Animal Magic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

New Month and Moths!

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

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

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

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

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

HIM: What are you thinking about?

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

HIM: ……………….?

ME:  ………………..?

HIM: What?!

ME:  What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will keep you all posted…

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

My Brilliant Birthday Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride and Prejudice

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

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

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

Lovely presents

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

Doesn’t catch mice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case of great minds think alike.

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

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

Pile of sparkly presents!
Tiny radio

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

Very odd mouse
New keyboard

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

They gave me my presents – more books, yay!

Books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

Happiness is a Comfortable Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then they left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our table with its own built in bookshelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, the trip back took three hours.

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

Dinner was the best kind of picnic

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

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

Julia Blake

The Wheel Turns

Yep, it’s July, already, and I can’t be the only one astonished at how quickly the year is galloping by. I am looking forward to the month – not only because it’s my birthday on the seventeenth and I have lots of things planned – but because I have booked the whole week off work and my very kind boss has thoughtfully made sure my days off fall at the beginning and the end of the holiday, so I have eleven days off in total. Nice.

It’s been quite a good week so far.

As I told you last time, Miss F and I went to live theatre for the first time in years last Saturday evening. It was nice if a little strange being with other people again other than in a work capacity. But the venue had put a lot of thought into arrangements, and it was table seating which you had to book in advance. All the tables were full, and staff were moving amongst them taking drinks orders. Miss F asked for a diet coke, and I treated myself to a glass of Merlot. Our drinks were placed before us just as the lights went down, a backing track started and then we were into the play.

As we watched, I sipped my drink – a glass of wine had cost as much as a whole bottle, so I wanted to savour it – but it was a little thick and seemed to have a gritty texture. Gamely, I persevered but as the first half of the play finished, I took another sip and ended up with what tasted like a mouthful of sour wood shavings. I discreetly spat them back into my glass as the lights came up for the interval and I got a good look at what I’d been drinking. I’d ordered a large glass and had drunk about three-quarters of it, but the rest of the wine left in the glass was a thick sludge of sediment.

I showed it to Miss F, and she rolled her eyes – please don’t make a fuss – she pleaded. What is it about teenagers and their horror of making a fuss, or worse, being with you when you politely complain about something?

The server came back to our table and asked if we wanted anything else. Well, I would quite like another glass of wine, I said, but you might want to check the bottle. I showed her the contents of my wine glass and she pulled a horrified face, took the glass, and scuttled off to have a word with her manager.

A minute later she was back, still apologising profusely, and saying that the Merlot had been taken off the menu (that helps me, how?) and would I like something else? I looked on the menu, the wine choices were limited so I chose a glass of white zinfandel and she hurried off to fetch it.

Bearing in mind I had paid a lot of money for the first glass of wine and had only been able to drink three-quarters of it, plus had had the unpleasant experience of a mouthful of sludge, I expected the second glass to be on the house. But no, she came back with the second glass of wine and the card machine.

I opened my mouth to say something but caught Miss F’s eye and thought better of it. We were having a nice time and I didn’t want to spoil it, so I swallowed down my words and again paid the equivalent of a whole bottle for a glass of wine that I don’t particularly enjoy.

Then we watched the second half of the play. The play was great, and it was nice watching live theatre again, but I had forgotten how annoying other people in the audience can be and how some think it’s okay to talk all through the performance and have no concept of an “indoor voice”. There was a table of three older people in front of us and one gentleman on that table just would not shut up! Every couple of minutes he was commenting to the other two in a very loud voice.

If I’d been alone, I would have sshhdd them, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t. Walking home though, I did say how annoying they had been, and Miss F agreed how rude it is to go to something like that and be unable to keep your comments for the interval and after the performance.

But she would have killed me if I’d said anything to them!

I have heard nothing from my old energy company other than an email informing me that the direct debit has been cancelled – yes, I know it has because I bloody well cancelled it – so I’m wondering if that means they’ve given up and gone away. Maybe they’ve decided it’s not worth taking me on for the sake of £62.

I’ve also had three very good days at work. I managed to scrape by my monthly target by the skin of my teeth and at the eleventh hour on Sunday, which was satisfying. Then Monday and Tuesday were good days, nice customers, and juicy sales – if only it could always be like that.

When I got home Tuesday, there was a brown envelope lying on the table from H.M. Revenue & Customs. Oh, bugger, I thought, what now? Any correspondence from them tends to be unwanted and unpleasant so I opened it with caution. But it wasn’t unpleasant or unwanted at all, no, it turns out I’ve paid too much tax and am owed a refund of £206. Very nice. If I did nothing, the letter informed me, I would get a cheque in about six weeks. However, if I applied online for it then I would receive it directly into my bank account within five days. Hmm, whichever one shall I choose.

Wednesday was a day of clearing the decks, of sorting out all the niggly bits and pieces that had to be done because I was hopeful of finally beginning book thirteen on Thursday. I also applied for my tax refund online. Jeez, they don’t like to make that too easy, but after going around in circles a couple of times, I finally figured it out so hopefully, I should have the money in my bank account by early next week.

Then Thursday I had to take my car to the mechanic to get two new tyres and for them to investigate where the scary rattle was coming from. I had thought it was coming from the engine, but I now felt it was coming from underneath me instead. Anyway, I left the car at the mechanics and walked home via the pharmacy to pick up my hayfever meds; a friend’s house to drop off a DVD I was lending her, and the shops.

By the time I got home, it was lunchtime and then it was gone two and I was thinking, we-e-e-ll, it’s too late to start writing now, perhaps I should leave it until tomorrow, but then something inside me slapped my lazy arse and ordered me into my chair. Start! The voice insisted. It doesn’t matter if you only write a few hundred words, just start!

So, I started, and it was like opening the floodgates. By the time the garage phoned at four to tell me my car was ready to be collected, I was very surprised to realise I had written 4900 words! That’s not bad going, even by my standards, and I was pleased with the words.

This is going to be book three in The Perennials Trilogy. Primarily Rose’s story, it will also feature Lili, Jake, and the rest of the gang and there are quite a few loose ends to tie up as it’s the final book. It’s also going to be a big book – I estimate anywhere between 150,000 to 175,000 words – and it’s booked in with Platform House Publishing to be formatted, have the cover made, all the promo images, plus the video, in early November, so, no pressure then. To non-writers that may sound like plenty of time to write a book, but it’s not, it’s really not. Especially not a book this size. But I keep reminding myself that I didn’t start writing Black Ice until mid-August last year, it was published on the 30th of November, and it was a 150,000-word novel with over forty pages of illustrations to source and insert – so, I’m hopeful. It can be done, so long as I knuckle down and write my fingers to the bone.

Not expecting her to agree, I asked Miss F if she wanted to walk down to the garage with me, and to my surprise, she said yes. Mind you, I did offer to buy her a Belgian bun from Greggs to eat in the Abbey Gardens on route by way of an incentive, or bribe – whichever worked.

It was a glorious afternoon and there were a lot of people milling about. It does still feel strange being in large crowds, even a little scary. Not much social distancing was going on and masks were only being worn in shops, not outside, as they once were. Everyone seems very relaxed about the whole pandemic now. Maybe it’s because the vaccination programme has been so successful, or maybe it’s because people can only be afraid for so long before normality takes over.

Anyway, I bought Miss F a bun and I bought myself an ice cream cone and tried to eat it as we walked towards the gardens. I’m not very good at eating when I’m walking – especially over uneven paving with a rather large ice cream rapidly melting and running down my sleeve!

We reached the park and sat on a bench, and I attempted to be ladylike with the ice cream. I think I must have failed though because when I got undressed that evening, I noticed big splotches of ice cream all around the hem of my jeans. I must say, it was probably one of the best ice cream cones I’d ever had. Gorgeous, proper, creamy vanilla ice cream, a chocolate flake, cream-filled wafer tube, plus a generous portion of lemon curd sauce, yum.

We sat for a while, people watching, and being watched in turn by a curious squirrel. I think he might have been hopeful of having some ice cream but no such luck, I ate it all, sorry Mr Squirrel.

As we walked up to the garage, Miss F asked how much it was going to cost. I thought about it for a moment, potentially two new tyres, labour, plus whatever the rattle was, and then VAT on top – I figured I’d be lucky to get away with £150 possibly more. She pulled a face, well, that’s your tax refund gone, she said.

Only one person was allowed in the garage at a time, so Miss F waited outside while I went in. The receptionist handed me an envelope containing the invoice and went to fetch the car key. Holding my breath, I slipped the invoice out and squinted at it. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I thought it said £62! No, it couldn’t be. Surely, it cost more than that.

Nope, it was £62. The spare tyre in the boot had never been used and was still in good condition, so they put that on. The best of the two old tyres coming off went into the boot as a spare and they put a new tyre on. And as for the rattle? The heat shield had come loose, and that was it! Yay, thank you universe for being kind to me for once.

I could feel the difference. As we drove home the ride felt smoother, less jouncy, which I guess was because of the new tyres.

We had more good news this week. Miss F finally heard from the university – she’s got the accommodation she wanted, so she was over the moon about that, and we’re now all set for our road trip oop north next week to tour the campus. We must take Covid tests before we’re allowed on the tour, which I’m not looking forward to. I’ve never had to do one before, but they look horrible. We then must submit our results to the government website. We’re going to do a test run first today. I do not want to get up there only to find the tests don’t work or we can’t submit the results for some reason.

Things seem to at last be going my way! All I need now is for the local council to pay me the discount for sole occupancy which I have retrospectively claimed for the last six months – I emailed them about it on the 28th of May, no reply, so I have emailed them again. If I haven’t heard anything by next Friday, I will see if I can telephone and speak to a real human being. I’m harder to ignore on the phone!

It would also be great to hear from my insurance company that the claim is finally sorted, and my policy excess is going to be refunded to me. I can’t believe a tiny claim for £255 for an incident that happened in January is taking so long to be settled. It’s not my company, it’s the insurance company of the Yodel delivery driver dragging their heels and trying to deny responsibility. Just man up and fess up. You had an accident and hit my car, it happens, that’s what we all pay insurance for and it’s not like it’s for thousands, so I can’t understand why it’s all taking so long.

Anyway, that is all my news for this week. As I said, not a bad week, in fact, quite a good one. Maybe the wheel of fortune has at last rolled and it’s my turn to be on top for a while. I’m at work Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and then we’re off on our road trip, so my evenings are going to be busy preparing and packing ready for the off mid-morning Wednesday. We’re only staying one night and should be back late Thursday afternoon, but it’s going to be so great to get out of town for even a day or so.

When we get back, I have Friday off – but that will be taken up with laundry, housework and writing my blog because I’m at work Saturday and then I’m off for my holiday. Eleven glorious days of no work – just writing, reading, and seeing friends and family for multiple birthday shenanigans.

I Cannot Wait!

Have a great week everyone and wherever you are, stay safe and stay healthy.

Julia Blake

And So It Continues!

I’m stressed today, so-o-o stressed. I wasn’t stressed, well, no more than normal life levels of stress. I got up reasonably chipper, I’d slept okay for me, the sun was shining, and I had a fairly light day chore wise. Then an email dropped into my inbox from Green, my old energy supplier.

Regular readers will know all the problems I have been having with them. The ridiculously high bills, the lies, the falsification of information on my account, the ludicrous claims to be taking readings from mythical smart meters… Anyway, I thought it was all sorted. I had changed to Octopus Energy who seemed more honest and transparent in their dealings. I had given my final meter readings to both Green and Octopus and they had both agreed to use them. I had even had an email from Green stating that once the final bill had been collected of £88 my direct debit would be cancelled.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle when I ended up paying both for the same four-week period. Now, I expected Green to take the £88 direct debit and even though I didn’t think I had used that amount of energy during four weeks of hot weather when neither my heating nor my tumble drier went on, so would probably be in credit to them, I didn’t hold out much hope of getting a refund from them. You all know what they’ve been like – very good at taking money that doesn’t belong to them, not so good at paying it back – but I was prepared to just let it go because, to be honest, it wasn’t worth the stress and the angst trying to recover it.

I was surprised that Octopus had taken £91.50 on the same date, because that was the day I changed to them, so they hadn’t supplied me with any energy at all and I was confused as to what this was payment for? Anyway, I dashed off a quick email to Octopus asking what was going on and checked my account on Green. Octopus eventually answered ten days later – so much for their promises to answer emails within one day – and told me that the money taken was to put some credit in my account, but that if I wanted, I didn’t have to pay in July but could use that credit instead.

My account on Green showed what I expected – that I was in credit by £62. But, as I said, I didn’t expect to get that refunded anytime soon. I mean, I would ask for it, but given their history, I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Energy-wise, things seemed to have at last got back onto an even keel. Until this morning. This morning I received an email from Green stating that I owed them another £60!

Here we go again, I thought, even though I’ve left them they are still trying it on. So, according to Green, during the period from the 18th of May to the 14th of June – which were mostly hot and sunny days so no heating and washing being dried outside – they are claiming that I chewed my way through the £62 credit on my account, the £88 they took from my account, plus this extra £60 they are demanding! £210 in energy consumed in a tiny, terraced house occupied by two people in the summer. I don’t think so!

I can’t understand how they keep coming up with these ridiculous claims, and when I looked on my account on their website guess what … all my meter readings have been removed again and the fabricated readings from this mythical smart meter have been added. All together now … I DO NOT HAVE A SMART METER!

I was fuming. Is this never going to end? Did I make a habit of kicking puppies in my previous life that I deserve all this crap in this one? Off went a scorching email to Green telling them they are not getting another penny from me and demanding to know how 125 units of gas and 1231 units of electricity used can equate to £210 worth of energy! It can’t. There is no way they can justify this. Looking back at my meter readings and previous bills, this usage is one-third of that used in December but is three times the price I was charged for that month.

How are they allowed to operate like this? I’m so fed up with it and I told them so, threatening that unless they go away and leave me alone, I will be contacting Offgem on my next day off – Wednesday – and will be contacting Martin Lewis. Hopefully, this will make them back down but if not, I am fully prepared to go through with my promise.

I also emailed Octopus and gave them the meter readings and usage for the period and asked them how much this amount of energy consumed should cost?

I don’t expect to hear anything until next week because, of course, it’s Saturday, and none of these companies operates on a Saturday – which is another bugbear. I’m expected to work weekends, so are millions of other people in the UK, so why can’t they? After all, it’s the weekends when all those people who work Monday to Friday will be trying to get hold of them.

I then had a sudden thought and contacted my bank. The direct debit to Green that they claimed was now cancelled, was it? No, my bank told me, it was still very much alive so that meant they could take a payment for ANY AMOUNT THEY CHOSE from my bank account at any time! I told the bank the situation and they immediately cancelled the direct debit and put a block on Green being able to take any more money from my account without my express permission – which I am never going to give. But this shows that yet again they lied to me. They sent me an email claiming the direct debit was now inactive when it was very much alive.

So, that’s my stomach all churny and upset with stress and yet more of my precious time off eaten into because people simply can’t do their jobs properly.

What else has happened this week? Well, work, of course, Monday and Tuesday, but again they were very quiet days and I know my pay packet at the end of July is going to be slim. Wednesday was a busy day with lots of running around. It’s my dad’s birthday today, Happy Birthday Dad, so I rushed uptown to get his birthday presents. I had been reliably informed by my mother that he needed more jeans – so, of course, Marks & Spencer was the only place to go to get them.

And that’s another thing that always mildly annoys me, the fact that men can buy trousers specifically tailored to their waist and leg measurements. If you are male and have a 29” leg, then you can buy waist measurements in that leg length ranging from 28” all the way up to 42” and sometimes beyond. Same if you have a 32” leg or a 36” and so on. This is blatantly unfair to us girls because we only get clothes in small, medium, or large, or generic “fit all” sizes such as 10, 12, 14, 16 etc. So, if you need a size 16 to fit around your womanly hips – you only have one choice of leg length – and usually, manufacturers make them to fit women of 5’6” and taller. It’s only the smaller sizes like tens that are tailored for short girls, so if you’re a tall size ten around the hips you’ll find that most jeans are way too short for you.

This is so stupid. Why don’t trouser and jean manufacturers make them in differing hip and leg sizes? And don’t tell us you can’t because you already do it for men! As I would say women proportionately buy more clothes than men it seems bizarre that we are so restricted on the sizes we can buy. I wonder how men would feel if they were faced with the choice of buying trousers that were several inches too short for them or had to buy them and then try to turn them up themselves at home! We’re not all ace at dressmaking, you know, despite being women, and sometimes depending on the cut of the trousers it can ruin the look if you must hack five inches off the bottom and turn them up. And besides, why should we have to? If I’ve paid a lot of money for a pair of trousers then I’ll be buggered if I’m going to whip out my needle and thread and start altering them. I shouldn’t have to.

Of course, one or two places do try. Marks & Spencer at least offer short, regular, and long lengths in their trousers and jeans, but there’s never enough of the short and long on the racks and even when there is, I have found that I often fall between those categories – the short is slightly too short and the medium is slightly too long. Next offer the same but it’s rare you find them in store but instead have to go through the whole rigmarole of ordering them and then going back to the store to collect them, and now you can’t even try them on in-store to see if they fit, instead, you have to buy them, take them home, try them on, look in the mirror, cry, take them off and trudge despondently back to the shop to get a refund and start the whole process again. So much wasted time simply to find a pair of trousers that fit!

Town was crowded and it still makes me very uneasy having that amount of people around me. I wonder if I’ll ever get back into the mindset of being happy in crowds. I needed to buy a few essentials at Waitrose and Wilks, then carried on decoupaging until Miss F telephoned me to go and collect her and her friend from lunch.

A couple of weeks ago her best friend, Miss T, treated Miss F to lunch at the pub where Miss T works part-time and Miss F wanted to return the favour, so had booked them a table for lunch on Wednesday at the restaurant where Miss F works. They caught the bus out, but I’d offered to go and collect them, so pulled on my shoes when the call came at 1:45 and drove the twenty minutes to the restaurant. The route is along country lanes and passes through several small villages and usually, other than the odd car, I don’t see any sign of life. I was taken aback, therefore, when I turned a corner to find people all over the road with cars pulled up onto the verges. Slowing, I watched as several people crossed the road to a nearby fenced-in field where there were many others all with cameras set up on tripods and binoculars hanging about their necks.

Twitchers, I thought! A rare bird of some kind must have been spotted in that field. Driving carefully, because seriously, these gormless idiots were all over the road and I didn’t want to hit one, I still only just avoided a large, red-faced man, who was panting and sweating his way along the roadside.

I reached the restaurant where the girls were waiting, they got in and we drove back. I told them to look out for the twitchers and then to my great amusement, I saw the same red-faced individual hurrying back the way he’d come because a police car had pulled up behind his car which was abandoned at a crazy angle in a driveway, and the officer was busy issuing him a ticket. I felt sorry for the poor bird, I mean, here he was, trying to live his life and raise a family, and suddenly all these idiots are taking pictures of him. I’d have flown away if I were the bird!

Back home, the girls switched to sleepover mode and PJs, snacks, drinks, and Netflix was the main criteria for the rest of their day, so I went back down into the basement and continued decoupaging until I ran out of glue. By that time, it was almost 6pm, I realised I was famished and that I’m too old for kneeling for long periods of time anymore, so I called it a day and cooked myself some dinner.

Thursday was taken up with buying more glue, finishing the decoupaging, wrapping my dad’s presents, ironing, and general pootling about.

Friday I was supposed to be visiting a friend for lunch, but sadly she had a very bad reaction from her second Corona jab so had to raincheck. So, instead, I began the varnishing on the decoupaged items. And I know you’re all dying to see how I’m doing so below are some photos. Bear in mind, they’re not finished yet, I still have many coats of varnish to apply, but it gives you a general idea of how it’s going. I’m quite pleased with how they’ve turned out so far.

Take one desk
One table
And one tray and lightly sand them down
start layering them with scraps of wallpaper
legs are fiddly
The tray is the hardest thing to do
When it’s covered start varnishing

I will post pictures of the finished items next week – if I get all the layers of varnish on.

As I wasn’t going to my friend’s, we were able to go to my parents in the morning, instead of when I got back, which was the original plan. Dad liked his presents from me. As well as the jeans I had also bought him a new, dark blue baseball cap to play golf in, and a bottle of artisan mild beer. Miss F had bought him a hamper with his bodyweight of dark chocolate in. I kid you not, this box was full of dark, delicious goodies all designed to give any dark chocolate lover chronic diabetes.

Whilst we were there, dad looked at the levels in my car. The oil was fine, the water needed a bit of a top-up, as did the screen wash, then he looked at my tyres and sucked in his breath. The front two are very worn, he told me. We looked at the spare tyre in the boot. It was brand new so could replace one of the front tyres and the best of them could become the spare, but that still left a new tyre to be purchased and put on before the 7th of July when we have a 300-mile round trip to visit Miss F’s university.

Bugger, I thought, but it is what it is. We came home and Miss F had some lunch before rushing off to catch the bus to work as she was on the 5pm to 10pm shift. I got another coat of varnish on, did some tidying up, and then cooked and ate my dinner. I decided to call around the next day to get quotes from the various tyre places in town and see what the best deal was. It shouldn’t be too bad, I thought, maybe £40. BUT later that evening when I went to collect Miss F from work, I noticed a mysterious loud rattling coming from the general direction of the engine. I turned the radio down and listened. Yep, a scary rattle. It wasn’t all the time but seemed to be when I cornered.

When I got to the restaurant and Miss F came out, I asked her to listen as I turned around in the car park. It’s a loud rattle, she said, clambering into the car, what do you think it is? Answer, I have no bloody idea, but knowing my luck and how this year has been going so far, it’s bound to be something expensive.

So now rather than simply take the car into a tyre replacement shop, I need to contact my mechanic and ask them to look at the car and they might as well do the tyres as well, but OF COURSE, they’re not open at the weekends so it will have to wait until Monday morning now.

Why is it all the major crises in my life happen on a Saturday when no bugger is open?!

Anyway, nowt I can do about it over the weekend but put it out of my head and pray it’s not too serious and not too expensive to fix.

This evening, Miss F and I are going to see a live performance put on by a fellow local author, actress and playwright. It’s table seating so we have a table for two booked and it starts at 7:30. I’ve read the book, which was adapted from the play, so I’ll be interested to see how the play compares. It’s called The Seventh Train and is based in train stations around East Anglia. I have very mixed feelings about being around strangers after so long in isolation, but it sounds like it’s been very well organised so it should be fine.

So, I need to go and apply another coat of varnish and make something for us to have for dinner before we go. Take care of yourselves, wherever you are, and I look forward to chatting with you again next week.

Julia Blake

No Blake Today!

Apologies to the dozen or so people who regularly read my blog, but I’m afraid there’s no A Little Bit of Blake today. There was going to be. I had every intention of sitting down and chatting with you right up until Saturday mid-afternoon, but then cold, hard reality hit, and I realised that I simply wasn’t going to have time.

It was an annoying day yesterday, but then the whole week has been annoying. Unusually, I had Monday off and spent the whole day cleaning the house from top to bottom including removing several huge cobwebs. Honestly, I know spiders are god’s creatures and all, but please, do they have to build palatial mansions in my house? I also tidied the garden, vacuumed, and washed my car, finished an arc book I’d been struggling to read for two weeks, caught up on all the laundry and ironing. And then I had to shower because doing all of that on the hottest day of the year so far was probably not the best of ideas.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was at work, and they were terrible days. The shop was like a ghost town – hardly anyone came in and as for sales, well, let’s just say divine intervention will be needed to get me through my target this week.

Thursday was a day of running about. I had to go to the bank to unblock my PIN so I could use it to buy Father’s Day presents and other shopping. I had correspondence to try and catch up with, an online shop to finish, and various other bits and pieces that filled my day. The weather was on the turn as well. The gloriously hot sunny skies were fading to gunship grey and a few spatters of rain could be felt.

If Thursday was busy, Friday was worse. We awoke to the sound of torrential rain slamming onto the roof and it didn’t stop all day! I had to collect our shopping at ten and that was no fun in the rain, but at least I managed to park under the click and collect shelter so was partially protected from the monsoon. Back home, shopping unpacked and sorted, Miss F and I then hammered down the road to visit one set of grandparents. We hadn’t been able to see them since Christmas 2019, so it was good to be able to chat with them, although we did keep our masks on. They are both elderly and vulnerable and although I’ve had both my jabs, I am aware I can still be a carrier, and of course, Miss F hasn’t had any jabs yet. So, masks and keeping our distance seemed sensible.

Back home, there was time for a quick lunch and then I had my usual virtual meet up with my local author group, which was fun. There was a lot of us this week and the time flew by until it was gone 3:30 and Miss F was poking her head around the door and pulling faces at me. It was time to put on my raincoat and get going.

Out into the rain, we went again. It was really belting it down now and the roads were treacherous as we drove to the village where my parents live. There is a bottle bank there, so I took the chance to offload some bottles and jars and then we had a thirty-minute visit with my parents and gave my dad his Father’s Day gifts.

Back in the car again, the skies were now black, and the rain was actually painful on my head. I’d given up on my hair – any hint of moisture and it frizzes into an uncontrollable knotty mess, and I end up looking like a Muppet. I had to get Miss F to work for five and it was now twenty to – no problem normally, but in these driving conditions?

The roads between my parents’ house and the restaurant where Miss F works are not great. All county lanes running between farmland, heavy rainfall tends to wash mud from the fields all over the road. Plus, the roads are not very well maintained and have ginormous potholes along the edges, which, when full of water become invisible and will merrily rip the shit out of your suspension. Stupidly, I decided to take a shortcut, completely forgetting how truly bad those roads were. At one point, the flood water was so deep I wasn’t sure the car would make it through. But he’s a sturdy chariot and apart from a few grumbles and splutters from the engine, Basil made it through every time. Glancing at the dash clock though, I realised we were pushing it and told Miss F to phone her work and advise them she might be five or so minutes late because of the flooded roads.

As it was, it was seven minutes past five when I dropped her off and then I had to drive home. By now, the rain was even worse. It was like driving underwater and I was reminded so much of the news footage you see of India in the monsoon season to the extent I half expected to see the bloated carcass of a cow go floating by.

Back home, I fed a screaming cat who’d obviously been out in the rain to perform her daily ablutions and was not happy about it at all, and with a huge sigh of relief sat down with a big plateful of Somerset Pork and roast potatoes and veg that I’d taken out of the freezer the night before. I’ve started watching The Witcher on Netflix, and although I’m enjoying it, I can’t help but think it’s a rehash of almost every fantasy series and book out there. There are elements of Game of Thrones and some case of outright plagiarism – I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard them referring to the Elves of Cintra – this is a novel by Terry Brooks which was published about ten years ago. Surely, they’re not allowed to breach copyright rules like that. But still, it’s enjoyable and I watched a couple of episodes whilst eating my dinner and then ironing Miss F’s work shirts for her next couple of shifts. And then it was 9:30 and time to get back in the car and risk the roads again to go and collect her from work. This is one thing I won’t miss when she’s gone to university, the constant running around for her and the amount of petrol I’m chewing through each week!

Saturday, I foolishly believed it would be a bit of a lighter day for me. Sure, there were beds to strip and remake, laundry to do, and I wanted to decoupage the desk, table, and tray that have been hanging around for ages. But that wouldn’t take me long and there would be all afternoon to sit and write my blog.

I’d forgotten, you see, I’d forgotten just what an arse achingly, fiddly, messy, and time-consuming task decoupaging is! I started at about ten, by three in the afternoon I’d only just finished the tray and realised I had to realign my priorities. I had stripped my bed off that morning, so obviously had to remake it, but Miss F’s hadn’t yet been done so I decided to leave it until Sunday. I briefly took a break and made my bed, and then started on the desk. Even though it’s much bigger than the tray it’s a lot easier because there is less fiddle. The desk has big surfaces which you can get up to speed on and it’s a square shape, but the tray is smaller and has handles with holes cut into them which you have to try and paste the scraps of wallpaper around.

Luckily, there was no one else in the house because the expletives floating up from the basement were inventive, to say the least. By the time I heard Miss F letting herself in the front door at 5:20 I’d managed to do over half the desk and was sick to the back teeth of it all. Deciding it was time to stop, I’d run out of PVA glue anyway, I cleared away and washed all the paste off my hands and got on with dinner.

I suppose, in theory, I could have written my blog last night, but my evenings are a bit sacred, and I like to spend them with Miss F. She’ll be off to university in September and although I’m sure she will be back for visits it won’t be the same, so I’m trying to make the most of our time together. And anyway, by the end of the day I’m done, all I want is a plateful of dinner and something meaningless on Netflix. I admire those authors who can write in the evenings because I can’t, my brain is like porridge and anything that came out of it wouldn’t be worth having.

And now it’s almost 9am on Sunday morning and I’m off to work in an hour so again I have run out of time and only managed to bash out this quick explanation as to why there is no blog this week. Sorry, again, but at least next week I will have before, during, and after pictures of my decoupage projects – hopefully – of course, I may have given up and built a bonfire with them.

Wherever you are in the world, Happy Father’s Day.

See you next week.

Julia Blake

Forget Me Not

I have been trying to remember if my memory has always been this bad, or, if – like a lot of other things – it’s been deteriorating for years but because it’s been so gradual, I’m only now noticing it. Because there’s no doubt about it, my memory is officially rubbish.

Of course, even in my younger days there were moments when I’d go to remember something and my brain would hold up its hands in despair and shrug – sorry, mate, no can do. But, overall, I used to have a pretty good memory.

Not anymore.

Now I struggle to remember even the most basic of things. I have to think about what month it is, let alone what day. I rely on the neighbours putting out their bins to know to put mine out and what colour bin it is this week. But isn’t that the same for everyone? Isn’t there always one person in the street who knows what day bin day is, and which colour bin should go out, and we all watch for their bin before dragging out our own. Heaven forbid they should ever forget – or worse, go away on holiday and rely on neighbours to put their bin out – we’d seriously all be lost.

I forget to text people back or think I already have. Emails sit in my inbox unanswered because I’ve forgotten all about them. I do try to keep up with birthdays by constantly checking my calendar because otherwise, I’d have no clue. And as for work … since my shifts have become flexible and irregular, I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. I even got into trouble last week because I rocked up to work for a 10:30am shift, only to find I was actually on a 9:30am shift and should have opened up the shop and a delivery van had been sitting on the doorstep for half an hour. Oopsie. Got into a spot of hot water about that one.

I have money off vouchers I forget to use and there’s always something missed off the shopping list. A zoom meeting is supposed to start at 1pm – it always starts at 1pm – but in my head, it’s 1:30pm so I miss the first thirty minutes, and so on and so on.

But last week I managed a monumental failure in the memory department and have concluded that it must be an age thing – or maybe an indication of how full my head is of other stuff – that there’s no room to remember anything else.

As I told you last week it’s my mum’s birthday this weekend – Happy Birthday, Mum. Hope you’re having a great time and enjoying your holiday – so I went into Next to buy her some clothes as she’d said that’s what she wanted. Unusually, I found a pair of linen trousers and a couple of tops that I liked and thought Mum would like too. I queued and the nice lady on the till rang them through.

That’ll be £60, she said, cash or card?

Card, I replied and slid my card into the machine. As it was over £45, I couldn’t use contactless payment.

Please enter your PIN, she said.

I stared at the card machine.

The card machine stared back.

It flashed the words – enter PIN now at me – rather aggressively I thought.

I stared a bit more in the vain hope that the numbers would magically float into my brain.

They did not.

Now relying on muscle memory, I punched in some numbers and hoped.

Incorrect PIN flashed the card machine.

I gulped.

Try again, urged the lady behind the till.

I tried again.

The card machine paused, then – you’re not Julia, are you? It sneered. You’ve stolen this card, haven’t you?

Now truly scared I looked at the nice lady.

I can’t remember my PIN, I admitted sheepishly. It’s been so long since I’ve used it, I just can’t remember it.

That’s okay, she reassured me. Take your card out and I can split this sale in two so you can pay using contactless.

I took the card out, she split the sales down and I tapped the card machine twice – vastly relieved when both transactions went through smoothly.

I then left the shop desperately trying to remember my PIN and by the time I reached my next port of call, Wilks, I thought I had it.

Now I’m a regular shopper in Wilks and the staff know me so I explained to the lady on the till what had happened, but that I was 99% sure I had remembered my PIN now.

Well, try once, she said, and if you haven’t then you can pay by contactless.

I tried.

I failed.

I paid by contactless and slunk home.

I couldn’t believe that I’d forgotten my PIN. I’ve had those four digits emblazoned in my skull for almost twenty years now. It was the one thing I honestly thought I would never forget. I always imagined that after my death, if they autopsied me, they would find those numbers etched into my brain, I was that sure of them.

But apparently, I wasn’t.

I went onto my banking website and found out how to order a PIN reminder. It will take three-four working days, it informed me. It was now Friday afternoon so I assumed the earliest I would get it was Wednesday, Thursday at the latest.

I had a rare weekend off and was busy all Saturday, but on Sunday decided I had to buy myself some new clothes. What with being unable to buy any during the various lockdowns plus the change in the weather, I needed some cooler clothing. So, mid-morning on Sunday I skipped across to Next again because when I’d bought Mum’s clothes, I had seen quite a few things I liked for myself.

I spent a happy twenty minutes browsing the racks before picking out two pairs of lightweight trousers, a shirt, and a couple of t-shirts.

I queued for ages. There was something wrong with the tills – the mainframe had crashed, the harried staff explained – someone was trying to fix it but there might be a bit of a wait. The queue grumbled good-naturedly, and a few comments were made about technology only being any good when it worked.

I never did get that statement. I mean, surely everything is only any good if it works.

Anyway, a few minutes later an assistant popped up and asked me to come to the children’s department as there was a till free that was working, so I followed her there and she rang up my items.

£78 she said and then saw the card in my hand. If you’d just like to pop your card in the machine and enter your PIN, she continued.

I stared at the card machine as my world slowly collapsed about me.

I’d completely forgotten that I’d forgotten my PIN.

Silently cursing my defected, stupid brain for putting me in such an awkward and embarrassing situation, I desperately scrambled about my memory cells praying for a last-minute intervention. Nope. If the PIN was in there somewhere it was flatly refusing to come out. There was nothing for it, I was going to have to fess up.

I’m so sorry, I said, I completely forgot that I’ve forgotten my PIN. I have ordered a reminder, but I haven’t got it yet.

That’s okay, she said. I can split the order down so you can pay contactless.

She split the order down.

I tapped the card to settle the first amount of £40.

Card not authorised; the machine smugly told me.

What?

I tried again.

Card not authorised, it told me again – and this time there was definitely an air of malice in the way it flashed the message.

What?!

It’s refusing my card, I admitted.

The girl gave me a look – you know, THAT look – the look that quite clearly says – now what kind of a game are you playing here? Is the card stolen, fraudulent, or do you just not have the money in your account to make the payment?

Do you think it might be because I’ve ordered a PIN reminder? I asked.

Maybe, she agreed. Do you have any other method of payment?

Not on me, I said.

Oh, she said. What would you like to do then?

What I would have liked to have done was hide my face in shame and crawl out of the shop, but I wanted the clothes. So, I phoned Miss F.

It wasn’t even yet midday on a Sunday, so she wasn’t best pleased with being woken up by her pathetic mother. She was even less pleased when I asked her if she could possibly get up, get dressed, and pop across to Next to pay for my clothes for me. Oh, and if she could do it as quick as possible that would be wonderful.

She called me an idiot – which I felt was fair enough, and to be honest, if our positions had been reversed, I would have called her far worse – but bless her, she agreed to come.

She’s coming, I told the sales assistant. She looked relieved and placed the clothes behind the till and served the next person in the queue.

So, there I was, midday in a hot and crowded clothes store, lurking in the children’s department and trying unsuccessfully to look as if I had a reason for doing so. It felt like ages but was only ten minutes before Miss F marched in and glared at me over her mask. We shuffled back to the till, she paid, and we then came home.

Thank you, I mumbled.

Idiot, she said again. You knew you’d forgotten your PIN so what were you doing trying to buy a shit ton of clothes?

I forgot.

You forgot you’d forgotten your PIN?

Yes.

She huffed in utter exasperation at having such a braindead ninny for a mother.

I’ll transfer the money over to your account the minute we get home, I promised.

Too damn right you will, came the reply.

I phoned the bank and explained to them what had happened.

Did you reject my card because I’ve requested a PIN reminder?

No, it came back not authorised because you’re only allowed to spend £130 via contactless payment before it will ask for chip and PIN on a transaction just to touch base that it is you – and not someone running amuck with your stolen debit card.

Oh, I said. So, it was just a coincidence that it happened then?

Yes, it was just a coincidence.

So, it could have happened to anyone?

There was a silence at the other end of the line, indicating that no, it only could have happened to complete idiots like me who forgot then PIN, then forgot they’d forgotten their PIN and merrily went shopping.

And that was me with no way of paying for anything until my PIN reminder turned up. But that’s okay, I thought. I pay for my grocery shopping online, I have a full tank of petrol, and there’s nothing else that can’t wait until I have use of my card again.

BUT. I had forgotten something.

I had forgotten that last week I picked out some new bedding for Miss F to take to university with her – a lovely thick mattress topper, a washable duvet, a pair of washable pillows, and two packs of pillow protectors. We get a very generous staff discount but must apply for a code for each purchase we make. I had put the bedding away in the warehouse with my name on it and applied for the code, then promptly forgot about it.

Until Monday.

On Monday, my boss told me the code had been received and as the shop had a stocktake on Thursday, he’d be grateful if I could buy the bedding before then.

Oh, bugger.

I was only at work Monday and Tuesday and then not again until Sunday.

When I collected Miss F from work that evening, I explained the predicament to her.

She sighed.

How much do you need?

Well, it’s £64 for all the bedding, but I was thinking I need to get all our plants for our front pots and hanging baskets.

Last year because I’d somehow managed to not only make spectacular pots and a hanging basket for our front garden but also kept them fed and watered, we were rewarded with the most gorgeous display of purple and cream petunias that had people stopping in the street to exclaim about them – and had netted me a Bury in Bloom certificate. Such acclaim had gone to my head, and I really, really wanted to win another certificate this year.

It wanted but a few weeks until the judges would be coming around, so I needed to get my plants in and established by then.

Both Miss F and I were working until 5pm on Tuesday, and she gets the bus home rather than hang about waiting for me. The plan was hatched that we would both get changed as soon as we got home, then we’d drive back to my work and collect the bedding, then we’d pop into Homebase opposite and see what plants they had. If we felt that we needed more, we could call into B&Q on the way home and see what they had.

I wanted to try and find the petunias we had last year because they were huge and gorgeous. We had plain cream ones, plain purple ones, and then purple ones that looked like someone had splattered them with cream.

Rather than Miss F spend her money and then me pay her back, I estimated roughly what I would be spending and transferred the money into her account Tuesday morning.

It all went smoothly, but sadly although we found plenty of petunias, and even cream and purple ones, there was no sight of the lovely, splattered effect ones. Still, we decided to stick to the purple and cream vibe and did buy some beautiful flowers.

I was glad we had made the effort to do everything Tuesday evening. Yes, it meant we ate a little later than normal but then we didn’t have to go anywhere Wednesday morning. We both had the day off and Miss F wanted to stay in bed, whilst I wanted to get up and pootle about the garden and pot up my plants.

I will share some pictures when they are more established and there’s something to see.

For Easter, my parents had given us some Tesco vouchers. For those of you who don’t know what they are, Tesco is one of the biggest supermarkets in the UK and every time you shop there you accumulate Clubcard points – you can also get them from buying petrol from them and by using their credit card. These points can then either be straight exchanged in-store or can be doubled in value and spent in restaurants and on days out and at tourist attractions. They can also be used in some hotels.

Anyway, my parents gave us quite a few vouchers – enough to do some serious damage with – but Miss F and I were uncertain what to spend them on. Then her university announced that they would be doing an open day after all for a small number of next year’s potential students. It would be on a first-come, first-served basis by a strict booking and timed slot system. Now, the university Miss F is going to is quite a distance from here. Google maps say it should only take three hours, but we’ve been to that part of the country on holiday, and it took us over nine hours because of roadworks and traffic. The last thing I wanted was the stress of being stuck in a tailback as we watched her timed tour slot come and go.

We checked out hotels local to the university and found a nice looking one only ten minutes from it. Did it have a twin-bedded room? It did. Was there availability for the night of the 7th? The tour is taking place on the 8th. There was. Most importantly, did it take Tesco vouchers? It did.

Nerves on edge, we waited until the booking slots for the tour opened and Miss F jumped onto the website and managed to book our tour for midday on the eighth. I had already spoken to my boss, and he had marked those two days as being part of my weekly days off. We then drove to my parents and Miss F and my mum went onto the Tesco website and managed to book us the room.

It’s perfect. Check-in isn’t until 2pm on the 7th, so we have time to take a leisurely drive up and stop for a light lunch on the way. We will check-in and then have the rest of the afternoon to wander around the local town and see where everything is and find a nice restaurant to have dinner in. The next morning, it’s a mere ten-minute drive from the hotel to the university so there won’t be the stress and panic of racing down a motorway trying to get there. As soon as the tour is over, we will head for home and either stop for something to eat on the way back or, if Google maps is right for once and it looks like only taking us three hours, press on for home and get something to eat when we get back.

I’m looking forward to it. This will be the first time either of us has been out of Bury for years, what with always working, having no money, and then, of course, the whole pandemic and lockdown situation, holidays and weekends away have been impossible.

Oh, and my PIN reminder turned up this morning. I looked at it. I know it’s my number and I recognise some of the numbers, but it doesn’t immediately make me cry out – why yes, that is my number, how can I possibly have forgotten it? I shall never forget it again – because I know the chances are I will probably forget it again. I shall have to write it down somewhere and yes, I know we’re not supposed to do that, but I shall disguise it well so only I know what it is.

That’s if I remember what I’ve disguised it as.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are well and please stay safe, stay healthy.

Julia Blake

It’s Not Me, It’s You!

Good morning everyone. It’s shaping up to be a very sunny day here in Suffolk which will end a week of gorgeous hot sunny days – well, all except Friday afternoon and evening, when the sky turned black, the temperature plummeted, and we had torrential rain. Hopefully, the weekend will stay fine as I have the whole two days off and lots of laundry to dry outside – don’t want to use any energy drying it, do I.

Thank you to everyone who contacted me about my energy supplier and the whole stressful scenario. During the week, I received two emails. One from Look After My Bills saying how sorry they were I’d had such a bad experience and that they promised to remove Green Suppliers from the list of energy providers they would switch me to. Umm, no. I emailed them back – as per my very extensive email, I said – not only did I want nothing more to do with Green Suppliers, but I wished to cancel my account with LAMB as well. To be honest, I wrote, I have been very disappointed with the service they had provided. I was promised big savings which simply didn’t happen, they put me with Green so are partially responsible, plus their customer services were a joke. Following advice from Martin Lewis, I was switching to Octopus and a fixed rate deal to avoid suffering from the severe anxiety and stress that this situation had caused me. Plus, I would be filing a complaint against Green with Ofgem.

Twenty minutes later, back came a hasty email. Your account with us has been cancelled, it said. Goodbye and good luck. Yeah, thought the mention of Ofgem and Martin Lewis might make them ditch me super quick!

The other email was from Green Suppliers, and it made me snort with disbelief. We’re so sorry you’re leaving us, it said, is it something we’ve done?

Something you’ve done?!

How long do you have?

I was furious. It felt like they were royally taking the pee out of me, but reading the email again, I realised from the generalised and robotic tone that it was merely a standard response generated because they’ve been contacted by Octopus and informed that I wish to leave them. It was clear no one had bothered to look at my account and what was going on. I would be wasting my breath going back all guns blazing yet. Save my strength for when I need it.

We will investigate your account, the email continued, to see if we can allow you to go.

Allow me to go?!

Try stopping me.

Look, I want to break up and FYI, it’s not me, it’s you.

So, now we wait. I have a note of my last meter reading given on the 17th of May, and of course, I will be giving them a final meter reading. It will be interesting to see what final bill they come up with. I have a direct debit due to go to them on that day of £88. As the heating is now off and most washing is being line dried, I am expecting my energy consumption to be very low, so assume that £88 will be ample to cover the final few weeks of use plus clear up the so-called “debt” of £19 I allegedly still owe them.

I hope they will see sense and not try to hit me with another trumped-up, falsified bill because then I will have no choice but to file a complaint about them with Ofgem, plus send an email to Martin Lewis and any other consumer rights body I can find. The way they have treated me is appalling. I mean, what about if I were elderly and less able to fight back? I wonder how many vulnerable people they are stealing money from. It’s not right. There should be more control over these companies.

I have also received an email from Octopus today stating that the switchover is all going ahead as planned, so fingers crossed, and I will keep you all posted.

The beginning of the week was busy. I worked Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and although the shop was busy, once again it was timewasters.

Thursday, I had my second jab first thing in the morning. The actual jabbing bit hurt more than it did the first time, and I bled, which surprised me. I was prepared for anything, but other than a funny taste in my mouth for a couple of days – like I’d been licking old pennies – I had no side effects at all. I spent the day clearing the decks and ticking yet more things off my to-do list. We chased up the Etsy seller about my watch again – did I tell you about that? Miss F bought me a lovely steampunk watch last Christmas to celebrate the launch of my fantasy steampunk retelling of Snow White, “Black Ice”. As we went straight into lockdown on Boxing Day, I didn’t get a chance to wear the watch and it wasn’t until I returned to work that I realised it didn’t work. I would set the time and it would tick for about ten minutes before stopping. Assuming the battery was possibly out of juice, I changed it for the spare battery it had come with. Nope, the same problem. So, we messaged the Etsy seller last Thursday and heard absolutely nothing. That’s about par for the course though, isn’t it?

So, this Thursday morning we messaged them again and this time they responded. So sorry, they said, a new batch of those watches are arriving in two weeks, and they would immediately despatch one to me as soon as they arrived, and they hoped that was okay. Yes, that’s fine, so long as one is sent. It’s annoying we had to chase them, but hopefully, that is sorted.

Talking of getting things sorted, we at last set up our new Sky router box and what a palaver that was! I had to take everything off the storage box in the corner and heave it out so we could get to the sockets and phone socket in the corner, and then it was a struggle getting it to work – because nothing is EVER straightforward and easy – but we managed it at last. Haven’t noticed any difference to Sky TV or the internet in general though.

Miss F has been given an old guitar as a present. It belonged to my dad, and I remember him being given the guitar as a birthday gift from my mother when I was ten or eleven, so about forty years ago – and it was second-hand then. Did he ever learn to play the guitar? Nope. So, the poor thing has been sitting in their loft ever since. Anyway, a couple of months ago I happened to mention to my parents that Miss F would love to learn to play the guitar, so when my parents came for lunch last week, they brought the guitar with them. Miss F was delighted with it.

One of my colleagues at work plays guitar in a group, so I took it to work and showed it to him. The strings are rusty, he advised, and need replacing, but other than that it’s in good condition. Nice guitar, certainly suitable for her to learn on. Heartened by this, we took it to our local music shop on Thursday. To replace the strings and the bridge, plus tune it will cost £25 they told us, so we left it with them. Miss F has also bought a case and a strap for it, a stand plus some picks. I hope she has more luck learning how to play it than my dad ever did.

Friday, I had to do a bit of judicious pruning of my silver birch tree as the branches were drooping so low, they were bashing me on the head plus blocking out a lot of light from the garden. It was a gorgeous morning, and it was nice being outside for a change. After that, we walked uptown as Miss F needed to get a passport photo taken. She needs two forms of photo ID before going to university and her old passport has expired so she decided to be proactive and get it renewed sooner rather than later. After all, as the world opens up a bit more for holidays, I guess there might be a delay in getting it through. Once her passport has been received, she can use the information on it to apply for her provisional driving licence and she’ll be sorted.

She made sure her hair was nice, and she was happy with her appearance, then we went to Sneezums – a shop in town that takes professional photos for passports and ID. But why is it, that no matter how great you look in real life, on any photo like this you end up looking like stunned livestock?

Miss F looked like a little ghost in the picture. A pale waif who hadn’t had a hot dinner in months.

But it’s done, and when we got back, she filed for her passport online.

Whilst we were uptown, we got a birthday present for my mum. She’s going to be away on holiday for her birthday, so we plan to see her next Wednesday and give it to her then. I also called into Next to enquire if I could bring back a top I’d bought the week before. When I first tried it on, I thought it fitted just fine, so I ripped the labels off, but then when I put it on to wear it, I realised that the buttons started halfway down my chest, so I was rather exposed. Yes, I was assured, so long as you have the tags and the receipt, we can exchange or refund.

Back home, I just had time to make a quick coffee before my fortnightly virtual chat with my local author group. And that, together with catching up with housework, was Friday done.

And now it’s Saturday again and I’m sitting here writing this to you. Miss F popped up to the music shop this morning and collected her newly strung guitar which certainly sounds a lot better than it did, and I finally transferred all my phone numbers off my old SIM onto my new one and completed a survey from my local council about residential parking.

I almost missed the survey, but the Chairman of the Residents Association sent around an email reminding everyone to fill it in because we all must have our say. Survey, I thought, what survey? Then I remembered a whole wedge of junk mail that had been pushed through the door Friday morning and went to look in the bin. Sure enough, stuck to fliers for skip hire, a local estate agent who apparently wants to buy my house, and a menu from a Chinese takeaway, there was the leaflet with a link to complete the survey online.

Parking is a bit of a joke in my hometown. We’re an old town – there’s been a settlement of some kind here since Anglo Saxon times – so it wasn’t designed with car parking in mind. There are a lot of historic homes crammed into a small area and there aren’t enough places for residents to park. The situation isn’t helped by the fact they keep building new blocks of flats and don’t provide enough parking spaces for the people who live in them – if they provide any – so we have people illegally parking in the spaces reserved for residents who have paid a lot of money for a permit to park there. And it can be very frustrating when someone has illegally parked in your paid-for bay, so you must park on double yellow lines and then you get a ticket but the person who stole your space doesn’t. Something must be done about it, but I’m not sure what.

I do have a general feeling of things coming to completion this week. It’s quite satisfying as all the outstanding jobs are ticked off one by one and I’m beginning to think I may be able to start writing again next week. Because I do need to begin book thirteen soon. It’s going to be a big book I know that already. Being the third book in The Perennials Trilogy I have a rough idea of how much story there is still left to tell – and all those loose ends must be tied up as it’s the last book. It’s not only going to take a lot longer to write than say, one of the Blackwood books, but it will take longer to edit, beta read, and format. I have already booked my slot with Platform House Publishing in November to get the cover and video made, plus the final formatting. I know November sounds like a long way away, but, considering we’re into June already and other than the title I have nothing down, it’s really not.

Oh well, I wrote and published Black Ice which is 150,000 words in three and a half months and that was a lot more complex with over forty pages of illustrations, so let’s hope this one is as cooperative.

Another thing I need to do is try and get another lodger, and I have one last job to do before I can put the room back up for let. That is to make the little desk more in keeping with the decor. I’ve decided to decoupage it as I already have everything I need to do that – and painting furniture white can be very hit and miss. At the same time, I promised Miss F I would decoupage her a wooden tray to take away to university with her, plus I have a small, outdoor table to make weatherproof.

I bought this table off Amazon as it was advertised as an outdoor table, but when it came it was more like those little fold-up tables people use to eat their dinner off in front of the TV. I stood it outside and, sure enough, we had a week of monsoonal rain at the end of which the whole veneer top had peeled away. So, I bought it back in and have dried it out thoroughly. Then I went to a local DIY store and tore off lots of wallpaper samples in the colours of my garden ready to decoupage it. Dozens of coats of clear yacht varnish will make it waterproof and at least it will be something unique.

So, I have three items to decoupage and figure I might as well do them all at the same time whilst I have the room in the empty basement to work on them without them being in the way. Of course, I will take pictures to share with you.

It’s now three o’clock and if I want to at least get them sanded down today, I had better go and do it now as I only have an hour and a half before I must fetch Miss F from work. On the way back, we’ll swing around and collect our shopping and then this evening, after dinner, we’ll sit down in front of Netflix and cut up all the images we need from the wallpaper samples I have collected ready for me to paste them on tomorrow. We’re also going to visit Miss F’s other grandparent’s tomorrow afternoon as well. We haven’t seen them since February 2020 so it will be wonderful to finally be able to visit with them.

And that will be my week over and done with. It’s been less stressful – a lot less stressful – than normal, for which I’m thankful. Who knows, maybe life is done being horrible to me for a while. I can only hope so.

Take care of yourselves and wherever you are in the world stay safe and stay happy.

Julie Blake

Turn Out That Light!

And another week has rolled by and here we are at the weekend again. The beginning of the week was taken up solely by work – my new shifts that don’t end until 6pm at the earliest fill the whole day, especially if I’m collecting shopping after work as I did on Monday. By the time I got home, unpacked, and put it all away, fed a bitterly complaining and starving cat (you could see the ribs, honestly), got changed, cooked eaten and cleared away my dinner, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, put on laundry, and checked all my social media notifications, it was 9:30pm and time to collect Miss F from work.

Tuesday wasn’t much better, in that a customer came in at five minutes before the end of my shift and then proceeded to waste 45 minutes of my time just faffing and farting about with no indication that they had any intention of buying something, and then they left. That’s 45 minutes of my time that I will not be paid for nor receive back at some future date. My company consider that if there is a customer, then you must stay no matter that you are technically off the clock or that you have shopping or a child to collect.

And that is something I want to ask all non-retail people. Why? Why do you do it? Why do you wander around shops at anti-social hours when the staff have been on their feet since early that morning and just want to go home? If you have a genuine need to buy something, fine, we’ll quite happily be late going home and so long as you ignore the rumbling of our stomachs because we’re staving hungry, we will help you if we get a sale out of it. But to amble about a shop with no purpose or goal but just because… that is selfish and unfair.

Okay, maybe you have nothing else to do and you hate your home and family so much you don’t want to go back there, and maybe you are so fed up with being trapped in the house due to various lockdowns that you are now desperate to be in a shop – any shop – and wander and touch and look and ask the staff stupid questions, but that doesn’t mean the sales consultant feels the same way.

If it’s a normal shop with normal opening times, at least the staff can ask you to leave because the shop is about to close, but many stores – mine included – can’t close until the last customer has left, so that’s you. Maybe think about that next time you have thirty minutes to kill so you wander into a shop at five minutes to seven. Maybe look for store opening times or ask a member of staff what time they close, rather than thinking you are so important that all the staff must work unpaid overtime to please you.

After all, would you like it? If you’ve been on your feet for ten solid hours, you had a quick sandwich at midday and it’s now almost seven, so you’re faint with hunger, but you still must turn around and cook a meal for yourself and maybe your family when you eventually get home. Maybe a child is standing in a dark and wet school car park waiting to be collected from an after-school club. There could be any number of reasons on top of simply wanting to go home on time why the sales staff want to close the shop and go home, and then you wander in – just looking. You waste everyone’s time, including your own, before ambling off without buying anything and the staff are left to mutter curses behind their masks and hurry to lock the door before any other braindead idiot can come in.

Sorry for the rant, but it does annoy me and everyone else who works in retail that people are so inconsiderate and rude and plain don’t think about the sales staff. I truly believe many don’t think we are human, that we have no needs or rights.

Anyhoo, my day was like that on Tuesday. Lots of idiots all “just looking” but not actually buying anything. They crowded into the shop, no social distancing, and most not wearing their masks correctly – OVER the nose, you plank, otherwise don’t bother! And then, five minutes before I was due to go home, I get a time-waster, so I don’t get home until almost seven. I must cook dinner, get changed, so we don’t sit down until almost eight to eat dinner.

Wednesday my parents came for lunch, so that was a very busy day that went by in a flash. It was lovely to see them, and we had a nice time, but I’d forgotten what it’s like preparing and cooking a meal that isn’t just a simple, everyday meal for two.

Thursday, I went to visit my favourite cousin for the first time since December 2019. It was amazing to see her, but it felt like no time at all had gone by since we last met. I spent a very pleasant morning with her – it’s her daughter’s birthday on Monday so I took over her present and we had a real catch up on all our news.

In the afternoon, I telephoned my local council. Now, I’ve never been able to claim a sole occupancy discount on my council tax because we’ve always had a lodger, but it suddenly occurred to me that we have been alone since the end of December so that’s five months discount I could have claimed. Could I claim retrospectively, I wondered. Turns out, yes, I can. The very nice lady gave me an email address to send my request to, so I did that. I’m not sure how much I should get back, but it will be somewhere in the region of £150 to £200 so definitely worth applying for. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I have my second jab coming up on the 3rd of June and the NHS had emailed me a pre-jab form to complete. By the time I had run about the house finding all the various reference and NHS numbers they wanted, that took up a good thirty minutes. A few days earlier, I had received a text from the NHS inviting me to have my jab earlier than the 3rd, but to be honest, it’s only next week and I have already arranged my days off work around it – just in case, it makes me as ill as the first one did – so it hardly seems worth bothering. Also, I’ve heard the horror stories of people who have tried to bring their jab forward, only to find instead of having a local appointment they suddenly have a hundred-mile round trip for a jab that’s only a week earlier than their original appointment. Best leave be, I thought.

This and a few other chores filled my Thursday afternoon, including going through everything that Miss F already has for university and making a very comprehensive list of items still to buy, and that was the second day of my four days off done with.

Friday morning, I forced a reluctant Miss F to contact Amazon again. Regular followers will know the headache we’ve been having with them. My new tablet that was a Christmas present from Miss F suddenly stopped working at the beginning of May. We contacted customer services, no problem, they told us, we’ll send you a return label and as soon as the faulty product comes back to us, we’ll arrange a replacement. So, the tablet was photographed to prove the uncracked nature of the screen and was sent back using the Royal Mail track and trace service – thank heavens we did. Mind you, it did take about three increasingly irate chats with their customer services before they eventually sent us the pre-paid label, but finally, it was emailed to us and we posted the tablet back to them on the 7th of May.

Two weeks went by, no sign of a replacement tablet. We checked the parcel’s status on the Royal Mail website and could see that it had been received and signed for by someone at Amazon on the 9th of May. Back onto customer services we went. Yes, yes, they said, we are so sorry you are experiencing this problem. We will sort it out immediately for you. A week went by. Nothing. Back we went again, this time the tone of our “live chat” was definitely on the tetchy side. So sorry, they said, give us 48 hours and we will sort it out for you.

That was last Saturday. By Friday morning we had still heard nothing. I told Miss F we had to chase them again. I don’t want to, she said, I’m going to work this afternoon and I don’t want the stress and hassle that chasing them always is. You must, I told her because you’re going to work even earlier tomorrow, then I’m at work Sunday through to Wednesday so can’t do it until Thursday and that will be another week gone by.

So, reluctantly, she contacted them again. This time there was no mistaking the stroppiness in her messages. I am sick of this, she wrote, this has dragged on for almost a month. Where is the replacement tablet? You’ve had plenty of time to sort this out, and no, I won’t give you 48 hours to investigate it because last time I did that, no one contacted me for a week and we’re having to chase you up, yet again! I want it sorted and I want it sorted now!

Back and forth, the chat went. Her email address was given and checked. She took a picture of our track and trace receipt which clearly showed the parcel going to them on the 7th. Oh, so we are going to repair it for you, came back the reply. No, demanded Miss F, the time for repairing it is long gone. You promised us a replacement – I have screenshots of the conversation where she said this – so I want a replacement now!

Give us 1-2 hours, they begged, we just need that time to check our systems and sort it out. Okay, Miss F reluctantly conceded. So long as it is only 1-2 hours and that you don’t disappear for another week because I’m fed up with chasing you. We won’t disappear, they promised, 1-2 hours maximum and we’ll leave this chat thread open.

An hour went by, two hours, another forty-five minutes. Chase them, I told Miss F, so back onto the chat she went. Well? She asked. You asked for 1-2 hours and it’s now been two hours and forty-five minutes, what’s happening? Yes, yes, they said, so sorry, it took a little longer than we anticipated, but we can now assure you that the replacement is on its way and will be with you tomorrow.

So now, we wait. We’ve had a delivery notification that it will be coming today – I only hope it’s not during the twenty minutes it will take me to go and collect the shopping and get petrol, or the forty minutes this evening when I collect Miss F from work – so fingers crossed, a brand-new working tablet will be delivered and this whole frustrating and stressful issue will be resolved.

And that leads me to the other major headache in my life – my energy supplier. As you know, I thought it had been sorted. I had telephoned them and spoken to the oh so obliging Nicole, who agreed that I couldn’t possibly owe the amount they were claiming I did, that she could see my meter readings on there and not the made-up smart meter readings, and that she would change my direct debit back to what it was, get my statement reassessed and refund any credit to me.

Well… I received an email from them, my new statement was available to view, so off I trot to view it. To my stunned disbelief my meter readings had once again been deleted and a long list of fictional readings from this mythical smart meter I’m supposed to have had been reinstated. They are claiming I used £283 of energy in May, plus I’m still in debt to them by £19!!

This is unbelievable. As you can see by the attached screengrab according to them, I used twice as much energy in May as I did in December or January! Not possible. Yes, it’s been a chillier Spring than normal, but it’s not been as cold as December or January, plus with lockdown over both Miss F and I are back to work so are no longer in the house all day and every day. Fewer appliances and devices are being used. Besides, £283 on energy in one month for a two-up, two-down terraced house in the south of England with just two people living in it is a ridiculous amount. I have friends with four people in their family who live in massive five-bedroom houses who don’t spend that much!

Look at May! No way did we use twice as much energy as in the Winter!

Clearly, this company are standing by their decision to raid my bank account. This is the hill they are prepared to die on.

It’s unbelievably frustrating and frightening just how much power companies like this have. They have our bank details so can simply take what they want, and we usually can’t fight back. They can falsify information on our accounts and then lie about it. They can refuse to return our emails and suspend live chat whenever they feel like it. They act like gods.

Obviously, I have been looking into energy companies and the whole energy bill situation in detail over the past month, and all the experts seem to agree that things are set to get worse here in the UK. I don’t know if it’s because of Brexit, or Corona, or is a combination of the two, but it looks like energy prices across the board are due to take a massive hike.

I knew I needed to sort this out immediately. I sent an email to Look After My Bills – the energy switch company that put me with Green Suppliers Limited. I held nothing back. I told them everything that had happened and attached screengrabs of the ever-changing status of my account and the stupid amount of energy they are claiming I used in May. I told them that I do hold them partially responsible, after all, they are the ones who switched me to this company of liars and scam artists, I had no say in the matter. Also, when the whole ugly issue first arose, I did telephone them and ask them for help. Only to be fobbed off and told there was nothing they could do, and I had to talk to the supplier direct.

This email went off yesterday morning. I have yet to receive a reply. I wonder if I ever will.

Then I telephoned another energy company called Octopus. Now, during all my extensive research I kept coming back to this company. They were voted the number one energy supplier in two consecutive years by Which magazine – although that means nothing. Most people are not aware that the companies with the deepest pockets can buy this status on Which because it is not an impartial or unbiased organisation and is wholly up for sale to the highest bidder. But, a lot of other independent assessors have rated them, including a few people I know and trust.

Unlike Green Suppliers Limited, Octopus have a very user-friendly website and a helpline number that was answered within fifteen minutes, so we were off to a good start. I spoke to a lovely girl and told her my tale of woe. Horrified, she was quick to assure me that Octopus were not like that at all – that they would never treat a customer so badly – and that transparency and openness were how they preferred to operate.

Ah, but what about a fixed-rate deal? It seems likely that energy prices will be taking a massive leap upwards in the next couple of months and I wanted to protect myself, and my bank account. Absolutely, she replied, she could give me a quote based on what I had told her and my average energy consumption over the past year (not including May, obviously). I braced myself. I was prepared to pay more than my usual £88 per month just for peace of mind but didn’t want to go too high. The quote came back at £90 per month fixed for two years and renegotiable at any time by me. If I wanted to use purely renewable energy from sustainable sources, then it would be £91.12 per month. Aww, heck, for the sake of £1.12 per month let’s save the planet.

So, it’s arranged, I am leaving the dark side – Green Suppliers Limited and their shady practices – and joining the light side – the transparent and allegedly honest Octopus. Now the race is on, can they move me before Green get a chance to plunder my bank account again or make up yet more fabled smart meter readings? It takes approximately fourteen days, and my next meter reading won’t be due until the 17th of June. Of course, there will be a final bill to pay to Green, but I have taken a photo of the last meter reading I gave them on the 17th of May and will photograph the final reading I take for them. I’ve also told Miss F that we need to be very mindful of our energy consumption over the next few weeks as I don’t want to give a penny more to Green Suppliers than I absolutely must. It really will be a case of – Turn That Light Out!

I honestly don’t know how it’s going to go, but until I am out of their clutches and have cancelled the direct debit, there is nothing I can do but wait and hope that they won’t turn around and try to claim I have used another £283 worth of energy. Especially, as the warmer weather looks like it’s finally here and the heating is off permanently.

I will keep you posted.

And now it’s 11:30am on Saturday. It’s a beautiful day out there, the sun is shining, and little birds are chirping outside my window. Miss F has just left to catch the bus to work and informed me on the way out that my tablet is being delivered between 2:30pm and 5pm. Oh great, I must go and get petrol and collect the shopping between 3pm and 4pm – what’s the betting they try and deliver in the twenty minutes I’m gone! Miss F is working late tonight and won’t need picking up until 8pm. She’ll be famished after being on her feet since midday – I know I will be – so there will be a nice big dinner already cooked and in the hot trolly ready for when we get home.

The rest of my Saturday is busy – I must write the copytext for the video that’s being made for my novel The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ and email it to the wonderful James and Becky Wright over at Platform House Publishing. They really are incredible, and I already know the video will be amazing. For all your formatting, cover design, promotional images, interior illustrations, and videos check out their website and don’t forget there is a discount code for them on my website – link on the contacts page on here.

I have two beds to strip and remake, laundry to do, and Miss F’s work shirts to iron. Now she’s no longer at college she has picked up more shifts at the restaurant, which is great but does mean I struggle to keep her supplied with clean white shirts.

Speaking of Miss F, thank you to everyone who contacted me asking how she got on with her exam and expressing your disgust at the shabby and underhand way she and her fellow students were treated. The exam took place on Monday morning and she thinks she did okay – managed to scrape a pass – although I am confident, she probably did better than she thinks. It was unfair but at least now it is over and her time as a college student is finished.

Ahead of her lies a summer of fun and work as she picks up as many shifts as she can to get money for university, driving lessons, and ultimately a car. It’s a very exciting time for her.

Gosh, I have rambled on a lot more than I thought I would, and this blog is now simply enormous! Sorry about that, but doesn’t that always happen when we sit down to chat?

Anyway, take care of yourselves and wherever you are in the world and whatever you’re doing, stay safe and stay healthy.

Julia Blake