn’t sell them, and I didn’t have time to go anywhere else. So, sorry, but what can I do? It’s not like mice are an endangered species, I’m not setting a trap for a white rhino – jeez, imagine one of them under your tub?

I will let you know the conclusion to this mouse tale next time.

In the meantime, I am going to stop here because I am out of things to tell you and as it’s now 9am you will all be wondering where the blog is.

Happy Easter Everyone.

Julia Blake

The Case of the Missing Custard.

Hello everyone! This will be a super short blog because I’m up against the clock. It’s gone 10:30 on Friday morning, and I only have a couple of hours before my zoom meet-up with my local author group. I am working a long shift on Saturday and, of course, this needs to be scheduled and ready to go live early on Sunday.

As usual, two weeks have flown by in a whirl of busyness. What have I done?

The last time we chatted, I was working that Sunday and then had the next two days off. I planned to catch up with all the friends and family I ghosted during my self-imposed solitude to get book fifteen written. My very good friend, Ms S, was due to come for coffee on Friday, but a heavy snowfall put paid to that. Instead, she came on my next day off which was Monday. It was great to see her as we hadn’t met since Christmas Eve – which weirdly feels both an aeon ago and only last week.

On Tuesday my favourite cousin came for a visit, and we went to the Market Cross in town for some excellent coffee and homemade cake.

Between their visits, I caught up on housework, reading, and writing reviews. Wednesday and Thursday I was at work. Long, boring, customer-less days. Except, I did have one wonderful big sale which saved my bacon.

My next day off was Friday and I went to see fellow indie author, the lovely Becky Wright, who lives not far away. Becky and I have been mates since we met on a creative writing course eighteen years ago. Never did we imagine, as we sat side by side in that class and introduced ourselves, that almost two decades later we’d still be friends and published authors. I’m not sure we would have believed it.

Anyway, each time I go to visit Becky we take turns to either supply lunch or cake. This time it was my turn to take the lunch, so, when I sat down Monday evening to place my online Tesco order, I had a look if they were running the meal-for-two special they often do. I assumed as it was Mother’s Day that weekend they probably would be.

The deal is a main dish, a side, a dessert, and a bottle of wine for two for the price of £12. It used to be £10, but everything has gone up. I scanned the mains. Hmm, the chicken in a cabernet sauvignon and mushroom sauce looked yummy. As did the potato dauphinoise as a side. Add two slices of luscious-looking lemon cheesecake. And the most expensive bottle of wine they had – a Malbec with a normal price of £9 – but, because I was buying it in the deal I would get it, plus the other three things for £12. Obviously, the wine would go on my rack and as Becky would be supplying the dessert, the two slices of cheesecake would be for my consumption. I did not see any drawbacks to this plan.

I looked at vegetables and selected a pot of asparagus and tender-stem broccoli spears in garlic butter to accompany our lunch. Wonderful.

I had to work Thursday until 4:30, so selected a shopping collection time of 4-5 and hoped I didn’t get held up at work. Unlikely, given it was a Thursday and how dead we’ve been.

On Thursday, I left off bang on time, drove to Tesco, and collected my shopping. Once home, I began putting everything away. They’d sold out of lemon cheesecake so had substituted it with key lime pie. That’s fine. I like that as well. There was the pot of veg and the potato dauphinoise, looking good. The Malbec had a posh label with no picture on it. A very dear friend of mine once told me, many years ago, that if you want a nice bottle of wine spend over £5 and buy one without a picture on the label. And do you know – I think that’s pretty sound advice.

I finished unpacking. My shopping bags were empty. I put everything away and then realised the chicken in the cabernet sauvignon sauce was missing. WTF? I got the bags out and went through each one carefully. Nope. No sign of it.

I called up my original order on my phone. Yep. There it was. I definitely put it in the basket Monday evening.

Cursing Tesco, I was on the point of calling them, when I thought I better check the most recent email from them showing the last-minute changes I had made to the order Wednesday evening. When placing an online order, you have until 11:45pm the evening before collection day to make any amendments. I remembered at gone 11:30 the previous evening, sleepy and on my way to bed, I suddenly remembered I needed bread rolls and sweetcorn, so I’d quickly called up my order and added them to it.

Had I…? Somehow, in my sleep-dazed state, had I managed to accidentally remove the chicken dish from my basket?

Yep. You’ve guessed it. I had.

Bugger. Bum. And steaming piles of arse biscuits.

Calling myself every name under the sun, I considered my options. It was almost six, I needed something for lunch the next day. I would be leaving to drive to Becky’s at nine in the morning. I really, really didn’t want to go shopping the next day. I looked in my freezer and cupboards. Did I have anything I could take instead? No, nothing that didn’t involve cooking from scratch. There was nothing for it, I would have to go shopping now!

Grumbling about silly cows who did stupid stuff like remove vital items from their shopping basket, I pulled my shoes back on and walked to Waitrose. Luckily I live in the middle of town so there are shops all around me.

Stomping across the car park, it suddenly occurred to me that as I hadn’t completed the Tesco dine-in-for-two meal deal they would have charged me full whack for the potato dauphinoise, dessert, and wine. Oh, double fudge arse biscuits!! £9 for one bottle of wine. I’d expect two bottles for that price. Now seriously annoyed with me, I stormed about Waitrose trying to think of what to buy for lunch.

Could I decide? Could I heck. I looked at the dizzying choice of ready-prepared food and could not decide what to get. I hummed and aahed, picking up first one box that promised me a gourmet meal in a foil tray and then another. In the end, I settled on a boneless pork joint in a rosemary and garlic sauce that was on sale. I figured I needed to try and claw back some of the money I’d wasted through my stupidity.

Friday morning, bright and early, I packed up what I needed to take for lunch. And double-checked. And then checked again. I don’t trust myself now. I have a history of being an idiot. It was a wet, cold, overcast day but at least the snow of the previous week was gone.

I’m happy to report that I had a lovely day with Becky. She had the coffee on when I got there. And lunch was delicious. The pork joint melted in the mouth and was swimming in herby garlic sauce. The mixed veg was moist and garlic buttery. The potato dauphinoise was … yes, you’ve guessed it, very garlicky. I was relieved Becky had bought a salted caramel cheesecake for dessert. At least the vampires will leave us alone with all that garlic inside us.

Saturday I was back to work for a long shift. Once upon a time, the weekends were always busy and profitable days for the shop, especially Saturday. Then we had lockdown, and everything changed. Saturday was no longer a busy day. People’s shopping habits changed, and we were as likely to be busier on a Monday or a Tuesday.

Going into work, I had almost all of my target to try and reach and wasn’t hopeful. But, we had an incredible day. I do not know where everyone came from, but it was like the population of the town woke up, looked at each other, and said – “let’s go and buy a new bed”.

By the end of the day, we had clocked up more sales than we did on our busiest day during January peak. It saved my bacon. My sales took me over my target for the week and almost all of my target for the following week, which is just as well. I worked Wednesday and Thursday this week and again we sat there and made no sales whatsoever. Things are not looking great for the retail industry in the UK right now.

Last weekend was Mother’s Day here in the UK, and a couple of days later it was my parents’ wedding anniversary. My parents are at that age and stage in their life where they don’t want stuff. Well, there is stuff they want – new car, holiday, whole house redecorated – but it’s stuff I can’t afford. The stuff I can afford – chocolates, ornaments, etc – they don’t want. I decided to buy a joint Mother’s Day and anniversary present and treat them to a nice meal to eat at home.

Whilst I was at work on that crazy busy Saturday, I was thinking of what to buy them and planned to go home and park my car, then walk to Waitrose and buy them some yummy food. I left off at six. As it was a Saturday and a wet cold evening, the roads were empty so I made the snap decision to drive to Waitrose so I wouldn’t have to go out again once I was home. To be honest, I was cold, hungry, and wiped out from the long, manic day. Waitrose car park was almost empty, as was the store, so I wandered about picking out what I knew my parents would like.

For starters – two pots of ready-made prawn cocktail, plus a small French baguette. I knew Mum would have plenty of salad to go with the prawns. Two sirloin steaks for the main course, plus chunky hand-cut chips, a mixed bag of prepared veg, and a bottle of rose wine. A luscious-looking cherry and almond tart and a pot of posh vanilla custard for dessert. Put a bouquet in the basket, a Mother’s Day card and an anniversary card, and I was done.

I drove home and put everything away. I fixed dinner, poured a much-needed glass of wine, and vegged out on the sofa for the evening.

On Sunday, my mother called around after church. We chatted. I made tea and coffee. Then I gave her the cards and started pulling things out of the fridge, showing them to her, and putting them in a gift bag for her to take home. The final thing to find was the custard. Custard? Where was the custard? I emptied the fridge. It wasn’t there. I checked my shopping bag even though I knew I’d emptied it. Nope. I checked the freezer, in case, in my sleep-deprived state, I’d put it in there. I checked the cupboards, and the fridge again. Nope. Nope. The custard had vanished.

Did you leave it in the car?

No, I parked the car here and walked to Waitrose.

I rummaged through the bin and found the receipt. There was the custard. It was the last item. It had been scanned by the cashier and I’d paid for it, so where was it?

In the end, we concluded I must have forgotten to pick it up and had left it at the till. It was the only explanation. Don’t worry about it, Mum said, I have custard at home. She took her bag of goodies and left.

Later that day, on a whim, I went and checked the boot of the car. There in the corner, was the missing pot of custard. Why did I tell Mum I’d walked to Waitrose? Because that had been my plan all along. The decision to stop on my drive home was spontaneous so had been instantly forgotten about.

Ho hum, that is my mental state right now. At least I found it. I ate it myself. It was delicious.

Monday and Tuesday were days off. They were taken up almost entirely with trying to rescue my paperback copy of Erinsmore.

Do you remember I told you in a previous blog that my brain-dead laptop overwrote my latest book over the paperback edition of Erinsmore? But that it was okay because I had saved it onto the external hard drive so could resave it from there.


I opened Erinsmore to look through because I wanted to check a continuity issue in the sequel. Glancing at the text, something didn’t look right. Looking closer, something looked very very not right, indeed.

I went to the end of the document. At the back of all my books, I list the other books I’ve written and each time I publish a new book, I update that list. This means I can tell just by looking at this list how up-to-date the version I’m looking at is. The last two books I published were Pitch & Pace and Rambling Rose. They should be listed in the back of Erinsmore. They weren’t. Not even Kiss & Tell, the previous book published, was there.

How old was this version? And how had this happened?

I thought I had saved all the latest versions of my books onto my external hard drive. Then, when my ditzy laptop overwrote Erinsmore with its sequel, I resaved the version on the hard drive back onto the laptop. But, what if when I saved it onto the hard drive my laptop spazzed out and didn’t save it. What if the version on the external hard drive was still a really old one?


I contacted Becky. As she is one of my beta readers and my formatter, I would have emailed Erinsmore to her last year to have the new images of Pitch & Pace and Rambling Rose inserted into the back. She came back to me, sorry, she didn’t update the paperback version, I did that myself. Of course, I did, I knew that. But she did do it for me on the eBook version as that needs complicated hyperlinks putting in which are beyond me, so she sent me the eBook version.

That made me think, so I opened the eBook version I had on my laptop. It was the latest one. Thank heavens. So, I have had to painstakingly go through the eBook version, chapter by chapter, carefully copying just the text of each chapter and pasting it into the paperback version. The text is the same in the eBook version as in the paperback, it’s just the formatting that’s different. It’s long, involved, fiddly work and it’s not speeded up by the fact my laptop keeps glitching and freezing.

I worked Wednesday and Thursday – as I’ve already said, two long boring days with no sales for anyone. And now it’s Friday, my one day off before I’m back to work tomorrow. Already this morning, I have caught up with the ironing and dashed across to the Post Office to send Franki’s wellies to her at university. She forgot to take them back with her the last time she was home in January and, of course, she will need them for her field trip to Cornwall at Easter. Although I managed to fit them into a small enough box to count as a small package, because of the weight of them (they have steel toe caps) they were too heavy so counted as a medium package. Once upon a time, that would have cost £5, now it’s £7.

I have written and posted a book review, caught up on social media – well, caught up as much as you ever can – and written most of this week’s blog. Stopping now for a quick bite of lunch and then it will be time for my fortnightly zoom meeting with my local author group.

Speaking of the local authors’ group – a quick note about a couple of events next week that might interest those of you who are local to Bury St Edmunds.

On Wednesday the 29th of March, the lovely and talented local poet Sally Warrell is launching her latest book and a fun evening of words and poetry is planned to celebrate. It is being held at the Market Cross in the town centre and not only is it completely free to attend, but you don’t need to acquire tickets either. Nope, simply rock up at 7:00pm for a 7:30pm start.

Joining Sally will be the award-winning local authors Rachel Churcher and Jackie Carreira and it looks set to be a wonderful evening. The bar will be open serving hot and cold drinks and alcoholic beverages. Let’s face it, hardly anything is free these days and it will be a chance to try something different.

Also, next week, the first Maker’s Market of the year will be taking place. Again, in the Market Cross, this popular event will be playing host to a wide range of stalls selling a variety of handmade and artisan crafts, as well as authors from the Writers of Bury & Beyond who will be selling and signing their books. I will be there, so why not come along and say hello and chat about books? All the authors will be happy to sign the books for you and supply you with a bookmark, and we are once again offering a free wrapping service if the book is a gift for the bookworm in your life.

I look forward to seeing you at one or both events.

And will you look at that? I stated at the beginning that this was going to be a short blog, but the words ran away from me, and it turned out to be quite a meaty one after all.

Take care everyone, I hope the next two weeks are kind to you and look forward to chatting with you then.

Julia Blake

Cars and Chips!

And now it’s March. Once again, I have no idea where two weeks have gone. How is it possible that fourteen days have passed since I last sat here wondering what on earth to talk about? My life seems to be slipping away in an instantly forgettable blur of work and home, with precious little to break the monotony. There’s not a lot I can do about it though. Sadly, in this world, you need money to do anything. I saw a funny tweet last week where some ignorant berk with more money than brain cells airily stated that all you needed to travel were courage and an adventurous spirit. Underneath, someone had dryly tweeted back – please supply me with a list of airlines and hotels that accept courage and an adventurous spirit as payment.

Funny, but true.

Upon reading about my DIY writing retreat where I had a week off work and pretended I was on a writing retreat, one of my Instagram followers messaged me about a wonderful writers’ retreat in Italy that was very reasonable. I did manage to swallow down the automatic sarcastic reply I wanted to send, and instead very politely thanked her for the information but even the most reasonably priced retreat in Italy was going to be beyond my pocket. Honestly, some people need to check their privileges.

So, what has happened over the past fortnight?

My new car needed its MOT. I was dreading it. When I bought the car, the seller told me the exhaust would need attention or it wouldn’t pass so he knocked £300 off the price. Whilst that was jolly decent of him, it wasn’t as though he gave me £300 to tuck away in my knicker drawer to pay for it, or that I put £300 in there myself. By being thrifty I had managed to clear my overdraft during January, but it was still a sizeable chunk of cash to come up with. The MOT was booked for Thursday the 2nd of March. I was working the day before so I thought about it, then called my garage to ask if I could drop the car off on my way home Wednesday evening. I wouldn’t leave off until six so they would be closed but was there somewhere I could safely leave the car key? Absolutely, they said, there’s a letterbox next to the door which leads to a key safe. Leave your car in the car park, put your keys through the door, and we’ll get to the car the next morning.

It made sense for me to drop the car off and then walk home. It would mean I wouldn’t have to be up and out first thing on my day off to get the car to them. Also, the road connecting one side of town to the other is closed off. It makes getting to them by car from my house a little bit tricky. Coming from work though, I can enter town on the side where the garage is located, then it’s only a ten-minute walk home through the town centre. Brilliant. I liked this plan. I thought about it a bit more. My walk would take me right by the fish and chip shop. Mmm. Fish’n’chips. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d treated myself to a takeaway.

But. A major flaw in the plan was that I couldn’t sit down and eat the chips the second I got home so they would go cold. When I got home, I would have to switch on the lights and draw curtains, feed the cat, get changed out of my uniform, make a drink, and sort out plates and condiments. Even when I get chips on a day I’m at home and have been able to do all of those things before going to get them, the chips still get cold so quickly.

What to do? A plan was hatched.

Wednesday morning, I put a plate in the oven and set the oven on the timer to come on at 6:20 on low heat. I then when to work. When I left off at 6:00 I went a different route into town going through the sprawling residential estate opposite the shop before entering the town from the east and driving to my garage. I was surprised at how quickly I got there. Parking outside the garage, I found the letterbox and dropped my keys in, then walked through town. I popped into Tesco Express on the way and bought a bottle of wine, then went to the chip shop. I fancied pie. It would be a lot cheaper than fish, plus I find the batter on fish can sometimes upset my stomach. I had steak pie and chips for £6, which isn’t bad for a takeaway. I walked home. Letting myself in, I found the oven warm and the plate toasty hot. I popped the wrapped parcel on the plate. It took a good ten minutes to get completely ready and I did worry my plan wouldn’t work and the chips would still be cold. The plan worked perfectly though. As I unwrapped the chips and tipped them onto the plate, they sizzled when they came into contact with the hot surface. They were a little too hot to eat, which was wonderful, and they were delicious.

When I awoke the next morning it was raining, so I was very pleased I had gone to the effort of dropping off the car the night before. Now all I had to do was wait and hope the bill wouldn’t be too ruinous. Mid-afternoon, the garage called. It was good news. Far from having to replace the whole exhaust system as I’d feared, they’d found just a small crack in the pipe which they’d welded. A side bulb needed replacing, and the tappets in my window washers had perished so I needed new ones. With the cost of the MOT plus tax, it all came to £110. Far from the £300+ I was expecting.

I walked to the garage Friday morning and collected the car, then drove to collect my shopping from Tesco. Tayfen Road was still closed so I had to take the scenic route over Angel Hill, down Westgate Street, and then back up Parkway to get home. I got stuck in a huge queue of traffic because everyone else was having to do the same. The old, medieval streets of my town are simply not built for this volume of traffic, and you need eyes in the back of your head trying to negotiate down narrow roads with cars parked on either side. It leaves barely enough room for two-way traffic and if something big comes your way, you’re left trying to squeeze over to let it get by without removing your wing mirror.

Whilst I was inching my way along Westgate Street I noticed big signs stating that this road would be shut as of the following week and that there would be no access to Parkway. What? So, the only two roads that connect one half of the town to the other are both going to be closed at the same time? What crazy idiot thought that was a good idea?

Work has been tough. With Britain trembling on the brink of a recession, the cost-of-living rocketing, and people still trying to pay off Christmas, spending money on big-ticket items like a new bed or mattress is understandably being put on hold. Whole days at work barely seeing a soul, let alone making any sales, does not bode well for my pay packet at the end of March.

Last time we spoke, I stated with confidence that I would be leaving my book alone for two weeks to stew before going back to it. Did I manage to adhere to that? Umm, well, no, not exactly. I left it for a week, then had it read back to me using the Word tool. I found a few things that needed amending – some misplaced punctuation, a few long sentences that had to be broken up, word repetition, and one or two incorrect words – but honestly not too much. I then emailed the whole book to myself, opened it on my phone and read it as an eBook. I found a few more things but was nitpicking.

I then sat down and inserted all of the chapter title page illustrations and the dropped capitals. I didn’t think I would be able to do these by myself so asked Franki if she could help.

I’m really busy this weekend, Mum. I might be able to help next week.

Hmm. I wanted to get it done so I had a go myself. How hard can it be, I reasoned. I fudged and fumbled about. I had done it three years earlier for Erinsmore but couldn’t remember the exact steps Franki had shown me. Inserting the border was simple enough, but then I had to try and figure out how to insert a text box to put the chapter number at the top of the page and the title at the bottom of the page – both within the border. Okay, managed that and worked out how to remove the text box outline. Then came the tricky bit, I had another illustration to insert on the page between the two text boxes. Thirty minutes of trying and failing, of cursing and snorting deep breaths through my nostrils. Finally, I got the hang of wrapping the text so I could move the image and fix it into place on the page. It worked out pretty well and below is an example. What do you think of my lovely pirate Captain? He is a really bad boy with absolutely no redeeming features at all.

It took me all of Friday to insert the dropped capitals and then the illustrations. There are 24 chapters in the book, and I got to number twenty before my laptop decided to turn cantankerous. It was getting late, and I was hungry, but I was so close to finishing and had speeded up as I worked my way through the book. I reckoned it would only take another twenty minutes and then I’d be finished.

I went to insert the border in chapter 21.

This image cannot be displayed, Word informed me.


I tried again.

Image, what image? Word asked. There is no image there to insert.

Umm, yes there is. I can see it in my picture gallery, and you’ve already inserted it twenty times so stop being stupid and insert the f*****g image.

Nope. Word was not having any of it. It was almost seven. I was tired, cold, hungry, and pissed off. I needed to pee. Basically, I needed to stop. So, I gave up, went through the usual painful shenanigans of saving to my laptop, and switched it off.

The next morning, I approached my laptop with trepidation and tried again.

Dear Word, please insert this border in chapter 21. Please, pretty please.

This image? Word chirped, absolutely no problem at all.

It then behaved perfectly and let me insert the rest of the images without a hitch. I do sometimes wonder if machinery can get bored. Was my laptop fed up after a whole day of performing the same task? Perhaps it too was hungry, cold, tired, fed up, and needed to pee.

I had to work Sunday but had Monday and Tuesday off, so Monday I sat down to attempt pagination. Page numbering is my nemesis. If it’s one of my books that doesn’t have illustrated chapter title pages, then fine. The pages start with number one on the first page of the first chapter and work their way through to the end. Not a problem. Easy as pie (mmm, pie). But all my big fantasy novels have an illustrated chapter title page which is blank on the back. Whilst I want the page numbering to run consecutively, I do not want the numbers to show on those two pages. For example, imagine the last page of chapter one is 12. The next page is the lovely, illustrated title page so it’s number 13. Turn the page, and the backside of the illustration is number 14, but I DO NOT WANT NUMBERS TO SHOW ON THOSE TWO PAGES. Then the first page of chapter two is number 15, which I want to show. I then want the numbers to run to the end of the chapter, skip two pages and pick up again on the first page of chapter three.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it?

It’s not.

Oh, trust me, it’s not.

Men have been sent to the Moon with less fuss than it takes to page number a Word document over section breaks. I have done it before, but it’s tedious, long-winded, frustrating, and ball-achingly fiddly. And it’s random. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it will allow me to properly page number every single chapter, except the last one. No reason why it won’t, it just won’t.

Anyway, with my heart in my mouth and my stomach in knots, I sat down to attempt the pagination Monday afternoon. After some initial fiddling, I remembered the exact sequence and started to work my way through the manuscript. Insert the page number here, unlink from the previous section, and format the page number to start with xx (whatever number the next chapter was). And it was working. It was actually working. I got to the end, unable to believe I’d done it the first time. I felt like Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady – by Jove, I think she’s got it!

I saved it to my external hard drive. I then started going back through to double-check all was as it should be and jotted down the page numbers for each chapter ready to make the contents page. I was working backwards from chapter 24; I reached chapter 19 when Word spazzed out.

There’s no other way to describe it. The screen juddered and froze. The blue spinning wheel appeared. I waited, annoyed but not worried. After all, I’d saved it to the external hard drive. My laptop crashed and closed down. I went through the whole drawn-out process of starting it up again. I called up the document from the external hard drive and opened it. Could not believe what I found.

It was like Word had completely forgotten the whole concept of page numbers and how they’re supposed to run. All the lovely numbers it had taken me almost two hours to insert were jumbled up, missing, in the wrong order and nonsensical.

I called that laptop every name under the sun. I doubted its parentage. I threatened to give it a reprogramming with a hammer that it would never forget.

Then I stormed off and had a coffee, breathing so deeply through my nostrils I sounded like a racehorse who’s just run the Derby. Sat back down and spent another two hours doing it all over again. I saved every single time I successfully inserted a chapter’s worth of numbers. I finished it. Saved it again. Closed the file. Opened it again. If it had messed up all my numbers again I was going to seriously lose my shit. It hadn’t. The numbers were there and were perfect. I don’t understand though, how it could have messed up a saved file. That is the worrying bit. Once a file has been saved it shouldn’t have been able to do that. Okay, files can and do go missing, but to change all the numbers that way, it’s very strange.

Anyway, I’ve done as much as I can to the book. If there are any more amendments I can’t see them. It is now with my proofreaders and I can do nothing but wait until they’ve had a chance to read it and come back to me with any feedback.

And that is how I’ve filled my days since we last chatted. I had to work Wednesday and Thursday this week. Two long, boring days of no customers and no sales. When I left off work Thursday I went to collect my shopping from Tesco and pick up a prescription from my doctor just around the corner. Tayfen Road and Westgate are both closed so I ended up having to drive practically back to work to then double back on myself and come into town on the side I needed to get home. It was crazy. A ten-minute trip ended up taking over forty minutes. It was pissing it down in torrential sheets of freezing cold rain. I did wonder if I was mad doing all of this after leaving off at six. I mean, I could have gone straight home and gone shopping and to the doctor on Friday morning. But, I’d argued with myself, once it’s done, it’s done. I then wouldn’t have to go out on my day off, plus I’d have wine and pizza from Tesco for dinner.

Waking up Friday morning and opening the curtains I was very pleased I didn’t have to go out. Snow was whirling about, and my car was already covered in a thick blanket of horrible white stuff. I don’t like snow and cannot understand people who claim to love it. It’s usually those who live in hot parts of the world and think it looks pretty and romantic. Yeah, tell that to anyone who has had to shovel three feet of snow off their car before they can get to work. It’s dangerous and nasty stuff to drive on. Another downside was a friend who was supposed to be coming for coffee had to cancel because of the snow. This being Britain the snow had all cleared by mid-afternoon and the sun came out. Then we had another snowstorm which covered everything again. Then it cleared. By dinner time it was hailing.

This morning it is cold but sunny and the snow is all gone.

No wonder we Brits talk about the weather so much – we have such a lot of it and it’s all weird.

And lastly. It’s Mothering Sunday here in the UK this month and what with the rising cost of everything even buying a nice bouquet for your mum is going to be expensive. Why not give her a bunch of flowers that will last forever? I am holding a special Mother’s Day Sale of the paperback versions of Becoming Lili, Chaining Daisy, and Rambling Rose. These beautiful big books are normally £11.99 each but until Mother’s Day, you can buy them for just £9.99. That means you can buy the whole trilogy for under £30 – which is less than the cost of a decent bunch of flowers. The sale is worldwide so the price will be based on your local currency. Go on, treat her to one or two or even all three books. She’s your mum so she’s worth it. And don’t forget, when she’s finished reading them you can borrow them so it’s a win/win situation. All three books are available from Amazon and the links are on the book page. If you do buy, read, and enjoy any of my books, then I would be ever so grateful for a review. Reviews are incredibly important to any author, but to an indie author they are like gold, so if you do drop me a review, thank you.

And that really is it for this week. Take care and I look forward to chatting with you again in a fortnight.

Julia Blake

Words, Word, & Wine!

Have you ever looked back and wondered what the heck you’ve done with your time? I mean, were you asleep? In a coma? Did you have a Rip Van Winkle moment when you blinked, and a fortnight went by for the rest of the world? I’m feeling like that today. I know it’s been two weeks since we last chatted. The calendar tells me that, so it must be true, but I honestly have no idea what I’ve done or where those fourteen days went to.

I did write. A lot. So, I guess that’s it. Caught up in the intensity of the world of Erinsmore and the adventures my characters were having, every spare moment I had was spent writing. And I’m happy to report that it’s done. Finished. I have written the end of book fifteen. It rocked in at a tidy 103,600 words and I’m pleased with that. Erinsmore is 102,600 so it’s great that it’s more or less the same. I think it’s always nicer if books in a series are roughly the same size. It looks much neater on the shelf, don’t you think?

Am I happy with the story? I think so. I’m too close to it to tell – it’s a bit like when you’ve sweated in a hot kitchen all day to provide an amazing meal for everyone, but when you try to eat it you can’t taste a thing because you’re still caught up in an anxious whirl. NB. This is why my hostess trolley is so fabulous. Cook the meal and load it all in there to keep hot, then you can clear the kitchen, take a shower, get ready, relax, have a drink, and be ready to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Anyway, I digress. I believe it is good. There is one chapter in particular that came out of nowhere and stunned me with the twist it made in the tail (and no, that is not a spelling mistake but a spoiler). Reading it back after I’d written it, the words moved me to tears and I think it’s one of the finest pieces I’ve ever written.

Course, it might not be, it might be utter garbage and I’m just fooling myself. The whole book might be a big steaming pile of dingo’s kidneys. I won’t know until I get the first feedback from the proof and beta readers, and it’s going to be a while before that happens.

First, it has to sit and marinate. Like a pot of beef stew, it’s best if it’s left to slowly simmer so all the flavours and ingredients can blend. I will go back to it in a couple of weeks and read it with fresh eyes. It has had basic spelling, punctuation, and grammar edits and I have read it all the way through to make sure the chapters flow and it hangs together as a story. It does. So now I need to leave it alone for a while.

But it’s sooo hard. I want to rush into editing. To stare for long hours at my words and slowly pick them apart. To question each grammatical decision and debate the placement of every comma. Many authors hate this stage. I don’t hate it as much as tolerate it. Whilst it doesn’t have the heady rush of writing the first draft, when anything could happen and the whole plot is up for grabs, there is a quiet satisfaction in looking at all those words and knowing they came from my head and are mine to do what I please with.

In two weeks, I will have it read to me using the Read Aloud function on my laptop. A very useful editing tool, hearing it read aloud helps to pick out all those parts where the punctuation isn’t quite right, it lags or goes too fast. It also helps find those annoying typos such as where I’ve accidentally put if instead of in, lightening instead of lightning, where instead of were, or even we’re instead of were. Yes, it takes time – days in fact, but it’s a crucial part of the editing process and it’s quite enjoyable having your book read to you as a story.

Writing this book has reinforced that I need a new laptop. Mine is coming on for ten years old and sadly they don’t make things that last anymore. I had a major scare last week when it struggled for ten minutes to save the document and eventually lost the whole thing somewhere in its dementia-riddled circuit boards. Luckily, I had saved it onto my external hard drive first – something I never do normally – so I was able to pull it up from there, but it made me think.

The next morning, I saved every single book file – all fourteen of them – from my laptop onto the external hard drive and double-checked they were all safely saved before I started writing. The thought of losing the most up-to-date versions of them was enough to give me conniptions. It would turn out to be fortuitous that I did.

I began working directly from the hard drive. Calling up the file from there, I would set it to autosave there for the whole session then at the end, when I had finished and wanted to switch off my laptop for the evening, I would finally try and save it to the actual laptop.

It would think about it. The blue spinning doughnut of doom rotated endlessly. The screen would go white, and the file would disappear. I swear you could almost hear the cogs grinding away in its guts. I would wait impatiently. Word is failing to respond; the message would finally flash up. You can either wait for the programme to respond or restart.

Now, I know if you wait for the programme to respond the next Ice Age will rock up before it does, so I have no choice but to restart the programme. Word disappears as the laptop goes back to the landscape image on my home screen. More minutes ticked by before it reluctantly decides it better restart Word.

Heart in my mouth, I watch as it tells me it’s trying to retrieve my file. Eventually, it coughs it up and I open it to check it takes me to where I finished and that the version it has saved is the latest one. Thankfully, up until now it always has been, but at least I have saved it on the external hard drive first so I can overwrite it from there if necessary.

Last Tuesday I had a major scare. Before I even wrote a word of book fifteen, I had called up the first book in the series, Erinsmore, and then created a new file calling it by the title of the new book. Checking I now had two separate files – the original one which is book one, Erinsmore, and the new one which I would use as a template – I deleted the actual story from the new file so I could use it as a template. Some of the front pages will be the same such as the copyright, acknowledgements, and dedication pages, along with the About the Author and other books by the author pages at the back. By using Erinsmore as a template, it saves time having to recreate those pages and means all the mirror margins etc are set.

Anyway, it’s a system I’ve used before and so long as I check at the very beginning that there are now two separate files with different names on the system, it’s fine. So, Tuesday. I managed to write 1500 words before I had to leave to go to work. Trying to get the laptop to save my work and close down, I impatiently waited for it to go through the usual shenanigans of saving it to the external hard drive and then trying to persuade it to save it to the hard drive. This time it was reluctant and groaned and moaned for a good five minutes before the document vanished and then blinked back onto the screen. Unsure if it had saved or not, I hit autosave again and just before it flickered off the screen a little box appeared telling me it had successfully saved the file called Erinsmore, and then bam, my laptop crashed and closed.

Wait! What?

Saved file as Erinsmore? No. Why would it save book two which I’d called a completely different name, as Erinsmore? It was too late to turn the damn thing back on, wait the twenty minutes for the hamster to start running in the wheel inside and check what it had saved and where. I rushed to work, where I fretted for the whole day wondering if it had overwritten Erinsmore with the new book. Why? Why would it do that? Then I remembered that the illustrated title page of Erinsmore has a picture of a dragon holding a shield bearing the words Erinsmore by Julia Blake. I haven’t been able to change that to the title of the new book yet. That is something only my formatter can do. When you autosave a document it should save it to the name you have given that file, but sometimes, if it thinks it’s a new file, it will save it to the first word of the document, which in this case would be Erinsmore.

Oh shit, bugger, bum.

Calm down, I told myself, even if it has overwritten the file you still have an up-to-date version of Erinsmore on the external hard drive. Or have you? That voice inside that always wants to see the bad side of any occasion, piped up. Maybe you’ve accidentally overwritten that file as well. If you have then the whole of Erinsmore is gone. All 102,000 words of it.

Yeah, you can imagine my mental state when I drove home that evening after work. The first thing I did, before even taking my coat off, was switch on the laptop to check.

And had I? Yes. Unfortunately, it had overwritten book one with book two on my laptop. But, fortunately, Erinsmore was intact on the external hard drive, and, because I’d taken the time to save all the latest versions of all my books on there last week, it was the up-to-date version as well.

Phew, lucky escape and note to self to check the name of the file I’m saving. I’m also thinking I need to get some kind of off-site digital storage as well, the Cloud or DropBox – just in case the house burns down.

Once again, I have turned a blind eye to household chores to dedicate my time solely to writing. I mean, it’s only me here so it’s not like I’m having to clear up after anyone else or having the humiliation of anyone but me seeing my disgusting kitchen and grubby bathroom. Seriously, two out of five stars on TripAdvisor. The carpet is crunching underfoot again – where do all the bits come from? I always take my shoes off as soon as I walk in the door and nobody else has been in the house. I blame the cat.

The latest crisis in the ongoing shitshow that is the UK right now is a shortage of fresh fruit and veg. Sitting down Wednesday evening to do my online shop ready to collect Friday, I clicked on the lettuce I usually buy.

Nope. Out of stock.

Okay, what about that one?

Out of stock.

That one? That one? That one?

Nope. Nope. Nope. Lettuce? What is lettuce? The Tesco app screamed at me. We have never heard of this bizarre phenomenon.

Eventually, it grudgingly let me have a very small bag of ready-chopped iceberg lettuce.

I asked for a cucumber.

Expensive boxes of baby cucumbers only, the app sniffily informed me.


You’re having a f*****g laugh, aren’t you?

I gave up. I’m not that keen on tomatoes anyway and only like them in cheese sandwiches. I’d heard on the radio that supermarkets were struggling with supplies of fresh fruit and veg and that it was only going to get worse. Thinking about it, I went back into my list and added a variety of frozen fruit and veg. Just in case.

Eggs also seem a little problematic right now. When I went to collect my shopping my normal, own-brand free-range medium-sized half-dozen eggs had been replaced with deluxe organic eggs from chickens handfed on the finest organic corn who are tucked into bed by the farmer every night.

Are you happy with the sub? The assistant asked.

Hmm, you swapped my £1.80 half-dozen eggs, for £3.50 posh ones. Yeah. I think I’m good.

And that is us almost up to date. I treated myself to barbecue ribs for dinner last night, with posh chips, onion rings, and corn. As the afternoon wore on, I realised I had a pressing need for red wine. Now, I’ve not bought any this month. Trying to be thrifty, I’ve had the odd gin and tonic left over from Christmas instead, but last night I really, really wanted some wine with my dinner. In the end, I thought sod it. It’s the end of the month, I get paid in a few days, I’ve been thrifty all month, and anyway, I JUST WROTE A 102,000 WORD BOOK IN 23 DAYS! I DESERVE A BLOODY BOTTLE OF WINE!

Too right.

So, I pulled on my coat and boots and walked across the car park to Waitrose. It was perishing out there. Squatting hermit-like in my house for two days, I hadn’t noticed the temperatures plummeting, so I shivered in the wind gusting into my face directly from Siberia.

I was very good at Waitrose. I went straight to the wine aisle ignoring everything else so I wouldn’t be tempted. That’s the problem with that shop. The food is so nice it’s easy to be led astray. I always say Waitrose is the one shop you can go into just needing milk and come out having spent £35 and it all fits in one bag – and you forgot the milk. No – not looking, not looking, work with me here, not looking – I marched to the wine aisle and found a bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot reduced from £7.99 to £5.99. Grabbed it and dashed to the ten items or less checkout – ooh look, reduced to clear French pastries, No! Not looking, remember?

I shivered my way home and had two (maybe three) glasses of wine that evening and toasted my achievement.

And now it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m back to work tomorrow for a six-hour shift during which I have to sell almost £7000 worth of stuff to be in with a chance of hitting my target for the month. I think I have two hopes, and one’s Bob, and he’s dead. Ho hum. Sometimes you’re up and then you’re down. I have Monday off though, and that day is earmarked for mucking out this yucky house and beta reading a novel for a fellow author. I enjoyed her last book so I’m looking forward to that.

Anyway, I thought this would be a very short chat because I honestly had nothing to tell you, but, as someone once said to me, not only can I talk all four legs off a donkey, I can persuade it to go for a walk afterwards. Not sure if that was a compliment or not.

Take care, everyone, and I’ll see you in two weeks.

Julia Blake

DIY Writing Retreat!

Good Morning. I hope you’re all well. It’s been an odd but mostly good couple of weeks since we last spoke. Last time, I was off to work on Sunday for a short shift, hoping to sell £700 to make it through my target for the month. Well, I’m happy to report that I managed it with quite a bit to spare, so that’s good. Driving home Sunday afternoon my heart was doing a little happy dance inside my chest because it was the beginning of my seven days off.

I fixed dinner, along with a gin and tonic to celebrate. I have barely any food in the house but have plenty of gin left over from Christmas. I sat there eating my dinner and sipping my gin and thinking about the week ahead. I planned to completely eat down the freezer and then defrost and clean it. I wanted to shampoo the lounge carpet and my three rugs. The house needed a good cleaning. I still had Dad’s stepladder so why didn’t I use some of the leftover white paint and give the hall ceiling a couple of coats? I had some varnish left so I could varnish at least one door, and maybe I could…

And then a voice inside me said STOP.

What are all these self-imposed tasks you are filing your precious time off with? Housework will always be there, so is it necessary to spring clean the whole house now? Painting ceilings? Varnishing doors? Why? They can wait. As can shampooing the carpets. Okay, as you’ve almost eaten all the food in the freezer it makes sense to defrost it before filling it back up again, but everything else can WAIT.

It was an epiphany moment. I am bad at letting myself do what I want to do when I feel there are other tasks I should be doing first. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s been ingrained in me that there is always something that needs doing and should take priority over everything else. But should it? Should it really? Maybe because there will always be something else that needs doing, I should learn to put my needs before them occasionally. Otherwise, I will live my life in a perpetual round of chores and never get anything important done.

Sod it, I thought, I will pretend for a week that I am away at a writing retreat. I’m constantly seeing posts by other authors about the writing retreats they go on. They pack a little bag, take their laptop, and go to a place far away from normal responsibilities and duties and devote themselves to writing. I couldn’t afford to go away anywhere but I did have seven days off work. Why not devote that time to writing as if I were away? Other than basic chores such as feeding myself, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and keeping abreast of laundry, I would do nothing else but the three Rs. Resting, Reading, and wRiting.

It sounded awesome and I went to bed very excited Sunday evening.

With no need to be up early either for work, an appointment, or decorating chores, I was surprised to sleep until almost nine and got up feeling great. Quick breakfast, and then I sat down at the keyboard to see what would happen. I’d written 5500 words of book two of the Erinsmore Chronicles way back at the beginning of the summer. Life then got in the way and I’d written nothing until mid-January when I went back to the project hoping I could pick up where I’d left off. In the two weeks since I’d got down almost 20,000 words so had made a solid start. With a whole free week ahead of me I was hoping for great things.

I turned a blind eye to everything. The dust settled on surfaces. The carpet got bittier and bittier to the point where it crunched when I walked on it. My kitchen got so disgusting that if Health and Hygiene had paid a visit they would have shut me down. I spoke to no one other than a quick video chat with Franki and a phone call with my mother. I left the house twice to go shopping. I didn’t wear make-up the whole time I was off work, although I did get washed and dressed every day. I’m not one of those authors who can write in their PJs. I think it’s because I wouldn’t then be in the mindset to work if you know what I mean.

The days slipped by in a blur. Immersed in the fantasy world of Erinsmore, my fingers flew as ideas, scenes, plot devices, and twists flooded my mind. As a complete pantser I neither plot nor plan my books beforehand. I simply sit at my keyboard, disengage all conscious thought, and let the words flood out.

I ate weird things, but I did eat. On Saturday all that was left in the freezer was half a bag of veggie mince and a little bit of frozen veg. I took the mince out and put the veg in a small cool bag with freezer blocks to keep them frozen. Then I defrosted the freezer using my wallpaper stripper. In the past, I had used a friend’s stripper, but then as she was no longer around I had to use my hairdryer the last couple of times which is dangerous. All that water near an electrical device – not a good plan. But I had a stripper of my own now so I filled it up with water, put the plastic paddle on the middle shelf, put a bowl in the bottom, packed towels underneath, and closed the door as far as it would go, and left it to do its own thing.

Less than fifteen minutes later the freezer was completely defrosted. It’s a brilliantly simple plan using a wallpaper stripper. It’s a constant source of steam, it’s safer because there are no electrical components inside the freezer to get wet, and it’s quick. Once it had finished, I wiped out the freezer and switched it back on, put the frozen veg back in, and dried and put away the wallpaper stripper.

For dinner Saturday evening, I fried up the last two onions I had with the last two cloves of garlic. I fried off the veggie mince and added seasoning, barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and chilli flakes. Then a squeeze of tomato puree and the last tin of baked beans and tomatoes from the cupboard, along with half a pint of chicken stock and about a quarter of a bag of pasta. Stirred it all up, brought it to a boil, then left it to simmer for forty minutes stirring occasionally and voila, Boston beef and bean hotpot – sort of. There was enough for my dinner plus three more portions for the freezer.

Sunday I was a bit down. It was my last day off and I didn’t want to go back to work. I had enjoyed my time off so much and wasn’t ready to leave Erinsmore yet. Thinking I had better check what time my shift started the next day and whilst I was at it, write up my shifts for the month. I clocked into the rota app and pulled up my shifts. Because my holiday had started before the end of the month, I hadn’t seen the rota yet. I looked at my shifts. Blinked. Checked I had the right month. Blinked again. Checked the date again. Yep, I had read it right. I was back at work on Wednesday, not Monday as I’d assumed. I did a little happy dance. A bonus extra two days of holiday. How amazing was that?

It’s like when the clocks go back an hour but sometimes you forget until well into the next day and then it’s – ooh, a bonus hour! Well, this was a bonus of forty-eight hours! I went to Tesco to buy some food with a spring in my step and a smile that wouldn’t leave my face.

Oh, but it was great to have nice food again. I tried not to go silly and in all spent £75 which isn’t bad when you think my freezer was empty and my cupboards were pretty bare as well.

Monday and Tuesday, I wrote furiously and managed to clean the house enough so I could go back to work with a clear conscience. Tuesday evening, I sat down and added up the word counts.

Monday: 4110

Tuesday: 4010

Wednesday: 4476

Thursday: 7155

Friday: 4332

Saturday: 4374

Sunday: 4604

Monday: 4884

Tuesday: 4044

In all, I wrote a massive total of 41,170 words. An average of 4575 words per day. To say I’m happy with that is an understatement. With the book now standing at 65,370 words that’s a good solid chunk down and I estimate I’m over halfway through. Of course, the writing rate will slow now I’m back to work but the momentum is there. With so much of the story written ideas are flowing and I know I should finish it in February.

Wednesday I went back to work. What can I say? It is what it is. It didn’t help that it was a dead day, and I didn’t achieve a single sale.

Thursday was even worse. No sales at all. The only bright part of the day was when a customer came in with three little Pomeranian puppies. Now, if my boss had been in he wouldn’t have let them in the shop. He’s not keen on dogs and is always afraid they will get on the mattresses or mess on the floor. I’m of the opinion most dogs are better behaved than most of the kids we have come in. Honestly, a lot of children nowadays don’t need a mum they need a keeper with a gun. The colleague I was on with is also a huge dog lover and we were bored, so we greeted these puppies with welcoming arms. Literally.

I think every place of work should have regular puppy breaks when puppies come in and you get to cuddle them. It would do wonders for morale. These little floof balls were unbelievably cute and sweet and behaved perfectly. I didn’t get the sale that day, but I think they will be back – hopefully on a day the boss isn’t in.

It’s not good news that I went two days with no sales. I have an unfairly large target this week and only a short, six-hour shift tomorrow to try and achieve it all. Hey ho, that’s the way life goes.

Anyway, a little bit of news about Franki. She phoned me last weekend very excited because she’d been nominated for an award from Student Pride for overcoming adversity and helping young people deal with gender identity and for providing a nurturing and inclusive environment at her university. We assumed it was because of her work as Chair of the LGBQT+ Society.

The university was very excited about this, and plans were made to somehow get Franki to London this weekend for the award ceremony. There were three or four nominees for each category, so she didn’t expect to win anything, but just being nominated is a tremendous honour and gives serious CV bragging rights.

Despite it being so last minute, Franki and her partner got to London for the ceremony last night. Sadly, she didn’t win but they had a fabulous time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Finally, some news about my health. As you know, I went for some bloodwork back at the beginning of January and have been waiting all this time to get an appointment with the doctor to discuss the results. The appointment was early yesterday with the rather improbably named Dr Silk who sounds like a character from a romance novel.

Dr Silk narrowed his eyes over the top of the surgical mask and Nurse Candy felt her heart race under her starched uniform…

It was a mix of very good news, some surprising news, and some slightly alarming news. Firstly, I do not have diabetes, which is a huge relief as I suspected I might have given my family history. I am no longer anaemic which is excellent news as it means my body is now extracting enough iron from my food. My calcium levels are all as they should be, as are folic acid, B12, and vitamin D. I did find that last one surprising as I hardly ever go outside so it would not have been a shock to be told my vitamin D levels were low. Liver function is fine. Bone density is fine. I am definitely peri menopausal – no surprise there. All is good, except, there is an issue with my thyroid gland.

I didn’t understand everything he told me, but it appears my thyroid is producing too much of something. It’s not drastic, just not right. I’ve been given a month’s worth of medication to take to see how it affects me. Hopefully, it will sort out the bad sleep patterns I have, boost my energy levels, and maybe even cure my chronically aching hip and knee joints. If it doesn’t, then we may have to explore HRT options. I also have to supply a urine sample.

They gave me a teeny tiny pot. Hmmm. Tricky.

Don’t get old. It sucks.

And now it’s Saturday again. As I didn’t have to go to work today or have a doctor’s appointment to be up for, I was hoping to let my body sleep naturally and wake up feeling rested and restored – as I did every day over my holiday. Nope. I was ripped out of sleep at 7am by my alarm shrieking its head off. Apparently, I forgot to turn it off yesterday, although I was convinced I had.


Never mind. I’m up, dressed, and had tea and breakfast. I’ve written my blog and it’s only just gone ten, so that means the rest of the day is free for writing so maybe it’s for the best that I got up earlier than planned.

Hope you’re all well and that life is treating you kindly. Things seem on an even keel here, so I hope this blog hasn’t been too boring. See you in two weeks.

Julia Blake

Laundry: The gift that keeps on giving

It’s still January, but at least yesterday was payday. Trust me, it didn’t come a moment too soon and at least it was a reasonable amount. Bizarrely, because of the way they figure out overtime and commission, my pay at the end of February will be the big one, because that’s when I get paid for my overtime and receive most of the commission for all my sales during peak. I’m back to work tomorrow, Sunday, for six hours, and must sell at least £700 to hit my monthly target. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all depends on how busy we are and who walks through the doors. I’d like to manage to reach my target. Although I have sold an incredible amount this month which, of course, I’ll be paid for, it would be satisfying to hit the ridiculously high target they set. Course, that means next year they’ll set me an even higher one, but ho hum, I’ll worry about that next year. Who knows what will have happened and where I’ll be by then? If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that life can turn on a tuppence.

So, what have I been up to since we last chatted? Answer, not a lot, so this will probably be a shorter blog. Not only do I not have a lot to tell you but I’m desperate to get back to my work in progress. Yep, that’s one thing to report. I’m writing again and it’s bloody marvellous.

Writing is one of those things that it’s not until I go back to it I realise how much I love it and how much I’ve missed it. I’m currently writing book two of the Erinsmore Chronicles and managed to get a measly 5000 words down last June. Then life proceeded to kick my butt and continued to do so until last week, so I never seemed to have the time, energy, or inclination to get my backside down in that chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

It’s so wonderful to be back in my magical land of Erinsmore. All your favourite characters from book one are here – older and a little wiser maybe – plus some exciting new ones. As the dragons came back at the end of book one, more of Erinsmore can be explored from their backs so there are lots of descriptions of the characters flying about the land. There are going to be mermaids, pirates, and seers, oh my, and even … oops, nearly gave away a massive spoiler, but trust me, it’s going to be epic. If you haven’t read book one yet, then the purchase link is on the books page so why not click and buy so you’re ready to continue the adventure in the summer when hopefully book two is going to be released?

Now then, how did the visit by Franki and her three friends go? Very well, is the answer. I was at work on Sunday the 15th when they arrived, so came home to find a house showing signs of their arrival, but as they’d gone out for an early dinner I didn’t meet them until they got home. Everyone seemed happy with the sleeping arrangements, so that was all right, and they had a reasonably early night as they were tired from the early start and the long drive.

Monday they were up and off quite early. The original plan was to go to Linton Zoo in the morning then Franki and I would visit her grandma in the hospital in the afternoon. Dinner was whatever Franki was planning to cook, and I was also invited, which was nice.

Linton Zoo is tiny, more of an animal park, so I knew they wouldn’t be there long and would get back with plenty of time for Franki and me to walk to the hospital – parking is an expensive nightmare – and even call on her grandfather on the way back, then come home via the shop to pick up anything else she might need.

But, as you all know, the best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere under the heading “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Going up to my room, Franki beckoned me into hers and explained in an excited whisper that as one of her friends loved aquariums they weren’t going to Linton Zoo but were really going to the Sealife Centre in Southend. Southend?! That’s blinking miles away down on the south coast. What about our plans to visit the hospital in the afternoon? And Grandad? And go shopping. Don’t worry, she airily dismissed my concerns, we’ll be back in time.

Reader, you know exactly what I’m going to say, don’t you? They left, and I settled down in the quiet house, turned on my laptop, and dived back into Erinsmore. By two, the time they should have been back, I dropped Franki a text. Still here, came the reply, don’t worry, leaving soon. Hmm, it’s quite a long drive back from Southend, at least two hours. Even leaving straight away they still wouldn’t be back until gone four.

There was nothing I could do though but watch the time tick away until finally, Franki messaged that they would be back soon. By now it was gone five, far too late and dark to walk to the hospital, I would have to take the car and pray we found a space and had enough change on us to pay the parking fee if the car park didn’t accept cards. And forget visiting Grandad on the way back, that would have to wait.

Franki then sent explicit instructions on things I needed to get out ready for dinner as the revised plan was her friends would prep it and warm the oven whilst we were at the hospital, then pop the pasta bake in when we let them know we were on our way back. Hmm, I was hungry so had a quick slice of bread and butter to stave off starvation.

They arrived back. Franki jumped in the car, and we were off. It’s only a five-minute drive to the hospital and luckily we found a space I could squeeze into. We went to the ward my ex-sis had told me Grandma had been moved to. She wasn’t there. She’d been moved again. We trudged back downstairs and found her. She was awake this time, which was a relief. I had been afraid she might sleep through the whole visit and not see Franki. She was a little confused, to begin with, but was calm and friendly – we had been warned she might be aggressive and bad-tempered, but no, she was fine. She’d just had dinner but hadn’t eaten much of it. To be honest, it didn’t look very appealing, so she’d only eaten the dessert. I guess at that age, no one is going to tell you not to.

We chatted for a while, small talk, as she smiled and nodded and made random comments that did make me wonder how much she was understanding. Her eyelids drooped and it was clear she was about to fall asleep, so we said our farewells and dashed back to the car park. To my relief, the first twenty minutes of parking were free and as we’d only been nineteen we got away without having to pay anything.

Franki phoned her friends to let them know we were on our way and to enquire which flavour of ice cream they liked. Vanilla, chocolate, mint choc chip. Okay. We made a brief pitstop at Waitrose where Franki picked up the dessert and I grabbed a bottle of wine for myself.

Dinner was nice. They are a lovely, funny, and interesting group of girls. Afterwards, we all played Cards Against Humanity, which I won. I’m never sure if I should be proud I usually win this game, or ashamed of my filthy and inventive imagination.

I was working Tuesday and the girls were visiting Banham Zoo. Not so far as Southend – only 45 minutes – they set off in high spirits. I wouldn’t see them until late that evening as I was working until six and they had a table booked at a local pub for 5:30, so I wished them a great day and went to work.

I was working the same long shift the next day as well, and the girls planned an easier day staying close to home. Franki took them into town, it was market day, so they walked about, explored the Abbey Gardens and the ruins, and went to Moyses Hall which is a small local museum. Franki even managed to fit in a visit to Grandad in the afternoon, when her friends came home to chill out. Again, they cooked at home, and I was invited. It was nice not to have to cook for myself when I got home from work.

Thursday I had the day off and the girls went to Colchester Zoo which is over an hour’s drive away. It’s a large zoo and would take them all day to wander about, so they’d booked a table at a restaurant there to have dinner before coming home.

I had a nice treat planned myself as my old boss and his wife were taking me to lunch in a fancy Mediterranean restaurant in town. Our booking was for 12:30 and as the restaurant was only a ten-minute walk away, I set out at 12:15 to be on time. They were a little late getting there due to trouble parking, but I looked at the menu, gulped at the prices, and was very relieved I wasn’t paying.

It was a lovely lunch, and it was so great to see them again. I worked for Mr G for over thirty years, and he knows me probably better than anyone else. I hadn’t seen him since the previous Christmas and hadn’t seen his wife since I stopped working for him six years ago. I filled them in on everything that has happened to me, and they gave me all the news about their grown-up children and their exploits all around the world.

I walked home at three feeling full and a little bit squiffy, but at least I didn’t have to worry about cooking for myself or anyone else that evening. The girls came back, happy from a great day, and bundled down the basement to watch a film. They had an early start and a long drive the next day, so I think an early night was planned for everyone.

The next day, they were up and off by eight. It was lovely to have them for a visit, but also nice to have a quiet and empty house again. I set to stripping off all the beds, staggered by how much laundry their visit had created. In total, my washing machine and dryer went on six times that day. Six!! I shudder to think what that’s done to my energy bill. All the laundry and other housework chores meant I barely wrote at all on Friday only managing 800 words.

I was itching to get back to Erinsmore, so Saturday I was up early and plunged in, managing 3000 words before I stopped to cook dinner.

I worked the next three days and when I’m at work I can’t write. I know some authors can burn the midnight oil and hammer away at the manuscript in the wee small hours. I am not one of those authors. By the time I’ve done a full day at work, cooked, eaten, and cleared away dinner, I’m done for. All I want to do is relax on the sofa and binge-watch something on TV or read.

As I’d worked three days in a row, it meant I had my four days off together which is great – love it when the shift pattern works out like that. Wednesday, I wrote 4000 words. Thursday I wrote another 3500. Friday I only managed 1000. I had chores I couldn’t put off, plus had a book review to write, and it was the fortnightly zoom chat with my local author group at 1pm, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time to write and was pleased I even managed 1000 words.

In the evening, the whole street had been invited to a neighbour’s house for a little celebration of the Chinese New Year. She is Malaysian and a fabulous cook, so the food was gorgeous. Homemade prawn crackers, spring rolls, spicy meat rolls, prawn toast, soy sauce chicken, and a lovely cheeseboard. I stuffed my face and was so full when I got home that I was able to put the dinner I had planned back in the fridge for Saturday night. I’ve been trying to spend as little money as possible so I’ve been eating up all the weird and sometimes unidentifiable leftovers in the bottom of the freezer. It can result in some strange dinner combinations. Tonight, I have a tiny portion of homemade veggie lasagne left over from our Christmas party, cauliflower cheese left over from my grand cooking session last September and homemade chilli fries made with the single large potato in the fridge. It’s fine. It’s food.

I estimate I have about another three meals left in the freezer before I’m down to the rogue peas in the bottom and the remains of a bag of ice. Once it’s empty, I plan to defrost and clean it, then go shopping for food and start again.

And now it’s Saturday morning. It’s eleven and I haven’t had breakfast yet. I desperately wanted to dive straight into my work in progress but knew if I did, I would probably look up when it got dark and realise I still needed to write my blog. So, I’ve written it first, with the reward of big fat bacon and egg baps and a pot of coffee for brunch to spur me on. I can hear my tummy making little growly noises, but the blog is written, so yay, it worked.

A nice brunch, then I can settle down and write with a clear conscience knowing the blog is done and dinner is in the fridge. Bliss.

I’m back to work tomorrow for one day then have the following week off. I plan to write, but there’s the freezer to defrost, I need to do a big shop, the house needs a thorough clean, I want to shampoo the carpets, plus I have a book to beta read for one of the authors in my local group. Hmm. A week off sounds like a long time and surely I could practically write the whole book in that time but looking at all the other things on my to-do list I can see that week slipping by way too fast.

Oh well, I’ve started writing, that is the main thing, and if I’m clever with my time management I will surely find the odd hour here and there to write. I will tell you next time how it goes.

Have a great two weeks everyone.

Julia Blake

DIY, Blood, and a Horrible Mistake

Does anyone else feel time passes differently in January? It’s only two weeks since New Year’s Eve yet it feels like an aeon ago. I can barely remember Christmas it seems so much time has passed since then. It’s only two weeks until the end of the month but I know it will drag. Already my bank is texting me – are you aware you’ve dipped unto your overdraft? Yes, thank you for your concern, but I know, trust me, I know. Why is there so much month left at the end of the money?

So, what have I done in the century since we last chatted?

Work, I’ve done a lot of work. As I told you last time, the week between Christmas and New Year was mega busy and I worked five long shifts in a row before having the New Year weekend off. New Year’s Day was spent taking down the Christmas tree and, as I predicted, it was a long, hard, horrible job only relieved by the countdown of the top twenty Take That songs on Radio 2, followed by a Robbie Williams interview and concert. All together now, Let Me Entertaaaaiiinnn You. (So funny, my spellchecker wants to change Take That to Take Those).

Back to work last week, only four long shifts and a reduced target. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was still mahoosive compared to normal but almost half the previous week. Again, I managed it by the skin of my teeth.

On my day off on Friday, I had hospital appointments to have bloodwork and my boobs checked. The bloodwork had originally been done in February 2020 as part of my Over 50 Well Woman Check Up, but then the plague hit, and all non-essential doctor appointments were cancelled. I wondered what had happened to my blood test results and when I last saw the doctor before the summer when I went down with laryngitis, I asked about it.

HER: I can see the results.

ME:  Okay, good, so does that mean I don’t need to do it again?

HER: Weeelll, we’d like you to do it again.

ME:  Why?

HER: There are causes for concern.

ME:  Really? What causes?

HER: It’s best if you have fresh blood taken so we can see what’s going on.

ME:  Is it anything I should be worried about?

HER: These results are over two years old, and a lot could have happened in that time.

ME:  But should I worry?

HER: Just get the bloodwork done asap.

Huh, well, I guess if it was anything serious they would have contacted me, or I would be dead. They didn’t and I’m not, so I’m not going to worry until I know there’s something to worry about.

Last Friday afternoon I walked to the hospital. It’s only a twenty-minute walk and I didn’t want to try and park in the hospital car park or go to the hassle of arranging a second mortgage on my house to pay the fees. It was a gorgeous afternoon, blue skies and sunny, and as part of the walk is through the water meadows it was quite pleasant.

I left an hour earlier than necessary because my ex-mum-in-law had been taken back into hospital, so I planned to visit with her first. It was her birthday the following day, so I had a card and present for her. No flowers though, apparently it’s okay to take a patient food but you can no longer take them pretty flowers to cheer them up.

When I found her ward she was fast asleep and although J-, my ex-sister-in-law, tried to wake her up she remained stubbornly sleeping. I took my long-suffering ex-sis for a coffee in the cafeteria, and we had a chat before I left the present with her and went for my bloodwork appointment. I was over thirty minutes early so expected to have to wait. But no, I’d barely taken out my reading glasses and opened a book on my phone before I was called in.

The nurse didn’t hang about either. Coat off, tapped my arm looking for a vein, in went the needle and five pots of the red stuff were taken. I was very relieved she’d found a vein in my arm this time because previously they had to take it from my hand which was unbelievably painful. They want to see how my anaemia is progressing and are also checking if my B12, Vitamin D, and calcium levels are okay. Also, liver function and bone density. They are checking if I’ve somehow managed to do the menopause without realising it and they’re also testing for diabetes. It runs in my family, so it’s best to keep on top of it.

When I got to the breast department, I was running forty minutes ahead of schedule and expected to have to wait. But no, once again I was whisked straight in and the whole procedure was done and dusted in ten minutes.

I planned to either catch the 5:30 bus home or phone a friend who’d offered to pick me up, but as it was over an hour earlier than I expected to be done plus still light and dry, I decided to walk. I felt fine despite the vampires taking my blood and figured the exercise would do me good.

Oh, if anyone is wondering, I had a letter yesterday confirming that I’m all clear on the boob front, which is good to know. Still waiting for the bloodwork results.

Franki is coming home tomorrow for a brief, five-day visit. She’s coming with three friends, so I’ve been busy this week figuring out where everyone is going to sleep, tidying rooms, and making up beds. Two of her friends said they didn’t mind bunking down together so long as they have a duvet each so they’re sharing the king-size bed in the basement. Franki is in her old room in the four-foot bed. It made sense because the tortoise is in there and she is used to his nocturnal noises. The last friend is in the single bed in the office. So, four sets of bedding to launder once they’ve gone. Never ends, does it?

Anyway, they have a week’s break from university due to exam timetabling and have embarked on a mission to do as many British zoos as possible. We have three all within driving distance and during January the entry fee is low. Probably because it’s cold and half the animals will be in hibernation and the other half curled up in their homes keeping warm. Colchester is a big zoo, Banham almost as big and they will need a whole day for each. Linton is more of an animal park than a zoo and will only take them a few hours.

Their accommodation will be free, of course, and I think they’re planning on cooking here a couple of evenings and eating out the other two. I’m not too sure of their exact itinerary, it’s on a need-to-know basis, so no doubt I will find out as and when. All I know is I have been absolved of all catering requirements which suits me just fine as I’m at work for three of the days they’re here.

It will be nice to see her so soon after Christmas although it feels like an age since she was here – it’s that weird January time thing again – and it will probably be the last time I see her before the summer break.

She’s going to Wales in the February half-term and the trip to Cornwall is happening during the two-week Easter break. It’s okay. Time goes by so fast that I’ve no doubt I will blink, and it will be summer. Besides, what with texting, WhatsApp, video chats etc, it’s not like it was even just a few years ago when your offspring went away to university, and you had to be content with an awkward duty phone call once a week.

In the two weeks since Christmas, I’ve been decorating again. I know, I know, I think I have a problem. My name is Julia and I’m a DIY addict. You may remember before Christmas I managed to get one-half of Franki’s old room decorated. The room is small and full of furniture, so it wasn’t possible to completely clear the room and do it all in one go. Instead, I had to push everything over to the right-hand side and paint the left-hand side wall. I was also able to sand down the bedside cabinet and the chest of drawers and repaint them. I then ran out of time, so it had to stay that way during the festive season.

Anyway, this time I pushed everything over to the left-hand side so I could do the right-hand side. Well, I tried to push all the furniture. Franki’s large dressing table fell apart when I moved it. It’s only four years old and it wasn’t even that cheap, but it’s a flat pack which didn’t go together too well. We’ve had problems with the drawers and one side was wonky. I pulled it out and two of the drawers fell apart, the side cracked, and the back support creaked alarmingly.

I looked at it. Thought about it. Then left a voice message for Franki asking how attached to it she was because I honestly didn’t think it could be saved. By the time she messaged back to say she didn’t care about it, and I could get rid of it, I was halfway through dismantling it. Taking it to the recycling centre last Friday morning I asked which dumpster I should put it in – it’s MDF so I wasn’t sure if that counted as wood or not.

Chuck it all in the wood one, I was told, even the mirror, it’ll be fine.

Duly I lugged all the bits out of the car and made several trips to what I thought was the wood dumpster and threw it all in. It wasn’t until I was about to throw in the last piece that I realised I had accidentally thrown it all in the plasterboard dumpster, not the wood one. Oopsie. Quickly, I threw the last bit in the correct dumpster and drove away. It’s all on the top so I’m sure they’ll notice and sort it out and I can’t be the only idiot who’s done that.

I started painting. The colour on the walls I was painting over was a rather aggressive teal painted over a bright Barbie pink painted over a flowery wallpaper. Ideally, the whole lot should have been taken off, the walls primed and then painted afresh. But I didn’t have the time or the patience to do that. When I decide to replace the carpet in a few years I’ll take off the lot and do it right, as well as varnish the woodwork and paint the ceiling. For now, this will do.

There are three chunky shelves in the fireplace alcove which were chipped with grubby white paint with jewel hearts stuck on the edges. I prised off the jewels, sanded and primed the shelves ready to refresh with a coat of dark grey furniture paint that I still had quite a lot of.

Honestly, that tub of paint has been like the leprechaun’s never-ending bottle of beer. It did all the woodwork in the basement and the bathroom. The front door and radiator cover. The knobs and tops of the Welsh dresser and basket unit in the dining room, and the tops and knobs of the chest of drawers and bedside cabinet in Franki’s old room.

It’s now painted three large shelves, two sets of pegs to go on the door, and a free-standing mirror and there’s still plenty left!

I had half a tin of the pale grey emulsion I’d used on the left-hand wall, although I had finished that off with a coat of the slightly darker grey from the basement as I felt the paler colour hadn’t quite covered all the teal. Anyway, I painted the radiator with three coats of darker grey and a couple of coats of clear lacquer. I had enough of the paler grey to do two and a half coats on the right-hand wall, so finished up what was left of the darker grey behind the shelves.

I let it dry and next day examined it closely. It looked blotchy as if the paint hadn’t gone on properly. There was nothing for it, I needed to do another coat. Scrutinising the wall I’d painted before Christmas in the harsh light of day, I decided that could do with another coat as well. I still had half a tin of the colour mineral stone which we had used on the staircase down into the basement and in the window. I decided to paint both walls with a last coat of that. Talk about 50 Shades of Grey.

Painted the right-hand wall. Put all the books back on the shelves. Moved all the furniture back over and started putting the final coat on the left-hand wall. Not even one-third into the job I realised I wasn’t going to have enough paint. Bugger. Surely I could make it stretch? Nope. I was down to the lumpy bits clinging to the sides of the pot. Maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe it wouldn’t notice.

I stopped and had lunch. Went back and had a look. A massive demarcation line stretched from ceiling to skirting board at the midpoint where I’d run out of paint. Double bugger. There was nothing for it, I’d have to go and buy more paint. I went to Wilko where the original pot of mineral stone had come from two years before when Franki and I painted the basement stairwell. Please let them still have it, I silently begged.

They did, phew, but only in the big pots. Arse biscuits. With no other choice, I had to pay £15 for a big tub of paint knowing I needed barely a teaspoon of it. I finished the job.

I made up the bed ready for Franki to sleep in. As the large dressing table was now gone it left a big gap in the other alcove. I got the little desk from my room that had originally started in my room over a decade ago, then was Franki’s dressing table until I bought her the big one four years ago when it went back into my room. Realising most lodgers were requesting there be a desk in the basement, I decoupaged it a year ago and put it down there. Then it came back up to my room in the summer and now it’s gone back into Franki’s room. The mirror has stood on the tallboy in my room for thirty years. The fourth chair from my new dining set makes a nice little dressing table set that guests can use.

I’m pleased with the results. The room is small and with the four-foot bed moved to the centre of the room it makes it smaller, but it has a cottage vibe to it now and is very pretty, Perfect for guests or if Franki needs to use it as she does this weekend.

Washing out my big faithful brush that has been my constant companion since I began all my projects back in September, I was dismayed when the bristles started to fall out in the sink. I stood there, looking at the brush silently falling apart and knew just how it felt.

I’m almost out of things to tell you, except for something that happened last night that is awful but funny in a horrible grim way. As I told you, my ex-mum-in-law is in hospital in quite a bad way, and, well, to be honest, none of us is hopeful. Quite late in the evening, my phone buzzed, and a message popped up on WhatsApp.

Mum has suffered from heart failure and is at home with palliative care and I’ve moved in until the end.

I was sad but not surprised.

I’m so sorry, J- is there anything I can do to help?

Just a coffee or lunch or something at some point would be great.

Absolutely, if you ever need a refuge you know where I am.

I then took a deep breath and video called Franki. Gently, I told her what had happened. Trying to comfort her, we made plans that she would visit her grandmother whilst she was home next week. Hanging up, I looked at WhatsApp to see if my ex-sis had responded. She had, with a thank you. Looking at her message I noticed the tiny profile pic and a horrible certainty gripped my heart.

It wasn’t my ex-sis.

I clicked on the profile. Nope. Not J-. It was an old friend I hadn’t heard from in ages and certainly hadn’t expected to see on WhatsApp messaging me to let me know the news about HER mother.



I had just told my daughter her grandmother was dying.

She wasn’t.

Quickly, I called Franki back and explained the situation. She stared at me. Burst into hysterical laughter.

FRANKI: Do you mean to tell me I’ve been crying my eyes out for ten minutes because somebody else’s grandmother is dying?!

ME: Umm, yes.

FRANKI: I hate you. I really hate you.

ME: I hate me too.

There was more conversation in that vein – I’m sure you can imagine. But, oh my gosh, wasn’t that dreadful? I can’t believe I made such a mistake. But to be fair to me, it was late, and no names appeared on WhatsApp just phone numbers and, to be brutally honest, I was kind of expecting a message like that.

So, on that note, I need to go. It’s now almost three on Saturday. I still have the kitchen to clean before they arrive tomorrow. I didn’t think this was going to be such a long blog, but it’s over 3000 words.

Take care everyone and I look forward to chatting with you next time.

Julia Blake