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

Any Questions?

I’m late posting the blog this week – and it will be shorter – because, when you’re in lockdown the days merge and blur into one another and before you know it – boom, it’s Saturday evening and you haven’t even thought about the blog and, to be honest, what are you going to write about anyway, because nothing has happened, and you’ve done nothing.

Well, that’s not strictly true, of course I’ve done something. I’ve breathed, and ate, and moved around, and slept – I have done a lot of sleeping. I’ve been working a lot on my books and, yes, I know I only just did that, but this is a final final polish where I’m changing fonts and adding dropped capitals and other twiddly bits and going through each book word by word to ensure it’s as perfect as it can be. It’s time-consuming and whole days can go by without me really being aware of them. But then, the only day I must keep a handle on is bin day, and then I rely on hearing the neighbours putting their bins out.

There doesn’t seem an end in sight for lockdown yet. Although they are distributing the vaccine as quickly as possible – about five million done so far – when you consider the UK population is almost 68 million it is only a drop in the bucket. To get everyone vaccinated is going to take years if they ever manage to get around to everyone. And I guess that is the issue. Yes, vaccinate the old, the vulnerable, and the key workers. Of course, they should be done first. But the new strains of the virus now cropping up are attacking younger and younger members of the population and are more contagious. When we come out of lockdown, which I guess must be soon because of the economy, the majority of people actually out there – in the shops, the factories, on the streets, and in the schools – won’t have been vaccinated so will be vulnerable to the new strains, and the whole cycle will start up again.

I received an email from my company this week informing me that they are clawing back one week of holiday off every employee. My company are very generous with holidays and even though I only work part-time I do still get six weeks paid holiday a year – so giving up one week in exchange for at least two, possibly three, months paid time off seems a fair deal. Last year they took two weeks off me and in exchange I had four months off. The week’s holiday is to commence on the 22nd of February, so it seems my company, at least, fully expect us to be in lockdown until March.

Miss F is stressed at the moment, because no decision has been reached yet as to whether they will be taking their vocational exams or not in March. The Board of City and Guilds who are responsible for making the decision were supposed to have made an announcement two weeks ago. They made the announcement this week that the decision they made during those two weeks was to give themselves another two weeks to make their minds up.

This is a big deal for the thousands of students due to take their vocational exams in March. If they are cancelled and grades are going to be assessed on coursework and teachers reports, then at least the students know where they stand – that their future and whether they get into university or not will be decided on the work they have done to date and any they do between now and March. However, if they decide to go ahead with the exams – which seems unfair seeing as GCSEs and A’Levels which aren’t due until the summer have already been cancelled – then those thousands of students will effectively have been thrown under the bus.

They haven’t had any proper education since last February. Relying on shoddy, lackadaisical and sporadic online teaching, the hours of tuition they require to pass their exams have simply not happened. Miss F is doing her best, spending hours each day on self-directed study, she struggles to make sense of the poorly worded assignments the teachers give them. Very often, the teachers simply don’t bother to turn up for online lessons – leaving Miss F and her classmates staring at a blank screen for 45 minutes wondering where their teacher is. I have looked at the assignments, presentations, and lesson plans, the teachers have given her, and even I can see they are lacking in structure, information, and guidance.

Then, of course, being a vocational course, they have all missed out on the practical, hands-on, side of the tutoring. Part of her vocational exam will require hours of practical demonstration – how is that going to be possible online? The vocational students are being treated appallingly compared to the academic students taking their GCSE’s and A’Levels. They should be given the same consideration. Their exams need to be cancelled and control of grades handed over to the teachers – to the people who have taught them throughout their course – to those who know each individual student, have interacted with them, marked their coursework, and know what they are capable of so can confidently give them the appropriate grade.

The extended two weeks the City and Guilds Board took to make their minds up will be over next week, and I really hope they make the fair and logical decision to cancel the exams. If they don’t, I think another petition will be in order, as the one raised to cancel BTEC exams worked so well.

I will keep you all posted.

Life in lockdown has jogged on smoothly. I have left the house precisely three times since last Sunday morning. I drove to the supermarket in the afternoon to collect all my shopping which was there waiting for me – gotta love click and collect. Then on Friday morning I finally went to collect my hayfever medication.

Normally, I don’t need to begin taking it until late February, but this year my allergies seem to have kicked in earlier – of course they have – so I telephoned the doctor’s surgery the week before and requested a repeat prescription. They were due to be collected Wednesday, but somehow the days slipped by and it was Friday morning before my itchy eyes and runny nose became too much to bear and I went to collect them.

I had been warned that my doctor’s surgery was the only place locally that was giving the Covid-19 vaccination, so be prepared for a long queue, and it was true that when I drove into the carpark it was unusually packed. But as I parked and got out of my car, I realised each car was full of elderly people all clutching their phones.

The only space left for me was right at the end of the carpark, so I had to walk past all the parked cars, feeling all eyes watch me as I went up to the door. Now, my surgery has its own pharmacy attached and when I reached the doors, a big notice informed me the surgery was closed and was appointment only, and that if someone were there to see their doctor or have a Covid-19 vaccination, they were to telephone to let the receptionist know and then wait in their car to be summoned. That explained all the phones clutched tightly in all those wrinkled hands. If I wanted to go to the pharmacy, I was to walk straight in.

I walked straight in. Two minutes later I walked back out with my medication and had to do the long walk all the way back to my car, passing all those cars and feeling the eyes watch my progress. I was very pleased to have my meds, I hadn’t realised how much my allergies were affecting me until I started taking them again.

The only other place I have been was a quick, ten-minute car journey last night, to run Miss F around to drop off a congratulations card and present on the doorstep of her best friend. She had just received a conditional offer from her university of choice and Miss F wanted to mark the occasion. It’s the same university Miss F has applied for, so now she is anxiously waiting and hoping for a similar email.

You may remember before Christmas I told you that Miss F had the exciting opportunity of doing work experience at a local zoo for one day a week? Well, unfortunately, that has been cancelled. I did have a feeling it would be. It’s such a shame, it would have been wonderful experience for her and something worthwhile to include on her resume, but it is what it is.

Because we have effectively been almost constantly home for a year now, I think we’ve triggered separation anxiety in our cat. She has always been a sweet-natured and friendly little thing but was very used to being alone – what with me working three days a week and Miss F either at college or work placement – there were many days when she would be alone for long hours. She never seemed to mind, in fact, I think she just slept through them – oh, to be a cat! But recently we have both noticed a personality change in her. She’s become very clingy and very needy. During the day she must be with one or the other of us – scrapping at doors and crying until she is let in. She barely goes out anymore, although it is freezing cold out there, so that’s not surprising. Instead, she simply must be where we are.

If I’m in the bathroom, she’ll be right outside, scrapping at the door and letting out the occasional mournful squeak. The second I emerge she’s under my feet begging to be picked up and cuddled. We’ve begun to carry her around from room to room with us, like a baby. In the evenings when we relax in the front room, she’ll climb into my lap and go to sleep, and I can’t move until she awakes. And so, I sit, in numb leg, full bladder misery, until finally I must move, and I gently, carefully try to lift her and lay her on the sofa. But she always wakes and stares at me reproachfully. If I leave the room without her noticing, Miss F says the moment she realises I’m not there she panics and stares intently at the door until I come back.

What have we done to her? I think we’ve broken our cat. When this all ends – which eventually it must – and we all go back to college and work, how is she going to cope? Will she adopt dog behaviour and we’ll come home to find our sofa shredded and that she’s pooped on the floor? I hope not.

I do have some exciting news for you all. I have been asked to guest on the podcast of the lovely author and book blogger, Sarina Langer. The interview is being recorded Monday morning and will be aired sometime in early February. The main topic of the podcast is being a multi-genre author and if you have any questions you wish to ask me on that subject, then please either post it in the comments, email it to me, DM me on my Instagram page, or you can send it to me by Messenger. If you have a question that is author or book related, but not specifically about multi-genres, then ask it anyway and we’ll try to fit it in.

For many of you, it will be the first time you hear what I sound like – apparently, so British you can almost taste the tea – and I’m really looking forward to it. I love giving interviews, but this will only be the second podcast one I’ve given so I’m nervous as well. I will post the link to the interview in the next blog after it has been aired, so if you missed it you can catch up then, and don’t forget to leave any questions you want to ask today so I can pass them onto Sarina ready for inclusion in the interview tomorrow.

Right, it’s now 9:30am and the six people who read my blog – although I have been reliably informed it’s now up to eight, ooh – will be wondering where it is and if I’ve forgotten again, or simply couldn’t be bothered. I will post this immediately and hope to receive lots of lovely questions from you, but keep it clean folks, this will be a family friendly interview.

So, that’s all she wrote for now, and remember, wherever you are and however your life is going, stay safe and stay well.

Julia Blake

Never Give Up!

So, here we are in the second weekend of lockdown – and it’s pretty much the same as last week. Things are jogging along here at Blake Hall, and as I peer out of the window at the wet cold world – actually a snowy world today – there is no incentive to go outside at all. Between the last lockdown and this one, I had a strong suspicion that our freedom was short-lived so hustled my pants and managed to get me and Miss F dentist appointments, optician appointments, and took the cat to the vets for her overdue annual jabs. Very pleased I did as we went back into lockdown just after Christmas and getting non-essential check-ups is impossible again.

Miss F had to have new glasses as her eyesight has changed again. Poor girl, it seems so unfair that she inherited such bad vision from somewhere. But we managed to get her new glasses in that brief window of opportunity during December so at least she has the correct prescription now. I need reading glasses for close work and because I’m so heavy on them and my eyesight isn’t that bad – I only use 1:25 magnification – I tend to buy a whole batch from Poundland and have them all over the house, at work, and in different handbags.

So, I trot in for my appointment and sit there in my mask whilst the optician puts that big contraption on my face and gets me to read the board on the wall at the far end of the office. Mightily surprised when I was able to read the email address of the board’s manufacturer at the very bottom of the board, she pronounced that my distance vision was remarkable, beyond remarkable actually. Then she tested my close vision. Uh oh. Not so good. But I know this and have got used to the inconvenience of having to find my glasses every time I want to read a text, or the cooking instructions on the back of a packet. Although, to be fair I usually thrust it at Miss F with a cry of – “Oh for heaven’s sake, read this for me!”

“What glasses are you using now?” The optician asked. I fished a pair of my £1 specials out of my bag and showed them to her. Her mouth pursed.

“Are they no good for me?” I asked, concerned by her silent accusing scrutiny of them.

“Well, they’re okay I suppose,” she grudgingly admitted.

“They’re 1:25 strength,” I tell her. “What should I have?”

“1:25.”

“So, these are all right then?”

“Well, for a cheap pair, I suppose so. But you really need to have a better pair than that for long term use. You can have a free pair on the NHS with your credit voucher.”

I shrugged – after all, free is free and I tend never to turn down anything if it’s free. So, she wrote out a prescription and I went out into the reception to choose the frames. It turned out that to keep within the “freeness” part of the deal I had to choose from a certain range which comprised of about ten frames – three of which were for children, and five of which were for men so way too big for my small face. I tried on the two that were available for me, and picked the least awful pair, which, to be fair weren’t bad. They wrote the number down on the form and promised to call me when they ready to be collected.

“Don’t forget,” I told them. “Phone me on my landline or text me. Don’t try and leave a voicemail on my mobile like before. It will let you leave a message, but it won’t tell me you’ve left one, and I have no way of retrieving messages even if I do think to check my missed calls log.”

“We won’t,” they promised. “It’s down on your contact form.”

So, I came home and waited. Three weeks passed and I heard nothing, but they had warned me that their turnaround was slow what with the current situation, so I didn’t think anything of it. Then there was the busyness of Christmas, the lodger leaving, and going back into lockdown, so I forgot about it to be honest, until Wednesday, when I get a rather curt call from the optician saying that my glasses had been sitting there awaiting collection for ages and they had tried unsuccessfully to contact me.

“Did you phone my mobile?”

“Yes.”

“And I suppose you left a voicemail?”

“Yes.”

“Well, why did you do that? I told you I can’t retrieve voicemails. You even wrote it down on my contact form.”

“Oh, well, you need to come and collect the glasses now.”

“It’s not exactly essential, and we are in lockdown. Can I not wait until things are a bit settled?”

“No, because there’s an NHS credit attached to them, they must be collected immediately.”

“Okay, I’ll see about popping in when…”

“No, you have to make an appointment.”

So, I made an appointment for 2pm on Thursday, and for the first time since the beginning of the month ventured into the outside.

It was bitterly cold and pouring with a nasty rain that was desperately trying to turn into snow. And it was like a GHOST TOWN out there. Seriously, it was like Armageddon had occurred. Empty streets. Closed shops and restaurants. I barely saw anyone, and the few people who scurried by were masked and gloved and huddled into great coats. Not making eye contact or even looking at me, they hurried by as if the virus were floating in the air and the longer you were out, the more chance there was of it settling on you.

All around was abandoned plant and heavy machinery and almost every road was closed off with signs warning of construction and closure. Now, I can see the sense of carrying out vital road maintenance during the lockdown. There is very little traffic and hardly any pedestrians about to get in the way. But ALL the roads? All at the same time? And where were the workmen? Hurrying across town to the optician I passed site after site, all eerily deserted, the large yellow diggers just abandoned crazily across the road. Was it a simultaneous lunchbreak? Or had everyone decided it was too wet to work? Or had the zombies got them?

I get to the optician, and catch the only assistant guiltily sliding a book under the counter. She was all alone there, she explained. I sympathised with her – and I may have casually mentioned I was an author and given her my details. She made me try the glasses on to check they fitted, and then I came home.

On the way, as I was already out, I decided to pop to the convenience store at the bottom of our road to grab a few essentials. The dishwasher had been whining about needing salt, we were running low on matches, firelighters, and polish – yes, I polish during a lockdown. Don’t judge me, we have a fire most nights and that makes the place very dusty.

There weren’t many people in the store and again everyone was masked and keeping their distance – except one man. Openly strutting about with no mask on, he didn’t even have one of those yellow lanyard things the NHS issue to show you’re exempt from wearing a mask. As this is Britain, no one said anything, but he was given the stink-eye from everyone he passed, and eyes were rolled at one another over the tops of masks The staff did nothing. So, either they seriously don’t care about the rules, or they knew him and knew he had an exemption.

Now, wearing masks is unpleasant, I get it. None of us like it, and I also understand there are a few – a very few – individuals who are physically incapable of wearing a mask for the ten minutes they are in a shop. But why don’t they wear visors? Okay, they may not be as effective as a mask, but they are better than nothing. Surely, if you have such compromised lungs you can’t wear a mask then you seriously don’t want to run the risk of catching the virus because you would be dangerously ill from it – so why not do everything you can to protect yourself and wear a visor. I can’t think of any medical condition that prevents its sufferer from wearing one, except extreme agoraphobia perhaps. And if you were so agoraphobic a clear visor sent you into a panic, then you wouldn’t be out of the house and in a shop in the first place.

I made it home – to be greeted by Miss F as if we were living in the world of Mad Max and I’d made it back safely from a death-defying trip across the Badlands to get essential supplies. For the rest of the day, I tried out my new glasses. I have to be honest and say they are of the same quality as my £1 bargains I get from Poundland. In fact, they leave a really nasty groove over the top of my nose and give me a slight headache from wearing them.

It’s been a week of pet incidents. Firstly, our baby tortoise Napoleon was determined to prove he was not such a baby anymore and attempted a jailbreak out of his enclosure. Luckily, Miss F caught him before he managed to climb over the side and fall to his possible death and definite injury from the top of the chest of drawers his box is on. Stopping to snap the obligatory photo on her phone, the mesh lid of his box was placed firmly on and is staying on now. He doesn’t like it. He glares at it and huffs in annoyance, but it’s for his own good – so tough. I couldn’t believe he managed to scramble all the way up onto the top of his hide – it’s quite a climb for such a little chap.

Thursday evening, I got a pack of four chicken drumsticks out to defrost before I went to bed and put them on the side. I know, I know, you’re supposed to defrost things in the fridge, but seriously my fridge is so cold it would take a week to defrost fully and there would still be ice crystals in the middle. At night, my kitchen is cold enough to let the meat defrost slowly, and I’ve been doing it for years and never poisoned anyone yet.

Anyone, I suddenly woke up at about 5am convinced I’d forgotten to put them in the microwave to keep them out of the way. Sleepy and confused, I persuaded myself I must have, and went back to sleep. When I finally came downstairs a few hours later, it was to find the cat standing in the middle of the kitchen floor with a look of absolute guilt on her face.

“I did a thing.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

She glanced up at the counter. I looked. The bowl with the chicken in was upside down and the bag had been dragged out. Groaning, I switched on the light and had a closer look. She’d managed to rip a small corner of the bag open and expose a tiny piece of the skin of one of the legs. Then she’d either had a pang of conscience, or heard me coming, or the leg was still too frozen to get her teeth into, or she decided that raw cold chicken was not that nice after all, because that was as far as she’d got.

Carefully, I opened the bag and removed the piece she’d nosed. Sod germs, I thought. She hadn’t touched any of the other three and I was going to be cooking them thoroughly. Rummaging around in the bottom of the freezer, I found a bag with a single drumstick in and put that to defrost ready for dinner that night. Sometimes, the packs come with uneven numbers and I always bag up the single one – for just such emergencies as this. For the rest of the day, the cat kept making a fuss over me, as if she knew what she’d done and felt guilty. It was my fault though I guess, leaving such a tempting thing out for her to investigate.

During the week, a fellow author contacted me on Instagram to tell me the very sad story of a lovely Australian author she knows who has been given the worst news that anyone can ever get – that her cancer has metastasised, and she is down to mere weeks at best. This would devastate even the strongest of us, but what Aiki Flinthart decided to do was to finally realise her dream of seeing one of her stories in a collection with those of the finest names in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. So, she contacted every big-name author she could think of with her request, and to her delight, many responded offering her a unique story to include in her collection. With the clock ticking, the book has been prepared and is now ready for pre-order from Amazon with a publication date of the 31st of January – it will also be available from many other on-line book sellers.

A stunning collection including stories from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Garth Nix, Robert Silverberg, Juliet Marillier, and many others – this is an amazing chance to own a very special book, and help a young woman see her dream come true before her life is cruelly cut short. Plus, all proceeds from the book will be going to help fund a mentoring programme for young writers in Aiki’s home state of Queensland.

The book is called Relics, Wrecks and Ruins – and can be found on Amazon for pre-order, or will be available from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and many other online book retailers. Why not check out Aiki’s website to learn more about this brave and inspirational Warrior Woman who refused to let cancer stop her from achieving her dream.

These are truly difficult times for us all, and I hope that wherever you are, you are coping with all that life is throwing your way. Remember, to stay smart and stay safe.

See you next week for a catch up.

Best Wishes

Julia Blake

Here We Go Again!

After a week that has been very eventful in the world – yet insignificant on a personal level – we are spending our first weekend back in lockdown. It feels the same as last weekend spent under tier four restrictions, and I am guessing it will feel much the same as the weekends going forward until it is considered safe enough for us to leave lockdown – whenever that may be.

This week saw the UK climbing to over 1300 deaths per day – the highest ever – and gaining us the dubious honour of being the country with the most deaths per capita in the world.

There was civil unrest in the USA, with a strange group of individuals dressed like the Village People storming the US Capitol and gaining admittance. I usually aim to keep this blog as non-political as possible, especially when it comes to other countries affairs, but will say that I am a writer and even I couldn’t make this stuff up.

America seems to be at a crisis moment, and I can only hope that sense will prevail and under its new management some sort of stability and level-headed leadership will be reached. Although it is slightly concerning that a man who has been banned from Twitter because he is so unstable, still has access to the nuclear codes.

Personally, it has been a draining and exhausting week for me. Normally, I am a practical and pragmatic sort of person, and during the last lockdowns soldiered on with the long list of household chores I always have and using the gift of time to work on my books. But somehow things feel different this time around.

Maybe because it is Winter, it’s dark and cold and the days are shorter. We can’t enjoy the beautiful weather and sit in our gardens the way we did before. Maybe because we’ve all been here before and did not expect to be here again almost one year later. It feels like the year we have all lived through was a waste of time – that all the lockdowns, restrictions, and self-denial that most people exercised was all for nothing – because here we are again. Still in lockdown. Still with a rising infection and death rate. Still with selfish idiots not obeying the rules and thinking the restrictions can’t possibly apply to them. One has to ask – is it because of such selfish idiots that the rest of us are in lockdown again – well, I think that is definitely a hard yes.

At least this time the government has finally seen sense and closed all the places of education to none but children of essential workers. Apparently – and this will shock you as much as it did me – the government have discovered that if you cram hundreds of people all together with no social distancing and no mask wearing and then let them mingle at will with family and friends –

IT WILL HELP SPREAD THE VIRUS!

Gosh. Are you shocked? I know I was. I mean, really, who would have thought it?

Even if they had stayed open my daughter would have returned over my dead body. If the country is in lockdown with a new, twice as contagious strain of a potentially lethal virus being carried by at least one in thirty people, then there was no way I was going to send my precious child into an unsafe environment to mix with hundreds of other strangers – none of them wearing masks.

But the college is closed so she is home safe and is busy studying online – wondering what the situation will be in March when it is time for her to take her exams.

All GCSE’s and A’Levels which were due to take place in the summer have already been cancelled to ease the pressure and stress on all the poor students due to take them. But all those students due to take their BTECs over the next three months were not offered the same consideration.

In a blatant and breath-taking example of elitism by our all Oxford educated parliament, they decreed that BTECs were obviously so easy that no such concessions needed to be offered. This effectively damned this year’s crop of potential nurses, vets, engineers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and many other trades – to taking exams under unsafe conditions. Exams they have not been adequately prepared for. In a lot of ways, BTEC students are worse off than those studying for GCSE’s and A’Levels, in that BTECs are for practical, hands-on trades which require practical, hands-on training – training it is impossible to gain online – whereas most A’Levels and GCSEs are for academic, desk bound jobs which can be learnt online.

In an extremely short-sighted move the government dismissed all BTEC students’ needs, to focus purely on the elite needs of the academic students. Precisely who they think is going to man the hospitals and construction sites of the country in the future, is puzzling. Without vets, plumbers, mechanics, bricklayers, nurses, plasterers and all the other hands-on trades, how exactly do they see this country being able to function? A nation cannot be run only with accountants, solicitors, and teachers – it needs people who make and do things.

A petition was immediately started as soon as the announcement was made – both Miss F and I signed it – and by that evening it had over 175,000 signatures. The very next day, the government did another massive U-turn, washed their hands of the whole affair and it was announced that each college would have autonomy over whether their students took the BTEC exams or not. So, some students are being forced to take exams in the middle of the worst of the pandemic, when infection rates are rising.

The exam conditions are shocking – there is no social distancing outside the exam rooms (the press have been full of pictures of students crammed into small hallways waiting to go in). There has also been no declaration about what will happen to those students who choose not to risk infection by taking the BTEC exams now. There could be many reasons why they do not wish to take the exam aside from personal fear of contagion. Perhaps they are in lockdown with a vulnerable person and are simply being responsible for family members. They are also afraid of what will happen if they don’t take the exam, afraid of what consequences that will have for them. Will their entire future be affected by this decision?

It is grossly unfair and hugely stressful for these young people. Let’s face it, taking exams is a colossal strain on them anyway – but factor in all these other conditions and the stress levels go off the scales.

There are also a huge number of students taking vocational exams which have been left in limbo. No consideration has been made for them at all. Their exams are due in March, but as yet no one seems to know if they will be cancelled – the way A’Levels and GCSEs have been – so thousands of young people have been left dangling.

With so much uncertainty, I feel deeply for all young people trying to study, take exams, or make any kind of sense of their educational life right now. It cannot be easy for them, and whilst I fully support the decision to close all places of learning for the foreseeable future to try and halt the spread of the virus, until the vaccine has been effectively administered to all and the death rates are falling, I think every effort should be made to help the students affected.

If only stricter measures had been imposed last March, if only clear and definite rules had been put in place and firmly enforced, maybe we wouldn’t all be here again, almost one year later, back in lockdown.

On the home front – this week I made an effort to start spring cleaning my kitchen. When I announced my intention to do so, Miss F commented – “didn’t you just do that?” Well, it may feel that way, but really it was last March, so guess what, it needs doing again. I pulled everything out on Wednesday, half-heartedly cleaned out a couple of cupboards, a-n-n-n-d, that’s as far as I got. Like I said, seriously lacking in the motivational department at the moment.

I’ve been working on my existing books as well. They are all fine, but I’ve discovered new formatting tricks and little things that can be done to make them even better, so am using the time at home to do that.

I’m sleeping for Britain. Normally, I am a six hour a night girl and have been for years, but for the last couple of weeks I’ve not been waking until nine o’clock and even later. You would think with all that sleep I would be feeling better and more alert, but weirdly I’m waking feeling muggy and disconnected, and it’s taking me ages to get going in the mornings. How I’m going to go back to getting up at 6am every morning when things eventually go back to normal, I don’t know.

Several of you have messaged asking about the lodger situation. Well, we still don’t have one. As you know, our young French lodger left last Saturday. In order to be allowed to return to France, he had to take a Covid test and he text me Sunday morning to let me know the test was negative – so that was a relief. Since then, I have washed all the bedding and aired the room. I did look on the spare room website to see if anyone suitable was looking for a room, but there were hardly any listings. Of those, most were not suitable – either smokers, couples, or owning pets they wished to bring – the rest all wanted the world, including a private bathroom and their own parking space, for £250 per month. Hmm, good luck with that.

I will wait another week, thoroughly clean the room and the public parts of the house, and then see about running the add again. Maybe I could specify that initial viewings will be conducted remotely. It would be one way to cut down the amount of people traipsing through our home potentially bringing the infection with them. So, I guess that means I need to go and finish cleaning the kitchen.

Is lockdown lethargy a thing? Asking for a friend.

We finished watching the latest season of “The Crown” this week, and I think it must be my favourite season to date. As it has now reached the eighties, it means that I remember the events they portrayed happening – the slow disintegration of Charles and Diana’s marriage, the fall of Margaret Thatcher – are all things I lived through. I wonder how the Royal Family feel about it. Apparently, they loved the early seasons but this one – not so much! It doesn’t show them in a very good light, in fact the only characters I liked this season were Princess Margaret and Princess Anne – and even they had moments of such out-and-out bitchiness it made my jaw drop. The acting in this is superb, especially that of the fabulous American actress Gillian Anderson – you may remember her as Scully in the X-Files – who managed such a convincing portrayal of Margaret Thatcher that we were several episodes in before I realised it was Ms Anderson behind the blue suit and the affected accent.

We started a new series last night – “The Queen’s Gambit” – as I had heard nothing but good things about it. The first two episodes were amazing and even Miss F put down her phone to watch it. Whoever would have though a series about chess could be so riveting.

Thank heavens for on tap entertainment throughout all of this – can you imagine what life would have been like without the many TV channels most of us now have access to.

It’s a shorter blog this week. I wasn’t even sure I would have enough to talk about, seeing as I haven’t left the house in over a week, but wanted to touch base with you all. I hope wherever you are, and whatever levels of restrictions you are living under, that you are keeping safe and well.

See you next week.

Julia Blake

When the Going Gets Tough – Keep Your Revs Up and Keep Going!

So, that’s it. Christmas, the New Year, and the whole bally lot of it is now over and done with. I apologise for not blogging last week, but it was a strange week which somehow got away from me. Fitting really, given how strange the whole year has been, that it ended with a week of mixed blessings. Last time we spoke, it was the weekend before Christmas, and I was unsure exactly what was going to happen. I knew I still had to work on the Sunday and the Monday, but really didn’t expect to be busy. Well, I was proved wrong. Sunday, we did see quite a few people – but they all said the same thing – we thought we had better place our order before Christmas, because we think you’ll be closed afterwards.

Why were they thinking that? Well, on Saturday afternoon at 4pm, our prime minister announced that London was going into a new tier – Tier 4 – a hitherto unheard-of tier, and that all non-essential shops would be closing that evening. Mass panic ensued, as shopper rushed to finish Christmas shopping in the scant couple of hours left before most shops closed. Now, yes, it was awfully short notice, but I have never understood people leaving their present buying until the weekend before Christmas. What about if you can’t find what you want? It is dangerously risky in a normal year, but during a global pandemic … I’m sorry, all my Christmas shopping had been done well and truly before then.

We heard the news on the car radio as I drove home from collecting Miss F from work. It caused us both no small concern because our young lodger had gone up to London only that morning to see his brother. I wasn’t very impressed when he told me he was going. Even before the announcement, London was a petri dish of infection, and this new, twice as infectious, strain of Corona seemed a very scary development. I just couldn’t understand why he was going. Sure, he wanted to see his brother, I do get that. But, to travel all that way on public transport, only to have to stay in a hotel and meet his brother in a park somewhere, stand 2m apart from each other, shout their greetings and then throw presents at each other – it all seemed risky and not worth the effort.

But I am not his mother nor his parole officer, ultimately, I could only express my concern at his plans – which he ignored and went anyway. Then came the news about London, and the stats about how the infection and death rates were rocketing in the capital. As soon as the announcement was made, thousands of concerned parents contacted their offspring attending colleges and universities in London and told them to get their arses home. So, they did. In their thousands. They crowded onto trains, buses, and fled the capital – bringing the virus and the new strain – home with them, to all corners of the country.

So, there we were at work on Sunday – all very concerned, and none of us knowing what was going to happen to us. With no other option, we soldiered on as planned, serving customers, and reassuring them that even if the shop were closed, we would still be able to deliver as arranged.

Monday came, and all members of staff were supposed to be in but when I got to work, one of my male colleagues was absent. His stepdad had died from Corona over the weekend, which he had contracted when he had gone into hospital a couple of weeks earlier for a non-related issue. Shocked, we discussed the matter at length, before my boss gave us tasks to do to clean the shop and put up all the promotional material ready for the big sale commencing on Boxing Day.

We didn’t see a customer all day but kept busy with our tasks. I am not sure any of us believed we would be open on Boxing Day, although I thought we would be. I imagined that the consequences of the mass exodus from London and the mixing and mingling over Christmas – now reduced from five days to one day only – would take a couple of weeks to affect us.

I came home at 4pm, expecting to find the lodger had arrived back from London. We had sent him a rather lengthy text expressing our concern at the latest developments, and requesting that when he arrived back, he use the sanitiser by the front door, put all his clothes in the wash, shower, and generally disinfect and clean everything he had touched on his way in, and everything that had gone to London with him. It was probably a futile effort, because if he had contracted the virus in London then just living in the same house as him, meant we were bound to catch it. But I thought if he were carrying in on his clothes or in his hair, at least these precautions might prevent it being passed onto us.

To my surprise when I got home from work though, he still hadn’t returned. I wondered if perhaps he was finding it hard to return – there had even been talk of preventing anymore people from leaving London, although this seemed like locking the stable door after the horse had well and truly bolted. As the evening wore on, I became more concerned so text him asking if he was still coming back that day? He replied that he had decided to stay another day. Hmm, would I choose to stay any longer in a plague city that was locking down fast? No, I would have returned Saturday afternoon as soon as the announcement had been made. But then, I wouldn’t have risked going at all.

Tuesday was a busy day, preparing for Christmas, then came a further announcement from the prime minister – other areas of the UK were going into tier 4, Suffolk included – and twenty minutes later my boss rang. It was official, my store was closing so we would not be going back on Boxing Day. He was unsure how long we would be shut for, but the government would be assessing the situation mid-January.

I had mixed feelings about it. Yes, I was concerned about my company, and annoyed that I would be missing out on all the overtime I had been booked to work and all the extra commission I would potentially earn. But I must admit, I was also relieved. I had been very concerned to the point of being scared about going back. Although many people would be sensible and not mix and mingle on Christmas Day, I knew a lot of people wouldn’t be. And that it was those people who had exposed themselves to the virus that would be piling into the shops to take advantage of the sales, potentially transmitting the virus to the sales staff.

Wednesday was our Christmas Eve, so we had a pleasant day relaxing and carrying out last minute preparations for the 24th – which was when we were celebrating Christmas due to Miss F having to work on the 25th – I laid up our Christmas table ready, and prepped dinner as much as I could. The lodger offered to buy us a Chinese takeaway as a thank you for inviting him to share our Christmas, which was an unexpected and lovely treat, and we ate it in front of the fire, watching films.

The 24th dawned, and Miss F came and got into my bed early in the morning so we could open stockings together. Then we went downstairs, and she ploughed her way through the huge pile of presents awaiting her. I think I did well this year, because she loved everything, and all “non-list” items I bought her were thankfully all okay.

After breakfast, I got the meat in the oven and then we skyped with my parents so they could watch Miss F open her presents from them, and we could watch them open ours. Thank heavens for modern technology. Just think how much harder this year would have been without Zoom and Skype and all the other ways of communicating with people that exist now. How much harder it would have been for parents, teachers, and children without online schooling, and how frantic with boredom we all would have been without Netflix and Sky and all the other entertainment that is available to us at the touch of a button.

We had lunch at 1:30pm, a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings – although we had lamb, not turkey. Then we played lots of games, which was fun, and spent the evening watching films. It was a relaxing, peaceful, and very quiet Christmas which, after the year we’ve all had, was probably what we needed.

Next day was the real Christmas Day, we had breakfast and then I had to take Miss F to work at 11:30am. I think she had mixed feelings about work. Yes, she wanted to earn the double pay and receive the good tips, but she was anxious about the worsening situation with the virus. It had been raining steadily and heavily for two days, and the roads I take to get her to work are through very low-lying ground. Turning a corner just outside the village where the restaurant is located, we encountered a very large flood right over the road. Water was gushing from the adjacent fields and it looked deep – very deep.

Slowing, I drove into it. Halfway through I felt my engine stuttering but kept my revs up and kept going. I think that is a good motto for life – when the going gets tough, keep your revs up and keep going! The road was on a slope and as I drove through on the left-hand side, I could see that the flooding on the other side of the road was much more severe. Driving back after dropping her off, I slowed at the flood, waited until an oncoming car had driven through it, then carefully drove through on the wrong side of the road. I only have a little car and the flooding on the other side was now so deep, I honestly thought I would get stuck halfway if I attempted to drive through it. Behind me another car, bigger than me, almost sneered at my cowardly decision and plunged arrogantly into the flood on the correct side of the road.

The water had got deeper in the few minutes it had been since dropping Miss F off, so I slowed and just kept going, keeping as close to the right-hand side of the road as I could. Halfway through, I heard the car behind me splutter and rev its engine – next moment it sheepishly crept across the road and fell into line behind me. Obviously, the driver had found the flood a bit too deep even for his higher vehicle and had then realised the thinking behind my actions.

Home – I was facing the prospect of over four hours alone on Christmas Day. I tidied away Miss F’s presents and stacked them into less wobbly piles. There was a lot of roast lamb left over from the day before, and I had deliberately cooked way too much veg and made too much gravy. I boiled up a big pan of finely diced potatoes whilst I chopped the lamb into bite sized pieces and mixed in a large bowl with all the leftover veg, gravy and mint sauce. I drained the potatoes well, seasoned them, and then mixed them in as well. I had got some puff pastry out of the freezer the night before and had enough to make seven giant Cornish pasties. A complete meal in themselves stuffed as they were with roast lamb and mint sauce, potatoes, peas, carrots, and green beans, along with gravy and a few finely chopped roast potatoes and stuffing. I left one out for the lodger to have for his dinner, then froze the others in pairs for future meals.

Then I settled down for a nice long video chat with an author pal of mine who was also on her own on Christmas Day. I had to collect Miss F at 5pm, so planned to leave just after 4:30pm as I was concerned about the state of the roads – particularly the flood. At just gone three though, I had to cut my chat short when Miss F phoned. They had finished serving food, most of the diners had gone, and her boss had told her to leave off at four instead of five.

I was quite relieved to be collecting her an hour earlier though, especially when I reached the flooded part of the road and realised how much deeper it was now. Gingerly I crept through. The water was halfway up my hubcaps and I knew if it got much deeper, I wouldn’t be able to get through. I reached the other side, drove to the restaurant, and waited for Miss F to come out. The drive home was a little hairy, just in the ten minutes it had taken me to collect her and drive back to the flooded part, it had got significantly deeper. It was also dark now, the rain was lashing down, and it was windy as well. Halfway through, my engine tried to stall, but again I kept my revs up and managed to keep going. It was lucky I wasn’t doing this an hour later, as I’m sure it would have overwhelmed my little car.

Our treat for dinner on Christmas Day was sirloin steak and all the trimmings, which was delicious, then we flaked out in front of the TV until we went to bed.

Boxing Day – I was supposed to be at work, but of course I wasn’t. We decided to have a relaxing, chill out day. The lodger joined us for a late lunch of whatever we had in the fridge – and we all flopped in front of the TV and watched films until his phone rang and he went downstairs to take the call. I assumed it was his family, and thought nothing of it, until a bit later that day – when he dropped his bombshell that he was moving out on the 3rd of January!

Talk about a blow coming out of the blue. He only moved in at the end of October, and we had been confident of him staying for at least a year, probably longer. His parents were concerned about the worsening situation in the UK and wanted him to return to France – which I understand. They were afraid if he didn’t go now while the borders were still open, he might not be able to go home at all – which I understand. They also thought if he was going to be doing his course online, then what was the point of them paying board and lodgings when he could do the same course for free at home – which I understand.

I do understand their reasons – and in the same position might have made the same decision – but it has really left me in a very precarious position. Having a lodger move out just after Christmas any year is not ideal. I don’t go mad with spending, and I especially hadn’t this year, but it is still a very expensive time and a drain on my income. This year my company is closed, I’m not working so am only receiving my furlough pay and a percentage of estimated commission. Because I am not working in January – our busiest time of year – I will miss out on receiving at least 60 hours overtime in my pay packet, not to mention all the extra commission I would make from all the sales.

Add to that how hard it was to find a lodger last time and we weren’t then in tier four, with infection and death rates rising rapidly and facing another probable lockdown. I have a feeling finding a new lodger is going to be hard, if not impossible, and there is also the question of whether I should even be looking for one in the current circumstances. Do I really want a bunch of germ-ridden strangers trooping through my house? Then there is the fact that my lodger has paid up until the 28th of January so technically is entitled to come back if the Corona test that he must take before they will let him return to France comes back positive. It’s not a nice thought, but logically if he has Corona then he will have picked it up in London so by now we would have well and truly been exposed to it and will almost certainly have it.

I have decided to delay a decision until later in the month. There is an assessment being made mid-January, and if numbers are dropping and it is deemed safe to put us into a lower tier, then my shop will open and maybe the sales can be salvaged somehow. But I don’t think that’s very likely. In the meantime, I will scrub his room and get it viewing ready. I will look on the spare room website and see how the land lies. Are people looking for rooms right now? Perhaps if I see someone whom I really like the look of, I could email them and arrange a virtual viewing of the house and room.

I seem to be starting 2021 the way I lived most of 2020 – in a state of anxious uncertainty. I know things will work themselves out, because they usually do, but it is worrying, nonetheless.

New Year’s Eve – another quiet evening in with the lodger watching films. He is annoyed at being forced to go home, and I think he is very aware of the difficult situation he has left us in. He keeps apologising, even though it’s not his fault. Because it was sprung on him so suddenly, he had only just done a large shop-up, so we have inherited a lot of pate which was a present from his parents, and a few other grocery items. He left at 7:30am on Saturday morning. I gave him a lift to the station because he had a ridiculous amount of luggage and I seriously doubted his ability to carry it all, said goodbye, asked him to keep me posted re the test, and then he was gone.

And now I am sitting here, writing this, while my freezer is defrosting. I hate this job, there is no easy way to do it and however you do it, it’s always wet socks time. I am so, so bad about doing it as well, in that I leave it, and leave it, until suddenly I’m struggling to get the door shut, and so much ice has built up at the back that it’s pushed that flat plastic tray thing in the top so far forward I have to take it out. I have a collection slot booked for Sunday afternoon for a month’s worth of shopping, including loads of frozen food, so it had to be defrosted today – no more excuses.

I blasted it with Miss F’s hairdryer, but I am always a bit worried when I do that, in case I electrocute myself, and as the big chunks of Antarctica started to fall away from the top, there was a clunk – and something long and plastic was lying on the shelf. I took it out and examined it. It was a long plastic casing of some description. Getting down on my knees and peering into the frozen depths, I saw that where it had obviously come away, a coil of what looked like copper wiring was now exposed. Now, I’m not a mechanic, but I’m pretty sure that wires and water don’t mix, and I wondered how long it had been hanging off, and if maybe that was the reason why the freezer had iced up so drastically and so quickly – it wasn’t that long ago since I’d last done it, during the big lockdown at the beginning of last year.

There was a small hole at the thinner end of the casing, with a plastic plug thing pushed through. Looking in the freezer again I could see the hole where the plug was supposed to go in to fix the casing over the wires. Only trouble was, the end of the plastic plug was shredded – it wouldn’t even go into that tiny hole, let alone hold the casing up. I needed to replace it with something. That meant I had to pull everything out of the cupboard, drag out the toolbox and see if I had anything similar. I didn’t, the closest thing I had was a tiny rawl plug designed to go into plasterboard so that meant it had tiny spurs which might be enough to hold it in place. Worth a try. I crawled back into the freezer, fixed the casing in place, and threaded the rawl plug through the hole – and promptly dropped it. Could I see it anywhere? Of course not, so back into the toolbox I went.

This time I found another rawl plug that was smooth, and then I found a short, tiny screw that fitted into it. Back into the freezer I went. The plug went perfectly into the hole and I hoped this was going to work, because there was no way I would ever get it back out again. The screw fitted perfectly through the hole in the casing – only problem was, I didn’t have a screwdriver small enough to fit it. Much stomping around the house in frustration, tearing my hair out and moaning – “why is nothing ever easy!” – before I remembered a set of tiny screwdrivers that I had won in a cracker several Christmases before and thrown into a drawer somewhere. I was sure I still had it, well, pretty sure…

Much searching ensued, with pulling out of drawers, accompanied by much heavy breathing and muttered curses, before suddenly I found it. There was a teeny tiny phillips screwdriver in the kit which fitted the screwhead perfectly. Back into the freezer I went, kneeling on the floor – feeling the icy water that had sloshed out onto the kitchen floor seep up the knees of my jeans – and trying to see what I was doing. The top shelf was so close to the casing that I couldn’t look directly at the screwhead so had to fumble and fiddle by touch for ages before it finally clicked into the grooves and I was able to screw the casing back up flush with the top of the freezer! Yay! I’d fixed it! I was ridiculously proud of myself and when Miss F wandered into the kitchen in search of food, I boasted to her of my achievement.

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and left without saying a word.

All the ice had by now melted – all over the floor, of course – and almost every towel we possessed was being used for mop-up duty, I cleaned and dried the inside and all the boxes that sit on the shelves, switched it back on, and packed all the food back into it. The kitchen was a mess, water everywhere, escaped peas all over the floor, and I had sopping wet socks and jeans, but it’s done. Now I can fill it with enough food to see us through the apocalypse.

Sunday is earmarked to take down all our Christmas decorations. I wasn’t feeling it when I put them up, and I’m definitely so over the festive season now. I want to pack it all away, clean the house, and move onto the New Year … whatever it may bring.

I hope wherever you are you managed to enjoy your Christmas, and that the New Year is a healthy and peaceful one for you and yours. Remember – when the going gets tough, keep your revs up and keep going.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

Christmas and Corona

Well, there is no getting away from it. Both the big C’s are looming over our heads. By that I mean, of course, Christmas and Corona. It is the last weekend before Christmas and I am avoiding town and the shops like the plague, because … well, because of the plague.

The government have told us that between the 23rd and 27th of December we can basically do as we please – anyone else feel the way you did when you were a child? When your mother would throw her hands up in despair after telling you a trillion times that it’s too dangerous to even think about doing the something stupid you were hellbent on doing. “Go right ahead,” mine would eventually say. “Go right ahead and do it and see what happens. Then you’ll be sorry and wish you’d listened to me.”

My festive mantlepiece

I am getting that exact same feeling now, like the government have basically washed their hands of us. “Go right ahead,” they’re saying. “We’ve told you and told you to stay home, wear your masks, keep your distance, and wash your f*****g hands! But you’re all hellbent on having a “normal” Christmas so you just go right ahead and do it. See what happens. Then you’ll be sorry.”

And you must have the IQ of a gnat not to realise exactly what is going to happen. The R rate is already rising sharply. Deaths are on the increase, and that’s even before the madness of Christmas, when too many mince pies and mulled wine will befuddle people’s brains and they will mix, mingle, travel, touch, hug and kiss with no thought for the future. The expression – Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die – has never rung so true.

I anticipate another national lockdown in January or by February at the latest. It is known that the virus spreads best within the home environment – it’s a bit like me, it likes things warm and cosy. And because sadly, Christmas is slap bang in the middle of winter, no one is going to follow the government’s advice to meet outdoors and open lots of windows. Are you joking? It’s freezing cold, blowing a gale, and pouring with rain – everyone will be crammed into overheated houses, all snug in their Christmas jumpers, quaffing eggnog and kissing grandparents they haven’t seen since March.

I truly believe the government have washed their hands of us. Because they weren’t strict enough “parents” to exercise some tough love back in March and brutally enforce the lockdown. Because stern punishments were not given to those flouting the lockdown laws. Because people were allowed out whenever they wanted with no adequate policing of the streets, the first lockdown was ineffective at halting the virus in its tracks.

And I’ve heard the argument that the police simply couldn’t cope with the extra work, and I understand that, but what about the army? What about the military police from other forces? We’re not at war with anyone right now, so what the heck were they doing all through lockdown? And what about the Territorial Army? All those people who work normal jobs during the day, then at weekends dress up like soldiers and rush about the countryside pretending to be Rambo? I thought the whole point of the TA was that they were there to be called upon in times of national emergency. Yet, they were all cowering in lockdown with the rest of us.

I’m sorry, but if a global pandemic that’s ravaging the globe and killing millions doesn’t count as a national emergency, then I shudder to think what the government are keeping the TA in readiness for. Zombie apocalypse perhaps?

I’m just a simple, normal person sitting at home, and perhaps I am being a bit of a “Karen” about this, but I can see so many ways this could have been handled better. It could have been handled the way New Zealand and Melbourne in Australia handled it. Close all borders to everyone. Brutally strict lockdown laws that were strenuously enforced. Close monitoring of numbers. And no release of lockdown until there was a long-term infection rate of 0 per day. Britain – look and learn, that’s how you do it. That is true “parenting”. Sometimes you have to enforce rules that the kids don’t like, rules that make them hate you. But, at the end of the day, it’s not a parent’s job to make their kids like them, it’s their job to keep them safe – no matter what.

Anyway, rant over, and what was the point of it anyway – all the sensible people out there will already be planning safe, socially distanced, virtual Christmases, and you don’t need me to tell you it’s the right thing to do. As for the rest of you – well, you go right ahead and drive miles into infected areas just so you can hug granny and eat a dinner with her, but please, don’t then whinge and moan when infection rates soar, your arse is back in lockdown, and granny is on an incubator, because as my mother used to say when I’d gone ahead and done the stupid thing anyway and was crying over the consequences – “you were told what would happen, but you did it anyway, and now see what’s happened!”

Are you ready for Christmas? Not that it’s a particularly big one for us this year, just me and Miss F, and she’s working Christmas Day and I’m back to work on Boxing Day. But we have a Christmas fridge and freezer right now, a few decorations up, and big piles of mysterious looking presents for each other heaped in our respective bedrooms. I think I’ve overspent on her, and I know she’s overspent on me – see last week’s blog! – but I’m not spending money on anyone else really, and it has been a tough year for her. She’s coped really well, and I’m proud of how hard she has worked, so I feel totally justified in spoiling her.

We will do all our presents on Christmas Eve in the morning, hopefully via Skype or Zoom with my parents – so long as my mother hasn’t managed to somehow uninstall them – and then we have an enormous Christmas lunch planned which our lodger will be joining us for. Poor lad is staying here this Christmas as he’s afraid if he goes back to France he may not be allowed back into the country. It’s also a long way to go just for a couple of days. So, he will be sitting down at our Christmas table with us, and then we have a day of games and films planned. So, it should be a nice relaxing and fun day. One of Miss F’s favourite desserts is treacle tart, but she can’t have it now because of the butter in the pastry, so I’m going to have a go at making a lactose free version for her to have with the fantastic vegan Ben & Jerry’s ice cream we have.

Miss F is working on Christmas Day between midday and 5pm. I’ve been asked what I will do during that time. Well, there will be lots of lamb leftovers from the day before, so I will make a whole batch of Cornish pasties to go in the freezer ready for when I’m working long hours of overtime during January. I have books I would like to read – and you never know, I may even write my Christmas blog! In the evening on Christmas Day, I have two beautiful steaks in the fridge which we will have with all the trimmings as our special treat.

Then, of course, I’m back to work on Boxing Day. My company seem to think we’re going to be mega busy, but I’m not so sure. People only have five days truce over Christmas when they can travel to see family and friends and mix and mingle at will. Are they really going to waste those days going shopping? Also, most of the other shops on our retail park will be shut on Boxing Day this year, so many people won’t bother coming out until all of the shops are open. But we’ll see. Reading between the lines, I think my company believes we’re all going to be back in lockdown soon, so maybe that is why they are so desperate to stay open for as long as possible.

The restaurant where Miss F works part-time is closing again on the 28th and all the staff will be going back onto furlough. It simply isn’t viable for them to stay open with the reduced number of customers they are allowed to have. There has been no announcement as to how long it will remain shut, but probably quite a long time to allow the virus to either abate, or for the vaccine to be administered.

The college have not contacted me about Miss F returning to classes and, as it is now closed for Christmas, I suppose I won’t hear from them until next year. If possible, I would like her to continue to study at home. She is a hardworking and very self-disciplined person, and she is so much happier in an environment where she feels safe. But no one seems too sure exactly what is happening with schools and other places of education next year. The government tried keeping them all open, and infection and death rates shot up off the charts. All Welsh schools are now going to be online for the duration of the virus, so will the UK follow suit? Again, no one seems to know.

This week I finally bowed to pressure and put some decorations up. Nowhere near as many as usual – instead of it taking me two days to decorate, it only took a couple of hours – but our mantlepieces are looking very festive. We didn’t bother with a tree this year, instead I dug out a tiny tabletop tree that we’ve had for years and usually stands in Miss F’s room. I had a tiny string of battery-operated red holly berry lights and wound a thin piece of tinsel around it and put on a few of our smallest baubles, and that was it.

Usually, our tree is an eight-foot blue spruce or a Norwegian fir, costing £60, which takes a whole day to select, lug home, get up and decorate, and involves dismantling my writing desk and storing it in my bedroom over Christmas. This tiny tree took barely fifteen minutes to sort and is standing on the corner of my desk making it look very festive. Who knows? I may never go back to the bother of a giant real tree again.

It does feel strange, to be this close to Christmas and be this stress free. I have three more gifts to drop off on people’s doorsteps before Christmas, and one small trip to Waitrose to get some fresh veg, the stuffing, and any other last-minute bits and bobs we can think of. Our lodger received a surprising Christmas present from his parents this week of a hamper filled with about a dozen lengths of continental sausage and pot after pot of pate. He has begged us to have whatever we want from it – so for tea on Christmas Eve I will get some crusty French bread, olives, a dip of some kind that Miss F can eat, and we will have a nibbles board. After such a big lunch it will be all I think we will want!

I’m looking forward to it. I only have four days off – well, I say they are days off, but the truth is I normally work three days a week and next week I am working Monday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I am still working three days. Technically, I have no time off at all other than my normal, non-shift days, but those four days off are very much looked forward to.

Four days of just relaxing, eating, drinking, present opening, game playing and film watching. I do have to run Miss F to and from work on Christmas Day, but hopefully, the roads will be empty so it’s a 40-minute round trip each way.

I really can’t wait for her to open her presents. I can’t say too much because she sometimes reads my blog, but I am quietly confident I have got it right this year. There are some beautiful, thoughtful things, some useful things, and a whole bunch of downright silly things – which hopefully she will see the funny side of.

New buttons on an old coats and a green silk lining
sleeve buttons

Right, it’s getting late on Saturday afternoon and I still need to post this and schedule it ready for the morning, plus I have a heap of other things to do before returning to work tomorrow. By the next time I chat with you Christmas will be over for another year, so please have a happy, peaceful, and most of all, safe, festive season.

Best Wishes and Love

Julia Blake