A Very Peoply Time

Hello Everyone! It’s two weeks since my last blog and what a busy couple of weeks they’ve been. After working the whole weekend, I had Monday off and Miss F and I went grocery shopping for food for the week. Miss C, her girlfriend, was arriving on the 6:30pm train and we needed more supplies. Miss C is a vegetarian so after the carnivore binge of the previous week, I was quite looking forward to having a few meat-free meals – although they were eating out a lot so I wouldn’t be cooking many meals at home.

The rest of Monday was taken up with laundry, making beds, and tidying the house. In anticipation of Miss C’s arrival, I made a creamy garlicky potato gratin for dinner, which I cooked veggie sausages to go with plus veg.

After a very long train journey from Wales, Miss C arrived safely, and we all had dinner together. For dessert, Miss F had bought a Cadburys cream egg ice cream dessert which they ate. I’m not keen on cream eggs – I find them very sickly – and besides, I was full, so I didn’t have any.

The rest of the week was rather full-on, perhaps a little too full-on. I honestly can’t remember what happened on Tuesday. Something did, I’ve no doubt, and looking at my calendar I can see it wasn’t a workday, but as for what we did, I am clueless. It must be old age creeping up on me that’s making me so forgetful.

On Wednesday we were going to visit a stately home called Kentwell Hall which is about a 40-minute drive away. However, confusion about whether the house was open as well as the gardens, plus concerns over using that much petrol, and a weather forecast of rain that afternoon, had us staying closer to home and visiting Ickworth Park instead.

A beautiful regency building with a glorious rotunda, Ickworth is only a 10-minute drive away, so we collected my friend on route and arrived there just before eleven. Wandering around the beautiful grounds, it was a lovely day. The sun was shining and there were lots of others out enjoying the fine spring weather.

After exhausting the grounds, we joined the long queue to have lunch, which was nice, but like most of these kinds of places, very pricey for what it was. After lunch, we viewed the parts of the house the public is allowed into. Lots of red and gold abounded in every room and eventually, we found ourselves in the little second-hand bookshop they have. To my great surprise, a copy of The Book of Eve was on the shelves! I have no idea how it got there and sadly it was the old edition. Now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t contact them and offer to swap it with a copy of the newest edition with its gorgeous new cover.

Driving back into town, the skies were darkening and as I dropped my friend off it began to rain. Undaunted, we then went to the next village along and visited some antique and vintage barns there which are fun to wander about and look at all the old things for sale. I didn’t buy anything, but Miss F bought some books.

That evening, Miss F’s godmother dropped in for a drink and a chat. Normally, we’d pop open a bottle of Prosecco, but as she was driving and I was exhausted and had work the next day, we decided to stick to coffee.

The following day I had to work until 6pm and Miss F and Miss C caught the bus to the restaurant Miss F used to work at and treated themselves to lunch there. Afterwards, they caught the bus to the village where my parents live and visited with them until I collected them after I’d finished work.

The next day was Good Friday but of course, I had to work. Since the other part-timer left I’ve had to work all the bank holidays as we used to share the minor ones between us. Luckily, it was only until 4:30pm and rushing home for a quick turnaround, we were standing out on the road having a drink with my neighbours at 6:30pm when my parents, my brother, my niece, and her boyfriend turned up ready to go out for dinner.

I’d chosen where we were going and decided the pub that my friend and I always have dinner at before going to the theatre would be best. I’ve always had great meals there and the menu is extensive enough to please even the pickiest of eaters in our group.

Have you ever eaten somewhere and it’s really good, so you recommend it, and then when you go back in a bigger group it’s not so good? This was what happened Friday. The pub was crowded and noisy – Covid, what Covid is that then? Our food was brought out promptly enough, but it was cold. I’d chosen the roast chicken, but it was so dry I could barely choke it down. My mother had gone for lasagne which came with a watercress garnish that looked like it had been out of the bag and dead for a week!

My brother offered to pay on his card, get the receipt, then we’d all figure out what we owed him later. So, I didn’t see the receipt until we were drinking coffee back at mine when it was too late to do anything about it. We’d pre-ordered our meals, and they were all listed correctly on the receipt, along with all our drinks. But, on the bottom of the receipt, it listed six extra portions of fries at £3.19 each which we hadn’t had.

Don’t worry about it, my brother said, but I did worry about it. It was almost £20 extra we’d been charged for food we didn’t have, add that to the general dissatisfaction with our meals, and I was not a happy bunny.

I was working again the next day so couldn’t do anything about it. Getting home at almost five and expecting guests at 6:30pm, I was annoyed to find the two things I’d messaged Miss F to do – namely, empty all the bins and get the washing in – had not been done. The kitchen was trashed with their pizza things from lunch, the place needed a vacuum, and, to add insult to injury, Miss F and Miss C sloped off back to bed for a nap because they were tired.

Fuming angrily at the general unfairness of life, I changed out of my uniform and set to with a vengeance.

It’s amazing what one woman can do when she’s up against the clock and spitting feathers mad. By the time our guests arrived at 6:30pm, I’d not only got the laundry in, folded it, and put it away, but I’d emptied all the bins, tidied and cleaned the kitchen, scrubbed the bathroom, vacuumed the whole ground floor, and put on the dishwasher.

Miss F’s excuse for her laziness? She didn’t see my message. Hmm, funny that. Given that she’d answered the message.

Our guests were another niece and her new boyfriend. We had a rather raucous evening of games complete with gin, wine, and an enormous Chinese takeaway. Thank heavens I had Easter Sunday off!

Although the forecast had said the Sunday wouldn’t be a great day, it dawned bright and sunny and I stripped my bed, did a whites wash and got it all out on the line before Miss F and Miss C even poked their noses out of the bedroom. I’d bought bags of mini chocolate eggs which I hid all around the garden, and then I prepared a picnic of all the veggie snacks and nibbles left in the fridge and freezer, which we took to Nowton Park which is a lovely big country park a short drive away.

Being such a lovely day and Easter, the park was packed with families having picnics and lots of people walking dogs of every size, shape, and colour. Being animal lovers, of course, we had to say hello to every single dog we encountered.

It was so nice being out in the fresh air. I don’t do it nearly enough. I ambled along behind the others, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my face, and looking at the plants and the birds. I should get out more, but there never seems the time, and it all feels a bit of an effort when there’s only me.

Mind you, it felt like we were on a route march the speed at which those two went! They were constantly having to stop and wait for me.

Returning home, I made a coffee and took it into the garden, then watched in amusement as they scurried about trying to find all the eggs. Then we chilled out for the rest of day watching old films and I made cheeseburgers and fries for dinner – veggie and otherwise.

It was a nice relaxing day which I hadn’t realised I needed as badly as I did. What with all the overtime I’ve been doing, plus the stress and full-on intensity of having Miss F home, I was in danger of overdoing things.

Monday being another bank holiday, of course, I was back to work, but it was a short shift of six hours which meant I only got a twenty-minute lunch break – not long enough to phone the pub about the extra fries. There had been enough Chinese left to make one lunchtime portion which I took to work on Monday and heated in the microwave. It made a tasty change from sandwiches but stank the staffroom out. Sorry, everyone.

Miss F and Miss C made burritos for dinner, and they were delicious, but of course, they hadn’t bothered to pack a single thing during the day, so I didn’t get to spend the last evening with them. Instead, they were frantically trying to fit everything into their cases, and stomping all over the house searching for things they’d lost or forgotten about.

Early start Tuesday. I dropped them both at the station to catch the 10:20am train and then went straight to work for an 11-7 shift. Arriving at work almost thirty minutes before my shift started meant I was able to phone the pub. I spoke to the manager himself and he was horrified that we’d been charged for food we hadn’t had. But was the meal okay, he asked, and I hesitated. I hate complaining about things, but, he had asked, so I told him the truth. It was cold, my chicken was dry, and the watercress garnish was dead.

He couldn’t have been more apologetic. He would, of course, refund the money for the fries with a little extra for our disappointment. The only problem was as it was my brother who had paid, he needed my brother’s card to refund back onto. Would my brother be going to the pub any time soon? Knowing the answer to this was probably no, I suggested a gift card. This pub is part of a local brewery chain with pubs everywhere, including the pub in the village where my brother lives.

Of course, the manager agreed happily. A card for £30 would be behind the bar waiting for someone to collect it – that someone being me. At least the pub was obliging about the issue and this way my brother can use the card at his local pub for drinks and food.

Now I have to find the time and energy to walk all the way down there myself to collect the card.

Miss F texted that they’d arrived safely home after a smooth and uneventful train journey, and I came home to an empty and quiet house. Which was quite nice. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s been lovely having them here, but it was so frantic and full-on and so very peoply that it’s a relief to have some time alone.

I also worked Wednesday and Thursday, and by the time I crawled home Thursday evening I was exhausted and completely drained, and very much looking forward to my six days off.

Friday I allowed myself to have a lazy start to the day. Oh, I didn’t sleep in. That is too much to ask of my body and bladder, but I did make myself a cup of tea and take it back to bed. Lolling about like a sloth, I picked up my book Black Ice and began to read it. I’d forgotten how good it is and how much I enjoy the story. The rest of the day was taken up with shopping, laundry, more resting and a lot more reading. Later in the afternoon I popped out onto the street for a drink with the neighbours, then fixed myself a delicious dinner and had an early night.

And now it’s Saturday. I’ve been writing for most of the day and am very happy with the 5800 words I’ve managed to get down of my new project. Book five of the Blackwood Family Saga, this will be my fourteenth book published and I’m hoping to get a solid chunk of it written over the next few days.

Today has also been the first day of my renewed diet. Whilst Miss F was home it seemed pointless even trying to diet. There were so many nice meals at home and meals out planned I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to the diet, so called a hiatus on it for the three weeks of the visit.

With trepidation, I stepped onto the scales this morning. I knew I’d put weight on, I could feel it in the way my clothes were fitting, but the question was – how much damage had I done to myself? Luckily, not too much. I’ve only put back on 4lbs. Not good, but so much better than it could have been.

So today, it’s back to yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, and soup for dinner. Hopefully, a week of this might be enough to shift those rapidly gained few pounds and then I can seriously diet to get the weight off before summer.

And that’s it, you’re up to date with all my news, I think. Take care of yourselves, and I look forward to chatting with you next time.

Julia Blake

Life’s Essentials – Food & Fuel

Hello everyone! Happy Sunday. Now, before we start I need to print a formal apology for an error I made in my last blog. I stated that my parents had been married for 54 years. That was in fact incorrect, as my mother rather sniffily pointed out in a phone call. They have been married for 58 years.

Mum: How old will you be next birthday?

Me:    Umm, 55.

Mum: Exactly!

Okay, point taken Mum, so it’s 58 years they’ve been married, NOT 54. Did everyone get that?

Right, where did I leave off last time? Yes, I was waiting for the delivery of Miss F’s new bed and hoping it was the earlier side of the two-hour time slot of 2:30 to 4:30. In fact, they phoned me and asked if they could deliver it at 1:30, which was fine.

They took it up to Miss F’s room and I set to unwrapping and figuring out how to assemble it. I didn’t find the instructions until after I’d sussed it out myself, but it was an easy bed to build so that was okay. The bed is lovely, sturdy, and attractive, and will be able to take the weight of the heavy mattress much better than the flimsy metal bed. So that’s fine. The problem was the packaging. There was so much of it! Honestly, how much Styrofoam does one wooden bed need?! And as I pulled it out of the box it shredded into little balls that were so full of static they stuck to everything!

And I mean everything!

I couldn’t get the damn stuff off me. In the end, I had to fetch the vacuum cleaner and hoover myself down with the nozzle! The copious amounts of cardboard weren’t an issue. I flattened it, rolled it up, and secured it with string. The recycling bin men were coming the next morning, so I simply put it out for them and bless them, they took it. That left me with eight bin bags of Styrofoam and plastic to get rid of.

I don’t have the largest bin in the world, and it’s only emptied once a fortnight so it would take two months to get rid of all the bags of packaging. I thought about it. Then filled my car with the bags and went onto the local recycling centre website and booked a slot for 11am on Friday. I was collecting a large grocery order from Tesco between 11am-and noon and as the recycling centre is only five minutes away from the store, it made sense to combine one trip and at least the stuff would be gone!

So that was Miss F’s room all ready for her return the following week.

That weekend it was Mother’s Day in the UK. I had posted a card to my mother and as I would be working all weekend and Miss F wasn’t home yet, we planned to all go to lunch together the week after Miss F got home. Friday, I was getting dressed when I heard something come through the letterbox like a bomb. Wondering what on earth it could be, I ran downstairs and found the postman had somehow managed to shove a long flat box through the small slot.

Picking it up, I wondered if it was for the lodger, but it was addressed to me, so I opened it. Inside, were what appeared to be a bunch of dead flowers! Umm, what …? There was also a tube of very nice hand cream and a Mother’s Day card from Miss F.

I looked at the pile of dead plants in concern. I hoped she hadn’t paid too much for it and I wondered what to say to her. Looking through the instructions which had come with the bouquet, they claimed that if I put the plants in a vase with the special food sachet included, they would perk up and bloom.

Not hopeful – they really did look deceased – I did as ordered, praying they would revive enough to take a decent picture to send to Miss F with my thanks. To my surprise and delight, within two days a lovely exhibit of tulips and other flowers had lifted their heads and bloomed into a beautiful display.

As you know, I’ve been picking up a lot of overtime lately because of staff shortages and holidays, so I worked all weekend plus Monday and Tuesday the following week. The day Miss F was coming home was Wednesday and luckily I did have that day off ­– well, I told my boss I was having that day off, so that was that.

Miss F’s train was due in at 4:30 so I spent the day cleaning the house, making her bed, picking up yet more groceries – seriously, how much food does one teenager eat? The day was cold and overcast, so I lit a fire in the lounge in preparation for her return, thinking it would cheer her up after her long journey.

Standing on the platform waiting for her train to arrive, I was surrounded by youngsters all travelling home after college and school, including one young lady with an orange face and false eyelashes that were so long it looked like she’d stuck caterpillars on her eyelids! It took a few moments to find Miss F in the crush after the train pulled in and everyone rushed to get on board. But there she was, looking small and cold and dragging a case almost as big as her.

It was so good to see her again. Hugging her, I took her case, and we came home to a roaring fire with a cat stretched out in front of it ready for love and cuddles. Disappearing into the bathroom to have a much-needed shower after eight hours on a train, I prepared a slap-up dinner of thick steaks, fat chips, onion rings and peas, which we ate in front of the fire watching the first episode of season two of Bridgerton – so good!

I had to work on Thursday but only until 4:30. Miss F was still asleep when I left for work, and I assumed she’d probably spend the day resting and settling back in. Dinner that night was meatballs and spaghetti.

Friday was a day off and we had planned a lovely day at the local plant nursery picking out some flowering perennials for the garden and treating ourselves to a cake and coffee in the café. However, the best-laid plans of Julia are all filed away somewhere, because when I woke up it was to find big fat snowflakes whirling past the window and a heavy frost sparkling on every surface. Way too cold to be poking about the garden centre, and certainly too cold to be working in the garden and putting in plants.

Instead, we wandered uptown together to carry out a few chores, but it was so cold! The wind was bitter and went through my coat as if I wasn’t wearing anything. Hurrying home, I lit the fire and planned a nice dinner of chicken in a white wine and tarragon sauce, accompanied by more Bridgerton – I’m not addicted, you are.

Saturday, yep, you’ve guessed it, I had to work again so I planned an easy dinner of king prawns in white wine, creamy, garlic sauce over pasta with salad and garlic bread. Yum.

Sunday, another day off – I hate these on/off shifts, they’re so tiring – and we’d invited my parents over for a traditional roast dinner. I had a joint of pork which I was determined to cook the right way and get the crackling perfect. Something I’ve never managed to do before.

After much googling, I settled on this method which I’ve listed below if you’re interested. This was for a joint weighing just over 2kg.

  1. Make sure the skin has been scored all over with a sharp blade.
  2. The night before, place a wire rack in the sink skin side up and boil a large kettle full of water. Pour the water over the pork and watch the skin go white.
  3. Thoroughly dry the joint with paper towel.
  4. Rub salt into the skin, pushing it into the slits.
  5. Wrap the joint in a clean tea towel and place it on a plate in the fridge overnight.
  6. Next morning, remove the joint from the fridge an hour before cooking to warm up. Put the tea towel straight in the wash!
  7. Rub a little softened butter all over the skin.
  8. Place in a cool oven – 160C fan for three hours.
  9. Remove and slice the crackling from the joint making sure a layer of fat is still on the crackling.
  10. Wrap foil around the joint and keep warm.
  11. Pour off meat juices and retain them for making gravy.
  12. Place crackling in oven, skin side up, for approx. 20 mins.
  13. The crackling should snap in half when perfect.

And there you go! Perfect pork and crackling.

I was back to work Monday and Tuesday. Work hasn’t been too bad the last couple of weeks. I’ve had some lovely customers and even lovelier sales. We’ve been given another pay rise of 59p an hour, which isn’t huge but every little helps, right? All this overtime will certainly help as well, although I won’t be paid for it until the end of April and even the end of May because of the stupid overtime hours reporting system they use. I’m not sure how long the overtime will last although we’ve had no success finding a replacement for the other part-timer who left. Only four people have applied so far and none of them was even remotely suited for the job.

Speaking of extra money, something very strange happened the week before Miss F arrived. I came home from work on Thursday to discover an envelope lying on the table for me with an EDF energy company logo on it. Wondering what sales pitch it would contain, I opened it and a cheque for £106 fell out!

Now, it’s unusual for an energy company to give money back but not unheard of. However, to my knowledge, I’ve never been a customer of EDF energy. Or, if I have, it was over a decade ago which is how far back my utility records go.

I did think about calling them to find out what was going on. But honestly, just the thought of sitting on the phone for however long it took to get through to the right department exhausted me, so instead I banked it. If they ever come back to me about it – cheque, what cheque was that then? – I’ll argue that they sent it to me unasked for, so, tough, I’m not paying it back.

After all, maybe I was an EDF customer fifteen years ago and I did overpay slightly, and it’s taken them all this time to process the cheque. I guess fifteen years is about right for an energy company to raise a refund.

Wednesday we went for lunch with my mum as a belated Mother’s Day celebration. Mum was due to arrive at ours at 12:30 so in the morning, Miss F and I drove to Waitrose to buy a few bits and some flowers, then we drove to see her other grandparents and visited with them for a while. After that, we went to buy petrol stopping at my surgery on the way to pick up another month’s supply of my hayfever meds.

Now, when I’d been at work the day before we’d had some customers mention how the petrol shortage malarky was happening again and it had worried me a bit because my tank was almost empty. The needle was on red, so I was running on fumes and a prayer.

Pulling into Tesco service station with my fuel gauge indicator now flashing red, it was to find a big sign saying No Unleaded Fuel. Bugger! Thinking rapidly, I pulled onto the motorway and bypassed the town to exit on the east side where Sainsbury’s is, along with another three petrol stations figuring one of them MUST have fuel. Pulling onto the forecourt at Sainsbury’s, I was relieved to see that although many of the pumps were shut, a couple did still seem to be working.

I filled up to the top, thankful that I don’t drive much so a full tankful would last me quite a while. Also, thankful Miss F would be getting the train back to university so I wouldn’t be needing petrol for a long double trip up north.

Then we went to lunch at a lovely restaurant just outside Bury. It’s a large restaurant but it was crowded even though it was only a Wednesday. I had one glass of wine because I was driving later, but it tasted of mouldy onions which I know wasn’t the wine but my Covid tastebuds rearing their ugly head again. Thanks, Covid, you really are the gift that keeps giving.

Although Mum had driven us to the restaurant and back again, I would be driving later that day as our little tortoise, Poe, had an appointment to get his beak and talons trimmed. It was the first time he’d been out of the house since we’d bought him, but he behaved himself beautifully. Sticking his little head out curiously in the waiting room, he seemed very interested in the new sounds and smells around him.

The vet we were seeing was one experienced in exotics – although he didn’t see many – so he was very excited to see our little boy. He pronounced him perfect in every way. Excellent physical condition, good muscle tone, and lovely shell. So that’s all good. He behaved himself whilst his beak and nails were trimmed and seemed chilled about the whole experience. As a reward, he had tomatoes for his dinner that night.

And now it’s Thursday morning and I’m writing to you whilst Miss F watches some true-crime programme at full blast in the same room. We both have separate social occasions today. She is meeting a friend for lunch then going to the cinema. I am going for dinner with a friend and then going to the theatre to see the comedian Reginald D. Hunter (the D is for delicious). So, we’re both looking forward to that.

I’m having to write this today. On Friday I have my usual fortnightly meeting with my local authors’ group and then I’m working again all weekend. My life right now consists of planning meals in advance!

Anyway, that’s about it for this chat! In the next A Little Bit of Blog I will be able to tell you how the rest of Miss F’s visit went and what we did the week her girlfriend came to stay.

Take care everyone! Hope you manage to find petrol and stay clear of Covid.

Julia Blake

And so to Bed!

Good morning everyone! Although it’s Sunday for you I am writing this week’s blog on the Wednesday before. Due to overtime and mad shift patterns, I’m working all weekend and won’t have time to write anything. So, I’m sitting here, coffee in hand, trying to gather my thoughts about what has happened since we last chattered, and waiting for Miss F’s new bed to be delivered.

Regular followers of me on Instagram will know that I only bought her a new bed three years ago when we upsized her from a single to a four-foot small double. Working for a bed store I receive quite a nice discount so took Miss F to work on a day off to try out mattresses. Of course, she fell in love with one of the most expensive in the shop but with my discount and putting it on interest-free credit, it was doable. When it came to the bed though, she didn’t like any of the small double beds we sold. Being a non-standard size there wasn’t so much choice.

Adamant she didn’t like any of them, I gave up and we looked online for a bed that she did. She chose a white painted metal bed on eBay that had crystal knobs and a twisty patterned head and foot end. It was cheap, I must admit, at just over £100 delivered, so we ordered it.

And then the fun began.

They gave us a delivery date. I waited in all day. No show. I messaged them. So sorry, they said, there was a stock issue. They gave us another delivery date. I waited in again. This time half the bed turned up. Frantic messages were sent. Eventually, they gave me another delivery date of 2am! Not believing this could possibly be correct, I tried in vain to confirm this with the company, but they’d gone off the radar. I waited up until 2am, but of course, it was a no show.

Now getting seriously annoyed. I fired off several terse emails, all of which were ignored. I then phoned them and sat on the phone and let it ring for almost forty minutes before eventually it was answered by the manager of the company. Holding in my temper, I explained the situation.

He was very sorry, he said, it was the delivery company they used which had seriously let them down. The other half of the bed would be delivered in two days. So long as it is, I snapped.

Meanwhile, Miss F had been sleeping in the spare room and her very expensive mattress – which had been delivered hassle-free by my company exactly when they said it would be – was leaning up on its side on the landing. Not a good thing for a mattress.

True to their word though, the other half of the bed was delivered two days later. Thankful the whole saga was at an end, I started putting the bed together – only to discover that the crossbeam to connect across the bottom was clearly for a single bed and not a small double!

More emails ensued. Eventually, two days later, an email came saying they were having trouble tracking down the correct piece so would send me a completely new bed, and please could I have the faulty one all packed up ready to be collected.

Fuming and unable to believe this latest turn of events, I dismantled the bed it had taken me a good couple of hours to put together, packaged it all back up as best I could, and awaited this mythical delivery.

They’d given me a time of 3pm. Again, a no show. Again, I tried emailing them to no avail. Accepting that I’d been rooked of over £100 for a faulty product, I decided to start proceedings against them through eBay as soon as I got home from work the next day and went to bed seriously fed up with the whole situation.

The next morning, I was about to leave the house for work when there was a knock at the door. It was the delivery man who’d delivered all the other bits of the bed.

Have you come to collect a faulty bed? I asked.

No, he scratched his head and looked puzzled. I’ve just come to give you this.

He handed me a four-foot bottom crossbeam and then wondered why I had a meltdown on the doorstep and threw a few choice words out into the street.

Yes, I was happy I finally had the missing piece, but it meant I had to re-assemble the bed I had dismantled, so I was an annoyed and very frustrated bunny and left a one-star review on eBay stating this. Two days later I received an email from the company expressing their dismay at my feedback and asking if it was something they’d done?!

Words failed me at that point.

Anyway, Miss F finally had the bed she wanted, and yes, it was a very pretty bed and for a year or so all was well. But it was a very cheap bed and the mattress she’d chosen a very heavy one. The bed started to creak alarmingly. Taking off the mattress, I tightened all the bolts and noticed that cracks had appeared in the main metal beam running down the centre of the frame.

We braced the bed with old author copies of my books secured with much duct tape. Over the next couple of years, the legs began to resemble bananas and the crack in the main beam grew until over Christmas, when Miss F came home for a visit, the bed was visibly showing the strain and I knew something had to be done about it.

So, I’m now sitting here, drinking coffee, chatting with you, and awaiting the delivery of the solid wooden bed that I originally wanted to buy her three years ago, and I think the upshot of this tale is – IF YOU BUY CHEAP YOU BUY TWICE!

Lol, when I told Miss F I was buying her a new bed she asked if she had any input into which one? Umm, no. Tried that last time, and look how well that turned out!

What else has happened? The stats from the launch of Rambling Rose are in and they’re not bad. It wasn’t the most successful launch I’ve ever had, but neither was it the worst. Interestingly, sales of paperbacks were almost as high as those for eBooks, which is unusual for an indie author. It’s nice to see that my readers wanted Rose as a physical book, rather than merely reading it on a screen.

Feedback so far has also been lovely. With Rose barely a week old she has already received half a dozen five-star reviews on Goodreads.

I was invited to take part in a couple of online interviews which were fun. One was broadcast live on Instagram and was on the topic of what to do when your account is hacked or blocked for some reason. The other was with a book blogger who let me ramble on for over two hours about all things bookish and life in general. That one won’t be aired until May sometime.

I also enjoyed another dinner and theatre evening last Saturday. This time it was to see a play called Home, I’m Darling and was a peculiar piece about a young couple who love the Fifties so much they try to recreate it in their own home, with the husband going out to work in full fifties garb and a hat, and the wife staying home and being a domestic goddess in vintage dresses and a lot of red lipstick. All seems idyllic until financial hardships cause cracks in their perfect arrangement, and they realise that modern life is unsustainable on a single income.

There was one particularly poignant moment when the young wife is confronted by her mother with a few harsh truths about the Fifties – that they were not the golden era the young couple perceived them to be – but were difficult and grey. A time when food was still scarce and bland, and women had no rights at all, and their husbands could treat them any way they pleased.

I didn’t fight and protest as hard as I did for your freedom, just for you to throw it all away on some nostalgic nonsense!

Before the theatre, we had an early dinner at our usual pub, and I know the food was delicious because it always is, but sadly my taste buds are still not functioning properly and all I can taste is mouldy mushrooms. Thanks, Covid, you really are the gift that keeps on giving.

That Saturday was certainly a busy one. In the morning, my dad called around to help me dismantle Miss F’s old bed – although, in fairness, I think one good kick would have done that! He also removed the hood from the wicker sofa in the garden. We never put that hood up because being under a tree the sofa is in the shade as it is. Over the years, the hood has become disgusting with green algae, bird poop, squashed cherry juice from the tree above, and it’s full of cobwebs and creepy crawlies.

The day before dad was due to come, I put the hood up and took a broom to it to sweep all the nasties off. A couple of freaky spiders dropped out and sat on the ground staring at me. Large, with short thick legs and a shiny black bulbous bottom with a thick brown stripe around it, they were menacing and horrible. I’m afraid I crushed them under a brick because they scared me. Then I went in and googled them and discovered that they were False Widows. Nasty venomous spiders that have invaded the UK in recent years. Big shudder!

So, the bed and the hood, plus an old printer that has been sitting in the corner of my bedroom for a year, a load of solar lights that stopped working ages ago, and the old metal shelves from the bathroom, were all loaded into the back of my dad’s van, and we trundled off to the new recycling centre. He hasn’t been since it has been relocated and updated, but I’d been once so know the way plus it was very well signposted.

It’s ever so posh there now. You must book an appointment time and everything. There’s number plate recognition at the gate, and if your number’s not on the list, you’re not coming in! Only the correct number of cars to parking bays are allowed in, and it’s all very efficient. We were done there in a matter of minutes, then went back to mine to chill out in the sun at the bottom of the garden, drinking latte, and watching as the giant crane on the building site on the other side of the garden wall swung about in the sunshine.

After dad left, I decided to pop uptown and see about buying a new top to wear that evening. I’m lacking in the clothes department – especially after the Great Plague of Moths 2020 – so thought I’d treat myself. As I’d had such success in Monsoon at Christmas buying a top for the festive season, I decided to walk through Next and see if there was anything there, but ultimately end up in Monsoon and hang the expense.

I walked through Next. Not sure who they are aiming their clothes at, but certainly not women in their fifties who just want a nice top to wear out in the evening in the UK in March. There was lots of beachwear. Okay, nice if you can afford a holiday somewhere far away and hot. Lots of gym and workout wear. Hmm, shall I wear spandex to dinner? I think not. Racks of chunky knitwear leftover from winter. I don’t think so. Then racks and racks of flimsy, floaty summer dresses, skirts, and tops – none of which were suitable for a sunny but still briskly chilly day in March.

I left Next and turned left to go into Monsoon. It had gone. The doors were locked. The shop was empty, and a sign on the door informed me the nearest branch of the store could be found in Colchester – a good hour’s drive away! Not only that, but Accessorize, the fun shop next door was also gone.

So that’s two more shops gone from my local high street. It’s a worrying trend and I wonder where it will end. In ten years or so will our towns and cities have no shops at all – only endless coffee shops and charity shops? Will all shopping be done online? Now, I love online shopping for the convenience and choice it offers, but there are certain things I cannot buy online, clothes being one of them.

Like most women, I am not a standard size. Being only five feet tall means I really must hunt for things that fit correctly. A shopping trip for me usually comprises of dozens of things being taken into the changing room, a mass try-on when I look in the mirror and am brutally honest about whether an item fits and, more importantly, looks nice. Over the years, I’ve learnt what suits and what doesn’t, and I’ve also learnt the answers to the following questions:

Maybe if I lost weight? Maybe you won’t, so don’t buy it.

Maybe if I had make-up on? Nope.

Maybe with different shoes? Nope.

Unless you look in the changing room mirror and absolutely love the item – even with no make-up, the wrong shoes, and carrying a few extra pounds – then it’s a hard no.

Oh, and never go shopping when you’re in a hurry, hungry, thirsty, or need a wee. Try to avoid shopping for clothes for yourself with small children in tow – that never ends well. And don’t go shopping drunk either – that can lead to some spontaneous purchases that are either sheepishly returned the next day or hang in your wardrobe with the labels on for years until it finally goes to charity.

Stymied by the closure of the one shop I’d depended on finding something in, I wandered across to New Look and looked in there. Aimed at the younger market, it is still possible to sometimes find things that will work for us older ladies. Rummaging through the sales rack, I found a lovely silky soft, thin knit sweater top in a pearly grey colour, with three-quarter length sleeves that were slightly batwing, and a turtleneck collar. I tried it on. I still liked it. It was in the sale for £15. Bargain!

Pleased with my find, I hurried home and rummaged through my jewellery box until I found a silver and grey metal chunky necklace that was the right length with the collar and finished it off nicely. With my best black bootcut jeans and black ankle boots, I reckoned I’d do.

I had an hour or so before needing to get ready to go and collect my friend, so settled on the sofa with a drink and a book and rested from the morning’s exertions, before scrubbing up and popping around to collect her.

The delivery company have just texted me. They will deliver the new bed between 2:30pm and 4:30pm. I hope it’s the earlier end of that time slot. I want to assemble the bed and get the mattress back on today so it’s all ready for Miss F when she arrives next Wednesday. Due to overtime, I only have today and Friday off between now and then. Friday is pretty much taken up with dying my hair, my usual virtual chat with my local author’s group, and collecting an enormous shopping order of food for the twelve days Miss F is home before her girlfriend, Miss C, arrives for a visit.

Miss C is a vegetarian, so Miss F has been eating a lot of veggie food. When asked if there were any special food requests for the fortnight she’ll be home before Miss C turns up, the answer came back – MEAT! So, as requested, my shopping list has ribs, pork belly, a joint of pork with crackling, a half shoulder of lamb, sausages, prawns, bacon, chicken, burgers, meatballs, and steak! Along with lactose-free ice cream, cheese, cream, butter, and milk. Honestly, it came to three times more than my normal weekly bill!

Speaking of steak, it was my parents’ wedding anniversary last week. Happy Anniversary, Mum and Dad! They’ve been married fifty-four years – or three life sentences – so I wanted to buy them something nice but knew they didn’t want any more stuff. So, instead, I took a trip to Waitrose and got them a card, a bunch of flowers, a bottle of rose wine, two steaks, chunky chips, button mushrooms, giant beer-battered onion rings, a damn fine cherry pie, and posh vanilla custard. Have dinner on me, you’re welcome.

I know they enjoyed it because when I got home from the theatre Saturday evening there was a message on my answerphone from Mum saying how delicious it had been, so that’s nice.

Anyway, I think that’s about it for news and this blog has now reached epic proportions. The sun is shining here, and it seems Spring has decided to stay. I hope it sticks around whilst the girls are home from university as they have so much planned that’s outdoors and it’s always nicer if the sun is shining.

Take care everyone, and I look forward to our next chat in a couple of weeks.

Julia Blake

It’s my job to serve you, but I’m not going to!

So sorry the blog is a little late. I fully intended to write it yesterday, but I launched book thirteen – Rambling Rose – and should have known that it would be a crazy, full-on, stressful day. After all, it’s not like it’s my first rodeo.

So, how did the launch go? About as well as can be expected given the state of the world right now. I know I’m not the only author who has noticed a drop off in sales across the board. Maybe it’s because people are struggling financially, maybe it’s the worrying news coming out of Ukraine, maybe it’s a hangover from the pandemic, or maybe it’s all these things.

It’s hard to know exact figures yet because Amazon can be a little slow collating and reporting, and I know from people’s comments that a lot of paperbacks were purchased. These don’t register as a sale until they’ve been delivered so it will be a week before a true picture can be seen.

It was certainly a busy day, and I was touched and overwhelmed by the amount of support I got. Dozens of feeds shared my posts and congratulations flooded in. I spent nearly all day jumping from social media site to social media site, sharing posts and thanking people. In fact, it got to gone 5pm and I realised I was starving as I hadn’t had time to eat since breakfast. Daunted by the thought of trying to cook, I sent a message of help to Miss F. Twenty minutes later a large portion of fish and chips was delivered by Just Eat which was very much appreciated.

One thing I did want to do was film me reading a short extract from Rambling Rose and post it on Instagram. Now, I don’t have the greatest technology but my Kindle Fire tablet is relatively new so I thought it would probably record okay. I have found if I open my laptop to its normal level and prop the tablet against the screen when I’m sitting at my desk, the tablet is at the perfect height and angle to record me.

I sat with my copy of Rambling Rose and read a non-spoiler extract from the book; I watched the video back. It wasn’t bad for me, well, it was as good as it was going to get. I tried to upload it to Instagram. It posted it, but to my horror, only the first still of the video was shown with my voice talking away in the background. I tried again, perhaps I’d done something wrong. Nope. I tried uploading to reels – that played for a minute before cutting off. I messaged my friend and fellow author, Becky Wright. She had done readings the last time she released a book just before Christmas. Together we researched why it seemed no longer possible. Yep, you’ve guessed it. Instagram deleted this function a couple of months ago.

Taking deep breaths through my nose, I tried to upload it to Facebook. Nope, it stuck for twenty minutes trying to upload then crashed the site. The only option I had was to upload it to my YouTube channel then tell people the link was in my bio if they wanted to watch it. The only trouble was, the video was on my tablet, and I needed to get it onto my laptop to upload it. Could I email it? Nope, the attachment was too big. In the end, desperate, I tried sending it to Becky on Messenger. Despite taking fifteen minutes to load, it did eventually, and she was able to share it as an email attachment on her smartphone, email it back to me, then I downloaded it onto my laptop and uploaded it to YouTube.

Right, now it’s on my YouTube channel. I could just tell people it was there, but it would involve time and effort for them to find it and I knew most people wouldn’t bother. I copied the video link on YouTube and posted it onto my linktree. For those who don’t know, linktree is an app you download that you can set up with links to all your sites – Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, a website, YouTube, plus book listings on Amazon – then you post the linktree link and anyone clicking on it is presented with all the other links neatly listed. Linktree is particularly useful for sites like Instagram that only allow one link in your bio. With linktree, anyone clicking on this link then has immediate access to everywhere else. Anyway, I wondered if I could put the link to the reading video on linktree. I could. I labelled it Rambling Rose reading one and put it at the top of the list. This way when someone clicked on it they would be taken immediately to the YouTube clip. I did this, and a little message popped up from linktree. Would I like the video to be viewable on my linktree? Why yes, I would, thank you very much. I had no idea linktree could do this. Very excited, I let Becky know about this new turn of events. This serendipitous discovery means that we can put videos on our linktree and when someone clicks on the link in our bio the video is there, ready to play, with no need to go to YouTube or search for it. Amazing.

What else has happened since we last spoke? Well, lots of hard work to get Rambling Rose ready for publication. I must say, it’s been the smoothest most trouble-free launch I’ve ever had. Everything came together perfectly, and I was even able to bring the publication date forward from the 25th of March to the 12th of March. The book was good to go so there seemed no point waiting any longer, plus it means the book is out before Mother’s Day.

I had a week’s holiday off work which I desperately needed. I hadn’t realised how tired I was from Christmas, all the overtime I did in January, plus all the hard work I’d done on the book. I didn’t do much during my days off. I rested a lot and read. I did go out for lunch with a friend on Shrove Tuesday – for Americans, this is the last Tuesday before Lent when traditionally any food leftover in the house, typically eggs, milk, and flour, were used to make stacks of pancakes. This was to ensure that the food didn’t go bad over the fasting time of Lent, and maybe to remove temptation. Anyway, we went to Prezzo for lunch because we both had vouchers to use there.

We’ve been there quite often, usually having their burger and fries, because it’s delicious and good value for money at £11. This time though I was determined to have something different. After all, Prezzo is an Italian restaurant so I really should have something Italian. We sat at our table and perused the menu, having already consumed a bottle of prosecco between us we needed food to mop it up. My friend chose the burger, I went for a pasta dish which at £15 was more expensive but I thought being pasta, would be more filling.

Our meals came. She had the glorious thick burger with all the trimmings in a brioche bun with a big pile of string fries and a pot of homemade ketchup. As for my pasta, well, I think I could have picked it up in one hand and not dropped any. The portion size was tiny, and it came with nothing. Does anyone else hate this modern trend that you must order your veggies or salad separately because they no longer come with the meal? I think it’s appalling. Veg or salad is part of a meal, not an optional, payable extra.

We finished our meals. My friend was happy. I was not. I was still hungry. The pasta had barely touched the sides. We looked at the dessert menu. Walking to the restaurant my friend had mentioned how another one close by was offering an all-you-can-eat pancake special that day. So, we paid our bill in Prezzo, went to the other restaurant, and ate all the pancakes. They were nice, but they weren’t proper British pancakes which are tissue-thin and usually drenched in lemon and sugar. These were American pancakes so very thick and stodgy.

But I’ll tell you this, next time I go to Prezzo I’m having the burger!

I also had a haircut during my time off. Quite a radical one. All the hair I’d grown during two years of lockdowns has been hacked to the nape of my neck. The hairdresser convinced me to embrace the natural curl of my hair and when I left I had a bouffant that Shirley Temple would be proud of. I wasn’t sure about it but decided to reserve judgement until I’d tried to do it myself.

I couldn’t do it myself, so instead rejected the curl and blow-dried it straight with a quick smooth after with the straightening iron. I like it. If you want to see it for yourself, watch the video of my reading which can be found on my YouTube channel or in the bio of my Instagram account.

The week off went by way too fast. I wish days at work went by that quickly. When I returned to work last week, the other part-timer had left so my boss was ready to wheedle and negotiate about overtime. I have such mixed feelings about overtime. On the one hand, cha-ching, I need the money. But on the other hand, it makes for long weeks, and I wind up exhausted. The few applicants for the job they’ve had have not been suitable so I might be doing overtime for a while. I only hope they eventually find someone. Whilst I don’t mind helping for a few weeks I don’t want my twenty hours a week job to suddenly become a thirty or even forty hour a week one.

I had to go to the local post office on Friday to send off signed copies of Rambling Rose to my beta readers and to a couple of people who had bought copies off me. There wasn’t too long a queue, a couple of people were waiting in the business and travel money queue, and there were about three people ahead of me in the general counter queue.

I stood there and stood there, and it dawned on me that nobody was serving on the counter. All the tills were empty. I looked around. One assistant was on the business and travel counter, then there were two members of staff floating about the floor, talking to one another, but not going anywhere near the tills to serve the ever-growing line of customers. Then one assistant disappeared out the back, leaving a guy faffing about straightening shelves, aimlessly picking up a box from one place and putting it down somewhere else.

The mood of the queue grew ugly.

ME:  Excuse me. Is anybody actually serving?

HIM: No.

ME:  So, do we need to go and queue over there?

I pointed to the shorter queue for the business and travel money counter.

HIM: No, that’s the business and travel money queue only.

ME:  What? But what about all of us in this queue? Are you saying we’re never going to get served?

HIM: You will be served when there’s no one waiting in the business queue.

ME:  Why do they get priority?

HIM: They just do.

ME:  But that’s terrible. Get someone on the general counter.

HIM: I can’t, there is no one to serve.

ME:  Well, why don’t you get on a till and at least clear this line?

By now, people are muttering and chiming in with comments about how long they’ve been waiting and what a bloody disgrace it was.

HIM: I can’t, that’s not my job today.

Apparently, his job was to wander about in jeans and a scruffy jumper picking up boxes.

ME:  But this is ridiculous. Where are all the staff?

HIM: We don’t have any, no one applied for the job.

ME:  So why not just have one queue so at least we all have a chance of being served.

HIM: We can’t, business and travel money get priority.

ME:  Why?

HIM: They just do. Look, you’re shouting at the wrong person, it’s not my fault.

ME:  Then bring the manager out here, let them explain why you can’t serve us.

HIM: Can’t, they’re not here.

ME:  Oh, for heaven’s sake!

I realised this was going nowhere fast, so I marched to the end of the business and travel money queue where a delightful pair of American ladies had been listening to this. You go ahead of us, they urged, honestly, we don’t mind, and you’ve been here a lot longer than us.

Thanking them profusely, I went to the business and travel money till.

ME:  I’m an author, that’s my business, and these are copies of my books I need to send.

The girl said nothing, merely started putting my parcels through. Meanwhile, the mood of the queue had gone from ugly to downright grotesque.

Is anyone ever going to come to these tills? One woman was asking. Or are we standing here for nothing?

You will be served eventually, the male assistant said. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it.

He could get on a till and start serving customers, I commented to the girl serving me.

She peered at me from over the top of her mask, but stayed silent, putting my items through as quickly as possible so she could get rid of the nasty shouty lady.

Yes, I appreciate they probably are horrendously short-staffed, but maybe if they offered a better wage they would have more applicants. And there was absolutely no apparent reason why he couldn’t have got on a till and served us. He was standing there doing nothing! All he was doing was taking parcels off the people putting them through on the self-service machine – which they could have put on the counter by themselves – and justifying why he wasn’t prepared to do his job and serve customers.

When did customer service get so crap in this country? I work in retail myself, and if I ignored customers, refused to serve them, and spoke to them like that, I’d be sacked.

I wanted the copies of my books to arrive by the next day if possible – it was launch day and it would be wonderful if my beta readers had their copies so they could make posts about the book – but it was going to be £16 each! Umm, no, so I sent them first class which was £3.99 so a bit more reasonable, and guess what, they all arrived Saturday morning anyway!

It’s now Sunday morning, I’ve drunk my tea whilst chatting to you and am thinking about breakfast. Quite a busy day ahead. There are still launch shenanigans going on, plus I must collect my shopping, and my mum is calling round later. I have treated myself to a big joint of beef which I will slow cook for a delicious roast dinner tonight. The rest will be made into beef, potato, and veggie pasties which will go in the freezer ready for quick and filling dinners after a long shift. I will also slice some beef and freeze it in portions for more roast dinners in the future. At £15 the joint was expensive, but I should get about twenty meals out of it which makes it very cost-effective.

Anyway, take care everyone and I hope you have a wonderful Sunday.

Julia Blake

Say Hello to Rambling Rose

Hello everyone! Goodness, hasn’t two weeks flown by? I’m trying to think about what has happened and the answer is, not a lot. My Dad came as arranged and we gave the cherry tree a short back and sides and then spent most of the day cutting up the branches to shove them in bags ready to dispose of. Just in time, as hurricane Eunice descended on the British Isles a day later and made a bit of a mess of things. My road was covered with broken branches and rubbish that had been blown up from goodness knows where. There were also several roof slates lying in pieces and I only hope they weren’t from my roof.

I got off lightly, apart from debris in my garden and the outdoor sofa being blown out of place, I didn’t suffer any damage from the hurricane, but I know others weren’t so lucky. Many lost power for days and images were shown on TV of great trees lying across roads with their roots in the air. The weather seems to have calmed down now and unless we have a late cold snap we seem to be creeping into spring. I’m hopeful that it will be nice and warm when Miss F and her girlfriend come to stay over Easter. They have a lot of outings and trips planned and although bad weather won’t stop them, everything is so much nicer if the sun is shining.

There is a small local museum in the centre of town, and I happened to notice there was to be an exhibition of costumes from the Marvel film the Black Panther whilst they were visiting, so I sent to link to Miss F and she has already booked their tickets. She has also requested that we go to Kentwell Hall whilst her girlfriend, Miss C, is visiting. This is a gorgeous Tudor manor house about thirty minutes away which has been preserved in keeping with the period. There are extensive grounds with lots to look at. Sometimes, they have wonderful history days where volunteers dress up in Tudor costumes and enact activities in the house and gardens.

I’ve been to quite a few of these days, both when I was at school and as an adult, and they are fantastic fun. The actors stay totally in character and even when you try to talk to them with 21st-century lingo, they will only reply with Tudor expressions and language. The big kitchens are open with women baking and cooking with traditional ingredients in the style of the period. Out in the gardens, people are working the land and various craftsmen making objects relevant to the period.

The last time I went to Kentwell Hall was back in 2014. I went with Miss F and our then lodger. Keen to see everything, we attended a display of Tudor firearms which was all going well, until there was a mishap with an old musket and the poor man handling it was hurt. Not sure how bad it was, but they bundled him away sharpish, and the purity of the Tudor enactment was ruined by the presence of a modern ambulance tearing through the gates and up the driveway.

We also had a run-in with a rather large and angry peacock whom we came face-to-face with on a path. He was determined that it was his path, and we could not pass. As I said, he was a very big angry bird, so we fled the other way.

There’s a nice restaurant there where we had lunch. They grow all their fruit, salad, and veg so everything on the menu was the freshest it could be. I think I had a pea and ham quiche which was delicious.

We’re planning to go to the restaurant again, although instead of it being just me, Miss F, and Miss C, a close friend of mine is also coming. I felt four was a better number than three. If Miss F and Miss C want to wander off on their own they can, without me either being abandoned or having to trail after them like a big gooseberry. It also works well having a large lunch because Miss F’s godmother is coming over in the evening for drinks and nibbles. Having already eaten during the day I won’t have the worry of trying to get a big meal cooked, eaten, and cleared away before she arrives.

It’s not an enactment day when we’re going, unfortunately, but there’s still enough there to make it a very pleasant day out – especially if the weather is nice. If you’re interested, Google Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, UK, and look at it yourself.

With the restrictions caused by Covid now lifted, the two book events I originally intended to attend back in 2020, and which have been postponed for the past two years, are now going ahead so plans need to be made for those. The first one is at St Alban’s on the 17th of July and is a Sci-Fi and Fantasy book sale. My local authors’ group have a couple of tables booked for it and hopefully, it will be going ahead this year. It’s a one-day event so will entail driving up to St Alban’s and back in one day. Not sure how far that is, but certainly not as far as driving to collect Miss F from university and back in one day.

I have no idea what it will be like or how large an event it is. But it will be nice to be able to do something bookish again. The last time I attempted anything like this was way back in November 2019 when we had a stall in the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre. At least being in July it should be a great deal warmer than that was.

The second event is the Norwich Sci-Fi and Fantasy Convention in the last weekend of September – which is a much bigger deal. When we booked our tables back in 2020 I also booked the week off work. Then it was postponed until 2021 but things were still very uncertain so most of us felt it was too soon to be in such a crowded public venue. Then this year rolled around, the convention is definitely on, and our postponed tables were offered to us again.

However, I had a problem. When I tried to book the week off work I couldn’t. Despite the fact it was still only January, and I wanted the last week of September off, somebody else had beaten me to it. I was in despair. The convention is on for the whole weekend and there is no point spending all that money on a table just for one of the days. But I work in retail, it is in my contract that I must work at least one day at the weekend.

I spoke to my boss about, throwing himself on his mercy and begging him to let me have the weekend off. I’m very sorry, he said, but it’s the other part-timer who has booked that week off. So, not only can I not let you have the whole weekend off, but I may have to ask you to work both days instead of just the one.

I fumed and fretted, desperately wanting to do the convention but not seeing how I would be able to. Then I went to work a couple of Mondays ago and had this conversation with my boss.

HIM: Just to keep you informed, Mrs J, the other part-timer has handed in her notice.

ME:  Oh, really? Why?

HIM: Not sure, fed up with working weekends and bank holidays, I think.

ME: Okay.

Thirty seconds later.

ME:  Does that mean I can have that week in September off then?

HIM: Bloody hell! Talk about dead man’s boots.

ME:  Sorry.

HIM: ……

ME:  But does it though?

HIM: I suppose so.

So, yippee! That week is now officially booked as annual leave so I’m going to the Norwich convention. As for St Albans, well it’s on the 17th of July which is a Sunday and is also coincidentally my birthday. When booking my annual leave I wanted a week off over my birthday – I have never worked on my birthday and don’t intend to start now – and was in a dilemma whether to (a) book the week of my birthday off, but then have to go to work the day after it (not a good plan), or (b) book the week after it off and request that Sunday the 17th be one of my days off the week before.

I decided to go with plan (b) and requested the week commencing the 18th off. Nope. Again, somebody else had beaten me to it so I had to revert to plan (a). But, yep, you’ve guessed it, the person who’d beaten me to it was the other part-timer and as she’s leaving in two weeks it meant that week was up for grabs again. So, I grabbed it. That means I have the whole glorious two weeks off with my birthday slap bang in the middle. Course, I will be at St Alban’s at a book fair on my birthday but have thirteen other days to celebrate it on, so that’s fine.

As they are both Fantasy and Sci-Fi conventions I’m limited to which books I can take. Obviously Black Ice, Erinsmore, and The Forest, but I’m also going to take some copies of Lifesong with me. Depending on how much KDP charge me for author copies of them, I’m going to sell them for £1 with any other book bought.

I had to buy myself a new pair of shoes last Sunday. I had an old pair of flat, black, patent leather loafers which I wore exclusively for work. The leather had so shaped to my feet that they were very comfortable, and I’d been putting off buying a new pair. But then the soles on both shoes cracked in half, the heel on one crumbled, and the patent leather was badly scuffed. There was nothing for it. I was going to have to go shoe shopping.

I hate shopping for clothes. I get so frustrated and angry at how expensive everything is and how nothing fits me. Shoe shopping is marginally better than clothes but still annoying. Sunday was my day off, so I popped uptown mid-morning. The winds had died down slightly, but the sky was the colour of an old bruise and heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon.

I was looking for a pair of flat, comfortable shoes. I’m on my feet all day and running up and down stairs, so heels aren’t practicable. Not a big ask for a pair of shoes. Except, they had to be blue. During the four years I’ve worked there, our uniform has gone from black trousers/skirt with a blue and white striped blouse, to blue from head to toe. Even my socks are blue, so my old black shoes stood out and I’d decided to replace them with a pair of blue ones. And that was where the problems began.

No blue shoes at all in the first shop I tried. Well, none except trainers and I can’t wear them for work. This put a crimp in my plan. This shop is cheap and cheerful, and I’d thought I’d be able to simply walk in, pick up a pair, and that would be it.

Try Mark’s and Spencer, the helpful assistant advised. I tried Mark’s and Spencer, and yes, they had a perfect pair. They were also £45. Yes, they were proper soft suede leather and were comfortable. Yes, they looked smart. And yes, they would last years. But they were £45, and they would only ever be worn for work, and I died a little inside at the thought of spending a week’s grocery money on a pair of shoes.

I went to another shop. No blue shoes. I went to another. They had some, but they had six-inch heels. Umm, I don’t think so. I trailed around town getting more and more frustrated as the sky grew darker above me and the wind gusted me along the road.

Eventually, I crept back to Mark’s and Spencer and bought the £45 pair I’d first seen. Going back down to the food hall, I decided to pick up some milk and celery from there. I was tired and fed up and couldn’t face the crush I knew there’d be in Tesco Express. Reaching up to get down a pint of skimmed milk there was a ping, and I felt something drop past my hand down into the fridge. I looked. Lying there at the bottom of the fridge, just out of my reach, was one of the fancy buttons from my coat. Bugger.

I stretched my hand down. Nope. Not going to be able to reach it no matter how far down I groped. I looked helplessly about. People bustled past me with baskets and trolleys, tutting in annoyance at this stupid woman standing in front of the milk. I was too afraid to move, I thought if I took my eye off where I could just about see the edge of the button sticking out I’d never find it again.

I waited. Eventually, an assistant bustled past the end of the aisle.

ME:  Excuse me.

HER: Yes?

She stopped and waited where she was, clearly expecting me to go to her.

ME: Umm, could you help me, please?

HER: Of course.

Again, she waited. When it became apparent I wasn’t going to move she raised her eyebrows then came over to me.

HER: Is everything all right?

ME: No, one of the buttons on my coat came off when I was reaching for the milk, and it’s gone right down into the fridge. Look, there, you can just about see it.

HER: Oh no, has it. Where?

She peered doubtfully into the fridge. Being even shorter than me it was harder for her to get the sight angle just right.

HER: You sure it went into the fridge? Maybe it fell on the floor.

ME: No, it’s definitely in there. Look, tip your head sidewise, down by that grill thing. Follow it along…

HER: Oh yes! (In excitement) I see it. Ooh, not sure how we’re going to get that out.

ME:  Well, I need it. I can’t do my coat up without it.

HER: Do you have a spare button?

ME:  That was the spare button.

HER: Oh dear. Right, I’ll fetch help. You stay here.

Off she bustled full of importance at her mission. I waited. Minutes ticked by. Eventually, she returned with a stool and a very gangly youth with long arms. Freakishly long arms, seriously Mr Tickle in a uniform. Carefully, he climbed onto the stool, reached way way down into the fridge. By now, we had attracted an interested crowd with people calling out encouragement.

Down he stretched, his fingers groping for the errant button, until bingo! With a grunt of triumph, he grabbed it and managed to pull himself back up. Handing me the button, I thanked them both profusely, paid for the milk and celery (remember that) then hurried from the shop. It was spitting cold raindrops by now and the gale pushed me down the street until I turned the corner and then it was full blast in my face stinging tears from my eyes and nipping at my cheeks.

And that was my exciting Sunday.

The next day I went to work to discover my boss was off with Covid. His daughter had brought it home from school and infected the entire family, bless her. Luckily, it had been a week since I’d been on shift with him, but I still did a flow test and I’m fine. Bloody NHS track and trace though keeps pinging me three or four times a day telling me I must now self-isolate. No, I bloody mustn’t. I haven’t got it, so I don’t have to do anything, and anyway, are you going to pay my wages? No, I thought not.

Monday and Tuesday were two nice days at work. It was just me and my favourite colleague and we were busy with nice customers who bought from us, which is always a bonus. Then I had four days off, during which I worked on the final amendments to Rambling Rose, held a three-day sale on Becoming Lili and Chaining Daisy, and premiered the beautiful video trailer for the Perennials Trilogy made as usual by Platform House Publishing. It’s really lovely. If you haven’t seen it yet and would like to, then it can be viewed on my YouTube channel or my website.

The Perennials Trilogy – finally completed

Finally, Rambling Rose was uploaded to Amazon on Saturday afternoon, and I’ve ordered a proof copy of the paperback. This is essential because it’s not until you read it as an actual book that any final tweaks can be found. I don’t think there will be too many. It’s been edited and proofread to the nth degree, but I know from bitter experience there will always be something!

If you would like the eBook version of Rambling Rose, then it’s available now to pre-order and the link to it can be found on my website, my Instagram bio, or simply go to Amazon and search for Rambling Rose by Julia Blake. The special-pre-order price is just £2.99 for this beautiful big book and the launch date is the 25th of March. On this day the price will go up and your copy will automatically appear on your kindle at the stroke of midnight – Rose is like Cinderella in reverse.

And that’s it. My fun-packed fortnight in a nutshell. As I said, I’m on holiday next week and for once don’t have too much planned. Lunch with a friend. Maybe a haircut. If the proof copy of Rose turns up I will spend some time going over it with a fine-tooth comb. Other than that, I have no plans so you never know, I might start writing book fourteen! Imagine that – book fourteen.

So, take care, everyone, I hope wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, that you stay safe and stay happy.

Julia Blake

Trees and Treats!

Good morning everyone and happy Sunday. Again, apologies for no proper blog last week but, as I explained, new shifts make it almost impossible to continue blogging weekly so I will be chatting to you every two weeks instead.

What has happened over the last fortnight? To be honest, not a great deal. Work has jogged along, and the only thing of note is that the other part-timer has handed in her notice. I’m not too sure why as I don’t work with her very often, but I know she has become increasingly unhappy with always having to work bank holidays – especially Boxing Day – and at the weekend, plus the high targets we are now expected to achieve, so maybe it was that. Anyway, I have a suspicion I will be asked to work a lot of overtime until they find someone new.

I have very mixed feelings about overtime. On the one hand, it’s extra money at a time when I really need it, but, on the other hand, I find it hard working the extra hours. I get very tired and fed up with always working and not having the time at home to do all the other stuff I need to do.

Still, it’s not like I have a lot of choices, so, I’ll just think of the money and grin and bear it.

The diet is going well and since we last spoke I’ve lost another two pounds, although I think I may have lost more than I originally thought. I assumed that each little marker between the big marker for the stones was a single pound. But, when I counted them there were only seven markers, not the fourteen there should be, so each marker stands for two pounds. That means I’ve lost over ten pounds in the first four weeks of the diet, which is not bad.

I’m still faithfully sticking to it, and I’ll keep you posted as to my progress.

As I said in the last proper blog, I was going to make a meal planner for the month and try to do one big shop at the start of each month, then just pick up fresh stuff weekly from my local shop. I did this – boy I eat a lot of soup each month on this diet – and the Tesco assistant did give me a strange look when she wheeled out my shopping and one whole crate comprised of tins of soup! So far, the meal planner is working well. I have it pinned up on the board and know at a glance exactly what I’m having for dinner that night and what needs to be taken out of the freezer. Hopefully, it will help save a few pennies by cutting down on my grocery bill. If I’m only buying exactly what I need for meals for the month then I’m not wasting money on buying unnecessary stuff.

What else has happened? Well, my Dad came round this week to trim my trees. I have a silver birch and a morello cherry tree in the garden which need to be kept in check, otherwise, they will grow out of control and not be safe in such a small garden, plus block out my own and the neighbour’s light. Normally, they are trimmed every year in February but due to Covid and lockdown, the last two years were missed. Consequently, the trees are way too tall, and a drastic haircut was vital.

Dad arrived cheerfully of the opinion it would take a couple of hours max to do both. I thought he was being a bit optimistic. I remembered how long it had taken when they were last done in 2019 – and there was three years growth to trim instead of the usual one, so it was bound to take longer. The trimming of the trees is not the part that takes the time, no, it’s the clearing up of all the fallen branches that is the time-consuming bit. All the branches must be trimmed down to manageable size and bagged up. Usually, we take the trimmings to the local recycling centre, but this time Dad said he had the use of three empty compost dustbins so would take them home and put them out for the compost recycling truck.

They arrived at 10:30am and we set to work straight away. By 3pm we’d had enough, and we’d only done the silver birch. The poor thing has had such a severe haircut it looks ready to join the marines and I hope we haven’t cut it back too hard. But we’ve scalped it equally as hard in previous years and it’s thrived, so it should be fine. This year more than ever I will rely on the cover the tree provides. It will shield us from being spied on by the men working on the crane on the building site at the bottom of the garden. Without the tree canopy, they can peer right down into our garden. Not that I’m ever doing anything unsociable out there, but it’s still not a nice thought.

Dad is returning next Tuesday to tackle the cherry tree. That will probably take just as long as the silver birch did. I want to get out in the garden this week and have a seriously good tidy out there. Plants need moving or even be taken out completely. Reluctantly, I have decided the ancient peony needs to go. Yes, it is beautiful, and it was in the garden when I moved in, but my garden is too tiny to give houseroom to a plant that hogs almost a whole bed and only blooms for three days of the year. So, it’s going to a new home. A friend of mine has a wonderful big garden and has offered to adopt it. I think it will be much happier there and I know she’ll look after it.

The poor wisteria needs moving as it’s desperately unhappy where it is. Wisteria needs sunshine and where it is right now is deep shade, so it’s gone all spindly and lanky as it desperately tries to scramble to the top of the pergola in search of sun. It’s never flowered. If left where it is, I suspect it never will. So, it’s being moved to the large bed at the bottom of the garden when it will at least get some sun. The feral rambling rose currently there will take the place the wisteria is vacating. That rose is such a survivor that I honestly think when the end of the world happens, cockroaches and that rose will be the only things left alive. It’s a vigorous climber so will be able to scramble all over the pergola and do whatever it pleases up there.

A large fern and a Solomon’s Seal plant were somehow planted right on top of one another so need to be dug up and separated. Then they are being moved further up the garden. Both woodland plants happy in shade, their current place in partial sunlight will be taken by a fuchsia plant that will appreciate the sunshine more than they did. I have several fuchsia plants, so need to google how and when it’s best to prune them as they are looking very leggy.

I want to cram all my flower beds with perennials that will look after themselves, come back every year, and bloom pretty much the whole summer. I want colour in my garden and mixed heights, and some scent would be nice. Not that I can smell anything other than cigarette smoke and mouldy mushrooms right now – thanks Covid – you really are the gift that keeps on giving.

The hood on the outdoor wicker sofa needs to be taken off and disposed of. The sofa is under the cherry tree so doesn’t need shading and because the hood cover can’t be removed to be washed, several years of exposure to the elements has left it in a disgusting state. It’s green and covered with bird poop and cherry juice from falling fruit. It’s also full of spiders and other unpleasant bugs which you don’t want on your head when you sit on the sofa. So, it’s coming off and going to the dump.

Lots of plans hopefully to finally get the garden to the beautiful haven I imagined it could be all those years ago. I will take pictures and share them with you.

What else have I been up to? Working on book thirteen of course. I always forget how long this part of producing a book takes. All the various stages of beta reading, formatting, and preparation that must be gone through. It’s currently with its final beta reader who is about halfway through reading it. The cover is now being made and the video. I’ve prepared the page for the book to go onto my website and spoken to the Adorable Andrew about when he needs to receive it to ensure the website is good to go before publication day.

I’ve booked a special promotion with The Fussy Librarian to promote a 99p/99 cents sale I will be running on the eBook version of Becoming Lili on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of February. Book two of the trilogy, Chaining Daisy, will also be reduced from £4.99 for the eBook down to £2.99 (or local currency equivalent), and book three of the trilogy will be up for pre-order by then also with a buck off the normal retail price. It will be a wonderful chance to grab all three books at a low price, so, if you don’t already have the books keep an eye out for that.

One of my Christmas presents from Miss F was a voucher for the local Theatre Royal, so once the new schedule for the year was released online, I looked to see what I fancied going to. My friend whom I normally go to the theatre with had mentioned a play coming up in March that looked quite good, so I booked us seats for that. With the remainder of the voucher booked for us to go and see the comedian Reginald P. Hunter who is coming to Bury St Edmunds for one night only in April. There were hardly any seats left at all for him! Not surprising as he’s a well-known and popular comedian who often appears on TV. There were only odd seats dotted about in the stalls, so we had to get tickets for the back row of the gallery right at the very top of the theatre. We won’t be able to see much but so long as we can hear him, that’s all that matters. The theatre is tiny, so wherever you sit you’re not far from the stage. Two theatre trips to look forward to!

Miss F isn’t coming home for the February half term but is going to visit her girlfriend’s home in Wales instead. She is coming home for Easter though for a nice long visit, which will be lovely. Miss F is catching the train down on her own on the last day of March and staying until the 19th of April. Twenty days in all. The train fare is not bad, what with her student railcard and booking so far in advance, it only cost her £64 return. Which, when you consider how much it cost me in petrol and tolls is an absolute bargain!

Her girlfriend, Miss C, will be travelling from Wales to Bury on the 12th to stay until the 19th and then both will travel back to university together. I’m not sure how long a journey it will be from Wales to Bury – pretty long, I expect!

It will be lovely to see them both, apart from video chats I won’t have seen them since Christmas, and we have booked a table for a big family meal on Good Friday in a local pub which does wonderful food. It will be the first time the family has gone out for dinner together in years. What with Covid and lockdowns and social distancing, there was never the time or opportunity to gather so it’s something to look forward to. There will be nine of us, all being well, and Covid allowing. My parents, me, Miss F and Miss C, then my brother and his girlfriend, my niece, and her boyfriend.

There is a lot planned for that week, I think Miss F wants to show Miss C the town and all the local sights, as well as meet as many friends and family as possible. Hopefully, the weather will be nice by then. But this is Britain, so it might be snowing.

Anyway, it’s now Saturday lunchtime and I need to make my salad for lunch, then get out in the garden for an hour or two.

Hope you all have a great couple of weeks and look forward to chatting with you next time.

Julia Blake

All Change!

Hello Everyone, I hope you’re having a great Sunday. Firstly, apologies for the lateness of this blog, and secondly, apologies for it not being a blog – more a notice of change to the frequency of A Little Bit of Blake.

I have been blogging almost every single week for over three years but it’s getting too much for me to manage. My shift pattern has changed again and every other week I end up working three long shifts Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Not only does this not leave me enough time to write a blog ready to post Sunday morning, but it means I’m trying to write it on Wednesday after only blogging three days earlier – and often nothing has happened in those three days to talk to you about.

So, I’ve had a long hard think about it and reluctantly decided that my blog will be changing to every fortnight – for all American readers that is every two weeks (fourteen nights – fortnight).

This will take an enormous amount of pressure off me and mean that I can save up two weeks’ worth of news and chat to share with you.

I hope you understand and who knows, if my shift patterns change again and my life suddenly becomes a giddy whirl of activity, I may go back to every week. But, in the meantime, look out for A Little Bit of Blake dropping into your inbox every other Sunday.

Thank you and have a good week.

Julia Blake

Not a Bad Week

Good Morning, and welcome to another A Little Bit of Blake. I’m actually in a reasonable mood this week as the past seven days have not been bad – with only patchy occurrences of the usual crappiness that has dogged my life the past year.

Firstly, big thanks to everyone who has contacted me about the Amazon Ad course. Yes, it was complicated, but I’m sure it would be less so to anyone who isn’t me. I’ve shelved it for now, but I’ve kept the four ads running and will be keeping an eye on them. I’m also planning on running ads for most of my books here in the UK. I’ve been advised that the US is a tough nut to crack for British authors so it’s a good idea to run ads in the UK as well. If nothing else, it will be useful to see how identical ads perform on the different sites.

Now, the diet. That has been the other thing people have been contacting me about and thank you for all your words of encouragement. Yes, I am still sticking to it and haven’t missed a single dieting day, nor cheated on one. As you may remember, I had to write my blog on Wednesday last time because I would be working from Thursday morning to Saturday evening so wouldn’t have the time. As I weigh myself every Thursday morning, that meant I couldn’t share the results of my first week of dieting.

Climbing onto the scales, my heart was in my mouth. Had I lost any weight? Had a solid week of dieting every other day made any difference? The answer was, yes, it had. I’d gained a pound. At first disappointed, I then thought back to when I did this diet all those years ago and remembered that the same thing happened.

Your body can take a while to catch up with what you are trying to do. Plus, as a woman, there are so many other factors to take into consideration when assessing if you’ve gained or lost weight. What knickers are you wearing? Thong or granny pants? How heavy are your earrings? Are you having a big hair day? Stuff like that needs to be thought about. So, I didn’t lose heart. I wrote the weight down in my diary with (+1) written beside it and continued with the diet.

Last Thursday I was even more nervous as I stepped on the scales. A small gain the first week I could deal with, but if I put on anymore after two weeks of serious dieting I knew I would be disheartened. The needle spun and settled on the dial. I’d lost four pounds. Yay. A good solid start. Very happy with that, and it’s given me the necessary boost to continue.

I worked Monday and Tuesday this week, and the shop was very quiet. I think the company has overestimated how long sales mania would last because despite there still being a few bargains to be had, no one is buying anything. Being the very last week of January perhaps the money has run out. Credit card bills for Christmas are now coming in. Energy prices look set to rise again and food continues to rocket in price. Hard times are coming for us all.

Wednesday I walked to the doctor to collect my hayfever medication. Normally, I would take the car, but as I am determined to try and be more active where I can be, I decided to walk. It was a nice day, bright, crisp, and breezy. After the doctor, I wandered back through town and went into Marks & Spencer. I had been given a £15 gift card for them from my favourite niece for Christmas and as I’m desperate for bras – mine had all fallen apart in the washing machine – I decided to treat myself to one, or two, depending on the price.

The end of the sales was on, so it was like a glorified jumble sale in the lingerie department. Mismatched underwear sets were crammed higgledy-piggledy on the racks, and you took your chances trying to find the size bra you wanted in a style you were comfortable in. Picking out a few likely looking candidates, I slunk into the changing room. Assuring the very nice assistant that no, I did not need any help trying on a bra, I listened as she advised the lady in the cubicle next door.

Tactfully and gently, she told her that she might need to consider going up to a 44GG to get a better fit and would the lady like the assistant to go and see if she could find her one.

I thought my job was bad, I would not want to have to tell ladies that their boobs were squishing out the sides of their bra because they’ve been deluding themselves as to how large they really are.

Anyway, discovering a couple of nice bras that fit comfortably, I was happy to find they were in the sale at £16 each down from £30. So, with my £15 voucher, it meant I only paid £17 for two nice bras. Result! For any guys reading this blog, you have no idea how expensive it is being a woman.

After that, I wandered into Tesco Express to stock up on fruit and salad for the week, then went home. I had a friend calling around that afternoon for coffee and whilst I was in Marks & Spencer I had picked up a delicious looking coffee and walnut cake. It was an eating day so I thought it would be a nice treat for us.

I had time before she arrived to clean out, lay and light a fire in the lounge and vacuum the ground floor. I’ve been trying to save money by not putting the heating on when I’m alone in the house. Previously, when we didn’t have a lodger, we would save money by lighting a fire in the evening as we were spending it in the lounge so didn’t need to heat the whole house. But my current lodger works a 9-5 job, so I must ensure the house is warm by the time he gets home. After all, he doesn’t pay to freeze to death.

This has meant no saving money by lighting a fire. I’m normally fine not having the heating on during the day and, if I’m busy doing housework, that warms me up. But, if I’m sitting at my laptop writing, editing, or working on social media, I get very cold. The temperature has dropped in the UK since the New Year, and I end up frozen to the bone.

Then it occurred to me that rather than putting the heating on during the day, why didn’t I light the fire? If I was sitting in the lounge for most of the day the fire would be more than enough to keep me warm. I could simply let it die out late in the afternoon as the heating came on to heat the house for the evening.

I must say, it does feel deliciously decadent having a fire alight during the day, and there’s something about working with the crackling of the fire in the background.

Anyway, my friend turned up and was thrilled to find the lounge toasty with a real fire blazing away to beat the chill of the day. I offered the cake, but she was too full of lunch to want any, so I cut one small slice for myself. We chatted, and the hours flew by. We hadn’t seen each other since the beginning of December so there was a lot to catch up on.

After she had left, I looked at the cake. I knew if I left it out I would want it. So, I sliced it all up into small pieces, wrapped them individually, and froze them. On an eating day, I can pull a single piece out to have with my lunch as a treat, without feeling tempted to scoff the lot.

I have noticed since being on the diet that my shopping bill has decreased significantly, so that’s another benefit. I usually shop weekly and spend about £40, but other than £11 spent on dairy, fruit, and salad in Tesco Express, I didn’t need to shop at all this week. I’m thinking if I organise myself, go through the freezer, and write a monthly menu – I can maybe do one big shop at the beginning of the month for all the non-perishable groceries I need which I will collect by car. Weekly, I will only need to walk to my local store to buy fresh things. Saving money and getting a little exercise. It’s those small changes that add up.

It’s the end of the month this weekend and the end of Dry January. Once again, I’ve easily stuck to it, although there have been one or two occasions when I found myself longing for a glass of wine with my dinner. Not desperate, just missing having a glass of wine.

Thursday the boiler man came to service my thirty-year-old boiler and check out the pressure gauge. I’d noticed the needle had crept into the red and was worried it might be an issue. He took the boiler apart, cleaned, adjusted, and did various mysterious things to its inners, before saying it was all fine – just old – I know how you feel, boiler. I’m hoping to replace it this summer. What with the recent 50% increase in energy bills and another increase threatened of yet another 50%, getting the most energy efficient boiler I can seems like a smart plan.

It is very worrying, the way the cost of living has jumped up, yet our wages haven’t. How much more can people take? When it boils down to a choice between eating and keeping warm, what are we supposed to do? If things continue the way they are, then it won’t even be a choice because we won’t be able to afford either.

After lunch on Thursday, and in line with my determination to move about a bit more than I usually do, I went out into the garden, swept up all the fallen leaves, and sawed up my old wooden bench ready to burn on the fire. I felt fine in the evening but when I woke up on Friday my arms were so sore I couldn’t lift them above my head!

Friday afternoon I had my usual fortnightly zoom chat with my local authors’ group, which was as entertaining as ever. It’s so nice to have this group of like-minded writers to chat to – not just about books, but everything that’s happening in our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly! After the meeting, I made a big pot of chilli beef and a tray of spicy paprika potato wedges. I had a portion for my dinner, which was delicious, and the rest I parcelled up into individual servings and put in the freezer.

And now it’s Saturday. After my three easy days, I do feel wonderfully rested. As if I could take on the world. I don’t know if it’s purely because I’ve had some downtime, or the extra exercise I’ve taken, or my new healthy eating plan, or all three combined, but I feel the best I’ve felt in a very long time.

A shorter blog this week. I need to make my monthly meal planner and write a shopping list of everything non-perishable I will need to see me through the month. I also want to make a few posts ready for social media for those days I’m working.

Hope your week has been as good and I look forward to chatting with you next Sunday.

Julia Blake

Out of my Comfort Zone

Firstly, so sorry there was no blog last week. I signed up to do the five-day Amazon Ad Course and it turned out to be more time consuming than I thought. As to how it’s going, well it’s very intense and there is a lot to try and absorb and understand. Learning new things is not my strongest point, and I’m not very good with technology either, so it’s taken me a while to pluck up the nerve to even attempt the course.

The course is free, although, of course, you must pay for any ads you place that a potential buyer clicks on. How it works is they email you a 45-minute video each of the five days. It’s a good idea to take plenty of notes when you’re watching the video because there is a lot to take in. Then they set you homework which is estimated to take 30-60 minutes a day.

The first two days were relatively straightforward, and I even managed to make my first ever two Amazon ads. They’re for Lost & Found, book one of the Blackwood Family Saga because the consensus was that the first book of a series is a good idea to promote because then it might lead to read-throughs. So far, I haven’t seen any activity on the ads, but it is early days.

So far, so good, I thought. Then Friday came around. I knew I was going to have trouble fitting in the video on Friday because I had a busy morning of essential life stuff and my local authors zoom meeting in the afternoon and, in the end, I didn’t have the time. The videos can be watched any time though, so I wasn’t too worried.

Saturday simply got away from me. I had housework I couldn’t leave any longer. I was running out of clothes, so laundry and ironing was now a priority, and there was the final read-through of book thirteen that has been consuming my time this last week.

So, the upshot is, I didn’t get around to Friday’s video on Saturday and then Sunday I was at work. No problem, I thought, I’ll watch Friday’s video on Monday morning and do the homework, then I’d do Monday’s video in the afternoon – they had given us the weekend off.

All fired up, I watched the video first thing. A lot more involved than the first two, I frantically scribbled notes and tried to keep up. In the end, I sat and stared at the homework assignment and my brain simply froze. We had to research keywords to use in a complex targeted ad for our book.

For those unsure what a keyword is, it is a word that makes you think of something else. For example, if you’re British and I say the word Tardis, you will probably think of Dr Who. Same if I said the word Dalek. Tardis and Dalek are therefore keywords for Dr Who, as are Time Lord, bigger on the inside, Cybermen etc.

Our assignment was to go through the kindle category on Amazon and find 100 keywords for our book. My mind imploded. It’s not that I didn’t understand the task or think I couldn’t do it, I just didn’t want to. It was like my brain took one look and went – nope. So, I did other things for the rest of Monday. I didn’t even watch Monday’s video because I didn’t want to fog my mind with yet more information when it was having issues digesting what it had.

I’m cross with myself for being so feeble but understand how my brain works. Sometimes, things daunt me with their impossibility, and I freeze. Like a computer with too many tabs open at once, I glitch, and the only way to get me going again is to switch everything off and start again.

So, I took the rest of Monday off the course and worked on the editing.

Now it’s Tuesday morning and this thing must be faced, but first I must write my blog. Due to the wonderful randomness of my shift pattern, this week I am working Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, which will give me no time to blog at all – and I don’t want to miss two weeks in a row. So, I will try to write a big chunk of the blog today and finish it tomorrow so I can then relax and not have to worry about it. I also have a book review to write ready for Friday – the day I always try to post a review for an indie book I have read and can honestly award four or five stars to.

Hopefully, later in this blog, I will be able to report that my brain glitch sorted itself out and the homework was done, along with the video for at least Monday.

Now then, what other news is there? Well, I’m sticking to Dry January and nary a drop has passed my lips since New Year’s Eve. Why am I doing it for the second year in a row? Several reasons really. One is it saves me money. Buying even the paltry two bottles of wine a week that I do is still £10 a week which is over £40 a month. Right now, that’s £40 I can’t afford – money that can be spent on ads instead. Two, it gives my body a chance to recover from the alcoholic excesses of Christmas. Three, as I’ve started a diet this month it gives it a bit of a kick start. As we all know, alcohol contains lots of delicious calories. And four, it proves to my mother that I’m not an alcoholic!

I planned to start the diet two weeks ago today (Sunday) and had even bought smart new scales to chart my progress. They were the first scales I’d owned in over ten years so I assumed they would work the same way scales used to – you know, you step on, the scales shriek “no coach parties please”, then a needle goes around a dial of numbers and shows you a weight that makes you want to cry – and that’s it. Easy.

But no, technology has moved on for scales as well because when I unboxed my new scales on Sunday morning it was to find some fancy arse things that were analyser scales. They needed batteries. I put the batteries in and stepped on them. They told me I weighed 74lbs. Now, being British and old-school, that meant nothing to me, so I Googled it. 74lbs is approximately 5 stone. I don’t think so. I looked at the scales in disbelief.

Mate, I told them, I hate to break it to you, but I haven’t weighed five stone since I was five years old!

The scales sat there. I tried again. Same result. With a sigh, I retrieved the instructions from the bin and read the bit in English. If you would like your weight in stones and ounces instead of pounds, it said, press the converter button on the bottom of the scales. I flipped the scales over. No button. I put my glasses on and minutely examined every inch of the blasted things. No button. There were three buttons on the side of the scales, none of which were labelled.

I returned to the instructions, surely there would be a handy little diagram with arrows pointing to various bits of the scales telling you what each thing was. There was no diagram. You had to guess what the buttons did. I read all the instructions that were in English. They were in teeny-tiny print that even with my glasses on I struggled to make out.

I had to set the scales up first, it said. Tell them my sex, age, and height. Okay, fair enough. How do I do that? The instructions were supremely unhelpful and assumed you already knew that, I mean, duh, what kind of dummy was I that didn’t know how to do that? I mean, come on!

I fiddled and farted about with the scales for twenty minutes, my impatience growing, and my frustration reaching boiling.

Oh, for f**ks sake, I just want to weigh myself! Why is it so bloody complicated!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I managed to set them up. Unfortunately, my expensive new scales are now convinced I am a 30-year-old man who weighs five stone and therefore needs urgent medical attention.

I boxed the damn things up and slung them in a cupboard, then went onto Amazon and ordered myself a cheap set of basic scales that do not require batteries or setting up, or a degree in IT to use. They couldn’t come until Wednesday because I was at work Monday and Tuesday, but they were delivered Wednesday afternoon. I took them out of the box, set them to zero and left them in the bathroom.

Thursday morning, I stepped on them with some trepidation. It’s been a very long time since I last weighed myself, at least ten years, and I was fully aware that weight had crept on quite considerably over the last five years. So, I got on and looked down. The numbers swam in a faraway blur. I got off, put my glasses on and tried again. And no, I’m not going to tell you what the numbers were. Let’s just say at only five feet tall I have some work to do.

But I’ve been on the diet for two weeks now and I’m sticking to it. I had forgotten how easy this diet is and it’s surprised me how readily I’ve slipped back into the dieting every other day habit. I thought dieting on the days I’m at work would prove difficult, but it’s easier than when I’m at home. The yoghurt and fruit I have for breakfast see me through quite nicely until lunch, then I eat the large salad I’ve packed for myself, and it is nice knowing when I’m coming home after a long shift that all I must do for dinner is heat up a tin of soup. I will let you know next week if the diet is working.

In writing news, work on book thirteen is going well. I am in the final stages of the editing process when I read the whole book right the way through, out loud. Yep, I basically read my book to myself. It may sound silly, but it’s an invaluable editing tool. By reading out loud I can hear which bits work and which bits don’t. If dialogue flows or gets stuck. If I’ve put an “as” instead of an “at” then reading it out loud will find it. I tend to love my long sentences, believing things like commas and full stops are for the weak. Wheezing to a stop because I’ve run out of breath reading aloud that mile-long sentence, will make me look at it and apply punctuation.

I’m over halfway through, and then the book will go to its final beta reader. A rather wonderful fellow indie author, she is eagle-eyed and tends to spot any bits that have managed to elude rigorous editing, two other beta readers, and a read through.

And then the book will be ready for publication. Well, the paperback contents will be. There is still the cover to be made. The paperback version will need to be converted into an eBook – and that will have to be checked, checked, and checked again that the formatting is correct. There is a short promotional video to think about and liaise with the wonderful James at Platform House Publishing about. And there is the dreaded blurb to write.

A novel of 180,500 words – no problem. Try to condense into 150 words the salient points of that novel and make it entice but give no spoilers – nightmare. I don’t know one author who enjoys writing the blurb.

Once the eBook version is ready that can be uploaded to KDP in draft form with the cover and it will be available for people to pre-order at a slightly reduced price. I do this not only because it’s a way to ensure a few sales on launch day, but it means I will have the Amazon link for the book’s listing to go onto Goodreads and my website before publication, which makes life so much easier.

I wonder it took me several books to realise this, but then in this business, you are constantly learning and evolving as a writer.

Finally, before I go and tackle the homework, I thought I’d share with you this wonderful picture Miss F sent me of her in one of her university classes handling a snake – apparently, it’s called Candy and is very cuddly. Hmm, not sure about that, but it was lovely to see how happy my daughter looks with her eyes beaming over the top of her mask.

Sorry, it’s a shorter blog this week, but as you can appreciate I have lots to do. Take care, and I will fill you in next time on how the course, and the diet, have gone.

UPDATE** I threw myself upon the mercies of a fellow local author who has done to Amazon Ad Challenge before, to see if how I thought the homework should be done was correct. She confirmed I was heading in the right direction and helped me brainstorm my keywords until I had enough. On Wednesday, I set up another two ads – one for Black Ice and another for Lost & Found – and watched the video for Monday.

It was truly terrifying, all about data scraping and downloading various apps and plug-ins and none of it really made any sense at all. Feeling very overwhelmed and a big bit stupid, I have had to remind myself that getting as far as I did is a huge achievement for me. That I fully expected not to understand everything the first time around, and that this is okay. I can do the course again in March and again In June if I want. It’s free and easy to sign up to.

In the meantime, I have a basic understanding of how ads work now, I even have five ads up and running which, I can monitor for performance and try to analyse why they work or don’t, and learn from for next time. Because there will be a next time.

It’s all good. I will watch the last two videos on Sunday and make notes, then over the next couple of months, I can try to pick my way through the phraseology and learn what it all means. Next time the course comes around I will be better prepared for it.

Julia Blake

Dreams, Decorations and Diets

Thursday night I had the strangest dream. Now usually I don’t dream, or, if I do, I don’t remember them. But this dream was so vivid I can still recall every detail. It went like this. I was on stage and appearing in a play. It seemed to be set in a restaurant and I was sitting at a small table by myself towards the back of the stage. All around me were small tables with groups of two or four people, all miming eating dinner. I was the only one sitting alone and had nothing on my table but a menu.

A gauze drape was down between us and the audience and at the front of the stage before this drape was a table with a couple who were acting out a scene – I assume they were the main characters. I couldn’t make out what they were saying as their voices were muffled and I couldn’t see the audience, but I was aware they were there. Now and then, the couple would fall silent and someone at one of the tables around me would loudly say something that seemed to fit into the couple’s dialogue in a funny way because it would cause a ripple of laughter in the audience.

I remember that I had no idea why I was there or what I was supposed to do. I looked around at the people on the other tables, but they all ignored me, and no one would catch my eye. Suddenly, the couple fell silent again but nobody else spoke. The silence stretched on and on and I became horribly aware that it was my turn to say something, but I had no idea what. Desperately I searched the menu for a clue, but it was blank. I tried to ask the others for help, but they all ignored me.

The audience began to boo and frantically I tried to think of something appropriate to say but my mind was empty. The others on the stage stood up and began shouting at me that I’d ruined everything, that it was all my fault, that it was always my fault. I think I began to cry and tried to explain that I didn’t know what my line was, that I’d never seen a script, but they shouted that it was no excuse, and all crowded angrily towards me. Then I woke up.

What the heck was that all about? If any of you know anything about dreams, I would appreciate an explanation because it has me stumped.

Anyway, what has been happening to me since Christmas Day? The day itself was nice, my parents came over for dinner, we played games afterwards and that was it. I was so exhausted from all the preparation that I was in bed and asleep by 9:30 – on Christmas Day, living the high life I am – but then I woke up at 2am and stayed awake until 4:30am, drifted back to sleep and then woke at 6am ready to get up and go to work. I’d left quite a bit of clearing up so did that, put on my uniform and was at work by 10:30am.

It was not as busy as I think the company hoped it would be and was far from being the busiest day of the year for us. Perhaps the past two years have taught people that being with their family the day after Christmas is more important than shopping, and with several big-name stores now remaining closed on Boxing Day maybe we are seeing a move away from avarice, greed, and consumerism. It would be nice to think so.

I worked five straight days after Christmas which left me drained and utterly exhausted. I did have New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day off, but both Miss F and I were too tired to do anything other than eat a nice meal, watch Dune and the new Disney film, then see the New Year in with some Prosecco.

Monday I worked again and that was very busy, being a bank holiday and the last day before most people went back to work. Tuesday we were up and taking lateral flow tests at 5am then packing up the car and getting ready to go. We hit the petrol station to top up with petrol, briefly stopped at my parent’s house to collect the bag of Miss F’s food from their freezer and were on the motorway by 6:30am.

The three driving conditions I am not keen on are motorway driving, driving in the dark, and driving in the rain, well, on Tuesday I had all three. It was pitch black and hammering down with heavy torrential rain. The motorway was busy and in parts was down to one lane only due to roadworks. Big lorries threw muddy puddles over my car and by the time we reached our destination it looked like I’d been rally driving my poor little car was so muddy.

Still, we made very good timing and reached the town nearest her university by 9:30am where we stopped off at the local Sainsburys to refill with petrol, go shopping for Miss F, and pick up lunch. Expecting someone to stop us as we drove onto campus to check our flow tests results, we were surprised to find it practically deserted and parked in an empty car park outside her townhouse.

Deciding to get as much put away as possible before we ate, Miss F unpacked all her food and kitchen bits and pieces, whilst I lugged all her luggage up three flights of stairs – I get all the fun jobs. You may remember I bought her a new mattress for Christmas and took it up with me when I collected her before Christmas. We had opened it before coming home so it had sat for two weeks growing to its final size and shape. It was higher than I thought it would be and we realised our original plan to leave the university supplied mattress underneath wasn’t practical, so we lugged the old mattress out onto the wide landing and propped it up against the wall, then made up the bed.

Then we ate, said our goodbyes, and I was on the road by 12:30. It was a much nicer journey back, the sun was shining, and the rain had stopped, and I even thought I might be able to wash my car when I got back. But, but the time I got home even though it was only 3pm, the skies had darkened again, it had begun to rain and, to be honest, I was exhausted.

I unpacked the car of the things I’d brought back that Miss F had decided she wasn’t using so could send them home, put on a load of laundry, took the clothes I’d bought her for Christmas which she didn’t like back to the shop for a refund, and made dinner, I was so exhausted all I wanted was an hour of mindless TV and an early night.

Back to work Wednesday and Thursday for two very quiet but long days at work, and now it’s Friday – my one day off before I’m back to work tomorrow for another long day. Am I relaxing today? Not bloody likely.

There is laundry – of course, there is – laundry is the one thing that is always there for you. I must collect shopping because I have no proper food in the house and I’m tired of eating cheese and biscuits, dried fruits, and Christmas cake! There is a book review and my blog to write.

And then there are the Christmas decorations. They need to all be taken down and I am not looking forward to it. The decorations on the mantlepieces and sides aren’t so bad. Sure, they’ll drop a bit of tinsel and sparkly stuff will glitter on the carpet for a few weeks until I manage to get it all, but they are easy to take down and put away. It’s the tree that causes the biggest problems. I always have a real tree, I know, making a rod for my own back, and because I bought a cheap, not so freshly cut one this year, it is already dropping needles like no one’s business. Every time the door is shut, or I cough in its general vicinity there is the gentle sound of needles falling. Not to mention the steady thud of ornaments slipping off drooping branches and landing on the carpet. I dread to think how many needles it will shed when I start undecorating it. Then I must cut all the branches off and store them in my kindling box to use next year and the trunk must be heaved out into the garden to store for next winter ready to be chopped up into little logs for the fire.

I know the vacuum cleaner will clog if I try and use it on the mammoth pile of needles, so that will be me on my hands and knees like a Victorian scullery maid sweeping them up with a brush and dustpan. As I said, I get all the fun jobs.

I have a massive pile of ironing I need to do this evening, plus dinner, and I’d like to paint my nails because one of my New Year resolutions is to try and take better care of myself. To that end, I have bought a pair of scales – and I don’t mean the ones you use to weigh out ingredients for a cake, I mean the ones you use to assess how much damage you’ve done to your body after eating said cake.

Because I am going on a diet.

Yes, I know you gulped then, but it’s true and so long overdue. It’s been at least ten years since I last weighed myself, I’ve always gone by whether my clothes fitted or not, but over the years the size jeans I can wiggle into has increased and now I’ve reached the point where I know something must be done. Either I accept that my fate is to be a barrage balloon, or I seriously change my eating habits.

Ten years ago, I went on a simply amazing diet called the “Every Other Day” diet. Now, I can’t diet, it is physically impossible for me to diet owing to my complete lack of willpower and the fact I am always hungry. And believe me, I have tried them all – the Cabbage Soup diet which you lose a lot of weight on but the minute you start normally eating again it all piles back on – Weightwatchers which did work but it’s expensive and a time commitment and once you can no longer afford to buy all the special Weightwatcher meals the weight creeps back on – the juice diet (seriously? Who comes up with these?) – the Atkins diet (bad breath and constipation) – and so many others I have forgotten the name of. None of them worked, at least none of them worked long term or were sustainable.

Then I hit upon the EOD diet, and the simpleness of it appealed right away. You diet for one day, every other day, and that’s it. Yes, it really is that simple. One day you eat normally, the next you brutally restrict your calorie intake by only eating fresh fruit, salad, veggies, and plain yoghurt, with a big bowl of soup for dinner. Then the next day you eat normally, then the next you diet, and so on and so on.

This diet was perfect for me because it didn’t feel like I was dieting, I was just having one day of not eating much and the weird thing was on those days I didn’t even feel hungry. If I did have a craving for something naughty on my diet day, I knew I only had to wait until tomorrow and I could have it, although usually, the craving had gone by then. Great for people with no willpower who are no good at denying themselves food. There is no weighing of food, no calculating of calories, no expensive diet foods or shakes – you save money because let’s face it, soup is cheap – and it is very healthy for you because it gives your digestive system every other day to detox and unclog itself which is a good thing.

What I loved about this diet though was its flexibility. Say for example Thursday is an eating day and I had planned to diet on Friday, but Thursday evening I receive an invite to a friend’s birthday dinner Friday evening. No problem, simply make Friday another eating day then pick up the diet day on Saturday.

Once you reach the weight or size you want, go from dieting every other day to maybe two days a week knowing that should the weight start to creep back on simply switch to every other day again. And that’s it. Seriously easy. Honestly, if you can’t manage this diet then there really is no hope for you.

The diet starts Sunday. Then I will weigh myself for the first time in a decade, probably cry hysterically, then pull myself together and prepare myself a big breakfast of Greek yoghurt, fresh fruit, a drop of honey, and an unsweetened cup of tea to start my day right.

It was easy before and the weight fell from me, but I’m older now, pre-menopausal, and don’t walk as much as I used to. I am aware all these factors will make dieting harder and slower, but that’s okay. I have time and so long as I’m heading in the right direction it doesn’t matter how small my steps are. I have a new diary and am planning to weigh myself once a week on a Sunday and note down my weight. I am experienced enough with diets to know it could take a week or two to start to see results because it takes a while for your body to catch up with what you are doing, so weekly is the best way to track your progress. How many times have you dieted for a day, not lost weight overnight, so given up? It’s important to be gentle with yourself and not expect a quick fix solution because this diet is more a lifestyle change than a fad diet which is unsustainable.

It may not work this time around, but unlike many faddy diets, it can’t do me any harm and won’t cost me anything. I know when I did it ten years ago I felt the healthiest I ever have, so even if it only does that for me at least that’s something.

I will keep you posted and if any of you are embarking on a diet and need some encouragement or even a stern talking to when you’re standing in front of the fridge, message me.

And now I must go, my shopping must be collected before midday and it’s now 11:15am. Can’t miss my slot, I need the food – especially the soup.

I hope the first week of 2022 has been kind to you and look forward to chatting with you next week.

Lots of love

Julia Blake