Making the Best of it.

So, here I am, my last weekend in lockdown before I return to work next week. After this, I will be back to working at least one day at the weekend unless I’m on holiday, and once again will be trying to squeeze in writing my blog around long days working. Next week, I am working Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so honestly have no idea when my blog will get written. Miss F is also returning to work next week and has been asked to work 5-10 on Friday, and 12-5 on Saturday.

The Saturday shift doesn’t present any problems as there is an 11:30am bus which will get her there in plenty of time, and as I finish work at 4:30pm I can drive straight out to pick her up. But I’m not quite sure how Friday is going to work. She is at college until 4:15 so will have to run as fast as she can the moment her class ends to try and make it to the bus station to catch the 4:30 bus. I can’t help her this week because I will be at work until 6pm. Also, I’m not sure when she’s going to eat. Luckily, she only has another couple of weeks at college before her exams will be over and she will be finished for this academic year and will be off until she goes to university in September.

Imagine that – over four months off over the summer with nothing to do but whatever takes your fancy? Yes, I’ve had nearly four months off work in lockdown, but I still had a lot to do every day. I’ve told her to enjoy it because this will probably be the last time ever in her life that she can simply kick back and do nothing.

Her exam is creeping ever closer. Gradually, she has been working her way through all her assignments, I believe there is only another two to hand in. These assignments are what her tutors will be grading her on, but Miss F is quietly confident. She has worked incredibly hard this past year under very strange and difficult circumstances, and it shows in the quality of her work. Plus, rather than take the Easter holidays off she chose to crack on with her assignments and get the bulk of them done so now she is well ahead of schedule.

I am proud of her for making that decision – and with no prompting from me. I’m not in any way a helicopter parent and have very much let her set her own pace and work schedule. I have provided an environment in which she can work with the turning of the small back bedroom into her own office space, and I have been very lenient when it comes to household chores. Yes, she does a little to help around the house and I do expect her to tidy up after herself, but to be honest, I would rather keep on top of the cleaning myself and have her get the grades she needs to go to university, than pile a long list of chores onto her.

You never know, hopefully, when I’m old and infirm she will remember this and look after me in my dotage. Well, I can hope…

Today (Saturday) Miss F has gone down to the park for a socially distanced picnic to meet with her friends. It’s been a hard year for most teenagers. Denied the socialisation that had been taken for granted, they’ve probably spent far more time at home with their parents than they would otherwise have. Maybe that is a good thing, who knows, but I’m guessing most young people are desperate for the world to open back up so they can spend time with their peers again. The weather today is sadly not picnic weather, but she has wrapped up warmly and has taken the plastic-lined picnic blanket to counteract the damp grass as there’s a very high possibility it’s going to rain later. They’re all going to take their own picnics so no sharing of food will occur, and I know they are sensible enough to stay apart.

As for me? I’m sitting here chatting to you guys and thinking about all the things I still need to get done before returning to work next Thursday. One thing I must do is try on my uniform just to make sure it still fits. I’m pretty sure the top will as it’s a little on the large side and I don’t feel I’ve put any weight on up top. But I’ve been living in baggy, comfy old jeans since Christmas – and they would have me believe all is well in the kingdom – but all the same, I’d better check. In the worst-case scenario of buttons not doing up I still have time to buy another, slightly larger, pair.

There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the attention and make you whizz through your to-do list. My website is almost complete – a few last-minute tweaks and I will be ready to unveil it in all its glorious, technicolour splendour – so at least that will be one thing achieved. I have written a book – Kiss & Tell – book four in the Blackwood Family Saga. It has been edited, beta read, formatted, uploaded to KDP, and the proof copy received. All I must do now is read it all the way through to try and spot any last-minute snags. There is a lot to do when launching a book, so Sunday and Monday are earmarked to get as prepared as I possibly can, whilst getting completely up to date with all the laundry and ironing.

Tuesday has been designated a self-care day. There is a box of hair dye that has been sitting in the cupboard since Christmas; I have face and hair packs ready to deploy; a brand-new shaver ready for a mammoth deforestation project, and a manicure and pedicure will be attempted.

Wednesday, I need to sort out meals for the following three days I will be at work. It was bad enough getting home from work at 5pm tired, hungry, and with no clue what to cook for dinner. It’s going to be even worse now I won’t be getting home until gone 6pm, and I have a feeling the first week or so are going to come hard. Physically, I’ve got used to a gentler, slower pace of life. My body has adapted to eight hours of sleep each night and more time during the day for resting, it’s going to be a shock to the system going back to getting by on six hours of sleep a night and being on the go all day with no time to draw breath, let along sit down and rest. Ah well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I must work to pay the mortgage and the bills, so that’s that.

Those of you who read last week’s blog will know I finally gave up on the cumbersome and next to worthless VAX vacuum cleaner I had and splurged out on a new Henry Hoover. He is performing excellently, thank you for all the enquiries, but that meant I was left with the old vacuum standing about the house like a mournful ghost. I also had the old printer to get rid of, a bag of Miss F’s clothes and shoes which were now surplus to requirement, a cracked plastic storage box that’s been sitting in the garden all year, and a length of metal that came with her new bed a couple of years ago but was the wrong size, so they had to send a new piece. What to do? I wanted them gone from the house – not having a garage or a shed to store miscellaneous stuff in means rubbish is seriously in the way.

Anyway, after writing my blog last Saturday, I went online and did the week’s grocery shopping at Tesco and grabbed the next available collection slot which was 12-1 on Wednesday. I had been told that you now must book an appointment to take rubbish to the recycling centre, but that it was easy to do. So, I investigated the website, and it was easy, really, easy. I put in my car’s make, colour, and registration number then looked at the available timeslots and picked one. The next available slot was 12:00-12:15 on Thursday so I booked it. Then sat there and thought about things. Hmmm. I went back onto the Tesco site. Could I change my collection time from 12-1 on Wednesday to 12-1 on Thursday? Yes, I could, so I did. Finally, I telephoned my surgery and booked to collect the repeat prescription of my hayfever meds Thursday lunchtime and felt well-satisfied with my organisational skills.

Thursday dawned. I realised it was also my niece’s birthday so popped £20 in a card and was going to put it through the door of her grandparents because I knew as their carer, she was there almost every day. I had carefully estimated how long I thought everything was going to take and set off at 11:35am precisely. First stop, the card through the letterbox. Then I drove to my surgery. A bit shocked when I got there to discover there was a fun game of “How many old people can you get in a car park in one go?” taking place. I pulled into the road leading to the small business park where the surgery is located, and it was chaos! Cars everywhere, trying to park, parking very badly and straddling two spaces, or cars just pulling up in the middle of the road to disgorge elderly people who took forever to climb out and totter unsteadily across the car park. In the end, I illegally parked in the spaces designated to the dance studio opposite. Big signs warned that clamping was in operation, but given the studio was shut due to lockdown and I was up against the clock, I decided to risk it.

There was a never-ending queue of oldies at the surgery door, and I suddenly realised they must all be there for their second jabs. I had to go through the same door to get to the separate pharmacy, so shamelessly queue jumped and marched straight to the door where a rather large and hatchet-faced lady had planted herself in the opening and was glaring at me with a “you shall not pass” expression. Excuse me, I said, very politely. I’m not going to the surgery, I need to get to the pharmacy, so could you possibly step out of the way? She stared at me over her mask and for a moment I thought she was going to give me trouble. I raised my eyebrows and coughed, very loudly. She moved. I slipped by and into the pharmacy, grabbed my prescription and a minute later was back out to find her still there, right in the middle of the doorway. We looked at each other over our masks – don’t make me cough again, missus, because I will – but then she moved and I was back in the car which thankfully hadn’t been clamped, and I was off on the next stage of my quest.

I’d never been to the new recycling centre but had been told it was a doddle to find, and it was. It was now 11:55am so I was spot on for my midday appointment and joined the queue of cars waiting to go in. A little guy was perched on a folding stool in a mask looking very officious with a clipboard and pen. He was peering at each car and ticking them off on his list. I wondered if anyone ever had the audacity to turn up without a booking, what level of authority he had to deal with them. I mean, if you’d said your car was green but he felt it was bluer, would you be turned away?

Luckily, my car passed inspection and as soon as I saw another car pull out of one of the docking bays I drove forward and reversed into it. I had to chuck the vacuum and the printer into the same ‘small appliances’ skip which looked like it had not long been emptied. Oh, the satisfaction of carrying them up the steps and then heaving them over the side to hear them smash down below. Very cathartic. The other few things were quickly disposed of and then I was back in the car and heading into town.

A glance at the clock, it was 12:15pm. My grocery slot was until 1pm so I had time for the next part of the quest. At the end of January, my old Nokia phone finally gave up the ghost at about the same time it ran out of credit. It wasn’t worth doing anything then because I was always home so if anyone wanted to get hold of me, they could call the landline, email, or message me through social media. But now I would be going back to work and driving out on country lanes at night to pick up Miss F, so I figured it was sensible to get a new phone.

I parked outside the front of Tesco’s and joined the queue waiting to get in. I had hoped there would be no one in the tiny mobile phone shop at the front of the store, but there was a Tesco’s employee discussing phones with the staff member on duty. He was thinking long and hard about which phone to go for and took an absolute age debating the pros and cons of every single phone they sold until I was ready to scream with frustration. They could both see me standing there. Yes, I know he was technically a customer, but he was a Tesco employee so surely, I took precedence over him? Twenty minutes ticked by; I could see my shopping being taken back to the store if I didn’t get a move on; and in the end, sheer desperation forced me to do something I would never normally do.

I butted in.

Yes, I stepped forward and interrupted them. Starting by saying ‘I’m really sorry’ a couple of hundred times, I politely explained my predicament. That my click and collect slot expired at 1pm, it was now fifteen minutes until that time and was really sorry but I only wanted to buy a phone – THAT phone – I pointed to the one I’d selected in the twenty minutes they’d been faffing about. That was all I needed, just to buy that phone, and I didn’t want to have to go through the whole rigmarole of having to try and come back into the store with a car full of frozen stuff that I needed to get home.

The customer was nice about it. Sure, he said, no problem. He wanted to think some more about it anyway. But the actual staff member was very unpleasant. Glaring at me over the mask that kept slipping down under her nose, she icily informed me that even though he was a member of Tesco’s he was STILL a customer, whom she was currently serving, I would simply have to wait. Fine, I said, and put my purse back into my bag, I’ll get a phone elsewhere and stop using the Tesco mobile phone service, because I seriously didn’t have the time to wait any longer, nor did I want to hang around in a crowded shop for a minute longer than I had to. At that point, the other customer pointedly told the staff member again that it was really, honestly, absolutely fine if she served me, while he looked at the options again.

Glaring daggers at me, she got the phone I wanted from the locked cupboard, snappily confirmed that yes, the sim card from my current phone would fit and yes, I could use my Clubcard vouchers to pay for some of it, rang it through and gave me the phone. The whole transaction took three minutes – half the time it had taken her to tell me I would have to wait – and then I was out, back in the car, and hurtling over to the collection spot with ten minutes to spare. Leaving it almost to the very end of the time slot meant everyone else had already collected all their shopping so I didn’t have to queue at all – note to self, maybe do this in future – and I was home and unpacking all the shopping by 1pm, congratulating myself on for once not only knowing where all my ducks were but successfully lining them up in a row.

New phone flip-top so pocket dialing it will stop

I like my new phone, but Miss F laughed at it and called it names. It’s a farmer’s phone, she said. It’s a flip-top one so at least I’ll no longer pocket or handbag dial people, and according to Miss F that’s the type of phone farmers use so they don’t get pig shit on the screen. Okay, I don’t care. She also says it’s an old person’s phone because of the size of the buttons. Well, I am old, and I’m tired of peering at tiny buttons and saying the wrong thing. All I care about is that it cost me £30, I got £30 of credit with it, it works, it’s sturdy and reliable, and it still fits into my pocket.

I neither want nor need a smartphone so it would be a waste of money buying myself one, and besides, they’re so big! I just want a little phone I can carry with me for emergency calls and the odd text, and that’s it, that’s all I need. I don’t care about status symbols, or how trendy something is. I want what I want, and so long as something is practical and suits my needs, I honestly couldn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about how it looks or what other people think of me. More fool them for spending hundreds of pounds, I’m happy with my £30 bargain basement phone because you know what, if I drop this phone on the floor, it will bounce – can you say the same about your phone?

Look at the size of those buttons!

Rummaging around in the freezer earlier in the week, I discovered a lone bag of cherries leftover from last summer’s harvest. Now, most people would probably have made a cherry pie. Me? Well, I put a bottle of vodka on the shopping list and last night made a bottle of cherry vodka to drink in the summer. Lockdown liqueur, it will be a memento of the strange start to the year and hopefully, we’ll be able to drink to better things and a brighter and more hopeful future.

Take care, my friends, and I hope you have a great week. If, like me, you are emerging from lockdown, blinking in the light, and anxiously worrying about life, the universe and everything, then stay safe and stay away from idiots.

There will be a blog next week, I promise. I’m not sure how and when I will write it, but one will be written, so until then, cheers.

Julia Blake

Happy Easter!

It’s Easter Sunday – yet another one spent in lockdown here in the UK. For everyone for whom Easter means something, I wish you peace and contentment. To everyone else, enjoy the long weekend and try not to overdose on chocolate. I asked Miss F if she would like me to buy her a lactose-free Easter egg this year? She thought about it, then announced she’d rather I buy her a new mouse for her laptop because her old one was on the way out. I shrugged, she sent me the Amazon link, I bought it for her, and that was that. Although I am cooking one of her favourite meals tonight – barbecued pork belly with fat chips. Everyone is now aware that Miss F can’t eat dairy, luckily, so she received very nice vegan Easter eggs from my brother and her godmother. My parents bought her the black enamel cookie tin off her university wish list, which she was grateful for. It’s a very large cookie tin, which is probably a good indication of her anticipated university diet.

She didn’t buy me chocolate either. To be honest, I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and chocolate can make my slightly lactose intolerant system quite ill, so instead, she bought me a very interesting book which I’d never heard of and I’m looking forward to reading it. And that’s it as far as Easter goes for us.

I have finally received my back to work date and will be returning to work on the 15th of April. Whilst we’ve been in lockdown our pay structure and working hours have changed, in that yes – we have received a pay rise to finally bring our hourly pay up to the minimum for the UK. I was receiving less per hour than my 16-year-old daughter and it was only my commission on top that made it bearable. But, to balance this they are now no longer giving me a paid 20-minute lunch break, but instead are forcing me to take an unpaid hour-long break in the middle of my shift. There’s nothing I can do about this, but it is a real pain in the arse as it means that instead of getting home from work soon after five every evening, I won’t be getting home until after six.

Twenty minutes used to suit me just fine. It was long enough to eat my lunch and read a few pages on my kindle, which is all I needed. But now I will be wasting a whole hour of my day that I won’t be paid for. I will have to sit in a tiny, smelly kitchen for an hour in which I could be doing other things – like being at home. And before anyone asks, no, I can’t go home in that hour. It’s a good fifteen-to-twenty-minute drive – possibly more if the traffic and the lights are against me – so by the time I got home, I’d have about fifteen minutes and it would be time to go back to work (panicking the whole time I’m going to be late).

I’m stuck on an industrial and retail park, so there is nothing there to do but go shopping, which I don’t want to do. There is a park about a ten-minute drive away, but bear in mind I’ll be in my work shoes and uniform, so don’t want to be trouncing around a muddy park. I guess the company must claw back our pay increase somehow, so no longer giving me a paid twenty-minute break is one way of doing it. The full-time workers are losing their hour-long paid lunch break and are having to work an extra hour as well to make up for it, so I’m fortunate compared to them. There’s nothing to be done about it, it is what it is, so I just have to suck it up, but still, it’s annoying.

Talking about annoying, I have had to buy yet another vacuum cleaner this week. This will be the fourth one we’ve had over the past two years, so I hope we’ve got it right this time. Up until two years ago, we had a beast of a VAX. It was a carpet shampooer as well as a vacuum cleaner and it was okay – in shampooer mode, it couldn’t be faulted, but let’s be honest, how often does the normal person shampoo their carpets? As a vacuum, it was very big, heavy, and cumbersome. Storing it was a nightmare – Victorian houses are not known for having ample storage – so I had to try to keep it in the same cupboard where I kept the ironing board and the bin, which meant pulling everything out and hauling the beast out every time I needed to vacuum. Miss F hated it and refused to use it, claiming it was too heavy for her and just too awkward to get out of the cupboard.

For my birthday in 2019, my parents bought me one of those little light vacuum cleaners that weigh practically nothing and are easy to use. They took the VAX and stored it in their garage for whenever anyone in the family wished to shampoo their carpets. Miss F loved the new vacuum and quite happily used it – but we are a very hairy household. What with both Miss F and I having long hair, the cat, and the occasional lodger, this is a home that is in permanent moult. After about seven months the little vacuum cleaner literally fell apart and I knew I had to buy something with a bit more guts.

I looked on Argos, I was drawn to VAX again simply because they are such an established brand and I hadn’t had any problems with my old VAX, other than the fact it was the wrong shape and was too heavy. I picked one that claimed to be able to cope with hair no problem, it was an upright so storage would be easier, and the reviews were good. At £99 it wasn’t a bad price, so I bought it, it came about a week later, and for a while everything was fine.

Then problems began to creep in. For a start, it was one of those bagless things and I have always had mixed views about those. Sure, it means you don’t have to empty the bag and there shouldn’t be any loss of suction, but the ones I’ve had experience with seem to need emptying a lot more times than traditional bag vacuums, and they are a great deal messier to empty. With a bag vacuum, you open the top, carefully lift out the bag, dump it in the bin, insert a new bag, and Bob’s your uncle. But with a bagless thing it always seemed to involve having to get your hands inside the cylinder to yank out the clogged dust and hair, and sometimes even involved the use of skewers to try and hook out stubborn clumps. All of which is a very messy and dirty enterprise, leaving hands filthy and usually dust everywhere.

The new VAX had a tiny dust chamber that needed emptying every single time I went to use it, so that was annoying. Then it was incredibly heavy again, so heavy that again Miss F refused to use it – claiming it hurt her back to do so. It also had a really, really, really, long cable, which sounds like it should be a good thing, but wasn’t. It got tangled onto everything, pulling over chairs and tying in big knots under and around things, so I was forever on my hands and knees trying to unknot the wretched thing.

Finally, it couldn’t cope with the sheer amount of hair it was being asked to deal with. Neither Miss F nor I have had a haircut in over a year. We have a lot of hair! This hair falls onto the carpet and then the vacuum cleaner – which is supposed to have been designed with this purpose in mind – struggled to suck it up properly. Instead, it got snagged all around the roller and proved impossible to remove. The head is a sealed unit, you can’t get to the roller inside, so the hair built up and up until finally the roller wouldn’t turn at all so the suck rate of the vacuum cleaner tanked, until, honestly, I could suck harder than the wretched thing.

In vain, I tried poking scissors and skewers through the tiny opening trying to unclog it but couldn’t remove enough to make a difference. Although, it would periodically barf up great clumps of hair every time I vacuumed, which was fun. It got so bad, that I would have a run over the carpet with the vacuum first, then would have to get down on my hands and knees with a brush and dustpan to do the rest.

Great, £99 spent to have to clean my carpet the way a Victorian housemaid did! So not what I wanted. In the end, I was grumpily forced to admit that the vacuum was only suitable for someone bald, whose entire family was bald, any visitors they had were bald, and they owned a Sphinx cat. The breaking point was reached on Thursday when I was trying to vacuum the stairs, there was a weird whistling sound from deep inside it and what little suction was left abruptly ceased. Back onto the Argos website, I went, and this time did what I should have done in the first place and spent the extra money on buying a good old reliable Henry hoover. It has a large capacity bag and is cordless. Hundreds of five-star reviews that raved about it, plus I have used Henry’s in the past – they are wonderful, sturdy, and hardworking.

At the same time, I ordered us a new printer as ours stopped working a couple of months ago and no amount of changing the fuse or unplugging and plugging it back in again, would even get the lights to come on, plus a new chair to go in the lodger’s room. I had an old desk in the corner of my bedroom which wasn’t being used, so that got moved down to the basement, the wicker armchair that was in the basement got moved up to my bedroom instead, and, with the addition of the smart new grey office chair, any future lodger now has a great workspace.

They were all scheduled to be delivered on Saturday – any time between 7am and 8pm, gee thanks, Argos – so I made sure I was up and showered by 7am and waiting. It wasn’t too bad, a big white van pulled up and the doorbell went at 9:30am, and by the time I opened the door two big parcels were standing on the doorstep – the chair and Henry – and the driver was climbing back into his cab to drive away. I dashed out into the street and waved at him. He looked petrified but cautiously wound down his window.

HIM: Yes? Yes?

ME:  You’ve only delivered two parcels, there should be three.

HIM: No, no, only two.

ME:  No, there should be a printer as well. It’s on the same order.

HIM: I don’t know, it’s not on the list. Maybe later. Sorry. Goodbye.

ME:  But wait, couldn’t you check…

It was no use, he was gone. But as he pulled away at speed, I saw his number plate. It was him! The infamous Yodel delivery driver who smashed into the side of my car at the end of January and drove away without stopping. For those who haven’t read my blog since then, I did manage to get his number plate when he tried to stealthily deliver to my neighbour early one Sunday morning, so the insurance claim has been sorted and my car fixed, but I’m betting he thought I was chasing after him to have a go at him about it.

So, I had to try and telephone Argos to discover where the printer was and when it was going to be delivered if indeed, it was coming at all. They have been known to simply cancel part of any order due to stock issues with no prior warning to the customer. It took a good thirty minutes of hanging on the phone, listening to dodgy “shopping made easy” muzak, and then repeatedly bellowing my order number to a stupid bot who kept cheerily informing me that they – hadn’t quite got that and please could I repeat it – until I was grinding my teeth in frustrated rage. Why is everything so niggly and annoying and just a downright pain in the arse these days? Anyway, I finally got through to the lovely Lucy, who had a look on her system and perkily reassured me that the printer was coming sometime that day and that I was not to worry.

Why didn’t they deliver the whole order in one go, as they were supposed to, and why, if that was impossible for some reason, didn’t they simply email or text me to let me know that the rest of my order would be coming later? Instead of sending me a Yodel delivery satisfaction survey to complete – hmmm – so it looked like what I received was all I was getting.

I wonder which delivery driver will come back with the printer. I wonder if it will be him. That would be interesting. Should I say something? Or is there no point? Once upon a time, I would have gone out there all guns blazing, but the older I get, the less I can be arsed with confrontation, because, really, what purpose will it serve? At the end of it, the Yodel delivery driver won’t be any less of a cockwomble, he won’t have a “road to Damascus” moment and become a better person merely because a pissed-off middle-aged woman has had a moan at him.

Anyway, as I said, the clock is now counting down to an end to my lovely long time at home. Over the past year, I have spent almost eight months of it at home, which, I’m not going to lie, has been wonderful. Not once have I been bored or frustrated, and not once have I suffered from cabin fever. Maybe it’s because I have so much to fill my days with that there simply hasn’t been time to be bored. My to-do list is still so long, I could do with another eight months off to catch up on all I want to do – but that’s not going to happen. The death and infection rates are radically dropping here in the UK, so unless something happens, I cannot see us ever going back into lockdown. No, I think this weird period of history is over – at least for the UK, although I know many other countries are going back into quarantine because they haven’t been maybe as efficient as us at vaccinating their population.

Finally, I do have the wonderful news that after two months of being blocked from it, I got my original Instagram account back. To be honest, I had given up on it, but I needed to decide which Instagram account I was going to tag on my new website and in the front of my books so decided to have one last try and was stunned when I was let back in. So now I have two Instagram accounts. My main account and my back-up one, I’m trying to encourage people to follow me on both as I don’t want to give up the second account – after all, Instagram giveth and it taketh away – but neither do I have the time to run both full-time.

Additional update: the printer has been delivered, by a lady Yodel delivery driver this time, so, no confrontation needed. Also, we have had a panic-stricken ten minutes because when I went to save this blog, Word put up the blue spinning doughnut of death, then gave a hiccup and I lost the whole lot into the fifth dimension, or the nether regions, or wherever it is unsaved documents disappear to. I was gutted, it had taken almost two hours to write it and of course, I hadn’t saved it yet, and I couldn’t remember what I’d said – something about vacuum cleaners and lunch hours? Shaking with panic, I went to ask the IT Department, who was cooking her lunch and not best pleased at being interrupted.

Anyway, after a few minutes of searching through the computer, she crossly ordered me to go away because apparently me heavy breathing over her shoulder was annoying her. I skulked off to the kitchen to make myself a coffee and a sandwich, desperately hoping that somehow, she could perform a techie miracle and find it for me and cursing my own stupidity for not saving it. I’d no sooner finished making a ham salad sarnie and a cup of frothy coffee when she called me back. She’d managed to recover 90% of it and saved it for me and my gratitude was boundless. I’m cooking meatballs for dinner, so that might go some small way to saying thank you.

So that was my week. I really don’t know how I’ve managed to write so much, when very little has happened. Enjoy your long weekend, if you get one, and I hope you have a calm and restful week.

Look forward to chatting with you next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Time Goes By … So Quickly!

I have exactly two weeks left before I will probably have to return to work. It’s not enough, I need more. I had so much planned for this lockdown, and although have been busy every single day, I still didn’t manage to achieve all that I wished to.

During January, I went through my books with a fine toothcomb, finding a few elusive typos, tweaking, and adjusting to make them sharper and better. Formatting was looked at, and I changed the font. This all took a very long time, with most of the month being spent on it.

In February, I wrote a book – the fourth in the Blackwood Family saga – it has been edited, formatted, and is now with my beta reader. I had hoped to make a start on the next book, but that doesn’t seem very likely now.

During March I worked on my website. My website has been sadly neglected since I first had it made five years ago. Back then, it suited a need and I thought it was all right. But I’ve learnt a lot during the years, and I now see how it can be made so much better. Luckily, I have a wonderful website guy – the Adorable Andrew – and he has been nagging at me for years to update it, so he’s pleased I’ve finally got around to it.

But it’s taking more time than I thought it would. It seems there is a vast chasm between what I want and what is possible. The problem is that websites are viewed from different devices and what looks great on a desktop will look rubbish when viewed on a phone, or a tablet. Andrew is convinced he can find a way around it, but progress is hampered by the fact that Andrew is in Germany, so everything must be done via email.

The plan is to have a page for each of my books so we’ve been working together to create a page for Becoming Lili – the first book in the alphabet – because once we have that page perfect, it will provide a template for all the other books. But … it is taking time. Andrew thinks he has figured out a solution. If he has, then the rest of the book pages will be easy to put together. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

This website represents a huge investment of time and money for me, but I plan for it to work harder for me by use of carefully chosen tag words which will help people find my website when they search Google for a specific thing. So, for example, if someone searches for Snow White … the Seven Dwarves … steampunk … airships … there is a good chance they will find the page for Black Ice on my website. If they search for coming-of-age … ugly duckling … stories set in the 1990s … friendship tales … then they might find the page for Becoming Lili … and so on.

A stunning, visually appealing, and interesting website can only increase my standing as an author. At least … that’s the hope.

I’ve installed Grammarly on my computer which has recently been upgraded to work within a Word document and again I’m going through all my books. I’m happy to say I haven’t found much wrong – the odd repetitive word, the even odder missing Oxford comma. I’m also making use of the Read Aloud function on Word. This is an incredibly useful editing tool, and I can’t believe I haven’t made use of it before. Basically, it will read aloud any document saved in Word so I can listen to my books read back to me. Okay, the voice is robotic, so it doesn’t exactly read with feeling, but it does read precisely what is written.

I have read my books aloud before, but the problem with that is the human brain is a very clever piece of machinery and it will automatically read what it believes should be there. For example, read the sentence below:

It is not uncommon for the the human mind to rearrange words the in order it believes is the correct order.

Did the sentence make sense? If it did, it’s because your brain sorted it out for you. This is very clever, but not very helpful when you’re trying to edit a book. Listening to the books being read by a computer means I hear exactly what I wrote so can pick up any errors.

As you can imagine though, it takes a very long time to listen to a whole book read aloud and stay alert to catch any mistakes. So far, I have only done just over three books – and they are the shortest three – so I don’t think I will get all eleven done by the time I return to work. Although, it will be interesting to hear certain … fruity scenes … in some of my books read aloud by a robot.

So, that is what has kept me so busy these past three months. I do wonder if I hadn’t been in lockdown how much progress I would have made? Would I be at the same point? I don’t think so, and it’s comforting that I have achieved something.

This week I had to try and telephone my energy provider. I’m with the company Look After My Bills who search for the cheapest energy deals and switch my provider accordingly. Currently I’m with a company called Green Supplier Limited and pay £88 a month for my gas and electricity. This is not enough to cover my consumption during the winter months, but ample to cover the summer months and clear any outstanding debt leftover from the winter.

So, I was a little surprised to receive a rather snippy email from Green informing me that as I was £120 in debt, they were going to change my direct debit. Now, this is not a lot to be in debt coming out of winter, and as the weather gets milder and my heating is used less, this debt will be paid off and by the time we go into winter again I will be in credit. But maybe Green was being pedantic and wished to clear the debt quicker so were going to slightly up my monthly payment.

This email was quickly followed by another telling me my direct debit of £88 had been cancelled. Then another came hot on its heels, informing me that a new direct debit has been set up for £155! This is ludicrous. To almost double my payment means they will owe me money in a couple of months. I decided to call Look After My Bills – after all, they are supposed to always ensure I have the cheapest deal and £155 per month for two people living in a tiny, terraced house was not the cheapest deal. I’m not heating Buckingham Palace.

There was no way to contact LAMB online, only a telephone number. I dialled it. An automated system told me to select option one if I were an existing customer. I selected option one. Then pan pipe music started up and a voice told me I was number twenty in the queue! I sat and waited, listening to this awful music that had no beginning and no end. It was interrupted frequently by a robotic voice telling me how important my call was – clearly not that important or they’d not leave me hanging on so long – and informing me of my position in the queue.

Eventually, about twenty minutes later, I was number two and was hopeful … and then they hung up on me and I was left listening to the disconnected tone. Swearing, I phoned again. This time I was told I was number eighteen in the queue. I waited. More pan pipe music. Again, I was reassured of how important my call was.

Whilst I was waiting, I searched again for an email address for LAMB and managed to find one. I sent them a quick message explaining the issue and asking for help. Back came a reply. My email was very important to them, and they promised to respond within 5-7 working days. They obviously have a strange definition of “important” that I hadn’t previously been aware of.

I was number thirteen in the queue. More dodgy pan pipes. I was number fourteen … wait! What? Somebody queue jumped?

Eventually, I got through to a human being – Raphael – really, oka-a-ay. I explained the situation to him. He sympathised but told me he couldn’t help; I’d need to speak to Green directly. Great, nearly an hour of my life wasted listening to pan pipes. Raphael helpfully emailed me a link to direct chat with them.

I got through quite quickly, but I don’t think it was a human being on the other end. The answers felt mechanical and a bit too well-rehearsed. I again explained the issue and waited. The live chat feed disappeared and a few minutes later I received an email giving the standard reply that they carefully considered the direct debits they charged their customers and were satisfied they were all correct.

Right, so absolutely no bloody help whatsoever. I gave up at this point. Monday I will try to telephone Green and will hang on – listening to whatever dreadful elevator music they play at me – until I get through to a human being. However long it takes.

Why does everything have to be so annoying and take so long? I feel it’s a symptom of modern life that nothing is ever easy. All these systems we have in place to make life run more smoothly seem to have precisely the opposite effect.

And now it’s Saturday again and I am once more writing my blog and wondering what on earth to tell you about when really, nothing much has happened this week. The days have jogged along blending one into another.

The only thing we did this week out of the ordinary was that Tuesday morning we drove to a local park so that Miss F could carry out a nature study for one of her college assignments. Strictly relegated to the roles of chauffeur, pack mule, and holder of the other end of the string, I assisted as she measured out a ten-metre line on the ground and surveyed how many different species of plant life were to be found along it. This is March in the UK, so not a lot was the answer. She wasn’t allowed to include grass, so that left us with stinging nettles, dock leaves, a couple of daffodils, scilla, primroses, a lone cowslip, and several small yellow flowers that looked like buttercups, but I knew weren’t. I hazarded a guess that they were celandine, and she took photos to identify them when we got home. Much to my surprise, I was right, they were.

Given it was during school time, I was surprised by how many people were in the park. There were also lots of dogs, who were all very interested in what we were doing, and I even had to chase after one cheeky little spaniel who ran off with the ball of string. There were several mothers with pushchairs and babies in those sling things across their chests. I tried Miss F in one of those when she was a baby and thought my spine was going to snap in half.

It was a bright, dry, sunny day but only about ten degrees so a bit on the nippy side. It was nice to see somewhere different, and the swathes of daffodils were a sight to behold.

Apart from that, we have done nothing. You’d think that time would drag, but the truth is both Miss F and I have so much to do that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. She is busy with the piles of assignments she has, and of course, I’m busy with all my author business.

Speaking of which, a notification has flashed up that the Adorable Andrew has sent me an urgent email about the website. I suppose I had better go and see what that is all about.

Sorry, it’s only a shorter blog today, but aside from website emergencies I also must go and collect a big shopping order in an hour.

Take care everyone.

Julia Blake

A Dose a Day…

I had my first dose of the Corona vaccine this week. Here in the UK, they seem to be romping through the age groups at quite a giddy pace. Last week the 55 to 60 age group were all done. This week it was the turn of the 50- to 55-year-olds. Tuesday evening my mother texted Miss F asking if I had booked my jab as my brother – three years younger than me – had already got an appointment booked for the coming Saturday. I hadn’t heard anything, but went to check my mobile, and, sure enough, there was a text from the NHS telling me it was “my turn” and that I needed to book my appointment now.

Wednesday morning, we went onto the website and put in my details to book an appointment. Now, I knew my GP surgery was giving the vaccine, so I fully expected to go there and was a bit surprised to be told my nearest vaccine centre was in a former school on the other side of town. But, whatever, perhaps my surgery was fully booked, and this was an overspill unit or something. Or maybe, because I hadn’t ticked any of the boxes stating I had any kind of special needs, they had figured I could get to this slightly more out of the way location more easily. Perhaps my GP, being a town centre location, was reserved for people living more locally who had stated they would have issues going elsewhere.

Whatever the reason, I have my car back, so it wasn’t a problem, and we booked me in for the first appointment Thursday morning which was 8:55am. I planned to make a list, take my bags, and pop to Waitrose afterwards which was on the drive back, thus killing two birds with one stone.

I wasn’t too sure where the centre was located but bombing down the ring road there were socking great yellow signs saying Vaccine Centre, so I simply followed those. I have to say, it was all very well organised. Men in yellow vests directed me where to park. I followed the arrows and gave my booking number to various people in yellow vests and masks on the way before ending up inside the centre, where a very nice lady took my details, medical history, and checked I was all okay health-wise before having the jab.

Then I followed yet more arrows through the building and socially distanced queued to wait my turn to be stabbed. Going to the indicated cubicle, I was a bit taken aback to discover the doctor overseeing my jab was my neighbour from across the road. Regular readers of my blog will know him already. He was the person the Yodel delivery driver was delivering to. The same driver who then drove into the side of me. We exclaimed how it was a small world, he ticked a box, and they stuck the needle in.

It didn’t hurt, I only felt a small scratch on my arm. I’ve had worse from the rose bush in my garden. Then I was told to go and sit in my car for ten minutes, leave my doors unlocked, and if I got into difficulties, summon help my sounding my horn. Or, I guess, if I passed out, I would sound the horn as my head hit the steering wheel.

I sat for ten minutes, a bit bored. I was going to listen to the radio but seemed to be parked in a bad reception area so only got static. After ten minutes, I went to do my shopping then went home and assumed that was that. I’d heard that the side effects from the jab could be quite nasty, so I made sure I’d cleaned out and laid the fire, lugged in all the coal and wood for the evening, and prepped dinner – just in case. The day wore on and I still felt fine, until about mid-evening, when my arm began to ache like billy ho.

If you went to the kind of school I did, then on the first day of every month, the sadistic bullies – of which there were quite a few – would go around nipping all the other kids and then punching them hard in the shoulder shouting “pinch, punch, first of the month, or tell us your sweethearts name” and then running away. It was years until I discovered that they were supposed to give you a choice in the matter – whether you wanted a pinch or a punch, or would offer up the name of the person you were sweet on – no, these little sods just delivered the pain and then left. For the rest of the day, you would walk around with a dead arm wondering if the feeling would ever return to it.

Anyway, the point of my ramble is that this was how my arm was beginning to feel, plus a nagging headache was spreading across my forehead and I was suddenly incredibly tired. I went to bed at ten, which is early for me, hoping that a good night’s sleep would sort me out.

It didn’t. I woke the next morning to a world of pain. I ached all over, especially in my knee and hip joints, my arm felt like a whole class of ten-year-old bullies had been pummelling on it, I was drained, and my stomach couldn’t make up its mind if it was empty or about to void itself, and I was freezing cold. I mean seriously cold. I could not get warm.

It got worse as the day went on and by that evening, I felt rough. Too rough to even think about dinner so I asked Miss F to do the honours. She disappeared into the kitchen and thirty minutes later emerged with chicken nuggets, fries, and baked beans. It was fine. It was hot, comfort food and did make me feel a lot better. Another early night, and then Saturday morning I felt much better. My arm still felt stiff, but not as bad as it had been.

But the odd thing is since I had the jab, I have received three texts and a letter from my GP’s surgery and the NHS telling me that I’m entitled to my vaccine, and not to forget to book my appointment. Umm, hello? Kind of thought I already had. I’m beginning to wonder now exactly what was injected into my arm Thursday morning if it wasn’t the corona vaccine? Or, more, likely, it’s the NHS not knowing its arse from its elbow as usual.

It’s my parent’s wedding anniversary today. 57 years. I mean, 57 years!! That’s like three life sentences each! I always think buying gifts for people gets harder the older they get. I mean, people reach a point where they have everything they need or want and simply don’t want any more stuff! As we’re all still in lockdown, buying them vouchers to have a nice meal out somewhere isn’t possible, so instead I put together a dine-in hamper for them.

My parents are very plain eaters, and a shop-bought hamper would probably contain things they didn’t like, so I simply bought two sirloin steaks, a pack of button mushrooms, beer-battered onion rings, hand-cut chunky chips, a big cherry pie, a pot of custard, and a bottle of rosé wine, together with a nice card and a small bunch of tulips to have on the table. A lockdown anniversary dinner on us. We went over Saturday afternoon and had a very socially distanced visit in their garden to give them their hamper.

Other than that, it’s been a very quiet week. We had a virtual presentation from Miss F’s future university about student accommodation and facilities which was very interesting. There is a student village on campus with three-storey townhouses. The student gets a very nice room with a small double bed, a huge desk and lots of storage. They share a large shower room with one other room and can even request whom they share with – so if Miss F’s best friend does decide to go to university with her, they can share a bathroom, which is lovely.

There were a couple of things we found out in this talk that made me very happy and reassured me a lot. One is that there are plenty of jobs on campus for the students should they wish to supplement their student finance. It is nice to think Miss F can work on campus and not be trying to get back to her university after a late shift in one of the local towns. In this day and age, the thought of my teenage daughter on public transport or even having to walk on dark roads late at night is scary.

Secondly, the university lay on minibuses several evenings a week to transport students to various local towns and amenities, including a shopping special one on a Monday evening for any student who wishes to go to the nearest supermarket and do their weekly shop. I don’t know of any other university that looks after its students so much. It shows the perks of her attending a small university that can offer so much to its students, as opposed to a massive one that has thousands of students so can’t cater for them in quite the same way.

I’ve been asked by a few people what Miss F bought me for Mother’s Day. Well, it was three pairs of pyjamas because she said, and I quote, “your pyjamas are so threadbare and faded mum, they’re not going to survive many more washes, and they are too embarrassing to hang out to dry.” She’s not wrong, I’ve been thinking for ages that all my PJ’s needed replacing, and now I have three lovely new pairs coming tomorrow.

And that is all my news for the week. My latest book has been edited through the new editing software I downloaded, and I made use of the read-aloud facility on Word to have the whole thing read out loud to me. It was like being read a bedtime story by Robbie the Robert and it didn’t exactly do it with feeling, but it was a good way of picking up those niggly errors that my eyes had missed because your brain reads what it expects to be there. Robbie, of course, read exactly what was there, which was handy. The book has now gone off to my beta reader, and, hopefully, she won’t find too much wrong with it.

I’ve also been busy completely overhauling my website, so that has kept me occupied. As I’m incapable of doing it myself, I have a lovely man called Andrew who’s doing it for me. Although, I think he’s getting a bit cheesed off with how much I keep changing my mind.

Sorry, it’s a shorter blog this week, but lockdown life just jogs along with not a lot happening. If the roadmap out of lockdown is adhered to, I will be back to work mid-April, so I need to try and make the most of these last three weeks at home and get stuff done.

Hope you’re all well and taking care of yourself and I look forward to chatting with you all next week.

Julia Blake

Happy Mother’s Day

To everyone in the UK, Happy Mother’s Day. To everyone else, Happy Sunday, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Firstly, an apology for not blogging last week. That weird head cold thing and general feeling of ickiness I was suffering from the last time we spoke developed into a very nasty infection under my back molar. By the following Wednesday, the pain was creeping into my jaw, throat, and ear, and by Friday I’d spoken to the dentist, picked up a prescription for two sets of live antibiotics, and had picked up the meds from my doctor when I went to collect my hayfever meds.

What a lot of people don’t realise, is 95% of all antibiotics are inert, but 5% – the strong stuff – are live. The thing with being on live antibiotics is yes, they are very effective and very fast working, but they also have their own side effects. One of them is that not even a whiff of alcohol must pass your lips or else you will be as sick as a dog. The other is that they strip all the bacteria from your body – good and bad – the antibiotics make no distinction between them but kills them all.

Now, there is only one way for all the dead bacteria to leave your body, but I will leave that one to your imagination. This means that you must take a lot of probiotics to put the good bacteria back into your body. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem for me, but as I have become quite lactose intolerant over the past year and probiotics are dairy, I was worried this might further add to my misery. Luckily, I found dairy free probiotics in Waitrose so that was all right. Yes, they tasted foul, but I chugged down a pot twice a day and hoped they were doing the trick.

So, by the time last Saturday rolled around and it was time to write my blog, the meds hadn’t yet kicked in and I was in a lot of pain. The tooth was wobbly in my jaw causing shooting pains to go down my throat – which was swollen – deep in my ear canal and even up into my temple. I was cross, tired, and very out of sorts. I’m afraid writing the blog just wasn’t going to happen. All I wanted to do was rest, so that’s what I did.

Since then, I’m happy to report that the meds seem to have done the trick. I was given only enough for five days and wondered if I’d need a repeat prescription, but so far so good. This is the third time I’ve suffered the same infection in the same place. I think this time the fact I was able to spot the warning signs early and get myself onto the antibiotics, meant it was dealt with quicker. I just hope it doesn’t come back again as my dentist was making noises about removing the tooth and I’m not keen on the idea.

It’s been a fortnight of slowly getting things back onto an even keel, and generally just good news all around. Firstly, my car is fixed. The insurance company coughed up the money, only holding back the £100 policy excess which apparently will be refunded to me once the money has been fully claimed from the Yodel delivery driver’s insurance company. I have seen him in my road a further two times since, both times delivering to neighbours, so he’s clearly still working for Yodel. Each time he has driven past my house staring at it and scanning the parked cars – maybe realising that the car he smashed into is not there.

The garage telephoned me Tuesday to say the car was ready. Now, normally, I would have asked my dad to give me a lift there, but since Miss F is now back at college (more about that later) and is being exposed to the infection, we weren’t comfortable about risking it. I decided there was nothing for it, I would have to walk the two miles to retrieve it and planned to go Wednesday.

Wednesday dawned, torrential rain that lashed at the windows and didn’t let up all day, plus strong gusting winds. I wasn’t going out in that! Especially not as I was still recovering from a jaw and ear infection. Thursday, I had to go to the post office and the bank – I had some cash that’s been kicking around the house since the first lockdown and wanted to use it to help pay for the car, but wasn’t sure if the garage were accepting cash, so had decided to pay it into the bank. I left the bank at 11:13am and looked at the weather. The forecast had said rain all day but at that time in the morning it was dry and bright, although the gale force winds were still gusting. I made the snap decision to go there and then to fetch the car. After all, I was surely about a third of the way there already. So, I set out walking.

I walked, and I walked, and I walked. By the time I was about two-thirds of the way there – and too far to even think about coming back – I had remembered just how much I hate walking and I was exhausted. The wind had taken on a raw edge and was blasting straight into my ear. My legs ached and I needed to pee, but I had to keep going.

Eventually, I reached the garage and there was my little car! With a brand-new wing, looking ever so dapper. They had warned me that they might not be able to match the paint colour exactly, but if there is a difference, I can’t see it. Delighted, I paid the bill and drove home, very happy to have my little car back.

It’s lucky we were in lockdown and I didn’t need a car to get to work. My garage is opposite my place of work and I have sometimes wondered if in the warmer months I might be able to occasionally walk to work. My experience this week has shown me that no I couldn’t. It’s just too far. Sorry if that makes me sound a right weakling, but the thought of doing an hour’s walk and arriving at work drenched in sweat and exhausted. Then having to do a seven-hour shift on my feet all day, and then having to walk an hour back home – nope, just nope.

So, Basil my dear little car is safely home. Although, I have decided I will always try to park him with the mended side facing safely into the kerb. With the way that Yodel delivery driver has been bombing up and down our road, if he does decide to smash into me again – at least it will be the old, rusty side.

Before
After

As you know, my insurance policy was up for renewal last week and I had determined not to use the same broker because they hadn’t been particularly efficient with my claim. However, when the quote arrived from them, I had to put my glasses on to check I wasn’t reading it wrong. Then I called Miss F into the room.

ME:  Look at this.

HER: What is it?

ME:  The quote from the insurance brokers for this year’s car insurance.

HER: You’re not using them this year, right?

ME:  Take a look.

She looked, her eyebrows shot up and she took another look.

HER: So, I guess we’re staying with them after all, then?

I had been expecting my premiums to go up after all the shenanigans. I had been warned they probably would. I was paying £16 per month for my insurance. Thirty years accident-free driving, an unblemished no claims bonus, my age, the age of my car, and the fact I drive less than 2000 miles a year all combining to keep my premiums low. But I was still expecting a few pounds to have crept onto the quote.

The quote was for £14.54 per month! That’s fully comprehensive, including homestart, breakdown recovery, courtesy car, windshield, foreign travel, and legal. I honestly don’t think I could get cheaper anywhere else, so I’m staying with the brokers. The underwriters are still the lovely company who were very efficient and honest with me, so there’s that.

Having my car back meant I was able to go online and place our first Tesco click and collect order since the last week of January. Such a relief. Yes, we had managed to get one delivery slot where we bulk bought as much as we could and living in the middle of town meant I was able to shop on foot. But there is a limit to how much I can carry in one go – let’s face it, milk, cat food, a bale of toilet rolls and a carton of juice and that’s me done!

Delivery slots to have your groceries brought to your door have to be booked a month in advance but click and collect slots are freely available. I went online Thursday afternoon and managed to book a slot for 3pm Saturday afternoon, and then Friday we sat down and took an hour placing a large and very comprehensive shopping list. Now all I must do is drive to our local Tesco, go to the collection spot in the car park, open my boot and pile the shopping in. It’s so easy and avoids having to go into a plague infested supermarket where people’s masks are more off than on and they seriously don’t understand how far apart 2m really is!

More good news re Miss F and her exams. The actual written portion of the exams have been cancelled and tutors will be awarding grades based on assignments completed by the students. As Miss F has worked very hard and kept on top of her assignments, scoring merits and distinctions all the way, she is quietly confident about the outcome of this.

The practical synoptic which makes up 60% of the final mark was causing her stress as they were scheduled to commence the week they returned to college (so, this week), but no preparation had been done for them and the tutors had no clue as to what was happening about them. The good news is that although the synoptics are still going ahead, they have been postponed to about six weeks in the future, so the students have some time to prepare for them, plus I believe they won’t be as intense as last year’s – maybe acknowledging the fact that the students have not received the level and quality of education this last year that they should have had.

Miss F returned to college on Monday. She was very worried about going. Not so much for her own safety, but in case she carries the contagion home to me. We are taking every precaution. She has good quality masks that she wears from the moment she leaves home to moment she returns. She has lots of hand sanitiser in her bag that she uses frequently. There isn’t much in the way of social distancing at the college, and students are being crammed into small classrooms sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with their classmates. But Miss F and her best friend Miss T are sticking closely together and not mingling or mixing with any of the other students. We know that Miss T has been obeying lockdown laws, and of course, Miss F has, so there’s minimal chance of them already being infected. They go to college, have their classes, then go directly home.

Sadly, most of the young people at the college are not being so sensible. Huge crowds of them are gathering outside the college at break and lunchtimes. There is nowhere open in the college for them to eat lunch, so they are all piling onto the large grassy area outside. No masks, no social distancing. It will be interesting to see what happens to infection rates, and even death rates, over the next two weeks.

Finally, on the good news front, I am delighted to report that I have finished writing book twelve! Yep, I started writing it on the 22nd of February and sixteen days later I wrote the end. I did my usual tunnel vision, being so completely absorbed in the story I was telling that everything else went to pot. When I lifted my head from the book and looked around, it was to find my garden was a mess; the cupboards, fridge, and freezer were all empty; the house was a tip; and my poor daughter was beginning to think she was an orphan.

It’s always the way with me. I’m such a binge writer in that I don’t write a word for months, then bam, 52,000 words pour out of me in two weeks. Still, it’s written and I’m very pleased with it. Book four in the Blackwood Family Saga, this is the story of the mysterious and kickass character Isabella. If you’ve read the first three books in the series, you’ll know that Isabella is a law unto herself. In Sugar & Spice, Sullivan hazarded a guess that she was MI5 or MI6, or maybe something else. Well, in this book all her secrets are exposed, and the resulting tale is a non-stop exciting chase through the world of international drug smuggling, kidnapping, and revenge. Moving from the streets of London to the alleys of Kandahar, Isabella must fight for her life – even though her heart may be broken in the process.

The first three books in the Blackwood Family Saga

I edited as I went – yes, I know I’m not supposed to, but I do – I also formatted as I went. This is the fourth book in the series, so how it’s going to be presented is already dictated by the previous three books. It made sense to insert it into the template right from the get-go. I have done two further line-by-line read throughs and now it is sitting and stewing for a few days. Then I’ll run it through the Grammerly editing programme to see if I missed anything and will make use of the read-back facility on my laptop – whereby it will read the story back to me and I will be able to hear how it flows. This is a wonderful way of catching those hard-to-spot typos and any grammatical errors. After that, it will be off to my wonderful beta reader, and then publication.

I can’t believe that will be twelve books out there. I’m hoping to get a chance to write a good-sized chunk of book thirteen before lockdown ends in mid-April, but we’ll see how timing goes. I’ve already decided I will write the third book of the The Perennials Trilogy next and as that’s going to be a big book, having words down already will give me the impetus to continue writing even once I’m back into the madness of work.

Whilst book twelve is stewing, I must work on my website. I’ve been faffing about with it over the past month, but because my attention has been solely focused on writing I haven’t been giving it the attention I should be. But now I must, the Adorable Andrew – the clever chap who is working on it for me – has been pressuring me to send him the material I want included, and now I have no more excuses. It must be done, and it will be. I’ll just go tunnel vision on it in my normal way and will probably get it completed within the week.

Today is Mother’s Day – or Mothering Sunday as it should properly be called – here in the UK. A centuries old tradition, it dates to when young people left home at an early age and went away to work. Most went into service – being servants for the local gentry – and some worked the land. Once a year, on the second Sunday of March, there was a special service held in all churches across the land. Everyone was given leave to return to their “mother” church if it was possible, to celebrate their connection with the place of their birth and the church that had nurtured them. Initially, it had nothing to do with their actual mothers, but instead was all about their mother church.

Gradually, though, as this visit home would also allow the young people to be able to see their own mothers, the concepts became combined, and it was traditional to take a small posy of primroses to your mother on that Sunday as a little gift of appreciation.

Nowadays, of course, it has become ALL about your mother and nothing to do with the church, and cards and gifts are a lot more elaborate than a simple posy of wildflowers. All around the world, other nations copied and initiated their own Mother’s Days. But as these weren’t ecclesiastical events there was no obligation to stick to the British date, so every country chose which date suited them best.

I have bought plants for my mother and for my ex-mother-in-law – Miss F’s grandma – along with cards. My father made a doorstep delivery of wood on Saturday afternoon, so was able to take my mum’s card and plant away with him. The card and plant for Grandma we will doorstep deliver on Sunday. As she is bedbound and cannot come to the door, the only way we will be able to see her is through the window. But it’s better than nothing, and hopefully will brighten her day.

There is a real sense this week of things looking up and chores being ticked off my to-do list. Pleased beyond belief I have at least achieved one of the tasks I set for myself this lockdown – that of writing book twelve – if I can only get the other task completed and relaunch my new website before returning to work, at least I will feel I spent the time profitably.

Anyway, that’s all my news for this week. Take care of yourselves and try to stay safe. The vaccine is rolling out across the UK and they are working their way down through the ages. They had reached the high 50s this week, so at 53 my turn may be coming up sooner than I expected.

Chat soon.

Julia Blake

Garden Ramble

Short blog this week. One because I really don’t have very much to tell you, and two because I’m not feeling very well. And no, before you ask, it’s not Corona. I’ve managed to pick up a head cold from somewhere so have a raging sore throat, and a snotty grotty nose. Isn’t it ironic – wearing facemasks, staying indoors, avoiding contact with people, and constantly sanitising my hands is apparently enough to protect me from a virulent global pandemic – but it couldn’t stop the common cold!

So, I’m sniffy and drippy and feeling a bit sorry for myself. It’s affecting my sleep as well, because every time I lay down it seems to make my sinuses swell even more to the point of being unable to breathe. I’ve also been having dreams, well, more nightmares really. Normally, I don’t dream at all, or if I do, I don’t remember them. But the last few nights I have been plagued with very unsettling dreams of death and disaster, and deadly situations and danger that have me jerking awake, drenched in sweat, and reluctant to go back to sleep again.

I’m hoping it’s all connected to the cold and the general swollen state of my nose – perhaps not being able to breath properly is alarming my subconscious to the state of inducing these “life in danger” dreams and making me constantly wake up to change position in an attempt to breathe.

It’s been a busy week despite not feeling so good. Monday morning, I made the decision to start writing book twelve. After all, the government have announced that all non-essential shops will re-open by mid-April, so that means I have six more weeks at home before plunging back into the rat race of trying to juggle my work, home, and writing lives, so I figured I had better try and get as many words down as possible over the next six weeks.

I’ve made a good start. I’m writing book four of the Blackwood Family Saga, my short and pacey romantic suspense series. I am aiming to write a minimum of 3000 words a day and so far, have managed 13,000. Given that the books are generally around 52,000 words long that means I’ve written a quarter of the book. If I stay on track, I should finish the book in two weeks’ time. I then intend to plunge straight into writing the final book of the Perennials Trilogy. Now, this will be a lot longer book and will probably average out at about 160,000. I know there isn’t much chance of me writing the whole book in four weeks, but if I get a goodly portion of it down then the impetus will be there to carry on once I’m back at work.

The news about my car is all good. The underwriters have agreed the costs of repairing the car and have already placed the money into my account. The new wing is with my mechanic, so they are working on the car even as we speak. Probably over the next couple of weeks I will have my car back – certainly before I need to collect another big shop, and certainly long before lockdown ends, and I need it for work.

Miss F has received a text from the restaurant where she works part-time advising her to be on standby to potentially return to work mid-April as well. Restaurants are opening offering outdoor table service only, so I guess this re-opening will be very much good weather related. No point opening if it’s miserable weather and all you can offer your customers is a soggy table in a wet and slippery underfoot garden.

College wise, she has been told that she will probably be returning on the 8th of March, but there seems a great deal of confusion about it all. At first, the college announced that masks would be mandatory in the whole college – about blinking time – but now they are saying that they won’t be, so I guess that will be the virus being spread about again. Yes, children don’t tend to catch the virus and, if they do, they don’t suffer from it the way most adults do. But they can carry it home to their family who will mostly still be in lockdown. Children in households with severely compromised family members who are sheltering and vulnerable have been told they will not be exempt. They MUST come to school/college or their parents risk fines or even prison sentences.

It’s a tough decision. Definite fine or possible death from a nasty contagious virus. Which one would you choose?

The news about her exams is even more confusing. They have finally been told that the written portion of their exams have been cancelled, and that teachers will be grading them based on coursework, assignments, and mock exam results – so as a straight distinction student, Miss F doesn’t have any worries there. But these written exams only constitute 40% of her grade, and they still haven’t informed students how they are supposed to take their practical synoptics that make up 60% of the total grade. Time is ticking by – students return to college in two weeks’ time and many have no idea if they are taking exams or not, and what sort of preparation there are supposed to be making.

It is a very confusing, stressful, and worrying time for many young people. I only wish the governing bodies could understand this and announce clearly defined and fair solutions to help ease their minds and reduce the pressure a little bit.

I am concerned about the fact that when lockdown ends for most of us in mid-April and we are all forced back into our shops, offices, and factories, that most of the work force will not have been vaccinated yet. With at least three new, even more contagious strains of the virus now in the UK, it is worrying that so many of us will be back out there, unprotected, and extremely vulnerable to these new strains. Despite all that has happened over the past year, there are still so many who flout the rules, who don’t wear masks, who don’t follow basic guidelines, and who appear blissfully ignorant of how far apart 2m actually means. With the highest death rate per capita in the world, the UK needs to start learning a few lessons here, or I can see the whole thing kicking off again.

But anyway, all I can do is obey the rules, stay home, and try to keep myself and other people as safe as possible. The weather seems to have taken a turn for the better, which is nice, and I have been making a real effort to spend some time each day in my garden. Whilst I am very happy with the hard landscaping, I don’t feel I’ve yet got the planting right. It is tricky, in a very small garden, to hit that right balance of there being enough plants to make it feel alive, and having plants take over and completely overwhelm the space.

I pulled down an old tree on Tuesday, and before you ask if I’ve started a new career as a lumberjack, it was only an old and very dead olive tree. A few good yanks and the whole thing came down. Riddled with woodworm and bone dry, it was only fit for sawing up and burning on my fire. It’s a job I’ve been meaning to do for years but never had the time, so it’s one more item ticked off my to-do list. I also pulled out some rather rampant lavender which had thuggishly invaded the whole of one bed and established dominance over everything else in it. Taller than me, although lovely in the summer it was simply too much, so out it came. I will buy some dwarf lavender and have it in a pot, so it is confined and controllable.

Someone bought Miss F a rose for her christening. Bit of a strange present, I thought at the time, given that it had wicked long thorns all over it, and I have never found the right spot in the garden for it. Over the past seventeen years it has been tried in no less than four places, but each time ran wild and choked anything that got in its way. Defying all attempts to prune it or keep it in check, I have lost count of the number of times I have cleaned the deep scratches gouged from my arms by the vicious thing. If it produced beautiful and sweet-smelling blooms, I might have forgiven it and put up with its cantankerous ways, but the lacklustre and rather pitiful yellow flowers it puts out are so not worth the pain, and I have secretly planned its demise. However, it was technically Miss F’s rose and as such, I was unable to murder it.

However, a compromise has finally been reached. The damn thing is going, and in return she is going to pick the rambling rose of her choice – preferably one with pretty, scented blooms – and it will be planted to climb up the pergola and over the bathroom roof so she can see, and maybe smell it, from her office window.

So now the rose is on death row, I have hacked it down to the ground and when I’m next in the garden will attempt to pull it up completely. This will leave the whole large bottom bed completely empty and ready for new plants. First to go in will be my wisteria. I’ve always wanted one, but never really had anywhere to put it, but bought one anyway and stuck it in my woodland raised bed in the hopes that it would manage to scramble its way up out of the gloom to the sunshine on top of the pergola where it could ramble and bloom to its heart’s content. But it never did. It put out a few sickly, straggly runners that clung for dear life to the trellis but never progressed any further and certainly never produced any of those iconic purple drooping flowers. Wisteria likes a lot of sunshine and needs unlimited space to climb. Now that the old olive tree is gone and the rose’s days are numbered, I have the perfect sunny spot available to move the wisteria to. It’s right at the bottom of the garden which does get quite a lot of sunshine. There is a trellis for it to scramble up, and then bow shaped trellis toppers on the fence that runs the whole length of the garden for me to train it to scramble along – if it is so inclined.

I’m also pulling down all the honeysuckle. It was a nice idea, but I think it is too thirsty a plant for my garden and again was in the wrong place. It never looked very attractive – all that brown crunchy foliage just made it look dead, it never produced any flowers, and all it does is rain dead leaves down onto the table and chairs under the pergola which I am constantly having to clean up or they rot and go mulchy underfoot.

The only plant I have ever managed to grow successfully over my pergola was a passionflower. It was a pity purchase years ago from a local garden centre. Tiny, battered, and looking distinctly dead in a cracked plastic pot, it had been reduced to £1.50 and Miss F’s soft heart was touched by its plight. Begging me to buy it, she wasn’t even put off when I told her we were probably just giving it a nice place to die, so we brought it home and planted it in the woodland bed where it could scramble up the trellis and onto the pergola.

Personally, I thought its scrambling days were well and truly over, but boy was I proved wrong. This thing thrived, and I mean thrived! By the end of the summer, it had reached the top of the pergola and was busy exploring its new world. But the following spring it was halfway across, and by the following year it had achieved almost total domination of the whole of the pergola. It bloomed profusely – gorgeous big cream and purply blue flowers that looked almost alien in their weirdness – and even the odd fruit. Much to Miss F’s disappointment these weren’t edible but still, they were fun to look at.

I would give it a bit of a prune every now and then, and it would grow back more vigorously than ever. Nothing seemed to phase it – no matter what the weather was, it kept on growing – and I began to believe it was indestructible, but I was to be proved wrong.

The pergola needed repainting. A difficult enough job it was made almost impossible by the passionflower being all over it. Carefully, I pruned back enough so that I could get to the wooden uprights and crossbeams and start painting. One day, I happened to mention to our then lodger that I was going to prune the passionflower back a bit more so I could get to the trellis it was entwined about and repaint it.

When I returned from work that day, it was to find a sweaty lodger who proudly informed me that he had pruned the passionflower for me so I could get straight on with painting that evening. Heart sinking, I followed him out into the garden to find that he had hacked it almost down to the ground. He had cut deeply into the old wood leaving just a stump and I knew he had killed it. That no matter how robust the plant was, there was no coming back from this. Sadly, I was proved right. I left the corpse in the ground hoping it would recover, but for five years it has sat there doing nothing.

Yesterday, I gave a gentle pull on the stump and the whole thing disintegrated in my hands. Pulling it from the ground I discovered no root system left at all on it, so I sawed the trunk up into small logs and tossed them into the wood box.

But life is all about coincidences. I had to go to our local general shop at the bottom of our road for some essential cleaning products and a month’s worth of greetings cards, and on my way back out of the shop I stopped to look on the rack of garden plants they had for sale. To my surprise there was a passionflower there, but not the normal blue one, this one was a gorgeous deep pink. I think I will go back today and buy one. The last passionflower did so well I am hopeful this new one will prove as successful – and you can rest assured I will keep any future lodgers away from it.

Today we have a virtual “Meet the Tutor” thing with Miss F’s university, so I need to close here and wake her up as it’s happening in less than an hour and she’s still asleep – I envy her ability to be able to sleep till noon. I used to be able to, but now a combination of too many things to do dragging me out of bed, and a less accommodating bladder – my sleeping in days are a thing of the past.

Looking at the word count, this blog turned out longer than I thought it would, and I’m sorry for boring you all with my ramble about my plans for the garden.

Hope you are all well, and wherever you are, please stay safe and stay happy.

Julia Blake

Karma!

Isn’t it funny how life can turn on a tuppence? When we spoke last week, it was looking as though I would have to forget about going the insurance path and simply pay to get my car fixed myself. It seemed the only way I could keep my car, my spotless insurance record, and avoid my premiums going up unnecessarily.

But fate is a fickle creature. I awoke early last Sunday morning and for some reason was desperate to have a cup of tea straight away. This is a deviation from my normal routine of shower then tea, but I thought it’s Sunday, so what does it matter? Heck, in lockdown, what does any of it matter? So, I made tea and took it into the lounge to drink. Whilst I was flicking through my notifications on Instagram, I heard a large van very slowly and quietly reversing up our road.

As I listened, the absolute conviction grew inside me that it was him! The Yodel delivery driver who had smashed into my car three weeks earlier. Quickly, I grabbed pen and paper. I heard my next-door neighbour’s doorbell ring, and her answering her door, and then thanking someone – clearly, she was getting a delivery. It must be him!

Quietly, I opened the front door and crept down the steps to peer around the hedge that divides our houses. And there it stood. The infamous large white van. I wrote down the numberplate, checking it twice to make sure I’d copied it correctly. Then the driver walked back to his van, turned, and saw me. We just looked at each other. I said nothing. I wondered if he was going to start something, but instead he climbed back into his van and drove away.

I called the police, gave them the number. Monday morning, I called the underwriters and gave it to them. I also told them that I was not prepared to let them simply write my car off. That I had taken it to my mechanic who had examined it. It was just the wing that needed replacing. Total cost for a new wing, paint, parts, labour, and VAT was £250. Okay, they meekly agreed, let us have their details and we will contact them.

Since then, things have moved on apace. It’s amazing what a difference simply getting that number plate has made. The insurance company have already paid for the car to be repaired, minus the £100 policy excess – apparently, I get that back when he has admitted fault and his insurance has paid. The police are now paying a great deal more attention to the matter, and I’ve been informed they are pursuing him with a view to prosecution, although it could take up to six months.

Overall, the situation is a lot rosier than it was this time last week. But clearly, he is still working for Yodel. I think an email to them advising them of his number plate, the cost of repairs to my car, and the police case reference number might jog them a little. I’m not a vindictive person, and if he had only stopped and swapped details with me, as any normal decent person would do, then this whole situation could have been resolved between us without any need to involve Yodel. Accidents happen, of course they do. But, reversing away at speed as the owner of the car you’ve just decked chases after you is not an accident. That’s a conscious choice and shows exactly what type of person you are.

Anyway, we shall see what the following week brings. I received notification in the post this morning that my policy is up for renewal, but I certainly won’t be staying with the insurance brokers who took almost two weeks to call me back and then lied to me about trying to contact me and hadn’t even passed the details onto the underwriters. I shall be asking the underwriters for a quote though, as they have been nothing for fair, upfront, and honest with me, which I appreciated.

Being in lockdown, of course I’m home all the time, the only exception being when I pop out to get essential supplies. I walked to Waitrose to pick up some milk, fresh veg etc, on Tuesday afternoon. I was gone about thirty minutes, and when I got back Miss F was waiting for me.

HER: Someone called.

ME:  Who?

HER: Dunno, someone from the insurance company?

ME:  Which one?

HER: Shrugs

ME:  Well, was it One Call the insurance broker, or Ageus the underwriters?

HER: Dunno, she didn’t say.

ME:  What was her name?

HER: Didn’t give it.

ME:  Well, where’s their number?

HER: Didn’t leave one.

I gave up at this point and decided to try Ageus first – and it was them – but honestly, it’s just as well Miss F isn’t planning a career in an office, she’d be rubbish at it.

She’s been on half-term this week, so her stress levels have thankfully subsided a bit. She’s rested a lot, played online with her friends, and caught up on her assignments. Back to college on Monday, and I’m wondering if they are ever going to let her know if she’s supposed to be having her exams or not on the 8th of March. Seeing as we are nudging towards the end of February now, they are seriously leaving it a little late to be advising students if the most important exams of their lives so far will be going ahead or not.

It’s been a quiet week; I’ve been busy putting the final polish to all my books and uploading covers with my publishing company logo on the spines. Someone once said to me that they could always tell an indie book from a traditionally published one merely by looking at the spines. Traditionally published books will always carry the logo of the publishing company at the base of the spines. Not sure I believed this, I looked at all the books on my shelves and realised she was correct. All traditionally published books do carry a logo, whereas indie books are blank.

I thought about this a lot. I’m always looking for ways to make my books indistinguishable from traditionally published ones as there is still a lot of stigma attached to being an independent author in this country. I also researched setting up your own publishing company and realised that anyone can do so to publish their own books. After all, I not only write the books, but I also publish them as well, so I am, effectively, a publishing company. All you must do is think of a name – preferably one nobody else is using – and then create a logo to use. And that’s it. There’s no cost involved, and unless you go stratospheric and start making thousands of pounds, no need to register the company anywhere either.

Then I had to think of a name. I came up with dozens, but a quick Google search always found someone else had already snaffled it. As a multi-genre author, I have long been using the tagline – an author for all seasons – and have recently had a banner made to show a tree in all four seasons to be used in my Facebook profile and on my new website. I’m also a British author, a fact I do emphasise a lot. So, I started researching old English words and then I found it – Sele – it means the seasons, prosperity, and good luck. It was perfect. A quick check revealed no one else was using it, and the domain names were up for grabs, so I purchased both selebooks.com and selebooks.co.uk and let my website designer know. Once the website is up and running, should anyone Google the name they will be taken to my website.

New banner

The lovely James at Platform House Publishing created me a great logo to go inside all my books and on the website, and a slimmed down version to go on the spines of my books. As a tree is in my banner, we decided to go with a leaf with the initials S and B entwined within it. I love it, and feel they enhance the look of my books. Maybe no one will actively notice it, but subconsciously they might, and it’s nice to know that when my books are lined up on a bookshelf they won’t stand out from traditionally published books in a negative way.

[I was going to include a picture of the logo here, but due to technical issues I can’t this week, so I will include it with next week’s blog.]

My next project is my website. At the moment it is a hot wordy mess, and it needs a major overhaul. I’m allowing myself the weekend off to draw breath and rest, then Monday morning I am starting a new regime. I’m going to allocate two or three hours every morning to start writing my next book, then in the afternoon work on the website, and slot housework and other chores around it. I need to start writing again. I’ve spent the last six weeks in lockdown working on my existing books, and now it’s time to get cracking on the next.

Judging by the government’s roadmap to leaving lockdown, non-essential shops won’t be reopening until the end of March, maybe the beginning of April, so I have about another five or six more weeks of being paid to stay home. Best I make the most of it. I think I will probably write book four of the Blackwood Family saga next, and as that will be a short book, I should get it written in that time and maybe even start on the next book.

I’ll keep you posted.

Fun image for the home page on my website – I like the cat

Our cat got into an enormous fight last night. I was cleaning my teeth ready for bed when almighty hell erupted outside in the garden. Unearthly shrieks and screams that startled me so much I nearly choked on my toothpaste!

Cat fights are horrendously noisy. All that swearing and yowling and hissing – I honestly did not know my cat knew that kind of language. Normally, I’d simply leave her to get on with it. But this fight sounded brutal, and it sounded like she was getting her arse handed to her in a sling. I pay the vet bills for that arse, so I switched on the garden lights, pulled on my shoes, and went out there.

The rumble was going down in the next-door garden, and the fence was thumped as they bounced off it. I heard the clang of garden chair against table and the cacophony of threats and screams got louder. I banged the fence and hissed my cat’s name. I was ignored. I thumped louder and hissed more vehemently. Total silence fell next door. I could imagine them staring at one another as they realised, they’d been caught scrapping by mum.

I called my cat again. There was a rustle, a thud, and then she appeared on top of the fence and jumped down beside me. Her tail was puffed up like Tufty the Squirrels, her ears were down, and there was a wild look in her eyes. She shot between my feet, nearly sending me flying, and charged up the path like all the hounds of hell were after her. It made me a bit nervous as to what exactly she had been fighting – and it was very dark out there, so I quickly followed her in and shut the door.

She has a few scabs, a scratch on her ear, and a sheepish expression this morning, so I can only conclude the other guy was quite a bit bigger, and if I hadn’t intervened, she might have suffered more. She’s only a tiny cat, I’m amazed she even tried to fight him at all, but I guess he was invading her turf, so it was a matter of honour.

We have an enormous Tesco home delivery booked for between 5 and 6pm this afternoon. When my car was first hit, four weeks ago now, I had the foresight to go onto the Tesco website and book the next available delivery slot as I had no idea how long I would be without car, so unable to collect my shopping as usual. Even though I didn’t care what time slot I got – I’d have taken 11pm if it had been available – today was literally the earliest I could get, so I booked it. I figured even if my car were mended, I could always change the delivery slot to an earlier click and collect slot as they tend to be easier to obtain.

But here we are, four weeks down the line with my car still out of action, so I am very relieved that a month’s worth of shopping will be brought to my doorstep today. Yes, I’ve been able to walk to my local Waitrose to pick up a few essentials, but the trouble with having to carry everything home is that you can’t get very much in one trip. After all, a carton of milk, a box of juice, cat food, laundry liquid, and some toilet rolls, and you’re about done. We’ve been gradually adding to the list over the past four weeks as we thought of things – I love how you can do that – and we had until 11:30pm last night to submit our final list. At 11pm we added a couple of last-minute things and we were done. Thank heavens I live in the middle of town though. If we lived out in the middle of nowhere how would we have managed?

How indeed would we have managed lockdown ten or even five years ago? Nowadays, almost everyone in the country has access to the internet. Home deliveries and click and collect are an established part of British shopping, with online shopping threatening to destroy the High Street. Online schooling has been a godsend for parents of school age children and working from home is now becoming the new normal. Zoom, Skype, Messenger, and all the other face-to-face communication sites have helped not just businesses conduct their affairs, but families and friends keep in touch as well. It does make me wonder if, when this is all over, whether the country will go back to being exactly the way it was before, or if a new structure will be established.

Anyway, this was meant to be a short blog, but as usual it grew. I really hope, wherever you are, that life is treating you well, and that you and your family are staying healthy and happy.

Speak next week.

Julia Blake

Valentine’s Day and all that tosh!

Happy Valentine’s Day – if you are into that sort of thing. If, like me, you think it’s all a bunch of sentimental tosh designed by card manufacturers, chocolate retailers, and florists to take people’s money, then happy Sunday.

Thank you again for all the concerned messages about my car and I can tell you there has been progress of sorts, but sadly not very positive progress. After waiting ten days for my insurance company to contact me again, I finally phoned them at 10am on Thursday morning. I got an automated message that rather snippily informed me that as 10am is ridiculously early for any company to be answering their phones – after all, you can still taste the toothpaste – I was to go to their website and have a live chat. Oh, joy.

So, I went online and sure enough, up popped a box with a very perky invitation to chat. We got the preliminaries out of the way with establishing who I was and why I was “chatting” that day. I asked for a progress update on my claim, and why I hadn’t heard anything for ten days. I can see from our records, came the reply, that our agents have repeatedly tried to phone you with no luck.

Umm, I don’t think so. We’re in lockdown, so other than a weekly trip to the shop I am always here, and if they had happened to phone in that one hour within the whole ten days, then Miss F is here. If they had called on my landline – as I asked them to – they could have left a message, but no one has. As far as we’re concerned, the landline hasn’t rung. Now, my mobile is problematic in that I simply don’t hear it ring sometimes, but I checked the calls missed register and nope, I hadn’t missed a call in over three weeks.

When I informed him of this, I got the snippy answer back that if I didn’t answer my phones, then they wouldn’t have been able to speak to me. I replied that I couldn’t answer phones that didn’t ring, and anyway, in the past ten days they had sent me no less than three emails and two texts inviting me to complete a survey on my “experience” with them, so why hadn’t they emailed or text me if they were having trouble contacting me by phone?

And that was another thing, these constant invitations to rate my experience. Umm, what experience would that be when they haven’t yet done anything for me but fail to contact me when they promised they would? To ask me to rate my experience at this point, is rather like a restaurant asking me to rate my dining experience whilst I’m still perusing the menu! At least wait until I’m on the coffee.

After a bit of huffing and puffing, he told me that my case had been handed over to the underwriters and gave me their name, telephone number, and reference number. He then began whittering on about completing a survey about my experience with him that day – I abruptly ended the chat before I forgot I was a lady.

With some trepidation, I telephoned the underwriters. This time the phone was answered immediately by the lovely Nathan. Who assured me he was there to help me. Good, because if anyone needs help right now, it’s me.

I gave him the reference number and my other identity details and he then clicked away on his computer to find me. It turns out, the insurance company hadn’t even passed on my details to them yet! So, liar liar, pants on fire! Deep breath. Start from scratch and tell the lovely Nathan my tale of woe. To be fair, he made all the right noises at all the right places as he noted it all down.

Then he gave me the cold hard truth – which was unpleasant, but I appreciated his honesty – because at least now I know exactly where I stand.

Fact One. Because I didn’t get the number plate it is making life very difficult for all concerned and is adding weeks if not months to the claim being processed.

Fact Two. Yes, they can contact Yodel with the tracking number and request the number plate of the van it relates to. And yes, they can contact the West Suffolk Council who supposedly own the CCTV on my street – although there seems confusion as to whether they own it, or the police do – and can request to see the footage. But it will all take an incredible amount of time.

Fact Three. I do not have this time. Unfortunately, my insurance is up for renewal in three weeks’ time.

Fact Four. If I renew my insurance with this claim still outstanding, my premiums will go up.

Fact Five. If they haven’t found the other driver by the time, I need to renew my insurance, I will be assigned blame. This blame will be on my record and will affect my premiums now and in the future.

Fact Six. If they never discover the identity of the other driver. Blame will be assigned to me permanently. Even though it was in no way my fault. Blame is assigned to the party whose insurance had to settle the claim. We don’t find him, it will be my insurance coughing up, ergo, my fault. Also, if they never find the other driver, I will have to pay a hefty policy excess.

Fact Seven. The insurers are not going to bother to get the car fixed. They are not even going to bother to get someone to look at it. They are simply going to write my little car off and pay me the scrap metal value.

Fact Eight. It’s a small old car – I will be lucky if they offer £150 scrappage for it. Deduct the policy excess and I will be practically paying them to take it away. I will be left with no money at all to buy another car with.

Fact Nine. Yes, I can accept the write off but not sell the car back to them and get the repairs done myself. They will then offer me a vastly reduced sum of money, still charge me a policy excess, and still assign blame to me, and put my premiums up.

Whichever way you look at it – going the insurance route will lead to poverty and being carless. If I had more time for the driver to be found and for this to be sorted, it might be worth considering, but even then, they will still only offer scrappage for it.

There is another option. Forget about claiming through my insurance. Yes, it’s annoying, because after all that’s what I have paid insurance for over thirty years for – to be protected against having to pay after an incident – but then life is annoying, and stupid, and unfair, and always bashes the little people like me. It’s a fact, swallow it down, pull up my big girl pants, and find the best way to move forward.

I telephoned my own mechanic, explained what had happened. Bring it in, he said, if it’s driveable, get it to me. So, Friday morning I got in the car and cautiously turned the key. Nothing. I tried again. There was a serious of clicks. Then Nothing. Bugger.

I got out. Slammed the door. Wiped the snow off the bonnet and windscreen. Got in the car and tried again. Still nothing. I seriously don’t know what I was expecting it to do but had to do something. I swore, loudly and voraciously, in the street.

I then did what any sensible, mature, grown-up woman of 53 would do. I sniffed back the tears and went indoors and phoned my dad.

It’s the battery, he said. From standing still in the freezing temperatures we’ve had over the past fortnight your battery has died. He drove in with his jump leads and after a couple of attempts, the car flew into life. I cautiously drove to the mechanics and dad followed me – just in case.

The mechanic had a good look at it and did that sucking his breath in over his teeth thing that I think all mechanics are taught at motor mechanic school. It’s just the wing, he confirmed. It’s not damaged inside at all; it is just the wing. It needs a new one. Yes, the bumper is cracked but that won’t affect its roadworthiness or getting it through the MOT. If we can find another bumper, then it’s just labour and paint on top, plus VAT. About £150-£200.

I was relieved. That was doable. Okay, it’s going to put a dent in my savings, a serious dent. But, at least my lovely reliable, low mileage car, will be saved to drive another day. My insurance record will remain blemish free and my premiums won’t go up. We’ll have a look on eBay and see what we can find, he promised me.

I went home feeling a bit more positive, but an hour later my phone rang, and it was my mechanic. There were no wings for 1996 Nissan Micra’s to be had anywhere. Not on eBay, and not on any of the other second-hand car part retailers they had tried. The only place they could get one from was a supplier called Europaparts – but it was expensive, a lot more than the £50 or so they used to be one eBay. It was going to push the price up to £300.

I told them I’d think about it, and hung up, feeling well and truly kicked in the teeth again, and that I must have been a really horrible person in a previous life because I could never catch a break in this one. Anyway, about now Miss F woke up and I told her what had happened.

Did you look on eBay yourself? She asked.

Yes, I replied glumly. I had looked up 1996 Nissan Micra passenger wing and just got a whole page of wing mirrors. And then I looked online and the only retailers selling them didn’t have any in stock – apart from this Europaparts who have them for £126.

Well, what about this one, she said, holding out her phone to show an eBay listing of a passenger side brand new wing for a Nissan Micra 1996 for £60.

What?!

How did you find it when I couldn’t, and presumably, neither could my mechanic?

You were being too specific, she said, I just put in 1996 Nissan Micra wing and this is what came up.

I was stunned that one word could make such a difference and quickly phoned my mechanic back. Yes, he said, order it, get it delivered directly to me and then I can fit it and spray it the same colour to match.

So, I quickly bought it, altered the delivery address to my mechanics and paid for it. So, I now have a brand-new wing on its way, and I haven’t yet told the insurance company I no longer need their services.

Monday, I’ll do it Monday, this weekend I have had enough of the whole thing. I am staggered by the unfairness of it all, and that fact that I am left with no other option but to use my precious, and hard-earned money to pay for damage caused by the selfish and careless actions of another. But that is life, and until I can afford a house with a garage or a private driveway, I will have to continue to park my car on the street outside my house – another factor against me and for which I am apparently to blame, according to the insurance company – because if the car had been in my mythical garage then it would never have been hit. Well, duh, thanks for that.

When I renew in three weeks, guess whom I won’t be re-insuring with, and I will be filling in that “rate your experience with us” survey. Although the lovely Nathan at the underwriters did say I could insure directly with them – and I just might. He was kind, professional, sugar coated nothing, and gave me all the facts – which I appreciated. Plus, his company considered 10am on a Thursday plenty early enough to be answering the phone.

We had another almost nasty incident this week, which very nearly resulted in yet another insurance claim, this time on household insurance. My wretched cat has started sleeping either on top of the cooker, or on my beautiful white porcelain draining board. I don’t know why, there are lots of other warmer and more comfortable places to nap, but for some reason these are the places of choice.

She doesn’t do it during the day when we could catch her and shoo her off, but only at night, so in the morning I come down to find them covered with cat fur, mud, the odd whisker and even an occasional claw. It’s disgusting, and I’m getting fed up with having to bleach them down every morning. And before you ask, no, I can’t shut her out of the kitchen. The back door has her cat flap in for her to go outside and do her business, so she must have access to it.

One evening I’d had enough. I built a barricade of laundry basket and washing up bowl on the draining board, then laid a thick towel over the cooker and sprinkled it with eucalyptus oil because she hates the smell. I then went to bed hopeful I’d solved the problem.

I slept a little late next morning, and when I came downstairs and opened the dining room door, I was struck by a strong smell of something scorching, burning. Stumbling into the kitchen, still half asleep, I immediately saw something dark lying on the towel and thought at first the cat had thrown up on it – a sort of protest puke – but then realised it was in fact a huge scorch mark in a perfect ring. Quickly snatching up the towel, it revealed the back hob glowing bright red! Now, it’s a back ring and one I only use if the other three are in use, so I knew I hadn’t left it switched on from dinner the previous evening. Besides, it glows so brightly red one of us would have spotted it before we went to bed. No, I think the cat had been up on the towel exploring and knocked the knob either jumping up or jumping down! Luckily, it had only been knocked to the first setting not full blast, otherwise I’m guessing the towel would have gone up in flames!

Bloody cat! Remind me again why we have pets.

About my Instagram account – no, I still don’t have access to my main account. I have no idea how long the ban will hold for, or even if I will ever get it back. I really hope so, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying the wonderful support I’ve been receiving on my back-up account. Although I did have a scare last week where for 24 hours, I could only post images on my new account, no text, and I couldn’t like or comment on anything. That was worrying because it looked like Instagram were really determined to get rid of me. But we edited my bio, uninstalled, cleared data, and reinstalled and it came back next morning, so hopefully it’s now settled down.

But I seriously need to look at other ways to promote my books because it seems Instagram have it in for authors and anyone else promoting their services on there.

We still haven’t done anything about finding another lodger yet. What with all the stress that has been present in this house the past six weeks – Miss F and her college work and exams (she still hasn’t been told if she is taking her exams at the beginning of March or not), and my car, and being shut in the house because of lockdown – I honestly think it was a good thing no one else was in the house with us. But, come March when they are making noises about letting us back out even though most of the work force will not have been vaccinated, we will need to advertise the room again.

To that end, we have moved our old TV which is a 19” flat screen down to the basement. It has been languishing in the back bedroom for three years since we bought our smart TV, but Miss F has never used it so I thought it would be better in the basement as a further attraction for the room. There is an aerial down there, but I don’t think it’s possible to access what I call “normal” TV anymore – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 channels – without having a smart TV. So, Miss F did some research and discovered the Now TV stick for sale on Amazon for £20. You put it into the HDMI port in the back of the TV and it turns the TV into a smart TV with access to all the “normal” channels, plus Now TV, and several Sky channels, and a few others I hadn’t heard of. You get the first month for free, then after that it’s £10 a month. Plus, if the new lodger wants to, they can access their Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts through it.

You can run a total of six devices off this one stick – so we have it on the basement TV, our TV upstairs, Miss F’s tablet and her phone, then when she goes away to university in September, she will be able to access it on the little TV she’s going to get for her room and be able to access our Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts, which will be great for her. Hopefully, it will make our room even more attractive.

There is an old wicker armchair in the basement room, but I don’t think any lodger has ever actually sat in it – they seem to use it more as a dumping place for clothes, or as a drying rack for wet towels. And when conducting interviews, the one thing potential lodgers all ask about is can I put a desk in here? So, I thought I would remove the armchair and put a small desk and chair in its place. What with more people working some of the time from home, the prospect of further lockdowns hanging over our heads, plus most people having laptops and computers and wanting somewhere to put them, I think it would be another selling point for the room.

I measured up and had a quick look on Argos. Several little desks that would do, but absolutely none of them available. I looked on Amazon, it was the same story. I checked eBay and several other furniture retailers. Nope, small desks suitable for a home environment are completely sold out. I’m guessing it’s because of all the home working and home schooling that is now going on, everyone has bought desks and because many factories are closed, stocks have been depleted. All I can do is wait and hope that supplies are replenished sometime soon.

And now we’re halfway through another month already and it’s Valentine’s Day. I haven’t really celebrated it for almost twenty years – although Miss F and I always have a nice meal and maybe watch a film. I popped to our local Waitrose during the week for supplies, luckily, I live in the middle of town so while the car is out of action, I have been able to walk for shopping. What I would have done if I’d been stuck out in the middle of nowhere, I don’t know. When the accident happened two weeks ago, I had the foresight to go onto Tesco and book a delivery slot – but still, the first available one wasn’t until the 20th February, so I’ve had to pop out for fresh stuff as necessary.

Anyway, I went to Waitrose and they had their Valentine Day Meal for £20 offer. You could choose from a selection of products and buy a starter, a main course, two side dishes, a dessert, and a bottle of bubbly, all for £20. The main was easy – a pair of gorgeous sirloin steaks which we’ve already eaten, and they were lovely (Miss F requested sticky barbecued pork steaks for Valentine’s Day and I had already picked those up) – then two sides of French fries and a big bag of salad. The starter was harder, in the end I picked up a pack of mixed Italian meats – salami, chorizo, and Parma ham – they’re very useful in pasta and on pizza. Dessert was a nightmare – all full fat dairy which would kill my poor lactose intolerant daughter. In the end I picked up a pair of lemon tarts because I love them. Plus, a lovely bottle of prosecco. I also grabbed some vegan salted caramel ice cream for Miss F to make up for not being able to eat the lemon tart – although in the end she took a lactase pill and ate one of them anyway. So, a win-win for her really.

luscious lemon tart – of which I got one!

And that has been my week. Not a particularly great one. I have no idea what it must be like for normal people who have nice, long, quiet weeks when they can just relax and watch TV or read, without the constant strain of life kicking them in the teeth. Normal life must be wonderful, I’ve seen the brochure and it looks lovely, but I’ve never been there myself.

This has turned out to be a very long blog, for which I apologise. I hope wherever you are, you are well and safe, and that life is treating you kindly. I will chat with all again next week, and you never know, maybe I will be able to report a nice quiet week where nothing very much happened.

Maybe … maybe not.

Julia Blake

Things Go From Bad to Worse!

It’s Saturday, so it’s time to write my blog – again! I swear the weeks are flying by so fast it will soon be Easter and then Summer and then Christmas again. I’m a little late sitting down to write today. A bout of illness in the night made me oversleep this morning, and when I did finally awake, I was all muggy around the edges.

I hate it when illness hits unexpectedly in the wee small hours. You know that feeling – you’re suddenly jerked rudely out of sleep because you have to … you know … right now! So, you stumble out of bed, still half asleep, with legs like a new-born calf. I live in an old Victorian house, so my bathroom is on the ground floor which makes things even more interesting. Fumbling around, trying to turn the light on – the energy bulb on the stairs barely casting enough light to see by – nearly falling downstairs in your haste. Get the dining room door open only to be attacked by an ecstatic black cat who assumes because you’re up it must be time for breakfast, then, when she realises you have no intention of feeding her, decides to play murder in the dark and nearly kills you by getting underfoot on your increasingly desperate rush to the bathroom.

The bathroom is freezing cold because it’s the middle of the night so the heating’s off. Is there any loneliness that equals that of being ill in the middle of the night and wishing you were in bed still asleep, or dead, because either would be preferable?

I’m not sure what triggered this episode, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that I am now as lactose intolerant as my poor daughter. When Miss F realised that dairy was an absolute no-no for her, I tried to help by making sure I only bought and cooked with purely lactose free foods – to the extent that we were a non-dairy household. Unfortunately, that meant I became lactose intolerant as well. Apparently, if you go without dairy for a significant amount of time your body loses the ability to break it down in your digestive system, and you never get that ability back. Why did nobody tell me this before?! I miss proper cheese.

Well, anyway, we’re using up odd stuff from the bottom of the freezer – when you’re in lockdown you tend to make do with what’s in the house, rather than just pop to the shop – and there are a few vegetarian things that, although veggie, still contain milk products of some kind. Yesterday I made a totally dairy free potato gratin for dinner and with it, Miss F had chunky fish fillets and I had a vegetarian mozzarella and pesto bake thing. I thought it would be okay, I mean, how much dairy would it realistically contain? Well, judging by the episode at 3am, quite a lot. Won’t be having them again, that’s for sure.

It’s a real bugger that I can’t eat dairy anymore. The loss of chocolate and ice cream don’t really bother me – and besides, we have found some delicious dairy-free alternatives to ice cream. No, it’s cheese and butter that I miss the most. Granted, there is a lot more dairy free alternatives around now than there were even a couple of years ago, but I love cheese. Vegan cheddar is all right on an everyday basis, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than an assortment of cheese and the thought of not being able to eat Brie, Caerphilly, Red Leicester, Cambazola, and Parmesan again is very depressing.

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has messaged about my car – offering to extract all kinds of revenge on the van driver, some offers more inventive than others – and asking what has happened about it. Well, not a lot to be honest. The insurance company phoned me first thing Monday morning and went over the whole incident with me. It was all standard stuff, until she was enquiring about the other driver. Now, I had told her he had driven away without me managing to get his details, so I was a bit surprised when the conversation turned like this.

HER: So, did you manage to get his details?

ME:  No, as I told you, he drove away without stopping.

HER: Oh, could you not have gone after him.

ME:  Not really.

HER: Why not?

ME:  Well, he was in a van reversing away at speed, and I was in a pair of slippers. It wasn’t a fair race.

HER: Oh, I see.

(And I heard her muttering “In her slippers” under her breath, as if she were entering it into the report)

HER: One final question then. In your honest opinion, who was responsible for the incident?

ME:  Honestly?

HER: Yes.

ME:  Well, seeing as my car was parked outside my house, minding its own business, and I was indoors, when he drove headfirst into it, I would have to say that my honest opinion is that it is totally, one hundred percent, his fault.

Since then, I have heard nothing. It’s a good thing we are in lockdown right now and I don’t need my car to either get myself to work or collect Miss F from her work late at night, otherwise I’m not sure what we would do.

The police have also been conspicuous by their absence. Now, I get that in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very minor crime. But it is driving away after causing an accident, and as he reversed out onto the main road at top speed and without looking, surely it is also driving without undue care and attention? Surely, they deserve a call back to give me the case reference number at the very least.

Because the residents of my road have had all sorts of shenanigans to deal with over the years – ranging from three different building sites on our doorsteps, a very noisy pub, boy racers in the carpark causing noise and damage, and so on – we have a fully functioning Residents Association which now has considerable clout. So, the Chairwoman came to talk with me – in the street of course, and 2m apart – about the situation.

I hadn’t realised there was a CCTV mounted on a building in the main road which points straight up our street so must have filmed the whole thing and will hopefully have got the number plate details. Because this is holding everything up. By not knowing his number plate, it means everything is going to take that much longer to process. Anyway, before the Council will look at the CCTV footage for us, they had to have the police case reference number – which of course I didn’t yet have. Although I had reported the incident both by phone and online last Saturday afternoon, and the person I spoke to promised faithfully to either call, text, or email me with the number – by the time the following Friday rolled around, I had yet to hear a peep from the police. So, I called the local station.

It took ages to finally get through. Either nobody answered the phone and I sat there listening to it ring forever, or an automated message came on telling me to enter my management code number. You what? I even phoned 101, and got put through to the exact same switchboard, which just rang and rang, or asked for my management code number. Look, I’m an obliging sort, if I knew what one of those was, I’d gladly give it to you.

Eventually, somebody finally picked up the phone and two minutes later I had the case reference number, which I duly passed onto the Chairwoman who is now going to use it to hopefully get the Council to look at the footage from that camera for the time and date of the incident and get the guy’s number plate. Once we have that, my insurance company can go after him, and presumably so can the police.

And then there’s Yodel. Now, they are the delivery company whom the other driver was delivering for when he smashed into my car. We know this because he was delivering dog food to my neighbour opposite, who not only witnessed the incident, but also emailed me a copy of the tracking number for that delivery which can be linked to that delivery driver.

I lodged a formal complaint with Yodel online on Saturday afternoon. I sent them pictures of all the damage done to my car, plus the tracking number. On Monday morning, I received an email confirming receipt of my email and that it was being passed onto the appropriate department. Wednesday morning, I received another email from them confirming receipt of the email of the email being forwarded onto that department and that they were looking into it. Friday morning, I received another email confirming receipt of the email of the email of the email to the right department and assuring me they were taking it very seriously and would be back to me soon.

Hmm, anyone else think I’m being given the run-around? I looked online to see what other experience people had had with Yodel drivers damaging property and what the company did about it. It turns out, this happens an awful lot, and that Yodel’s response is usually to stall you until they can locate the driver, sack him, and can then assure you that individual no longer works for them so it is nothing to do with them.

We’ll see what next week brings and I will keep you posted. Like I said, thank heavens for lockdown.

This week also brought the devastating blow of my account on Instagram being locked and me being unable to access it at all. Now, this has been happening a lot lately to authors I know very well. There is never any real reason for it, there is no right of appeal, there is no way to contact them at all, and they do not give you any indication when or even if, you’ll get your account back.

I think myself it’s because Instagram is now almost entirely run by computers and algorithms, and as we all know, computers are brilliant idiots. I was merrily posting away on Thursday when a message suddenly flashed up from Instagram that as far as they were concerned, I was inciting extreme violence, and bam, they shut me down. Umm, I don’t think so, Instagram.

This is gutting – my account has taken me over five years of very hard work to build and I have over 6000 wonderful followers on there – the thought that this might all be taken away from me forever makes me feel sick to my stomach. But there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

One tiny silver lining is that I had, just the week before, started a back-up account on Instagram. I had been thinking about doing this for a while, then the latest spate of unfair lockouts and even accounts being deleted completely, spurred me on to do it. So, when Instagram shut down my main account, I was able to continue through my secondary one. Of course, I only had about fifty core followers on there – I hadn’t had time to get anymore – but since Thursday afternoon, those fifty followers have been spreading the word amongst all their followers, posting on their feeds and in their stories about what had happened to me, and when I last checked that number of followers had risen to over 300.

I am sure I will get my account back eventually. They didn’t flash me the banned message, only that I had violated community standards. So, I’m hopeful this is just a slap on the wrist for some imagined crime and that after leaving me to languish in Instajail for a while they will let me out.

If you are following me on my old account @juliablakeauthor and were wondering where I had gone to, please follow me on my new account @julia_blakeauthor.

So that takes us up to this morning, Saturday, when our electric kept going on and off, to the accompaniment of the sound of the landline resetting itself and the Sky box whirring into action. I then received a text from UK Power telling me my power was off. Thanks for that. Never would have noticed without that text. But it seemed to settle down by about 11am and I was able to grab a much-needed shower hoping the heating and hot water wouldn’t suddenly switch off mid-ablution.

And that was the week. Not a great one, it must be said. I am hopeful for better things next week, or at least for the CCTV footage to clearly show the number plate, for the insurance company to decide they are going to fix my car not just write it off, and for Instagram to give me back my account. That’s not too much to hope for, is it?

I will keep you posted. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.

Julia Blake

That’s Life…

Another Saturday has rolled around, and here I am, writing another blog. It’s been a week, much like any other, although we did finally receive the email we had been waiting and hoping for. The email telling us that Miss F has received a conditional offer to attend her dream university this September. Obviously, this caused a huge sigh of relief in the Blake household, and much celebrating was done with a takeaway, dessert, and film of her choice – it was Kingsmen with Colin Firth, in case you’re wondering – very good film, highly recommended.

Now although I had never doubted for one second that she would get in – even at just seventeen her resume of achievements and experience is impressive – sadly, Miss F suffers from chronic low self-esteem and was absolutely convinced she wouldn’t get an offer. I do understand, after all, I can still remember back in the day, when I was a teenager and dinosaurs roamed the planet, how low my own opinion was of myself. But as I keep saying to her – “everything you have gone for, you have achieved, so let the results do the talking, not your inner critic” – but she still insists on believing the worst of herself.

The rest of the week has passed pretty much like any other here in jolly old lockdown, except I did receive a rather bizarre phone call from an aunt. Now, I can’t remember the last time this aunt called me, and any communicating we do tends to be either through my mother, or she sends me a lovely little handwritten note in the post to say how much she enjoyed my latest book. This particular aunt is one of the very few members of my large family who does support me in my writing – faithfully buying and reading every single book I publish. Not reviewing mind. Unfortunately, she is not on the internet, but you can’t have everything, and the note is much appreciated. So, anyway, this phone call went something like this.

HER: I’m calling to talk to you about your last book, Black Ice.

ME:  Oh, right?

HER: Yes, I didn’t want to put it in a note, because I didn’t want to upset you.

ME:  Oh, umm?

Hello, I thought, have I finally published something she’s hated? It was bound to happen sooner or later, although I must admit I was surprised it was this book. After all, she had loved Erinsmore and Black Ice is in a similar vein.

HER: Now, I did enjoy it, I don’t want you to think I didn’t, and it was very well-written of course, and the pictures were beautiful – so beautiful – I especially liked the one of the pig – and all those pictures of the airships! Marvellous, they really helped me to imagine what they looked like.

ME: That’s good, I’m glad you liked them.

HER: Oh, I did, I really did, and the cover was beautiful, and I loved all the characters.

ME: Good, thank you.

HER: Yes, it was all wonderful. Except…

Righto, I thought, here it comes.

HER: It’s a very big book, and I think it should have been split into two books.

ME:  Well, I did consider it, except, can you think of anywhere in the book it could have been split naturally? Readers really pick up on things like that and tend to get very angry if they feel they are being cheated into paying out double the money to buy two books, when the story is clearly is only meant for one.

HER: Oh, right, yes, I can see that. I suppose I would have been angry if it had suddenly stopped halfway and I had to pay out more money to find out what happened.

ME:  Yes, so that’s why it’s one big book.

HER: Well, apart from being a big book, it’s also a very busy book.

ME:  You mean fast-paced?

HER: Yes, so could you not have put in a few quieter bits to give the reader a break.

ME:  Well, the action takes place over a fortnight, and a lot happens, so there wasn’t really anywhere I could put in quiet bits. Besides, people complain if the pace lags and say it’s boring, so I’ve learnt it’s best to keep the pacing swift. Anyway, the book came out at 491 pages and if it I’d taken it to even a page over 500, Amazon charge double for production, and instead of the £11.99 I charge for the paperback, I would have to charge £25. Obviously, I didn’t want to do that, because nobody would pay that kind of money for a paperback from an unknown author.

HER: Oh, yes, I get that. Then there was the way it made me feel.

ME:  The way it made you feel?

HER: Yes, like I said, it is a very big book and it it was such a busy book, and when I had finished reading it – and I read it in under two days – it left me feeling exhausted, and emotional, and overwhelmed, and like I had lived every minute of the adventure with the characters.

ME:  Well, that is actually the nicest thing you can say to an author. That their words caught you up in the story so much you were carried away to the world they had created, so, thank you.

HER: Oh, well, yes, I can see how that works. And do you know, now I’ve had a few days to calm down and I’m thinking about the book again and talking to you about it, I’m realising how much I really did enjoy it. I think it was because when I first finished it, I was… I was…

ME:  Coming down off an adrenalin high?

HER: Yes! That’s how it felt exactly.

After that, we chatted about other things and she got very excited when I said that there would be more books coming from the world of the Five Kingdoms in Black Ice. What a shame she can’t leave a review for the book – because I would love a review that said all that!

Now, we get to the photo that headed this blog. A very unpleasant incident occurred whilst I was sitting in the lounge at the front of the house chatting to you all. Miss F was sitting in the armchair behind me, and we were both aware of an extremely large old white van delivering something to our neighbours opposite. We heard it reversing away, then there was an almighty bang and Miss F jumped up and shrieked that he’d hit our car!

I charged out into the street and chased after him as he reversed away towards the main road. He definitely saw as I was waving at him to stop, because he flipped me the bird, then revved onto the main road and roared away at speed with me still in hot pursuit. I was desperately repeating his number plate over and over to try and fix it in my brain.

Obviously, I didn’t catch him, and as I walked back to my house, I saw just how much damage he had done to my poor little car. The front passenger side wing has been half ripped off, there is damage to the bumper and colossal scratches and scrapes all over the front of the car. I phoned the police and reported the incident, and as I was on the phone to them, I saw my neighbour in his front window waving at me. I crossed over and he called to me through the glass that he had Covid so wouldn’t come to the door, but that he had seen the whole thing and would email me the delivery notification so we would have the tracking number to trace the driver with.

I have submitted an incident report with all the information – with that tracking number there will be no problems finding the culprit – but I have been warned it could take up to six months before anything is done about it. Six months?! Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, having my poor car smashed into is small potatoes, but, with a definite way of catching the driver surely this is a quick and simple case. The van’s white paint is gouged into scratches on my car, presumably my car’s paint has been left on his van. We have the delivery tracking number which will be linked to him.

I don’t understand why he drove away. Did he think he wouldn’t get caught? As a delivery driver for a well-known delivery company, he must know everything he personally delivers will have a tracking number attached that will be easily linked to him. Sometimes, my faith in human nature is restored, other times, like now, it is completely shattered by the fact that people can be so horrible.

I now have the unpleasant task of phoning my insurance company and letting them know what’s happened. Which will be a hassle of paperwork and questions. Then there is the nightmare of trying to get my car fixed in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, and, of course, I will have to pay out a policy excess and next year when I try to renew my insurance, my premiums will go up. What an A-hole!

I’m still shaking, and very upset about it, so I think I will be finishing dry January a day early, but quite frankly, I don’t care. I’ve done really well and have gone thirty days with no alcohol – which is the length of some months – so I don’t think it’s the end of the world if I cave a day early and have a glass of wine tonight. I think I deserve it!

Very short blog this week. I now have to go and dig out the paperwork for my car insurance and figure out how to make a claim – probably online – and then find out how I lodge a complaint to Yodel about one of their delivery drivers – also probably online.

I will keep you posted!

Wherever you all are, stay safe, and don’t let the bastards grind you down!

Julia Blake