KDP Mess With My Head!

And so, another week has flown by and once again I’m sitting here, staring at a blank screen, and wondering what to tell you. It’s Friday morning – I am working the whole weekend – so am having to write my blog a day earlier than usual.

Well, firstly, Miss F seems to have settled into university life very nicely judging by the messages, voice chats, photos, and videos I’ve been sent, usually with a glass of cider in her hand. Hmm, should I be worried or simply accept this is part of university life? Still, I can’t help wondering what happened to that girl who stated less than six months ago that she hated all alcohol and would never drink?

The only fly in her otherwise perfect ointment is that her mattress is so hard and horrible she’s finding it hard to sleep on it and it’s giving her backache! I did think it might. When I made the bed for her, the day we moved her in, I had a look at the mattress and couldn’t believe how nasty it was. Imagine something only four inches deep, with a thick plastic casing and ridges where the springs are poking through. Not very comfortable. Something needs to be done but I’m not sure what.

The obvious answer is another topper, a thick memory foam one this time. But we are currently experiencing shortages of a lot of products right now due to the pandemic, Brexit, a worldwide fabric shortage, and a shortage of HGV drivers, and sadly we can’t get any mattress toppers in the right size. I have no idea how long the shortages are going to last. Also, there is some doubt that even a thick topper will be enough to alleviate the concrete state of the mattress and as they are quite expensive it might be a complete waste of money.

The second option is to buy her another mattress to go on top of the university supplied one. With my staff discount I can get her a thick pocket sprung and memory foam one in the four-foot-wide size we need – and get it delivered directly to the university for free. This would solve any comfort issues as the mattress in question is wonderfully comfortable. But even with my discount, it’s still going to be another £164 of money I’m a bit short of right now. I’m also not sure what the university will think of it. I don’t see how it would be an issue. After all, with an eight-inch mattress on top at least they know their mattress will be protected from stains, spills, and wear and tear. Then there’s the fact at the end of three years we will be left with a four-foot mattress that might be surplus to requirements. So, I’m not sure yet what course to take.

I’ll keep you posted.

And what have I been up to during my first week alone? Well, to be honest, I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had a chance to realise I am all alone. I worked all last weekend and got home in the evenings just wanting a plate of dinner, to watch something mindless on TV, then go to bed.

I did have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off this week and had all sorts of things planned. But when I awoke after eight on Monday morning, I quickly realised my mind and body had other plans for me. Slow down, they both insisted, you’ve been going at 100mph for months now. Last week was unbelievably stressful, and physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. You must take it easy now or else we won’t be responsible for the consequences.

For once, I listened, and instead of going at my to-do list like a bat out of hell, I moved gently and slowly through my tasks. Getting the basement room ready for viewings was the priority, so I went to open the window that leads to the outside hatchway to let fresh air and sunshine blast through the room and dispel the slight mustiness in the air from being closed-up and unused for eight months.

I ran into my first hitch. After eight months without being opened the wooden frame had swollen and the window was stuck fast. Nothing I did would convince that window to budge and I was afraid if I was too brutal, I’d break the glass. There was nothing else for it, I phoned my dad.

He’s playing golf, mum said, I’ll give him a call and ask him to call in on his way home. Less than twenty minutes later, he did, and with his superior strength managed to persuade the window to open so I was able to crawl into the hatchway and open it. Monday was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny with a lovely breeze. By leaving the door to the basement open and the back door opposite, it meant a flow of air was soon gusting through.

The room was clean and tidy, but after eight months it needed the cobwebs removing, a good dusting, and the carpet going over with a bit of Shake’n’Vac – “you do the Shake’n’Vac and put the freshness back. Do the Shake’n’Vac and put the freshness back!”

With the room now smelling of vanilla furniture polish and lemon Shake’n’Vac, I took the bedding and put it through a quick wash to freshen it up and hung it out to dry in the sunshine. Once it was dry and ironed, I made the bed nicely, accessorised the room with a few props, and took some new photos for the ad. The room must look attractive so it will tempt potential lodgers. I’m asking quite a lot for the room and although it’s nowhere near the top end of the price band for a room that size in this area, and the renter gets a lot for the money, the lack of a private bathroom can put some people off. I am hoping that now there’s only me in the house using the facilities that it might make the prospect of sharing a bathroom more palatable.

Tuesday dawned wet, cold, and miserable. There would be no opening the basement window today, so I concentrated on getting the other areas that a potential lodger would view shipshape and sparkling clean. It’s a bit like when you’re trying to sell a house and you must live at a ridiculously high level of cleanliness and tidiness so you’re ready to have a viewing at a moment’s notice. By the end of Tuesday, everything was pristine and of course, with no Miss F in the house, it means it will stay that way. Sorry, Miss F, I love you dearly, but you are an untidy horror with a conviction that everything you own should be kept on the floor.

Speaking of lodgers, there’s an interesting little postscript to a previous lodger that occurred the week before Miss F left for uni. It was Friday evening, about nine, and we were watching TV when there was a pounding on my front door. Startled, I went into the hall and was alarmed to see a torch being shone through the glass in the door. Opening it, I found two burly policemen standing there.

ME: Umm, yes?

Police: Sorry to bother you, but we’re looking for someone called D**

He stopped before pronouncing the surname.

ME: Do you mean D** S********?

Police: Yes, him.

(He looked vastly relieved that I had pronounced the tricky Romanian name for him)

ME: I’m afraid he doesn’t live here anymore, he moved out a year ago in August.

Police: Are you his ex?

I snorted at the thought.

ME: Hardly, I’m old enough to be his mother. No, I sometimes let out a room and D** rented it from me for about eight months from October 2019 to August 2020.

Police: Oh, I see. Do you know where he went?

ME: Not really, he never gave me a forwarding address. He moved in with his girlfriend and I think it was into one of those new flats behind the station.

Police: So, you’ve no idea where he went at all?

ME: No, sorry, but he works or worked at that farm machinery manufacturers outside town.

Police: C****?

ME: Yes, there.

Police: Right, thanks.

ME: You’re welcome.

Police: ………..

ME: …………..

ME: What did he do?

Police: I’m not at liberty to say.

ME: Oh, go on.

Police: No, sorry. But thanks for your help.

ME: Okay.

I closed the door but as they walked past our open window, we heard one of them say into his radio – It’s as we thought, he’s moved on from here, but we do have another couple of leads.

Oh, Mr D! What have you done?! I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.

I also went shopping on Tuesday for the first time since Miss F left. Much to my surprise I bought a huge amount of healthy food for half my normal weekly bill.

Now onto something else that has happened which was very unpleasant and has caused me a huge amount of stress and worry – on top of getting Miss F packed up for uni and the whole trauma of getting her there and settled in.

On the 4th of September, I received a rather alarming email claiming to be from KDP. For those of you not in the author world, KDP is the division of Amazon that I publish my books through. We have decided, it said, that one or more of your book(s) has a serious copyright issue on one of its images used on the cover(s). Please click on the link below to take immediate action to prevent us from making your book(s) unavailable.

Huh? What?

Now I am very careful what images I use in all my books and any promotional material connected to them. Over the years I have spent hundreds of pounds purchasing the right to use the images I wanted from Shutterstock, so I knew there was no copyright issue with any of them.

Was it a scam? Naturally suspicious of any strange email I receive wanting me to click on random links and threatening dire consequences if I don’t, I contacted a few other authors to see if they’d heard of anything like this happening to any other author.

No, they’d never heard of KDP sending out an email like this. It was probably a scam. I checked my books listings on Amazon. All present and correct. Convinced in my mind it was a scam, I put it to one side in favour of the more pressing demands on my time – namely Miss F and university matters.

A couple of days later a duplicate of the email dropped into my inbox. Concerned, I contacted KDP direct explaining what had happened. Was this from them? I asked. Or was it a scam?

The next day a reply came to the email I had sent to KDP – there was a copyright issue with my book(s). As nothing had been done to rectify it, the book(s) in question had been made unavailable.

Now seriously rattled I went to my listings. Sure enough, the paperback version of Becoming Lili was no longer available to buy.

I dashed off a frantic email, by now it was Monday morning, and I was busy arranging Miss F’s open house day, I seriously did not have the time or headspace for this. What is the problem? I asked. I have copyright for the image used on the cover of Becoming Lili because I purchased it using a standard licence from Shutterstock.

Then I put on a sociable face, tried to forget about it for the rest of the day and make it a pleasant one for Miss F. That evening I received the same generic AI response. There is a copyright issue with your book. If you don’t rectify it within five days, we might delete your account.

Again, I sent an email begging for clarification. What was the issue? If they refused to tell me what the problem was, how could they expect me to resolve it?

Tuesday lunchtime another automated response came stating the same thing as all the other emails I had so far received. My emails to them were becoming increasingly frantic as I begged them to at least give me a clue what the issue was.

The emails all stated I needed to supply a written contract signed by the original artist or photographer. That’s not how Shutterstock works and KDP knows that. The artist/photographer sells their images to Shutterstock and with it any rights they might have to copyright or royalties. People like me can then purchase the right to use the images through the use of a licence. It is standard practice and millions of authors take advantage of this ability to buy good quality, copyright-free images to use on covers, interior formatting, and promotional material. Cover designers use the images and even traditional publishers make use of websites such as Shutterstock. If KDP were now stating that Shutterstock images were no longer acceptable for use then there would be millions of authors, cover designers, and publishers up shit creek without a paddle.

Desperately, I sent them an email explaining all of this. Hours later, back came the identical AI automated response.

And then it was Wednesday and there was nothing more I could do. I had to try and put it from my mind and concentrate on getting Miss F safely to her university, get her settled, then drive home on Thursday.

Friday morning, I sat down with a coffee and tried to phone KDP. It was clear emails were getting me nowhere fast and, in the meantime, Becoming Lili was still unavailable to buy in paperback. KDP doesn’t have a direct phone line, so I had to call Amazon and try to explain to the person who eventually answered the phone what the issue was. Struggling to understand her thick deep south American accent, the situation wasn’t helped by the fact she didn’t seem to know who KDP were and even that Amazon DID publish books. Gamely, I struggled on. It had taken forty-five minutes for her to answer the phone, so I wasn’t going to give up now. Eventually, she doubtfully said she thought she’d found the right extension to put me through. Hold on, please.

I held on…

And on…

And on…

And on…

Fifteen minutes into waiting the panpipe music abruptly stopped and was replaced with static.

I waited…

And waited…

And waited…

Determined not to lose my nerve and give in I waited another thirty minutes until …. brrr … the static cut off and was replaced by the disconnected tone.

Grinding my teeth in utter frustration, I tried again.

This time I got through to someone with more understandable English and who had a better grasp of the situation. By now I was so fed up and scared and felt so helpless that I broke down and sobbed over the phone. She couldn’t have been nicer. Taking all the details, she promised to investigate it and escalate the matter further, and with that, I had to be satisfied.

Friday afternoon I had my local authors zoom meeting and told them what had happened. Horrified, they told me to keep going with the emails because eventually, the AI would register that I wasn’t going away and would pass my case onto a human being.

All weekend, I kept going. I took pictures of the cover of Becoming Lili, found the original image on Shutterstock, and took a picture to show it was still there and still available to use. I took a picture of the original download details of when I purchased the right to use the image back in April 2017. Yes, that’s how long ago it was and KDP has only just decided it’s an issue! Finally, I took pictures of the Shutterstock blurb stating that it is absolutely okay to use their images for book covers with a standard licence and that the only time there would ever be an issue would be if you reached 500,000 sales with that particular book and you would have to upgrade to an enhanced licence.

Not quite there, Shutterstock, not quite there.

I attached all of these to my emails and kept sending them – every couple of hours I would fire off the same email giving all the facts and demanding that a human being read the email and sort the issue out.

Finally, Monday morning, I received an email from a real, live breathing person asking for confirmation of the Shutterstock reference number and asking me to supply written permission to myself to use the cover image on my book. I sent it. Thank you, said the person, we’ll consider all of this and get back to you.

Tuesday morning an email arrived saying that after due consideration they had decided that I WAS allowed to use the image I had been happily using since May 2017 on Becoming Lili and that if I went onto my account, I could now resubmit the book and it would be once again available to purchase on Amazon but that it could take 24 hours.

I resubmitted it and waited. By Wednesday lunchtime it still hadn’t been made available, so I emailed them again. Back came an email, oh, it might take 48 hours, they amended.

I waited until Thursday evening, nope, still not available. Now it is Friday lunchtime and a full 72 hours since I first republished the book. Again, I have emailed them and again I must wait until they deign to answer.

It is scary how much power KDP and Amazon have over us authors. They have put me through two weeks of hell and have still not issued an apology or even told me what the problem was. Why, after over four years of being published, did they suddenly pick on this book and this author to conduct a witch hunt on?

Hopefully, Becoming Lili will soon be back up but all I can do is wait and hope. I will keep you all posted, but, in the meantime, all authors out there make sure you have proof that you can use the images you have on your covers – you never know when you might need it.

And that’s about it for this week, except, one last piece of more uplifting news. Do you remember all the who-ha about my watch? Miss F bought me a lovely steampunk watch to celebrate the publication of Black Ice and as an early Christmas present. Because we then went into lockdown, I did not need a watch, and it wasn’t until mid-April when we returned to work that I discovered the watch didn’t work.

Miss F contacted the Etsy seller. Weeks went by before she responded. So sorry, she said, I’ll get a replacement to you as soon as the parts come in to make one. Two months went by. We contacted her again. Nothing. We sent more emails. No reply. Then, I must confess, we got caught up in other things and didn’t have the time or energy to pursue it. I knew Miss F had written it off and didn’t expect to ever receive either a replacement or a refund of the £45 it had cost her. I was annoyed about it, but as Miss F had bought it there wasn’t a lot I could do.

Anyway, on Monday a package turned up for Miss F. I messaged her. Ooh, I’m expecting a little stuffed bee to hang in my room, she said, that’s probably what it is. I filmed myself opening it. No bee. Instead, it was the watch!

We couldn’t believe it. Finally, after waiting five months, the replacement one had turned up! And this is just so typical of how shit most customer service is nowadays.

Anyway, I need to go to the post office and run a few errands, and then this evening for the first time in forever, I will be able to join my neighbours in the street for their regular 5:30 happy hour drink without having to worry about going to pick Miss F up from work at 9:30! Do not miss that either.

Take care everyone, and I will chat with you next week.

Julia Blake

The Next Chapter

I know I always start by saying how quickly the week has gone by, well, in this case, it has. It doesn’t seem possible it’s seven days ago since I wrote that brief note stating that there would be no blog because I was too busy and wished to spend every moment I could with Miss F before she embarked on the next chapter of her life.

It was a mad weekend. We were having an open day on Monday, so the house needed to be cleaned. There were Miss F’s clothes to sort through and decisions had to be made as to what was being taken so went on the packing pile and what was staying behind. The washing machine was on continuously as all her clothes were washed ready to take and it was lucky that it was a gorgeous weekend, so things dried very quickly on the line.

Every evening I cooked one of her favourite meals as it would be a while before she had them again. Although she can cook, there are some things too expensive or complicated for a student to manage in shared accommodation. There was shopping to collect and ironing to catch up on, so by the time we went to bed on Sunday we were both tired.

Monday dawned, another beautiful day, so I cleaned the outdoor table, put cushions on the chairs and we waited to see who turned up.

Not as many as expected. Some cancelled due to the streaming cold that’s doing the rounds, and some were simply a no-show. But enough came to make it an event and to our surprise, they bought presents for Miss F. We hadn’t been expecting that at all. They were mostly gifts of cash, although she did get two bottles of prosecco, a lovely bee mug, revision cards, and a bunch of sunflowers. One set of neighbours turned up and presented Miss F with a red envelope with a gold Chinese symbol on it. The wife is Chinese, and she explained to us that it is traditional in China for married couples to present single people with a cash gift at momentous stages of their lives. After they had gone, Miss F opened the envelope and to our surprise found £50 inside. We were staggered at their generosity.

Miss F starting nursery September 2006

Tuesday was another scorching hot day, so before it got too unbearable, I washed all the dust and cobwebs off the car. I have spiders living inside each of my wing mirrors who spin thick webs all over them. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to catch the spiders so must wash away the webs now and then!

Then we lugged everything Miss F was taking back downstairs again. I had brought five sturdy packing boxes home from work, so we decanted several small flimsy boxes into them, sealed and labelled them. Then we decided what was coming in the car with us and moved that into the lounge, leaving everything else in the dining room to be collected by my brother that evening.

After an essential shower, we headed out in the car for a few, last-minute chores. There was a box of Covid tests to pick up from the doctor, elderly grandparents to visit, then a last-minute trip to the supermarket for things for dinner, a packed lunch to take with us the next day, and bottles of water for the car. The forecast was for an even hotter day on Wednesday, so the water was essential.

Then home for Miss F’s last evening living there as a child under my protection. Maybe we should have made more of it, had a party, gone out, done something special, but in the end, we were both so tired and conscious of how long the next day would be, that we settled for a nice dinner and Netflix as normal.

After Miss F had gone to bed, I tidied up and packed my overnight case which I’d completely forgotten about until then.

Wednesday morning, an early start. We were both taking Covid tests at just gone six as the university was insisting that a negative test result be shown before they would let us on. Which was fair enough.

Two negative Covid tests

I had a light breakfast. Miss F was too nervous to eat, and it was too early for her to eat anyway, but she had snacks for the car, so it didn’t matter. We loaded up, one last check of the house, and drove away at 7:30.

Miss F let my brother know we had set off – the plan was he would wait an hour and then set off as we didn’t want him reaching the university before us. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, traffic was reasonably light, and our spirits were high.

Miss F starting university September 2021

We made good time and less than an hour later were approaching the junction where the A14 joined the M6. Suddenly, there were brake lights up ahead and everything stopped. On the signs overhead flashed the message that there had been an accident and delays were possible. I hate seeing things like that. I start thinking about the poor people involved and how if we’d started a little bit earlier, it could have been us.

We sat there and sat there. Both lines of traffic had to squeeze into the sides several times to allow various emergency vehicles access. Thirty minutes ticked by. My brother phoned. He was approaching the tail end of the queue and wanted to know where we were. Somewhere near the head of it, we told him. Five minutes later he called back. His Satnav had taken him off the A14 and onto the M1. He’d see us on the other side sometime.

We sat. The messages overhead now read animals on the road, which alarmed us somewhat. I mean, what type of animals? Were they furred, feathered, or scaled? Logically, we knew it was probably a horsebox, but it could have been a lorry transporting animals that had crashed. There could be chickens all over the road! I hoped it wasn’t, figuring it would take them ages to catch them all and clear the road.

My brother phoned. He was on the M6 somewhere ahead of us and the other side of the accident. Bugger, that meant he’d probably get there before us now.

Finally, an hour and a bit after we first stopped, we got going again and gradually the traffic filtered by the cordoned off area where by now there was nothing to see, not even a single feather, so it probably wasn’t chickens.

The traffic picked up speed and cleared as cars merged off onto the A14 and we continued onto the M6. We were able to go fast, and I was hopeful of making up for the lost time. We had wasted an hour sitting in traffic so that hadn’t helped. The M6 toll road was up ahead. My brother had said he wasn’t going to take it, so I prayed it would be as empty as it normally was so we could belt along and eat up the miles. It was practically empty. Four clear lanes lay open ahead of us, so I put my foot down and went for it. My little car may be old, but once it gets up to speed and the hamster is running at full pelt in his wheel in the engine, it will comfortably cruise at 80mph.

We got off the M6 and onto the various A roads we had to take for the last part of the journey and at about 11:30 we were turning onto the university campus as my brother phoned.

I’m here! He crowed in triumph.

So are we! We replied.

Finding him in a car park at the back of the campus, we pulled up near him. I gave him a sandwich and told him to hang on whilst we went to register Miss F and find out where her room was. It was easily done, although it did make me smile that even though all their emails and information about moving in had clearly stated a negative Covid test must be shown, there were still people in the queue ahead of us who assumed that rule couldn’t possibly apply to them. Oh yes, it does, here’s a test, best you go and sit in your car for thirty minutes whilst waiting for the results.

Miss F’s room was on the very top floor of the house, so all her stuff had to be carried up four flights of stairs. Deep joy. My brother helped us with the two heaviest boxes and then left.

I felt every one of those steps as we carried it all up, then decided to stop for something to eat and drink and to get her kitchen stuff put away before anyone else moved in. We had taken a lot of kitchen things and I’d thought I would be bringing a lot home. In the end, only a couple of frying pans and one small saucepan came back. Everything else was absorbed into the three cupboards that she had been allocated.

The kitchen was easily done and then we had the mammoth task of trying to unpack all the bedroom stuff and find homes for it all. Luckily, no one else had moved in on the top floor yet and there was quite a large landing, so we were able to leave all the boxes and bags and cases out there and gradually filter stuff into the room and try to find space for it all.

It was a swelteringly hot day. Four hours in a hot car and then all those trips up and down the stairs had left me like a limp rag and tempers frayed a little as I tried to help but got snapped at because I hadn’t done it exactly the way she wanted it.

By the time it got to 4:30 and Miss F had gone postal about a missing pot of pushpins that apparently, she couldn’t live another minute without, I’d had enough. I told her to go and freshen up ready for dinner because we were leaving. The room was 90% finished and was very useable. She could fiddle about with the final details later. We still had to find the hotel I was staying at, check-in, and get to my room, and I had to have a shower.

Do you have to shower? You look fine.

Yes, I snapped angrily. If you can smell yourself then you definitely need to shower!

We found the hotel easily enough but finding their car park was a different matter. In the end, I had to pull up and go into the hotel through the restaurant where I found a waitress. Desperately aware of my smelly, grubby state, I did my best to keep my distance whilst explaining that I was an arriving guest, but I couldn’t find the car park. She came outside with me and showed me a tiny car parking area tucked away behind some tall grasses with one single space left in it. Just about managing to squeeze my Nissan into it – thank heavens I didn’t have the van – I wearily lugged my case into the hotel and checked in.

We’re not serving breakfast. The desk clerk informed me.

Oh, umm, where can I get something to eat tomorrow?

We are doing a breakfast box for £8.95. Would you like one of them?

Too hot, tired, and hungry to care, I agreed, and he showed us to my room.

The room was a small single and being a very cheap hotel, it was basic. I tried to open the window, but it instantly crashed back down. There was no sash cord so no way to keep the bottom half of the window up. Fine! I pulled the top half of the window all the way down instead.

Miss F then sat on my bed and called my parents to catch them up and answer the 4.5 million notifications she had received during the day, and I slunk into the bathroom to try and de-grunge.

The shower had the handle snapped off so I couldn’t tell which way was hot or cold. Playing the “cold, cold, colder – try it the other way – cold, cold, lukewarm” game, I finally gave up and just got in. The shower waited until I’d fully lathered up before helpfully blasting me with scalding water. I think they heard my yelp in Scotland.

Our table booking in the restaurant was for 6:30pm and we were a couple of minutes early going down but were both so hungry we couldn’t wait. We were shown to our table and looked at the menu. Miss F plumped for a thick juicy steak with all the trimmings. I chose a steak and ale pie which was big and delicious and came with hand-cut chips and a pot of braised red cabbage which was delicious.

Much needed big dinner

Both too full for dessert, I had a coffee instead to try and wake me up enough to drive her back to the university and then find my way back to the hotel. By this point our yawns were uncontrollable and even though it wasn’t even eight, we decided to call it a night and I ran Miss F back to the university, found my way back to the hotel, and got into my PJ’s when I was safely back in my tiny room. I’d spend a little time on social media catching up, maybe read a little, then fall asleep whenever I needed to.

That was the plan.

Well, regular readers of my blog will know that the best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere.

My room was over the hotel bar, which was loud, very very loud. Forced to have the window open because otherwise, I would swelter, I lay there desperately tired listening to the braying voices of people determined to get drunk and have a good time. No way was I going to sleep with all that racket going on, so I lay there until eventually it was midnight and the bar closed. At last, I thought, maybe now I can go to sleep. But no. A man with an incredibly loud voice who I think must have been the manager or head chef or something, then proceeded to conduct a staff meeting at the top of his voice from midnight until almost one. And then when he shut up, a series of loud bangs and crashes shook my room sporadically until almost two.

Even with the window open it was a hot and muggy night and the only covering I had was an extra thick duvet. Lovely for the middle of winter, not so lovely in a heatwave. That got kicked to the floor and I used the decorative counterpane instead. Don’t think I was supposed to but needs must.

After a restless night, I was then disturbed at 6:30am by something thudding against my door.

My breakfast box had been delivered.

Or rather, my breakfast brown bag had been slung at my door.

I took it in and investigated the contents. They comprised of:

One Styrofoam cup containing a teabag, a sachet of coffee and one of sugar, a tiny pot of milk.

One small bottle of orange juice.

One tiny banana

A gnarly apple

One tiny, squished croissant

One equally tiny pain au chocolat – also squashed

A small pot of watery yoghurt with some granola flakes and two pieces of dried strawberry.

For £9.

I felt robbed.

Not much of a breakfast

Making myself a cup of tea I ate what I could and then got ready to check out the moment Miss F messaged she was free for me to collect her, which she did at 9:30. Carefully I carried my case downstairs – I forgot to mention it was an old building so the stairs and landing were all over the place!

Checking out? Chirped the lady on the desk.

Yes, I am.

Room number?

Number one.

Ah yes, okay, you’re all paid up, so thank you for staying with us and have a good trip.

Umm, I have a breakfast box to pay for?

No, it’s been paid for.

Are you sure?

Yes, the computer isn’t showing anything owing.

Oh, okay.

I left, feeling slightly better that at least I hadn’t paid for my oh so special breakfast box.

I picked up Miss F and we drove back into town and found a B&M, which for non-UK readers is a huge store selling practically everything. There were a few bits and pieces which she wanted, and she’d decided to buy a mini vac. There was a vacuum cleaner in the house, but it was a large one on the ground floor and she didn’t want to have to lug it up and down the stairs. We found a handheld one for £20 which was compact enough to store in her room and would be ample for her needs. After that, we went to the Sainsbury’s opposite and stocked her up with all the fresh and frozen food we thought she could fit on her one shelf and in her one drawer – including some fruit and veg, because I’m hopeful if a bit naive. I took the chance to fill up with petrol whilst I was there.

Back in the university, I helped her unpack her shopping and find homes for everything, then had a quick bathroom break, a last hug goodbye and left for home.

It was 11:52am precisely when I left the university and I’m happy to report that the drive home was fine. Being an old car, its radio is a bit hit and miss and it seemed that far north I was out of range of BBC Radio 2 which is the best radio station in the world. I clicked on autotuning, and it picked up on the local radio station, Radio Stoke. Local radio is weird, it’s so … local.

And here is a little bit of traffic news for you. Mr and Mrs Jenkins will be reversing out of their driveway at 6 Acacia Avenue in about five minutes. Could cause a little bit of congestion, so take care if that’s on your route.

Thankfully, I was only subjected to Radio Stoke for thirty minutes before we passed out of range, and I had to put up with BBC Radio 1 for about an hour. Radio 1 is all right, but it is very yoof orientated so only plays the latest tunes. I was relieved when auto tuning found me BBC Radio 2 and the old familiar DJs kept me company for the rest of the drive home.

There were a couple of monsoonal cloudbursts, but I still managed to make really good time, the roads were clear, and I was back home exactly three hours later. After unpacking the car – it felt like I’d brought home almost as much as I’d taken because of all the boxes, packaging, and rubbish that I’d had to bring back with me – I loaded up the washing machine, fed the animals, facetimed with Miss F, had dinner, then collapsed into bed and slept for almost ten hours!

All the rubbish I brought home

Friday, my last day off before going back to work. I had chores in the morning and in the afternoon had a virtual meet-up with my local authors’ group, which was fun. For dinner, I cooked myself a steak. Miss F had requested steak and chips as one of her farewell dinners the previous weekend and Waitrose had offered a deal of three steaks for £10, so we’d eaten two and the third was still sitting there. Frankly, it would have been rude not to, so I cooked it with seasoned butter and had it with onion rings, jacket potato, salad, and a large glass of red wine and it was delicious.

The house is very quiet without Miss F. I keep expecting her to walk in, but I know that she is exactly where she needs to be and will have a wonderful time. This is what she has worked and saved for the last four years, and I am happy for her that all her hard graft has paid off. Yes, I will miss her, but this is how it should be. Parents can’t hold their children back; they need to go out and find their way in the world. Miss F knows where I am if she needs me and knows the door is always open to her.

Saturday, I went back to work. To be honest, I didn’t feel ready to go back and could have done with having the rest of the weekend off to get over the physical, emotional, and mental stresses of the week. But I had no more holiday or days off to use, so back to work I went. It wasn’t so bad, a short six-hour shift and we were reasonably busy, so the time passed quickly. I have another six-hour shift tomorrow and hopefully; it will be another busy day and then I’ll be home and looking forward to having three days off.

Will I be resting and recovering during those days? What do you think? The next project is to get the house ready for viewings and advertise for a lodger. Now Miss F is safely settled at university I have no more reasons or excuses not to put my house in order and see about securing some much-needed rental income. And who knows. Maybe someone nice will come along who will be company occasionally in the evenings. After all, this is very much the next chapter in my life as well.

And now it’s Saturday evening and I’m tired and hungry. I took a slice of homemade lasagne out of the freezer this morning so will be having that with garlic bread and salad. Maybe I’ll even treat myself to some ice cream afterwards.

Anyway, take care of yourselves and I’ll hopefully chat with you all next week. Below I’ve posted some pictures of Miss F’s room at university which I hope you enjoy.

Julia Blake

I’m afraid there will be no A Little Bit of Blake today. This is Miss F’s last weekend living at home as a child and not only are we very busy but I want to spend every moment of it with her. I’m sure you understand, and I promise there will be a full update next Sunday plus pictures.

Have a wonderful week everyone.

Julia Blake

Stuff … So much Stuff!

Long blog today because it’s been such a busy and eventful week and I have plenty to tell you! Last Sunday was my one day off in a run of five days and it was spent doing housework, shopping, laundry and catching up on social media. Monday and Tuesday were dead days at work, where I sat twiddling my thumbs, thinking of all the stuff I could be doing at home, and panicking about the ridiculously high target I’d been given for the week.

Driving home at six on Tuesday, my mind was running over all the things I had planned for my days off and as I turned off the roundabout onto the main road running past my street, I was surprised to find people standing on the pavement waving me down and indicating that I shouldn’t turn. Slowing down, I looked and saw stuff scattered across the entrance to my road. A complete speaker system in pieces, lamps, broken glass everywhere, a gaming chair lying upside down, and to my utter astonishment, a washing machine upside down in the middle of the road.

Shocked, I pulled over to the side of the road and wound down my window – what’s going on? – I asked a woman standing there.

Some idiot is throwing things out of a window in the block of flats, she replied. My husband is on the phone with the police.

Instantly, I knew which idiot she was talking about. The same idiot who causes all the noise and disturbance. The same idiot who threw pots of paint out of the window last year all over the street and the house opposite. And the same idiot who was roaming up and down the street in the middle of the night with a knife and inviting us to – come out and play…

I surveyed the mess. No way was I driving my car over that lot, it would rip my tyres to shreds. But there was nowhere else to park. The council, in their infinite wisdom, took away all the parking spaces on the main road and installed a cordoned-off cycle lane that no cyclist ever uses, so I couldn’t even park there for a while. There was nothing for it, I was going to have to pay to park in the car park at the top of my road.

Seriously annoyed now, I mean how many times must this selfish and dangerous individual pull stunts like this before something is done about him, I drove a little further and turned around, then headed back the way I had come and went into the car park.

I parked at the barricade which divides the car park from my street and got out of my car, wondering how much the charges were and if I even had any change in my purse. As I was standing there watching, a large corner sofa unit appeared on the balcony of the flat where the idiot lived and I watched in complete disbelief as he struggled to force it through the window, clearly intending to send that down to join all the rest of the detritus already lying in the road.

Bloody hell! I said out loud and a couple walking up the road looked at me.

Crazy, isn’t it, they said. We were walking past and felt the wind from the washing machine as it flew past us!

I live on this road, I said. He’s done stuff like this before. Once he was out with a knife in the middle of the night threatening to play with us.

Why on earth is he still living there? They exclaimed in horror.

Apparently, he must kill someone before the council and the police will do anything about it.

Crazy! They said again, shaking their heads in disbelief.

So, because of him I can’t even park outside my home but must pay to park in the car park.

No, you don’t, they told me. It’s free after three on a Tuesday.

Oh, brilliant, at least that’s something.

I walked into my road and joined many of my neighbours who were huddled together, watching the drama unfold and talking about this latest episode of the bloody soap opera that life on my previously peaceful road has become.

The police arrived, went to turn into the road, saw the debris and thought better of it so hitched up onto the pavement. They piled into the flats and even though we watched for ages we saw no sign of them coming out.

A couple of men whom I was told were friends of the idiot came out of the flats and started piling all the detritus onto the pavement. I hoped they would sweep up all the broken glass and twisted metal fragments as well. I didn’t want to leave my car in the car park for too long. At night, boy racers roar around it pretending to be real men and cars left there have been damaged.

Eventually, I went inside and told Miss F what had happened, she immediately went to look out of the window, wondering how on earth anyone could lift a washing machine, let alone get it through a window and over a high balcony railing.

What about if it had landed on someone, she asked. Or landed on someone’s car. What about if it had landed on ours? Well, that would have been a serious financial hardship for us. I presume a full-size washing machine landing on top of a tiny Nissan Micra would have destroyed it beyond all hope of repair. I am also assuming the idiot doesn’t have insurance. I know my insurance company would only offer me scrap metal value for the car which I’ve been told would be less than £100. On top of that, I would have to pay the policy excess of £100, my premiums would increase, and I would be without a car with no money to buy another one.

All because some braindead inconsiderate idiot likes to get off his face on drink and drugs and throw things out of a second-floor window.

Surely, they must do something about him now. Enough is enough, he is too dangerous to allow him to remain in that flat. At the very least relocate him to a ground floor one so if the urge to throw all his possessions out of the window strikes him again at least he’s not going to flatten someone with a washing machine!

Wednesday, my first day off in a run of four, and I had phone calls to make. The first was to the doctor’s surgery. Miss F had been told she needed an up-to-date tetanus jab as she would be working with wild animals that bite, claw, and scratch. I got through all the various corona related messages and was told to hang on and my call would be answered soon. I hung on. And hung on… And hung on… and hung on… For the first ten minutes they kept telling me how important my call was to them but how very, very busy they were. Then the phone started ringing. It rang and rang and rang. I sat there for thirty-three more minutes listening to it ring, drinking the coffee I had thankfully thought to make, catching up on social media, making a post, then reading a book on my kindle.

Eventually, the phone was answered. I explained what I needed to know. It was fairly simple. Did Miss F have a valid tetanus jab? Yes or no. The receptionist didn’t know. She would have to check with the doctor. She would call me back.

The opticians were next. Miss F was wondering if she could fit in an appointment before she went. She couldn’t, so I booked her in for the October half-term holiday. That only took five minutes. Then I had to phone the Child Maintenance Agency. They had sent me a letter that was so elegantly subtle I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. This time, I hung on for forty minutes before my call was answered.

I needed to phone a building society that I have a small savings account for Miss F with. I wanted to close the account and have a cheque sent to me in her name for all that it contained so it could be paid into her account. This call made all the others pale into insignificance as they made me wait a whopping sixty-two minutes before they answered!

And that was the whole morning gone. I was fed up, hungry, thirsty, and needed to pee. I had two more calls to make but lacked the emotional and mental strength to make them. My phone was almost completely out of charge as well. I gave up for the day and had some lunch.

In the afternoon, I went uptown with Miss F. She had some money to pay into her bank and I needed to find something to wear to a party I am going to Saturday evening. It’s a friend’s birthday party and has a theme of the 1970s with an emphasis on happy and relaxed.

A new retro shop had opened in town so I wanted to forage in there to see if I could find anything suitable. It spanned three floors and was packed with vintage clothing and bric-a-brac. Surely, I thought, I must find something here. It was an odd and eclectic mixture but as Miss F and I sorted through the racks and racks of clothing I noticed an alarming trend. Everything was in size stupidly tiny.

Now, I’m far from obese but neither am I stupidly tiny, so I was beginning to despair as anything suitable we saw and pulled off the rack to look at turned out to be a size 8 or even a 6 – mate, I wasn’t a size 6 even when I was six! Whilst rummaging through, I saw an interesting flash of black lace and pulled out a simply gorgeous classic black lace dress. Cut in a 1950s style, it had capped sleeves, a plunging neckline, a tiny, fitted bodice, and a swishy swirly skirt in layers of black lace and silk petticoat.

Look at this, I said to Miss F and pulled it off the rack. She looked and her eyes lit up.

It’s lovely, she agreed.

Try it on, I urged, passing it to her. It will fit you perfectly, and you’re going to need some pretty clothes for all the balls, proms, and formal events there’ll be at university.

Very reluctantly, she took the dress and vanished into a changing room, and I waited long minutes until she emerged, clutching the dress possessively over her arm.

Well? Does it fit you?

Like a glove, she muttered.

Do you love it?

Yes.

I’ll buy it for you.

You don’t have to.

I want to, I declared, and that was that.

Holding onto the dress we wandered down into the basement where I at last found a chiffon overblouse cut in a 1970s style and so psychedelically patterned it made my eyes water just looking at it. Trailing back up to the changing room, I tried it on. To my relief, it fitted and looked okay. The remit had been relaxed and comfortable. Well, I figured team this blouse with my black, slightly flared jeans, my bright green Rocket Dog sneakers, a red vest top underneath, wooden beads, and a headscarf, I’d be suitably relaxed, and I’d certainly be comfortable.

We went to pay, and I was surprised to find that Miss F’s beautiful black dress was only £20, whereas my blouse which, to be honest, I could probably have found in a charity shop for £2.50 if I’d had the time to go and look, was a whopping £22.

The rest of Wednesday afternoon was spent stocking Miss F up with new underwear and a few other things she needed for university, then home, and dinner.

Thursday – the day of the big dress rehearsal of packing the car. Over the past two years, we have been gradually buying things that Miss F will need for university. These items were stowed away under beds, in cupboards, in wardrobes, and on shelves and to be honest, I think we’d forgotten what half the stuff was. The plan was to locate everything and bring it all down to the dining room. There was a lot. An awful lot. My heart sank as I surveyed it all piled up.

As you can see from the pictures below, it’s an impressive amount and this didn’t include any of Miss F’s clothes, her PS4, or my overnight bag. (Sorry about the blurriness of these pictures. It was a video and I tried to screenshot stills from it which is never a good idea).

Was it possible to fit all of this into the back of my Nissan Micra? Looking at it, the immediate answer was not a cat’s chance in hell, but it needed to be sorted and packed smaller wherever possible. We began to filter it through into the lounge. If anything was in an unnecessarily bulky package it was opened and made smaller. Anything that had space to put things inside was utilised, any duplications or things deemed not needed were found and put to one side. It took a long time, but eventually, everything was packed as efficiently as possible.

The pile was a lot smaller but still considerable. Would it fit in the car though? There was only one way to find out. We started packing the car as tightly as possible. We hadn’t even got half of the stuff in before we realised the impossibility of the task. It wasn’t going to fit. It was time to consider plan B because there was a plan B – in life, you should always have a plan B.

Miss F went online to find the website of a local vehicle hire company only five minutes away from us. Did they have any small vans available for the 8th and 9th of September? Yes, they did. We booked one. We can collect it at 8am and must return it by 6pm the next day.

The good thing is, we know we’ll be able to get everything in the van, but I will admit right here and now that the prospect of driving it is scaring me witless. I’ve never driven a van before, so there’s that, and, more to the point, it’s a manual and for the last twenty years I’ve driven nothing but automatics! It’s worrying me to the point that I keep waking in the night trying to remember the order of the pedals and how to change gear! It wouldn’t be so bad if I had time and somewhere quiet to practice, but we’ll have to leave straight away so I’ll be on some of the fastest and most congested motorways in the country.

I mean, I’m sure I’ll be fine. Driving a manual is like riding a bike, right? Surely, it’ll all come flooding back as soon as I get in the van. Won’t it? I hope it does. It must because it’s not like I have a lot of choice.

And that was Thursday. By the time we’d got everything out of the car and back upstairs into the office it was almost dinner time, and we were both on the verge of collapse with aching, shaking legs and sore backs.

Friday, and I had to drive Miss F out to her former place of employment to pick up her last tips at midday. I’d arranged to swing by Tesco on the way back to pick up our weekly shop and then I had two of my local author friends coming for coffee and cake at 1pm. No problem, I thought, plenty of time. What I hadn’t allowed for was how much traffic would be on the road at midday on a Friday and how many vehicles would be trying to get in and out of Tesco.

One of my friends can only drink peppermint tea, so I’d put it on the list as it’s not something I drink very often. As we pulled up to the collection spot, I saw which assistant was on that day and let out a groan of disbelief.

Oh no, not him. He talks too much.

Mum! Miss F was shocked. Don’t say things like that, it’s rude.

But you don’t know what he’s like, I whined.

It doesn’t matter, don’t be so horrible.

Suitably chastised, I fell into a sullen silence as we pulled up and I got out of the car.

Hello, he began, his eyes lighting up when he saw me, then told his little minion my name because obviously he’s memorised it, and he began talking.

What he was talking about, I couldn’t tell you, because I’m afraid I tuned out. It’s all such utter small talk, you see, and none of it sticks. The little minion handed me my printed-out list.

There are three substitutions, he said.

Oh, please don’t let it be the peppermint tea, I prayed.

They’ve swapped your apple juice for exotic juice – that was for Miss F, so I handed her the juice through the open window, she examined it, pulled a face, and handed it back. The little minion looked devastated and took back the box.

The second substitution – please don’t let it be the peppermint tea – is that they’ve swapped your cucumber for a cucumber.

Umm, okay, that’s fine I suppose. The little minion looked relieved.

And the last one – please, please don’t be the peppermint tea – is they’ve swapped your peppermint tea for lemon and ginger tea – I bloody well knew it – Is that okay?

Was it okay? I had no idea. I only knew my friend had requested peppermint tea. I knew she had various intolerances and allergies and for all I knew, peppermint tea might be the only hot beverage she could drink.

No, it’s not okay, I said. I have a friend round this afternoon, and she has intolerances, peppermint tea is all she can drink.

Would you like me to go to the store and see if I can get some for you?

Would you? That would be amazing, thank you.

The little minion nodded eagerly and bounced off towards the store delighted to be doing something to help and muttering that he’d look for apple juice whilst he was there, and I continued throwing our shopping into the boot very aware of time ticking by.

Meanwhile, the talking boy had been rumbling away non-stop in the background to Miss F through the open window and I tuned back in to hear him exclaim – it wasn’t marbled, so what could I do?

Huh? What wasn’t marbled? His patio. His hall floor. His latest sculpture masterpiece. What? Perhaps some medieval cathedral he’d recently visited had disappointed with its lack of a suitably impressive floor.

He turned his attention to me and desperately I looked over to where another car had pulled up to the collection point and was patiently waiting.

Oh look, I said. Someone needs your attention, so I won’t keep you, we’ll wait in the car for your colleague to get back with the rest of our shopping. Lovely chatting, bye. And I jumped in the car and slammed the door on his disappointed face.

Miss F was busy rolling her window up as I got in.

Never, she snarled through gritted teeth, ever leave me alone with that man again! He wouldn’t stop talking at me! I was seriously tempted to off myself, or him. He wouldn’t shut up!

Now you know what I meant, I told her. He drones on and on and it’s all about nothing.

The tone of his voice never varies, she said. Even though I didn’t respond to him or even look at him, he just kept on talking and talking.

What wasn’t marbled? I had to know.

His steak the last time he went out to eat, so he sent it back.

Ah, I see.

To our vast relief, we then saw the little minion jogging back with a bottle of apple juice and, joy of joys, a box of peppermint teabags! Yay. We roared home, it was almost twenty to one by now and, as usual, I was fighting a losing battle with time.

Reaching home, we hauled in the shopping, and I left Miss F putting it away as I dashed outside and wiped down the table, put cushions on the seats, and switched on the water feature. Coming back in, I ripped a comb through my hair, slapped on eyeliner and lipstick, and set out tea, coffee, and cake, as the doorbell went and the first of my friends arrived.

It was a lovely afternoon. We sat in the garden even though the weather was a little overcast, but it was dry, and frankly, this summer, it’s the best you can hope for. After they left at about five-ish, Miss F emerged to see what was happening about dinner and we decided we fancied pizza, so I slipped my shoes on and walked to Waitrose to grab our favourite from there – caramelized onion, feta, and goat’s cheese.

Walking back the sun finally broke through the cloud cover and turning into my street I found many of my neighbours gathered in the road, drinks in hand, chatting. The Friday happy hour is a weekly thing, but I don’t usually attend because I’m either at work, just getting home from work and in no mood to be sociable, cooking dinner, or trying to write my blog, and I’m never able to drink because I’m always having to collect Miss F from work later that evening.

I was greeted with cheers as I appeared clutching a big pizza.

Go and get a drink and join us, I was ordered, and I realised that this week I could. I dumped the pizza in the fridge, poured a glass of wine, sent Miss F a message where I was going and why (she had disappeared into her room for a nap before dinner), then went out for a drink and a chat. Five minutes later, Miss F came out, clutching a tin of cider. Everyone was pleased to see her and interested to hear all about her university and her plans.

We were out there for about forty minutes or so, before coming in to cook pizza and drink wine and watch TV. Friday evening as it should be.

And now it’s Saturday and the week has gone full circle. Today has been taken up so far with laundry and writing my blog and getting ready for the party tonight. I offered to make cheese and pineapple hedgehogs – an absolute must for any self-respecting 1970s party – and I think they turned out pretty good even though I made a mistake and used a grapefruit instead of a melon, so they are more like baby hedgehogs.

I must work tomorrow which is a big shame. I would usually drive my car there loaded down with food, drink, presents, a coat, and sensible shoes, leave my car there and either walk or get a taxi home, then wander back the next day to collect it. But of course, with needing to leave for work early the next morning that’s not possible. I had resigned myself to walking and hoped the hedgehogs would survive the trip, but luckily, I’ve been offered a lift so that’s all right.

So, I’d better go and get ready because I don’t want to make my lift wait. Have a wonderful week wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. It’s Miss F’s last full week at home which I still can’t wrap my head around, so no doubt it will be a busy one and I will tell you all about it in the next blog.

Julia Blake

Two Birthday Cakes and a Tattoo

Another week has flown by and I’m now back at work with my holiday a fading memory. It was my last time off before December and I had so many plans but, as usual, the best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere.

We did celebrate Miss F crossing the threshold into adulthood and I’m still struggling to believe that she’s 18 and technically an adult. The years have passed by in the blink of an eye and there are only three weeks left until she’s off to university.

I planned to deep clean the house and prepare the basement ready to advertise for a new lodger. Well, after several days of me finding anything else to do other than that, I suddenly realised why I was procrastinating so much. It was because I didn’t want to do it. Not because I don’t want to have another lodger – I have resigned myself to that inevitability – but because this house is going to be in a state of chaos from now until the 8th of September when we pack up the car and take the long trip North to take my girl to university. Did I want to add viewings and a stranger moving in into the mix?

No, I decided, I didn’t. It made more sense to wait until Miss F has gone, enjoy these last few weeks with her in peace, have no witnesses to the madness of packing, and then when she’s gone, clean the house knowing it will stay clean, and then advertise the room. After all, it will mean all Miss F’s things will be gone from the bathroom so there will be more space for the lodger, and it may even make the room easier to let if potential lodgers know there will only be one other adult using the facilities as well.

So, that’s what I’m going to do. Hang on until the 8th and hope my funds will stretch that far because I do need to get a lodger. We’ve managed to survive eight months without rental income, but my savings have been depleted and I can’t go on much longer without that crucial boost to my monthly income.

It’s Miss F’s last shift at work today (Saturday) and even though there are a few people she will miss I know she is very happy to be leaving. The manager has been trying to persuade her to stay longer, even going so far as to rota her in for five days a week right up until the night before she leaves for university, but Miss F is sticking to her guns. No, there is a lot to be done over the next couple of weeks and she needs the time to pack up one life ready to begin the next. Also, she’s exhausted. What with all the stress of exams and work she feels, and I agree that a break is essential.

But you didn’t give us enough notice, work is whining, we haven’t found anyone to replace you. Well, she gave them over twelve weeks’ notice which was more than enough time to find a replacement, but they didn’t bother, so frankly it’s their problem, not Miss F’s. She was supposed to work last night but had to cancel because she had her first Covid jab Thursday evening and by Friday morning her arm had turned to concrete and was too painful to move. That is one thing about her going away that I won’t miss, having to turn out late at night every Monday and Friday to make a 50-minute round trip on dark country lanes to collect her from a late shift. My petrol bill will be relieved as well.

As it’s a day shift today, Miss F takes the bus there and back and it will be her last time doing so. I’m working until six so I can’t pick her up and she will be home before me. But I am collecting our weekly grocery shop after I finish work and there is a big pizza in the order to have for dinner and celebrate her last ever shift there. Her work thinks she will be working there in her holidays. Miss F has not disabused them of that notion, but I don’t think she will be going back.

What else did I do on my holiday? Well, I did manage quite a lot of writing and almost 20,000 words were added to my latest book, so that was good. We also had my parents over for lunch on Wednesday to celebrate Miss F’s birthday. We somehow managed to pick the day with the nicest weather and as I was cooking lunch for us, I laid up the table outside and we had a lovely meal in the garden. At Miss F’s request, I did steak and all the trimmings which was delicious.

On Thursday her work had begged her to do an extra shift because they were so short-staffed, and she agreed to do 5-9pm. She hadn’t bothered to check with me first, knowing I was on holiday she had assumed I wasn’t doing anything so would be able to drive out at 9pm to pick her up. But, as I had told her several times, I was going to the theatre for the first time in years that evening, so at 9pm would still be watching the play.

It was okay though, my father offered to pick her up. I drove her there for five then called around to pick up my friend on the way back. We parked at mine, wandered down to a great pub opposite the theatre where we had booked a table for 5:45pm, to give us plenty of time to eat and relax before the play started at 7:30pm.

We wanted to buy drinks when we got to the theatre and order some for the interval and based on previous experience, we knew the theatre bar staff are so slow they couldn’t catch a cold. Heaven only knew how snail-like they’d be now Covid restrictions were in place.

The pub is a lovely old, oak-beamed one with lots of character and the menu is varied and the food fresh and well prepared. We shared a bottle of rose and ate our meal before wandering over to the theatre at just after seven.

It was a good call getting there early, queues stretched away from the bar into infinity, but the staff weren’t going to be hurried, they would go at their own sloth-like pace, and nothing would persuade them to go any faster.

The play was “Absurd Person Singular” by Alan Ayckbourn and it was very good. Dark humour that had us laughing one minute, then pondering the futility of modern life the next. Wandering home at just gone nine I was surprised to find Miss F already home. The restaurant had been quieter than expected and her shift had ended at eight, so my dad had an early night after all.

On Miss F’s actual birthday – Saturday, the 14th – I picked her up from work to save her from getting the bus and we swung by Tesco on the way back to pick up our weekly shop. Miss F hadn’t wanted a party but did ask if she could choose a big cake and that was going to be in with the shopping. Her only concern was that they would be out of stock of the one she had chosen and substituted it for a cake she didn’t want. We got there and the cake she wanted was in with our shopping – but at the bottom of the crate with a ton of tinned food and a big bag of potatoes dumped on top! The box was crushed, and we tried to examine the cake inside. It was still in one piece but there was damage to the fancy icing on the top and sides.

I showed it to the assistants.

ME:  Oh no! Her birthday cake is broken.

THEM: Would you like us to get the shop to bring over another one?

ME:  There’s no time. We have guests turning up in less than an hour and we must get home.

THEM: We’re so sorry!

ME:  Well, at least they got her candles right, a number one and an eight.

THEM: It’s her eighteenth and her cake is damaged! Look, we’ll refund you for it.

We drove home with our free cake and hoped when we got it out of the box it wouldn’t be as bad as it looked. It was worse. It looked like someone had sat on it and the fancy piped rosettes on the top were squished flat. As I hurried to put all the shopping away, Miss F grieved for her broken cake until I couldn’t take anymore and ordered her to get her shoes back on. Quickly, we rushed to Waitrose where she selected a millionaire birthday cake with triple layers of vanilla, chocolate, and caramel sponge, and enough sweet icing to stop your heart.

One perfect Birthday Cake

And if you’re wondering what happened to the broken cake. Well, it didn’t go to waste. I sliced it all up and Miss F took it to work with her on Monday where it was consumed by all the staff who didn’t know and wouldn’t have cared even if they did, that the icing was smashed on the edges and squashed on the top.

We had my favourite niece and her husband coming for dinner that night, but we were planning to buy a big Chinese takeaway so other than laying up the table, which I had already done, I had nothing else to prepare. We had a great evening. We all love Chinese food and the restaurant we buy from is really good. After dinner, we played lots of games and it was gone midnight when they left.

Last Sunday was a chillout and relax day. We were both tired from such a busy week and it was nice to rest and not have to worry about anything other than a nice dinner and Netflix.

Monday dawned. By this point, I had given up on any plans to deep clean and advertise for a lodger, so I devoted the whole day and Tuesday to writing. Miss F worked both days, so I was able to put my head down, forget about everything else, and write.

Wednesday, the last day of my holiday and the day Miss F was booked to have her tattoo – my main birthday present for her. Her appointment was for twelve, so we trailed down to the tattoo parlour in a party of three – me, Miss F, and her friend Miss T. After a bit of preamble where the artist drew pictures and established exactly what she wanted, Miss F pulled down her top, climbed onto his couch and prepared to be stabbed, repeatedly. It didn’t take long, about twenty minutes. I couldn’t see her shoulder because the artist was in the way, but I could see her feet and they didn’t twitch once, so when she said it hadn’t hurt, I believed her.

She’s very happy with it.

Model plane or feminist symbol?

For those wondering why a model plane. Well, there is a tale to be told there. Many years ago, when Miss F was at middle school so about eleven or twelve, she joined an engineering club the school had started in a lunchbreak. Sadly, she was the only girl in the group, even sadder was the fact the boys were a bunch of misogynistic little twerps even at that young age. Their first assignment was to split into groups and build a model plane. YOU can’t do anything; Miss F was told by the others in her group. YOU’RE a girl and girls can’t build planes, EVERYONE knows that! We can’t even trust you to paint it because you’ll paint it pink, so you can just stand there and watch.

Understandably upset by this, Miss F asked the male teacher if she could have a kit to make a plane by herself. She was told no, there were no more kits and that she was to go back to her group. Undeterred, Miss F went to the female teacher, told her what had happened, and was instantly given another kit.

Not only did Miss F complete her plane first and correctly, but her plane also flew the furthest in the trials, causing the boys in her group to whine and complain how unfair it was, then stamp on their plane in a fit of denial of male supremacy – or as us girls would put it – they threw all their toys out of their pram! Oh, and she also painted her plane pink and green, because why not?

I wasn’t aware of any of this until much later. All I knew was that this model plane came home from school one day and was put on our dresser where it sat for many years until I accidentally broke it earlier this year cleaning. If I’d only known, it was a symbol of feminism and girl power I would have handled it with kid gloves – but I was only told this after the plane was in pieces and in the bin.

I find it disgusting though, that the next generation of boys is still being raised by example to be such arrogant and unpleasant examples of male chauvinism. Because this kind of behaviour isn’t born it’s learnt from observation of the attitudes and language of the adults around them. Come on people, we can do so much better for our young women than this. Teach your sons it’s not okay to act this way. Teach your daughters to demand respect and equal consideration, or else nothing will change, and this kind of thing will spill onto the next generation and the next.

She says having the tattoo didn’t hurt at all and I believe her. When I had my tattoo done on the other shoulder to hers, it didn’t hurt at all. To be honest, I think breaking in the new Doc Martens she bought herself for her birthday is hurting her more.

My tattoo – 20 years old

After the tattoo, I treated us all to a lovely lunch in Miss F’s favourite restaurant and that was the end of my holiday. Back to work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with no more time off until December.

And now it’s Saturday morning, I have tipped away my tea because it had a nasty tang and I have a suspicion the milk is off. I’m ready for work and desperately trying to get my blog written because I won’t have time tonight.

I have one day off tomorrow, but there is a ton of housework and other life stuff to attend to, I already know writing won’t happen, and then I’m back to work Monday and Tuesday. And so, my life turns.

Hope wherever you are, that your life is turning satisfactorily and happily, and I look forward to chatting with you next week.

Julia Blake

Birthday, Exam Results, and Drunken Shenanigans!

I am writing this on Saturday and it’s Miss F’s 18th birthday. It’s hard to believe that it’s eighteen years ago today that a tiny scrap wrapped in a towel was handed to me and I was left to get on with it. It wasn’t an easy birth – five days in labour culminating in a hasty emergency C-Section – and I can still remember the overwhelming relief when she was finally in my arms because there had been a few moments when her heart stopped, and I was convinced she was dead. Mind you, there were times throughout the last days of labour when I wished I was dead.

It’s been a long and at times rocky path we’ve travelled together. We’ve coped with being a single parent family and the financial hardships and the negative stigma attached to that. I think I’ve done a good job. Parenthood doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and you only know if you’ve done it right when it’s too late to go back and do it again. But, when I look at the confident, strong, hardworking, and kind young woman Miss F has become, I’m quietly smug that I did a bloody good job. Mind you, I had good material to work with.

And now she’s 18, an adult, poised on the edge of the rest of her life. In three weeks, she’s off to university – now that, I really can’t wrap my head around – and my role in her life will change from a supervisory and managerial one to that of a freelance consultant.

It will also mark a massive transformation in my life as well in that for the first time in eighteen years I will be alone and able to do whatever I want, whenever I want – funds allowing of course. What do I anticipate will occur? Well, my shopping and eating habits will change. No more will I be catering for the needs and whims of a lactose intolerant and quite picky teenager. I can eat what I want and I’m planning to go back on the every other day diet which is the only weight loss regime that ever worked for me. I will generally be eating a lot healthier because I will only be cooking for myself.

I think my utilities and water bills will decrease, at least, I hope they will. I will also have an awful lot more spare time. Time, I plan to fill with writing, reading, working on my writing career, expanding my reach on social media, maybe even exploring other hobbies such as returning to amateur dramatics. Who knows?

Of course, I will miss her dreadfully. Without her presence, I know the house will feel empty and quiet and I must adjust to this new way of life. But I am sensible enough to accept that this is a necessary and healthy change and adapt accordingly. Plus, I have always been very self-sufficient. Being the victim of extreme bullying all through school, I learnt to do without friends and to enjoy my own company. Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to having more time to spend with friends but being alone doesn’t scare me.

So, what has happened over the past week? As you know, I took Miss F and a friend to the zoo last Sunday and we had a wonderful time – I hope you enjoyed the pictures of the animals. It doesn’t feel like a week ago. I had so many plans for this holiday and haven’t achieved any of them. A combination of tiredness, unexpected distractions, and Miss F being home and needing my attention has filled my time. I did get the bathroom deep cleaned and freshened it up by changing the accessories from lime green to charcoal grey, which has changed the look of the bathroom incredibly. I made a few phone calls and sent a few emails that I’d been procrastinating over.

Thursday was results day and what a rollercoaster ride of emotions that was. Every single student in the country expected to get their results that day – except those who had taken my daughter’s course. For some reason, the governing board City & Guilds announced that they would have to wait until the 18th of August to get theirs. No reason was given, and it defied all logic as to why they were making them wait. It seemed deeply unfair, but then City & Guilds have been absolute a-holes about everything to do with exams this year.

Miss F was annoyed about this but resigned to waiting. Thursday dawned, and she received an email telling her that she could access her grades via the college’s website. Confused but excited, she assumed that City & Guilds had changed their minds, went onto the website, and clicked on the portal to be given her grades. It took her straight back to the home page. She clicked again. Back to the home page, she went. Round and round she went, her angry frustration deepening with every rotation. She checked the college Facebook page. Yes, everyone else was experiencing the same problem. It’s a glitch, the college announced. We’re working on it.

Thirty minutes ticked by. It’s fixed, declared the college. Miss F tried again. Round and round the merry-go-round she went. She looked on the Facebook page again. Everyone else was getting their results. She messaged her tutor. He replied that as she wasn’t allowed to see her results until the 18th access was being denied to her. Miss F asked if he knew her grades. Yes, he did but wasn’t allowed to tell her them. She checked on the UCAS website. It told her that her university application had been successful. She then received an email from the university itself. Congratulations, she had passed her exams and they looked forward to seeing her in September.

Miss F boiled over in a fury at the stupid unfairness of it all. UCAS knew her grades. The university knew her grades. Her college knew her grades. Even her tutor knew her grades. Everyone knew her grades except her and there was no reason to keep them from her. She fumed and fretted. Yes, she knew she’d done well enough to be accepted to the university of her choice, but she wanted to know her grades. Eventually, her tutor emailed her. This is ridiculous and unfair he said. I’m not supposed to tell you, but here are your grades. In seconds, Miss F’s frown of despair turned into a beam of delight. She’d passed with a distinction star – the highest grade it was possible to get and the equivalent to an A* in A ‘Levels.

So very proud of her. But she deserves this. Over the past four years, I have watched her work her little socks off – first at her GCSEs and then at her animal management diploma – totally focused and utterly committed to that one goal – going to university to learn how to be a zookeeper. The past eighteen months have been tough ones for all students everywhere. What with home-schooling, lacklustre tuition, and generally a below-par level of education, to achieve the results she has is testimony to how hard she has worked.

So, next stop university! There is a little under four weeks before she goes and so much to do between now and then. She has everything she could possibly need and I think she will be the most well-equipped university student ever – with the stuff she is taking ranging from a first aid kit to a garlic press to a reed diffuser! As we couldn’t afford to do everything in one hit, Miss F began a university wish list last summer and for each birthday, Christmas, and Easter festivity ever since this list has been sent to all who buy for her, amended, and added to over the year until her university “bottom drawer” was full to bursting of everything she will need or want over the three years she will be away.

Since Christmas I have added one store cupboard essential each week to my shopping list so now, she has all the condiments, sauces, and basics like pasta, baked beans, and tinned tomatoes. That first shop can work out expensive, so it made sense to spread the cost. For Christmas I bought all the cleaning and household products she would need, with friends and family buying her towels, bedding, saucepans etc. I don’t think we’ve forgotten anything! She has a LOT of stuff to take. On top of all the above, there is her new TV, a printer, her PS4, a rug, laptops, lamps, and, of course, all her clothes. Will I be able to fit it all into a Nissan Micra? I think I can, but as I would rather know sooner not later if I can’t, we will be doing a dry run beforehand and locating all her university stuff from the various cupboards, drawers, wardrobes, and under the bed and packing it all in the car. It will take a whole day I imagine, to pull everything out, carry it downstairs, pack the car, unpack, and carry everything back upstairs, but it must be done. If it proves impossible to get everything in there is a backup plan, I will hire a small van. Obviously, this will take time and is not something I want to be panicking about on the morning of the 8th – her moving in day!

A funny thing happened a week ago last Friday. Being very tired I had gone to bed reasonably early and fallen asleep quickly, only to be woken at 3am by the sound of someone in the street below trying to get into a car. I have Ninja hearing when it comes to people mucking about in the street, especially if it sounds like a car is involved because there’s always the fear it might be my car. I lay there, listening intently. Yes, someone was trying a car door handle repeatedly. I crawled out of bed and looked out of the window. Down below was a young man trying the passenger side door of a parked car which I thought belonged to Chris and Celia – my next-door neighbours but one. The car was clearly locked but it didn’t stop him from trying the handle over, and over, again.

“Let me in,” he kept saying. “I wanna go home, I’m cold, let me in!”

Although August, it was a chilly and damp night and I wondered why he was clad only in a pair of shorts – no wonder you’re cold, I thought. Then the moon came out from behind some clouds, and I saw that far from wearing shorts and a t-shirt he was actually butt naked apart from a tiny pair of black underpants that were halfway down his arse.

Umm … I had questions.

I watched him for a bit longer, now fully invested in this drama. Click, click, click, he kept trying the handle. Staggering, he would fall into the car, and it was clear he was absolutely lollied!

“Let me in!” he kept begging some imaginary person. Did he think someone was in the car? Did he think it was a taxi?

I pulled the window up and leaned out.

Mate, are you all right? Do you need me to phone for an ambulance? Do you need me to phone the police?”

No answer … click click click … stagger sway lump onto the side window of the car …

“Mate, are you on your stag night?”

It suddenly occurred to me that this was just the sort of thing men did to the groom on his stag night. Get him drunk, remove all his clothes, and then abandon him in the middle of town to make his way home. Haha. See you in the church tomorrow, or maybe we won’t.

He continued to ignore me.

“Whose car is that?” I shouted. “Get away from the car, I don’t think it’s yours. And you shouldn’t be driving in that state, anyway.”

A bedroom window suddenly rattled up two doors down and Chris stuck his head out the window.

“Oi, you! Get away from my bloody car!”

He was also ignored. Chris looked at me.

He’s been doing this for about ten minutes now,” I said. “Do you think we should call the police?”

“Celia already is,” he answered. Of course, she was. I think she has the station on speed dial.

We waited and watched as the naked man continued to jiggle the door handle, fall softly into the side of the car, rub his nipples, and complain piteously how cold he was and that he just wanted to go home.

Not more than five minutes later, a police car pulled into the road, followed by a van, and seven burly police people in flak jackets got out and ambled over to the drunk.

“Is this your car, sir?”

“No, it’s bloody well not, it’s mine!” This was from Chris.

The police looked the drunk up and down as he continued to try and get into the car. You had to admire his persistence if nothing else.

“I just wanna go home,” he informed the police.

“And where is home?”

“Newmarket.”

“Right. Are they your glasses on top of the car?”

“Yes.”

“Then put them on and you might be able to see that this is not your car, nor is it a taxi, so will you please stop trying to get into it, sir.”

A policeman shone his torch onto the top of the car and there lay a pair of glasses. Very carefully, the man took them and put them on.

“Why did you take them off?”

“They were dirty.”

“Right. Are these your clothes on the pavement?”

“Yeah.”

“Why did you take them off?”

“They were dirty too.”

“Hmm, yes, that is a lot of sick. But you need to get dressed now, please. Put your jeans on.”

The man tried. To his credit, he did try. But after a few minutes it was obvious they were asking the impossible.  I then had the amusing experience of watching three burly policemen snap on latex gloves and attempt to dress an extremely drunk man in vomit splattered clothes. It was like trying to dress a mannequin.

“No, wrong leg … other leg … that’s it. Now your top … no, you’ve put your head through an armhole, back out … no, this way … follow the sound of my voice.”

The drunk picked up his socks and they all looked at them.

“I’d just … put them in your pocket if I were you, mate.”

“It’s my birthday today.”

“Is it? How old are you?”

“18.”

There was a general round of grunts and exclamations of disbelief. I must admit, he didn’t look 18, more 28 or even 38, but it was hard to tell in the moonlight.

Then, to my surprise, after checking he had his wallet, they set him loose into the town and told him to find a taxi – like any self-respecting taxi driver is going to let him into their cab reeking of sick and unable to say anything other than I wanna go home and let me in I’m cold.

I had thought they might chuck him in a cell overnight and let him sleep it off. A couple of years ago a young man went missing in town on a night out. A huge search finally concluded that he’d got into a large bin to sleep it off and ended up shredded in landfill. A truly gruesome end to come to and one that could have been avoided if his friends had taken care of him and made sure he got home. I think women are better in that respect than men, I’ve been on a few nights out where a friend has been very much the worse for drink, but I would never have let her wander off on her own. It would have been pay a taxi to get her home or get her back to mine and into the spare bed, rather than leave her alone, senseless, and vulnerable to being mugged or worse.

So, the drunk wandered off into the night and I hope he made it home. The police spoke to Chris, checked there was no damage to his car and left. Going back to bed, I heard a bucket of water being thrown over the side of Chris’s car. It’s ironic though, two vehicles and seven police to deal with one pathetic, naked drunk. When we had a knifeman roaming up and down the street inviting us to “come out to play” the police didn’t arrive until an hour later when the man had gone. What’s the betting if I phoned to say my house was being burgled, I’d be lucky to get a single bobby on a bike.

That’s how things roll in my shire … never a dull moment.

Sadly, Miss F had to work on her birthday – the restaurant was so short-staffed they wouldn’t let her have the day off – but it was only a five-hour shift. I am picking her up at five o’clock, we will swing by the supermarket on the way home and pick up our shopping which will include a big birthday cake and lots of cider for her. This evening we have my favourite niece and her husband coming over for a big Chinese takeaway and a games night. It was what the birthday girl wanted, so it’s what she is going to get.

I’m ready. The house is clean, and the table is laid. All I need to do is get changed and put on some make-up and then let the evening commence.

Hope wherever you are you are enjoying your weekend and I look forward to chatting with you next Sunday.

Take care.

Julia Blake

Animal Magic!

Not so much a blog this week, more a trip around the zoo with us. Miss F is turning 18 this week and she asked if we could visit our local zoo which is Banham – about a thirty minute drive away. The last time we went was for her thirteenth birthday and we took one of her friends, Miss E. As the two are still great friends we asked Miss E if she would like to relive that day, She said, absolutely, so this morning we piled into my little car and off we went.

The weather forecast wasn’t great. Showery rain and dull, but we had stout footwear and waterproof coats. Luckily, the torrential downpour they forecast held off until we were walking back to the car at the end of the day. The quick light showers were brief and easily avoided by going into the covered attractions and having lunch.

We had a great day. We took lots of photos and following are the best of the ones from Miss F’s phone and my trusty old camera, which I hope you enjoy.

I’m on holiday now for another ten days and we will be celebrating Miss F turning eighteen this week and I will be preparing the house to advertise for another lodger so I will have lots to talk about next Sunday and time to write my blog. I worked Thursday, Friday, Saturday last week, and then of course, we went to the zoo today so I had no time to write it and not much to talk about.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos and look forward to having a proper chat with you all next week.

Fat Iguana
Giraffe – I love how close we can get to the animals
Such weird looking creatures, giraffes
sleeping snake hanging from a branch
Not sure what this is, but it was very curious about us
fabulous indoor waterfall
leading into a pool for wildlife
we caught the attention of a tiger
who came to take a closer look
spider monkeys
tortoise – lot bigger than our baby tortoise Poe
baby Brazilian guinea pig
p-p-p-penguins!
The birds of prey demonstration is my favourite
beautiful eagle
a pair of curious camels
pretty flamingos
and there’s always ring tailed lemurs
adorable otters – think it was dinner time judging by the amount of noise they were making!
what is it with cats and boxes?
Llama – I kept my distance in case he spat
Little donkey, little donkey
the white bird is a spoonbill and the red ones are just fabulous dahling!
zebra – eyeing up the keeper and hoping he had food
baby bunnies – so wanted to cuddle them!
red kangaroos having a bit of a rest
gibbon sporting a lockdown haircut
He’s got legs!
and finally, absolute star of the show, the one-eyed snow leopard

That’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed all the pictures. Wherever you are in the world and whatever you’re doing, stay safe and stay happy.

Julia Blake

New Month and Moths!

Wow, look at that, it’s the first day of August. Another month has flown by in a flash and I’m not sure what happened in it. I was busy, of course. I think it’s because I’m so busy that time rushes by without pausing for breath. When every day is packed full of things to do there seems very little time to sit and let the pace of life slow down. I once saw a meme that stated – being an adult is saying “after next week things will get back to normal” forever and ever until you die – and it can certainly feel like that sometimes.

Firstly, let me apologise for there being no blog last week. As you know, I had eleven days off over my birthday which I enjoyed and were stuffed to the brim with activities. I returned to work on Thursday and unusually worked Friday and Saturday as well. I don’t usually work both so write my blog on either of those days. Working all three took me by surprise and yes, I suppose I could have written something in the evening, but they were three long, hard, busy days and to be honest by the time I got home all I wanted was dinner, Netflix, and bed, in that order.

Also, I had nothing to say. It had been a bit of a nothing week. I put my head down and wrote like mad on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then I worked the next three days and that was kind of that. Focusing on my work in progress those three days though paid off and I’m proud to report that book three in The Perennials Trilogy is now standing at 36,500 words and I’m pleased with how the story is going. Returning to well-known and much-loved characters certainly helps, rather than introducing an all-new cast. I know Lili and her friends intimately, they are my friends, and there is a poignant bittersweetness in knowing this is the last visit I will pay to their world. Being the final book in the trilogy though means that I must wrap up all the stories begun in the first two books, tie up all the loose threads and conclude everything so the reader is left satisfied. So, no pressure there then.

Being Britain, the weather has been peculiar, to say the least. The heatwave that ravaged us over my birthday was blown away in a flurry of violent torrential downpours, strong winds, and a rapid drop in temperature. When I went to collect Miss F from work last night the roads were atrocious with running water flooding across them from the fields and my little car almost being gusted off the road. But today, Saturday, the sun is out, the winds have dropped, the temperature has gone back up and the weather is shrugging its shoulders as if to say “Storms? What storms were they?”

As I said, I’ve been consumed by my latest writing project so I’m prone to staring into space for long periods without speaking and my eyes glazed over. Not so bad if this happens at home but can cause problems if I do it at work. This happened last week with a colleague when apparently, I’d been staring past his right shoulder for a good ten minutes without speaking, lost in the world of my book.

HIM: What are you thinking about?

ME:  Whether it’s possible to have sex in a wheelchair.

HIM: ……………….?

ME:  ………………..?

HIM: What?!

ME:  What?

Yeah, I’m not going to live that one down in a hurry!

A couple of small pieces of financial good news – one, the policy excess of £100 on my insurance claim was paid into my bank. Finally! It only took seven months from start to completion to settle a tiny £255 claim which is ridiculous. I sincerely hope I never have to make a more substantial claim because heaven knows how long that would take! Still, it’s a relief to be able to draw a line under the whole thing and move on.

Secondly, I received the sole occupancy discount on my council tax. Disappointingly, it was a fraction of what I’d been expecting. Way back when I was first considering taking in a lodger in 2005 the discount was a whopping 25% off the monthly bill. It was worth having and something I had to consider when I took in a lodger because obviously, I would no longer be eligible for it. Since then, I’ve never been without a lodger, so it’s not been applicable.

I only applied for a seven-month sole occupancy discount because our last lodger moved out at the end of December and due to lockdown and restrictions, we’ve been without one ever since. Turns out, as the cost of living has gone up and the monthly council tax has quadrupled, the sole occupancy discount has decreased until now far from being 25% it is barely 10%. For the seven months, I received £83 which was hardly worth applying for. Still, I guess it’s a week’s groceries paid for and better than nothing. As Miss F turns 18 in two weeks, I won’t be able to apply for it again unless I am without a lodger at any point after she has moved away to university.

On the lodger front. I’ve made a decision about that. It’s Miss F’s birthday soon and I have another eleven days of holiday booked – it’s technically only three days but my lovely boss has again topped and tailed it with my non-working days to stretch it to eleven in total. Those eleven days are not going to be as full as the ones over my birthday, so I plan to spring clean the ground floor of the house, get the basement room all fresh and ready for viewings, take lots of nice photos showing the new desk and workspace, plus the TV, and then activate the ad on the last day of my holiday. It will take several days to thoroughly scrub the bathroom and the kitchen and rearrange cupboards. We have got used to being able to use the lodger’s cupboard and their space in the fridge and freezer, so I must squeeze all the food back into our cupboards and freezers drawers again.

I must say, I’ve enjoyed having the house to ourselves – but needs must. We’ve been without the rental income of £500 per month since December 2020 and that is a lot of money to do without. We’ve managed, but only just and only because there have been one or two windfalls along the way and because I’ve called upon savings. Well, they are all gone so now I have no choice and must get a new lodger this month. It won’t be so bad, after all, we’ve always had lodgers. For the last sixteen years we have shared our home with a succession of people – some nicer than others – so we can do it again, and anyway, with Miss F off to university at the beginning of September it will mean fewer people in the house trying to use the facilities and the company might be nice.

Have I ever told you that Miss F is lactose intolerant? Well, bless her she is, and we tend to be a dairy-free house. Sometimes though, if it’s a special occasion, Miss F will take a lactase pill that breaks down the dairy in the food so she can eat cheese or cake or ice cream without experiencing the severe pain she usually does. So, why doesn’t she take them all the time, I hear you ask. Firstly, they’re expensive and, secondly, it’s probably not good for her to take them all the time.

Anyway, the cheapest way for her to buy them is in bulk from Amazon and as she was running low, she ordered £80 worth ready to take to university and they were due to be delivered last week. They came, she took the box from the delivery driver and then I heard her calling me in disbelief. I went into the dining room to find she’d opened the box and instead of the packets of pills she’d been expecting there was a vape pen!

A vape pen! Sent to a 17-year-old by mistake. She had not been asked to sign for it nor produce any form of ID so there was the law broken straight away. I grabbed the box and ran out into the street where the driver was climbing into his van. I showed him the pen. He scratched his head. Is the address correct? Yes, it was addressed to Miss F, but it wasn’t what she ordered. He phoned his supervisor. As the package had already been delivered could he take it back? No, because it had been delivered, he couldn’t. We should have refused delivery. Even the driver rolled his eyes at that one and realised the stupidity of it. We’d been expecting a parcel of about the same size so until we’d opened it how could we possibly have known there was a vape pen lurking in there?

We contacted Amazon, explained the problem, they emailed a return label and a code we could use to leave the parcel in a local Amazon dropbox. It would take ten working days to refund us – that always makes me cross – they can take your money in ten seconds, but it takes ten days to refund it! No, they want to keep your money in their account gathering interest for as long as possible. I often wonder how much money big companies make that way.

Anyway, we resealed the parcel and I drove Miss F to the nearest drop box which was located at a garage about half a mile away. She plugged the code into the machine and a locker door sprung open. It was a very small locker. She looked at the box, then looked doubtfully at the space it was supposed to fit into. She tried. The box was too big. She pushed and struggled. Nope, it wasn’t going in, not anyhow, no way. She shrugged helplessly at me,

It was a blistering hot day, I had other things to do, and had just about had enough, so I got out of the car and went over to her, took the box out of her hand, put it on the ground, and stamped down all the edges – the box was big and the vape pen was small under lots of packaging so I knew it wouldn’t be damaged. I stamped all the way around then tried again. This time it fitted. Back home, Miss F emailed Amazon that the box was on its way back also mentioned that as she was underage and hadn’t been asked to produce any ID when taking in the vape pen, it was not on. Amazon thought about this. Two days later the refund was back in her bank, and she received her pills.

I cannot believe that in two weeks my baby will be eighteen and technically an adult. Where have the years gone to? Those of you who’ve been reading my blog since the beginning will remember me blogging about her Prom and her Sixteenth birthday party – those blogs are still there if any of you want to scroll back and read them, both are funny. She didn’t want an eighteenth party or anything like that as parties aren’t her thing. My parents will come over to see her, as will other family members and friends. I told her I wanted to give her something special from me, something that would last and remind her of her mother and told her to think about what she wanted. I was expecting her to say a piece of jewellery, instead, she came back and requested I pay for a tattoo.

A tattoo. Okay, it’s not what I anticipated and to be honest, not what I wanted, but, as she keeps reminding me, she will be eighteen and old enough to do it with or without me. I’d rather it was with me. She checked out all the tattoo parlours in town, I insisted it was a registered one with excellent references and a waiting list, no backstreet ink jockeys were getting their hands on my baby’s skin! She found one that met the criteria of both of us and an appointment has been booked for a few days after her birthday. Her best friend is coming with us and afterwards, I’ll take us out to lunch. I guess we will learn how high her pain threshold is.

I will be buying her a few other bits and pieces, but tattoos are so expensive that it will probably eat up all my budget. People can’t believe I’m doing this, but really, what other option do I have? She’s going to do it with or without my approval and she doesn’t need my consent anymore so it’s not like I can stop her and anyway, do I have the right to? I’ve raised her to think for herself, to decide what she wants and work to get it. I can’t complain when she does that just because she’s not thinking the way I want her to. I also don’t want our last few days together to be spent fighting over something that she will do the minute she leaves home anyway. Besides, I guess she is right when she says as an eighteenth birthday gift it does tick all the boxes – it is special, it is expensive, it will last, and it will remind her of me every time she catches sight of it in the mirror!

I will keep you all posted…

Nature has been invading my house lately in the shape of spiders that have been spinning cobwebs over every surface. I think Autumn is coming early this year and they’re all coming in looking for shelter for the winter. I hate cobwebs – as fast as I take them down, more appear hanging from every surface. I wish there was something we could spray on walls and ceilings that stopped spiders from attaching their webs to them.

Worse than the spiders, we’ve been infested with clothes moths! Horrid tiny silvery flying things, they are everywhere! They’ve eaten holes in almost everything I have – even a brand-new top I treated myself to from Next! I hadn’t had a chance to wear it and it was hanging in my wardrobe with the tags still on it. The little bastards chewed holes all over it! Every time I draw our curtains a cloud of moths flies out! They’re behind our sofas, eating our carpets and in our drawers. I’ve never known anything like it.

I went to Wilks and asked if they had anything I could use to kill moths. The assistant took me to the gardening section and showed me something for killing moss in lawns. Bloody masks. No, I explained, not moss – moths! And I wouldn’t care if they were outdoors, these sods were inside and eating everything. She took me to the home care section and sold me mothballs. I bought two packs and have put them everywhere. They smell like chemical orange. I have no idea if they will work or not, I hope so because I’m at the end of my tether. Although, all the cobwebs I keep finding in the house are full of clothes moths’ dead bodies so I’m a bit conflicted. Get rid of the webs and the spiders and hope the mothballs work, or allow the webs to remain for a while and hope the spiders solve the problem? Maybe the spiders have been moving in in force because the word got out it was an all you can eat buffet of moths in our house!

Anyway, it’s almost midday on Saturday and if I want to get anything else done, I will need to finish now. There’s a lasagne to make, beds to strip, and a book to write, none of which will happen by themselves.

Take care everyone and wherever you are stay safe, stay happy.

Julia Blake

My Brilliant Birthday Week

Good morning! What a week it’s been, busy but fun and for once I don’t have anything to rant about. As you know, it was my birthday on the 17th, so I booked the week off work and my lovely boss arranged my working days at either end of my holiday, so I ended up with eleven days off in total. It was so wonderful going home on Saturday evening knowing that my holiday had started.

On Sunday, you may think I’m daft, but I spent the whole day cleaning the house, tidying the garden, stripping beds, and catching up on laundry. I wanted to catch up on everything so I could relax and enjoy my days off and not be fretting about how untidy my house was. Also, I was having some company over the week, so I needed the house to be presentable – well, the public areas anyway.

Monday was a dull and rainy day, but I didn’t care. I was going out with my old friend Becky Wright whom I hadn’t seen for real in over eighteen months. So, I climbed out of the shower early that morning and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. The cat was fussing about my legs waiting for her breakfast when we both heard a rustling and scratching coming from the tall cupboard next to my fridge/freezer.

We looked at each other, then the cat ran to the cupboard and started sniffing at the door. Hello, I thought, I think I know what that is, I bet I’ve got another bloody mouse in there! Quietly, I opened the door and started taking things out. Sure enough, at the back on the floor, I saw little black blobs and knew they were mouse droppings. Bugger it. We’ve had the odd mouse in there before. I don’t know where they come from, but there’s a space to get behind the freezer at the back of the cupboard. Now, I’m not scared of mice. Pet mice are sweet, and little mice out in the fields and hedgerows are fine and obviously where they are meant to be. But in my house? Running around my kitchen? Potentially scurrying around areas where I stored and prepare food? Nope. Sorry, little mouse, but your days are numbered.

I still had some old-fashioned mouse traps left from the previous mouse, so cut a piece of cheese as bait and set it at the back of the cupboard. Humane traps are no good because the mouse would just come straight back in, and poison is the worst thing because the mouse might not get enough to kill it quickly and could take ages to die in pain. Plus, there is always the danger it could crawl off under the freezer to die where it would decompose, and stink and I’d be unable to get it out. No, the traditional method was the only way to deal with it in this case.

Of course, the only cheese we have now is the lactose-free stuff and I wasn’t sure the mouse would fancy it, but it was all I had so I set the trap and left to spend the day with Becky. It was strange though; even though the last time we met was December 2019, it was like we’d seen each other only the week before – but that’s how it is with close friends. We drove to a nearby town and had lunch, which was lovely, and swapped birthday presents because her birthday is the day after mine – how strange is that. It was so nice to see her again though, and even though we’ve messaged and even video chatted it’s not the same as sitting opposite someone, coffee in hand, catching up on all their news. She gave me a beautiful hardback edition of Pride and Prejudice as a gift. It’s gorgeous and matches the copy of Persuasion she gave me last year.

Pride and Prejudice

When I got home later that day and let myself in the front door, I had the added surprise of finding a certificate of merit lying on the mat. The judges for Bury in Bloom had been around during the day and even though I didn’t think the pots and hanging basket I’d made were a patch on last year’s display, they must have thought them worthy of a certificate.

I also wondered if I’d caught the mouse and went to have a look. The cheese was gone, but the trap hadn’t been sprung. So, Mr Mouse, you want to play hardball, do you? I cut another piece of cheese and this time made sure it was jammed securely onto the trap.

Tuesday I was out to lunch again, this time with another old friend who is absolutely nothing to do with the author world, so our conversation only very briefly touched on books and what was happening in my writing life. We went to a local restaurant, so we could share a bottle of wine with lunch. The weather had improved from the previous day, so after lunch, we were able to sit in my garden and share a glass, or two, of prosecco and chat about everything. This summer has been a bit of a nonstarter and days warm enough to sit outside have been far and few between. She bought me a lovely scarf in a beautiful shade of teal, and a fun pair of cat socks. Socks are always a good gift for me.

Lovely presents

After she left, I suddenly remembered the mousetrap and went to check it. In the gloom at the back of the cupboard, I could see that the trap was now upside down. Had I been victorious or had Mr Mouse defeated me again? Carefully I picked the trap up and there he was. A tiny brown mouse with a creamy tummy and two bead black eyes, quite quite dead in the trap. I didn’t feel guilty, well, not much. There are a lot of mice in the world, it’s not like I’d killed a white rhino or anything, and I couldn’t leave a mouse running about pooping and weeing everywhere.

Doesn’t catch mice!

Wednesday my parents came over with my presents and I was very relieved that they’d bought me a bottle of my favourite perfume – Burberry Classic. It’s not available to buy in shops anymore and can only be bought online, so I’m constantly afraid it’s going to be discontinued. Once upon a time, there were several perfumes I could wear including CK1 and Happy, but then I got pregnant and suddenly much-loved scents smelled horrible on me or didn’t smell at all. It was so weird, maybe it was the hormones that changed the way my skin reacts to perfume, and it took me a long time to discover that Burberry perfume smells wonderful on me and lasts! A day later I can still smell lingering undertones on my skin. But it must be the classic perfume in the squat bottle with the gold lid in the plain box with the Burberry stripe along the bottom. Over the years, I have been bought variations of the Burberry perfume – Burberry Weekend, Burberry Touch – but they don’t smell of anything on me. It must be Burberry Classic, nothing else will do.

We went out for lunch, and I was surprised by how busy the restaurant was for a Wednesday. We had to queue to get into the restaurant and service was very slow, but then I suppose they are having to clean each table extra thoroughly so it takes just that bit longer.

Thursday, and I was thankful it was a day without any birthday shenanigans. No, the whole day was earmarked for attempting to work on my latest book. I had made a start the week before, but I’ll be honest, I had found it sticky going. The story started well enough, but then I’d floundered a little, so I sat down Thursday morning a bit apprehensive as to how it was going to go. Would the old magic work? Or was I experiencing writer’s block for the first time?

No, it was fine. The magic didn’t let me down and by the time I stopped to make dinner that evening, I’d pounded out over 4500 words and had a clearer idea of where the plot was going, which was a huge relief. Time is ticking on and if I want to make my publishing deadline of the end of November, I need to get this book written.

Friday, I’d arranged to go for coffee and cake with my favourite cousin. She was a bit nervous about going into a crowded coffee shop and asked if we could go somewhere with a garden, but in the centre of town, there aren’t any cafes that have nice gardens. Luckily, the weather was gorgeous – a beautiful sunny morning – so we wandered down to the Abbey Gardens and called into a pretty takeaway cafe to pick up coffee and waffles to take into the gardens to eat.

Our coffees were ready instantly, but they said as it was still so early our waffles wouldn’t be ready for about fifteen minutes if we wouldn’t mind calling back for them – the waffle machine needed to warm up, or something. So, we wandered into the Abbey Gardens and found a table under a big shady tree and sat and drank our coffees and chatted. When it was time to collect the waffles, I offered to go so we wouldn’t lose our table – the gardens were crowded, and I thought the moment we moved we’d probably lose it – and asked if she would like another coffee.

Yeah, I didn’t think that plan through, did I, because the waffles were HOOGE! Seriously massive, in flat cardboard cartons with no lids. I eyed these great mounds of syrup-drenched Belgian waffles with blueberries and cream, each topped with a pretty purple flower, that I was supposed to carry, plus two large cups of coffee. The assistant helpfully gave me an empty carton to put over one waffle so I could balance the other on top, put the coffees into a cardboard cup holder, and gamely I set off back to the gardens.

About halfway there, I realised people were looking at me with amusement and when I looked down at myself, yep, you’ve guessed it, I was wearing half the top waffle. A great dollop of cream had transferred itself to my left boob and the flower was stuck on top! Great. Just great. I had a creamy tit. When I got back to my cousin, she looked me up and down, started to laugh, and claimed the unsullied waffle in the bottom carton for herself. I wiped the cream off – luckily, I was wearing a white top, so it didn’t show much – and ate the rest of the waffle. It was so good. Two thick waffles with syrup and cream and blueberries, and the coffee was excellent. Going to do that again, but this time I’ll make sure I’m not trying to carry everything by myself.

In the afternoon, I had the usual zoom meeting with my local author group and about ten minutes before it was due to start, my mobile rang. It was Rory from my car insurance company. Funnily enough, I had been thinking about this and wondering what the situation was. I’d heard nothing since I’d sent them my four-page witness statement plus all the photographs I had taken of the road to prove that if the Yodel delivery driver had been making a delivery at the time of the accident, then it would have been physically impossible for any other vehicle to get by him to drive into the side of my car. Seriously, my road is narrow anyway, add residents’ cars parked up on both sides, and there was barely room for his van to get through – let alone anything else.

I’d sent all this information to them six weeks previously, but had no response, nor had I received my policy excess of £100 back so I assumed it was still unsettled. Anyway, the lovely Rory was phoning to let me know that at long last the other insurance company had admitted liability! The accident has gone down as not being my fault, and my £100 will be repaid into my account within the next three to four working days. This is such good news! Not just about the money – although it will be greatly appreciated – but that it’s not going down on my record as being my fault. It still seems deeply unfair that an accident can be considered your fault when someone else drives into your car whilst you are in your house!

Driving to pick up Miss F from work I thought about the plans for the next day. My favourite niece and her husband were coming over lunchtime and we had arranged to go uptown and eat in Edmundos. But, due to corona, they weren’t taking bookings. It was a case of turn up and hope they can fit you in. I’d had lunch there Tuesday and again on Wednesday. Tuesday hadn’t been too bad, but Wednesday we only just managed to get in and I knew lunchtime on a Saturday was going to be even worse.

Also, it had been a really hot day and the forecast for Saturday was even hotter. Did we want to be going into a busy, crowded town and squeezing into a jam-packed restaurant? I wasn’t sure I wanted to. No, I’d much rather lay up the table in my cool, shady, and peaceful garden and maybe order a Chinese takeaway? It would certainly be cheaper and, I felt, a lot nicer.

I reached the restaurant, collected Miss F, and as we drove home, she said – I’ve been thinking about tomorrow, do you think it would be nicer to stay home and order a takeaway?

Case of great minds think alike.

Saturday dawned – blazing hot as forecast. Even at 8am as I drank my tea, the temperature was already in the mid-twenties. I was sure my niece and her hubby would be fine with the new plan, so I swept up the garden, cleaned the table, and we put cushions on the chairs and laid the table nicely ready for lunch.

An interesting pile of presents was lying on the floor from Miss F, so I sat and opened them, and the little love had managed to track down an obscure book I wanted. I have recently discovered that my favourite author, Robin Hobb, also writes under the pen name Megan Lindholm, so I wanted to collect her books as well. Some of them are out of print but Miss F had found a second-hand copy of one on eBay. I don’t mind pre-loved books at all, especially if it’s the only way I’m going to get the book. She’d also bought me a tiny radio for the kitchen. I like listening to Radio 2 when I’m cooking dinner and up until now the only way I could was to have the stereo on full blast in the dining room – which is no fun for anyone else in the house.

Pile of sparkly presents!
Tiny radio

She also bought me an ergonomic mouse which is the oddest thing ever – more like a joystick than a mouse – and will take some getting used to but apparently will help stop my hand cramping. Finally, there was a wireless, ergonomic keyboard which really will take me a long time to adjust to. It’s one of the reasons that my blog is a little late this morning because I’m finding it hard to type on and keep making mistakes.

Very odd mouse
New keyboard

Our company arrived at 12:30 and were more than happy to have a takeaway in the garden – especially as it was now unbelievably hot and muggy. We knew the town would be heaving with little social distancing and no one wearing masks outside and none of us fancied that. Chinese was agreed upon and we ordered from a restaurant that’s only a couple of minutes away.

They gave me my presents – more books, yay!

Books!

The rest of the day was great. The meal was delicious. Miss F and I sometimes have a Chinese takeaway, but she is not very adventurous and always has the same thing, so it was great to have more variety to choose from. Also, if you’re the only person eating Chinese then you can only have one meal because it’s too expensive and wasteful to have any more than that.

We played games most of the afternoon, which was fun. This is when my garden comes into its own. It’s quiet and shady and my round table can seat up to ten if necessary. The silver birch and the cherry tree provide shade from the fierce sun so it’s cooler. The weather was glorious though, truly Mr Blue Sky was on his best behaviour for my birthday, and it was warm enough to sit outside until almost midnight.

And now it’s Sunday morning and my laptop is telling me it’s already 22 degrees centigrade and it’s set to be a scorching day. Other than tidying up after yesterday today is earmarked for writing – if I manage to get the hang of my new keyboard! I do need to get some milk from somewhere though, I made my tea this morning and the milk curdled into lumps. Yuck.

It’s been a fabulous week of friends, family, and fun, and I have been blown away by the outpouring of love, best wishes, and birthday messages that I received on Instagram and even on Facebook. I have tried to respond to them all, but there are so many I know I can’t get to everyone so would like to say a big thank you.

The next three days will be quiet ones of reading and writing, then on Wednesday Miss F is taking me out for lunch to a local pub that has allowed us to book so we know we’ll be able to get in, and then Thursday I’ll be back to work, and it will all be over for another year.

I hope wherever you are you have had a great week, and I look forward to chatting again next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Happiness is a Comfortable Bed

I’m writing this on Friday instead of Saturday because unusually I’m working tomorrow. I have a week’s holiday booked from next Monday, so my kind boss swapped my days around at the weekend so I could start my holiday a day earlier. He also set my working days as Thursday, Friday, Saturday the following week so I get a total of eleven days off in all – which is lovely.

It’s sure been a hectic week! I worked Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Smashed my week’s target out of the park on Sunday, which was great. It’s always nice to finish the first week of a new month ahead of target – it gives me some breathing space. Anyway, Monday and Tuesday were also good sales days, and I am already through my target for the week so anything I sell tomorrow will be a big, fat cherry on top.

A weird thing happened on Monday though. My boss had gone for his lunch hour and had left the premises. Lone working happens quite a lot, especially when a staff member is on holiday, but usually, it’s fine and I can cope. However, I was dealing with a lovely customer when a pair of young girls came into the shop and asked if I were alone. I didn’t think anything of it and replied that my colleague was on lunch break. They said, no problem, they’d go and look upstairs and call me if they needed help and I continued helping my customer.

Ten minutes later, one of them called down asking for assistance and my customer told me to go and see to them – she wanted to lie for a bit longer on the mattress she had potentially chosen – so I went upstairs. One of the girls exclaimed how hot she was and that she needed to get out of the shop for some air and that she’d meet her friend outside when she was finished. She stomped off downstairs and I didn’t think anything of it. I talked to the other young girl about mattresses, and she laid on a few. I didn’t think she was serious about buying even though she seemed interested in one.

As she was laying on one of the mattresses, I moved to the balcony to check my lady downstairs was still there and still happy and saw the other young girl about to leave the shop with armfuls of pillows!

Shocked, I shouted out – “Excuse me! What do you think you’re doing? You can’t take things out of the shop without paying for them!”

She jumped about a foot in the air and looked up at me. Her friend leapt off the mattress and rushed to the balcony beside me, crying out – “Oh, have you picked those out for me to look at?”

“Yes,” replied her friend. “I thought you might be interested in them, so I picked them up for you to take a look at.”

“Well, she can’t look at them in the car park, can she?” I replied and hurried downstairs. “Take them to the till,” I ordered. Flustered, the young girl staggered back to the till with them and dropped them down. I glanced over them – there was about £300 worth of product there.

“You made me jump!” the girl said. “Shouting at me like that. I was only bringing them upstairs for my friend to look at.”

“You were heading out the door with them,” I snapped.

“No, no, I wasn’t,” she tried to convince me.

“You were nowhere near the stairs; you were at the door!” I wasn’t having any of it.

“I’m sorry,” the other girl said. “She’s a bit, a bit…” she never finished the sentence and shrugged sheepishly, so I’m not sure what she thought her friend was a bit of. A bit of a thief?

Now, wouldn’t you think because their distract and steal plan hadn’t worked that they would have got out of the shop as quickly as possible before I changed my mind and called the police? They didn’t and this is where it gets weird. The second girl bought the mattress she’d lain on, so gave me her name, address, and mobile phone number!

Then they left.

Remember my original customer? Well, once the girls left, she sat up on the bed and told me that she thought my instincts had been spot on. She had watched the young girl look at the pillows, then pick up four and go around the back wall to get to the door – not going anywhere near the stairs – and that if I hadn’t seen her and shouted out, she would have been out into the car park leaving her friend to take the rap if I noticed the pillows were gone – which, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have done until later.

The lady then purchased her mattress and said if I needed a witness statement, she would be quite happy to supply me with one.

When my boss came back, I told him what had happened, and we talked about it. We were both stunned that the girl had bought the mattress. Surely, if it had been a simple distraction robbery then why didn’t they both leave as quickly as possible when I caught them? It makes no sense to go through with buying it and leave full contact details.

My thoughts were that they hadn’t come into the shop planning on stealing anything – after all, a bed shop is not your first thought of somewhere that has small, easily shoplifted items – that they came in because one of them genuinely wanted a mattress. Then her friend came downstairs, spotted the pillows, and didn’t see my customer lying on the bed – or forgot she was there – and snatched them up on the spur of the moment.

It shook me up a little – it could have turned nasty, after all – but I’ve been working there four years and this is the first time anything like this has happened and when it was happening, I didn’t feel threatened by these girls in any way. In fact, I think there were a little bit scared of me.

Wednesday I was up bright and early packing for our road trip oop North to visit Miss F’s university. The weather forecast said heavy rain and I was hoping it was wrong. I hate motorway driving in the rain. The roads are slippery, and vision is impaired – especially as my windscreen wipers probably need replacing – and there are always idiots still driving way too fast despite the fact they can’t actually, you know, see!

I’d wanted us to be on the road no later than 10-ish and it was five to ten when we put the bags in the car and set off to get petrol on the way. The heavy rain held off, and although we did drive through a few downpours, it certainly wasn’t the monsoon we’d been promised. The roads were reasonably clear, and we made good time. We stopped at midday for lunch at one of those services they have on every motorway. This was a complex containing a Burger King, Subway, KFC, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Waitrose, Starbucks, and bizarrely a WH Smiths – I suppose for any stationery emergency you might have.

Right up until we got there, Miss F had stated her desire for a Subway, then at the last minute changed her mind to a Burger King. I ordered a cheeseburger with bacon, but when it came it was minus the bacon despite the fact, I’d been charged 70p extra for it. Of course, Miss F wouldn’t let me say or do anything about that – what is it with teenagers and complaining about bad service? Will they grow out of it or are we raising a generation so afraid of being considered a “Karen” that they let everything go so good customer service will soon be a thing of the past?

Lunch was okay – it was a Burger King, there’s not a lot else to say about it – and 45 minutes later were back on the road.

The last time we took the M6 toll road there was a big accident up ahead causing three-hour delays so we’d had to get off early and try and make our way cross country, and I was hoping that wouldn’t happen again. But no, clear road and plain sailing all the way, and it was just gone 2:30pm when we pulled up outside the pub where we had booked to stay the night.

We checked in, booked our breakfast, and were given the key to our room. There were seven rooms in all, in what I think might have previously been a stable block. The room was lovely, cosy, and quirky, with a king-size bed in the main room, a nice size shower room, and a single bed in a nook for Miss F. We quickly unpacked, then drove to the local town of Nantwich to have a look around.

My bed!
Love this hare lamp
Armchair – room even had an AC unit
old chest of drawers
Miss F’s sleeping nook

Like most very small towns, there wasn’t a lot to look at. We did pay a visit to the museum of local interest – and spent twenty minutes in there – it was a very small town, so not a lot of interest had ever happened. We wandered about a bit, then because we were both tired, we drove back to the pub, parked the car, and wandered down to the local shop to see if they sold any playing cards.

They didn’t, so we bought a soft drink each and returned to the pub and sat in their gorgeous garden. The sun was shining, and the bees were having a wonderful time in all the lavender and rose bushes that ringed the garden. Our dinner was booked for 6:30pm, so we killed an hour sitting in the sun, talking, and playing silly quiz games on Miss F’s phone before going back to our room and getting ready for dinner.

The pub we were staying in is over 250 years old and the restaurant was fabulous. All low wooden beams, tiny leaded windows, quirky tables with bookshelves built into them, and everywhere you looked a plethora of curiosities, knickknacks, and other oddities. It was wonderful, very atmospheric.

Our table with its own built in bookshelf

Miss F was still full of lunch so decided to just have a bowl of nachos and cheese. I chose the duck served in a wild cherry jus, with summer vegetables and sweet potato rosti. Then we both had dessert. I went for the raspberry and rhubarb crème Brulee and Miss F had raspberry and passionfruit cheesecake and ice cream – she went through about four lactase pills on that meal so she could digest the dairy.

Nachos – boring but what she wanted
My meal was more adventurous
Raspberry and rhubarb Creme Brulee
Raspberry and passion fruit chessecake and ice cream – it came with flowers

Bizarrely, we had to vacate the restaurant at eight. I have no idea why, maybe it was because of the football or something, as England were playing Denmark that evening, but I took my second glass of wine back to the room and we sat on my bed and watched mindless TV for a while before going to bed.

So far, the mini-break had been fab, but then it all went wrong because my mattress was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on! Seriously, extra firm doesn’t begin to cover it. The damn thing was solid, it was like sleeping on a slab of concrete. As someone who sells mattresses for a living, I know what I’m talking about, and this mattress was firmer than any we sell in our shop. I tossed and turned, but no matter which position I lay in my back was in serious pain. I tried lying on my side, but because there was absolutely no give in the mattress, I trapped nerves in my shoulders and hips and all my limbs were a painful mess of pins and needles.

It was a long and terrible night. There was a church clock tower next to the pub and every quarter-hour it would ding a little tune. On the actual hour, it would dong out the time with all the solemnity of Big Ben. I heard every single one of those dongs and would lay there counting them praying for it to be further through the night than I thought, and that maybe, just maybe, I’d slept through one. But no, midnight, one, two, three, four, and five … I heard them all.

Miss F was also very restless, tossing and turning, I don’t think her mattress was much better than mine but with the resilience of youth, she at least was managing to sleep. I didn’t want to sit up and read in case I disturbed her, so there I lay, blinking in the gloom and so tired – so very, very tired – but unable to sleep and wondering if the night would ever end.

Of course, eventually, it did. At 6am, Miss F got up and disappeared into the shower. Her hair must dry naturally otherwise it frizzes so she took the first turn, and I went in after her. We had to take Covid tests so got them out of the way early. I don’t like doing them, but they’re not as bad as I thought they were going to be and ten minutes after submitting our results on the NHS website we had our texts proving that we were bug-free, and I was able to have a cup of tea.

Our breakfast wasn’t booked until 9:30am so we had plenty of time to leisurely get ready and pack before wandering back to the quirky restaurant.

Breakfast was HOOGE!! There was a selection of cereals if you wanted them, toast with choices of jams, marmalades, and honey, and, of course, a full English breakfast. We didn’t know when we were going to eat again so both chose the full English, and it was very full. A giant sausage, two rashers of bacon, black pudding, baked beans, fried potatoes, mushrooms, grilled tomato, and a fried egg. Yum. It certainly stuck to the ribs and everywhere else it touched. Plus, fresh orange juice and all the tea and coffee you could drink.

Afterwards, we staggered back to our room to clean our teeth and finish loading up the car, Miss F’s tour of the university was at midday, and it was still only a little after ten, so we went and sat in the garden again enjoying the morning sunshine – it was blazing hot by this time despite all the weather warnings that Thursday was going to be chilly with torrential downpours – and the bees were once again busy.

It was only a ten-minute drive to the university, but Miss F was understandably keen not to be late so, at eleven, we got in the car and drove to it. By the time we’d found it, found the car park, parked, and made our way to the reception, we were in time to sit in the sun for a bit and have a drink before being collected by our tour guide and taken around the campus.

It’s wonderful there. We went all around the mini zoo they have and saw lots of animals. We were even able to view the accommodation and see the exact type of house Miss F will be living in. It’s very modern and clean and spacious. The mattress is a bit thin and I’m not sure how she’s going to like it after the very deep, luxurious, and expensive mattress she’s used to sleeping on – there are some perks to your mum working in a bed shop and getting excellent staff discount. I have bought her a thick quilted mattress topper but I’m now not sure it will be thick enough. Oh well, if she’s not comfortable I’ll have to see about buying her a proper thick memory foam topper.

After that we had a tour of the library and lecture rooms and then it was time to come home.

Because we’d had such a good run-up, I was hoping we’d be so lucky on the way back. I was aware of how very tired I was after my sleepless night, and when Miss F said she wanted to play her music I agreed, hoping it would keep me awake. We had no plans to stop on the way back – we had bottles of water in the car, we’d both used the ladies before leaving the university, and if it was only going to be three hours again, I said I’d much rather push for home and have a nice evening meal than another indifferent junk food pit stop. After all, that breakfast was still sticking and neither of us was hungry.

Luckily, the weather held for the most part and the roads were reasonably clear. We made excellent timing and three hours later we made a brief stop at my parents’ house to pick up Miss F’s new TV which she’d bought for her university room but had delivered to my parents as we were away.

Then we drove to Waitrose and basically bought whatever we fancied for dinner and then home!

Again, the trip back took three hours.

I put together a sharing platter for dinner as neither of us wanted a big, stodgy meal and we ate that at about seven. I had a couple of glasses of wine and Miss F had a bottle of sweet cider. And although it was very nice to go away, and we’d had a great time – it was oh so nice to be home – and it was wonderful to be back in my bed. Happiness is definitely a comfortable bed.

Dinner was the best kind of picnic

Today, Friday, is my day off and I must confess other than laundry and chat with you, I haven’t done a lot. Tomorrow it’s work, but only 10:30-4:30 so a reasonably short day, and then I have eleven whole days off. They are going to be days crammed with seeing friends and family to celebrate my birthday, reading, and hopefully lots of writing.

But of course, I will tell you all about it next week.

Julia Blake