I Don’t Have Time For This!

It’s going to be a short blog this week. Time is even more my enemy than normal, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get done everything that has to be done. Sometimes though, I really feel a bit like my old laptop. If I open too many tabs on it at once, it will freeze, I’ll get the spinning blue doughnut and there’s nothing else I can do but close everything down and start again. My life is a like this, I have so much to do that sometimes I freeze just thinking about it all and end up doing nothing!

On top of the normal duties like work and home, there is the stress of trying to prepare the basement room ready to reactivate my add for a new lodger. As you all know, my last lodger left some very unsightly brown stains all over the mattress and I put in a claim with the insurance company. I had taken out the service plan on the mattress when I purchased it. Well, they came out to inspect and ummed and ahhed quite considerably about it.

They felt there were simply too many stains and that clearly a mattress protector had not been used. Well, two protectors are provided with the room and there was one on there when the lodger moved in, but as to whether he used it all the time or not, I don’t know. When did these stains occur, they asked, and I had to be honest and confess that I didn’t know. They could have happened the night after he moved in and have been sitting there ever since. What caused the stains they asked. Again, I couldn’t answer because I don’t know.

The lodger denied that he had done it but then immediately offered to buy me a new mattress – not the action of an innocent person. It plainly was him, not only was the mattress practically brand new when he moved in, but of course I inspect the mattress carefully between each lodger and I’m the one who dresses the bed between each one, so I would have noticed massive brown stains all over it.

Personally, I think it’s cola. He was in the habit of eating lots of takeaways in his room – judging by the amount of packaging that came out of it, that was pretty much all he ate. So, I think he upended a carton of cola in bed, washed the sheet and mattress protector, and thought he’d get away with not mentioning it to me. Perhaps he thought I wouldn’t notice, or care that a pristine white mattress now looked like a painting by Jackson Pollock. I can get my nose right up to the stains, so they’re not anything radically unpleasant. Sweat stains yellow, so it’s not that either. Plus, the stains are on the side of the bed he freely admitted was the side he slept on and the stains are in the pattern of a body – you can plainly see the outline. I think what happened was he fell asleep in bed eating his dinner and dropped a carton of cola onto himself.

Anyway, the insurance company weren’t having any of it and have refused my claim. So, I’ve had to resort to Plan B. My own mattress is an old cheap one bought many years ago. It’s really thin and you can feel the springs sticking out of it. Even with the brown stains, the mattress in the lodger’s room is still a far superior one. So, once the insurance company said “no” I had a go at the stains myself with a fabric cleaner and most of them have come out. Then Miss F and I nearly killed ourselves getting that mattress up two flights of stairs and onto my bed, and propping my old mattress up against the wall on the landing. I have now slept on it for two nights and it’s a great deal more comfortable than my old mattress so I’m keeping it.

Meanwhile, I have ordered a new mattress from work and it’s being delivered next Friday. The lodger should think himself lucky that I get really good staff discount so instead of losing all his damages deposit buying a new one, he only lost half. When the new mattress is delivered, they will take away my old one.

So that’s sorted, but there’s still the room itself to turn around. I borrowed a big dehumidifier from a friend and every time the window isn’t open, that has been churning away drawing any moisture out of the room. After over a week of this all trace of damp has gone and the air is fresh again. We’ve made a start scrubbing out drawers, and yesterday I put another quick coat of cream paint all over the actual room – nothing like the smell of paint to make a room smell clean.

I also decided to paint the stairwell leading down to the basement. Now, this was last painted several years ago, and I can’t remember who did it. But I know it wasn’t me. Painting the room itself wasn’t a problem, the ceiling is reasonably low, and I can reach the top of the walls by standing on a small stool. However, the stairwell is a different matter. It goes up to quite a considerable height and I can’t use a stepladder because there’s nowhere to stand it, there not being enough room at the top of the stairs.

I can’t leave it any longer either. Up until now there hasn’t been a light in the stairwell, the lodger depending on the light in the actual room itself to see to go downstairs, and because the stairwell was obviously a little gloomy, it had been painted a bright shiny white to compensate. Well, I decided to have a light installed in the stairwell to make it more welcoming, so my brother who is an electrician came round and fitted a light at the top of the stairs.

Big mistake! With the stairwell now lit up like a football stadium, the bright shiny white paint burns out your retinas and illuminates the dodgy paintwork and grubby marks. It had to be painted, and a colour other than stark white. No problem, I thought, I still have that soft butter yellow paint left over from doing the kitchen, that will be warm and inviting. So, yesterday I painted the lower half of the walls in this yellow.

Another big mistake! The butter yellow which in the kitchen is soft and warm, in the stairwell has turned onto a dayglo, neon, high vis jacket yellow which lights up the stairwell alarmingly. I wasn’t sure about it at all! So, I went and bought some soft grey paint to maybe tone it down, and that’s when it struck me – how the heck am I going to reach the top parts of the stairwell?! I’m only little – 5’1” – so there’s only so far up I can paint, and like I said, nowhere to stand steps or a chair or anything.

So, this morning I am going back to the shop to buy a roller tray and a telescopic roller. I hate painting with a roller, I much prefer a brush. Yes, I know it takes slightly longer, but I don’t think rollers are much cop unless you’re painting vast amounts of flat, straight surfaces. In a small old house like mine, that is all curves and corners and awkward bits, you spend more time cutting in with a brush than you do actually painting anything. Also, roller painting makes such a mess. It tends to splatter everywhere, so that means I’ve got to mask and tape everything up. And using the roller method to paint means you use twice as much paint as you do with a brush.

But I have no other option. A telescopic roller is the only way I stand any hope of reaching the high bits, and that’s always supposing this grey looks okay. As to what to do with the bits I have already painted yellow – I’ve decided to do the grey bits first and then see what it looks like. It might be that I will then have to paint over the yellow bits with the grey, but as the yellow is so aggressive it could take several coats to cover it – and I’m running out of time. I’m back to work tomorrow for three days, so really there is only today to do it, and as it’s now 11:30am half the day is almost gone and I still haven’t even been to the shop to buy the roller, let alone covered everything up, let alone started painting, and…. agghhh… the blue doughnut is spinning!!

Time is always against me. I look at other people, and they seem to have the whole time-thing figured out. On my social media accounts, I see the pictures they post of them relaxing, cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other, and I am left stunned with admiration that they have time to sit down and do nothing! The only time I ever sit down is in the evening when I eat dinner and maybe watch an hour of TV with Miss F. The rest of the day is a constant race against time to get everything done. And as for having nothing to do! Please tell me what that feels like because I genuinely have no idea.

On top of my usual anxiety about lack of time, there is the feeling that I must get the basement finished and a new lodger installed as quickly as possible. The news in the UK isn’t good. The second wave of Corona is upon us and the infection rate is over 4000 cases per day again which is comparable to May’s rates when the country was in deep lockdown. And that’s just the people they’ve been able to test, because the testing system is shambolic. Nothing is accurate or up to date.

I have that feeling again. The same feeling, I had mid-March the week before we all went into lockdown. That sensation of waiting for the other shoe to drop, that something is going to happen soon, but no one is quite sure what. Medical experts are urging us to go back into a nationwide lockdown and do it right this time, but the government is resistant. The truth is the country simply cannot afford another lockdown. They cannot afford to pay us furlough again. And if people aren’t receiving wages or furlough, and presumably won’t be entitled to any kind of benefits or compensation, then it will be a hard, cold Winter for us all.

Most people, me included, do not have the savings to last more than a month without any kind of income. People will go into serious debt, they will be unable to pay their mortgages and rents, utilities, and insurances. They will be unable to buy food and other essential supplies. People will panic. Parents unable to buy food for their children will be desperate enough to do whatever it takes to get by. There could even be the case that people are forced to put their homes on the market, but if enough do that, then that could cause the housing market to crash, and so on.

It’s a scary scenario, and one that I desperately hope it won’t come to. Despite the rising infection rates, the death rates are still low – at the moment – and it still seems very geographically based – at the moment. But who knows what the colder weather will bring? When the flu and cold season is upon us, what impact will that have on the virus? Will it make people more susceptible to catching it? If you have a cold and corona and you’re sneezing more, then surely that increases the chances of spreading it?

Now do you understand why it’s important I get the basement room finished and advertise for a new lodger? Although, I never would have thought this time last year, that the next time I was letting the room again, one of the questions I would be asking during the interviews would be – “During a global pandemic, if we go into lockdown, what will it mean for you? Will you still be able to pay your rent?” Because the truth is, I cannot afford to have anyone live here rent free. And if the potential lodger does not have a good enough answer to that question, then it will be a case of – Thank you for coming. Next candidate please.

I’m also trying to beat the clock with my latest book. I have made a really good start, at present the word count is over 80,000 which is excellent. But I haven’t had time to write a single word this week, and I probably won’t have time to write next week either. And then we’ll be at the end of September with the book still unfinished.

I really want to publish this year, and to all you non authors out there it probably seems ridiculous that I’m panicking because there are still over three months left of this year. But I have less time that you would think. December is a no-no for trying to publish any book not entitled “How to Plan the Perfect Christmas” or “Christmas Cooking for the Family” or maybe “Frozen Hearts at Mistletoe Cottage”. I have learnt from experience that it is pointless trying to publish a fictional, non-Christmas themed novel anywhere between the 30th of November and the 1st of March.

During December people are all tied up with the holiday season and have neither the time nor money to bother with buying new books unless they are for gifts. Then during January, everyone is broke, and depressed and so many people are on book buying bans. February is dank, dark, and depressing, so don’t even bother thinking about publishing then. It’s not until Spring hits, the nights start pulling out, and people have had a couple of pay packets to get over Christmas, that there’s any point to publishing a novel.

So that takes the time I have left down to just a shade over two months. I haven’t even finished writing the book yet, and although I’m close, I will need at least two weeks of intensive writing to finish it. Okay, so say by some miracle I do manage to get the book finished by early October, then it ideally needs to sit for a week or so before I go back in and start making my own edits. These could take weeks of reading it over and over, picking apart every single line, going over it backwards and forwards until I am sick of the sight of it.

Then it has to go to my editor, and depending on her other commitments she could take weeks, maybe even a month to get it back to me, and then I have to go through all her suggested amendments with a fine toothcomb. Then it goes to my beta readers for them to go through and give me feedback. This could also take weeks, depending on how busy they are. I then have to go through all their suggested amendments.

On top of that, the novel has to be formatted into paperback and eBook versions, which takes time, especially in a book like this one that will have at least thirty chapter title page illustrations to insert, and illuminated capitals at the start of each chapter to be inset. Then there is the cover to sort out. And it all takes so much time. And the clock is ticking. And… there’s the blue spinning doughnut again!

That was the one good thing about lockdown. I had time. For the first time in forever, I wasn’t constantly chasing my own tail and juggling all the things that needed to be done. There was time to do them all, because if I didn’t finish a task one day, why then it didn’t matter, there was always the next day and the next. I have never felt so healthy and relaxed as I did in lockdown. I was sleeping longer, because there was no need to be up at 6am to try and cram everything in before going to work. I was still up by 8am, but those extra two hours sleep made me feel so much better. I wasn’t stressing about anything during the day, I was able to set my own pace and work to my physical limitations, instead of until I drop, which is my usual practice.

But ever since I went back to work my life has been lived at a hundred miles an hour again, and all the good that lockdown did me now counts for nothing. It only made me realise how much I want to retire, but unless anything drastically changes – like I suddenly start selling enough books to actually live on – this is how my life will be for the next twenty years!

But, as a wise person once said – suck it up, buttercup. So, I’m going to make a cup of coffee, then go to the shop and buy a roller tray and a telescopic roller, get Miss F to help me start covering and masking everything up, and then I will make a start on the painting. Oh, but I need to upload and schedule this first, oh and then I have to unload the dishwasher, sort out the laundry, and iron my uniform for tomorrow, and think about what we’re having for dinner tonight, and make my posts for Instagram ready for tomorrow… and, yep, there’s the blue spinning doughnut again.

Have a great week everyone and I look forward to chatting with you next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part three

As you will have realised, I didn’t write a blog last week – what with it being launch week for The Book of Eve, and because of all the problems I had with Amazon glitching out for the whole of the launch weekend so that no one in America could find my book – I simply ran out of time and energy. I apologise for this.

This week, I will try to complete my story of all the lodgers I have had over the years. We had reached March 2013, Creepy Liver Guy had thankfully moved out and I had reactivated the add for the room, hoping for more choice this time.

The add went live on the Saturday morning, by the afternoon there were at least twenty applicants, some of which looked possible contenders. I began to make appointments and things were looking good. A few days later, I received a request to come and view the room from a young Canadian teacher. He even sent me a photo with his application – a very smiley guy wearing a bobble hat. I liked him already.

He came to view the room a couple of days later and the moment I opened the front door, I knew he was the one. You get a feel for it, an instinct that you are going to be able to co-exist with this person just fine. I showed him the room. Now, being a basement room, the ceiling is not the highest and he was a very tall young man, so as he was walking around the top of his bobble hat was brushing against it.

We went into the kitchen to chat, and he asked me what I thought of a certain character in Dr Who, and that was it really. He did ask if we had Sky. Now, at the time we didn’t, but I had been thinking about getting it, and as he was explaining it was because he was a huge Game of Thrones fan, I decided that I would see about getting it as soon as possible.

A week later, Mr B moved in. I remember it was a shocking day weather-wise, snow was belting down and all the in and out tracked grimy slush all over the carpet – but it couldn’t be helped.

Right from the word go, I got on incredibly well with Mr B. An awkward and gangly young man, he was shy and diffident, but our shared love of sci-fi, fantasy, and documentaries soon made us fast friends.

He was a Maths and English teacher over here for two years because there was a real lack of work for teachers in Canada at the time. He was polite and sweet, liked tea, and baked muffins and cakes, knitted me a coffee pot warmer, and was just a nice person to live with.

Most evenings he would watch TV with us. He introduced me to Game of Thrones, which I loved. I introduced him to the wonderful historian Lucy Worsley and we avidly watched everything she did on BBC4. We also enjoyed watching Only Connect – the hardest quiz on British TV – and would feel ridiculously smug if we managed to get a single question right.

And then of course, there was Dr Who. At the time we were passionate about that show in my house. We never missed an episode, and we watched old episodes whenever we could find them. In 2013, the show was at the peak of its popularity and as it was its fiftieth anniversary, the BBC pushed the boat out with many anniversary features, including a special film that was going to be shown at the cinema – so of course, we all went.

As Christmas approached, I discovered Mr B had never been to a Pantomime. In fact, had never even heard of that staunch British festive tradition. We bought tickets for the three of us to go and beforehand I tried to prepare him for what was in store.

ME:  Right, it’s a fun show for all the family usually based on a traditional fairy tale or story. This year it’s Aladdin, but it could be Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington, Mother Goose, anything like that.

HIM: Okay, I see.

ME:  Hold on, I’m easing you in gently here. There are lots of songs and lots of dancing. There may be explosions on stage, and sweets – or possibly slime – will be randomly hurled at the audience.

HIM: Right.

ME:  There will be a character who talks to the audience, and will usually ask them to warn him every time the monster/bear/beast of some kind comes onto the stage by shouting IT’S BEHIND YOU as loudly as they can. He will then creep slowly round and the monster will creep around him at the same time – thus necessitating frequent screaming of IT’S BEHIND YOU.

HIM: I see.

ME:  You probably don’t, but you will.

HIM: ??

ME:  There will be an over the top villain, and every time they appear on the stage, the audience has to boo and hiss as loudly as possible.

HIM: Boo and hiss?! At the actor?!

ME:  Trust me, he’ll be very upset if you don’t.

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

ME:  Halfway through the show, they will stop and call out the names of children in the audience who have birthdays. More sweets will be thrown, and happy birthday will be sung.

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

ME:  They usually get a pair of kids up on stage at some point to lead the audience in a sing off against each other – this is because some big set change is happening behind the curtain.

HIM: A sing off?

ME:  That’s when one half of the audience have to sing a song as loudly as possible. Then the other half have to sing, and they judge who sang the loudest.

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

ME:  YES! (eye him beadily) EVERYONE must sing. It is the law!

HIM: (Gulps) Okay. Does the side that sings the loudest win anything?

ME:  Glory – and maybe more sweets thrown at them, or possibly slime. Although the kids on stage get given gift bags.

HIM: Okay.

ME:  Oh, and the principal boy – so in this case Aladdin, will be played by a woman.

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

ME:  And there will always be an elderly female character – in Aladdin it will be Widow Twanky, his mother – but it could be Snow’s White’s elderly nurse, the cook in Dick Whittington, someone like that, in Cinderella there are two such characters, the Ugly Sisters. Anyway, this is a comedic character played by a man to comic effect. He will wear ridiculous clothes, including huge comedy breasts, garish make-up, big funny bloomers that will be flashed to the audience at every opportunity, and will make numerous saucy and inuendo laden jokes and comments. This is the Pantomime Dame and they are crucial to the show.

HIM: But why…?

ME:  Don’t ask. It’s traditional. So, that’s pantomime.

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

HIM: And this is what passes for entertainment in this country?

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

And he did! Right from the clash of the first cymbal as the curtains drew back and dozens of brightly dressed characters pranced onto the stage and tried to convince us that we were in old Peking, right through to the triumphant wedding scene finale where Aladdin marries his Princess Jasmin, he loved every single funny moment of it.

He laughed, he clapped, he caught sweets, he joined in with the singing and produced a very impressive baritone voice from somewhere within his skinny frame, he yelled IT’S BEHIND YOU with the rest of us, and booed and hissed every time the evil wizard slithered on stage. It was a brilliant evening.

Any British readers will probably now be experiencing a moment of nostalgia for all the pantomimes they were taken to in the past. Traditionally held only at Christmas, I always used to take Miss F at the beginning of December. It kicked off the festive season nicely, and got me in the right mindset that yes, Christmas was coming. Sadly, with the current situation, pantomimes will not be happening this year.

To all my non-UK readers, if ever you are in Britain and you get the chance to go to a pantomime, go! The bigger productions in the larger cities are very swish and are usually packed with stars from TV. But the shows that are put on in the smaller towns and even villages are not without their charm. In fact, I’ve always found that in a smaller theatre it’s more intimate. The characters come down from the stage and mingle and interact with the audience much more than in a massive theatre seating thousands. Plus, in a smaller theatre, you’re more likely to catch some of those sweets I told you about!

Mr B lived with us for about eighteen months, and I grew very fond of him. In fact, we are still in touch on social media, sometimes chat through messenger, and the odd parcel and card occasionally wings its way over the Atlantic at Christmas time.

One very funny thing that happened during his stay though, involved Miss F. She was ten when he moved in and was at that age of no filter and blurting out whatever was in her head. Anyway, one evening we were sitting there watching TV together with Mr B, when out of nowhere, Miss F turns to me and asks.

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

I nearly spat out my drink. I felt my eyes go huge as I stared at my innocent child.

ME:       Umm, where did you hear that word, darling?

MISS F: Oh, some of the boys at school were shouting it at each other in the playground. I’ve never heard of it before, so I wondered what it meant.

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

Out of the corner of my eye I could just see Mr B’s knees, they were shaking and I’m sure I heard a snort of barely suppressed laughter coming from his corner. Carefully picking my words, I said.

ME:       I’ll explain it to you later, when you go up to bed.

So, we finished watching the programme and then I took her upstairs, tucked her up in bed, sat down and told her exactly what that word meant. She was silent for a while thinking about it, then she went bright red all over.

MISS F: I said that word in front of Mr B.

ME:      Yes, you did. (I cheerfully agreed) Maybe in future, instead of blurting things out in front of other people, you’ll ask me when we’re alone.

And from that day on, she always did!

We were very sad when Mr B left, but he was returning to Canada and that is the way of lodgers – just when you manage to housebreak one, they leave, and you have to start all over again. So, up went the add again, and this time we went with a sweet young girl called Miss E.

She was a wedding dress seamstress at a studio in town, she was polite and quiet and loved Disney. She went home to her parents every Friday and didn’t come back until Sunday evening. She was perfect. She stayed until mid-July and then suddenly, out of the blue, announced she was leaving. Her best friend was moving to the area and had asked her to share a flat with her, so that was it, she was off.

It did leave me in a bit of a quandary though. Because I had assumed she was staying for at least a year – as she had told me she was on many occasions – I had actually arranged for Miss F and I to go away on a very rare holiday mid-August believing that Miss E would be still living with us. She was a very sensible and trustworthy person and I had no qualms about leaving her in charge of the house and the cat whilst we were gone.

That was less than a month away – it didn’t seem long enough to find a new lodger and establish that same level of trust to go away and leave them for a week alone in our house. But there was nothing I could do about it, other than activate the add again and hope.

We ran it for a week. We had a few viewings. I didn’t click with any of them. We ran it for another week. This second crop of potential lodgers were even worse. I neither liked nor felt I could trust any of them.

In despair on the third Saturday, I activated the add again. Less than thirty minutes later, I had a reply. A very cheery and personable sounding lady sent me a message.

Love the sound of the room. Please can I come and have a look?

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

Quickly, I dashed about and tidied up. The room had been viewing ready for two weeks now, so it was fine. My phone rang, she was walking up the road, which house were we? So, I went outside and saw a shock of bright red hair walking up the street pushing a bike and beaming from ear to ear. She waved vigorously when she saw me, as if she’d known me all my life, and the grin grew broader.

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

Slightly older than me, this was no scatterbrain teenager who would be incapable of following basic security and safety protocols whilst in charge of the house, and as we chatted, I knew I’d found the right one. Two days later she moved in. A week later we went on holiday.

She lived with us for nine months, during which time I was introduced to the weird and wonderful world of totally organic, free range, vegan cooking. Some of it looked great, some, not so great. A haphazard and messy cook, she would take over the kitchen with abandon and create great piles of washing up. She never did learn how to stack a dishwasher properly, and I was always going to unload it only to find upturned bowls floating with some sort of veggie broth.

Then there was the time she dropped a large bag of turmeric in the kitchen and for weeks we were finding bright yellow stains in unexpected places.

But, on the whole, she was one of our more successful lodgers and I was genuinely sorry when she met someone and within a couple of months was moving in with him. I really did wish her well, and wanted her to be happy, but there was something about this man that didn’t sit right with me. Maybe it was something about the eyes, maybe it was the way he was with her, maybe it was some sort of instinct, who knows.

So, Miss S moved out and we were once again looking for a lodger. The add was activated, and an American in his thirties moved in. He had separated from his wife and needed a safe and peaceful space to gather his thoughts and sort out his life. I felt sorry for him, and he seemed okay, but within three days of moving in I knew I had made a dreadful mistake.

Used to being the alpha male in his own home, he simply couldn’t adjust to the fact that living in shared accommodation with only one bathroom between three of us meant that strict morning bathroom slots had to be established and adhered to. He would go into the bathroom whenever he damn well pleased and take as long as he wanted, with no thought to us waiting outside. He made us late for school and work three times, before I sat him down and tried to drum it into his head that he had to stick to the slot he’d requested, that he couldn’t take our slots and hog the bathroom for almost an hour every morning!

He was incredibly untidy in the bathroom and the kitchen. Bristles and toothpaste all around the sink for me to clean up. All his washing up simply left on the draining board for me to put in the dishwasher because he “hadn’t had time before he went to work”! Well, guess what buddy, neither do I!

He was incapable of closing cupboards and drawers. Now, I only have a small kitchen, so if someone has left all the cupboards and drawers wide open it’s not only untidy to look at, but it reduces space in the kitchen drastically. I would walk into the kitchen after he’d been there and start kicking them shut. It was intensely annoying.

He would stink out the bathroom every day, and frequently left nasties in the toilet which I had to take a stick to, in order to try and get rid of it! Heaven only knows what he was eating to produce things of that size and density!

It just wasn’t working. I like to think I can get on with most people, and years of taking in lodgers has taught me to tolerate most behaviour. But he and I clashed personality wise right from the get-go.

I remember when I was trying again to get it through his selfish skull that he simply couldn’t steal my bathroom slot in the morning, because it was making Miss F late for school and me late for work. He looked at me, and said…

“If you would only open your heart to Jesus and let him live in there. You would be a much calmer and happier person. You seem such a stressed and even violent person to me.”

Seriously, if I’d had a gun, I would have shot him!

Eventually, things got so bad he left me note asking that I conduct any future contact with him as written correspondence. So, I wrote him a letter politely giving him one month to get the hell out of my house. He was gone by the end of the week.

So, the add was activated again. Things weren’t so desperate this time. My long-term boss had retired and made me redundant, so I’d received a small redundancy pay-out. Not a massive amount, but enough so we could take our time finding a lodger and be choosey this time.

But life has a funny way of turning. Within two days we had a lovely young teacher come to view the room. Mr V was personable, funny, and clicked with both Miss F and I straight away. Just one problem. It was April when he came to view the room, but he wouldn’t need it until the middle of August just before the new school year began.

Miss F and I discussed it. We really liked him, so we decided that we’d rather wait for him. I could just about afford to go rent free for a few months. It would be tight, but worth it to get just the right lodger. So, it was arranged. Mr V signed a contract and paid a deposit to secure the room that he would forfeit if he reneged on the deal.

A week went by, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the room lying empty, not producing any rent for us. Then I wondered if a short term let would be possible. I went onto the website and searched. Yes, short term lets were not only possible, but apparently very desirable for some people.

I reworded the add and reactivated it as a short term let for three months. Four hours later we had a new lodger!

Mr K was a businessman who was relocating to the area as he was taking over the local branch of the company he worked for. He would be moving into his own property, but it was going to take about three months to sort things out. He didn’t really want to live in a hotel – too impersonal and too expensive. What I was offering was perfect.

And he was perfect. I have seriously never before had a lodger who had such a low carbon footprint in the house. He was hardly ever here. He rose early – before even I was up – showered and was gone. He ate all of his meals out, didn’t come home until late in the evening, and was gone all weekend visiting his family in Essex.

Occasionally, when he got home from work, I’d make us a cup of tea and we’d chat. He was a nice guy, just worked way too hard, and didn’t seem to have much of a personal life. But, because I hadn’t expected to receive any rent money for that period, what he paid was extra and covered the cost of landscaping my garden.

Mid-August came around all too quickly. Mr K moved out on the Sunday morning, I cleaned the room although it barely needed it, and Mr V moved in on the Monday. Right from the word go he became like a member of the family. He was funny and obliging. He cleaned up after himself. Liked the same films and shows that we did, and lived with us for almost two years, before, of course, he met the love of his life and moved out.

Now, remember Miss S? The turmeric spilling lady who had moved out to live with the guy I had concerns about. Turns out I was spot on. He revealed his true colours soon after they moved in together, and that relationship quickly soured and poor Miss S was forced into renting rooms in not very nice houses. Anyway, we had remained friends and she had often popped round for a coffee or even a glass of wine. The last time she had visited, she had told me how unhappy she was in her current lodgings, so when Mr V handed in his notice I sent her a message inviting her for coffee and a “chat”.

Coincidentally, we had booked to go on holiday again assuming that Mr V would still be there to look after the house and feed the cat. But he moved out three weeks before our holiday date, so I was stuck with the same problem of finding a trustworthy lodger in a short space of time.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. Mr V moved out and Miss S moved back in. It was only going to be for eight or so months, I knew that from the start. She was going travelling the following year and would be leaving the UK for good. But that was fine, it bought me eight months and meant we could go on holiday with an easy mind that someone we trusted was in our home.

Eight months later, as arranged, Miss S moved out and we reactivated the add. Now, it had been over three years since I’d last looked for a lodger, and this time hardly anyone applied for the room. Eventually, we took on a young Romanian man who seemed okay. He told me he worked evenings, but as I told you about in my last blog – that turned out to be a lie.

In many ways, Mr D was an unsatisfactory lodger – we barely ever saw him, and he certainly made no attempt to become part of the family. But he always paid his rent on time, and perhaps it was nice to be separate from the lodger for a change.

And now he is gone. I am left with a basement room that needs airing out and redecorating. He has ruined the mattress and I have a strong suspicion that the insurance company are not going to clean or replace it. When the agent came to inspect the mattress, he was shocked at the sheer amount of stains there were and asked if I was sure that a mattress protector had been used? Well, I said yes, because two mattress protectors are provided with the room, but whether Mr D used them all the time or not is a mystery. The agent asked what the stains were and how old they were, but of course, I couldn’t answer those questions either.

He then went away to write his report and I have to wait a week or so for them to let me know whether they will clean it, or whether a new mattress will be coming out of Mr D’s damages deposit. Luckily, I get excellent staff discount, so it won’t cost him as much as it normally would.

The smell and feel of damp have gone from the room – two weeks of having the window open at every opportunity and having a dehumidifier on has certainly done the trick. All that is left for me to do is a deep clean, give the whole room a coat of paint, and await the decision about the mattress. Then the add will be reactivated, and the whole cycle will start all over again.

I wonder who we’ll get next.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Take care of yourselves and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part three

As you will have realised, I didn’t write a blog last week – what with it being launch week for The Book of Eve, and because of all the problems I had with Amazon glitching out for the whole of the launch weekend so that no one in America could find my book – I simply ran out of time and energy. I apologise for this.

This week, I will try to complete my story of all the lodgers I have had over the years. We had reached March 2013, Creepy Liver Guy had thankfully moved out and I had reactivated the add for the room, hoping for more choice this time.

The add went live on the Saturday morning, by the afternoon there were at least twenty applicants, some of which looked possible contenders. I began to make appointments and things were looking good. A few days later, I received a request to come and view the room from a young Canadian teacher. He even sent me a photo with his application – a very smiley guy wearing a bobble hat. I liked him already.

He came to view the room a couple of days later and the moment I opened the front door, I knew he was the one. You get a feel for it, an instinct that you are going to be able to co-exist with this person just fine. I showed him the room. Now, being a basement room, the ceiling is not the highest and he was a very tall young man, so as he was walking around the top of his bobble hat was brushing against it.

We went into the kitchen to chat, and he asked me what I thought of a certain character in Dr Who, and that was it really. He did ask if we had Sky. Now, at the time we didn’t, but I had been thinking about getting it, and as he was explaining it was because he was a huge Game of Thrones fan, I decided that I would see about getting it as soon as possible.

A week later, Mr B moved in. I remember it was a shocking day weather-wise, snow was belting down and all the in and out tracked grimy slush all over the carpet – but it couldn’t be helped.

Right from the word go, I got on incredibly well with Mr B. An awkward and gangly young man, he was shy and diffident, but our shared love of sci-fi, fantasy, and documentaries soon made us fast friends.

He was a Maths and English teacher over here for two years because there was a real lack of work for teachers in Canada at the time. He was polite and sweet, liked tea, and baked muffins and cakes, knitted me a coffee pot warmer, and was just a nice person to live with.

Most evenings he would watch TV with us. He introduced me to Game of Thrones, which I loved. I introduced him to the wonderful historian Lucy Worsley and we avidly watched everything she did on BBC4. We also enjoyed watching Only Connect – the hardest quiz on British TV – and would feel ridiculously smug if we managed to get a single question right.

And then of course, there was Dr Who. At the time we were passionate about that show in my house. We never missed an episode, and we watched old episodes whenever we could find them. In 2013, the show was at the peak of its popularity and as it was its fiftieth anniversary, the BBC pushed the boat out with many anniversary features, including a special film that was going to be shown at the cinema – so of course, we all went.

As Christmas approached, I discovered Mr B had never been to a Pantomime. In fact, had never even heard of that staunch British festive tradition. We bought tickets for the three of us to go and beforehand I tried to prepare him for what was in store.

ME:  Right, it’s a fun show for all the family usually based on a traditional fairy tale or story. This year it’s Aladdin, but it could be Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington, Mother Goose, anything like that.

HIM: Okay, I see.

ME:  Hold on, I’m easing you in gently here. There are lots of songs and lots of dancing. There may be explosions on stage, and sweets – or possibly slime – will be randomly hurled at the audience.

HIM: Right.

ME:  There will be a character who talks to the audience, and will usually ask them to warn him every time the monster/bear/beast of some kind comes onto the stage by shouting IT’S BEHIND YOU as loudly as they can. He will then creep slowly round and the monster will creep around him at the same time – thus necessitating frequent screaming of IT’S BEHIND YOU.

HIM: I see.

ME:  You probably don’t, but you will.

HIM: ??

ME:  There will be an over the top villain, and every time they appear on the stage, the audience has to boo and hiss as loudly as possible.

HIM: Boo and hiss?! At the actor?!

ME:  Trust me, he’ll be very upset if you don’t.

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

ME:  Halfway through the show, they will stop and call out the names of children in the audience who have birthdays. More sweets will be thrown, and happy birthday will be sung.

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

ME:  They usually get a pair of kids up on stage at some point to lead the audience in a sing off against each other – this is because some big set change is happening behind the curtain.

HIM: A sing off?

ME:  That’s when one half of the audience have to sing a song as loudly as possible. Then the other half have to sing, and they judge who sang the loudest.

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

ME:  YES! (eye him beadily) EVERYONE must sing. It is the law!

HIM: (Gulps) Okay. Does the side that sings the loudest win anything?

ME:  Glory – and maybe more sweets thrown at them, or possibly slime. Although the kids on stage get given gift bags.

HIM: Okay.

ME:  Oh, and the principal boy – so in this case Aladdin, will be played by a woman.

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

ME:  And there will always be an elderly female character – in Aladdin it will be Widow Twanky, his mother – but it could be Snow’s White’s elderly nurse, the cook in Dick Whittington, someone like that, in Cinderella there are two such characters, the Ugly Sisters. Anyway, this is a comedic character played by a man to comic effect. He will wear ridiculous clothes, including huge comedy breasts, garish make-up, big funny bloomers that will be flashed to the audience at every opportunity, and will make numerous saucy and inuendo laden jokes and comments. This is the Pantomime Dame and they are crucial to the show.

HIM: But why…?

ME:  Don’t ask. It’s traditional. So, that’s pantomime.

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

HIM: And this is what passes for entertainment in this country?

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

And he did! Right from the clash of the first cymbal as the curtains drew back and dozens of brightly dressed characters pranced onto the stage and tried to convince us that we were in old Peking, right through to the triumphant wedding scene finale where Aladdin marries his Princess Jasmin, he loved every single funny moment of it.

He laughed, he clapped, he caught sweets, he joined in with the singing and produced a very impressive baritone voice from somewhere within his skinny frame, he yelled IT’S BEHIND YOU with the rest of us, and booed and hissed every time the evil wizard slithered on stage. It was a brilliant evening.

Any British readers will probably now be experiencing a moment of nostalgia for all the pantomimes they were taken to in the past. Traditionally held only at Christmas, I always used to take Miss F at the beginning of December. It kicked off the festive season nicely, and got me in the right mindset that yes, Christmas was coming. Sadly, with the current situation, pantomimes will not be happening this year.

To all my non-UK readers, if ever you are in Britain and you get the chance to go to a pantomime, go! The bigger productions in the larger cities are very swish and are usually packed with stars from TV. But the shows that are put on in the smaller towns and even villages are not without their charm. In fact, I’ve always found that in a smaller theatre it’s more intimate. The characters come down from the stage and mingle and interact with the audience much more than in a massive theatre seating thousands. Plus, in a smaller theatre, you’re more likely to catch some of those sweets I told you about!

Mr B lived with us for about eighteen months, and I grew very fond of him. In fact, we are still in touch on social media, sometimes chat through messenger, and the odd parcel and card occasionally wings its way over the Atlantic at Christmas time.

One very funny thing that happened during his stay though, involved Miss F. She was ten when he moved in and was at that age of no filter and blurting out whatever was in her head. Anyway, one evening we were sitting there watching TV together with Mr B, when out of nowhere, Miss F turns to me and asks.

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

I nearly spat out my drink. I felt my eyes go huge as I stared at my innocent child.

ME:       Umm, where did you hear that word, darling?

MISS F: Oh, some of the boys at school were shouting it at each other in the playground. I’ve never heard of it before, so I wondered what it meant.

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

Out of the corner of my eye I could just see Mr B’s knees, they were shaking and I’m sure I heard a snort of barely suppressed laughter coming from his corner. Carefully picking my words, I said.

ME:       I’ll explain it to you later, when you go up to bed.

So, we finished watching the programme and then I took her upstairs, tucked her up in bed, sat down and told her exactly what that word meant. She was silent for a while thinking about it, then she went bright red all over.

MISS F: I said that word in front of Mr B.

ME:      Yes, you did. (I cheerfully agreed) Maybe in future, instead of blurting things out in front of other people, you’ll ask me when we’re alone.

And from that day on, she always did!

We were very sad when Mr B left, but he was returning to Canada and that is the way of lodgers – just when you manage to housebreak one, they leave, and you have to start all over again. So, up went the add again, and this time we went with a sweet young girl called Miss E.

She was a wedding dress seamstress at a studio in town, she was polite and quiet and loved Disney. She went home to her parents every Friday and didn’t come back until Sunday evening. She was perfect. She stayed until mid-July and then suddenly, out of the blue, announced she was leaving. Her best friend was moving to the area and had asked her to share a flat with her, so that was it, she was off.

It did leave me in a bit of a quandary though. Because I had assumed she was staying for at least a year – as she had told me she was on many occasions – I had actually arranged for Miss F and I to go away on a very rare holiday mid-August believing that Miss E would be still living with us. She was a very sensible and trustworthy person and I had no qualms about leaving her in charge of the house and the cat whilst we were gone.

That was less than a month away – it didn’t seem long enough to find a new lodger and establish that same level of trust to go away and leave them for a week alone in our house. But there was nothing I could do about it, other than activate the add again and hope.

We ran it for a week. We had a few viewings. I didn’t click with any of them. We ran it for another week. This second crop of potential lodgers were even worse. I neither liked nor felt I could trust any of them.

In despair on the third Saturday, I activated the add again. Less than thirty minutes later, I had a reply. A very cheery and personable sounding lady sent me a message.

Love the sound of the room. Please can I come and have a look?

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

Quickly, I dashed about and tidied up. The room had been viewing ready for two weeks now, so it was fine. My phone rang, she was walking up the road, which house were we? So, I went outside and saw a shock of bright red hair walking up the street pushing a bike and beaming from ear to ear. She waved vigorously when she saw me, as if she’d known me all my life, and the grin grew broader.

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

Slightly older than me, this was no scatterbrain teenager who would be incapable of following basic security and safety protocols whilst in charge of the house, and as we chatted, I knew I’d found the right one. Two days later she moved in. A week later we went on holiday.

She lived with us for nine months, during which time I was introduced to the weird and wonderful world of totally organic, free range, vegan cooking. Some of it looked great, some, not so great. A haphazard and messy cook, she would take over the kitchen with abandon and create great piles of washing up. She never did learn how to stack a dishwasher properly, and I was always going to unload it only to find upturned bowls floating with some sort of veggie broth.

Then there was the time she dropped a large bag of turmeric in the kitchen and for weeks we were finding bright yellow stains in unexpected places.

But, on the whole, she was one of our more successful lodgers and I was genuinely sorry when she met someone and within a couple of months was moving in with him. I really did wish her well, and wanted her to be happy, but there was something about this man that didn’t sit right with me. Maybe it was something about the eyes, maybe it was the way he was with her, maybe it was some sort of instinct, who knows.

So, Miss S moved out and we were once again looking for a lodger. The add was activated, and an American in his thirties moved in. He had separated from his wife and needed a safe and peaceful space to gather his thoughts and sort out his life. I felt sorry for him, and he seemed okay, but within three days of moving in I knew I had made a dreadful mistake.

Used to being the alpha male in his own home, he simply couldn’t adjust to the fact that living in shared accommodation with only one bathroom between three of us meant that strict morning bathroom slots had to be established and adhered to. He would go into the bathroom whenever he damn well pleased and take as long as he wanted, with no thought to us waiting outside. He made us late for school and work three times, before I sat him down and tried to drum it into his head that he had to stick to the slot he’d requested, that he couldn’t take our slots and hog the bathroom for almost an hour every morning!

He was incredibly untidy in the bathroom and the kitchen. Bristles and toothpaste all around the sink for me to clean up. All his washing up simply left on the draining board for me to put in the dishwasher because he “hadn’t had time before he went to work”! Well, guess what buddy, neither do I!

He was incapable of closing cupboards and drawers. Now, I only have a small kitchen, so if someone has left all the cupboards and drawers wide open it’s not only untidy to look at, but it reduces space in the kitchen drastically. I would walk into the kitchen after he’d been there and start kicking them shut. It was intensely annoying.

He would stink out the bathroom every day, and frequently left nasties in the toilet which I had to take a stick to, in order to try and get rid of it! Heaven only knows what he was eating to produce things of that size and density!

It just wasn’t working. I like to think I can get on with most people, and years of taking in lodgers has taught me to tolerate most behaviour. But he and I clashed personality wise right from the get-go.

I remember when I was trying again to get it through his selfish skull that he simply couldn’t steal my bathroom slot in the morning, because it was making Miss F late for school and me late for work. He looked at me, and said…

“If you would only open your heart to Jesus and let him live in there. You would be a much calmer and happier person. You seem such a stressed and even violent person to me.”

Seriously, if I’d had a gun, I would have shot him!

Eventually, things got so bad he left me note asking that I conduct any future contact with him as written correspondence. So, I wrote him a letter politely giving him one month to get the hell out of my house. He was gone by the end of the week.

So, the add was activated again. Things weren’t so desperate this time. My long-term boss had retired and made me redundant, so I’d received a small redundancy pay-out. Not a massive amount, but enough so we could take our time finding a lodger and be choosey this time.

But life has a funny way of turning. Within two days we had a lovely young teacher come to view the room. Mr V was personable, funny, and clicked with both Miss F and I straight away. Just one problem. It was April when he came to view the room, but he wouldn’t need it until the middle of August just before the new school year began.

Miss F and I discussed it. We really liked him, so we decided that we’d rather wait for him. I could just about afford to go rent free for a few months. It would be tight, but worth it to get just the right lodger. So, it was arranged. Mr V signed a contract and paid a deposit to secure the room that he would forfeit if he reneged on the deal.

A week went by, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the room lying empty, not producing any rent for us. Then I wondered if a short term let would be possible. I went onto the website and searched. Yes, short term lets were not only possible, but apparently very desirable for some people.

I reworded the add and reactivated it as a short term let for three months. Four hours later we had a new lodger!

Mr K was a businessman who was relocating to the area as he was taking over the local branch of the company he worked for. He would be moving into his own property, but it was going to take about three months to sort things out. He didn’t really want to live in a hotel – too impersonal and too expensive. What I was offering was perfect.

And he was perfect. I have seriously never before had a lodger who had such a low carbon footprint in the house. He was hardly ever here. He rose early – before even I was up – showered and was gone. He ate all of his meals out, didn’t come home until late in the evening, and was gone all weekend visiting his family in Essex.

Occasionally, when he got home from work, I’d make us a cup of tea and we’d chat. He was a nice guy, just worked way too hard, and didn’t seem to have much of a personal life. But, because I hadn’t expected to receive any rent money for that period, what he paid was extra and covered the cost of landscaping my garden.

Mid-August came around all too quickly. Mr K moved out on the Sunday morning, I cleaned the room although it barely needed it, and Mr V moved in on the Monday. Right from the word go he became like a member of the family. He was funny and obliging. He cleaned up after himself. Liked the same films and shows that we did, and lived with us for almost two years, before, of course, he met the love of his life and moved out.

Now, remember Miss S? The turmeric spilling lady who had moved out to live with the guy I had concerns about. Turns out I was spot on. He revealed his true colours soon after they moved in together, and that relationship quickly soured and poor Miss S was forced into renting rooms in not very nice houses. Anyway, we had remained friends and she had often popped round for a coffee or even a glass of wine. The last time she had visited, she had told me how unhappy she was in her current lodgings, so when Mr V handed in his notice I sent her a message inviting her for coffee and a “chat”.

Coincidentally, we had booked to go on holiday again assuming that Mr V would still be there to look after the house and feed the cat. But he moved out three weeks before our holiday date, so I was stuck with the same problem of finding a trustworthy lodger in a short space of time.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. Mr V moved out and Miss S moved back in. It was only going to be for eight or so months, I knew that from the start. She was going travelling the following year and would be leaving the UK for good. But that was fine, it bought me eight months and meant we could go on holiday with an easy mind that someone we trusted was in our home.

Eight months later, as arranged, Miss S moved out and we reactivated the add. Now, it had been over three years since I’d last looked for a lodger, and this time hardly anyone applied for the room. Eventually, we took on a young Romanian man who seemed okay. He told me he worked evenings, but as I told you about in my last blog – that turned out to be a lie.

In many ways, Mr D was an unsatisfactory lodger – we barely ever saw him, and he certainly made no attempt to become part of the family. But he always paid his rent on time, and perhaps it was nice to be separate from the lodger for a change.

And now he is gone. I am left with a basement room that needs airing out and redecorating. He has ruined the mattress and I have a strong suspicion that the insurance company are not going to clean or replace it. When the agent came to inspect the mattress, he was shocked at the sheer amount of stains there were and asked if I was sure that a mattress protector had been used? Well, I said yes, because two mattress protectors are provided with the room, but whether Mr D used them all the time or not is a mystery. The agent asked what the stains were and how old they were, but of course, I couldn’t answer those questions either.

He then went away to write his report and I have to wait a week or so for them to let me know whether they will clean it, or whether a new mattress will be coming out of Mr D’s damages deposit. Luckily, I get excellent staff discount, so it won’t cost him as much as it normally would.

The smell and feel of damp have gone from the room – two weeks of having the window open at every opportunity and having a dehumidifier on has certainly done the trick. All that is left for me to do is a deep clean, give the whole room a coat of paint, and await the decision about the mattress. Then the add will be reactivated, and the whole cycle will start all over again.

I wonder who we’ll get next.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Take care of yourselves and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part three

As you will have realised, I didn’t write a blog last week – what with it being launch week for The Book of Eve, and because of all the problems I had with Amazon glitching out for the whole of the launch weekend so that no one in America could find my book – I simply ran out of time and energy. I apologise for this.

This week, I will try to complete my story of all the lodgers I have had over the years. We had reached March 2013, Creepy Liver Guy had thankfully moved out and I had reactivated the add for the room, hoping for more choice this time.

The add went live on the Saturday morning, by the afternoon there were at least twenty applicants, some of which looked possible contenders. I began to make appointments and things were looking good. A few days later, I received a request to come and view the room from a young Canadian teacher. He even sent me a photo with his application – a very smiley guy wearing a bobble hat. I liked him already.

He came to view the room a couple of days later and the moment I opened the front door, I knew he was the one. You get a feel for it, an instinct that you are going to be able to co-exist with this person just fine. I showed him the room. Now, being a basement room, the ceiling is not the highest and he was a very tall young man, so as he was walking around the top of his bobble hat was brushing against it.

We went into the kitchen to chat, and he asked me what I thought of a certain character in Dr Who, and that was it really. He did ask if we had Sky. Now, at the time we didn’t, but I had been thinking about getting it, and as he was explaining it was because he was a huge Game of Thrones fan, I decided that I would see about getting it as soon as possible.

A week later, Mr B moved in. I remember it was a shocking day weather-wise, snow was belting down and all the in and out tracked grimy slush all over the carpet – but it couldn’t be helped.

Right from the word go, I got on incredibly well with Mr B. An awkward and gangly young man, he was shy and diffident, but our shared love of sci-fi, fantasy, and documentaries soon made us fast friends.

He was a Maths and English teacher over here for two years because there was a real lack of work for teachers in Canada at the time. He was polite and sweet, liked tea, and baked muffins and cakes, knitted me a coffee pot warmer, and was just a nice person to live with.

Most evenings he would watch TV with us. He introduced me to Game of Thrones, which I loved. I introduced him to the wonderful historian Lucy Worsley and we avidly watched everything she did on BBC4. We also enjoyed watching Only Connect – the hardest quiz on British TV – and would feel ridiculously smug if we managed to get a single question right.

And then of course, there was Dr Who. At the time we were passionate about that show in my house. We never missed an episode, and we watched old episodes whenever we could find them. In 2013, the show was at the peak of its popularity and as it was its fiftieth anniversary, the BBC pushed the boat out with many anniversary features, including a special film that was going to be shown at the cinema – so of course, we all went.

As Christmas approached, I discovered Mr B had never been to a Pantomime. In fact, had never even heard of that staunch British festive tradition. We bought tickets for the three of us to go and beforehand I tried to prepare him for what was in store.

ME:  Right, it’s a fun show for all the family usually based on a traditional fairy tale or story. This year it’s Aladdin, but it could be Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington, Mother Goose, anything like that.

HIM: Okay, I see.

ME:  Hold on, I’m easing you in gently here. There are lots of songs and lots of dancing. There may be explosions on stage, and sweets – or possibly slime – will be randomly hurled at the audience.

HIM: Right.

ME:  There will be a character who talks to the audience, and will usually ask them to warn him every time the monster/bear/beast of some kind comes onto the stage by shouting IT’S BEHIND YOU as loudly as they can. He will then creep slowly round and the monster will creep around him at the same time – thus necessitating frequent screaming of IT’S BEHIND YOU.

HIM: I see.

ME:  You probably don’t, but you will.

HIM: ??

ME:  There will be an over the top villain, and every time they appear on the stage, the audience has to boo and hiss as loudly as possible.

HIM: Boo and hiss?! At the actor?!

ME:  Trust me, he’ll be very upset if you don’t.

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

ME:  Halfway through the show, they will stop and call out the names of children in the audience who have birthdays. More sweets will be thrown, and happy birthday will be sung.

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

ME:  They usually get a pair of kids up on stage at some point to lead the audience in a sing off against each other – this is because some big set change is happening behind the curtain.

HIM: A sing off?

ME:  That’s when one half of the audience have to sing a song as loudly as possible. Then the other half have to sing, and they judge who sang the loudest.

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

ME:  YES! (eye him beadily) EVERYONE must sing. It is the law!

HIM: (Gulps) Okay. Does the side that sings the loudest win anything?

ME:  Glory – and maybe more sweets thrown at them, or possibly slime. Although the kids on stage get given gift bags.

HIM: Okay.

ME:  Oh, and the principal boy – so in this case Aladdin, will be played by a woman.

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

ME:  And there will always be an elderly female character – in Aladdin it will be Widow Twanky, his mother – but it could be Snow’s White’s elderly nurse, the cook in Dick Whittington, someone like that, in Cinderella there are two such characters, the Ugly Sisters. Anyway, this is a comedic character played by a man to comic effect. He will wear ridiculous clothes, including huge comedy breasts, garish make-up, big funny bloomers that will be flashed to the audience at every opportunity, and will make numerous saucy and inuendo laden jokes and comments. This is the Pantomime Dame and they are crucial to the show.

HIM: But why…?

ME:  Don’t ask. It’s traditional. So, that’s pantomime.

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

HIM: And this is what passes for entertainment in this country?

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

And he did! Right from the clash of the first cymbal as the curtains drew back and dozens of brightly dressed characters pranced onto the stage and tried to convince us that we were in old Peking, right through to the triumphant wedding scene finale where Aladdin marries his Princess Jasmin, he loved every single funny moment of it.

He laughed, he clapped, he caught sweets, he joined in with the singing and produced a very impressive baritone voice from somewhere within his skinny frame, he yelled IT’S BEHIND YOU with the rest of us, and booed and hissed every time the evil wizard slithered on stage. It was a brilliant evening.

Any British readers will probably now be experiencing a moment of nostalgia for all the pantomimes they were taken to in the past. Traditionally held only at Christmas, I always used to take Miss F at the beginning of December. It kicked off the festive season nicely, and got me in the right mindset that yes, Christmas was coming. Sadly, with the current situation, pantomimes will not be happening this year.

To all my non-UK readers, if ever you are in Britain and you get the chance to go to a pantomime, go! The bigger productions in the larger cities are very swish and are usually packed with stars from TV. But the shows that are put on in the smaller towns and even villages are not without their charm. In fact, I’ve always found that in a smaller theatre it’s more intimate. The characters come down from the stage and mingle and interact with the audience much more than in a massive theatre seating thousands. Plus, in a smaller theatre, you’re more likely to catch some of those sweets I told you about!

Mr B lived with us for about eighteen months, and I grew very fond of him. In fact, we are still in touch on social media, sometimes chat through messenger, and the odd parcel and card occasionally wings its way over the Atlantic at Christmas time.

One very funny thing that happened during his stay though, involved Miss F. She was ten when he moved in and was at that age of no filter and blurting out whatever was in her head. Anyway, one evening we were sitting there watching TV together with Mr B, when out of nowhere, Miss F turns to me and asks.

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

I nearly spat out my drink. I felt my eyes go huge as I stared at my innocent child.

ME:       Umm, where did you hear that word, darling?

MISS F: Oh, some of the boys at school were shouting it at each other in the playground. I’ve never heard of it before, so I wondered what it meant.

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

Out of the corner of my eye I could just see Mr B’s knees, they were shaking and I’m sure I heard a snort of barely suppressed laughter coming from his corner. Carefully picking my words, I said.

ME:       I’ll explain it to you later, when you go up to bed.

So, we finished watching the programme and then I took her upstairs, tucked her up in bed, sat down and told her exactly what that word meant. She was silent for a while thinking about it, then she went bright red all over.

MISS F: I said that word in front of Mr B.

ME:      Yes, you did. (I cheerfully agreed) Maybe in future, instead of blurting things out in front of other people, you’ll ask me when we’re alone.

And from that day on, she always did!

We were very sad when Mr B left, but he was returning to Canada and that is the way of lodgers – just when you manage to housebreak one, they leave, and you have to start all over again. So, up went the add again, and this time we went with a sweet young girl called Miss E.

She was a wedding dress seamstress at a studio in town, she was polite and quiet and loved Disney. She went home to her parents every Friday and didn’t come back until Sunday evening. She was perfect. She stayed until mid-July and then suddenly, out of the blue, announced she was leaving. Her best friend was moving to the area and had asked her to share a flat with her, so that was it, she was off.

It did leave me in a bit of a quandary though. Because I had assumed she was staying for at least a year – as she had told me she was on many occasions – I had actually arranged for Miss F and I to go away on a very rare holiday mid-August believing that Miss E would be still living with us. She was a very sensible and trustworthy person and I had no qualms about leaving her in charge of the house and the cat whilst we were gone.

That was less than a month away – it didn’t seem long enough to find a new lodger and establish that same level of trust to go away and leave them for a week alone in our house. But there was nothing I could do about it, other than activate the add again and hope.

We ran it for a week. We had a few viewings. I didn’t click with any of them. We ran it for another week. This second crop of potential lodgers were even worse. I neither liked nor felt I could trust any of them.

In despair on the third Saturday, I activated the add again. Less than thirty minutes later, I had a reply. A very cheery and personable sounding lady sent me a message.

Love the sound of the room. Please can I come and have a look?

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

Quickly, I dashed about and tidied up. The room had been viewing ready for two weeks now, so it was fine. My phone rang, she was walking up the road, which house were we? So, I went outside and saw a shock of bright red hair walking up the street pushing a bike and beaming from ear to ear. She waved vigorously when she saw me, as if she’d known me all my life, and the grin grew broader.

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

Slightly older than me, this was no scatterbrain teenager who would be incapable of following basic security and safety protocols whilst in charge of the house, and as we chatted, I knew I’d found the right one. Two days later she moved in. A week later we went on holiday.

She lived with us for nine months, during which time I was introduced to the weird and wonderful world of totally organic, free range, vegan cooking. Some of it looked great, some, not so great. A haphazard and messy cook, she would take over the kitchen with abandon and create great piles of washing up. She never did learn how to stack a dishwasher properly, and I was always going to unload it only to find upturned bowls floating with some sort of veggie broth.

Then there was the time she dropped a large bag of turmeric in the kitchen and for weeks we were finding bright yellow stains in unexpected places.

But, on the whole, she was one of our more successful lodgers and I was genuinely sorry when she met someone and within a couple of months was moving in with him. I really did wish her well, and wanted her to be happy, but there was something about this man that didn’t sit right with me. Maybe it was something about the eyes, maybe it was the way he was with her, maybe it was some sort of instinct, who knows.

So, Miss S moved out and we were once again looking for a lodger. The add was activated, and an American in his thirties moved in. He had separated from his wife and needed a safe and peaceful space to gather his thoughts and sort out his life. I felt sorry for him, and he seemed okay, but within three days of moving in I knew I had made a dreadful mistake.

Used to being the alpha male in his own home, he simply couldn’t adjust to the fact that living in shared accommodation with only one bathroom between three of us meant that strict morning bathroom slots had to be established and adhered to. He would go into the bathroom whenever he damn well pleased and take as long as he wanted, with no thought to us waiting outside. He made us late for school and work three times, before I sat him down and tried to drum it into his head that he had to stick to the slot he’d requested, that he couldn’t take our slots and hog the bathroom for almost an hour every morning!

He was incredibly untidy in the bathroom and the kitchen. Bristles and toothpaste all around the sink for me to clean up. All his washing up simply left on the draining board for me to put in the dishwasher because he “hadn’t had time before he went to work”! Well, guess what buddy, neither do I!

He was incapable of closing cupboards and drawers. Now, I only have a small kitchen, so if someone has left all the cupboards and drawers wide open it’s not only untidy to look at, but it reduces space in the kitchen drastically. I would walk into the kitchen after he’d been there and start kicking them shut. It was intensely annoying.

He would stink out the bathroom every day, and frequently left nasties in the toilet which I had to take a stick to, in order to try and get rid of it! Heaven only knows what he was eating to produce things of that size and density!

It just wasn’t working. I like to think I can get on with most people, and years of taking in lodgers has taught me to tolerate most behaviour. But he and I clashed personality wise right from the get-go.

I remember when I was trying again to get it through his selfish skull that he simply couldn’t steal my bathroom slot in the morning, because it was making Miss F late for school and me late for work. He looked at me, and said…

“If you would only open your heart to Jesus and let him live in there. You would be a much calmer and happier person. You seem such a stressed and even violent person to me.”

Seriously, if I’d had a gun, I would have shot him!

Eventually, things got so bad he left me note asking that I conduct any future contact with him as written correspondence. So, I wrote him a letter politely giving him one month to get the hell out of my house. He was gone by the end of the week.

So, the add was activated again. Things weren’t so desperate this time. My long-term boss had retired and made me redundant, so I’d received a small redundancy pay-out. Not a massive amount, but enough so we could take our time finding a lodger and be choosey this time.

But life has a funny way of turning. Within two days we had a lovely young teacher come to view the room. Mr V was personable, funny, and clicked with both Miss F and I straight away. Just one problem. It was April when he came to view the room, but he wouldn’t need it until the middle of August just before the new school year began.

Miss F and I discussed it. We really liked him, so we decided that we’d rather wait for him. I could just about afford to go rent free for a few months. It would be tight, but worth it to get just the right lodger. So, it was arranged. Mr V signed a contract and paid a deposit to secure the room that he would forfeit if he reneged on the deal.

A week went by, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the room lying empty, not producing any rent for us. Then I wondered if a short term let would be possible. I went onto the website and searched. Yes, short term lets were not only possible, but apparently very desirable for some people.

I reworded the add and reactivated it as a short term let for three months. Four hours later we had a new lodger!

Mr K was a businessman who was relocating to the area as he was taking over the local branch of the company he worked for. He would be moving into his own property, but it was going to take about three months to sort things out. He didn’t really want to live in a hotel – too impersonal and too expensive. What I was offering was perfect.

And he was perfect. I have seriously never before had a lodger who had such a low carbon footprint in the house. He was hardly ever here. He rose early – before even I was up – showered and was gone. He ate all of his meals out, didn’t come home until late in the evening, and was gone all weekend visiting his family in Essex.

Occasionally, when he got home from work, I’d make us a cup of tea and we’d chat. He was a nice guy, just worked way too hard, and didn’t seem to have much of a personal life. But, because I hadn’t expected to receive any rent money for that period, what he paid was extra and covered the cost of landscaping my garden.

Mid-August came around all too quickly. Mr K moved out on the Sunday morning, I cleaned the room although it barely needed it, and Mr V moved in on the Monday. Right from the word go he became like a member of the family. He was funny and obliging. He cleaned up after himself. Liked the same films and shows that we did, and lived with us for almost two years, before, of course, he met the love of his life and moved out.

Now, remember Miss S? The turmeric spilling lady who had moved out to live with the guy I had concerns about. Turns out I was spot on. He revealed his true colours soon after they moved in together, and that relationship quickly soured and poor Miss S was forced into renting rooms in not very nice houses. Anyway, we had remained friends and she had often popped round for a coffee or even a glass of wine. The last time she had visited, she had told me how unhappy she was in her current lodgings, so when Mr V handed in his notice I sent her a message inviting her for coffee and a “chat”.

Coincidentally, we had booked to go on holiday again assuming that Mr V would still be there to look after the house and feed the cat. But he moved out three weeks before our holiday date, so I was stuck with the same problem of finding a trustworthy lodger in a short space of time.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. Mr V moved out and Miss S moved back in. It was only going to be for eight or so months, I knew that from the start. She was going travelling the following year and would be leaving the UK for good. But that was fine, it bought me eight months and meant we could go on holiday with an easy mind that someone we trusted was in our home.

Eight months later, as arranged, Miss S moved out and we reactivated the add. Now, it had been over three years since I’d last looked for a lodger, and this time hardly anyone applied for the room. Eventually, we took on a young Romanian man who seemed okay. He told me he worked evenings, but as I told you about in my last blog – that turned out to be a lie.

In many ways, Mr D was an unsatisfactory lodger – we barely ever saw him, and he certainly made no attempt to become part of the family. But he always paid his rent on time, and perhaps it was nice to be separate from the lodger for a change.

And now he is gone. I am left with a basement room that needs airing out and redecorating. He has ruined the mattress and I have a strong suspicion that the insurance company are not going to clean or replace it. When the agent came to inspect the mattress, he was shocked at the sheer amount of stains there were and asked if I was sure that a mattress protector had been used? Well, I said yes, because two mattress protectors are provided with the room, but whether Mr D used them all the time or not is a mystery. The agent asked what the stains were and how old they were, but of course, I couldn’t answer those questions either.

He then went away to write his report and I have to wait a week or so for them to let me know whether they will clean it, or whether a new mattress will be coming out of Mr D’s damages deposit. Luckily, I get excellent staff discount, so it won’t cost him as much as it normally would.

The smell and feel of damp have gone from the room – two weeks of having the window open at every opportunity and having a dehumidifier on has certainly done the trick. All that is left for me to do is a deep clean, give the whole room a coat of paint, and await the decision about the mattress. Then the add will be reactivated, and the whole cycle will start all over again.

I wonder who we’ll get next.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Take care of yourselves and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part two

The news about finding a new lodger goes from bad to worse. As you know, when my last lodger moved out and I stripped off the bedding I discovered brown stains all over a relatively new mattress which had certainly been in pristine condition when he moved in. He returned the next day to give the room a quick clean, return my key and parking permit, and do what I call a “final walkthrough”. This is when I and the lodger go through every cupboard and drawer in the room, we also check they’ve taken everything that is theirs from the kitchen and bathroom. It’s also a good time to see if everything in the room is as it was when they moved in.

I showed him the stains. At first, he denied it could possibly have been him. Okay, so who else has been sleeping down here with you? Answer, no one. Then he tried to tell me the mattress had looked like that when he moved in. Umm, I don’t think so. The mattress is obviously one thing I examine thoroughly between lodgers and it certainly wasn’t like that when the previous lodger moved out – otherwise I would have had this conversation with them and sorting it out would have come out of their damages deposit not yours.

Eventually, he admitted that maybe he had fallen asleep clutching a takeaway cup of Coke, and maybe dropped it. That sounds more like it. I honestly don’t know how he thought he was going to get away with it. Did he think that I don’t strip the bed and remake it between lodgers? Obviously, I was going to notice massive circular brown stains on a previously pristine white mattress.

Anyway, he has been told that luckily, I took out insurance on the mattress and luckily, I am eligible to claim, so that is what I have done. They can’t come out until the 9th of September to clean it though, so he will just have to wait until after then to get the deposit back because there may be costs involved, or they may say it’s beyond rescuing in which case the cost of a new mattress will be coming out of it.

Being a basement room there is always the potential of a damp problem, but this has never been an issue until now. When a new lodger moves in I do tell them they must open up the window occasionally to air the room through, and under no circumstances must they attempt to dry clothes in their room or hang wet towels down there.

This lodger was told the same thing. But certain lies were told to me during the interview which made it difficult for him to obey the edict about opening the window. It turned out he was a night worker. Now, I’ve always avoided night workers as I don’t want to be woken up at all hours of the night when they’re getting home from a nightshift and slamming the front door which is right below my bedroom. I also don’t want to have to tiptoe around the house all day trying to keep quiet because they are asleep.

Every person who comes to view the room is asked about their working hours. This lodger was also asked and assured me he was an evening worker, that he would be home no later than 10:30pm each evening. Okay, I thought, fair enough. So, he moved in. Now either he immediately changed his working hours, or he defined an evening as ending at 2:30am, because right from the word go, he was working nights.

In the beginning he would wake me up every night getting home at that time and slamming doors. Until the night I stormed downstairs, heavy eyed, and livid at being woken up yet again because he was incapable of closing the door quietly – and gave him an impromptu lesson on door shutting. But of course, because he was asleep most of the day, and didn’t get up until he was literally about to leave the house for work – he was never able to get the window open.

He also never used the rack on the back of the bathroom door to dry his towels on. Instead he would take it back down to his room and throw it onto the armchair to dry. Now, hanging up wet towels to dry in ANY room is never a good idea, but in a basement room that was also not being aired at all? Definitely, not a good idea.

So, he moved out. I went down into the room for the first time in sixteen months and immediately realised there was a damp problem. Is it just because of the issues listed above so airing it and a good clean will sort it out? Or is it a more serious issue? I’ve bought a dehumidifier and whenever the window isn’t open that is whirring away collecting moisture. I also have a promise from a builder friend to come round with a damp meter and give his professional opinion. But between this and waiting for the mattress to be cleaned, it means I can’t advertise for a new lodger yet.

Last week I began to tell you all about lodgers I have had in the past and we ended with the lovely Miss C moving out to fulfil her dream of going to the London School of Fashion. Having her live with us had been enormous fun and made me realise how great it is having a young person living in the house. I activated the ad again and was almost immediately inundated with applicants. Eventually, I settled on a tall young lad called Mr J. He was funny and polite and the manager of a local high street fashion shop. He played guitar – but only during sociable hours – was passionate about cooking and enjoyed the odd film or two. He stayed about nine months, before a friend asked him to flat share with him and then he moved out.

I advertised again, and a week or so later another young man, Mr N, moved in. Initially, he was great. A website designer he was quite useful to have around, although I did have to change my broadband package to unlimited, after he racked up a £30 excess use bill the first month he was here. He was a bit of a nerd and was terrified of spiders and the number of times I had to go down there to rescue him from a “simply enormous one” – it was tiny – was unbelievable. He was also a complete hypochondriac, which could be really funny.

I remember once me and Miss F were sitting in the dining room when the door to the bathroom burst open and Mr N charged through the kitchen and into the dining room wearing nothing but a towel and a face full of shaving foam. We looked at him in alarm, and I noticed there was a tiny speck of blood on his chin where he’d clearly nicked himself with the razor.

“Julia!” he gasped. “Phone an ambulance immediately!”

“It’s only a tiny scratch,” I replied.

“No! I’m having an asthma attack!”

Quickly, I phoned for an ambulance whilst he collapsed in a chair, trying to keep his towel in place and I sent Miss F to get a damp flannel so he could wipe the foam from his face. The ambulance came, took his blood pressure, calmed him down, and asked him some questions. Mr N then proceeded to spout off all his vital statistics as in normal blood pressure, heartrate, cholesterol levels, BMI, exact height and weight, and various other facts and figures about himself that I think most of us would struggle to even guess at.

“That’s amazing,” one of the paramedics said. “How do you know all this stuff?”

“Oh, I’m a hypochondriac,” he freely admitted, and wondered why we all fell about laughing.

So, for about six months, Mr N was great. Then he found a girlfriend. No, he didn’t just find a girlfriend, he found the love of his life. Jeez. How annoying, careless, and downright rude did he become after that?

I have a rule about boyfriends/girlfriends in that I don’t mind the odd stayover, once or twice a week is fine, but I don’t want them moving in. It’s a room in a small house, with only one bathroom. I neither want, nor have the facilities to cope with couples living here. At first, he obeyed this rule, and I really liked his girlfriend, she was very sweet. I think one of the best evenings I ever had lodger wise was when Mr N and I cooked a big meal between us because his girlfriend was coming over, and Miss C was coming back to see us for the weekend, then we were all going out together, along with a friend of mine who knew Miss C well from the old days when she had lodged with me.

The five of us had just sat down to eat when there was a knock at the door. I went to open it and it was Mr J, the lodger prior to Mr N. He’d been passing and thought he’d look in. So of course, he was invited to stay for dinner, and we all squeezed around the table and had a wonderful meal. Afterwards when Miss C, my friend, and I were clearing the table, the boys brought up Mr N’s guitars – he was a guitar player too, although not as proficient as Mr J – and they began an impromptu session which was wonderful. Then we all went out together and it was a brilliant evening. A group of six people with ages ranging from 20 to 43, all getting on very well together.

It all went downhill after that. Mr N’s girlfriend began to stay over more frequently. Eventually she was here ALL THE TIME! If I wanted to have a shower, I couldn’t, because she was in it. If I wanted to use the washing machine, her clothes were in it. If I wanted to cook dinner for Miss F and I, I couldn’t, because she had taken over the entire kitchen and was cooking a special meal for her and Mr N. She was just always there!

She would drive over from work Tuesday evening and would be here until Sunday evening. It was all too much. Not only did I feel my home was no longer my own, but my utilities and water bills were escalating due to having a fourth person in the house. She also disrupted our morning routine by hogging the bathroom and had made Miss F late for school and me late for work on more than one occasion. So, I had a little chat with Mr N, and we agreed that boundaries needed to be set and we compromised on three nights a week maximum.

For a couple of weeks, it all seemed to work. Then came a weekend when we didn’t see much of him. His girlfriend had been over Tuesday evening to Friday morning and had, I presumed returned to her own home. Other than hearing him rustling around in the kitchen, we saw nothing of Mr N until Sunday afternoon when I was washing the kitchen floor and he came up to put some clothes in the washing machine, but my stuff was already in there. I told him it wouldn’t be much longer and would call him as soon as the machine was free.

Ten minutes later I stuck my head around the corner of the basement door that he’d left open to call down the stairs that the machine was free, and discovered his girlfriend standing at the bottom of the stairs. Shocked, I asked how long she had been there, and she sheepishly admitted that he’d smuggled her back in Friday evening and she’d been there ever since.

It made me feel odd, and annoyed, that someone had been in my home all that time and I hadn’t been aware of it. I felt lied to, and quite frankly, I’d had enough. I asked his girlfriend if she could understand why I felt that way, and how would her father feel if she’d hidden Mr N in his home without informing her father he was there. Oh, I’d never do that to my dad, she told me. I respect him too much.

Oka-a-ay. That just about said it all. I decided not to make a scene in front of his girlfriend, but that I needed to have another chat with Mr N, and maybe tactfully suggest that they find a flat together. We chatted. The decision that he needed to move out was mutual. A month later they found the perfect little love nest which they bought everything new for. I shuddered at the thought of the monthly repayments they were saddling themselves with, but it wasn’t my problem, so I kept quiet. They moved in together. Less than two months later I saw on Facebook that they’d separated, rather acrimoniously, and that he was once again single and lodging somewhere in town. Ho hum. That tends to be the way it goes, I’m afraid.

I advertised again. This time, to my surprise, hardly anyone answered the ad, and I began to worry that I wouldn’t find anyone. Then a man came to view who seemed okay. I offered him the room, and Mr D moved in. Within a few days I realised I’d made a terrible mistake. What had seemed like the best deadpan humour ever at interview, turned out to be absolutely no sense of humour at all. He was dull, staid, opinionated, and downright odd, especially in his eating habits. In fact, I have never seen anyone eat the way he did. He ate a lot, well, he was a big guy so that in itself wasn’t strange. It was what he ate that was peculiar. I’ll give you an example.

One night, I saw him prepare his dinner. It comprised of a whole packet of savoury noodles meant for three people on a large plate. A whole ready-made shepherd’s pie on top. Then a tin of cold baked beans on top of that. Then a tin of cold mushy peas. And to finish it all off, mint sauce squirted all over it. And that was one of his more normal meals.

He would go to the shop and literally empty the “reduced to clear section” and eat whatever he’d managed to get. I remember once he bought a pack of lamb’s livers going really cheap. He put them into a bowl, covered it with clingfilm, and nuked them in the microwave. I didn’t even know you could cook liver like that! The liver turned grey and stank the kitchen out. He then sat down at the table, took off the clingfilm and proceeded to eat the whole pack. And that was his dinner. A large pack of liver cooked in the microwave.

One day I came home from work, opened my fridge to put away some shopping, and found the shelves were awash with blood!! He’d been given a load of offal free – and no, I don’t want to think about that either – so he’d brought it home and slung it into the fridge. It wasn’t wrapped, or even on plates, he just thrown livers, kidneys, hearts, and tripe loose in there! Blood was dripping through the shelves onto my food!

Beyond angry, I hammered on his door and ordered him up to explain himself. Why had he contaminated not only my fridge but most of my food as well. But he totally failed to understand what my problem was. It’s just food he said. It wouldn’t hurt me.

Umm, hello? Listeria, E-coli, botulism, salmonella! Yes, I would love to have a hefty dose of food poisoning this weekend. He then went out and left me to deal with it! Muttering angrily the whole time, I spent a couple of hours double bagging all his disgusting internal organs – in my head disposing of his own internal organs as well – cleaning and sterilising the fridge and picking through which of my food could be salvaged – not a lot. I then went to the shop and replaced everything that had been ruined. I copied the receipt and added to it another £50 for my time, inconvenience and cleaning materials, and when he returned informed him that this amount would be coming out of his damages deposit. He just sneered at me and said, “Oh we’ll see about that.”

It was at this point I realised he was possibly a psychopath.

He was a carer for elderly and vulnerable people, although there’s no way I would ever have left any elderly relative of mine in his care. One day I came home to discover a big cake sitting on the worksurface. Again, it was ON the worksurface, not on a plate or a board or anything silly like that, no, just on the actual worksurface, with a big piece cut out and crumbs everywhere. Sighing, I fetched a plate and tidied up. It was a lovely sponge cake with jam and buttercream filling, and clearly was homemade.

When he appeared, I told him I had sorted out the cake for him and how lovely it looked and had someone made it for him.

“No, I got it from the elderly lady I looked after this morning.”

“Oh, how sweet. She made you a cake as a thank you for looking after her?”

“No, one of her family made her the cake. I just took it.”

“What? You took her cake?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say you could take her cake?”

“No, but she’s so batty she won’t remember if she ate it or not.”

“So, you stole her cake?”

“It’s not really stealing. She would have forgotten to eat it so it would have gone to waste.”

“That’s totally not the point! You stole food from an elderly and vulnerable person who was in your care! I would imagine the agency and her family wouldn’t be too pleased about it!”

He snarled at me and stamped away, taking the cake with him. I felt very uncomfortable about the whole thing and wondered if I should tell someone about it. I considered his actions not only illegal but also highly unethical. I also wondered if he was taking stuff from me because he thought I might be too batty to notice.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised this guy had to go. I didn’t want him in my home anymore. To be completely honest, he frightened me. There was something about his eyes that sent chills down my spine.

The next morning, he came and tapped on my lounge door and told me that he was relocating with his job so would be moving out before the end of the month. He was sorry for any inconvenience, but the commute would be a bit much, so he felt it made sense to find lodgings closer to his new place of work.

Of course, I agreed, it made perfect sense. He had paid up to the end of the month, so any time he wished to go before then was fine. Please could he ensure he tidied the room back to a state fit for viewing as I would be reactivating the ad immediately and obviously would be taking potential new lodgers into it. He agreed, and the moment he left I went onto the website and listed the room as available again.

A couple of days passed, and I had a long list of appointments of people wishing to view the room. I made sure I did him the courtesy of informing him of this and reminding him that the room must be clean and tidy, and any personal items he did not wish seen put away. Again, he agreed, so next morning – ten minutes before the first person was due – I thought I’d just pop down and ensure all was in order. I didn’t think it could be so bad as he’d been living in it less than two months and unlike many lodgers, he actually washed the bedding every week. Miss F came too as she was curious.

What we found beggared belief! Sacks of potatoes and onions lined up against the wall. Big pallets of long-life milk stacked up to waist height. Bags and bags of tins everywhere! Stocks of toilet rolls. Now bear in mind this was 2013! If I’d found those things this year, I wouldn’t have turned a hair, but back then…?

Quickly, we grabbed the sacks of food and managed to manhandle them upstairs and out into the shed. The bags of tins we shoved under the bed, and the packets of toilet rolls we stored in my bedroom just to get them out of the way.

There is plenty of storage for the lodger’s food in the kitchen, so there was no need to store food in his bedroom. Also, the sheer volume of food was staggering. He was just one man! It would have taken him years to eat his way through all of that – even the way he ate. Was there an apocalypse coming that I’d failed to get the memo about? I couldn’t show the room in that state, and we’d just finished relocating all his supplies when the doorbell rang.

When he came home, I informed him what I had done, and told him that until he moved out and took all of it with him – his nuclear holocaust rations would be staying where they were. He was livid and began screaming at me that I had no right to touch his belongings. I just calmly raised a brow and told him that in the contract he signed it stated that upon handing in notice, the room had to be returned to the state it was in when he first viewed it, and that I reserved the right to do it myself if the lodger failed to comply.

He stomped around the kitchen in a fury for the rest of the evening, so I disappeared into my lounge and left him to it. Later, I heard him shouting on his phone in the basement under me, about how I had violated his privacy and he should look into suing me. Yeah, good luck with that one, mate.

His next trick was he informed me that as he would probably be moving out before the end of the rental period he’d paid for, that I would be refunding him the rent he’d paid. Oh, you bloody well think so, do you? One, it doesn’t work that way. If a lodger has paid to live in my house up until a certain date, then they are entitled to live there until midnight on that date. Baring certain circumstances I cannot ask them to leave any earlier. But if they choose to move out earlier that is on them and no rent will be returned. This is standard practice and is clearly stated in the contract all lodgers sign before moving in. Anyway, I was in no frame of mind to do him any favours by this point.

He was not happy with this and kept demanding to know if I was going to refund him the money or not. When I told him not and reminded him that neither was he getting all of his damages deposit back due to the offal in fridge incident, he became very belligerent. He started shouting at me and generally behaving in a threatening manner.

Now, he was a big chap, at least 6’4” and solidly built. I am barely over 5’ and obviously much smaller than him, but I have a Jack Russell tendency when threatened to forget how small I am. He yelled in my face, so I pulled myself up to my full height, glared at him, and told him how dare he threaten me in my own home, and that maybe I should call the police to come and have a little “chat” with him. He paused to think about that, then launched his final weapon in his argument.

“If you don’t refund me that rent and pay me back my full deposit, I will… I will…”

“You’ll do what?” I snarled.

“Move out even earlier!” He snapped and disappeared into his room slamming the door for full effect.

“Fine! Don’t let the door catch you on the arse on your way out.”

He moved out the next day – apparently to stay at a friend’s house. Astonished he actually had friends, I watched him go, got my key and parking permit back, and have never been so relieved to have a lodger leave. Would he actually have harmed me? I don’t know. But I do know I have never had a lodger make me feel so uncomfortable in my own home. As Miss F said after he’d left – “I didn’t like him, mum. He had serial killer eyes.” And I had to agree with her.

This blog has once again reached epic proportions and I’m still only up to 2013. I think the departure of creepy liver guy is a good place to stop and I can continue the story next week. In the meantime, I’m working four days over the weekend as it’s a bank holiday in the UK and most people are enjoying a long weekend off, unless you work in retail of course.

In bookish news, finally, after nearly six long years, The Book of Eve is ready for republication and I’m looking at a launch day of next Wednesday. If you have a moment, why not check out my Instagram or Facebook pages where pictures of the gorgeous new cover and lots of wonderful promo stuff will be posted daily, and on Wednesday the book will be available to buy from an Amazon site near you.

So, stay safe, stay happy, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… Part 1

My current lodger moved out this week, and I am now facing the usual chore of deep cleaning the room, advertising it, and then vetting all the potential new lodgers who come for a viewing. It is a time-consuming, frustrating, and stressful time – this period between lodgers – and I always breathe a sigh of relief when the new lodger is safely installed and settled in.

Although our house is not huge, it is laid out in a way that makes taking in a lodger possible, and I have been doing this in an unbroken line of lodgers stretching back to 2004. When my marriage fell apart in August 2004, there was a real doubt I would be able to keep my home. Left alone with a one year old to raise, no savings, a huge mortgage, and only a part-time job to live off, it was a very frightening and worrying time for me.

However, I was determined not to lose my beloved home and I realised that taking in a lodger was going to be the only way to do it. Like many Victorian and Edwardian houses, mine came with a spacious coal cellar and in 1996 my father had helped me to convert it into a useable room. Over the long and hot summer that year, he, and my brother, along with any other casual labour we roped in to help, laboured down that cellar like pit ponies. They dug down into the floor by several feet to make it possible to stand up without bashing your head on the ceiling.

A large hatchway was dug up to the tiny front garden to create a shallow shaft to allow light and air to reach the room, and an easily openable window was installed to work as a fire escape route. The cellar was professionally tanked out, the walls were insulated, a radiator was installed, and plenty of sockets and lights were fitted.  Plasterboard was installed, and the walls were then plastered smooth. Finally, it was painted, and a beautiful new room had been added to our home.

At the time it was merely used as an extra living area – I had no idea it would ever be utilised as a bedroom, nor that its very existence would save my skin and allow me to keep my home.

For a few years it served as my office, I was working from home running a secretarial service to supplement my income, and it was useful having somewhere separate to work. My husband also had a desk down there as he enjoyed playing computer games, and he needed somewhere to do his work-related paperwork.

Then I gave up the extra secretarial work so I no longer needed an office, and my husband laid claim to the room totally, buying a wide screen television, a corner sofa unit, and a PlayStation, and he was the one who used the room the most.

Then I got pregnant, and I remember it was lovely and cool down there in the summer, and when I was in my final stages of pregnancy, overdue, hugely bloated, and in the middle of a heatwave – it became the haven I vanished into when the heat of the day became too much for me to cope with.

Fast forward almost two years to a woman suddenly alone with huge bills and no income to pay them. My part-time wage didn’t even cover my mortgage, and trying to find a full-time, higher paying job was impractical. Childcare costs would have been prohibitive. I was making use of the help of two sets of grandparents but couldn’t have asked them to do any more. I felt working more hours, to earn more money, to pay a stranger to raise my daughter, so I could work more hours to pay them to look after her, was stupidly counterproductive. Plus, I had a very kind and understanding boss. He was sympathetic to my situation and had already told me to adjust my hours as I needed to, in order to continue working for him.

So, I considered the situation and decided that taking in a lodger was the only answer. The government were running what was called a “Rent a Room Scheme” whereby you could let out a room in your home and not have to pay tax on the rent, or declare it and risk losing any tax benefits you might be claiming. So long as you stayed under a certain limit, all the rental income was yours to keep.

When I told my mother than was what I planned to do, she was a first unsure, saying she wasn’t comfortable having strangers sleeping up in the bedrooms with me and my baby daughter. But that was never the plan. When my husband had left, he had taken with him the large TV and his PlayStation from the cellar. I then sold the sofa unit and cleared the rest of the room, so it was completely empty. I needed furniture to turn it into a fully furnished rentable room. Luckily, the catalogue company Argos – who really are a company selling everything – were offering interest free payment plans on all purchases over a certain amount if you took out a store card with them. I applied for and received a card with a £2000 limit on it.

Carefully, I made a list – a set of matching cream Shaker style bedroom furniture comprising of a double bed, three door wardrobe, large chest of drawers, and a bedside chest – two complete sets of cream bedding plus pillows and a duvet – a laundry basket and matching wastepaper basket – a rug – lamps – a corkboard to cover up holes in the wall where the shelves holding my ex-husbands vast video collection went – it all went onto the card, along with a new car seat for Miss F because she had outgrown her baby one, and a small table and chairs, as I had sold the big, eight seater set we used to have, and had moved one of the sofas into the dining room and turned it into a sitting/dining room so that the lodger would have a lounge to use without intruding into my personal space.

I felt having somewhere to escape to was essential.

Using the basement room for the lodger was inspired. Like many older properties, the bathroom is on the ground floor. This meant that the lodger had access to their room, a lounge/dining room, the kitchen, bathroom, and garden, all without having to go upstairs or into my private lounge. It also meant if they wished to use the bathroom late at night, they could, without coming upstairs or disturbing us.

Argos very kindly gave me a year’s interest free credit for that lot, and I calculated exactly how much I would need to pay back each month to get it settled comfortably before the year was up. Yes, it was a bit of a gamble, but I had to get a lodger, so the room had to be furnished. After all, you have to speculate, to accumulate.

Back then, there was no such thing as rental websites, so I had to place an ad in my local paper and hope that someone called.

Someone did, a nice young girl called Becky who moved in and seemed very happy for six months. Then she moved out to live with her boyfriend and I placed the ad again.

I quickly realised that this was going to be the way of things, as young people moved in, got serious with their boyfriends/girlfriends, and moved out.

Then an older gentleman answered the ad. At first dubious about taking somewhere in his sixties, as I spoke to him in the interview, I quickly realised that here might be the solution to the quick turnaround of my younger lodgers.

He moved in, and for over four years lived with us as part of the family. He joined me sometimes for meals if I cooked too much. Very often, we would share a takeaway and bottle of wine with a film. As he had no family to go to, he joined us for Christmases. As an older person, I was comfortable trusting him to look after the house and cat when we went away to visit friends or have an infrequent holiday. I totally trusted him, but had a hard lesson coming my way.

We had gone away to York for the week of the October half term holiday. We had rented a three bedroomed house right in the heart of the city and travelled up by train. There was myself, Miss F, and my mother, and we were looking forward to having a wonderful city break exploring the gorgeous city of York, doing all the museums, and eating out.

Before I left, I cleaned the house from top to bottom, the lodger assured me he would be fine feeding the cat, just as he had done several times before. He had my mobile phone number should he need to contact me, and my father’s telephone number – who wasn’t coming with us – in case there was any trouble with the house.

We went away and had a great week, arriving back Saturday lunchtime. We had a Halloween party to go to that evening, so were a bit rushed unpacking the essentials and getting into costume. There was no sign of the lodger, but the house was clean, the cat was well fed, so I assumed he was just out for the day.

We got back after midnight from the party and of course went straight to bed. I didn’t wake until late next morning, exhausted from the week, the long train journey home, and the party. I didn’t see anything of the lodger, but again, thought nothing of it. Not until my mobile rang Sunday afternoon and it was the lodger informing me that while I’d been away, he’d moved out!

Stunned, I asked why? To move in with his girlfriend, he informed me. Really?! At seventy? I mean, kudos to you, but really? I asked why he hadn’t told me this before I’d gone on holiday. He didn’t answer. I told him he was in breach of contract as he was supposed to give me a month’s notice. He told me to keep the deposit in lieu of it. He then hung up.

Totally shocked, I went down into the basement for the first time in over four years. And wanted to cry. It was like descending into the pit of hell. Clearly, the room had not been cleaned since I had deep cleaned it before he moved in. Ropes of grimy cobwebs hung from the ceiling. An inch-thick layer of dust and dirt lay on every surface. The window was so dirty you couldn’t see through it. A pile of filthy bedding lay in the middle of a mattress that looked like something had died on it. All four pillows lay there with massive yellow stains on them. The other set of bedding was in the corner of the room in the same state.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could anyone live like that? I would have been less shocked if he’d been a teenager – they tend not to notice the dirt – but this was an adult in his late sixties. He held down a responsible job, he dressed smartly, his car was always immaculate, he always tidied up after himself in the bathroom and the kitchen – and he lived like a pig in his room.

No, I take that back, pigs prefer to be clean.

Added to that, the room stank! I mean really stank. Of sweat and mould and damp. Clearly, he had been keeping wet towels down there, and when I examined the cushions on the armchair, I found they were spotted with mould and smelled really bad.

It took me over two weeks to fumigate the room. Two weeks of having the window wide open, of scrubbing and cleaning and bleaching, of putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls and skirting boards. Of boil washing the bedding over and over until I got the smell and the stains out. Of replacing the mattress and pillows. Of bleaching the inside of drawers and cupboards.

I hated him with a passion by the time I had finished. For over four years he had lived with us and been treated as part of the family. He had been fed by me, shared my wine, watched my daughter grow up, and spent Christmases with us. But it taught me a valuable lesson.

The lodger might be the nicest, most considerate person in the world, but the second a boyfriend/girlfriend comes on the scene, they forget every manner they have ever learned. Don’t get too close to the lodger, because they are JUST a lodger. Sooner or later, they will move on, usually without a second thought. And that other people do not share the same standards of cleanliness and hygiene that I do. I have had lodgers who’ve moved in with their own bedding, and a year later moved out taking that bedding with them and you just know it’s not been washed once in that whole year.

That left me looking for a new lodger and fed up with the whole situation. I’d got too comfortable because that lodger had been with us for so long, it taught me to always be expecting them to hand in their notice, and to always been prepared for that.

So, the ad went up, and the phone began to ring with people looking to rent the room – lots of people – it quite surprised me how many. It seemed in the almost five years since I had last advertised, renting a room had become much more popular. Most people couldn’t afford to rent a whole house or even a flat by themselves as rents had soared, whilst wages had remained fairly static.

I realised I was going to have my pick of whoever I wanted, and that made me feel a lot happier about the situation. Then a man came to view the room with his young daughter. A big, bluff man, he did all the talking and by the time I’d shown them the room, all the areas accessible to the lodger, and the garden, and we were talking in the kitchen, she had yet to say a word. A tiny thing, with long blonde hair, I had dismissed her as someone I didn’t really want to share my home with – after all, I did want to have the occasional conversation with the lodger, and I wasn’t really into awkward silences.

The man was gushing on about how much he liked the house, the area, and me, and how relieved he and his wife would be that their daughter would be living in the house with a responsible adult around to look after them.

Hmm, I thought, I’ve already got one child I’m looking after, pretty sure I don’t want another.

I would have no problems, with his girl, he assured me, absolutely no problems. She didn’t drink at all, no she didn’t, and as for boys – well, his girl simply wasn’t interested in all that nonsense, she was too busy working and studying to get into university.

At this point, the girl lifted her head and looked at me from behind a long blonde fringe, and as her dad was extolling her nun-like virtues she slowly and deliberately dropped me a wink and pursed her lips.

Oh ho! I thought in delight, trying not to laugh. Your darling daddy doesn’t know you as well as he thinks he does.

Of course, there was no question about it after that. I offered her the room. Miss C moved in a week later and was like a breath of fresh air in the house. For one fun-packed year, this tiny blonde powerhouse lived with us as she worked towards her dream of going to the London School of Fashion. She was young, yes, but respectful and sweet and funny. Miss F adored her, and the two of them were like sisters. At Christmas and for my birthday, the pair of them would go shopping for my presents and would wrap them together. We would all pile on the sofa and watch films together. I taught her to cook nutritious meals on a budget in the year she lived with us, a skill she was later very glad of when she moved into her university digs.

When she moved in, Miss C said she didn’t like Doctor Who or red wine – but that soon changed, and I remember when we were sitting in the candlelit lounge late one Winter’s evening watching the episode of Doctor Who where he has landed in London during the Blitz. There’s a strange child wandering around the streets in a gasmask uttering a mournful cry of “Mum-m-m-y, are you my mummy?” in a voice designed to send chills up and down your spine.

“Ooh, this is spooky poo,” Miss C said, when suddenly the lounge door burst open, eight year old Miss F marched in wearing nothing but a pair of knickers, strode over to the TV, stopped and spun around to face us. Her face was deathly white, and her eyes were huge and dark. Frozen in shock, we stared at her as she stared back. Then she cocked her head to one side and said. “Mum-m-m-y?”

We both jumped out of our skins. Then I realised Miss F was sleepwalking and gently took her back to bed, and tucked her safely in. When I went downstairs, Miss C was opening another bottle of wine with hands that shook. As she handed me a glass, she just looked at me and said – “Shit!” – and I knew exactly what she meant.

Then there was the case of the exploding microwave dish. It was Miss C’s weekend to clean and Miss F and I were in our lounge reading a bedtime story. There was a sudden loud bang and we rushed through to the kitchen to find Miss C standing there in a state of shock, covered in powdered glass. She had cooked herself something to eat in the microwave, but it had splattered, so she’d taken the still hot glass plate out and gone to put it on a cold granite worktop. Of course, it exploded like a bomb!

I made her stand perfectly still while I got the vacuum cleaner and sucked all the glass from her hair and clothes, then gently wiped her face to make sure no glass was on it. She thought I was going to be cross because of the broken plate, but I was more concerned about the glass all over her!

At the end of the year we sadly said goodbye to Miss C when she achieved her dream of going to the London School of Fashion, but we stayed in touch, and when she came back to visit her parents she often came to see us. One year we even went and stayed with her when we went to the London Comicon.

Over the years, we have had all sorts of people share our home for varying periods of time. Some, like Miss C, were great, some not so. Some stayed in touch, some we never heard of again after they moved out. There was one I was afraid I was going to kill if he didn’t move out. There was even one I was afraid was going to kill me if he didn’t move out. But I will talk more about them in next week’s blog.

In the meantime, the current lodger has gone, and I have been left with a badly stained mattress that was brand new when he moved in, and a room that smells. But I know better now, the window is open to the breeze and a dehumidifier is freshening up the air. I took out insurance on the mattress and the lodger knows he will get back his deposit only after I have determined whether I am covered for cleaning/replacing it, or whether the cost of a new one will be coming out of it.

And so, I’m facing the chore of trying to find another lodger in the middle of a pandemic. I’m not sure how this is going to work. Is anyone even looking for rooms to rent at the moment? I guess they must be, but I won’t know that until I reactivate my ad. Luckily, there are amazing websites to do that through now, and those long-ago days of having to go to my local newspaper’s office to place an expensive ad that was charged for by the word are over. Now it costs me £10 for a week’s ad and I can say as much as I please, I can even upload photos. They also filter all responses through their website, so I don’t have to give anyone my contact details if I don’t want to.

I’m guessing having hand sanitiser by the door and requesting all who come to view need to wear masks, is sensible. But maybe when I take them out to see the garden, we can remove the masks so I can see their faces. I rely a lot on gut instinct when choosing someone to live in our home and I need to see their faces for that.

I’ve learnt to trust my instincts, and they don’t usually let me down. In over fifteen years and nine lodgers, I’ve only got it wrong twice. But like I said, I’ll tell you all about them next week.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay happy.

Julia Blake

Shop Till You Drop… Literally!

“No rest for the wicked” – isn’t that what they say? Well, if that’s true, then I must be pure evil! Had an even more stupidly crazily busy week than normal this week! There were my usual two days at work Monday and Tuesday, then on Wednesday Miss F had her two best friends around for lunch to celebrate her birthday. Now, birthday celebrations for a 17 year old are thankfully a lot less hands-on than those for a seven or even a ten year old, and apart from paying for all the food and making sure the house and garden were clean and tidy, my role in the shenanigans was mercifully minimal.

Whilst her and her friends commandeered the kitchen, dining room, and garden, I was able to sequester myself away in the lounge and crack on with the beta reader amendments to “The Book of Eve”. Despite the odd interruption re where things were and how long I thought three, fully loaded pizzas would take to cook, I managed to get the manuscript completely amended.

It was so hot though. Luckily, our house being an old Victorian terrace it remains reasonably cool and our garden is very shady. But set foot outside in the street and heat just boiled up at you from the pavement. It topped 40 degrees centigrade, which is ridiculous for Britain, especially as we mostly don’t have an air conditioning, and it’s a very humid and muggy heat. I had three showers on Wednesday, but each time was drenched in sweat again before I’d even left the bathroom.

I did manage to get the blurb written for “The Book of Eve” though and get that sent to my cover designer, so that’s a relief. Ask any author what they think of writing the blurb and they’ll probably cry. Write a 100,000 word novel? Piece of cake. Write 200 words summarising it in a way that will hook a reader but not give any spoilers? Nope, just nope.

Thursday, I had reluctantly earmarked for going clothes shopping. Now, I hate clothes shopping at the best of times. Being only 5’1” and having short legs and perhaps not being as slender as I would like to be, finding anything to fit me is an absolute nightmare. Miss F ordered a load of clothes online during lockdown and again last week as part of her birthday present, and apart from one pair of trousers that she sent back because she didn’t like the waistband, everything else fitted and looked great – but then she’s 17, tall, thin, and beautiful. I never buy clothes online for reasons you will fully understand when you’ve finished reading this blog. And apart from a new pair of jeans and a blouse just before Christmas last year, I haven’t bought anything since last summer.

Pre-Covid, a shopping expedition would go something like this – I would realise there was no choice, I absolutely HAD to buy some clothes. I would go out dressed in easily removable clothing, with no make up on, and shoes I can just slip on and off.

I’d be alone, always! The thought of having witnesses to my misery is one that makes me shiver, and besides – woman shops faster who shops alone! I would enter the shop. Starting at one end of the racks I would systematically work my way through. My system is simple – do they have it in my size? Yes. Right, hold it up against myself – how about the length? Most clothing manufacturers refuse to admit that woman under 5’7” actually walk the Earth and so don’t make clothes to fit us dwarfish troglodytes (get back in your cave and wrap yourself in sackcloth and ashes, you misshapen freak you! We only make clothes for tall, skinny, beautiful women!) Finding anything to fit was almost impossible. Finding anything that not only fitted, but that suited me, and I liked, was akin to finding the Holy Grail!

I would then go into the changing room with a massive armful of clothing. If there was a five item only rule, I would usually wheedle the assistant into either waiving it, or enlist her help constantly ferrying clothes in and out of the cubicle I had temporarily taken up residence in.

I’d strip – underneath would be flesh coloured, plain and simple underwear – I know from experience how the wrong bra or a VPL can completely change how you feel about an outfit. Trying on would then commence. I’m fast and furious when it comes to clothes shopping. Put it on. Look honestly in the mirror. Most things are an instant “no”. Over the years I’ve learnt never to think “maybe” – maybe if I wore it with heels, maybe if I put my hair up, maybe if I lose a stone in weight, maybe if I have plastic surgery – because if it’s a “maybe” then that outfit will languish in your wardrobe for the next five years, still with all its tags on, until you take it to the charity shop guilty at the money you wasted on it.

No, try it on, scrutinise yourself from every angle in the mirrors. If it’s a no, take it off and put on the no peg – likewise if it’s a maybe. If it’s a yes, then hang it on the yes peg for later consideration. I would speedily work my way through the entire thirty or forty articles of clothing I have. Usually, out of this lot I will find three or four things I like. Buy them. Go home. Immediately try them on at home again and look in the mirror. Do you still like it? Check out your wardrobe. Do you have anything you can wear with it? Think, will there be any occasion you will wear it to? Yes, that full length opera gown may make you look like Christina from “The Phantom of the Opera” but unless you regularly attend balls then you’re never going to wear it. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then carefully take it off, put them back in the bag and take it back to the shop.

Then move onto the next shop and start the whole process again.

So, you can see why clothes shopping was such an issue with me, and that was pre-Covid when I could weed out most of the undesirables in one massive try-on session in the changing room. But now we’re not allowed to try on anymore. We’re expected to actually buy the clothes, bring them home, try them on, cry, and then take them all back!

And that’s what I had to do. Over, and over, again on Thursday in 40 degrees heat! It took almost five hours of traipsing around the shops, buying stuff, bringing it home, trying them on, subjecting myself to Miss F’s intense, critical scrutiny, and then taking them back, exchanging for more, coming home, trying them on, taking them back – and so on, and so on – to finally end up with two linen dresses, two pairs of linen trousers, and six tops, oh, and a new bag.

It was a nightmare! Luckily, I live a two-minute walk from the shopping centre so could do this, but I can’t imagine what a pain in the arse this must be for people living further from town. I also have no idea what state this has left my bank account in! I had to buy everything I wanted to try on, and yes, I took most of it back, but although the shops are quick enough to take the money from your bank account the same day of purchase, they’re not so quick to put it back in. I did hope that as all the transactions occurred on the same day then it might speed the refund process up, but don’t know if it helped at all. I haven’t dared look at my account yet.

Thursday was also exam results day, so Miss F was all of a dither to find out how she’d done in her end of year exams. We’d knew she’d passed, so it was a question of how well she’d done – and also with all the downgrading of results that the government has been doing (Why? Why?!) there was still a bit of a question mark hanging over it. She had to telephone in and the lines were only open between 9:30am and 3:00pm, there were apparently only two people answering the phone, and over 500 students desperately trying to get through. Almost the whole time I was out shopping, Miss F was phoning, getting the busy tone, hanging up, trying again. Eventually, she got through and received the amazing news that not only did she pass, but she passed with a distinction which is practically the highest pass you can get! That means she now has the equivalent of two A’Levels at grade A, which is amazing. I am so proud of her, she has worked really hard all year and then had to take some of her exams under very difficult circumstances. Really nice things have been happening to her lately, and most of it is due to hard work and perseverance. A valuable life lesson that if you don’t give up and work really hard, you will get what you want.

As it’s Miss F’s birthday this week, we are going out for lunch on Saturday with my parents to the restaurant where Miss F has a part-time job. It is a top-level posh place and I really wanted to look smart and not embarrass her by rocking up in my usual scruffy and dishevelled state. Bearing that mind, I brought home several dresses to try on and to my surprise two of them fitted and passed Miss F’s narrowed-eyed look of judgement. Both are linen and reach the knee. One is a simple black shift dress with cap sleeves – essential, as any woman of 53 will tell you! It’s plain, except for some detailing around the hem, it’s loose and cool, and, best of all, it has pockets!

The other is a powder blue colour, again with cap sleeves. It buttons right the way up the front with tiny round buttons covered with the same fabric as the dress. It’s more fitted over the boobs with an almost empire line cut to it. Again, it’s loose and cool. Sadly, no pockets, but you can’t have everything.

Both are a little more low cut than I usually wear, but I have an amazing necklace that Miss F bought me one Christmas which works perfectly with them both, and I have a pair of open toed wedge sandals made of colourful fabric and jewels. So, I thought that was me sorted. Either outfit was very suitable for lunching out in a posh restaurant in the middle of a heatwave – smart and cool – not a combination that happens very often.

But I should have known, shouldn’t I? I should have known that the best laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere. Friday morning, the day of Miss F’s actual birthday, the temperature had crept down a bit. I had to go to the Post Office and send off all the signed copies of my latest books to beta readers, my editor, and my formatter, and was able to wear jeans for the first time in weeks without feeling stupidly overdressed and that I was going to melt. But I told myself it was fine. I would be fine! It was still reasonably warm, at least 27 degrees, so I could still wear either of the linen dresses and be warm enough.

For her actual birthday Miss F had requested a chill out day of nice food, games, and Netflix. So the afternoon was spent teaching her how to play Othello (and getting my arse kicked at it), and playing endless rounds of Cluedo – Colonel Mustard, in the billiards rooms, with the lead piping – and I didn’t really pay much attention to the weather, until late afternoon when it suddenly went very dark, it got cold, and then the heavens opened!

And now it’s Saturday morning. I’ve showered and my nails are painted nicely, but the temperature has plummeted to 18 degrees, it’s still raining, and it’s looking like a linen dress is no longer a viable option. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I know when most women say they have “nothing to wear”, this is in fact a lie which would easily be dispelled by a quick glance at their bulging wardrobe. But when I say I have nothing to wear, I mean, I literally have nothing to wear! I’ve never been that fussed about clothes, and I’m quite a simple dresser. It’s got worse as I’ve got older, and now that I have uniform for work, I no longer have to buy half decent stuff to wear every day.

Not believing my claims of being clothes-less, Miss F marched to my wardrobe and threw open the doors. Empty coathangers rattled and she stared at me.

“Where are all your clothes?”

“Well…” I gestured helplessly at the cavernously empty space. “That’s it.”

The brutal fact is, clothes are expensive, and being a single mum it has meant that over the years any spare pennies I had to waste on clothes, usually got wasted on clothes for her, and I’ve made do with the barest minimum, relying on charity shop finds and sales bargains to get what I needed.

So, here I am. Looking at the rain lashing down on the window, comfortably cool in my thick jeans and t-shirt and wondering what on earth outfit I’m going to manage to pull out of the hat at the eleventh hour.

We’re in a bubble with my parents so can go into their house, but I know my brother and my niece – whom we haven’t seen since Christmas – were hoping to sit in my parents garden with us before lunch. But it’s raining, so **shrugs** I have no idea what’s going to happen now!

This evening we have family coming over for cheese and wine and a games evening, which we’re looking forward to, and then that’s my four days over and I’m back to work tomorrow, and of course it’s forecast that the heatwave will return with a vengeance to cook me in my skin in a sweat box of a shop wearing a mask all day. Sigh.

In other news, I finally received the bill for my car from the garage. They had said the worse-case scenario was £500 so I was braced for that but was hoping it would be less. Nope. £497.99!

Now it’s 10:15am on Saturday morning. We are leaving in precisely one hour’s-time and I am still sitting here with wet hair, no make-up on, in my jeans, with no clue what to put on. It’s grey, wet, and miserable so the powder blue dress is definitely a no. I guess I’d better close now and see what can be found.

Sorry, it’s a shorter blog this week, but you can see how my time has been spent and that I was lucky I managed to carve an hour out of this morning to say hi there, and get you up-to-date with how my week has been.

Take care, and I look forward to chatting with you all next week.

Additional: I didn’t have time to post this last night so it’s now Sunday morning. The day heated up a little bit more yesterday, so I said – “sod it” – and wore the black linen dress with bare legs and my sandals. Even though it was raining on and off, it was a muggy, oppressive day so I was warm enough and being just in the car and then in the restaurant I stayed dry.

Lunch was lovely. Miss F is certainly lucky to have found such a nice part-time job and everyone seemed very pleased to see her. She begins working again next week and I am relieved that she not only kept her job, but that she’ll finally have a reason to leave the house two or three times a week. Apart from a handful of occasions, she hasn’t left the house since mid-March and I don’t think that’s very good for her.

What with her college recommencing in a couple of weeks-time and her work placement beginning, things look to be getting back to normal for her. I really hope we don’t all go back into lockdown!

Anyway, that’s really it now, so speak next week.

Julia Blake

It’s the Little Things…

This week will be a brief catch up as I am inundated with things to do and, as usual, I don’t have enough time to do it all in. After an incredibly busy two days at work Monday and Tuesday, during which we had non-stop customers and I smashed my week’s sales target out of the park. The temperature began to climb and another heatwave was predicted for the UK – just to remind all my non-UK friends – we don’t have air conditioning so a heatwave here is a real heatwave that we all suffer without the respite of having air-conditioned homes and work places.

By Tuesday afternoon it was becoming unbearably hot at work and we were all suffering in the masks that the company now makes us wear. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to walk out of the shop and rip that damn mask off so I could breathe properly.

Wednesday, Miss F was going for a full day’s try out at the doggie day care centre she had applied to for a work placement for college. As she is training to be a zookeeper and is currently halfway through a two-year animal management course at our local college, she has to find so many hours voluntary work in an animal-based environment in order to complete her course.

This is harder than it sounds. We only live in a small town and the number of suitable placements available is sparse. Bear in mind there are over 150 other students on similar courses all looking for exactly the same placement, and you can see how it’s a nerve-wracking time trying to find something.

She got lucky last year. Someone she knew at college happened to mention that there was a space going at the stable and dog breeding farm she had her placement at. Miss F telephoned the farmer, was interviewed over the phone, and a week later was invited to go for a day’s trial.

She got the position, and we were very relieved she had. The only downside was that it was in the village of Keddington which is about a 45 minute drive away and as Miss F of course isn’t old enough yet to drive, that meant that I was having to drive her out there for a nine o’clock start every Friday, then driving myself home. She needed picking up at 2pm, so of course that was another double journey for me. So, for almost a year, I was spending three hours of my precious day-off in the car running her about.

But it had to be done, and that’s what you do when you’re a parent, and I was prepared to do it for another year. However, the farm decided to scale back its operation and no longer needed volunteers so that left us trying to find her somewhere else.

I was quite keen for us to beat the rush and get something settled before the long summer holidays, so back at the beginning of March I was urging her to press her placement officer at the college to give her some suggestions of where she could apply.

He gave her the name and email address of a doggie creche in town where people can drop off their dogs for the day while they are at work. With me urging her, Miss F reached out to them by email and had a lovely reply congratulating her on her forward thinking and inviting her for an interview a couple of weeks later.

But fate, or rather Corona, intervened. We went into lockdown a week later and she was unable to attend the interview. Of course, emails went back and forth about this and she was told to get back in touch when the quarantine period was over.

Mid-June, when things were beginning to open back up again, I advised her to send a little re-connection email just reminding them of who she was and that she was still around and still interested in a placement. Again, emails went back and forth and it was agreed they would let her know when it was possible to go for an interview but if she hadn’t heard from them by mid-July to email and remind them.

My birthday is the 17th of July, so it was easy for me to remember to remind Miss F to contact them when my birthday came and went with nothing from them. They invited her for an interview the last week of July, and then she went for a day long try out this Wednesday to see how she liked it, and I suppose, more importantly, to see how they liked her and to show them that she was up for the job.

She had to be there by 7:45am, which considering she has spent the last four months bumming around in the house with no need to be up before midday, came as a bit of a shock. I had made her lay out her clothes and pack her lunch the night before, but it was still a heavy eyed and grouchy teenager whom I drove across town and dropped off, with promises to be there at 4pm to collect her.

When I got home and closed the front door behind me, it suddenly struck me that I had the whole house to myself for the first time since early March!! Silence enveloped me and I could hear the voices in my head yelling to be heard. There was nothing else to do but switch on my laptop and write furiously on my latest work in progress which is now standing at a very respectable 35,000 words. Given that I’m aiming for a final count of about 100,000 words this puts me at a third of the way through, which I’m very happy about.

When I went to collect Miss F, it was a very sunburnt, grubby, and over the moon girl who jumped into the car. She’d had a wonderful day caring for 30 dogs, had got on with everyone, and, best of all, had been offered the placement.

They had told her that usually they have between twenty to thirty applicants, but because Corona had happened so early in the year, no other students had thought to apply. It was only because I’d urged Miss F to badger her placement officer for likely places she could apply to, and then encouraged her to be proactive in asking for an interview, staying in touch, and building up a connection with them, that she got not only an interview but the offer of the placement as well.

It just goes to show, the early bird really does get the worm!

That night to celebrate her achievement and the 5605 words I had written, we had a takeaway from a new restaurant in town which was surprisingly delicious and tasted very fresh and well cooked.

Thursday, I worked some more on my story, caught up on laundry, and tackled my ironing pile which had been steadily growing in the corner of my room until it was practically waist high! I managed to get half of it done – better than nothing.

I had a bit of bad news last week – well, not so much bad news as annoying and inconvenient news. Our lodger of eighteen months handed in his notice. Apparently, he has a girlfriend he’s now very serious about and they wish to move in together. He has paid up until the end of August but says he will probably move out mid-month, and then I’ll have the usual arse ache of trying to replace him.

I hate looking for a new lodger. Honestly, you just get one house trained and then they’re off and you have to start all over again. The room will need to be freshened up and put into perfect order for viewings. I will need to re-activate my add on the letting website I use. Then there’s arranging viewings and vetting all the potential candidates.

It’s a painful and stressful process at the best of times, but quite how it’s going to work at the moment I’m not sure. I guess masks will need to be worn during viewings, which is awkward because I rely on lot on gut instinct when choosing whom should live in our home. If I can’t see their facial expressions that will make things harder.

It’s also financially stressful. I do rely on the rental income to pay my mortgage so when it takes several weeks to find someone suitable it can be a little worrying. But we have been taking in lodgers for over fifteen years now and have always managed to find someone, so I’m sure this time will be no different.

This particular lodger has been alright in some ways and a bit of a pain in the bum in others. I never normally accept night workers. I have no wish to be woken up at silly o’clock as they slam the front door coming home from work, and then having to keep the house completely silent for them all day because they’re sleeping. I did question him during the viewing and he reassured me he was an evening not a night worker, but either that was a lie or he considered an evening to extend to 3am, because from the moment he moved in he was working nights. He told us not to worry about keeping quiet because he was a heavy sleeper, so sometimes days would pass without us ever catching sight of him.

We had teething problems with him. Like the night I was woken up by him coming in, then thirty minutes later I heard him go back out again. Thoroughly awake and thirsty, I got up to get some water from the kitchen and discovered my front door standing wide open at 3am! Given that we are in the centre of town and are on the main route home from the clubs and pubs, I was not very impressed by this.

He brought a bike with him when he moved in, which has stood in my tiny garden the whole time he has lived here and hasn’t been touched once! Damn thing is so in the way! If I stand it at the bottom of the garden, then my washing on the line blows over it and picks up dirt from it. If I stand it higher up on the pathway down the side of the house, we are forever catching ourselves on the handlebar because it sticks out so far. I will be very relieved to see the back of that!

He also does an inordinate amount of washing! For a guy who goes to work in a pair of overalls, sleeps all day, and when he does go out is clad only in shorts and a t-shirt, he is forever washing clothes! He uses the machine more than we do, and puts it on at odd hours so instead of hanging the washing out on the line to dry during all the months of gorgeous weather we have had, puts in in the tumble drier which eats electricity. So, that’s annoying.

My experiences with him have only served to reinforce my determination not to have a night worker again, and I will make sure in future that I question the candidates carefully as to their working hours, because it does matter. If someone is going to be banging into the house in the middle of the night, it will wake me up. My bed is directly over the front porch so when the front door is slammed – which it invariably will be – my whole bed shakes and I am shocked awake. I then can’t go back to sleep and unlike the lodger – who can then snore the rest of the day away – I still have to be up early for work.

There is also the fact that this person is going to be living in our home, so they need to be compatible with us and our lives. Men, especially, need to be thoroughly vetted. There is a 17-year-old girl living in this house. Very often she is alone here, so I need to know the person I allow to live here is trustworthy and decent.

I need to like them as well. This is not a massive house. We will run across them frequently in the kitchen and the sitting room they have access to, so they must be agreeable to live with. This is my home. It is my refuge and my haven. I cannot allow it to be tainted by a person who’s a nightmare to live with.

Friday, most of my day was spent doing an emergency proofread of a friend and fellow indie author’s new book. It’s due to be released next week and she’d asked me to arc read it, but I’d only got a couple of chapters in when I realised there were quite a few issues that she and her editor had missed. I was unsure what to do, but I figured she’d rather find out now from me, than publish and have readers tell her in reviews, so I contacted her and offered to read the rest as quickly as I could. In between reading, I wrote a book review, went to collect my hayfever meds, went to the PO, did some shopping, and wrote a few more words on my book. So, another busy day.

It continued to get hotter, and Friday and Saturday have been unbelievably hot and muggy. Stupidly, I had promised Miss F we would completely spring clean her bedroom, so for most of Saturday we were trapped in a small, hot room heaving furniture about, de-cobwebbing, dusting, sorting out, vacuuming, and rearranging. It was long overdue, and she really wanted it done before her birthday next week when she has friends coming over, but I seriously could have done without it. It also didn’t help that while I was sweating my nads off, she kept being distracted by her phone and finding any excuse not to help.

But it’s done, the room is at least now tidy and more importantly clean. What is it about teenagers? Why do they want their bedrooms to look like pigsties? I swear it must be a year since she last dusted in there, cobwebs were draped over everything and dust was an inch thick on every surface. Apart from looking disgusting, I’m sure it was a health risk.

And now it’s Saturday evening. I’ve showered, prepared dinner, and am finally able to sit down with a glass of wine and finish writing this. I have a real sense of catching up with things, of long-overdue jobs being finally ticked off the list. From the kitchen I can smell lamb kebabs grilling, and the fresh scent of mint from the pepper, pea, and potato salad I’ve made to go with them.

Yes, I’m back to work tomorrow, but I’m already through my target so that always eases the stress enormously. My blog is written. I’m up to date with my book reviews. I’ve written almost 10,000 words this week on my new book which I’m loving and am very excited about. I’ve received the first beta readers feedback on The Book of Eve ready to go through next Wednesday. And this week I have received a 4+ star review on at least one of my books every single day. I have wine, oh, and did I tell you that dinner is smelling really good.

Sometimes, it really is the little things.

Take care, and I look forward to chatting to you next week.

Julia Blake

It’s actually our fault but we’re going to blame you!

I didn’t blog last week for which I’m sorry, I have no excuses, it just didn’t happen. To be fair, last week was a busy and stressful one. I was supposed to be on the second week of my holiday, and I was supposed to be publishing the first three books of the Blackwood Family Sage all in one big triple hit. Mad? Possibly.

Anyway, for those of you familiar with the whole hell that is trying to upload to Amazon’s publishing house KDP, bear with me while I try to explain it to those in blissful ignorance. If an author publishes through Amazon, then it can be great and there are many benefits. It’s free, you don’t have to pay for an ISBN number, and they will help you make your cover if you need them to. But, being an indie author means you have to do everything yourself including formatting your precious book not only into a version suitable for publishing as an eBook, but even harder, you have to produce a version suitable to go into a paperback as well.

The eBook version is pretty straight forward. Don’t page number it, KDP will do that for you. Make sure your page breaks are in place otherwise your chapters will bleed into each other. Make sure your chapter headings aren’t so big they will break in odd places and add hyperlinks to your contents page so people can jump to wherever they want to in the book when they’re reading it.

The paperback is trickier. You are charging more for a physical book, so it must be perfect, well, in my humble opinion it does. The chapter endings need to be sensible – one of my pet hates is a chapter ending with just one or two lines at the top of a page then a ton of white space underneath, so I will always tweak the paragraphs to either pull them back so the chapter ends neatly at the bottom of a page, or push them out so there’s a sensible amount of text on the last page of the chapter. I also like to start all my new chapters on the right-hand side, the top side of a page, but that is a whole other OCD issue which could take up an entire blog.

The pagination must be accurate, and that can be problematic especially in a book like Erinsmore or The Forest. Those books contain section breaks and chapter title pages which you don’t want page numbers on but you do want the pagination to count them, so the numbering picks up again on page one of the next chapter. Unbelievably complicated! I have no idea why the designers of Word made it so arse-achingly hard to do. It was like there was a committee meeting and a proposal was put forward to make pagination simple and straight forward, but they all looked at it, chuckled evilly, and decided no, they’d make it so twisty, complex, and downright impossible that any author attempting it would end up clawing their own eyes out and sobbing quietly in a corner.

Anyway, after ten books I can handle pagination. It may take me a while, there may be much cursing and some tears, but I do eventually get it right. I can even insert all my own illustrations, illuminated capitals, and chapter graphics – or rather my IT department (aka Miss F) – can do it. Then my paperback draft goes off to the wonderful Becky Wright at Platform House Publishing, and she performs some kind of arcane wizard magic spell over it which ensures that all those extra twiddly bits stay exactly where they are and she then sends it back to me in a version called a PDF. This ensures that when I upload it to KDP it will be exactly as it should be and will stay that way.

Anyway, this had been done to all three of the Blackwood Family Saga books – paperbacks were perfect, the eBook versions were perfect and those had all been converted into MOBI files so they would also upload to KDP exactly as they were – all I was waiting for were the final tweaks to be made to the covers for the paperbacks and I was good to go.

I had planned for a three-day launch programme running from Wednesday to Friday. The books would all be on at special sale prices for those three days and I had a ton of promo material ready plus a video teaser for each one. I got my final paperback covers back from Platform House on Monday afternoon, so I was cutting it fine, but being a more established author and because I upload a PDF for the paperbacks and a MOBI for the eBooks, my books never take as long in the review stage as they would if I was a newbie author trying to upload a sloppily formatted Word document.

Confident this will be the work of half an hour, max, I log into KDP Monday afternoon and begin uploading my books. For some reason it seems to take a lot longer than usual, but eventually I get them up and try to check them in the preview facility. This is a way you can look at your books on the screen and check them page by page just to ensure all is well. According to KDP no such feature existed, even though it’s a feature I’ve used dozens of times before and was there on the screen. But every time I clicked on it, I received a very strange error message.

Hmm, I thought, that’s odd, so I bypassed that stage and tried to upload my book covers. Nope. KDP did not want to know. Insisting that I hadn’t uploaded a compatible file, when I knew damn well, I had. These shenanigans went on for almost two hours before I gave up and went to bed. I did send KDP an email informing them of these problems but knew it would take at least 24 hours before any answer was forthcoming.

Tuesday morning there was a message in my inbox from KDP informing me they had no glitch their end and it must be my device. Perhaps it was too old to cope with uploading such complex documents to KDP? Well, it was only three months older than the last time I published a book through them, so, hmm. Anyway, I decided to try again and despite my device being a whole thirteen hours older than the last time I had tried, all three books uploaded perfectly this time, as well as the covers.

Brilliant, I thought. There was a chance they would all still be up by Wednesday morning, but even if they weren’t, I could run the launch Thursday to Saturday instead. So, I waited. And waited. And waited! Wednesday afternoon I receive an email that the eBook versions of Lost & Found and Fixtures & Fittings are up. Good. Then that evening, Sugar & Spice eBook version is up. Thursday morning the paperback versions of Lost & Found and Sugar & Spice are up, but no sign of Fixtures & Fittings. I email KDP again asking if they have any idea where it’s gone or how long it’s going to take.

Then I notice something else, they’ve listed the eBook version of Fixtures & Fittings with the listing of a second-hand seller who is flogging old paperback copies of the book for stupid money, but it looks like it’s the official paperback, so I’m scared if I launch that people will buy it by mistake.

Thursday afternoon, the actual paperback version of Fixtures & Fittings goes up. But it still shows the old cover. I’m pretty sure if anyone orders a copy, they will get the new one. But I don’t want to take any chances so reluctantly decide I must delay launch until the following week. I email KDP again, and in the meantime order myself one copy of each of the books to see for myself what actually turns up.

Friday morning. Fixtures & Fittings is still showing the old cover, and Lost & Found – which had been perfect – is now also showing the old cover. I am now at a state of wanting to take a machete to my laptop. The frustration caused by waiting around for three days was unbearable, so Wednesday afternoon I sat down and started furiously hammering out words for my next book!

Friday lunchtime I received an email from KDP very politely informing me that they had looked into my various issues and that because I hadn’t uploaded my books until that morning, then that was why they weren’t up entirely and some of the covers hadn’t uploaded yet. Excuse you, KDP! They were all uploaded Tuesday morning and there is a timestamp on my account to prove it. I sent back a politely blistering email pointing this fact out to them. Nothing came back.

Saturday morning, way too late to even think about launching because I was back to work Monday morning, I received notification that all my books were up on KDP. I went and checked and yes, there were all three books up on all the sites with the correct covers, and the new paperback editions linked to the proper eBook versions. Thank you KDP, finally.

What got me was the customer service. If they had come back with a prompt email saying, yes, we can see there are issues. We have a glitch our end which we are working to correct, and we will keep you posted, then fine. Glitches happen. In a massive organisation like Amazon I would imagine they happen all the time. I would have accepted that. It would have been annoying but at least I would have known precisely where I stood and what was happening. But to blame me and my laptop, to blatantly lie just to avoid taking responsibility? Well, that’s not a good example of outstanding customer service, KDP.

As a footnote, Sunday morning I received yet another email from customer support gleefully informing me that they’ve resolved my issues and are delighted to inform me that my book “Liam” was now listed on Amazon. Thinking what the hell, I clicked on the link and discovered that some Italian author had successfully managed to publish his book called Liam on the European Amazon site as it’s all in Italian! Go home KDP, you’re drunk.

There were some silver linings to this cloud of frustration. Because I had three days of waiting around that had been earmarked for launching, I did actually manage to write 25,000 words of book number eleven, so there was that! And my three copies of the books turned up Tuesday – all perfect, of course – so I was able to use them in promo pictures during the launch. Pick out the positives, right?

Beautiful Paperbacks!

And how did the launch proper go? Very well thank you. I think a few people took advantage of the introductory low prices to snag all three books, but sales figures are never as high as you think they’re going to be and quite a few people plainly lied about having bought the books, when the figures didn’t back these claims up. But it is what it is.

In other news, a few of you asked about my car and I’m happy to say I now have it back and its rusty bottom has been fixed. The garage pushed it to the wire though. I dropped my car off to them at 8am on the Monday of my first week off. I heard nothing all week, but didn’t expect to, and living in the centre of town with no plans to go anywhere, I didn’t need the car anyway.

The second week of my holiday rolled around, and I began to anticipate their phone call any day saying that the car was finished and please could I go and collect it. I had managed to get a click and collect slot at Tesco for 10-12 on the Thursday, but it was fine, because it was bound to be done by then, wasn’t it? After all, they knew I needed the car by the following Monday morning because I was back to work, and as they are closed at the weekends the car was bound to be finished by Thursday morning at the latest.

Wednesday morning dawned and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I called them. No, the car still wasn’t finished, and it wouldn’t be ready for Thursday morning. But it will be ready for me to collect Friday, right? As you know, I must have it for Monday morning because I’m back to work. There was a hesitation the other end, the sound of a muffled conversation, then I’m told yes, it will be ready Friday, but could I please leave it until the end of the day to collect it, say 5pm?

That left me in a bit of a pickle about collecting a month’s worth of shopping from Tesco Thursday morning with no car, but luckily Mum was able to run me round, so that was okay.

So, I trotted across to the garage Friday at 5pm, then had to sit for a good twenty minutes until the garage was almost closing before a mechanic roared up outside in my little car. Careful how you get in, he warned me, the sills are still wet. They hadn’t even done the bill for me and promised to put it in the post – which, a whole week later, I’m still waiting for – and I really got the impression that my car had been forgotten about until my phone call Wednesday morning, then mass panic ensued to get it done on time. Oh well, I have it, it’s been fixed, and I’ve been assured not only will it pass this coming MOT but the next two years as well, at least. And that was all I wanted.

I returned to work Monday to find in my two weeks absence that a lot of changes had been implicated. For a start, it’s now compulsory for all customers to now wear face coverings and even though shop assistants don’t have to, my company has decided that all of us also have to wear face coverings of some description.

I hate wearing the masks, and before those mask Nazis start jumping up and down shrieking hysterically that I have to and if I don’t then it’s akin to me going on a shooting spree and I should be charged with murder, YES, I KNOW I have to wear them and I will, all I’m saying is I hate wearing them.

They make me sweat buckets, they give me spots, they’re too big for me and end up over my eyes, they make my glasses steam up, I can’t breathe in them, and they make me cough. All things considered, I decided to try the visors we’d been issued with instead. And they have their own set of problems. They make my hair stand on end, the plastic fogs up, it’s difficult getting my glasses on underneath, and they leave me with a nasty red welt across my forehead.

It’s all very well for someone popping into a shop to do a spot of shopping having to wear them but try being in either a mask or a visor for eight solid hours. And again, before those mask Nazis start leaping again, I KNOW that nurses and surgeons and the like wear them for much longer, but I am not a nurse or a surgeon, I’m a sales assistant and I didn’t sign up for this. Also, I’m not dealing with sick people or performing surgery, I am trying to sell to people. You try selling to someone when they can’t see your smile or even your face properly, when they can’t see your mouth and read your facial expressions.

So, Monday I tried the visor and found all the drawbacks listed above. I also found out that because my company had obviously bought the cheapest ones they could, the Perspex is not great quality and is all blurry, so it’s really hard to see through them.

Tuesday, I wore a mask all day, and have never been so pleased to leave work in all my life! As soon as I got home, I ordered myself a pack of cotton masks off the internet. They feel much cooler and more comfortable and have adjustable straps. The two sorts we have at work either constantly slip down or threaten to pull my ears from my head. I will take my own mask into work today and see how I do, but I wish this were all over. I wish masks had been made compulsory from day one of lockdown because this whole making them mandatory five months into a pandemic is seriously like taking condoms to a baby shower – too little, too late.

Anyone else think the black face masks look like men’s underpants?

Anyway, we’re now into August and I am wondering what happened to July? Seriously, anyone else feel that something has been done to time because there just doesn’t seem to be as much of it as there used to be? Another busy month looms. The Blackwood books may have been launched, but now I have to concentrate on getting The Book of Eve out there. It’s been extensively edited and is now with my beta readers. It’s basically formatted, just needs all the chapter graphics and fancy fonts inserting, and Becky and I have already started brainstorming about the cover, promo images, and the video trailer for it. I can’t say too much at this stage about the cover but think Great Gatsby and you’ll be in the right area.

Really need an August launch date for this, but I know how long this final stage can take, so am prepared for it to slip into September. I’ve also got to get my backside down in my chair and write until my little fingers are reduced to bloody stubs. I want this new book to be launched around Halloween time and although that may sound like a long way off, it’s not, it’s really not. So alongside writing it and preparing Eve for publication, I will also be sourcing images and working on the cover for this one as well. And I really can’t say anything about this latest book yet, but I promise I will keep you posted.

Old cover. I didn’t choose it and it doesn’t reflect the story inside

August is also Miss F’s birthday and I’m really not sure what she will be doing to celebrate her 17th birthday – I have a seventeen-year old daughter? How? How?! – so no doubt we will be busy doing something to mark the occasion.

She hasn’t been at college since the beginning of March and obviously now won’t be going back until at least September, and no one seems too sure what form their return will take. I really hope she can get some practical, hands on experience, because this is a crucial year for them. They are preparing for their finals and need to be applying to universities, all of which they ideally need proper, face to face, classroom time with their tutors to do.

Miss F is also still on furlough from the pub where she works part-time. They have re-opened but at a greatly reduced level and all the full-time staff were called back first, although she is still receiving furlough pay, but again no one seems to know when she’ll be returning to work. On Wednesday, I took her for an interview for a new work placement position to commence in September and replace the position she had last year at the stables and kennels in Keddington which is a good 45 minute drive away. This position is in a doggy day care centre right here in Bury and is so perfect for her that we’re both crossing everything she gets it.

She must have made a reasonably good impression because they’ve invited her back for a day’s try out next Wednesday, so please send lots of good luck wishes and I’ll keep you posted. I think one definite thing in her favour is that because we live in town there will never be any issue with her getting there. There are numerous buses that whizz around town that she can catch, if she gets either a Thursday or a Friday (which I believe are the only two days they’re offering) then they are both my days off so I don’t mind running her up there – compared to the 1.5 hours run I had to do twice a day, every Friday, all last year, a 20 minute round journey to the other side of town and back is nothing! If all else fails, she can always walk it. It’s a good 50-minute walk but it’s doable in an emergency.

So that’s you caught up with all of my news, and I apologise again for not blogging last week. To be honest I was so caught up in my new book that I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from it. I hope you all have a great week and wherever you are, stay safe, stay well, stay happy.

Regards

Julia Blake

Basil, Books, Birthday Shenanigans, and Bury in Bloom!

It has been a long, busy week – do I ever have any other kind – I hear you mutter, and the answer is no, I probably don’t. It was the first week of my two-week break from work and is the first time I’ve taken a fortnight off in at least twenty years. My reasons for doing so this time are because it was my birthday this week and I traditionally always take a week’s holiday over my birthday, and then, because I was booked to do a book fair today in St. Albans, I also booked the following week off so I wouldn’t be rushing back to work on Monday after a very long day.

But, of course, Covid came along. All my book fairs and conventions that I had booked to do this year have been postponed to next year, so that left me with a two-week holiday. Brilliant, you’re probably thinking, so why not make a start on that new book you’ve been promising us? Well, I really did plan to, but life took a turn this week and presented me with its usual long list of demands that I had to fulfil before I could even think about sitting down at my laptop.

As many of you know, I drive a really, old car. A wonderful old banger of a Nissan Micra called Basil. Now, Basil barely scraped through his MOT last October, with an advisory note that he would not pass this year unless the rust on his bodywork and underneath was attended to. Since then, I’ve watched the rust spread at an alarming rate and knew I had to get it fixed or else I would have no car come October.

The problem is I need my car all the time for work and I knew fixing the rust problem was going to take them quite some time, plus it was going to be expensive. Then Covid hit, we all went into lockdown, and my car sat on the side of the road, rusting quietly away to itself, and barely being driven at all. I mean, I put £40 of petrol in at the beginning of March and didn’t put anymore in until the end of June!

During lockdown, like many people I took advantage of the mortgage holiday that most mortgage providers were offering, so because I wasn’t making any mortgage payments – along with not spending money on things like petrol, takeaways, entertainment, and clothes shopping – it meant that I had a few pennies surplus in my savings account. Not a huge amount, but enough I felt to get Basil fixed. Add to that the fact I was going to be off work for two weeks with no real need of a car, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to get Basil into the garage and get him sorted.

So, an appointment was made for him to be assessed and a quote prepared at 8am on Monday morning. I know, first day of my holiday and I had to be out of the house by 7:45am, I must be mad! Anyway, I drove him to the garage and had a quick chat with the mechanic. They have been dealing with all my cars for at least twenty years, so I was completely honest with him. I need this car to get me through another two years, I said. Just two more years. Then, a tiny pension policy will mature, and I will get enough money to buy myself a nice new car. But I must have these two years, as I can’t afford to buy a new car now.

He told me he would have a look and would call my mobile when he finished, probably in about an hour’s time. So, I wandered back up into town looking for somewhere to get a coffee and a bit of breakfast, as there hadn’t been time before leaving the house. It was still only just gone eight so nowhere was open, then I came across a Café Nero I had forgotten was there and was able to buy a nice cup of coffee and a Danish pastry to takeaway. Then I wandered back down to the Abbey Gardens to have my breakfast. Regular readers of my blogs will know that this is the beautiful park built around the ruins of a 12th century abbey that was once the largest in England.

I probably hadn’t been in the park since last year, and I wondered if there had been any changes, but it was as peaceful and as beautiful as ever. It was a gorgeous morning, there was hardly anyone around and those people who were out and about were keeping their distance from each other. I easily found a bench with a beautiful view of the cathedral and settled down to eat my pastry – much to the interest  of the tame squirrels who live in the park – who frolicked about my feet begging for crumbs.

I’d had the foresight to take my kindle with me, so was able to get in almost at hour’s guilt-free reading before my mobile rang and it was the mechanic – “can you come back in? We need to talk!”

He sounded very serious. In my head I had fixed the figure of £500, in that I had a feeling this was the amount he was going to quote me to keep Basil on the road for the two years I needed. I have no idea where that figure came from, but it was in my head as I walked back to the garage.

When I got there, he looked at me sorrowfully and sucked all the air in over his teeth, the way mechanics do when they’ve got bad news for you.

Him: It won’t last another two years, I’m sorry, but it just won’t.

Me:  Oh, really? Not even if we do some work on it?

Him: Well, we could sort it out, but it’s going to cost a lot of money.

Me:  How much?

Him: A lot.

Me:  Yes, but how much is a lot?

Him: I’m not sure, a lot.

Me:  Worst case scenario?

Him: About £500.

Me:  ….

Him: ….

Me:  Okay, let me ask you a question. In your professional opinion, would I be able to buy another car for under £500 that has an engine in the condition of mine? With only 41,000 miles on the clock like that one? And one that has a known history of reliability?

Him: Well, no, you couldn’t.

Me:  So, what choice do I have? The work has to be done.

Him: I suppose so, when you put it like that.

Me:  If I buy a car for under £500 will I just be paying for somebody else’s problems?

Him: Yes, you would.

Me:  And you’ve done all the work on this car since I bought it in 2013 so you know how much it’s cost me to date.

Him: Hardly anything.

Me: So, add this £500 onto what I’ve spent already and then spread it over the ten years I will have the car. Does it make it a cheap and cost-effective drive?

Him: Yes, well, when you look at it that way…

Me:  There’s no other way I can look at it.

Him: Right, the MOT isn’t until October so when do you want to book it in?

Me:  Now. I’ve got two weeks off work, this is my last holiday until December, so you might as well do it now.

Him: Oh, okay, leave the keys then and we’ll give you a call when it’s done.

So, I walked home, leaving poor Basil in the garage to get his rusty bottom fixed, and hoping that after spending so much money on him he will go the distance and last the next two years. Just two more years, my trusty steed, and then you can rest in peace.

My beautiful hanging basket

Once home, I swept and tidied up my front steps and pathway as there was rumour that the Bury in Bloom judges would be passing down our road sometime soon, and I wanted everything to be perfect. I fed and watered the plants to perk them up and made sure there were no cobwebs anywhere.

Then I went out into the garden to pick some cherries and sweep up all the split ones that the birds had dropped everywhere. I had only been out the back about ten minutes when Miss F came running out in great excitement – a certificate of merit had been pushed through our door! It’s only the second one I’ve ever received, and I’m cuffed to bits with it.

Along with a few other chores and cooking dinner, that was more or less Monday finished with. Tuesday, I had the house to clean, more cherries to pick, long overdue correspondence to respond to, bills to pay, and laundry to do, and that was day two of my holiday.

Few cherries left to pick

Wednesday, another early start, my old boss called round at 8:30am with a card and a bottle of wine for my birthday and we sat in the garden for over an hour chatting. I worked for him for over thirty-four years in one capacity or another but hadn’t seen him since he retired in January of this year and I left his employ for good, so it was nice to catch up.

He left, and one of my best friend’s turned up. Again, we sat in the garden and drank a bottle of prosecco. I’ve seen her once since lockdown eased – we sat in the garden that time as well – and again the weather was horrible, growing colder and colder as we shivered into our cardigans and clutched our champagne flutes.

We had decided to risk going out for lunch so wandered into town to Edmundos Lounge Bar. We had to wait for a server to escort us to a suitably sanitised table with single use menus. The tables were spaced 2ms apart and the servers wore gloves when bringing us our food. I felt safe there, but also very odd. It was the first time I’d been out to eat since the beginning of the year, and I couldn’t help feeling I was doing something wrong. But it was nice to eat a meal I hadn’t had to cook myself.

Thursday, day four of my holiday, and the paperback proof copies of the three Blackwood series books which I’m hoping to publish next week, turned up. I sat down and had one last critical go through them, and as I expected, there were a couple of silly, minor things that leapt out at me. Probably no one else would even notice them, but I know they’re there, so they had to be corrected.

I had a facetime meeting scheduled that morning with another best friend, the lovely Becky Wright. A fellow local author, we have been friends for over thirteen years, and it was going to be her birthday the day after mine. Our facetime chat was to watch each other open our presents to each other, and to have a professional consultation about the books. Along with her husband, Becky runs Platform House Publishing which offers printing and publishing services to indie authors. They had made the covers for me, so she was keen to get a look at them and assess whether any tweaks needed to be made.

We finally finished chatting at lunchtime, then I had just under four hours to go through the three books and make all the amendments and send them off to Becky, before my parents turned up to celebrate my birthday with a meal delivered from a nearby pub that does nice food. We had more prosecco and wine, I opened my presents, and we chatted. It was the first time my parents had been in my house since the start of lockdown. They are in our bubble so are allowed in, although I must admit to finding all the new rules about what you can and can’t do a bit confusing.

I have been forced back to work to mingle in close proximity with four work colleagues and deal with hundreds of germ-ridden strangers, yet one of my closest friends isn’t allowed in my house – but I can go and sit in a restaurant with her and be inches apart at a small table! And then there’s the new legislation that from the 24th July no one will be allowed into a shop without a mask on, yet you can sit in a restaurant and eat food without one on. You can go and get a facial, a tattoo, or a piercing, but you can’t go to your dentist and good luck getting a doctor’s appointment.

There’s a real sense of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, about the whole mask situation. And enforcing the wearing of masks four months into a pandemic is rather like taking condoms to a baby shower – too little, too late! Why weren’t masks enforced from the word go? If they have now decided that they are essential, why weren’t we all wearing them every time we left the house all through lockdown? What would the death rate be at now if there had been simple, tough, no arguing with rules right from the word go? I am worried about what the situation will be like at work when I return after my break. If all customers are being forced to wear masks for the duration of their time in our shop, then I don’t think that’s going to be particularly good for business.

The fact is that people hate wearing them. They are hot, itchy, and uncomfortable. If you wear glasses, then they steam them up. If you’re a woman, then they wipe all your make-up off leaving you red-faced and shiny underneath. And if, like me, you suffer from hayfever or asthma, they make it very difficult to breath and cause you to constantly hack up with a dry cough that scares everyone around you. That’s not very conducive to wanting to wear a mask for long and will maybe deter people from shopping in stores altogether. Good news for online shopping, a further kick in the nuts for the high street.

I’m also worried that I’ll be expected to wear a mask all day as well. I hate wearing them for all of the above reasons and also because when you work in sales, you rely so much on customers being able to see your face and your smile, to be reassured by your facial expressions and trust your words. It’s really hard to connect with someone when you’re wearing a mask. We do have visors at work, so maybe I could wear one of those instead. They’re annoying and leave me with a red angry welt across my forehead, but at least I can breathe in them, people can see my face, and, most importantly, they don’t make me cough.

Oh well, I have another week in which I don’t have to worry about it, and who knows, maybe things will have changed again by the time I go back!

I am hopeful of being able to finally publish the first three books in the Blackwood series next week. It was planned for Tuesday, but an unforeseen tiny hitch in getting the covers tweaked means it will probably be more likely Wednesday now. It’s fine, so long as they’re launched before I go back to work, I’ll be happy.

I’ve almost finished editing The Book of Eve now as well. A couple of hours work on it today and then it will be off out for beta reading and we’ll be on the final stage of having that ready for republication the moment I receive back copyright, which should be the end of July or the beginning of August at the latest. And then I will be completely up to date. All my books will be as perfect as I can make them, and it will be time to move on with fresh new stories. It’s been a long, two year project, and now the end is in sight I can look back and say it was worth it, even though two years of non-stop editing, formatting, and cover designing did at times reduce me to despair that it would never end.

Friday was my actual birthday, and following all the rush and busyness of the week so far, it was nice to simply kick back, relax, and spend the day eating and watching films with Miss F. As it was my birthday, everything was my choice, so I chose to watch “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” and “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” – two films I watched back in the nineties and remember enjoying, although I hadn’t seen them since.

It was wonderful seeing Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy act together in the first film, I love Jessica Tandy, she was one of those actresses who seemed to be permanently old. I mean, did she even act as a young woman? Or did she not get into acting until she was white haired with dignified wrinkles? The Ya-Ya sisterhood was also good fun, and I’d forgotten it was one of Sandra Bullock’s very early films, and that the marvellous Maggie Smith was in it.

Miss F gave me her presents, which were thoughtful and rather wonderful. She knows I’ve always wanted a clicky-clacky keyboard so she bought me a Bluetooth one with a wireless mouse which links to my laptop so I have a keyboard with proper chunky keys that go down when you press them and actually make a noise like a typewriter.

She also bought me a chart of what are considered the 100 most influential books. The idea is you scratch away the circle of the books that you’ve read. I would argue with some of the choices, but it did surprise me how many of the books on there I’d never even heard of, let alone read. She also bought me a proper writer’s mug with the opening lines of dozens of books all over it, a pair of slate coasters bearing the Game of Thrones logo and the words “Mother of Wine”, and a big box from Whittards containing an assortment of nine different coffees from around the world. A thing of beauty, it will keep me in coffee until the next millennium, and I have a sneaking suspicion probably cost more than all my other gifts from her put together.

I’d like to take this opportunity as well to thank everyone on social media for all the birthday wishes and messages, the cards, and even the presents they sent. Thank you. I was incredibly touched at the thoughtfulness. I did try to respond individually to each and every message, but when the numbers reached hundreds, I realised it was a task with no end.

Saturday, a quiet day. I’m writing my blog, thankful for once I have quite a lot to tell you. I won’t lie, some weeks I do struggle to have anything fresh to talk about, and I wonder just how much I can ramble on about my quiet little life before you all get bored with me and go and read the blogs of people who do extreme sports, or travel the world…

More cherries have ripened on the tree, so later today I’ll put on old clothes and go out there to pick some more. So far, I’ve taken 26lb off the tree, which isn’t actually a lot compared to most years, but I haven’t really had the time to seriously harvest the tree and climb to reach the highest fruit laden branches. The birds have been stuffing their little beaks full as well, then pooping purple splatters all over the garden, or worse, all over my washing! Red stains on your white bed sheets – so not what you want!

I really want to make a start writing my new book during my holiday, but time is running out. What with all the normal household and garden chores, plus more birthday shenanigans next Monday, then launching three books simultaneously and all that entails, time will be scarce. The rest of today is taken up with chores, but maybe tomorrow I can shut myself away somewhere with my new keyboard and let the story that has been buzzing around my head for two years, finally have a voice. At least with this new keyboard, Miss F will be able to hear if I am actually writing, or just staring dumbly at a blank screen.

So, that’s it for this week. I hope wherever you are you are safe and well, and I look forward to chatting with you next Sunday. In the meantime, look out for the launch of “Lost & Found”, “Fixtures & Fittings”, and “Sugar & Spice” next week. To celebrate their launch, all three books will be available at special publication sale prices, and there will even be money off the paperback versions as well as the eBooks! So why not treat yourself to all three.

Take care.

Julia Blake