Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

On today’s “A Little Bit of Blake” I’m trying something a bit different. One of the hardest things for me during this time of isolation and social distancing, is not being able to meet up with friends for a coffee and a chat, especially my fellow author Becky Wright. As some of you probably know, Becky and I have been friends forever and both being writers it means that when we meet up – as we do at least once a month – we always have plenty to talk about and know exactly where the other one is coming from. Sadly, we’ve had to miss this month’s get together but, through the wonders of modern technology, we were able to have a virtual coffee and chat instead.

As I know this must be one of the hardest aspects of the current situation for others out there, we thought it would be nice to post our chat here. So, why not grab yourself the beverage of your choice, and curl up and have coffee with a pair of friends, mums and authors as they chat about their past, their present and their future.

Hi Becky, do you have coffee?

I have coffee.

Cool, let’s do this then. Okay, so I’ve been trying to think about when we first met. Was it 2004 or 2005? I know it was before Miss F started school.

I think it was 2005, yes, I think it must have been.

I think so too. We met at an evening course at our local college for creative writing. I was there because a friend has asked me to go with her. Her request made me remember how much I’d used to love writing, you know, before life, marriage and having a baby took over. That’s why I went, why did you?

It was at a time when life was very much full-on with work and kids. I didn’t realise at the time how much I needed something for myself, but it ended up being one of the best things I ever did. I’d been writing my first book for while, but up until then I hadn’t connected with anyone else who had the same passion for words and writing.

It was the same for me. It wasn’t until I was sitting in that classroom on that first evening with a bunch of strangers, that I suddenly realised how much I missed writing. As you know, I was going through the divorce from hell at that time. I’d been left with a very young child to raise completely on my own. Like you, I needed something that was mine and when my friend asked me to accompany her on the course, it sparked that desire to such an extent that I begged my mother to babysit for a couple of hours each week so I could go.

I remember that first evening. Initially I was so worried that I’d be out of my depth and would feel out of place. Back then, the feeling of not being good enough was at its height. I remember that I gave myself a good talking to on the way in… then I realised most of us felt the same way.

Yes, we did, well I certainly did. Now, I don’t know what your first impressions were of me, but I remember mine of you – a lovely, happy, beautiful lady with a big beaming smile and what seemed tons of confidence.

Blimey, confidence? Ha, that’s not what I was feeling. I remember looking at you and thinking you could be a kindred spirit. And boy, was I right.

So, there we sat. A group of about twenty, mostly women, but I think there were a couple of men there as well, looking a bit out of place.

Yes, I think there were a couple of men, I seem to remember a few drifted after a week or so.

I think there were a few went MIA, I don’t know why, maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting. Was it what you were expecting and hoping for?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I’d never attended anything of the like since leaving school, of course. And with teenage children my brain cells had dried up a little… but, I think what I got most from that course was a connection with other people with the same passion for words. The only thing on that course that I really struggled with, and still do for that matter, was reading aloud. You know how much I hate that, I seem to stumble over every word, even though I wrote them.

Whereas I’ve never had a problem with reading aloud or performing in front of strangers. I guess all those years doing amateur dramatics turned out to be good for something.

Yes, see you’re so lucky to have that skill. Unlike me, I’d always rather try to fade into the wallpaper.

I do remember that first evening though, the instructor, Emma, gave us a list of words such as mobile phone, P45, tin of baked beans and various others that I can’t remember now, and gave us 30 minutes to write a short story containing all those words.

Ah yes, I remember that now. I have no idea what I came up with but think it probably wouldn’t be worth reading today.

I’m sure it wasn’t, I’m sure I remember yours being very good. Anyway, at the end of the thirty minutes Emma asked for someone to read theirs out loud. Everyone stared at the desk and kept their hands firmly down. In the end, because I felt sorry for Emma, I said okay, I’ll go first, and I read what I’d written. It was a short story called “Family Matters” and many years later it ended up in my book “Eclairs for Tea and other stories”.

Eclairs for Tea and other stories available from Amazon

Oh yes, I would have had my head and my hands firmly down. But isn’t it funny how things from all those years ago have followed us to the present? “The Manningtree Account” as you know, had its origins in one of those weekly homework tasks Emma used to set us.

I do remember you freaked everyone out in the class when you read us what would later become “The Manningtree Account”. It was so atmospheric and creepy. But how did you feel after that first evening? I went home on fire with ideas and inspiration, and the next day I began writing my first ever novel.

The Manningtree Account – available from Amazon

I remember we walked out to the carpark together and stood chatting for a bit. We found out we both lived in town and you said I should come over for coffee sometime. I went home not only feeling I’d achieved something quite momentous for me. I wasn’t an outgoing or confident person, so the fact I’d made the effort to go, had sat through the whole first class and really loved it was amazing. I did nothing but talk about it for days afterwards and spent the whole of the following week writing. It had given me that much needed boost.

Did I ever tell you I very nearly left after the second week and not come back?

Oh my gosh, no, why? You seemed so in your element there, comfortable, like you belonged. I envied that a little, I felt like an imposter for a while.

Oh, trust me, my confidence is all an act put on for other people. Inside I’m a marshmallow of doubt and insecurity.

We’re all soft on the inside, darling.

Anyway, do you remember the rather abrasive mother who was there with her heavily pregnant young daughter?

Oh yes, vaguely.

Well, that second week I was so looking forward to going. I’d really enjoyed the first class and had written 10,000 words of a novel so was excited to see everyone again. We’d all barely sat down when the mother said she had an issue she’d like to raise with the tutor. She said her daughter had been very reluctant to come back and that she felt certain people shouldn’t be allowed to be part of the group. Then she looked straight at me and bluntly told me she believed I shouldn’t be there because I was making everyone else too nervous to have any input, that she felt I was a professional writer and that as this was a group for amateurs and those just starting it wasn’t the right group for me.

Ooh cow! How dare she? People like that certainly have an issue with the chip on their own shoulder.

For a moment I felt like taking all my clothes off so I really would be back at school having a nightmare! But then several people stuck up for me, you included, and Emma made it quite plain it was a course for everyone and that I’d paid my money the same as everyone else had, so could stay or go as I pleased.

Oh, my goodness, I remember that now! I seem to remember she was a bit sheepish after that yet was still a bit snarky to you for the rest of the course. Sadly, we come across people like that a lot in life.

I spent the rest of the evening in silence listening to everyone else. I remember I didn’t speak and kept looking around wondering if that was how everyone else was feeling. All my insecurities were bubbling to the surface and I wanted to cry. I seriously thought about not coming back again, but at the end of the evening when I walked out to my car, you and several others followed me and told me not to take it to heart, that I shouldn’t listen to such petty jealousy and certainly not let it upset me. That was the only reason why I came back the following week, that and the fact I’d paid good money for that course and I’d be damned if I’d let the spite of one person spoil it for me.

It was petty jealousy. We see so much of it. But you have always had a talent. You’ve honed it over the years, but even back then it was something to be proud of. That is why we were there after all, well certainly that’s why you and I were there. To my knowledge, I don’t believe anyone else from that course went on to have writing careers. I feel proud of us both for that.

Aww, thank you honey, and it’s strange to think that that course was the spark for both of us. That something special happened there and then. I remember after the last evening, a group of us gathered in the carpark chatting for ages. We didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to let go of what we’d found. We swapped numbers and as I was the only one who lived in the town centre and had a young child I couldn’t leave, I invited everyone around to meet at mine the following week to continue what had begun on that course.

I did feel bereft that evening. It had only been a few weeks but those evenings in class had become a lifeline for me. Home life was so complicated and difficult at that time. It was my escape, somewhere I could just be me, just be Becky. Then you saved us, meeting up at yours every week, our core group, well, it kept me going. If it weren’t for our writing club, I might have left my book sitting there and it would never have seen the light of day.

Our writing club saved me as well. I think out of the five or six members of the group, we were the ones truly dedicated to writing a book. We used to read to each other what we’d written during the week. Very often, the others had nothing to contribute, but we always made the effort to produce something. I know I wrote as though I were on fire. Miss F was still very young and napped for Britain, so every spare moment I had I would write. Knowing that the group would be expecting the next instalment the following week, gave me the incentive I needed.

I always felt amazed at how much you could write in those days what with working, and with such a young child as she was then. I did my best to bring what I could with me. Fitting writing around four children and working full-time was tricky – my word, life was so crazy back then. How on earth did we manage to cram it all in? I know it was the same for you, it was such a passion.

You were working on “Remember to Love Me” then and still playing with “The Manningtree Account” and sometimes you’d bring other short stories and flash fiction along, and it was always breathtakingly good and so atmospheric.

Remember to Love Me – mark I

Writing for me back then was a healing tool. It took me out of my own life – creating misery for someone else took my mind off my own! “Remember to Love Me” had been part of my life for four years by then. It had taken me so long to write, we both know I’m not such a fast writer as you. I think creating the problems, misery and sadness of my characters was a way of distancing myself from life.

I think that was true for me as well. My life was so hard. I was really struggling financially, raising a small child alone, working and trying to keep it all together. Writing for me was both cathartic and an escape. During the years of our writing group, I finished “Becoming Lili”, “Erinsmore”, “Lost & Found”, “The Book of Eve”, “Lifesong” and “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~” and of course, THAT book, the first I ever wrote, which I don’t think will ever see the light of day!

Becoming Lili – available from Amazon

Oh yes, THAT book! Lol.

Yes, THAT book. The book that shall not be named.

Maybe one day it will be both named and published.

Hmm, I don’t know. Do you think the world will ever be ready for it? Perhaps now we’ve had 50 Shades of Grey it might be.

50 Shades certainly broke down barriers, even if it was the only thing it did for the literary world. Sorry, not a big fan.

Neither am I, but the level of sexuality in that book did pave the way for writers to be a little more… hmm, expressive in their novels, shall we say?

It made sex more accessible and more mainsteam, but THAT book has a far more intricate plot and far more interesting characters than 50 Shades.

But the thing I remember most about our group wasn’t just the writing side, but the fact it became so much more than that. Remember all those birthday lunches and trips out? Like the time we all hopped on a train and went to Norwich for the day? We went for a fabulously boozy lunch then fell into a taxi and went to see a beautiful ballet at the theatre.

We’ve had so many incredible trips away – usually involving prosecco – all those theatre trips and hotel weekends.

Are you referring to the infamous archaeological weekend we went on?

Our trip to Stonehenge, that always sticks in my mind, it was brilliant. I loved it.

So, did I. A whole weekend away from the family and real life. Do you remember the famous archaeologist Julian Richards of the TV series “Meet the Ancestors” was with our group for the whole weekend?

Julian Richards, yes, he was great. We picked his brains the whole trip. Even the miles we hiked down the avenue to Stonehenge was amazing. It quite took my breath away. I remember getting all emotional when it came into view over the brow of the hill.

They’d said there would be a champagne reception the first evening we arrived, as a “meet and greet” so we got dressed up to the nines, gorgeous frocks, fully made up, heels and jewellery. We went down and found a room full of very earnest looking elderly people all dressed in hiking clothes and staring at us as if we’d just arrived from Mars!

We did make a bit of an entrance, but then we always did like to dress for the occasion and after all, you can never have too much sparkle.

We looked at one another, then strutted into that room as if we owned it. And we did! We totally did! We were the youngest there by a good twenty years and even if I do say so myself, probably the most attractive!

I also remember they’d stated only one glass of fizz or wine per person. Well, we weren’t having that.

Oh no we weren’t! What a stupid rule. Oh no, that was never going to happen. We charmed and flirted and made friends with the waiter and voila, our glasses were never empty for the whole weekend!

Julian also made a beeline for us and never really left. He made sure he was on our table not just that night, but the next one as well. He was most attentive to our grilling him on everything historical, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact we were a good two decades younger than everyone else.

Do you remember though, that first night he looked us up and down and eyed our footwear. Then in a very concerned voice asked if we were aware how muddy and rough the terrain would be the next day? We pulled big eyes and said, “Oh, so you mean what we’re wearing won’t do?”

Yes, I do. I honestly think everyone thought we were serious, until we rocked up next morning appropriately dressed. I don’t think anyone recognised us at first.

Nope, we were all professional in chinos, waterproof jackets and proper walking boots.

I remember getting him to sign his book on Stonehenge and feeling quite in awe. Isn’t it funny that we now sign our own books for others?

I got him to sign mine to Miss F, and I still have it somewhere.

I have mine too.

I remember we went to the theatre a LOT during this time. I think your home life was going through a critical time and you just wanted to escape.

The theatre was the air that we breathed back then. Whether it was locally or in London. I loved our London trip when we stayed in a boutique hotel and went to see “Phantom of the Opera”.

That would have been in 2007 because it was my 40th birthday present from everyone.

I seem to remember the Italian waiter where we went for lunch taking quite a shine to me.

Oh my, I remember that waiter! You shameless woman, but it did get us free drinks with our desserts and how many after dinner mints, did we get?!

Free drinks and lots of after dinner mints – it was worth a little flirting! Although he did ask me for my number!

You never told me that!! Hussy!

He never got it of course.

Hmm. The next day we had a massive breakfast then managed to fit in a tour of London, Madam Tussauds and the Tower of London before catching our bus home. Stupidly, I was wearing brand new heeled boots. The state of my feet by Sunday evening! Ten screaming blisters where my toes used to be, but totally worth it.

I wore heels too that weekend, oh, how we suffered for fashion back then! I loved that weekend so much. I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” again this January, I love it so much I’d gladly go again.

Maybe we will when this is all over. But then time passed, and life got busy for everyone and, as usually happens, the group started to drift apart. We stuck together the longest though, even when in the end it was just the two of us.

It was hard keeping it all together. Relations became a little strained with certain members of the group. It was always so much easier and more relaxed when I came alone for dinner armed with a fattening dessert. Especially when I’d managed to arrange a lift home afterwards so we could open a bottle of red.

Yes, there were a few personality clashes and there began to be negative vibes from certain people that simply didn’t happen when it was just us two. And it was during this time that you published “Remember to Love Me” with a lavish launch party where you looked amazing!

Oh, the “Remember to Love Me” launch party! That was a strange thing. Being the centre of attention was extremely difficult for me, but it was wonderful that so many people attended. Launches are not done like that anymore. Maybe it’s for the best, at least now I can wear my PJ’s when I release a new book! But I must say – that dress! Dark emerald satin with the highest black sandals known to woman, it was beautiful.

Would you sign my copy of your book please, Becky.
Why certainly, Julia

It certainly was a gorgeous dress. A few years after that we drifted apart ourselves, which I deeply regret and don’t know why it happened. I think you were going through a tough divorce and then starting afresh, and I don’t know if maybe I reminded you too much of your old life and a past you were trying to escape from.

Life had been difficult for many years and of course, things inevitably came to a head. The divorce was hard, not just in the practical and emotional respect but on my children. For a very long while things got too much, and mentally I wasn’t in a good place. I found the only way I could survive from day to day was to hibernate. I was working full-time in a completely different sphere from what I was used to and then I met James….

Anyway, fast forward to Christmas 2016. I’d published “The Book of Eve” through a small press the Christmas before but sales were dire. I was so naïve about the whole publishing process and didn’t really have an internet presence, other than a private Facebook account that friends and family were on. They didn’t really want to see endless posts about my books, and I didn’t really know how to promote myself or what to do. I was a bit stuck. I’d also just been diagnosed with a growth in my abdomen and was scheduled for surgery in February 2017. Things were tough. I certainly didn’t have any plans to publish anything else and had given up on my dream of being a published author. I hadn’t heard anything from you for several years when suddenly, out of the blue, you messaged me through Facebook. I was stunned and so happy to hear from you.

I was planning to re-release “Remember to Love Me” and was scrolling though Amazon one day when something made me look up Julia Blake. When I found “The Book of Eve” I knew it was a sign that I had to get in touch. I just knew if I could do this on my own, then so could you. There were far more options now for independent authors than ever before, when it used to be traditional or seedy vanity press only. I just knew we had to do this together. After all, we’d begun this journey together, there was no way I was going to do this without you.

Remember to Love Me – Mark II
Available from Amazon

I couldn’t believe it was you! We chatted for a couple of weeks. You told me how you’d republished “Remember to Love Me” as an indie author. With your help and encouragement, I started my Instagram page and you introduced me to your friends on there, who were so kind and supportive.

I didn’t really know back then what sort of advertising we needed to do. Only that we did. We had social media at our fingertips, something we hadn’t had back when we started.

Plus, Instagram was such fun. A warm, encouraging and supportive place to connect with writers and readers alike. You persuaded me to give it a go and we decided that my old novella, “Lifesong” would be a perfect way for me to dip my toe in the water, as it were. It was short enough to make it manageable and I’d release it as an eBook so it would be easy for me to try my wings out on. So, once I was released from hospital and had to spend three weeks resting at home, you came over and we spent the whole day sorting out “Lifesong”.

Lifesong – available from Amazon

We sat there all day, and you kept us topped up with coffee while we formatted and created a cover for it and uploaded it. And there it was. You were an indie author. “Lifesong” was the perfect book to start with.

You were going to release “The Manningtree Account” as an eBook at the same time.

“The Manningtree Account” now that was something that also came into creation from that writing course all those years before. Releasing “Lifesong” inspired me to go back and look at those stories I’d created back then with fresh eyes. “Manningtree” had stayed with me all that time and I knew it was the one I wanted to publish next… suitably creepy to reflect how my writing style was evolving. Isn’t it funny how far we’ve come in the publishing game?

It is. Just look at us now! You published “The Manningtree Account” and then “Daughters of the Oak” which was when I think it all kicked off for you. It was then you really found your voice.

Daughters of the Oak – available from Amazon

Yes, I’d like to think I’ve now found my voice and where I sit among the genres. All my books are very gothic in feel, some more than others, but they are all ghost stories at their core even if their feet are planted in other genres such as romance and horror. My current novel that I’m desperately trying to finish for this Autumn is again dark, full of ghosts, and so much more.

You’ve grown into your persona as an author, you really have.

Thank you. And so, have you, you really are an author for all seasons.

Oh, I think that’s because my butterfly brain can’t settle to any one thing, that’s why I jump from genre to genre. But then the release of “Mr Stoker & I” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that your path is a dark and twisting one.

Very dark. Very twisting. “Mr Stoker & I” is very special to me. Probably more so than any other. Lucy still resides inside me, every so often whispering to me. She will not make a come back in any form, although readers have asked me to, but for those who have read “Mr Stoker & I” and know how her story ends, maybe she is still wandering the East Cliff of Whitby. But there are plans to revisit Blackthorn Manor in the future.

Mr Stoker & I – available from Amazon

Good. I know your many readers will be very pleased to hear that. I think my favourite spooky tale connected with you though, is the one that happened in real life, and that’s the story of how you “made up” your husband long before you ever met him.

Ahh, my very own James Wright.

Yes, please tell me the story again.

We first meet Lance Corporal James Wright in chapter four of “Remember to Love Me”. When I wrote his character way back in 2000 it was more than a decade before my own fateful meeting with my very own James Wright. After my divorce I started working in a hotel. I was the duty manager so was on duty most of the time. James was the head chef, so was working equally long hours. We met and I knew instantly that we had connected. Very soon he became my friend, my confidante and the one person I talked to the most about work, life and everything. Romance blossomed and I realised I had discovered my “Mr Wright” after all. He really is my other half. It is very eerie.

James & Becky Wright

You are so lucky and that’s such an amazing story, it must have been fate. And of course, the fairytale didn’t end there, did it?

I not sure I believe in fate, but I do believe that if we lay ourselves open to possibilities then wonderful things can happen, and no, the fairytale didn’t end there. We’ve been married five years now and have our son, who’s now six. And yes, I do realise how lucky I am and thank the heavens every day that we found each other.

And now look at us! It’s 2020 and we’re closer friends now than we’ve ever been, but these are very strange times we are living in.

These are strange times. There’s nothing I’d like better right now than to be sitting in the same room with you, drinking coffee and chatting as we used to do. But the wonders of technology keep us connected.

They do indeed. And then of course, last year you decided to put all your hard-won knowledge and experience, together with James’s wizardry with a computer and form Platform House Publishing.

It is very surreal how Platform House Publishing came to be. I think it was a series of small decisions that led us to where we are now. I’ve always done all my own formatting and interior book design, and James has always created my covers. Then came the odd video trailer…

And from there a mighty business empire was launched… well, I’m sure it will be.

Platform House Publishing

Now we are creating for others, just like you. I’ve come to realise that other authors need help with certain aspects of their books. We work and socialise within the great interconnected networks of Instagram and Facebook, and everyone on there has been so supportive that we wanted to give back that support in a practical manner. That’s why we desperately try to keep our prices as low as is feasibly possible.

And then last year when I came to you with my crazy plan to revisit my earlier novels and completely overhaul them with new formatting, interior illustrations and even new covers, you wholeheartedly supported me and said – “how can we help?”

To me, the whole idea of helping in anyway I can, is exciting. I honestly get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of formatting and book interior design. It makes me feel slightly less of an oddity even though no one else seems to enjoy formatting.

My problem is I have the vision, I can see what I want my books to look like, but I don’t have the technological know-how and I certainly don’t have the equipment to make those dreams a reality. And that’s where you come in. I’m sure there are thousands, millions of authors out there like me. They’ve written a great book, they’ve had it edited, but they need help to give it that final push, that polish that turns an okay book into a fantastic one.

I have to admit, I’m quite at home with technology. Despite being a writer with a great love of words, you know I’ve always struggled with mild dyslexia.

I know, and it’s amazing how you’ve overcome it and reached for your dream anyway.

It is so important to make a great first impression with your book. You can have the best story, superbly edited, but if the cover and interior formatting are off and unappealing, then a reader might just pass it by. We want to make sure that every book when it leaves us is the best it can possibly be, both aesthetically and in meeting all the standards required to publish.

It’s very true what they say – “the first bite is with the eye” – and I think that applies just as much to a book as to a meal.

Definitely, we eat with our eyes first. What with James being a chef he was born creative. His medium may have changed, but he’s still creating feasts.

So, he appreciates how true that saying is more than anyone. I really enjoy working with you, you always seem to know exactly what I’m trying to achieve, and over the years you’ve helped me polish the “Julia Blake” brand until I believe all my books have a certain look to them. Well, they soon will do. We have a few more left to transform.

Chaining Daisy – the sequel to Becoming Lili
available from Amazon

I feel that we have made all your books look like “yours” and that they have the mark of your brand. It always sounds very corporate when I say that, but we are in business as writers, we are all small businesses and without a certain amount of “branding” we will never stand out.

And finally, we’re at the end of one more project together and that’s “Erinsmore”.

Oh, the epic saga that is “Erinsmore”. I think we have lived that fantasy as much as you have these past few weeks and it’s been such a joy. James, even as we speak, is in the depths of the “Erinsmore” fantasy creating an epic video trailer for you.

And I expect thoroughly enjoying it. I think between us we’ve created something incredible, and I can’t wait for this story to be re-launched on the world next week.

I think the story now resides within the packaging it’s always deserved. All those years ago when I first read “Erinsmore”, I knew it needed something extra special. James adores creating video trailers, it’s become his happy place, especially in these uncertain times.

Erinsmore – available from Amazon soon

And now, thanks to you, it’s got that special packaging. Anyway, do you realise we’ve been chatting for over two hours? Even virtually, there’s no shutting us up.

Once we start, there really is no stopping us!

And it’s now turning into Friday evening and I know you’ll need to go and make dinner for your family, as I have to. Do you have any plans for tonight?

This afternoon has been a joy though, a much-needed distraction from the world we’re currently living in. Well, Platform House is still open, I’m creating some special treats for another couple of authors, then I’m planning to do some writing as I’ve committed myself to Nano again this month. I’m certainly a glutton for punishment! But this book won’t write itself, and I really need it written ready for a Halloween release. Luckily, dinner tonight is in the hands of the professional.

Oh, wow! You certainly are a workaholic. I did think about taking part myself, but even with currently having a lot more time at home, what with planning for the launch of “Erinsmore” next week and with three other books to prepare for publication, I was afraid of biting off more than I could chew. Best of luck with everything, and I’m looking forward to our next coffee and chat session, even if it does have to be virtually.

I think I must be crazy as well to have set myself such a challenge, but I will do it, somehow.

I have faith in you.

And thank you for having me over for a virtual coffee and a chat about old times and new, it’s been fun.

It has, I’d like to thank the lovely Becky Wright for giving up her Friday afternoon to chat with me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed being able to eavesdrop. Have a good week everyone, and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

Report from the Home Front

What a strange week it has been. Day ten of quarantine for Miss F and me, and so far, so good. Aside for the odd snarling spat at each other, we have rubbed along remarkably well. I think this is because we are fortunate to have a house with enough rooms to escape to during the day, only coming together in the evenings to have dinner by the fire and watch Netflix.

We have a deal between us. We each get to choose a series and watch them an episode each in turn. Miss F is making me watch Gossip Girl which is everything I really hate about American television. Teenagers that are supposed to be sixteen but look thirty and all dress in expensive, designer clothes and never wear the same thing twice. They seem to have an endless source of money, hardly ever go to school and never get homework. But the amount of time they spend bitching about each other and jumping in and out of bed, to be honest I don’t know when they’d have the time for school or homework! Their parents are conspicuous by their absence, or at the very least have so little control over their promiscuous, precocious offspring they might as well not be there.

I really don’t enjoy these series, but at least this one doesn’t have vampires in it and Gossip Girl does have one huge plus going for it. It’s not Riverdale! That surely must take the award for the biggest pile of fetid dingo kidneys ever produced. I suffered nearly three seasons of this ridiculous pile of poo before rebelling and threatening to gouge my own eyes out with a teaspoon if I was forced to endure anymore. By this point, I think even Miss F was tiring of it, because she agreed to choose a different series without a murmur.

And what am I forcing her to watch in exchange, I hear you ask? Well, did you know that Netflix has all eleven seasons of the X-Files on there! That’ll make the long hours of isolation simply fly by. I haven’t seen the X-Files since it first aired and watching it again has made me realise two things. Firstly, how slow and creaky the first series is, and secondly, what an appallingly bad actor David Duchovny is. As wooden as a shed door, he delivers all his lines in the same nasally monotone and it’s no wonder he kind of sank without trace when the show ended. It’s equally no surprise that the fabulous Gillian Anderson went on to become a superb and well-respected dramatic actress. Even in her limited role as Scully her talent shines through, and the things that woman can do with her eyebrows are beyond belief.

What else have I been up to beside watching TV? Well, obviously I wasn’t feeling too great so had to take it steady. Lucky enough to only have it mildly, it nevertheless was unpleasant and left me exhausted and aching in every muscle. Still, I did manage to spring clean my bedroom which was a result, and I’ve washed all the woodwork in the hall, stairs and landing and hand swept the carpet to get up all the bits the vacuum cleaner simply doesn’t get.

During the past week, the weather here in the UK has been amazing, with clear blue skies and warm sunshine, so I’ve been out in the garden for a little bit every day to get my daily dose of vitamin D and some much needed fresh air and exercise. I’ve tidied, weeded, swept and moved plants. The next big job out there is to paint all my fences, but I’m going to wait until I’m fully recovered before tackling that. Also, this weekend the weather has taken a decided turn for the worse and it’s too cold to be outside for long.

Socially, I’ve spoken on the phone to my mother a few times and emailed friends to check they’re okay and swap news. Last week, my group of local authors and I attempted a mass meet up on-line. It was fun, even if our technology let us down at times with one or more of us suddenly disappearing or being unable to make themselves heard. But it was great seeing everyone and having a couple of hours of chat. Thursday evening, I hung out of an upstairs window and clapped to show my support of the NHS staff all working tirelessly and daily risking not only their own health but also that of their families. All my neighbours were on doorsteps and in windows, and it was great to be able to wave and shout greetings to them.

Yesterday all the residents on my street received a very distressing email that one of my neighbour’s brother had sadly died from Corona. This really brought it home and he is the first person that I know off who has died from it. More poignantly he was only 52, my age, and had no underlying medical conditions. United in our desire to do something to show our sympathy and solidarity we all emerged onto the street. Carefully observing at least eight foot between me and anyone else all the time, I went out as well, and we all stood there in the evening chill, clutching glasses of wine or bottles of beer and raised a glass to show our deepest respects. Calling out to one another our news and offering practical help in the form of collecting essential supplies or medicine to one another, it made me realise what a very special street I live on.

A passing council worker enquired what we were doing, but on being told it was a wake to show support for a neighbours bereavement, he bowed his head in sympathetic silence, reminded us to observe the social distancing rules and not to stay out too long, then went on his way. We stayed out for about thirty minutes, before the cold drove us back indoors.

Then last night I face timed with fellow authors Caroline Noe in London and Linda Gazani in California. Long time friends on social media, it was the first time we’d ever seen each other’s faces and we spent over two hours online chatting and giving each other much needed support and companionship, especially as both Carrie and Linda are in isolation completely alone.

This really made me wonder, what would we have done if this had happened pre-internet age? Even my own mother who used to believe the internet was the work of the devil, has been forced to admit that it has been a lifesaver for many during these strange days of quarantine and self-isolation. Can you imagine being stuck in your house, all alone, without the chance to email, text or facetime with your family and friends. And yes, maybe social media has its flaws, but for sheer connectivity to other communities around the globe it can’t be beaten and is saving peoples sanity.

As well, all those poor parents who’ve taken on the role of teacher to their young children. Imagine how much harder that would be without the online lessons provided by hardworking teachers who are busy working away at home preparing lessons and marking homework, all to keep up with the educational needs of the nation. I know my own cousin’s youngsters are benefiting from this and are quite enjoying their home schooling.

Wednesday morning, the animal centre at the West Suffolk College where Miss F is training, streamed a live, hour long tour of the facilities so you could meet all the animals from cheeky goats to cuddly bunnies and scary snakes. If you are home schooling, then this would be an invaluable lesson on animals and what they like to eat and give you a much -needed break from being teacher. The link is below to watch the video and there are plans for a live, streaming session every Wednesday at 11am GMT when you can ask the carers questions about the animals and really connect with them. I believe next week is going to be all about training animals.

There are lots of activities online if you look for them, and many actors are giving live readings from their own homes where they are in isolation. Plays, musicals, operas and ballets are all on there as well for free. Kindle Unlimited are also offering a free, two-month trial where you can read for free any of the thousands of books registered with them. I myself have five books on there – The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ – Becoming Lili – Chaining Daisy – Lifesong – and, Eclairs for Tea and other stories. So, if you’ve been wanting to try me on for size but were reluctant to spend any money in case I didn’t fit, well Kindle Unlimited is the perfect way to “try before you buy”. You can pick a book and read as much or as little of it as you want. If you don’t like the book, simply stop reading it. If you’re enjoying it, then read to the end. If you love it, then buy yourself a copy to have forever. If you don’t have an actual Kindle device then no problem, so long as you have either a smartphone or a tablet you can download the Kindle app for free so you can buy eBooks cheaply or even get them for free and never run out of reading material.

I’ve seen a few people stating that they’re not bothering to get washed and dressed, instead are spending days without number slumped on the sofa in their PJs watching endless TV. I simply can’t do that. The thought of staying in my PJs all day just fills me with horror. Every day I’m up reasonably early, washed, dressed, teeth cleaned, and hair brushed. I must admit though, I’m only bothering with make-up when I’m face-timing with friends and family. I have a large breakfast and plan my day, ticking off all the items that have been on my to-do list forever and that I simply never have the time to tackle. I’m determined to cross them all off. And if this isolation goes on for longer than we expect and I reach the end of my list, then it will be time to chill out and plough through my mile long to be read list, binge watch box sets, and maybe write another book (or two).

So how are you all holding up supply wise? Run out of toilet paper yet? We’re okay so far, the sensible stocking up I did before this all began is paying off in spades now. Last weekend, Miss F and I went through the freezer, fridge and cupboards making an inventory of every scrap of food there is in the house, then we made a menu plan for the first week. It barely scratched the surface of our supplies and we tried to be sensible with our rations.

I tend to save leftovers for future meals and drive Miss F crazy with my unique system for labelling these. Well, it’s unique in that I don’t bother to label anything. Nope, I always think I’ll know what’s in that bag or Tupperware box. Yeah, you can imagine how that works out. Picture me, bag of frozen something in hand, peering at it and muttering to myself – now what the heck are you? You look like spaghetti bolognaise, but I don’t know, I’m sure that looks like kidney beans in there and I’d never put kidney beans in a bolognaise!

In an attempt to eke out our supplies we decided to schedule these mystery meals for a couple of meals during the week. Accordingly, I got a bag of what I was pretty sure was beef stew out ready for Tuesday evening. As it defrosted, I looked at it occasionally and poked at it, yep, definitely beef stew, lovely. Anyway, evening came, I’d put potatoes in to roast to accompany it and could see bits of carrot and peas were already in the mix, but, when I put it in a pan to warm through I saw little flecks of green mixed in with the chunks of meat. Hmm? I tried a bit. Then went to report to Miss F.

“Change of plan for dinner.”

“Oh?” she looked at me suspiciously, knowing my leftover fails of old.

“It’s not beef stew.”

“Ok-a-ay, what is it then?”

“Minted lamb hotpot.”

“Result!”

And it was, a wonderful, delicious result. Next time I wasn’t so lucky.

When I make a lasagne, I always make an enormous one and then parcel it up into double portions wrapped in tinfoil and stack them in the freezer. So, I know with an absolute degree of certainty that if there’s a foil wrapped brick in the freezer, it will definitely, one hundred percent, be a delicious slice of homemade lasagne. During our inventory I’d noted there was one double portion of lasagne in the freezer, so I got it out for Thursday’s dinner with garlic bread and salad.

It defrosted. I put the salad together and put the garlic bread in to cook and unwrapped the “lasagne” ready to go in the microwave. It wasn’t lasagne! Miss F wandered into the kitchen drawn by the scent of cooking garlic bread and the expression on my face must have alarmed her.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not lasagne.”

“What isn’t?”

“What I got out for dinner tonight, it isn’t lasagne.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“Chocolate cake!”

Not such a result, but I rootled about in the cupboard and found a big tin of chicken and vegetable soup which we had with garlic bread and a side salad, then we had chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream for afters and it was all good.

Maybe I should start labelling things, but where’s the fun in that?

Writing wise, all the edits and formatting on Erinsmore were completed last weekend and it has been safely uploaded to KDP and my proof copy ordered. It should be here by next Tuesday when I will have one last, thorough read through to check it’s all perfect. All being well, we’ll be looking at a launch date of next weekend.

I am beyond thrilled at how the new version of Erinsmore is looking. The cover is stunning and the 30 pages of illustrations inside make it a thing of beauty.

Also, this week, I formatted Lost & Found successfully into its new format and even managed to get the pagination all done first time – anyone who knows me knows that pagination is my nemesis. Lost & Found is with my editor for her to work her magic on it, and next week I’ll start preparing its sequel Fixtures & Fittings ready to be sent to her as soon as she’s done with Lost & Found. Miss F has also begun proof reading book three in the series for me, which I am surprisingly nervous about as she is the first person to read it other than me.

Finally, yesterday, I sat and put several items on eBay to clear the house of unwanted stuff and hopefully make a few pennies. Financially, things are a little tight right now, sure I’m getting 80% of my wages, but only my basic with a small percentage of expected commission on top, so nowhere near what I usually earn. I have been awarded a three-month mortgage holiday which is a relief, but that will need to be paid back at some time so will be an added stress to monthly finances once this is all over.

You can see I’ve had a busy week, and I’m happy with how productive and active I’ve been. I really think that’s the only way to stay sane and calm during these trying times. Having structure in your days and not just vegging out on the sofa all day and every day is a much healthier strategy.

Anyway, it’s getting late, it’s time to light the fire, pour myself a gin and tonic and see about making dinner. Tonight, it’s some fishfingers I found in a bag in the freezer, with mashed potatoes, fried onions and baked beans – at least, I think they’re fishfingers.

So, this is me signing off for another week and sending you best wishes from me in my home to you in yours.

Julia Blake

PS. Thank you to everyone who contacted me re my lack of Jamaican Ginger Cake. I am happy to report that a wonderful friend arranged to have two left on my doorstep along with a mini bottle of gin! Thank you, Rachel, you’re a star.

Plague, Poverty and no bloody Jamaican Ginger Cake! Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!

So, that was a week wasn’t it. In my last blog, I said how uncertain things were and that I wondered what the future would bring, little imagining that in under seven days both Miss F and I would go down with the Corona Virus. Well, we think we have – a high temperature, exhaustion, headaches, achy joints and muscles, a tight chest and a cough that just won’t stop! Sounds like it, doesn’t it? But then, there are a 101 other things it could be. Better safe than sorry, I guess, and into isolation we went.

That was Wednesday. On Thursday we had our Tesco order finally delivered after waiting nearly a week for it and daily seeing so many things taken from our basket, substituted, put back in and taken out again, that by the time we were finally unpacking it we had no clue what was actually going to be in there.

No eggs, okay, we can manage without for a while. No toilet rolls, no surprise there, thank heavens I tend to stay well stocked with those anyway, so we have enough – for a while. No hand soap, it’s okay, we have bar soap, that will do. No pasta, ok, we have enough for a while if we eke it out. No pasta sauce or passata, I have tomato puree so can be inventive with that. Luckily, Tesco had thought outside the box substitution wise – no almond milk, have oat milk instead. No sliced bread, have a bloomer. I’d put a few treats in the basket to enliven an otherwise bland and spartan diet and had put a Jamaican Ginger Cake in, because we both love it. Well, apparently so does everybody else because they were sold out, we got Golden Syrup cake instead. Hmm, okay.

I did get an absolute blinder of a result. I’d slipped a tiny bottle of cheap gin into the basket and some Tesco bog standard tonic water. For heavens sake, a girl needs some treats. Yep, you’ve guessed it, my £7 bottle of gin was sold out, so they substituted it for a £20+ bottle of artisan Parma Violet gin, and my cheap tonic water was substituted for Fevertree posh stuff. Thank you very much, Tesco.

We certainly have enough for our two-week quarantine period, and, if we ration ourselves and plan our meals sensibly, enough for a couple of months of frugal living. Because we are going to have to be frugal now, very frugal. Friday evening, both Miss F and I found out that our companies are closing for the duration of the virus. That’s right, we are now unemployed for the foreseeable future.

Miss F was only working fifteen hours a week, so we don’t know if she’s entitled to any kind of compensation. Sure, they’ve assured her that her job will be waiting for her when they re-open, but no one seems to know how long that will be. My situation, as of course I am the sole breadwinner, is a lot more serious. My company has closed all of its stores as of next Wednesday. The government has promised to pay 80% of our wages for three months, my company have said they will dip into our holiday pay pot to make up the difference – not sure how I feel about that, but have no say in the matter.

However, before everyone starts rejoicing for me at having three months off on full pay, hold hard. The government are only paying 80% of our basic pay, not the commission we earn on top which changes our pay from subsistence to a living wage. Commission that we will no longer be getting. My basic pay is only about £600 a month. Think about that. Could you pay all your bills and eat on £600 a month?

Miss F and I held an emergency meeting this morning to plan our next move. Discussed were practical ways we can reduce our outgoings, so simple stuff like no lights or devices left on unnecessarily, be mindful of water and take showers every third day, save any unused water for the pot plants, it’s getting warmer so heating off unless absolutely essential (we have open fires and plenty of fuel), reduce the use of the washing machine and hang out clothes on the line whenever possible and not use the drier.

Meals are being reduced to two a day. A substantial brunch at 10:30am then a good dinner at 5:30pm, and not a scrap of food is to be wasted. We’re going to take a look at any subscriptions etc we currently have and cull where we can. Sorry, NowTV and Amazon Prime, but you’re for the chop. Finally, once our quarantine is over, we’ll go through the house with a fine toothcomb and sell anything that we can bear to part with – that’s if anyone is buying of course.

It’s daunting and scary and frightening how quickly our civilisation is being brought to its knees by a virus that still doesn’t seem that deadly. I hope the government does make good on all its promises to help, because the thought of a nation suddenly plunged into mortgage and rent arrears, starving and unable to pay their bills is horrific. I’m sure it won’t come to that, and you never know, maybe this will teach people again how to be thrifty and self-reliant. After all, we did it in the War. Millions of people survived on a lot less than we expect as our right now, perhaps we just need to re-discover that within ourselves.

I think families will be forced to reconnect with one another. If you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end be it through self-isolating or simply because there’s nowhere else to go, then you’re going to have to learn ways to get along without killing each other. Luckily, we have places in our home where we can go to have separate time from one another, otherwise it would turn into the night of the long knives.

In terms of self-reliance, I am better placed than Miss F in that I have so many things I want to do and up until now simply haven’t had the time to do them. Obviously, writing. If I haven’t produced at least one new book by the end of this period, then shame on me. But there’s also reading and reviewing, with twenty books in my physical to be read pile and about 200 on my Kindle, I really have no excuse to be bored. I’m also working on re-releasing Erinsmore and am in the process of giving it its final polish so watch this space for some exciting news about a publication date.

Next on the revamp list are books one and two in the Blackwood Family Saga – Lost & Found and Fixtures & Fittings – and they are currently with my editor. The third book has been written and it will also be going through the editorial stage. So, look out for publication dates for those. Finally, I will regain copyright for The Book of Eve in July so it too will need editing, reformatting and sprucing up for a re-release in August. As you can see, busy busy, lots of plans.

Aside from writing and bookish plans, I also want to deep spring clean my house from top to bottom. Like most busy working women, I tend to get by on a lick and a promise. I clean the bits that show and promise myself that one day I’ll do it properly. Well, one day is now here. Facing at least three months of time off, I have no more excuses. I can take my time, a room a week if I want, but at the end of this, if there ever is an end, I want a house so gleaming with love and attention that Kim and Aggie, those cleaning busybodies from that Nineties TV series could visit and I wouldn’t care.

There’s also the garden. It’s been thoroughly neglected for years because I never have the time to do anything about it other than keep on top of basic chores. My fences all desperately need painting and I’ve had the paint since the beginning of last summer, just never got around to doing it. No excuses now, as soon as the weather warms up a little and I’m feeling less like a worn-out dishrag, then I will be donning my old clothes and getting out there with a paintbrush and my Bluebell garden tones paint. Yes, you heard me, my fences will be blue. That alone is weeks of work and will have the added benefit of getting me outside in the sunshine and fresh air to get exercise and top up my Vitamin D levels.

But Miss F doesn’t have any such plans. Faced with the possibility of an even longer period of enforced house arrest than me as the colleges and schools have all now closed until September, possibly longer, and with no work to go to, no voluntary placement and no coursework (they’ve done their exams so it was just recap work they were doing anyway), she has been left rather adrift. To my comments that sitting around in her PJs for months on end playing video games is neither desirable nor healthy, she snapped at me. I’m afraid I may have to get tough with her. It is essential for her mental and physical well-being that there is structure to her days and definitely some fresh air and exercise in the mix. Perhaps I should force her to pick up a paintbrush with me, although I dread to think what a mess she’d make of it.

I guess we’ll be okay. No, we will be okay. I’ve weathered worse shit storms than this before and one thing I’ve learnt is that this too shall pass. Okay, it may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass. In a few weeks, months or years, we will look back on this and we’ll all have our survival stories to tell of the terrible plague of 2020. There is some positive news out there. The cases of people contracting the virus in China seem to have slowed and there have been no deaths for two days. We are about three months behind them, so by June hopefully this will be at an end. I hope so, for all our sakes, I really hope so.

There’s news of a vaccine, although with the amount of testing they will have to do before it’s available to the general population I fear it’s a future preventative not an immediate cure. There are stories of the situation bringing out the absolute best in people with generous offers of aid and charity from people of wealth all the way down to next door neighbours helping each other out. I myself have benefitted from a friend dropping off eggs on my doorstep only this morning – thank you, Mary, I owe you big time.

But, sadly, it also seems to be bringing out the worse in some people as well. I’ve been sickened by stories and images of people fighting to get the last pack of pasta or toilet rolls, pushing elderly and sick people out the way and even taking their essential supplies from their baskets. It’s dreadful to think that in this time of global co-dependence and mutual need, that there are those who only seek to ensure their own well-being, taking more than their fair share and stealing from the vulnerable and needy. Come on guys, we need to stand together now more than ever, seriously, you want to behave that way over a packet of penne when you have a whole cupboard of the stuff at home? Don’t be that person, be better than that.

It’s growing late and it’s getting chilly. Although a sunny day outside, inside it’s definitely cold. Normally, I would have put the heating on but today we are merely piling on the layers and I’ve found a pair of woollen fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm enough to type. I feel very Bob Cratchett from A Christmas Carol, and it’s hard to explain but there’s almost a sense of not enjoyment – that is the wrong word – but satisfaction in knowing that we will cope, whatever happens, we will overcome it. Plans for the rest of the day include making a thorough inventory of all our supplies which we will then use to sensibly eke out and plan our daily menus. I need to bring in wood and coal and lay the fire for this evening and bring in the bedding from the line which will hopefully then only need five minutes in the drier to make sure it’s aired thoroughly.

Dinner tonight will be eaten by the fire with just a single lamp on and maybe a candle or two, with Netflix to entertain us. Yes, we’re keeping Netflix for the moment. At only £8 a month it represents good entertainment value and we need distraction of some kind or else we’d go mad and murder each other.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. A mysterious looking parcel arrive in the post this morning as Miss F ordered it before all this happened, but I won’t get a card, quarantine took her by surprise and she’s been unable to get one, which is fine. We have a fun afternoon scheduled tomorrow to celebrate of games by the fire and a nice dinner with a glass of something alcoholic for Mum.

It’s sad to think so many won’t be able to be with their mothers tomorrow. My own mother is in self-isolation due to being in the high-risk category, but I did leave her cards and flowers at the beginning of the week and I will speak to her on the phone.

I hope you are all well and safe. Wherever you are and however this virus is affecting your lives, please remember to be kind and treat others the way you would wish to be treated yourselves. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can procure some Jamaican Ginger cake, please let me know.

Julia Blake

What has happened to the world? As the reports flood in from too many countries to count now, it seems a small, inconsequential and localised illness that was far away in China, has suddenly become very real and very scary.

So far in Suffolk where I live there has only been one reported case of Covid-19, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will escape unscathed. Watching news reports from places like Northern Italy that are under complete lockdown, it was heartening to hear the residents singing to each other through open windows but worrying to think that we might be next. Although the thought of residents in Birmingham cheerfully serenading each other from bedroom windows is a lovely one, I somehow don’t think that’s how us Brits would react to house arrest.

And how do we in the West respond? Do we remain level and calm-headed? No. Do we think about our fellow man and only take our fair share of supplies? Also no. Panic buying on a mass scale not experienced since the countrywide strikes of the seventies has occurred, with people stockpiling items they consider to be essential should the worst occur, and we all have to self-isolate.

Self-isolate. Now there’s a prissy expression if ever I’ve heard one. Why not call it what it is, quarantine? Because that’s what it is. Going into quarantine to avoid spreading the latest plague to cull mankind. A lot of people I know have expressed a fervent wish that they could spend two weeks at home with no work, no school, no college and no physical interaction with anyone outside their own four walls. I must admit, the notion is attractive, and I know both Miss F and I could manage it just fine. Let’s face it, busy introvert that I am I could quite easily fill those two weeks with home and garden activities and wish for more time. But, that’s not to say I want it to happen.

Because if it did, if we were ordered into quarantine, that would mean it was because the virus had reached pandemic status in the UK and that truly is a frightening thought. It doesn’t seem that deadly a virus, yet. The statistics for survival are high, and with Miss F being only sixteen and healthy, and me being reasonably sound despite a few creaks here and there, I think we’d be okay. We don’t smoke or have any underlying immune issues that we’re aware of.

However, you need to look beyond the “I’m okay, Jack” attitude that seems sadly so prevalent. Yes, maybe you would be okay, but even though this virus isn’t particularly deadly, it is extremely contagious and that’s where the real danger lies.

Reports indicate that you can catch the virus and walk around for days, even weeks, without being aware you have it. You may very well feel fine, perhaps a slight cough or flu like symptoms, but not enough to raise the alarm, so off you pop to work, school, the shops, the hairdressers, the supermarket, all the while touching things and coughing, spreading the contagion even further, and maybe one of the people who catches it from exposure to you isn’t so young, fit and healthy. Perhaps they’re elderly, have diabetes or some other debilitating illness. Perhaps they have an undiagnosed heart condition, perhaps they’re on medication or treatment that has compromised their immune system. Suddenly, the “I’m alright, Jack,” attitude is more than just selfish, it’s deadly.

But what’s the alternative? I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media condemning the government for not ordering us all into quarantine now. I’m not sure that that is the answer though. All reports indicate that this virus won’t peak for another four to six months so maybe the government is wise to delay such a move until it’s absolutely necessary. After all, could you cope for six months trapped within your home? Although we have a good supply of food and essential toiletries, they wouldn’t last that long, and yes, I am aware we could order deliveries but like most British citizens, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. The government has promised that we’ll all get statutory sick pay from week one of mandatory self-isolation, and the whole nation went yay, but most don’t realise that SSP is only about £3.50 per hour.

Think about that. £3.50 per hour. Could you live for long on that? Could you continue to pay your mortgage, your utilities and insurances on that? How about buying groceries? And what about paying for those Sky and Netflix subscription, because let’s face it, most people trapped in their homes for six months would resort to becoming couch potatoes desperate for entertainment and distraction.

It’s alright for members of parliament, living in their ivory towers with well stocked pantries and wine cellars, and access to savings and endless funds, but what about the rest of us. Who is going to pay for a whole nation being forced to live on sick pay? More importantly, who is going to keep the country running? If we’re all cowering in our homes surrounded by 300 rolls of toilet paper and enough rice to feed a small Asian country, who is going to be running our hospitals, our factories and our emergency services? Who is going to be running the powerplants and water treatment plants?

Maybe the government is right to keep things going for as long as possible, because I do wonder when the Chinese and the Italians and all the other countries that have adopted extreme lockdown measures emerge, what will happen? I have a strong suspicion that the virus will simply return, and it will all have been for nothing.

Am I panicking? To be honest, no. At the moment it all feels very surreal and a bit fantastical. I listen to the news, none of it good, yet all around me life is continuing as normal. We’re still going to work and college, I’m still going to the shops – not stockpiling, I hasten to add, just normal essential shopping – and things are jogging along as they always do.

Will it hit us? Will we be quarantined? Will anyone I know catch it? Will we catch it? Will anyone I know die from it? These are all questions that I know I won’t be alone in asking, but the answers seem up for grabs in that no one knows with any certainty what will happen. Will it be like Swine Flu again – remember that? All that panic and then it fizzled away into nothing. Unless the virus mutates again into an even more virulent strain, I don’t think we’re looking at a pandemic on the scale of the Spanish Influenza that swept over the globe after the First World War. Killing almost one third of the population, it was one of the deadliest pandemics we’ve had since the Black Death.

Even if the virus does mutate, we are still in a much better position that we were then. Medicine has come a long way since 1919, we have instant communication around the world and understand far more about the spread and containment of infection. Most people are stronger and healthier than they were then. Newly emerged from a debilitating and crippling world war, people were malnourished and vulnerable and could offer little or no resistance to the virus.

So, we wait, and see, and that’s really all any of us can do. Sure, be prepared. I’ve made sure we have enough basic food stuffs and toiletries to see us through a month, I’ve also picked up a months-worth of my hayfever medication, figuring it’s not a good idea to be wheezing and struggling to breathe anyway AND catch a dose of Corona. My edict has been – Be Sensible. Not Greedy.

In other health news, Miss F is being tested for asthma. She’s been plagued by an annoying, persistent cough for months now and initial tests show she has a reduced lung capacity. The doctor seems unsure what it is, with options ranging from long term lung congestion to asthma, so twice a day she has to blow into a breath recording device and chart the results. We’re also waiting for an appointment with a dermatologist to get a mole on her back examined. It appears to have grown and changed in texture and is bleeding colour into the surrounding skin. It’s not cancer. The doctor assures us in one so young with no genetic history of cancer, that there’s a less than 1% chance of it being malignant. Still, you don’t muck about with moles so I’m pushing for it to be examined sooner rather than later.

I had a blood test last week and have an appointment for a follow up consultation next Wednesday. I know they’re going to tell me my anaemia has worsened, I think they’re going to tell me my vitamin D deficiency hasn’t improved and I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to confirm my calcium levels have dropped again.

With these more immediate, closer to home, medical shenanigans, is it any wonder I’m not worrying about the corona virus yet?

A shorter blog this week. I’m tired and a bit downhearted and lacking in things to say. I hope next week to have more positive things to write about, but for now can only say that I hope wherever you are in the world you are well and healthy. Stay safe, my friends.

Julia Blake

Wetwang Welcomes Careful Drivers!

Good morning! Hope you’ve all had a great week. Mine has been uneventful apart from commencing work on re-editing and formatting Erinsmore and having to go to the hospital for a blood test. Although, that was a little bit traumatic. Despite stabbing both my arms multiple times it proved impossible to get any blood out of me – think I must be dead – so they had to take it from my hand, which was uncomfortable and has caused my hand to swell and bruise rather nastily. Treated myself afterwards to a frothy coffee and an enormous butterscotch and pecan Danish pastry for being ever such a brave girl.

So, last week, where did I leave you? Oh yes, I was falling asleep on the first night in our holiday cottage up in Yorkshire, listening to the rain hammering down on the skylight and hoping things would get better and that it would at least stop raining. Well, when I awoke next morning after sleeping like the dead – I was in my old bed after all – (anyone who didn’t read last week’s blog might want to pop back and quickly do so, it’s okay, I’ll wait) – and because I’d had a reasonably early night after the journey from hell to reach our destination – when a three-hour journey takes nine hours it takes a toll on you – I woke up early at 6:30am feeling rested and refreshed.

We had planned to go to nearby Castle Howard for the day, but when I opened my eyes the rain was still pounding down and sounded set to last, so I hastily rearranged plans in my head. I’m one of those people whom when I’m awake, I’m awake, and can’t lay in bed doing nothing. I thought about reading for a bit, but was itching to be up and doing stuff, and I was desperate for a cup of tea, so I quietly got up, washed and dressed. Trying to not make any noise in an echoey, open-plan cottage was a bit tricky, and I soon heard Miss F moving about as I was trying to get out a mug and put the kettle on without waking her.

Deciding she was also wide awake and famished, an early breakfast seemed in order and then we’d plan what to do with our first day. Nothing else would do but a full English, so I set the bacon to grill and went to put hash browns in the oven. No baking trays, not one. Putting them on a Pyrex lasagne dish, I noticed there seemed a dearth of cooking equipment full stop, and not even being able to find a frying pan, we had to have our eggs poached instead of fried. Hmm, bit of a nuisance.

The rain was still belting down, so we donned our waterproof jackets and stout shoes and drove the five minutes down the road to the park and ride carpark for York. Now, I love park and ride. If you’re going into a large city for a look around, lunch and maybe a light bit of shopping, then why would you try to drive in, find a parking space and pay an outrageous amount for the privilege. No, park and ride all the way. Only costing us £3.50 to park our car for the day and pay for bus fares for us both into the city centre and back seemed an absolute bargain.

I know York very well. I’ve been there countless times and in fact the last holiday Miss F and I had had was five years previous when we’d rented a house in the heart of the city and spent the whole week exploring everything York has to offer, which is a lot. So, when the bus dropped us off, I knew exactly where we were and how to get to where we wanted to go. It was still early, only 9:00am and we were the first people into the Castle Museum. If you ever get a chance to go to York, I can’t recommend paying the Castle Museum a visit highly enough. It offers amazing value for money, bear in mind this was five years ago but it only cost £10 for us both, plus I’d made sure I had a good supply of 10p pieces as there are a variety of wonderful old slot machines. For a mere 10p you can watch the last rites of a convicted prisoner standing on the gallows, then the wonderful moment when the trapdoor opens beneath his feet and he hangs over the gap to an accompanying mournful bell. Deliciously ghoulish.

The Castle Museum is a museum about people and life. There are room sets showing you the living space of a family in Tudor times, Regency England, Victorian times, the time of the Coronation of Elizabeth II and a cosy looking crofter’s cottage. There are exhibits about household appliances through the ages, the history of birth, death and marriage, familiar products and medicines. Childhood toys through the ages, clothing, employment and leisure facilities. All crammed together in an eclectic and mind-blowing random assortment, it is fascinating and fun, and the absolute best way to spend the first day of a rain-soaked holiday.

There is even a reconstructed Victorian street in the heart of the museum, complete with a stuffed horse pulling a hansom cab. There are old shops you can go into, and there was a workshop going on in the old sweetshop. We had a go at making peppermint creams which we were able to take away with us, yum. Wandering around the street, taking our time, peering into all the windows, the museum was beginning to fill up a bit and we no longer had the place to ourselves.

A gentleman in authentic Victorian working man clothes approached us and asked if Miss F would care to be a temporary rat catcher. He had been paid by the city to catch rats, he explained, and if she would help him, she would get three gold coins for every rat she found. As the gold coins were of course chocolate ones, she eagerly agreed to help and dragged me off to look for rats. A frustrating ten minutes later she was in despair, when I suggested checking out the rather scary looking public conveniences, because if rats were going to be found anywhere, it was there. Scrabbling around in the dark corners, she gave a crow of triumph and pulled out a fine looking, big black rubber rat and we went to look for the rat catcher so she could collect her reward.

Afterwards, we wandered out to visit the reconstructed eighteenth century mill they have in the grounds of the museum, and discovered it had stopped raining, the sun had come out and it was showing promise of being a nice day. We sat down on a bench in the sun so Miss F could eat her wages. She looked at the empty wrappers.

“I wish I’d kept the rat now,” she murmured. “He was a very nice rat.”

When we finally left the museum at almost three in the afternoon – nearly six hours entertainment for £10, what value for money! – we agreed we weren’t hungry, just peckish. A French patisserie close to the museum seemed perfect, and Miss F was soon happily consuming a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of cake the size of her head, whilst I contented myself with a big frothy coffee and a cheese scone.

The streets had dried up, it was a lovely afternoon, so we walked off our treats and looked in the windows, taking our time and enjoying not having to be anywhere or do anything. We did a little shopping, some treats we fancied and a couple of things I’d forgotten to bring, then wandered back to the bus stop. There was an Argos store opposite and I took the opportunity to buy a frying pan and baking tray, to use whilst in the cottage and to take home with us because we did need new ones.

Then we caught the park and ride home. Back at the cottage, we opened the backdoor to let the evening in and Miss F went to the fence to say hello to the sheep that were mooching about in the field at the bottom of the garden. I heard her chattering away and assumed she was talking to the sheep, then suddenly there was a little girl at the back door with her asking if Miss F could go and swim in their pool, followed swiftly by the owner of the cottage who’d been looking out for us to return so she come and enquire about our journey and check we’d settled in okay. Confirming that they did indeed have a pool and Miss F was welcome to come and play in it with her own children, Miss F dashed off to get into her swimming costume and I made coffee for us.

The owner was lovely, very open and friendly. As we drank, I unpacked the day’s purchases to put away and she looked surprised when she saw the frying pan and baking tray. Explaining that I hadn’t been able to find either that morning, it was my turn to be surprised when she showed me a “secret” drawer at the base of the cooker filled with every type of cooking tin, tray and pan I could ever need. Boy, did I feel stupid.

She left, I prepped dinner, then poured myself a glass of wine and settled down in the small garden with a book to enjoy the evening and wait for Miss F to come home. Birds twittered in the blue sky above, the sheep looked at me and chatted amongst themselves, the sun was warm on my face, my wine was very cold and very crisp, and the book was interesting. What more could anyone want?

We ate dinner, watched TV and played some games, then Miss F went to bed and I watched a film on TV – with the sound off and the subtitles on, of course – although I kept nodding off and missing bits. And that was the first day.

Beautiful Castle Howard

The next day dawned gloriously sunny with a wonderful blue sky and the promise of a fine, summer day. We had breakfast and I packed us a picnic. We were off to Castle Howard. A mere ten-minute drive away, Castle Howard is one of the largest stately homes in Britain and is absolutely beautiful. Set in acres of garden and parkland, with lakes and water features, there is enough to keep you busy for a whole day, which is why I packed a picnic. If it looks familiar, it’s because it’s where the TV drama “Brideshead Revisited” was filmed in the late eighties, and as we drove down the long driveway and the house came into view I kept humming the theme music, until Miss F threatened to stay in the car if I didn’t stop.

How about this for a garden shed?

We spent a whole wonderful day there. Luckily, Miss F and I like doing the same things and exploring old and historical places always makes us happy. We found a wonderful space under a tree by the river to eat our picnic and walked miles around the parkland, before driving home in the late afternoon to find a little girl sitting on our doorstep waiting for Miss F to come and play.

Giving her permission to go and have fun with her new friend, I unpacked the car and tidied away our picnic stuff, wondering what to do about dinner, when suddenly Miss F was back with an invitation from the owner and her family to go over for a barbecue. What a lovely surprise that was. I took over some wine, and spent a very pleasant and chill evening, eating and drinking and chatting with the family and their lovely friends, whilst Miss F ran about with a hoard of children and dogs and had a marvellous time. And that was our second day.

Monday dawned, and the weather was not quite so hot but still nice, so we decided to do a proper beach day and drove to nearby Scarborough. Again, park and ride, because why not? When you’re a stranger to an area it makes sense instead of trying to find somewhere to park and getting stressed out about it. Scarborough is a lovely, traditional British seaside resort famous for its waffles. I hadn’t brought a picnic as I didn’t want to carry it around with me and I knew there’d be plenty of food there for us to forage on.

There was Punch & Judy on the beach, which we watched while eating massive Mr Whippy ice creams with a chocolate flake of course. There were donkey rides and Miss F begged for a go. Even at only 12 she was a tall girl and her feet practically dragged on the sand. I felt sorry for the donkey.

We walked with out feet in the ocean, dangling our shoes by their laces, then had to sit in the sun until our feet had dried and try to brush all the sand off from between our toes. We ate seafood on the seafront and had a portion of chips between us, hot and squishy, with lots of salt and enough vinegar that it formed a puddle in the bottom of the tray. We walked all the way along the front, then turned around and walked all the way back. We ate candy floss, well, Miss F did, I can only ever abide a taste of it as it’s so sweet. Bit like sugar infused loft insulation. The seagulls wheeled and cried overhead, and music pumped from every arcade. Tempted into one by the bright lights and ringing bells, I changed some money and we played on the Tuppence Shove, rolling our 2ps down the slots to try and knock down the big piles teetering on the edge.

Finally emerging the losers, we found during the hour we’d been in there that the skies had clouded over and it was getting dark. Only dressed in light, beach clothing we shivered and even though it was only 3pm I made the executive decision to start heading for home. We still had a way to walk back to the park and ride, then had to wait for a bus, and then it would be almost an hour’s drive back to the cottage. It got colder and colder, Miss F was shivering in shorts and a thin t-shirt, so I wrapped my jacket around her, and we practically ran the last bit, reaching the bus stop just as a bus pulled in.

Safely back in the car, I was indicating to turn out of the carpark when the heavens opened. Monsoon season again, the wipers were working overtime and the car steaming up as I desperately turned the heating up on the windscreen full blast to try and clear the condensation.

Back home, Miss F went off to have a shower and get changed whilst I made us dinner, then we settled down to another evening of TV and games as the rain once again lashed down outside. And that was the third day.

Next day the weather had turned foul. The sky was black and heavy, dense rain was pounding down. A day trip anywhere was out of the question, so we once again pulled on warm clothing, sensible shoes, waterproof jackets and caught the park and ride into York. I’d exchanged some Tesco loyalty shopping vouchers into tickets for the Jorvik Viking Centre in the centre of York, and a cold, rainy day seemed the perfect time to use them. It was early, and luckily the queue for it wasn’t too long and was still under the protective awning. I have seen the queue snake all the way around the building and back again and had warned Miss F if it was that long we’d have to go and do something else. After a ten-minute wait we were in.

Remember how I told you what good value the Castle Museum is – £10 for six hours entertainment. Well, the Jorvik Viking Centre isn’t. Over £30 for the two of us to get in – thank heavens for Tesco vouchers, and we were in there for about 90 minutes. Yes, it’s interesting, and the highlight of the experience is climbing into these mechanised carts which then take you back in time to a reconstructed Viking street, complete with waxworks inhabitants, sounds and even smells. Ahh, the heady aroma of an eighth century latrine pit, lovely. But that only takes about twenty minutes and even with taking our time over every exhibit and looking at everything, it was still only coming up for eleven when we emerged into a cold, dark day. The streets were flooded, the rain was hammering down in Biblical proportions. Any moment I expected to see an ark go floating by. It really was horrible, and all around were miserable and soaked tourists, not dressed adequately and shivering in the cold.

I’d also swapped some Tesco vouchers for meal vouchers to use in Bella Italia restaurants, and deciding an early lunch was in order, we splashed off to find one. Despite being early, when we found it there were hardly any tables left but being only two of us the stressed looking waitress squeezed us in on a little table in the corner by the front window. So, we could watch the rain pound down and drenched people hurrying by clutching their umbrellas.

We were both hungry and I’d exchanged lots of vouchers as this was to be our main treat meal of the week. Miss F chose a big burger with all the works and I went for a steak and all the trimmings, requesting it be rare, as rare as possible.

We waited a long time for our food, they seemed to be short staffed and the whole restaurant by now was crammed to capacity. When our food came, Miss F’s looked delicious, but my steak was the colour and consistency of an old shoe. I poked at it. Miss F looked horrified.

“That steak looks horrible, mummy.”

“Yeah, it does look a bit tough, they’ve overcooked it.”

“Are you going to complain? Get them to make you another one.”

I looked around the restaurant. Our waitress was currently being given a hard time by a group of four people who’d walked in and wouldn’t believe that she couldn’t just “squeeze them in somewhere”. She seemed to be the only waitress on duty, and other tables were demanding the poor woman’s attention. Everyone’s tempers fraying due to the bad weather.

“No, it’s fine,” I decided. “I’ll just eat what I can.”

I ate everything else on the plate. The fries were good, as were the mushrooms, onions rings, grilled tomato and salad. It was just the steak I couldn’t eat. So tough I couldn’t even cut a piece off, I gave up on it. Miss F couldn’t finish all her chips and peas, so I helped her out.

When the waitress eventually came back to collect our plates, she looked at the abandoned steak, curled up on the plate like an old flipflop that had been left too long in the sun.

“Oh, your steak.”

“Yeah, sorry, I tried but I couldn’t even cut it, let alone eat it.”

“You ordered it rare, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

She poked at the steak and pulled a face.

“That doesn’t look very rare, more cremated. Why on earth didn’t you send it back? We’d have done you another one.”

I shrugged. “You looked like you had enough on your plate, and it’s fine. I ate everything else, so I’ve had enough to eat.”

“We’ve got two chefs and three waitresses off with this wretched flu thing that’s doing the rounds, so things are a bit crazy in here today,” she admitted, and cleared our table and went to get the bill, taking my vouchers with her.

When she came back, I was stunned to find she’d only charged me for our drinks – both our meals not appearing on the bill.

“You were so nice about it,” she said, handing our vouchers back to me. “Not many people would have been so understanding, so thank you. At least now you can have another meal with your vouchers.”

It just goes to show, sometimes having a little patience and empathy for the other side of the picture, can reap its own rewards. Although, I did leave a bigger tip than I intended.

It was only 2pm but it was as black as pitch outside. The temperature had dropped drastically, and the streets were flooded with running streams of water. We decided to go home. Once back in the cottage, we changed out of our wet things and I lit the wood burner and the candles that were dotted about. Miss F found Lord of the Rings on Sky movies and we settled down in our cosy haven with the sound of the rain lashing down outside and the comforting pop and crackle of the fire inside. Not being very hungry, we snacked it for dinner and watched movies until it was time to go to bed. And that was the fourth day.

Next day I’m happy to say with the typical capriciousness of the British weather all the nasty rain had gone, the sky was once again blue, and the temperature had risen – promising a balmy summer day. In the cottage were several leaflets about local places of interest and we’d picked out a Tudor manor house called Burton Agnes to explore. Once again, I packed a picnic and we set out in high spirits to see what adventures awaited. It was about a 45-minute drive and on the way, we drove through some beautiful countryside and villages, including Stamford Bridge, which given our love of history we found very interesting. For those of you unfamiliar with British history, Stamford Bridge is where the Vikings invaded in 1066, aided and abetted by the king’s brother who believed he should be on the throne and not his brother Harold. King Harold had to march his men all the way up to Stamford Bridge, where he thrashed his treacherous brother’s arse in a major battle. His men were exhausted, but when the shock news came that the Normans had invaded all the way down on the South coast, Harold had no choice but to march his battle knackered men all the way back down and throw them immediately into battle against William the Bastard of Normandy.

Of course, Harold lost, but it does make you wonder. If his brother and the Vikings hadn’t invaded or hadn’t chose that particular time to invade. Harold and his men would have been fresh and ready for their battle against the Normans at Hastings and they probably would have won. The Norman conquest of 1066 would never have happened, and Britain would have stayed under Anglo-Saxon rule. Everything would have been different. Makes you think, doesn’t it, how the fate of millions can rest on the decision of one man.

We drove on, enjoying our journey, but as we left one village, I happened to notice the village sign.

“What was that? What was this village called?”

“Wetwang, mummy. It’s called Wetwang.”

I nearly drove the car off the road. What a brilliant name. Of course, technically it’s not rude, but it really sounds like it should be.

We reached Burton Agnes and parked the car. A beautiful Tudor manor house set in acres of quirky gardens and woodlands, there was a giant chess board and other games to play in the grounds. The house was interesting and there were woodlands to wander around with lots of interesting wooden sculptures on display by a local artist, including a whole family of wooden owls of varying sizes peering out of the branches of a tree.

Lovely Burton Agnes

There was a pretty water feature with some unusual modern artwork in the middle of it, and an ancient apple orchard with picnic benches where we sat and ate lunch. A lovely little gift shop was worth a poke about and we bought presents for grandparents and some homemade sweets for us. And that was the fifth day.

Next day was our last day, so we set off early for the hour-long drive to the coastal town of Whitby. The drive was magnificent through the purple heather moors and my little Nissan became like the little engine who could as we chuffed our way up one steep hill – with Miss F threatening to get out and push – flew down the other side, and then did it all over again.

Again, park and ride, and we arrived in Whitby just as the town was opening up to visitors. We poked about the old shops and found a second-hand book shop where we spent some time and pennies. We clambered up the hill to the abbey and admired the view, before coming all the way back down again. We wandered down to the harbour and saw a boat advertising trips around the harbour. Miss F wanted to do it, so we did, and a pleasant hour was spent cruising around the headland. Landing back at the harbour, we both realised we were starving and that a decision had to be made. Have an ice cream and a late lunch or admit defeat and find somewhere nice for lunch now, even though it was only 11am.

Lunch now, we decided, and headed back to a quirky looking café we’d seen called The Magpie that offered a great looking seafood menu. Not realising how popular it is and what a tourist attraction it is, we slipped in because it was only 11am and there were only two of us so we could be squeezed into a little table in the corner of the window. I was surprised how full it was already, then turned my attention to the ten-page menu – all fish and seafood and all looking fantastic – while the friendly waitress went to get our drinks.

“Look, mummy,” Miss F hissed. “Look outside.”

I looked outside. A queue a good ten-foot long was now stretching away from the front door of people eager to get in for lunch. I looked around the packed restaurant, “good luck” I thought smugly and sipped at the one glass of wine I was allowing myself – after all, it was our last day, I’d be eating a lot and not driving for a good few hours – and carried on perusing the menu.

If ever you find yourself in Whitby and you like fish and seafood, I can’t recommend the Magpie enough. Unpretentious, friendly and reasonably priced. It’s all about the food, and the fish is fresh, as locally sourced as possible and beautifully cooked. But go early or be prepared to wait.

After our wonderful long lunch, we mooched about a bit, then headed back to the park and ride, mindful of the hour drive back and the fact we had to pack and clear the whole cottage that evening. I was also painfully aware we were facing that drive home in the morning, and I will be honest, I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Nine hours to get here. How many was it going to take to get home?

Back at the cottage, we set to together and sorted and packed as much as we could into the car ready for the morning. Not very hungry after our mega lunch, we finished off all the snacky things we had left, leaving ourselves exactly what we needed for breakfast. One last film on Sky movies, and then we both turned in for an early night. And that was the sixth and last day.

Next morning it was fine and dry, not too hot and not too cold. Relieved at all the packing we’d done the night before, we had breakfast, did a last trawl through the cottage to make sure nothing had been forgotten – I’m a sod for forgetting charging wires – and we were on the road by 8:30am, leaving a nice bottle of wine, some chocolates and a warmly worded thank you card on the kitchen table for the lovely owners who’d made us feel so welcome.

It was an amazing drive home. The roads were clear, and we hit Bury St Edmunds just after eleven, unable to believe how different it had been to our hellish journey up. We’d had a wonderful holiday. Maybe to some my reports of bad weather and freakish rainstorms sound nightmarish, but we dealt with them and found things to amuse us and simply being together and not having to rush or obey strict routines made it a real break. Having the time to wander about and play games, and even just watch films by a roaring fire and candlelight was a treat.

When I consider how little the holiday costs me – the accommodation was free, I used about £50 worth of petrol during the whole week, Tesco vouchers paid for entry to the Jorvik Viking Centre and our meal in Bella Italia ( and we actually brought those home with us again). Yes, we paid for entry to Castle Howard and Burton Agnes – but Miss F was still a child, so it wasn’t too bad and provided us with two days-worth of entertainment. And yes, we spent money on food, but we would have had to eat at home anyway and I brought most of it with us. By taking picnics where we could and restricting buying food and drink out, we saved money, and I still had £200 left over from the sale of my bed which paid for everything.

We both have wonderful memories from that holiday, and still talk about it fondly, and that is the mark of a truly superb vacation.

Hope you’ve enjoyed going on holiday with us, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake

This is the Road to Hell… Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about one of the worst holidays we ever had, so I thought this week I will tell you about one of the best. We’ve not had many holidays, Miss F and I, mostly due to lack of funds, but also because holidays are not much of a break for me. In order to take time off work, I always had to work extra hard to get everything up to date, knowing that when I got back, I’d have to work extra hard to catch up. Also, I was the sole expedition organiser and leader, meaning I was responsible for planning where and when we were going, I had to pay and make all the arrangements. I was going to be the one doing all the driving. I was responsible for making sure all our clothes were washed and packed. I was also the one who would have to clean the house from top to bottom and get up to date on laundry before we left. Miss F once commented:

“I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with getting the house all clean and tidy before we go away. If a burglar breaks in while we’re gone, I don’t suppose they’ll care how dirty the house it.”

“No, I make sure it’s all clean and tidy because when I get back off holiday I don’t want to then have to turn around and clean the house before going back to work.”

We’ve also tended to stick to holidays in the UK. Again, lots of reasons for this. I hate flying. I hate the whole painful rigmarole of airports. My ears go funny when I fly and take days to right themselves. When you’re only having a week’s holiday, to lose two days travelling and feel ill for pretty much the rest of the time seems like a bit of a waste. There are some lovely places in the British Isles to holiday. We can go self-catering so I know there’ll be food that Miss F will eat. If we went on holiday abroad, funds would dictate we would have to share a hotel room, and while Miss F was small and going to bed early, what would I do in the evening once she was asleep? Sit and read and drink in total silence for fear of waking her up, trapped in the room all evening because no way would I leave her alone in a hotel room. At least, in a holiday let in the UK there’d be separate bedrooms from the lounge, so I’d be able to watch TV. Most holiday lets come with some sort of outdoor space, so I’d be able to sit outside and enjoy the balmy evenings. Finally, again, I would be the sole grown-up in charge of the whole expedition.

I had a friend who was a travel junkie. A self-processed sufferer of wanderlust, she was always off to some exotic corner of the world, and when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant did not see any reason why having a tiny baby should change her plans. She once said to me:

“I don’t know why you’re so dead set against going abroad with Miss F. I mean, you’re a sensible person, I know you could cope with any emergency like her getting ill or hurt.”

“Yes, I know I could cope if anything should happen to her. But, how would she cope if anything should happen to me?”

And, as far as I was concerned, that was the whole crux of the matter. Yes, I knew I could cope should Miss F fall ill or be injured. But, what about if I fell ill or even died for some reason. The thought of my little girl, alone, in a foreign country where she knew no one and couldn’t speak the language, with a sick or even dead mother. No. The very thought was enough to make me shudder. We’d stick to holidays in the UK thanks, at least if anything happened to me Miss F could ask for help and my parents were only a car journey away.

Anyway, so when 2015 came around we hadn’t been on holiday for several years. Well. I hadn’t been on holiday. Miss F had had several nice school trips and there had been the odd day out, but as far as a proper, pack your cases, load up the car, we’re going away for at least a week, type of holiday, it must have been at least five years since we’d had one.

Anyway, how we came to have this holiday is quite an interesting story. It was early in the year, probably about March, I was sitting in bed one morning having a cup of tea and looking around my bedroom. It hadn’t been decorated in years and was beginning to look very tired and dated. I need to decorate, I thought, but how could I, with this enormous bed in the way?

Now, this bed was one I’d had many years and was one I’d bought when I was still with my first husband. A genuine Victorian wrought iron and brass bed, it was a thing of sturdy, Gothic magnificence, but it was enormous! Five foot in width and about seven foot in length it dominated the room and decorating around it was going to be a nightmare. Even dismantled, this bed would still be a sizeable pile of ironware. And it was then that the plan occurred to me. Sell the bed. I thought I’d probably get quite a lot for it as it was a genuine antique, then with the money I made decorate my bedroom as I wanted it and buy a smaller bed. After all, there was just me in it, I didn’t need a king size bed, a double one would be ample, and it would give more room in my bedroom. We have a small single spare room that I was quite happy to camp out in while all this was going on.

So, I put the bed plus the mattress, the electric blanket, the mattress protector and two king size duvets on eBay for £700 and waited to see what would happen. Nothing did. There was a bit of interest, but no one placed any bids. So, I dropped the price to £600. Bit more interest then and a few more enquiries about it, and several people were watching it. Then I received a very interesting email from someone.

“Hi there, I’m really interested in the bed, but I can’t quite manage £600. It’s to go in a holiday cottage we’ve just finished renovating and all the money I’ve got left to spend on a bed is £500. Would you be prepared to accept this and a week’s stay for free in the cottage?”

Well, this was unexpected. I thought about it, my excitement growing. Steady, I cautioned myself.

“I might be, whereabouts is the cottage?”

“It’s in a little village ten miles outside of York.”

Now I love York, I’ve been there lots of times and know how amazing it is, plus the Yorkshire Dales are beautiful.

“Here’s the link to take a virtual tour of the cottage. Let me know what you think.”

What did I think? The cottage was gorgeous, and the deal seemed too good to be true. I was still getting £500 for the bed, more than enough to pay for some paint and wallpaper, and I’d seen the new bed I wanted on eBay for £100 so there would be cash left over to save for spending money.

The deal was struck, she paid for the bed, I closed the auction once the money hit my bank account, and she arranged for a courier service to pick it up. Then, when Miss F got home from school, I told her the wonderful news that like all her friends, we too would be going away on holiday after all that year.

We went in August, by a coincidence the day we travelled up was Miss F’s twelfth birthday and she was wildly excited as I packed the car up early that morning. I wanted to avoid the rush hour, so we had a good breakfast and left at 10am. Google maps had promised us it would take about three hours. The car had been serviced and had a full tank of fuel. It was a chilly but bright day and our spirits were high as we drove onto the A14 heading North.

Our good mood didn’t last long. The sky got progressively darker the further north we travelled, before long the heavens had opened and torrential rain of monsoonal properties was battering the roof of the car. Traffic got slower and slower, grinding to complete standstills sometimes, before crawling forward a few more feet. It got worse. The weather got worse. By the time I finally crawled onto the M1 and the motorway went into three lanes, I was seriously wondering about getting off at the next junction and simply going home.

Sitting there in my tiny Nissan Micra, the rain belting down from a black sky, with lorries in front, behind and on both sides of me, it felt like the end of the world, and I couldn’t believe that we’d waited years to have this holiday only to experience this kind of weather in August and this kind of traffic on a Friday morning.

We sat stationary for almost an hour. I had no idea what was happening up ahead and there was nothing I could do about it. We couldn’t go forward and we couldn’t go back. We’d lost reception on the radio so resorted to guessing games to pass the time. Nothing was said, but I was getting hungry and I needed the loo, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before Miss F was complaining about the same issues.

Eventually, the traffic started moving again. We started looking for roadside cafes or service stations, anywhere that had toilets and sold food. We saw signs for an American Diner up ahead, great we thought. But when we approached, we could see a line of people standing outside in the pouring rain waiting to get a table. Nope, I declared, and on we drove.

By now it was almost 3:00pm, we’d been on the road for five hours and were still on the M1. We drove on. It carried on raining, harder than ever now. Our stomachs rumbled and our bladders protested. I knew we had to stop soon, but where? There just didn’t seem to be anywhere.

Finally, at the roundabout junction where we had to leave the M1 and take an A road heading towards York we saw signs for a service station. Not caring what it was, I pulled off the road and we parked the car. Dashing through the foot-deep puddles we were soaked by the time we staggered into the covered food hall and I could feel cold water seeping between my toes. Great.

But, first things first, we dashed to the ladies only to find – of course – a mile long queue. Nothing for it, we had to wait in legs crossed agony – now we were standing up, gravity was doing its part. Finally, we reached the top of the queue. Having sorted out that need, we now looked to our next one. Food. Please can we have a Burger King, asked Miss F, seeing as we’re on holiday. Quite frankly, if she’d had suggested slow roasted aardvark, I’d have been up for it at that point. The queue for Burger King was even longer than the queue for the loo. We looked at each other. Then spotted a little M&S shop next to it. Grabbing a basket, we loaded it up with ready cooked BBQ chicken wings, crisps, sandwiches and cake. I tried to keep things healthy by picking up some fruit pots, even though I knew the chances of Miss F eating them were slim.

We splashed back to the car and sat there with the windows steamed up glumly munching our lunch/dinner as the rain sloshed down. Sitting there, I was taken back to when I was a child, and days out with my parents, when we’d sit in the car parked at some seaside resort or other, staring morosely out at the rain belting down, munching on sandwiches, with my mother sporadically chiming in with – I’m sure it’ll clear up soon – and my father’s mood worsening because, quite frankly, he’d rather have been anywhere and doing anything else than this.

Lunch over, we set off again. By now I was so sick of being in the car and this hellish journey. I was beginning to feel like I’d been born in that bloody car. Was beginning to believe I’d probably die in it as well.

At last, we saw the turnoff for the village. Carefully following the instructions we’d been emailed we bumped our way up a cart track and parked where we’d been told to. I switched off the car. Silence, well, apart from the non-stop rain that was.

I looked at the clock. It was 6:30pm. We’d been on the road for over eight hours. We could have flown to New York in less time. But at least we were here, even though I still had to unpack the car. Unable to park any closer to the cottage, we had to lug everything up a narrow pathway. It was dark. Proper dark. Countryside dark. So, we had to fumble around trying to find the key, get the door open and find the light switch. Miss F had carried one bag to the house, but was so excited to explore our new home for the week, that she dumped it just inside the front door and skipped off, leaving me to unload everything else and carry it all up that dark path in the pouring rain.

I was soaked to the skin. I had wet and muddy feet. I was cold and tired and quite frankly pissed off. Royally pissed off. I was stiff from the stress of driving for eight hours, and did I mention how pissed off I was. Bloody hell, I muttered to myself, this is precisely why I don’t do holidays! This is why I stay home, because this always happens to us.

Grumping and muttering the whole time, it took me four trips to unload the car and get everything into the cottage.

“Come and have a look, mummy,” my over-excited daughter sang out. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”

Struggling to untie the sodden laces on my trainers, I pulled them off and propped them up by the radiator to dry – yes, the lovely cottage owners had been concerned about how cold and wet it was so had popped over earlier and put the heating on. Feeling my jeans stick to my legs like wet blotting paper, I yelled at Miss F to come and help take things upstairs, rather than prancing about all over the place like a useless fairy. Chastised, she came down to help and I felt mean, but also strangely better for venting a little.

We carried our suitcases and wash bags upstairs. The cottage was very open plan and so new and shiny it almost hurt to look at it. Miss F’s room was big and comfy, with one of those beds that can be two singles or a superking. At her request, it had been left as a superking and Teddy was already sitting on it, looking somewhat lost in that vast expanse of bed. There was a gorgeous bathroom, with creamy marble tiles and a huge walk in shower that I eyed longingly. My spirits began to rise.

Then there was my room, and of course, there was my old bed. In the stresses of the journey I’d forgotten I’d be sleeping in it again. It was like greeting an old friend, and my spirits lifted even further. Telling Miss F to quickly change out of her wet things, I peeled off my sopping jeans and felt much better once I was in dry, warm clothes.

Downstairs there was a large open plan lounge, kitchen, diner, with a huge TV on the wall and a woodburning stove in the corner. A small cloakroom was under the stairs, and as we carried our boxes of food and drink into the kitchen and started to unpack, we discovered a homemade lemon drizzle cake with three birthday candles on it and a pack of matches lying next to it. I’d happen to mention to the owner that it was Miss F’s birthday the day we were travelling up, so she’d made her a cake. That cheered us both up, that she’d been so kind and thoughtful.

Finally, in the fridge, I found a little bottle of Prosecco and my spirits were completely restored to their usual levels. We finished unpacking, settling into our home for the next six days. That’s why I like self-catering holiday lets, you can take your own things and make it feel like home.

Neither of us were particularly hungry, so I made us a hot snack which we had with cake, and I had the Prosecco – hey, I was on holiday and I think I definitely deserved it after that hellish road trip. We switched on the TV; Miss F wildly excited to discover we had Sky movies. Bizarrely there was no sound and the subtitles were on, which took a bit of fiddling around with the remote to amend, and I assumed the previous holiday makers had been hard of hearing or something.

An early night seemed a good idea for us both, so Miss F soon went upstairs to her superking bed and I channel hopped, trying to find something to fill an hour or so. Ten minutes later she was back down, complaining that the TV was so loud it was booming in her room, keeping her awake.

The TV was on so low I could barely hear it, so I went upstairs to hear for myself and discovered that she was right. Oh, the joys of open plan acoustics. By some weird trick of sound, even thought the TV volume was on a low setting, it was echoing into her bedroom. What to do? Of course, volume off and subtitles on, so that mystery was explained. And that was how I had to watch TV after she’d gone to bed for the whole week, with the volume off and the subtitles on.

Going to bed myself, I cleaned my teeth in an unfamiliar bathroom where the water tasted “different” from home, and then settled down into my old bed – at least that was familiar. Lying there, listening to the rain hammering down on the skylight above, I wondered how the week would go, and I really hoped it would stop bloody raining!

Tune in next week for part two of the best holiday we ever had – it gets better, honestly.

Julia Blake

The Doctor will see you now

It’s been a busy week, not helped by the fact that I haven’t been very well, so this week’s blog will probably be shorter than normal. I awoke Monday morning with a pain in my back lower molar and a swollen jaw. Oh heck, I thought, here we go again. About seven or eight years ago I had exactly the same thing and it turned out to be a pretty severe infection which required two doses of live antibiotics to clear it up. I was back to work Monday and Tuesday, so there wasn’t really much I could do about it, other than pop pain meds and hope for the best.

My boss asked if I’d phoned my dentist to make an appointment, but I was reluctant to do so, knowing exactly how that conversation would go.

“Hi, I think I have an infection and I’m in a lot of pain.”

“Right, the dentist can see you later today.”

“Well, actually I’m at work so can we make it Wednesday?”

“Hmm, if you can wait it’s obviously not that bad, so let’s say that the dentist can see you a week next Tuesday.”

Like most people, I don’t get paid for having time off work sick so couldn’t afford to have an appointment during working hours. Instead, I walked to the dentist first thing Wednesday morning and threw myself onto the mercy of the receptionist, hoping that the fact the whole of the left side of my face was now swollen like a bullfrog would arouse her sympathies. After all, it’s harder to say no to someone who’s standing in front of you and is clearly in pain, than it is a faceless voice on the other end of the phone.

I was in luck, I only had to wait ten minutes before the dentist squeezed me in between patients. I was in his chair for precisely thirty seconds. I opened my mouth as far as I could, he looked, pulled a face, confirmed it was the same situation as previously, and gave me a prescription for two different sorts of antibiotics with the same warnings as before.

Now, doctors always tell you not to drink at all when on antibiotics, but the truth is the odd glass won’t hurt you because 95% of antibiotics prescribed are inert, dead. However, that wasn’t the case with these ones, and both the dentist, and the pharmacist who filled the prescription, stressed the important of abstinence. Last time I was a good girl and not a drop passed my lips the whole time I was taking them, except… I went for dinner at my parents’ house and mum had made a sherry trifle for dessert and I just didn’t think. I mean, it wasn’t in a glass, so it didn’t count as alcohol, right? Wrong. It so counted, and one tiny bowlful made me as sick as a dog. An experience I wasn’t keen to repeat, so until I’ve finished the course, I’m a teetotaller.

I also have to take a couple of probiotic drinks a day. The live antibiotics are so strong that they will strip all the bacteria from my body and won’t make any distinction between the good guys and the bad, thus leaving my immune system wide open for infection.

I left the dentist clutching my prescription and popped around the corner to my doctor’s surgery – I had to call in to pick up my hayfever pills anyway so hoped the dispensary there could also fill my prescription. They could, but not until next week and I really needed to start them immediately.

I walked back into town. Now, Wednesday is market day in the small town where I live and the place was heaving with people wandering around, stopping right in front of me, and generally being annoying.

I was tired and hungry. My whole face had throbbed with pain the entire night before, so I hadn’t really had any sleep, and my jaw was so sore that eating solid food was also an issue. I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with people, especially people who continuously got in my way and were just generally there!

Boots the Chemist was on my direct route home and I knew it was my best bet for getting my prescription filled immediately. Whilst I was there, I’d also be able to get the probiotic drinks I needed and the teatree oil shampoo and conditioner that Miss F had requested I pick up next time I was in town.

Brilliant, I thought. One shop and I could get it all, and then I could go home to take my first dose, pop another paracetamol and hibernate from the world. I reached the shop and dropped off my prescription at the pharmacy. Five minutes, I was promised, so grabbed a basket and went looking for the other items on my list. Endless aisles of haircare products, any teatree oil shampoo and conditioner? No, of course there wasn’t. I tracked down an assistant, who confirmed they didn’t sell it, but Holland & Barrett (all the way over on the other side of town) might. Probiotic drinks, I looked in the chiller cabinet, everything but. If I’d been in the mood for a Dr Pepper or a Diet Coke, then I could have drowned myself in it. Sandwiches, mini pots of pasta salad and falafel wraps galore, but actual healthy probiotic drinks… nope! My bad, the word “Chemist” tagged on the end of “Boots the” had plainly confused me.

By now, I was hot and dizzy and could feel my irritability rising. I’m a bit like a bear when I’m either unwell, tired, hungry, frustrated and need to pee – add all of those factors together and it makes for a very unpleasant Julia who had to go home before she bit someone.

I went home. Had some porridge with honey and then took my first dose. After a rest, I felt revived enough to walk to Waitrose which did sell probiotic drinks, hooray.

And then the fun began. If you’ve never taken live antibiotics you have no idea what they do to you. Completely stripping your body of all bacteria, it results in gastro combustion which can erupt at any moment and is highly unpleasant. Is it possible to pass internal organs? Asking for a friend.

But, needs must, and if it will get rid of the infection and stop the pain, then I’ll put up with the violent stomach cramps and the frequent bathroom visits.

Having a holiday off work last week was wonderful. Exhausted from the Christmas season and the January sales, it was nice to have a break, and I was determined to make the most of my eight wonderful days off. Usually, I waste my holiday frantically trying to catch up on housework, but I’ve come to the conclusion it is a complete and utter waste of time because I will never catch up. There will always be something that needs doing, so I might as well accept this and instead do something else with my time off, such as write.

I haven’t written an original word since last April, when I finished writing Chaining Daisy. Okay, I’ve blogged every week, but I’m not sure that counts, so I was determined that during my week off I would write, and only write.

Monday, I couldn’t get started. Begging the main character to give me a clue about her life, she remained stubbornly silent, so I pressed on and did the few chores I needed to get done in the week all in one day.

Tuesday morning, as I was eating breakfast, that obstinate Miss whispered in my head – “My life is small”. That was it, just one line, but it was enough. With rising excitement, I sat down at my laptop and typed the opening line – Her life was small. And from then on it was easy. Why was her life small? That was ten days ago, and I’m happy to report that to date I’ve managed to write 40,000 words. This is book three in the Blackwood Family Saga and as they all run to about 50,000 words each, this is a massive chunk of the novel written.

I’m very excited about this one. It’s completely different from the plot I had in my head, but I’m happy with the direction it’s taken, although, if anyone looks at my browser history I’m going to be in trouble. With searches covering the topics of burner phones, habits of serial killers, police safehouses, what is the range of an assault rifle and how much damage would a bullet do to a body if fired from such and such a distance, it’s enough to raise eyebrows in my direction. I’m a writer, honest, it’s all research.

I hate being ill. I’m the world’s worst patient. Hopeless at all this self-love nonsense, I push myself too far, refuse to rest, forget to take my medication at the right time, and generally drive myself crazy with my refusal to simply give in and admit that I’m not well.

I think it’s because for most of my life I have had to struggle on however sick I’ve been. Single parents have no one to tag in and take over to give them a rest. I could be bleeding from the eyeballs and Miss F would still need feeding and picking up from work.

Different story when she’s ill, of course, then it’s a constant chorus of – “Mum, can I have a drink,” “Mum, my bed’s all messed up,” “Mum, I can’t find Teddy,” “Mum, I feel… bleuughh… Mum, I’ve been sick again.”

Funny story, when she was a little one, about five or six, I noticed that she was very rosy cheeked one day, I mean, glowing, like a painted Dutch Doll. She also had a slight rash on her torso and was off her food. I took her to the doctor. Our normal doctor – who knew me and was used to my slightly off kilter sense of humour – was on holiday, so we had to see someone else. An elderly, very correct, doctor, he examined her.

“She has slapped cheek syndrome,” he told me.

“That’s impossible,” I replied.

“Oh, and why is that?” His eyebrows rose at my impudence in doubting his diagnosis.

“Because I never slap her where it shows.”

My usual doctor would have just laughed, understanding it was a joke, but this one looked at me in utter horror and scribbled something in his notes. Probably putting me on a list of some kind.

Over the years, Miss F has had the usual childhood ailments. She caught chicken pox off her cousin, and whilst she barely had any spots at all, poor Miss F was completely covered with them. They were everywhere. In her ears, up her nose and on her eyelids. Strapped into cotton mittens so she wouldn’t scratch and scar herself, for a week she was daily subjected to oatmeal baths, Calomine lotion and drops in her eyes – which were distressing for both her and me. Afterwards, I daily rubbed bio oil into her scars and they mostly cleared up, except one nasty one which has left a permanent spot in her left eyebrow where no hair will ever grow. Barely noticeable, I think she quite likes it, leastways even now that she is a teenager with access to eyebrow pencils, she never fills it in.

When she was ten, she came down with a virulent and rather nasty viral infection which settled in her joints and left her bedbound for a week. The doctor told me she had to have utter bedrest, and that too much exertion could leave her permanently afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Of course, I phoned the school as soon as I had this diagnosis and spoke to them at length about it. Absolutely, Ms Blake, they reassured me. We completely understand, keep her at home as long as necessary. Please just keep us updated as to her progress.

Duly, I telephoned them every day, letting them know how she was and that sadly she still wasn’t well enough to come back, but please could they email me some of her coursework for us to go over so she didn’t fall too far behind. I mean, obviously her education was and still is very important to me, but the doctor had terrified me with his grim warning, and, quite frankly, her long-term health seemed far more important than missing a few days of school at age ten.

Five days into her illness I received a letter from the school. Miss F had missed a lot of school, they said. They were concerned she might be truanting. Was I aware of quite how much time she’d had off and how that would impact on her future exam success? It was with regret, they said, that they were planning on starting legal proceedings against me!

Absolutely furious, I was going to telephone them, but this kind of anger had to be vented face to face. I did telephone my doctor though, who was horrified at the school’s attitude and again warned that under no circumstances was she to be moved yet. In fact, so adamant was he how detrimental to her health this would be, he sent me a very strongly worded email to print out and take to the school with me.

My mother drove in to sit with Miss F whilst I went to confront the school. Now, I’m normally a mild-mannered, let the waves wash over my head, kind of parent when it comes to schools. Trying not to be that parent – the one always making a fuss – I never had time to anyway, I firmly believed in keeping my head below the ramparts and not getting noticed. But this was different. I’d been in daily contact with them, keeping them informed at every step about her condition and the doctor’s diagnosis. To have received a letter like this, well, it was beyond belief!

I drove round there, girded my loins, and invaded the headmaster’s office. No appointment, no warning, I marched through his receptionist as if she wasn’t there and slapped the letter down on his desk. I’ve always felt that if you have a serious issue with an organisation, don’t waste time talking to the monkey, go straight to the organ grinder.

I talked. He listened. Once he realised what the issue was, he was horrified. Dragged the receptionist in demanding an answer. Why had this poor parent been dragged away from her child’s sickbed and threatened with legal action for merely obeying the doctor’s very strict instructions – here he waved the email under the woman’s face.

I did actually feel sorry for her by this point as, red faced, she scuttled away to see what had happened, confirming that she knew precisely what the situation with Miss F was because it was her I’d been reporting to each day. Turns out, there was an automated gremlin lurking at the heart of their computer system. Crouching there, it kept a record of all pupil attendance and, when a certain number of days had been missed, spat out this offensive letter, which was automatically posted with no one bothering to check or confirm its accuracy.

The issue was resolved, and no real harm done, but it did get me to thinking. What about if Miss F’s condition had been even more serious than it was? What if she was lying in hospital with a potentially terminal illness? How distressing would it have been to have received a letter like that?

Talking about receiving distressing letters, I received an odd one this week that I don’t know whether to laugh at or be offended by. After ten long years of Miss F’s father not contributing a penny to her upkeep and the Child Maintenance Agency proving worse than useless at getting anything out of him – apparently, the poor love is not earning anything and is filing nil tax returns. Really? So, the company he owns and the racehorse he’s just bought and splashed all over his Facebook page are just Scotch mist, are they? – Anyway, I gave up expecting any support from him years ago, be it financial, emotional or any other kind, but each year the Child Maintenance Agency send me a long letter, at the end of which they inform me that the child maintenance I can expect to receive that year amounts to £0.00 and what bank account would I like that paying into?

So, you can imagine my surprise when this year there was a change. He is going to finally contribute something to his daughter’s upkeep – wait for it, a whole £6.51 per week! Like I said, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, although on reflection, I think I’ll just shrug my shoulders and accept that it is what it is.

Anyway, I said this blog wouldn’t be a long one and here it is at almost 3000 words. It’s gone 8pm on Friday evening, and I will soon have to turn out on this cold and windy night to do the twenty-minute drive to pick Miss F up from work.

I’m glad I’ve managed to write this tonight. I have one more day off tomorrow before going back to work on Sunday and I’m desperate to get back to my story. My hero and heroine were left in a very precarious position and I really want to know how things worked out for them. Anyone know how quickly chloroform works? Asking for a friend, honest.

Take care, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake