Light at the End of the Tunnel

Firstly, my apologies for not blogging last week. Regular followers will know I have been frantically busy trying to finish my steampunk epic fantasy retelling of Snow White which has been consuming most of my free time lately. Added to that, my shift pattern was abruptly changed last week, and I suddenly found myself having to work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday which left no time at all to write the blog either.

I am delighted to report that I finished writing the book last Friday evening. Coming in at a whopping 148,00 words it is approximately the same length as The Forest and Chaining Daisy and is 28,000 words longer than Erinsmore. But as it is an epic fantasy the word length is appropriate for the genre. It is also a very quick read. The chapters are short, there will be over forty pages of illustrations, and I like to think it’s a real page turner, so the length of the book is not a problem. Apart from the fact that it takes longer to edit, format and upload, of course.

I think it’s good. Upon reading it all through from start to finish for the first time, I actually think it’s very good. It’s exciting and thrilling, and funny and touching, and there are some romantic moments in it that made my bones melt with the sweetness. I have spent the past week doing my own edits and now it is in the hands of my proof-reader. Initial feedback from her is very positive, which is encouraging. While it’s with her, I shall begin the Herculean task of formatting it – which is always fun – not.

I know many of you will be wondering what is happening on the lodger front. Well, I tweaked the ad yet again, uploaded some fresh photos, and relisted it last Saturday morning. Almost straight away I had a response from a young woman asking if she could come to view it on Sunday. Later that day, I had another likely sounding response from an older man asking for a viewing Tuesday evening. Then another from someone with a name I was unfamiliar with so wasn’t sure if it was male or female asking to view Wednesday at midday.

It all seemed to be going the right way at last. Sunday arrived. The young woman came to view. Initially, she seemed keen, but then I saw the exact moment she decided she didn’t want the room. It was when she discovered she didn’t get a lovely private bathroom all to herself. I honestly don’t know why people expect every house has umpteen bathrooms – enough for one each – or that the room would be as cheap as it is if you got a private bathroom as well. She left promising to let us know, but I already knew what her answer was going to be. Sure enough, Monday afternoon she messaged me. Thanks, but no thanks.

Then Tuesday morning I had a message from the man scheduled to view that evening. He’d driven by the previous evening and seen how problematic parking is, so he wasn’t even going to bother to come and view the room. So, that was that.

That left us with the person of unknown gender coming on Wednesday. Midday came, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and there stood the tallest young man I’d ever seen! Easy 6’7” possibly taller. At only 5’ I felt positively Hobbit-like. A bit concerned he would be too tall to even be able to stand upright in the basement, I took him down to look at it. Luckily, he cleared the ceiling by a scant inch, no more.

He looked around. Didn’t say much. I showed him the kitchen, the bathroom, the living space he could use. Talked a little about the house and the area, cleaning routines, etc. He seemed very nice, but shy, and oh so young. It then turned out he was only 17 and on the same animal management course at the college that Miss F is on!

A little concerned, I tactfully asked if he would be able to afford the rent – I know Miss F would never have been able to afford it and she has a reasonably well-paid part-time job. Oh yes, he replied. His parents were going to pay it. I asked where they were, expecting him to name a nearby village or town, stunned when he replied France.

I must admit, I admire his courage. To relocate to a completely new area to continue his education, to have to search for accommodation, learn his way around, and begin at a new college all without his family and all at only 17 – that does take guts.

Maybe I was an idiot, but we offered him the room. To be honest, I don’t have much choice in the matter. He is the only person after running the ad for a full three weeks to want it, he seems quiet and nice mannered, no matter what happens with Corona his parents will be paying the rent, and he has no car or even a bike for us to try to accommodate. I assume that he will be staying at least until next August when presumably he will be off to university, so it buys me some time.

He has already completed and signed the contract, and is planning on moving in on the 30th of October, so long as the rent and deposit are paid before then, which I think they will be. Although I have a feeling, I may have adopted another teenager, that’s possibly not such a bad thing. We shall see how it goes.

We have an old TV in Miss F’s office which she never uses, so I am going to put it in the basement and see if we can get it working for him. I know he is going to be looking for a part-time job, but I have the feeling he’s not one for going out and socialising much, so a TV of his own might be nice for him. It’s also a DVD player and I will tell him to help himself to our quite extensive DVD library if ever he’s bored. See, I’m already thinking of myself as a motherly figure.

Work has been incredibly quiet this week. So far, I have worked Monday and Tuesday and both days were utterly dead. I am next in today, Sunday, 9:30am to 3:30pm. The first hour of that is training and the shop won’t even be open, so I have an enormous target to meet in just five hours!

Then I have Monday and Tuesday off, which will be completely taken up with formatting the book, then back to work Wednesday and Thursday – usually the two quietest days of the week – Friday off, and then I’m working on Halloween.

Is anyone bothering with Halloween this year? I am in the UK and it’s never much of a deal here anyway, but this year I’m expecting it will be even less of one. If Miss F was still of an age where she liked to be taken trick or treating, I really don’t think I would want her receiving candy from the homes of total strangers in the middle of a pandemic. That being said, we do have a lovely American family at the top of our road with young children. Maybe we should carve a pumpkin and get some individually wrapped candy just for them.

Likewise, Christmas is looming. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I am not a Christmas person at all. I find it boring, stressful, and generally an expensive waste of time. This year I don’t think we’re even going to bother with a tree. Maybe I will feel differently as we get closer to the festive season, but I honestly don’t think I will. A quiet and low-cost Christmas this year sounds like such a blessed relief.

All around us, areas of the UK are going into lockdown. Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are all having “circuit breaker” lockdowns of varying lengths and severity, and the North is lost altogether. To be honest, I am surprised our government hasn’t announced a general mini lockdown for us all, although I suppose they are trying to balance peoples lives with the damage to the economy – never an easy thing to do.

If we go into lockdown I am prepared. For the past month I have been squirreling away extra provisions every time I do a weekly shop. We could survive a couple of weeks, maybe even longer, without having to leave the house. I just wish they’d get on with it and make a decision one way or the other. All this uncertainly is taking its toll on everyone.

On Monday, when things were so quiet, we were simply sitting there looking at each other, we were teasing one of my male colleagues – who is a little bit on the hairy side – that he needed a good haircut. Another male colleague suggested he get a “crack, back, and sack” wax while he was at it, and then I added that he might as well go the whole hog, and get them to do an anal bleach while they were down there.

Jaws dropped as they swivelled to stare at me.

“That’s a thing?!”

“You’re making it up! What the heck is anal bleaching?!”

“Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like, they bleach your anus.”

In disbelief, they googled it and gawped in horror at what they found. Faces paling at the thought, they loudly speculated as to why ANYONE would want to have that done to such a … tender … part of the body. From that, the conversation veered onto other disgusting things that people did to their bodies, and then onto the gross TV programme “The Pimple Doctor.”

And that, my friends, is what working with men is like. Although to be fair, I would rather have conversations like that than endless discussions about what happened in last night’s soaps.

I’m afraid it’s a shorter blog this week. I am up against the clock with the book and every spare moment I have, I am working away on it. It’s lucky that we change the clocks tonight, so I get an extra hour to work on it tomorrow morning.

Hopefully, next week I will be about to report that young Mr M moved in successfully and we’re back on an even keel. I don’t think there will be an issue. If I were his parents, I would be very happy to know that he’s moving into an actual home with someone he’s at college with and a responsible (well, responsible-ish) adult in the house to deal with all the grown up stuff that needs to be done to keep a home running, such as boiler maintenance and insurance. I did take the precaution of asking him to supply me with contact details for his parents though – just in case. Don’t want the unpleasant situation of him being seriously ill or injured and no way to contact them.

I hope you all have a great week, and if you’re still going to celebrate Halloween that it goes safely and smoothly for you.

Take care.

Julia Blake

Stormy Waters Ahead

Since last week’s blog, a lot of you have been enquiring about the situation re a new lodger. Well, I am afraid it’s not good news. When we spoke last week, I had offered the young chef the room and he had come back saying he couldn’t afford all of the deposit in one go, and would it be okay if he paid half with the rent before moving in, and then half the following month?

After much thought, I had decided to accept his compromise and messaged him back that it was fine to do this, on the strict understanding that it was a one-off arrangement and in no way meant I would be lenient with rental payments in the future. In the viewing he had indicated that he was able to move in straight away, so I asked when he would like to pick up contracts and my details so we could get things organised.

He took ages to get back to me, then messaged saying that as he didn’t actually want the room until the end of October there was plenty of time for him to collect the paperwork. I was stunned. He was expecting me to hold the room for him for a month on a vague promise that he might be moving in without any kind of firm commitment from him.

I messaged back that I had been under the impression he wished to move in straight away. No, I have a very busy month ahead, came the reply. The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt about the whole situation. So, I messaged back that if he wished me to hold the room for him then he would need to sign the contracts stating an exact moving in day and pay the £500 deposit. After all, this would be beneficial to us both. He would have the peace of mind of knowing that the room was his, that I would be deactivating the ad and not showing it to anyone else. The deposit would also have been paid, so by the time he moved in at the end of the month he would presumably have been paid again and could then just pay the first month’s rent without any need to split pay the deposit.

It would also mean that I would have assurances he was serious about moving in. After all, if I held the room for him and then during the month he changed his mind or found somewhere else, it would leave me with no rental income for yet another month and having to start all over again. I felt it was a sensible and fair arrangement for us both.

Back came a furious message. No, he was not going to pay me anything until the end of the month, and then it would only be half the deposit and the first months rent, so I wouldn’t get the second half of the deposit until the end of November – as I’d agreed. Well, for a start I hadn’t agreed to such a delay in payments, and secondly, I really didn’t like the way he was talking to me.

I told him no letting agency or landlord would hold a room or property for that amount of time without a deposit being paid and contracts being exchanged. It was unfair of him to expect me to do so, and it was strange that he couldn’t see it this way.

A stream of furiously angry messages came back at me, one after the other, all sent within minutes of each other. I was being greedy. I was being unreasonable. I had agreed to his terms and now I was going back on my word. He would give me £750 at the end of October and then move in. He would give me another £750 at the end of November. He was not going to budge on that. Take it or leave it.

I left it. I also didn’t answer any of his messages. I had no desire to engage with someone who was clearly unreasonable and quite possibly deranged. Miss F rolled her eyes about the whole affair and asked, what did I expect from a chef, that this is what most of them behave like. Nice as pie when you first meet them, but cross them in anyway, and it’s a knife being waved in your face as they morph into a Gordon Ramsey wannabe.

So, that was the end of that. By this time, a whole weekend had been wasted on this individual, so I didn’t reactivate the ad until Monday morning. No problems, I thought, someone much better will come along. But they haven’t. At the time of writing this on Saturday morning we haven’t had a single enquiry. Not one. This is unheard of and worrying. Normally, even if response is sluggish, we have a few. But all this week my inbox has remained empty – not even the usual time wasters asking for the impossible.

Is it because no one looks for rooms except at the weekends? Is there something wrong with my ad or the look of my room? Or, and I think this is more likely, is it because suddenly the very real probability of going back into some kind of lockdown is looming and people are holding off on relocating until either we all know what’s actually happening or lockdown is over?

I think a lockdown of some kind is going to happen. On last night’s news, it was announced that the furlough scheme is being restarted. Mortgage providers are offering more mortgage holidays, and Scotland are going into an emergency total lockdown for two weeks over the half-term holiday. I think it is not a question of if, but rather when.

This has left me with a dilemma. Should I press on regardless for my search for a lodger, or wait and see what happens? If a short-term lockdown is imminent, then maybe I should hold fire. After all, we don’t want to be stuck in our home for however long the lockdown is with a total stranger. If we are careful, if the furlough payment is as generous as before, and if I extend my mortgage holiday then we would be okay-ish financially.

But if the lockdown went on for as long as it did before, things could get a little tight. Winter is a more expensive time, energy bills are higher, you seem to eat more, and then, of course, there’s Christmas.

Christmas has increasingly become the most stressful and least favourite time of year for me. Working the hours that I do, means I don’t even get that wonderful long break over the festive season that I used to get. I do miss those days of working in an office when we would break for Christmas around about the 20th of December and not go back until the first week of January. Now, I get three days off before going back on Boxing Day and plunging into the January sales and our peak period.

But the world is standing on its head this year. The pandemic and social distancing mean that hordes of shoppers piling into our shop to spend spend spend simply can’t happen, so what will that mean for us? What will it mean for any business that relies on those few brief weeks at the beginning of the year to make most of their profit?

I’ve had messages from family members asking if it’s okay if we don’t do presents this year, and my reply is a heartfelt “YES”. I used to spend an absolute fortune on presents for family and friends, but gradually it has been whittled down until it is literally immediate family and closest friends. Having little money to waste, the Christmas season itself is an expensive time what with the tree, festive food and drink, cards and all the other miscellaneous bits and bobs that don’t seem to cost much individually but added together come to a frightening waste of money.

It is ridiculous how much one, usually quite boring day, costs. The amount of stress that is involved and sheer hard bloody work. I used to love decorating the house until it looked like a Victorian Christmas card. Now it’s a chore, just one more thing on an ever-increasing to-do list. I’m not sure if it’s my age, if it’s the final realisation that the perfect dream of Christmas we all have is simply that – a dream – one based in nostalgia and fantasy and bearing no resemblance to the reality of cost, stress, exhaustion, overeating, and bickering families.

I know this all makes me sound like a terrible Grinch, a real Scrooge who is bah humbugging the whole “magical joy that is Christmas”, but I think I’m only speaking aloud the true feelings of most women. Ask any woman over the age of thirty if she likes Christmas – hook her up to a lie detector first – and ask for an honest answer about how she really feels about it. Most will be forced to admit that it’s a disappointing drain on finances, time, strength, and mental wellbeing.

Maybe we all expect too much. Perhaps lowering those expectations is the way to cope with it. After all that has happened this year, and facing the very real possibility of a Christmas spent in lockdown or at the very least, restricted as to who we can see and where we can go, perhaps being forced to have a low key Christmas will help people to sift out what is important and what is just glitter.

Being with family and friends is important, but not if it’s going to risk their health or yours, so accept gratefully having the time with the family you can be with, and set up zoom meetings with those you can’t. We are lucky that technology exists so that grandparents sheltering or not allowed to come into your home can watch your children open their presents on Christmas Day. You can carry your mum off into the kitchen for a long chat online whilst you prepare the sprouts and baste the turkey. You can even set up the laptop at one end of the dining table and share your Christmas dinner with family.

Fun fact, apparently turkey breeders are one step ahead of everyone and are breeding their turkeys smaller this year. No point having a bird that can feed twenty if you’re only allowed six people in your house.

Learn to appreciate the small things. Being safe in your home – a lot of people don’t have that basic right. I cannot begin to imagine how people living in toxic and violent relationships coped being locked up all these months with their abusers. Having your family around you – think about those poor university students who’ve been told they’re not allowed to go home for Christmas but must stay in their dorms! Having access to clean water and good food – again, many across the world don’t have this. Technology – as I said above, this isn’t the 1970’s! We can communicate with each other in so many wonderful ways now and even the elderly who had no time for the internet before, are now appreciating that it can be a tool for good.

So, what am I doing for Christmas this year? I honestly have no idea. Being so uncertain as to what the situation will be, I have put even the merest thought of Christmas to one side. Talking with Miss F about it, we have made the decision not to worry about a tree this year and keep other decorations to a minimum if we even bother with them at all. Christmas will happen, and it will be a simple affair – and maybe that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.

One tiny silver lining from the pandemic is that the works Christmas Roadshow has been cancelled. Oh, I am devastated. However, shall I get over it? …… Oh wait, I just did. Again, call me a Grinch, but having to be up at 5am to squish into a car with my work colleagues and drive for three hours to attend a frenzied, evangelical like event where the Head Office Team on stage consistently scream “Are we having fun!?!?!” at the heaving mass of nearly 2000 employees sweating in mandatory Christmas sweaters, who have to scream back with ever increasing fury. The terrible food, the long motivational speeches in the afternoon, and then that long drive home. No, it’s one thing I can quite happily do without this year.

So, that brings me back to the original question. What should I do about finding a new lodger? Should I wait until after lockdown, but that could be a long time in the future if lockdown even happens at all. Should I reactivate the ad this week and hope someone wonderful comes along? Even if I do put up the ad again though, it’s no guarantee that anyone will respond to it. I am at a loss what to do for the best, so I’m doing nothing. Much like Christmas, I have put the problem to one side to concentrate on things I can fix, like finishing my current book and getting it off to my editor.

It is now standing at over 120,000 words and I can’t believe how quickly I have hammered this one out. The original notion of this story first sprouted in my mind over two years ago when another author I was following on Instagram was putting together a collection of re-imagined myths, legends, and fairy tales. I was invited to take part and an idea for a retelling of a classic, much loved fairy tale popped into my head. I had written about 3000 words of it and had a sneaking suspicion that some serious cutting would be needed if I were to trim it down to the required 7000 words or under, when suddenly the project was at an end.

The author in question disappeared from Instagram forever. I am still not entirely sure what happened, there were rumours of illness and even of intense cyber harassment, but as I never did get the full story it’s not something I can comment on. Anyway, for a few days the idea was kicked about that maybe all the authors involved could still publish the book. But there was too much hard work involved and none of us really had the time or the inclination, so the project was shelved.

Fast forward over two years to this summer. I had been working hard during that time publishing three original books and re-publishing all my others. The Book of Eve had been successfully launched in early August and it was time to turn to a new project. Looking through all the various started but never completed stories I had still saved on my laptop I came across this funny little take on an old fairy tale and ideas began to pop.

I began to write furiously in mid-August and by anyone’s standards to have managed over 120,000 in just six weeks is astonishing. The story has poured out of me like water through a breached dam. The original 3000 words were eventually deleted as they no longer fitted the plot that was weaving itself under my fingertips. The notion to make it steampunk occurred early on and it’s given the story a crisp edginess that I love.

I have sourced images for all my main characters and have been posting a character aesthetic board each week on Instagram and Facebook to raise interest in the book. It seems to be working, and so far, no one has guessed which fairy tale I am retelling. But that will all change next Wednesday when I introduce the main character and then the cat will be well and truly out of the bag.

There is even a map for it. Miss F discovered a fantastic map-making website that is only £4 a month. In her element, she has been translating my rough doodle into a wonderful map that will help all the readers to visualise this fantastic new world I have created.

And a funny thing happened with one of my characters. Originally a tiny, barely even there, character, he is the aide to one of the main villains. He sits at his desk outside the door and checks in the weapons of anyone going to see his boss. And that was it. That was the extent of his participation. Until one day last week he strolled into my head and sat himself down. The conversation with him then proceeded something like this.

HIM: I’m not happy with my role within this story. I feel I have more to offer.

ME:  What? No, go away, you’re the doorkeeper and that’s it.

HIM: But I could be so much more. I AM so much more.

ME:  No, you’re not, now bugger off.

But he wouldn’t. He kept buzzing in my head like an annoying brain mosquito until a few days later when I hit a snag in the plot. There was information that the villains had, that I somehow had to make sure the heroes found out about. But how? Round and round the problem went in my brain, until a cough from the corner interrupted my thoughts.

HIM: I could help you with this problem.

ME:  You? How could you help?

HIM: Because what you don’t realise is, I’m not just a doorkeeper, I am actually a spy. A long term, undercover operative for the good guys who has been feeding information back to them for years.

ME:  ………

HIM: ……..

ME:  Keep talking.

HIM: How about if I learn this information and pass it onto the good guys?

ME:  That could work… deep sigh … okay, what’s your backstory?

He tells it to me. It takes a while. It involves going back and making one tiny tweak in the story, but nothing major and the annoying thing is it totally fits. It not only makes complete sense, but it solves my plot snag and quite a few other issues in one fell swoop. Dammit, he was right. I did need him.

ME: But I haven’t even given you a name.

HIM: I don’t want a name. I just want a bigger part.

And that’s how it goes when I am writing. My characters basically do what they want, and I merely write it all down. When I told Miss F what had happened, she looked at me as if I was mad. But can’t you make them do what you want them to do. You ARE the author, after all. I snort laughed until I cried. I may be the author, but I have zero control over my characters who are all a bit feral, very headstrong, and likely to bite if provoked.

Anyway, the book is nearly complete. I must start sending it to my editor on the 15th of October if she is to have any chance of editing it in time. I am really up against a deadline here and maybe that’s why I’ve been inspired to write as fast as I have. There’s nothing like a clock ticking to focus the mind. I will keep you posted.

In other news, my work has gone very quiet. I think anyone who had the money and the intention to replace their bed has now done so, and people are holding onto whatever savings they have. Fearful of what the future holds, they are choosing to spend their pennies on toilet rolls and pasta again. Seriously, did we not learn last time? Or maybe we did all learn only too well that if we didn’t lay in a few extra supplies for ourselves, greedy bugger Joe over the way would clear the shelves of bog rolls and buy enough pasta to build a mountain!

Miss F has done a few shifts at the restaurant where she works, but more of her shifts have been cancelled than she has worked. Expecting to be cancelled yesterday, she was relieved when they confirmed they wanted her in and when I picked her up at ten the carpark was full of people all leaving. Apparently, they had been crammed to capacity, and again I think that’s because everyone is expecting to be locked down again soon, so eat, drink, and be merry while you can.

Her lovely work placement at the doggy day care centre has sadly been postponed due to the pandemic and the fact that the local colleges and schools are proving to be shockingly bad at social distancing, enforcing the wearing of masks, and generally coping with the situation. It was feared that she might contract the infection at college and pass it onto the owners of the dogs through handling the animals. I can understand the reasoning, and she has been assured that once it is considered safe to do so, her place will still be there. Hopefully, she will manage to clock up enough hours to meet the college requirements once some sort of normality has been achieved, if it ever is.

Her hours at college have been seriously cut, and the rest of the time she is supposed to be learning online. However, once again the college is not coping with the situation very well. Teachers not turning up for virtual lessons, so the entire class sit before blank computer screens for 45 minutes. Miscommunication between teachers which leaves the students unsure where they are supposed to be going, what they are supposed to be doing, and even if they have a class or not. Faulty or missing equipment, or the teachers simply not understanding how to use it, has caused major disruptions to lessons. This complete ineptness is seriously impacting on Miss F’s education and I worry for all this year’s students.

Anyway, it is now almost eleven on Saturday morning. I must go and have some coffee and look up how to make pulled barbeque pork. I picked up some pork fillet going cheap whilst shopping yesterday, and Miss F has requested that I try to make pulled pork with it. I think she needs cheering up and she will be hungry after a long shift at work this afternoon, so I’m going to try. After all, how hard can it be? It’s just pork, pulled, right? And it certainly can’t be any harder than the completely lactose free lemon meringue pie I made from scratch yesterday. That turned out pretty good, a little runnier than usual but dairy free products do tend to have that effect. At least it tasted delicious and you would never guess there was no dairy in it at all.

Take care everyone. I feel there are stormy waters up ahead again so batten down the hatches and make sure your own lifeboat is warm and safe, and I will chat to you all again next week.

Julia Blake

Lodgers, Life, and the Perfect Pair of Jeans!

Shorter blog this week. I had forgotten that my shifts have changed. I have to work Saturday, and as it’s now late Friday afternoon it doesn’t give me long to write something.

As you know, I reactivated the ad last Saturday and have had a few responses and seen a few people. The first came Sunday morning, a nice older lady who was being forced to leave her current rental due to the owners selling it. She was nice. Very nice. But there were a few things that put us off. To begin with she is retired, and, of course, all the activities that usually filled her days have all been cancelled or put on hold. That would mean she would be in the house all the time! Now, don’t get me wrong, we like our lodgers and want them to feel comfortable and at home, but to have one that was there all of the time, that never went to work, or indeed never really went anywhere is a bit of a daunting prospect. It would mean no time alone for me and Miss F, and no alone time for me. Also, she not only has a car that would need to be parked on the street – where parking is already a serious issue – but she also has a bike that would need to be accommodated. Having only just got rid of the last lodger and his bike which cluttered up our tiny garden and basically got in the way, I’m not so keen on the idea of taking on another one.

We told her we’d let her know and waited for the next candidate. He was an older man. He was alright, but then it turned out he was the father of a boy who bullied Miss F unmercifully at school and she was understandably uncomfortable with the thought that this boy would be able to come into her home to visit his father. The guy also started work at 4am every morning, and the thought of being woken at that hour every day as he slammed the door on his way out to work is not tempting. He also had both a car and a bike to be accommodated.

Then another young man came along. He was nice. We liked him. So much so, that baring anyone super fantastic coming along we decided we would offer him the room at the end of the week. In his early twenties, he’s a chef at a local restaurant and his working hours of midday to 10pm are perfect. He won’t be needing the bathroom first thing in the morning, and it means we will have the house to ourselves in the evening. He also has neither a car not a bike, which makes life a lot easier.

Monday, a lovely young girl came along to view the room. Initially, she seemed perfect, but as she talked little alarm bells began to ring in my mind. She’s an undergraduate student at Cambridge University, but will be working virtually at home for the year – my home, obviously. She has no job to go to either, so again it is someone who will be in the house all the time. Then she asked me if I did short-term lets, and quickly backpedalled when I said not really. Changing lodgers is such a stressful and worrying time that I really want to avoid doing it all that often, and her comment made me wonder if two months down the line she’ll be off again.

I do wish people would be honest about their needs. After all, if I know for definite that the lodger wants a rental of only six months, I might consider it, because at least I’d know exactly where I stood. She also told me that she’s an ardent activist for a lot of different causes, frequently attending marches and protest rallies. Now, that’s all well and good, and each to their own. But, during a pandemic I’m not comfortable with having someone living in my house who is mixing regularly with large crowds of people and then bringing possible infection back to us. Also, if she is registered on some sort of list as an activist, is there a chance my address will be linked to her?

And on top of this, I have been receiving endless email enquiries about the room which sometimes beggar belief. Would I consider renting it to someone’s teenage son who only ever smokes in the garden? No. No smokers, means, no smokers. Would I consider letting the room to a young couple with a baby? Definitely not. It’s not that big a house, with only one bathroom. Having four people plus a baby trying to use it doesn’t bear thinking about. Plus, I’ve done the whole baby thing and I really don’t want to have my house once again cluttered up with pushchairs, highchairs, and all the other paraphernalia that comes with a baby. It made me a little sad though, that a young family are so desperate they would even consider all cramming into one room in someone else’s house.

Several night workers have enquired, and I’ve told all of them no. Been there, done that, got the eyebags to prove it. Several people who work from home have also enquired, and again I’ve turned them down. If we go into lockdown again and our lodger must temporarily work from home, or is on furlough, then that is one thing. It would be an extraordinary situation that would pass and then things would return to normal. But, to take on someone who permanently works from home? I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Then there have been the usual crop of idiots telling me they can’t afford that much rent, and will I accept less, or that they can’t pay the deposit as well and would I consider waiving it. Umm, no.

So, we decided on the young chef, and Wednesday I messaged him saying if he was still interested in the room then it was his. Hours went by, then he finally replied. He has a problem paying all the deposit in one go, would I consider him paying half the deposit before he moves in? Then the second half with the second month’s rent? My initial reaction was hell no. I’ve been lenient with people before about the deposit and they have then taken that to mean I’m a pushover if the rent isn’t paid in full and on time.

I asked him what the problem was as he had not said anything about being unable to afford the deposit during the viewing. It’s because he’s currently renting with someone else, he explained, and didn’t want to leave them in the lurch so abruptly with this month’s rent looming. If I could accept a split payment of the rent, then it would mean he could help this person out by contributing towards the rent for this month.

I didn’t know what to think. We had really liked him, the fact he goes to work at all is good, and his hours are perfect for us. No car or bike to accommodate is a bonus, and he did seem a well-mannered and respectful young man. Yes, he was now messing me about re the deposit, but, as Miss F pointed out, it was to help out a friend and said a great deal about his character.

I told him I would think about it and would let him know by Friday afternoon. I had one more viewing lined up Friday morning, an older man who was a firefighter and looking for somewhere to live as he’d split up from his partner and had been crashing at friends and at his mother’s house ever since. I was unsure about him. He seemed nice, but someone who’s used to having a place of his own and being the alpha male within that place is always problematic. We have experienced trouble with just such a man before. He would freely hog the bathroom with no thought to other people needing to use it, he was untidy, rude, and seemed to think he lorded it over me because of his sex and age.

Wrong. I am the only alpha in this house. This guy, although seeming genuine and pleasant was older than me. That will change the dynamic of the house in a way I’m not sure about. And again, he had a car and a bike that would be coming with him.

So, after discussing the matter with Miss F, I messaged the young chef back and told him I was prepared to accept his offer of half the deposit money before he moved in, and the other half with the next months rent. This was on the clear understanding that it is a one-off thing and that going forward the rent must always be paid in full and on time. It seems a small concession to make to get the lodger we want. I have yet to hear from him, so maybe he’s had a think about it and decided to go elsewhere. If he has, then I will simply run the ad for a second week as I don’t really want any of the other candidates, and I will keep you all posted.

In other news, my car went in for its MOT on Thursday and luckily passed with nothing needing doing. It’s a relief to know I have at least another year’s motoring and am left with only needing to get the car through one more MOT next year before a small pension I have matures and I will be able to afford to buy myself a new car, if I need to. But who knows? If my current little car is still running as well as it is, then I will simply keep driving it until it starts to cost me a lot of money.

After I dropped the car off, I wandered back through town in search of jeans. Now, I live in jeans. I have a uniform that I wear for work, but the rest of the time it’s jeans. Finding that perfect pair of jeans is an ongoing mission. When you are only 5’1” and a little pudgy around the middle it can seem like Mission Impossible, and the only shop in town I stand a hope of finding them in is Marks & Spencer. They alone out of all the high street clothing stores acknowledge that not all women are 5’7” and above. Sure, a few shops do a petite range, but there’s never a great selection and there’s never enough sizes.

Adding to the problem is the fact that we cannot try clothes on in store now but have to buy what we think might fit. Take them home. Try them on. Look in the mirror. Cry. Take them back. Start all over again. Regular readers of my blog will know the trauma I experienced simply finding a smart dress to wear to Miss F’s birthday lunch in August. Over £300 spent and five trips back and forth to the shops later, I ended up spending £70 on one dress and two tops!

I was not looking forward to it. I went upstairs to the ladies’ department. To my joy there was rack after rack of jeans in all the lengths and all the sizes. Best of all, there were different cuts and not just skinny fit. I hate skinny fit. I consider it the worst thing that has happened to most women, especially those of us who are shorter than average. Back in the last nineties, bootcut was the main style and I loved it. It fitted and flattered those of us with shorter legs making them appear longer. But then it went out of fashion and everywhere began to sell skinny fit and super skinny fit only. Skinny fit? Huh. That’s a misnomer if ever there was one. Why are they called skinny fit when they neither fit, nor make you look skinny? For several years I have struggled to find jeans that fit me around the waist, over the hips, and are the right length.

So, you can imagine my joy when I walked into the jeans department and found it full of different cuts. Sure, there were a lot of skinny and super skinny fits, but there were also slim, straight, flared, cigarette, ankle grazer, slouch, comfy, mum, boyfriend, and, ooh, bootcut fit!! Like a child let loose in a sweetshop I wandered around in a daze. Selecting carefully, I found a pair of slim-cut, mid-rise, stone washed denim. Then a pair of soft, dark blue denim in a wonderful slouch cut, and finally, a pair of velvety black ones for best in a bootcut style.

I paid for them all – £80, for three pairs of jeans – then went downstairs to the food hall. A few weeks back, my mum gave Miss F a £10 M&S gift card as a reward for doing so well in her exams, and she had passed it onto me with orders to use it to get us something extra special for dinner one night. We both love steak, and £10 was exactly the amount needed to buy two big sirloin steaks and a bag of massive beer battered onions rings which we had for dinner Thursday evening. Thanks Mum! They were delicious.

Then I popped to the local health and wellbeing shop to buy a bottle of eucalyptus oil. Not for me, but rather to train my cat with. It’s a fact that cats tend to go wherever they want to, and my cat loves being up as high as she can and unfortunately has a habit of sleeping at night on either the top of the cooker, or on my lovely white porcelain draining board. Obviously, this is a habit I’m keen to break. Having to clean and bleach my cooker top every single morning to get all the hairs, mud, dust, whiskers, and the odd claw or two off is not something I enjoy. And as for the mess she makes on the draining board, well, you can imagine. It’s unsanitary, and when you consider where cats go and what they do, to have them then shed that all over the places where I wash, prepare, and cook food, it’s not really on.

I had trained her not to do this by use of the eucalyptus oil several years ago, but it appeared a refresher course was in order and as I had run out of it, I had to buy some more. Cats hate the smell of eucalyptus. It’s such a strong scent that they really can’t bear it, so, in order to train your cat to stay away from places you don’t want them to go, sprinkle the eucalyptus oil generously over some cotton pads and place several in those locations – I use five on the cooker top and another four on the draining board. The smell is so repugnant to most cats that they will stay well away. I lay these pads out every night before I go to bed, as overnight is the only time she gets up there. In the morning I simply place all the pads in a tightly sealed glass jar. Every now and then I refresh them with more eucalyptus oil. It’s a simple trick that works with most cats and is perfectly harmless to them.

So, I got home, put away the steaks and went to try on the jeans. First pair – fitted perfectly and looked good, and, most importantly, were comfortable. Great start. I tried on the second pair. Same result. So far, so good. I tried on the last pair, the black bootcut ones. They were also perfect. I couldn’t believe it. To have selected by eye three pairs of jeans that were just right was astounding. I had planned to take at least one pair back, but do you know, I kept all three pairs. They’re all different and will work for different occasions and like I said, I live in jeans, and having achieved the impossible not once, but three times, it seemed daft to miss this opportunity.

So, that was a good day. My car passed its MOT, I found three new pairs of jeans, there was steak and chips and a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon dinner, and I managed to write almost 5000 words on my current project. Is this the gods smiling on me for once? I think so.

I have work tomorrow, then Sunday off. I haven’t worked a Saturday for ages, so it will be interesting to see how it goes. It used to be that Saturday was our busiest day, but the world has turned on its head and nothing is as it used to be. It will be nice to have Sunday off though.

Right, as usual, my short blog has turned into a long one but at least it’s now written, and I won’t be panicking all day at work tomorrow because it still has to be written.

Take care of yourselves, and I look forward to chatting with you all again next Sunday.

Julia Blake

All the Comforts of Home

I finally finished decorating and cleaning the basement room this week. The new mattress was delivered Friday and the bed dressed in all brand-new bedding. The finishing touches are all done – an attractive art poster in the stairwell, a peg rack for the lodger to hang coats and bags on, and a new bedside lamp. The room is all ready for occupation, so I edited and reactivated the ad Saturday morning. Now, we wait, and see what response we get.

Poster of Times Square to add some character

When I was on the website I had a quick look through the list of people looking for rooms locally and it seemed to me that the list was shorter than usual – but this is only people who have registered with the website. A lot of people simply use it to search for rooms and they do not want potential landlords bombarding them with details of their rooms, so there could be many more people out there looking for a beautiful double room right in the heart of town.

Of those that were looking, one or two seemed promising, so I sent them the link to my ad. There were a couple of people who initially seemed okay, but on closer inspection were either smokers (hard no from me), had pets or children they wanted to bring along (also a no), or wanted more than I’m offering – private bathroom, balcony, own parking space – for £500 a month all in, good luck with that! But then this is what’s happened before, I’ve seen someone who looks okay, but they want the moon all wrapped up with a pretty bow on top, so I don’t bother contacting them and then they contact me anyway, so we’ll have to wait and see.

It made me think back to all those people who have trooped through my home looking to maybe live in it that I, for one reason or another, have said no to. Way back in the early days, a young man contacted me about the room because his sister had just moved back to the area and was looking for somewhere. We had a lovely chat on the phone, and he was so amiable and jolly that I almost offered his sister the room on the spot.

Almost, but not quite – luckily.

It was arranged they would come around at the weekend to view it but as soon as I opened the door to them, I knew it was a no. Despite him assuring me she wasn’t a smoker, she absolutely reeked of cigarettes! Why do people do this? The ad states quite clearly, no smokers, yet still they try. I think smokers genuinely have no clue how much they stink to non-smokers. Don’t try to deny it mate, I could smell you through the door.

Anyway, not only that but she was so old! And I don’t mean in years because she might have been younger than me in that respect, no, I mean in attitude and outlook. From the greying hair in a bun, down to the sensible shoes, the pursed disapproving mouth and the deep frown lines on her brow and around her mouth, I knew this was someone who would be no fun to share with. She looked around the place and nodded in approval.

Yes, she stated in a heavy German accent – apparently that’s where she’d been living for twenty years – This will suit me very nicely, I’ll take it!

As if it was her choice. I cleared my throat.

Umm, there is the small matter of the fact I quite clearly stated in the ad no smokers, your brother assured me you weren’t a smoker, and yet I can smell cigarettes on you. So…

She fixed me with a baleful glare.

I promise you, I will always smoke in the garden, so you will never smell cigarettes in the house.

No, I won’t, I thought, because you are never coming in again!

Making use of dead space – a peg rack for coats and bags

That’s another thing with smokers, they sometimes assume that although the ad states No Smokers, what it really means is No Smoking in the house. Nope. I mean NO SMOKERS, as in you! You smell. If you smoke then it permeates your clothes, your hair, your skin. Even if you never light up in the house, you’ll still make it stink with your own odour.

Also, if I’m not here, and it’s freezing cold and pouring with rain are you seriously going to go out into the garden to smoke? No, of course you’re not, you’re going to sneakily smoke in the room and hope I never find out. And that will make the room stink, will discolour the ceiling, and is also a fire risk. So, sorry guys, but no smokers, means you!

I wonder how many will try and sneak under the wire this time!

There’s also the no pets’ clause. As you know, I love animals, but I don’t particularly want other peoples pets in the house. Possibly a goldfish in a small bowl might be acceptable but other than that, no. Again, it states clearly in the ad no pets, but either people can’t read or assume that it must only apply to other people, because nobody in their right minds could possibly object to their little furry, feathered, scaled buddy.

There was the girl who wanted to bring a cageful of rats. No. The one who had a pet python – absolutely not! Any number of people who wanted to bring cats with them. It wouldn’t be fair on my poor little cat who is terrified of other felines, and also, I don’t know how clean and housetrained other people’s cats might be. Really don’t want to find the furniture shredded, hairballs everywhere, and cat wee on the carpet.

Pretty lamp and nice new bedding

One of the funniest was the woman who telephoned me – back in the days when I had to advertise in the local paper and put my phone number down for method of contact. The conversation went something like this.

HER: I just wanted to check that there would always be someone in the house during the day?

ME:  Umm, not really, why?

HER: Well, I have to go to work, and my little dog will need letting out three times a day.

ME:  Your dog, but…

HER: Yes, it’s absolutely essential this is done otherwise he will pee in the house.

ME:  But the ad clearly states no pets.

HER: Yes, I know, but he’s a dog!

ME:  …….

HER: …….

ME:  I’m really sorry, but no pets, means, no pets. Goodbye.

And then there’s the no couples’ clause. It’s not a huge house. There is only one bathroom to be shared between us and the lodger. An extra person would put an unbearable strain on the facilities. Although I don’t mind the odd stayover of a regular partner or friend, I’m firm on the no couples living here permanently. Once or twice in the past, I’ve had lodgers who have been nice, respectful, and considerate people – until they got serious about someone – and then they changed into selfish, inconsiderate sods who couldn’t understand why I didn’t love this person as much as they did and not want them in my house ALL THE TIME.

I got sick of never being able to use the bathroom because the girlfriend was having yet another epic shower. Of her clothes always being in the washing machine. Of not being able to cook our dinner because the lodger is making a special candlelit meal for her honey bunny, oh, and if I could keep out of the way all evening that would be wonderful! Well, seeing as I do need to get to the bathroom and the kitchen, that’s not really possible.

No matter how nice the couple are, nor how friendly, the dynamics of the house shift when there’s a couple in residence, in that their needs and wants seem to outweigh the needs and wishes of the single person – me! Many is the time I’d find myself apologising for going through to use my own kitchen. Which is not really on. There is also the financial consideration – a couple use twice the utilities for the same rent as a single person is paying.

Lots of storage!

But still whenever I advertise the room, I am inundated with requests from couples. The best one I ever had occurred a few years ago when there was a surfeit of people looking for rooms, and not enough lodgings to go around, so I basically had my pick of lodgers. This couple saw my ad and sent me an e-mail. Now, you tell me why I didn’t want them.

Both Polish, both only 19, both unemployed, she was five months pregnant so in four months time there was going to be a new-born squeezed into a room intended for sole occupancy. Imagine that! A baby screaming the place down. The washing machine constantly in use. Nappies everywhere. The ripe smell of baby sick and poo. A kitchen cluttered with all the detritus that goes with a baby.

It gets better. At the time I was only charging £350 per month which was a fair and reasonable rate for everything you got with the room. But they didn’t consider this a fair amount, and told me so, in no uncertain terms. You are being a greedy capitalist, they informed me. We will pay you £190 a month and you should consider that plenty. £190 a month? For rent, rates, utilities, insurance, TV licence and unlimited broadband, plus all your cleaning products. What planet are you living on? Furious, I had enormous fun composing a blistering email, then deleted it and instead sent them one merely stating that the rent was £350, the room was for sole occupancy, I did not wish to have a baby living in my home, and if they could find somewhere to rent for only £190 a month, then please let me know where it is and I will move in there myself!

They did not reply, and I often wonder what happened to them.

Then there have been no end of creepy guys that made me very uncomfortable and I certainly didn’t want them anywhere near me, let alone my young daughter. A guy who had such bad body odour that my eyes were watering, and the house reeked of him for hours afterwards. Any number of young Asian men who stunk of stale curry – not how I want my house to smell. A very odd nurse who asked if she could have a fridge and hotplate in her room so she could cook and eat all her meals in it, so she could absolutely minimise the contact she had with us as she liked to be left alone. Oka-a-ay. Not planning on pushing my company on the lodger, but living in close quarters you need someone you can exchange pleasantries with when you bump into them in the kitchen, and as for cooking in the basement, umm, no!

There was a rather desperate middle-aged man who wanted the room so badly he bombarded me with texts and emails for a whole week, even sending me pictures of himself in various poses. Umm, please stop doing that or I will call the police!

It’s a spacious and comfortable room

There have been people who thought it was up to them whether they got the room or not. Afraid not, sunshine, this is our home and if we are made to feel uncomfortable by you, or we don’t believe we will get along with you, then I’ll run the ad for another week rather than settle for someone who simply isn’t right.

Am I being too fussy?

Well, I look at it this way. If we weren’t living in the house, if this was a rental property that wasn’t also our home, then other than a no smoking clause and higher damages deposit to cover any possible pet destruction, I wouldn’t be so picky about a lodger.

But this is our home. This is where we live and sleep. This is where my teenage daughter is left alone for hours on end. I must be able to trust the lodger. I have her safety at stake, and that of myself. We also have to like the person, share a few common interests, and have the same levels of cleanliness. At the end of the day, I am this person’s landlady. I am not their servant or their slave, and I’m certainly not their mum. It is not my job to pick up after them, clean up after them, or have to scrub the toilet after them, or pick their hairs out of the bath.

Really love this poster!

I’ve been taking in lodgers for sixteen years now, and although in the beginning I found it awkward discussing matters such as rent, cleaning schedules, and toilet habits, now I get it all said in interview. One lodger commented how impressed they were by my business-like, matter of fact approach. This is the rent. This is what you get for it. This is what I expect from you. These are the basic rules of the house. Be clean. Tidy up after yourself. Don’t take anyone else’s bathroom time. Make sure you secure the front door every time you come in or go out. No loud noise after midnight. Wake me up and I’ll kill you, and, if you’re a bloke put the bloody loo seat down. Because although you may not always feel like sitting down, we never feel like standing up!

I think it pays to get all these matters out in the open and stated clearly right from the word go, then if someone has any issues with the rules, they can look for somewhere else to live.

So, the room is ready, the advert has been tweaked and reactivated, so now we wait. I have stated in the ad that the room has been empty for over a month and during that time it has been thoroughly cleaned and redecorated. That the mattress, pillows, and duvet are all brand new, as is all the bedding. I think if I were looking to rent a room in someone else’s house during a global pandemic then I would be reassured by this. I am also going to insist that masks be worn during initial interviews and I have placed a bottle of hand sanitiser by the front door, because it pays to be careful.

Speaking of masks, rules have now changed, and I and my work colleagues have to wear our masks for the whole time we are at work unless we are in the toilet or are alone in the canteen. Although we had to wear them before, because we work in a large shop and our desks are over six foot apart, so long as we abided by social distancing we could take our masks off when there were no customers in the shop. Now, there is no respite at all apart from a scant twenty-minute lunch break. It’s horrible. I hate having to wear a mask all day. I do it because I have to, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Leaving the shop at night, that mask is ripped off as I’m walking out the door, yet it takes over an hour for the feeling of it to leave my face.

No matter how nice the mask, wearing it for eight hours is no fun!

I wish we knew what was going to happen. I have a feeling we’ll be back into some sort of lockdown soon, and I’ve begun adding a few extra items onto each week’s shop – not stockpiling, just sensibly stocking up on essential goods.

The mad rush of sales seems to have died down at work, and I suspect it’s because everyone is uncertain of what the future might hold. If we go back into lockdown, will the furlough be as generous? Will there even be a furlough, or will we all be thrown under the bus? Will food prices go up again? We’re coming into winter so energy bills will be higher. Will businesses survive another lockdown, or will there be a depression with many losing their jobs? All these concerns I think are making people think twice about spending that holiday money sitting in their accounts. Better to keep it there – just in case.

This downturn in the economy is hitting close to home as well. Although the restaurant where Miss F works part-time has reopened and she has done the odd shift, usually they contact her at the last minute to tell her there simply haven’t been the bookings, so they don’t need her. She was the last to be hired, is on a zero hour’s contract, and lives the furthest away – so it’s always her they cancel first. Which is fair enough. Most of her colleagues are older and rely on their wages, whereas they know she still lives at home and is supported by me. Yes, she’s saving the money for driving lessons and university next year, and it’s nice to have her own income to buy what she wants. But she doesn’t need her wages to live on.

Both her evening shift on Friday and her lunchtime shift on Saturday were cancelled, but to be honest, we were a little relieved about this. It’s blowing a gale here and the country roads I have to take to reach the restaurant aren’t pleasant in this kind of weather.

My shifts have also all been changed this month, and after over a year of working Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, they have been mixed up all over the place. But at least that means I have today and Monday off, which is nice. As I’m now caught up with the basement and all my other household chores, I am going to try and dedicate both those days to some pretty intensive writing. As I explained last week, time is running out and if I wish to publish book eleven this year, I seriously need to get a wiggle on.

Anyway, that’s you up to date with the week’s events and I look forward to chatting with your again next Sunday. You never know, I may have a new lodger by then, so fingers crossed.

Take care.

Julia Blake

I Don’t Have Time For This!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIM: Okay, I see.

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

HIM: Right.

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

HIM: I see.

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

HIM: ??

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

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

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

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

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

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

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

HIM: A sing off?

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

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

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

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

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

HIM: Okay.

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

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

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

HIM: But why…?

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

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

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

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

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

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

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

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

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

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

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

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

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

And from that day on, she always did!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

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

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder who we’ll get next.

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

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIM: Okay, I see.

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

HIM: Right.

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

HIM: I see.

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

HIM: ??

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

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

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

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

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

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

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

HIM: A sing off?

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

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

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

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

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

HIM: Okay.

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

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

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

HIM: But why…?

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

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

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

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

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

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

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

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

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

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

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

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

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

And from that day on, she always did!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

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

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder who we’ll get next.

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

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIM: Okay, I see.

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

HIM: Right.

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

HIM: I see.

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

HIM: ??

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

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

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

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

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

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

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

HIM: A sing off?

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

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

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

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

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

HIM: Okay.

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

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

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

HIM: But why…?

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

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

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

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

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

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

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

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

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

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

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

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

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

And from that day on, she always did!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

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

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder who we’ll get next.

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

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No! I’m having an asthma attack!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? You took her cake?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say you could take her cake?”

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

“So, you stole her cake?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll do what?” I snarled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

Life with Lodgers… Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt having somewhere to escape to was essential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, stay safe and stay happy.

Julia Blake