A blog explaining why there’s no blog!

This is a quick blog to let you know that there will be no blog this week. As you’re aware, Miss F is coming home this evening – her first time travelling on a train alone – I’m not nervous, you are, so I won’t have any time to write tomorrow due to wanting to spend the day with her.

Initially, I was going to have to work all weekend, but last Sunday my boss suddenly woke up to the fact that my daughter was coming home for six days, and I was having to work for four of them, did a little bit of jiggery-pokery and told me that if I worked Tuesday instead I could have Saturday off. Deal!

So, I’ve worked two days so far this week, Monday and Tuesday, and although they were really quiet, boring days I am already through my target for the month so I’m not too worried. That means I only have a six-hour shift on Sunday which isn’t too bad.

Not sure what we’ll do on Saturday. Miss F has a haircut booked for 2:30pm so we can’t go out for the day, but I’m sure we’ll find something fun to do.

The freezer, fridge, and cupboards are stuffed full of yummy things to eat, and, by special request, when we get back from the station at seven tonight there will be a dinner of BBQ maple belly pork and roast potatoes waiting in the hot trolley.

I’ve also spent the last two days taking apart her bedroom, thoroughly cleaning it, and putting it back together. My dad called round on Wednesday and helped me to shift Miss F’s incredibly heavy mattress off the bed and onto the landing so I could move the bed and clean underneath it. Ye gods, how disgusting was it under there! Cobwebs, dust, and enough hair to make another teenager. Spiders scuttled in all directions as I merciless committed arachnid Armageddon with the vacuum cleaner.

By the end of Wednesday, I was hot, sweaty, and filthy. Crawling into the shower, all I wanted to do that evening was eat dinner and fall into bed.

Thursday I finished sorting her room, made her bed up fresh, caught up with the laundry, and then made sure downstairs was clean and tidy. I don’t suppose Miss F will even notice or care how clean the house is, but I don’t want to have to waste a second of the next six days doing housework!

Today is Friday, and this morning I’ve written a couple of book reviews and made posts for the next few days. Saturday is the third anniversary of the launch of The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ which is still one of my most popular books to date. To mark the occasion, I am releasing a brand-new video trailer for the book on social media. Made by the fabulous Platform House Publishing, it’s my first video to contain not just a music backing track but have audio as well. If you’d like to view it, then it’s on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and there are links to it on my website.

If you’re an author and require an excellent team to create your book covers, promotional images, video trailers, and interior formatting, then I highly recommend Platform House Publishing. Professional, friendly, and reasonably priced, why not check them out and don’t forget, there’s a 10% discount code for their services on my website.

I’m also holding an international Giveaway on Sunday on Instagram, so if you’d like to be in with a chance to win a signed copy of the gorgeous paperback edition of The Forest, then look for my post to enter.

And now I’m sitting at my keyboard and waiting. Waiting for Amazon to deliver a colour changing bulb for Miss F’s bedside lamp because she took hers to university. Waiting for my dad to collect his stepladder which I borrowed to clean the inside of my windows. Waiting for 1pm when I’ll be in a zoom meeting with my local authors’ group. Waiting until 5:30pm when I’ll pop outside for a quick drink and a chat with my neighbours. Waiting until 6:15pm when I’ll set out for the station to collect Miss F. And waiting until 6:41pm when her train should arrive, and my girl will be home.

And while I’m waiting, I will cook dinner and get it in the hot trolley and maybe even get down a few more words of my book – because I doubt I’ll have any time to write next week.

And that’s about it. Sorry, this is only a short chat about how there isn’t a blog this week, but at least next time I will have Miss F’s visit to tell you all about.

Take care and stay well.

Julia Blake

The One With Two Theatre Trips

It’s a weekend without the lodger as he’s gone away until Sunday evening – all the way to Edinburgh and back on the train for a day and a half, rather him than me – and it’s nice to have the house to myself. Don’t get me wrong, as lodgers go he’s not bad and I’ve certainly had worse. Yes, he’s very noisy leaving the house at 5am to go to work, but at least it’s only twice a week. It is also temporary that it’s so early. He works at Waitrose which is a two-minute walk away so for his 6am shift he wouldn’t be leaving the house until 5:55am, but because Waitrose is currently undergoing a refit he is working at the Waitrose in Newmarket – a small town about twenty minutes away. Not having a car means he must catch the train so must leave at 5am as the only train that will get him there on time is at 5:20am.

I’ve had a few lodgers in the past that had early starts or worked night shifts and never yet encountered one who understood the concept of trying to be quiet when leaving or entering the house at unsociable hours. If it’s a work day for me as well, then I don’t mind so much, but if it’s my day off – which Thursday was – and I’ve not been sleeping very well so am exhausted, being abruptly woken by a heart attack because someone has loudly slammed the dining room door right under your bedroom, stomped along the hallway, jingled the door chain and lock as noisily as possible, then slammed the front door, that’s not so tolerable.

Lying there trying to persuade my heart to start beating again, I desperately wanted to go back to sleep but my bladder got in on the act, so I had to get up and go downstairs to the bathroom. He’d left the hall light blazing away – again! Staggering through the kitchen with my eyes half shut I didn’t bother to put on the light and banged my hip on the dishwasher door he’d left open – Again! I reeled around the corner into the bathroom and bounced off his bathroom cabinet door which he’d left wide open – AGAIN!

What is it with men and cupboard doors? I’ve had this issue with almost every single male lodger I’ve ever had. And thinking about it, my ex was the same. Go to cupboard/drawer, take out or put something in, almost shut the cupboard/drawer but then walk away without finishing the job. Why? Why!? Is it sheer male stupidity that they don’t understand the concept of how doors and drawers work? Is it laziness that they can’t be bothered to finish the job? Or is it more why should they have to tidy up after themselves when there’s a perfectly good woman in the house to follow them around and do it for them?

I have spoken to him about it. He promised not to do it again. He’s done it again, and this time I hurt myself twice because he couldn’t be arsed to simply shut the fecking door! I also had to talk to him about putting sharp knives in the dishwasher pointed end up – very nasty when you’re unloading the cutlery tray and a knife point goes right up under your fingernail!

He’s clearly not going to respond to a “chat”, no matter how many times we have one, and to be honest, I’ve asked him once, having to constantly have a go at him about it will simply lead to resentful feelings on both our parts.

No, there’s nothing for it, the sticky notes are going to have to come out. Please shut and please switch off light notes strategically placed. We’ll see how that works. I don’t want to lose him, but neither can I let it go. Leaving the dishwasher door down is dangerous, any further down and I wouldn’t have banged into it I would have tripped over it, and then that could have been something broken – either me or the dishwasher – neither of which is desirable.

So, I’m enjoying my quiet weekend. Whilst he’s gone I shall vacuum right through the house as I’m reluctant to do the lounge and the stairs knowing he’s underneath and possibly napping – see, consideration, it should cut both ways!

I have the tortoise Poe to bathe and clean out. If animals are as smart as people claim they are, why do they always poo in their only source of fresh water? I checked that his heat lamp had come on this morning and noticed a monster turd floating in his pool, so I have that to sort out. Deep joy.

Then there’s the bathroom and kitchen to clean as usual. I took Mr M through the cleaning routine last weekend, but it made sense for me to clean this weekend as well because he’s away and then he can clean next weekend. I’m working both days plus Miss F is home so having someone else do the cleaning will be helpful.

I can’t believe that Miss F is coming home next Friday. On the one hand, it feels like ages since I last saw her, but on the other, it seems like only yesterday I was helping her settle into her dorm room. She’s coming home for six days and unfortunately, my shift pattern crapped out and I must work for four of them, which is just typical.

Oh well, we’ll still have two days together plus the evenings. She certainly has a lot to pack into those six days. Two sets of grandparents to see, friends to catch up on, hairdresser and optician appointments to attend, her second Covid jab to get, and on top of that, she will have a ton of online coursework to do as it’s not officially a half-term holiday but a week of self-directed study. That means she doesn’t have to physically be at the university, but she’ll still have work she’ll be expected to complete.

It’s not been a bad week, there’s been work of course, which was work. I’ve also been to the theatre twice, which was wonderful.

The first trip was last Sunday when I went to see the Irish comedian Ed Byrne at the Theatre Royal with M, one of my friends from my local author group. We’d arranged to meet on the corner of a road between mine and hers and on the way to the theatre. I got there first and stood under a streetlamp until I realised it looked a bit dodgy and there was a chance I might earn a few bob whilst I was waiting for her, so moved to the opposite side of the street.

The bar at the theatre had removed the plastic-lined runways since the last time I’d been in July, so we didn’t feel like sheep waiting to be dipped when we queued up to buy drinks and order ones for the interval, although the bar staff were as slow as ever. For October it was a beautiful evening, so we sat outside until the curtain bell rang, and it was time to go in.

Ed Byrne is hysterically funny, but a bit of a potty mouth and it was funny watching the mostly middle-class, middle-aged audience reactions. They wanted to laugh because what he’d said was relatable and funny, but oh my goodness, he’d dropped the F-bomb three times in one sentence! M and I were in the back row of a side box and as the first half wore on and the row in front of us remained empty, we exchanged considering glances.

The interval came along, and the people in the front seats were still a no show so when we’d collected our drinks and were once again sitting in the garden, we decided to nab those seats when we went back for the second half. The sightline from those ones was better, plus they were slightly longer so there was more space.

After the interval, M went for a pee, and I went back to our box. It was still empty, so I slithered into the front row. Two seconds later, of course, the door to the box banged open and it was a man and his son. They’d arrived late and the theatre staff didn’t want them to disrupt the performance by making them climb over us to get to their seats so had sat them elsewhere for the first half. Bugger. Apologising, I slithered back out of the front row and sat in my seat, exchanging a resigned look with M when she came back.

It was a great evening. There is something about watching live comedy with an audience that makes the comedian even funnier. I think the audience feeds off the energy and humour of everyone else. Laughter is infectious – anyone who has seen that fabulous YouTube clip of a man suddenly bursting out into wonderful laughter on a crowded tube and within minutes has everyone laughing with him, even though they have no idea what he’s laughing at – will know that.

Friday evening was my second trip to the theatre of the week. It was my belated birthday present to my friend S, so I met her from work and we wandered down to the Dog & Partridge which is the pub closest to the theatre. We got there at 5pm and didn’t need to be at the theatre until gone 7, so we had a nice long leisurely meal with a bottle of wine, coffee, and Amaretto chasers. It’s a nice pub, lovely atmosphere, friendly staff, spacious, good menu, and the food is delicious. I had the scampi and chips last time we were there, which was delicious, so this time I had an Unruly Burger. Not sure why it was unruly, but it was fabulous – a thick burger smothered in cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, and mayo, with crunchy onion rings and sea salt and rosemary fries. Yum.

At about seven, we paid our bill, used the facilities in the pub rather than queue forever to use the ones in the theatre, and wandered the fifty yards into the theatre to order our drinks.

Again, we sat outside as it was mild enough to do so. Bearing in mind we were there to watch The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; the moon was suitably full and creepy with clouds wreathing it in true Halloween style.

The play was very good, although it did feel like the first half went on forever. At one point I was wondering if there was even going to be an interval. Luckily there was, and we were able to retrieve our drinks and once again sit outside to drink them. We could have sat in the bar, but there were a lot of people crowded in and it felt safer to avoid them and besides, we won’t be able to sit outside for much longer so we might as well enjoy it whilst we can.

The lodger had already left for Scotland by the time I got back, so I was able to lock the door, switch off all the lights and go to bed safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be rudely awoken at silly o’clock by him trying to get out.

As it’s just me, the heating went off yesterday before I went to the theatre and won’t go back on until late Sunday evening just to warm the place through before he gets back. It’s not that cold yet, and a thick cardigan and an extra pair of socks are all I need to keep me warm during the day. I’ve laid a fire, so once it gets later and the temperature drops I will sit and eat my dinner in front of a roaring log fire and save a few essential pennies by not putting the heating on.

I’ve taken a fillet of smoked haddock out of the freezer and will make a creamy smoked haddock risotto for dinner. I’ve been eating so much more fish since Miss F left and I’m enjoying the fact my diet is now so varied and healthy.

Tomorrow I’m back to work for a couple of days. I don’t mind my job, but it has become very high-pressured and wears me down to the bone some days. At least tomorrow it’s only a six-hour shift though, so not too bad.

And that was my week, that was. A quiet, jogging along, kind of week. I did manage to write a few more thousand words of my current work in progress, but I have resigned myself to the fact that it won’t be published this year. I may have time to finish writing it, but that is merely the start of the process and there probably wouldn’t be time to do everything else necessary to launch before the end of November. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to put my beta readers under that kind of pressure. It’s a big book, so it’s going to take them a while to read it thoroughly and pick up any parts that need amending. No, it’s better to wait and do it properly.

I hope wherever you are that you’re staying safe and keeping healthy and look forward to chatting with you next week. It may be a brief visit next time though, what with working all weekend and having Miss F home I will have to write it on Friday, and I don’t suppose much of interest will happen between now and then, so I won’t have much to tell you.

Take care.

Julia Blake

The Car, the Tree, and the Cupboards

It’s been a week of new beginnings, clearing the decks, random gifts, and remembering the good and bad points of having a lodger. Mr M has lived here for a week now and although I feared he would never find a home for the mountain of belongings he arrived with, somehow the room absorbed it all. It’s lucky that when I furnished the room, I ensured that plenty of storage was included and this, plus the large built-in cupboard in the room, means the lodgers have quite a lot of places to put their things away.

Saturday evening, his first night here, he treated me to a Chinese takeaway, and we sat and ate it whilst watching the new BBC drama “Vigil” set on a nuclear submarine. It was a pleasant evening, and I thought we were off to a good start. I haven’t changed that opinion, although like most lodgers when they first move in, there have been a few niggles along the way. Like many male lodgers I have had, he’s very lazy about closing cupboards and drawers once he’s finished with them and after a week of walking into the kitchen or bathroom and crossly slamming shut all the doors he has left open, it’s pretty obvious the hint has not been taken and I am going to have to talk to him and ask him to go that extra distance and close the doors that final centimetre or so.

Perhaps one of the men out there who read my blog can let me know what it is with men doing this because I just don’t get it. You’ve opened the cupboard, you’ve got out or put away whatever it is, you’ve almost closed the door the whole distance but then your energy fails you at the last and you leave it open, just by a little bit. Why? Why?! It is intensely annoying for several reasons. Firstly, it makes the place look like a student squat, doors left ajar and drawers half open makes for a very untidy looking room. Secondly, my kitchen and bathroom are quite small so leaving doors and drawers open eats into the space. Thirdly, I’ve smacked my head on enough half-open doors and banged my hip on drawers left unexpectedly open over the years to be tired of this game and not be prepared to put up with it. So, I must have a little “chat” with him about it this afternoon.

Another niggle is on the days he works he is up at silly o’clock in the morning and he always wakes me up. I’m not too worried about that – during my 17+ years of taking in lodgers I have yet to come across one capable of opening and closing the front door quietly – no, what’s bothering me is that he goes off at five in the morning and whilst I appreciate that at that time in the morning it is still dark so he needs to switch lights on, what I don’t expect is to find them still on when I come downstairs three hours later.

Who has he left them on for? He’s gone, so he no longer needs illumination. I’m in bed so I don’t need it and if it’s still dark when I get up, I’m quite capable of switching on the lights myself – I’m a big girl now, tie my own shoelaces and everything. And if he’s leaving them on for the cat then there’s no need because she’s either asleep or out, and anyway, she can see in the dark. So that’s another thing I need to have a little “chat” about. What with energy prices tripling the last thing I need are a bunch of lights blazing away unnecessarily for three hours or more. It is weird though because he claims he’s into conservation yet he’s wasting fossil fuel for no reason.

Every lodger though has had at least one little annoying niggle that has driven me crackers and I’ve had to speak to them about it. I’ve found that the best approach is to be upfront and direct. Look, this is what you’re doing, and this is why I’d rather you didn’t, thank you. And over the years there has been a variety of niggles. The leaving cupboards and drawers open thing isn’t new, and it’s always the men who are guilty of this. Then I had a woman who refused to change the toilet roll, and I don’t mean she left the empty tube on the holder, I mean she would take the cardboard tube off and throw it on the floor and that was it. So, when I went into the bathroom it was to find an empty holder and the toilet roll inner lying on the floor. Again, why? Why?!

The sheer laziness of most people always baffles me, like, they do almost the whole job but then can’t be bothered to expend that extra split second of time and energy to finish it and leave it for someone else – me – to do.

I even had one male lodger who refused to put his things in the dishwasher, instead would pile them up all around the kitchen. When I asked him why he was not tidying up after himself, his excuse was always that he didn’t know if the dishwasher was on or off and if the stuff inside was clean or dirty. Simply opening the door would have answered both of those queries. I think it was more that he didn’t see why he should shift his lazy arse to do it when there was a perfectly good woman in the house who could do it for him. He also used to leave horrendous nasties in the toilet for me to clean up and insisted on acting like the alpha male a-hole around the house. Umm, nope. There is only one alpha male in my house and that is me. He lasted a month and then I asked him to leave.

I had another woman lodger who cooked nothing but vegan food which stank the kitchen out and clogged the filter in the dishwasher with bits of kale and other veg. She also spilt a whole big bag of turmeric one day and we were still trying to clean off the bright yellow stains a month later.

When Mr M comes back from work this afternoon, we have already arranged that I will show him where the cleaning stuff is kept and how I like the kitchen and bathroom to be cleaned. They are easy rooms to spot clean and take less than twenty minutes. I ask that every other weekend the lodger cleans and then on the alternate weekends, I do. I think that’s reasonable. The only other cleaning requests I make are that they tidy up after themselves, use the dishwasher, and keep their room fresh because I don’t want to smell it in my house.

So, I will give a quick cleaning tutorial this afternoon to show him what’s what, then I’m going to clean again next weekend because he is away in Edinburgh for the whole three days and doesn’t have the time to do it. It works out okay for me because the weekend after that I am working both days plus Miss F is home for half-term, so it makes more sense for that to be his weekend for cleaning.

I then worked three long days on the trot, Sunday to Tuesday, and it was whilst I was at work on Monday that I and my colleagues received a bizarre gift from our company. Five long cardboard tubes were delivered – one for each of us – and inside each was a baby tree. Yes, you did read that correctly. A baby tree. And not just any tree, a Scots Pine. Okaaayyy. Umm, thanks, but why? I mean, I’ve had some random gifts over the years but this one takes the biscuit. What do they think we’re going to do with them? I’m guessing not many of their employees have gardens big enough to take a Scots Pine, after all, those things grow to be ginormous, so where are they expecting us to put them?

Even more alarming was the tag on it that said – grow your own logs – so, let me get this straight, I’m to somehow grow this baby into a big tree and then start my own lumber business? I’ve stuck it in a little pot for now and it’s standing on my desk, and yes, I know it can’t stay there for long but I’m guessing it won’t grow that much over the winter months and at least it will be warm and safe. Then, next Spring, I will see if I can find a friend with a big enough garden to give it a home.

I’m sure Head Office have their reasons for this strange gift and maybe they will let us know eventually. And I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but if they had a burning desire to give out pressies to their workforce to show how much they love us, then a bottle of wine, chocolates, or even a little extra something in our pay-packets would have been more practical.

Wednesday dawned, the first of my four days off in a row. I always struggle to get going the first morning off after a spate of long days on. Even though I make lists and am determined to get up and get going, my body doesn’t get the memo because it refuses to co-operate. Anyway, by mid-morning, I was sufficiently awake and caffeinated enough to start my list of chores. First up was answer some correspondence, do laundry, write my shopping list and pop to the supermarket. That done, I then had some lunch and parcelled up a book I was sending to a friend, and Miss F’s fancy dress outfit that she needed for a party she was attending mid-month. Walking to the post office, I detoured to the charity bookshop to drop off a bag of books I was getting rid of.

When I got back, I telephoned my garage. My car was due its MOT sometime towards the end of October, so I needed to book it in. Umm, you’re a little late, the garage receptionist told me. The MOT was due three days ago. Bugger! Shall I bring it round now, I asked. I think you better, she replied, you’re breaking the law driving about without an MOT.

And there was I – blithely driving to the supermarket and work blissfully unaware of my crime!

I drove to the garage located on the other side of town, tensing up when a police car drove past me, but of course, it ignored me. I had a bag of things to drop off at a charity shop on the other side of town so took it with me as my walk home would take me right by it and at least it would be another bag of rubbish out of the house and another chore ticked off my list. It was a lovely sunny day, so after I’d dropped the car off, I ambled home doing a little window shopping and making a start on buying my costume for a Halloween party I’ve been invited to. The theme is dystopian future and I’m not certain which direction I’m going in but found a couple of things I thought might do.

It was so nice being out. I picked up another couple of bits of shopping I needed and got home in time to cook dinner and watch another episode of Vigil with the lodger.

Thursday – after being woken at 4:45am by the lodger trying to get out of the house quietly and failing spectacularly – I did go back to sleep and woke again at eight feeling well-rested. Keeping my phone close to hand because the garage had promised to phone me if there were any problems, or to let me know when the MOT was done, I settled down for a morning of writing.

I have had to realistically examine the situation with my current work in progress. Even though it is standing at almost 100,000 words, I don’t think it’s going to be finished in time to publish this year. I mean, it might, miracles do sometimes happen, but it’s more likely that it won’t be. It’s a big book and being the last book in the trilogy means it’s an important book. There are so many storylines to complete and loose ends to tie up that I don’t want to rush it. The deadline I had set myself of the end of November is precisely that – a self-imposed deadline. If it’s not published by then, I shall simply have to wait until March.

Why wait until then, you might ask. Why not publish between the beginning of December and the end of February? Well, Christmas is traditionally a very bad time to be publishing a book. People are busy with Christmas preparations and usually, the last thing on their mind is buying books for themselves, so unless your book bears the title “Christmas Kisses at Mistletoe Cottage” or is a festive recipes cookbook, there’s no point publishing it.

January is a long and depressing month, with everyone on book-buying bans because of how much money they spent over Christmas, and February is just depressing full stop. It’s not until March, when spring flowers begin to poke through and nights pull out and the weather improves, that people’s thoughts turn to buying books.

You never know, I may even finish writing the book and have written another one so will have two in the pipeline ready to release in the spring. The next book I intend to write after this one is book five in the Blackwood Family Saga and as this will be a short book I can write and produce it quite quickly.

But we shall see, I know what’s happened to my carefully laid plans in the past, so I’m not holding myself to any firm commitments.

Thursday afternoon I had a lovely long zoom chat with a fellow British indie author. I needed some expert advice about physiotherapy and rehab after a serious spinal injury for my current book and had remembered that this lady is a physiotherapist so would have practical, hands-on knowledge. I messaged her asking if she’d be prepared to be a consultant, she agreed, so we set the meeting up. It was wonderful, not only did I get reams of information to use, but I was able to chat with a fellow author face-to-face. The rest of the afternoon I spent writing and trying to incorporate the information she had given me into my manuscript.

Friday morning, I phoned the garage a little bit worried. I needed to have my car back to be able to go to work on Sunday, and I knew they were closed on a Saturday. The mechanic hasn’t even looked at the car yet, I was told, but don’t worry, it’s next on his list. Okay, deep breath, it’ll be fine. I spent the rest of the morning writing, pleased with how it was going. In the afternoon I had my fortnightly zoom meeting with my local authors’ group, which was great as ever, but by the time I got off the call at 4pm the garage still hadn’t phoned, and I was getting seriously panicked.

If I’d been working the Saturday, it would have been all right because I could have caught a bus to and from work, but there are no buses on a Sunday so it would have meant me either catching a taxi (expensive) or walking (very long way, I really didn’t want to do that).

I called the garage again. I was very aware that they had squeezed me in as a favour because I stupidly didn’t keep a track of when my MOT was due, but at gone 4pm when they would close at 5pm for the weekend, I felt they were pushing it pretty close to the wire. He’s not quite finished, I was told, we’ll call you back as soon as he has. True to their word, at 4:30 they rang back. The MOT was done, and my car had passed only needing new bulbs and new wiper blades.

Such a relief. It’s an old car and I know one year it’s going to fail. But this was not that year, so I pulled on my boots and walked to the garage to get the car. The total bill was £70 which is not bad for another year of driving. Reaching home, I put together meatballs in a spicy bacon and tomato sauce which I then slid in the oven on a low heat covered in foil, poured a glass of wine, and went out to join my neighbours for the traditional Friday Happy Hour when as many of us as can, gather with a drink outside to have a natter.

It was a lovely evening, mild and balmy, and we lingered until almost seven when the group reluctantly broke up with people muttering about dinner and wandering off to their various homes. It is so nice to live in a small, close-knit street where I know everyone, and we do things like this. Coming back in – slightly woozy from two glasses of wine on an empty stomach – the house was warm and inviting with the cosy smell of dinner cooking. I had made enough to serve four, so cooked a little pasta and grated some cheese to go on top and settled down to watch a film while I ate. The rest has gone in the freezer for future meals.

And now it’s Saturday and the week has once again turned. I was awoken by the lodger trying to get out of the house at the butt crack of dawn but managed to go back to sleep until seven, when I came downstairs to find all the lights left on. Definitely need to have a “chat” this afternoon. Whilst he was at work this morning, I cleaned out and laid a fire ready if it’s chilly enough this evening to need one, I’ve swept up bagsful of mouldy wet leaves in the garden, sorted laundry and done a week’s worth of ironing. I’ve polished and hoovered the ground floor and emptied the bins. And now I’m chatting with you. If there’s time this afternoon, I will write a little more, and then when Mr M gets home, I will show him the cleaning routine and have a chat about lights and doors. Fingers crossed he doesn’t get upset. Tough if he does really, my house – my rules, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable asking him to not be wasteful with electricity and to shut cupboards when he’s finished with them.

A lot of you have kindly messaged me asking how Miss F is doing at university. Thank you, it’s so touching that after all these years of me blogging and posting about her, you feel you know her and are concerned about her. You’ll be pleased to hear that she’s doing well and is having a total blast. University life seems to suit her. She is very happy, has made lots of friends, and is experiencing student life to its fullest.

She has been voted onto the Student Council, which is a great honour for a fresher and has been offered a paid job on campus. This is a huge relief to me as I was worried about her finding a job in the nearby town which would mean her walking back to the university late at night. Miss F has been asked to be a Student Ambassador which will entail her travelling to schools and colleges to talk about life at her university and answer questions about all aspects of the course she is taking. It’s an exciting opportunity for her and will look good on her resume.

She often messages me and sends me funny photos and videos of what she is up to – although as the latest was a video of her drinking from a two-pint mug with a group of friends whilst an oompah band played in the background – I wasn’t sure if I should be concerned or not. It turned out it was a Bavarian night to celebrate Octoberfest.

I am so relieved that she is happy and settled and has made lots of wonderful new friends. She’s even considering once she’s completed her three years and attained her Bachelors, whether to continue her training to achieve a Masters. But that’s something she can decide in three years. Right now, she’s working hard and playing even harder, which is as it should be.

She’s coming home for six days on the 22nd and I’m looking forward to seeing her immensely. The only downside is I’m working for four of the six days that she is home. But she will have work to do and friends to catch up with, and we will have the evenings, so it will be fine.

Anyway, I thought this was going to be a short blog because I didn’t think I had much to tell you. Seems I was wrong. So, take care everyone and I look forward to chatting again next week.

Julia Blake

A Very Short Blog!

Happy October Everyone! Quick blog this week, a very quick blog, just to catch up and let you know how my week has been. The fuel shortage situation goes from ridiculous to absurd. When I went to Tesco to do my shopping on Monday, I had an inkling that buying petrol from there as planned wasn’t going to happen, when I encountered the back of the queue nearly half a mile from the actual garage.

Parking in front of the supermarket, I looked across at the long line of cars all waiting to get into the garage opposite and decided no way was I going to even attempt to buy petrol. I still had a quarter of a tankful; I could wait. I did, however, stock up on heavier items in my shopping, things like toilet rolls, cat food, big bottles of cooking oil, laundry liquid, and vinegar, tins, and heavy bags of potatoes. I figured if the fuel situation got any worse then I would have to shop on foot and the less bulky items I had to try and carry home, the better. As for work, well, there were plenty of buses going up to the retail park where the shop is located so I would simply have to catch a bus. So long as the buses could get fuel, that was.

The rest of Monday was filled up with small niggly jobs that didn’t take long individually but added together took up most of the day. In the evening, Mr M, my new lodger called around to collect contracts and my bank details and it all looked set for him to move in that weekend.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I was at work. Long boring days during which we saw hardly any customers and made precious few sales. I think my head office is a bit out of touch. There is nothing special about this week, there isn’t a bank holiday, it’s not Black Friday, there’s no mega sale planned. Added to that, there is a fuel shortage so people probably won’t be wasting petrol on unnecessary trips, and there is the worry about energy bills skyrocketing this winter so people might be thinking twice about spending money on an expensive purchase such as a new mattress. Considering all this what do my company do? Slap us with a massive target which I don’t think we have a cat’s chance in hell of achieving. Oh well, I shall have to see what Sunday brings – my next day at work. You never know, miracles do sometimes happen.

Tuesday evening, the rent money and the deposit landed in my bank account. To say I was relieved is an understatement. Yes, I’ve managed the past eight months, but it’s been a struggle, and going into winter with increased bills all around forecast, it’s nice to know I have some backup income again.

Then it was my days off and there were jobs to finish before the new lodger moved in, a book to continue writing, and petrol to try and find somewhere. I think I’m going to have to make a hard decision regarding my current book. I had hoped to publish it at the end of November, but it’s now the beginning of October and I’m barely halfway through writing the first draft.

Yes, I could probably finish writing it this month – if I put my mind to it – but it’s not just a case of getting it written, there is all the editing, the beta reading, the formatting, the cover to arrange, a video to sort, plus promotional material. It’s going to be a big book, so everything will take longer than say one of the short little Blackwood saga books.

Being realistic, I may have to put off publishing until the Spring. I don’t want to, because I do aim to get out two books a year, but this has been an extraordinary year with constant distractions and demands on my time. There simply hasn’t been the time. Again, if it was a shorter book I might have a chance, but it’s not, it’s already standing at 92,000 words and I’m only just over halfway through.

I will have to see how it goes, but the fact I’ve allowed myself to consider the possibility of delaying publication is a huge weight off my shoulders, and you never know, now that Miss F is at university, the new lodger is sorted, and life seems to be calming down, maybe I will perform a miracle and get it finished in time. Stranger things have happened.

Friday morning, I decided to get up at silly o’clock and see if I could find some petrol. I had planned to be at Tesco by 6am but due to a technical malfunction with my eyes – they refused to open – it was nearer 6:30 when I got there.

There was no queue, good, I thought, but when I got closer, I saw that the whole garage was coned off so no one could go on or off the forecourt. A big sign read “no diesel” but judging by all the cones I guessed there was no actual petrol either. Bugger, I thought, trying to think what to do. Reluctant to go home empty tanked, I nipped up onto the bypass, drove to the other side of town and into Sainsbury’s. There was only one car ahead of me in the queue, but nearly all the pumps bore yellow stickers proclaiming they were out of service.

Filling up, I went to pay and commented to the cashier how crazy this situation was, and that I’d been to Tesco, and they were closed. We’ll be closing ourselves soon, she told me, we’re almost out again. I drove home, happy that I had a full tankful and relieved I’d made the effort to get up extra early and go hunting for fuel when I did. Who knows, ten minutes later and I might not have got any.

Mr M told me he’d move in sometime on Saturday (today). I hate sometime because sometime could be anytime but is usually during the two minutes you’ve dashed to the loo. Getting up reasonably early, I showered and dressed as quickly as possible, with one ear out for the doorbell. However, as it turned out, he phoned me at eleven and said he’d be round in twenty minutes – which shows a bit of thought and courtesy so we’re off to a good start.

A friend helped him, and they had to make two trips. I crept through between trips and surveyed the pile sitting in the dining room. There was a lot of stuff, and I wondered if it would all fit it. But there’s a lot of storage in the room, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.

It will seem odd having a stranger living in the house again, but I’ve done this for over sixteen years, and it should be easier this time around, not having a child to remind to be quiet and not thump on the stairs or play their music too loud.

I’m afraid I need to go now, Mr M has just popped his head around to the door to ask about space in the kitchen, so I have to sort that out. Sorry, this has been such a short blog and hopefully, I will have more to talk about next week. In the meantime, take care and enjoy the weekend.

Julia Blake

The Wheel Turns!

It will be a quick blog this week because I floated the ad for the room yesterday morning and have already had a flood of responses so I’m busy trying to pick my way through them to sort out the wheat from the chaff. A young man is flying in from India on the 29th of September. He would like to move in that day but doesn’t want to pay the deposit or rent before he moves in. Umm no. Sorry. No money, no key. Also, I am going to be sharing my home with this person, so I need to have at least met them beforehand. I’m not going to turn away potential lodgers for someone I’ve never met who is already causing issues over the rent. Next.

A young man whose English was so bad I could barely understand what he was saying but gathered enough to realise he has a girlfriend and child he also wants to move in with him – and again, he can’t afford the deposit. Next.

A young lady who is also not arriving in the country until the 5th of October and wants me to hold the room until then. Next.

A young female nurse who informed me most obligingly that she would stay at my house for a month to see if it suited and if it did THEN she would pay the deposit. Umm no. Quickly disabused her of that notion. She arranged a viewing for 11:15 on Monday, so okay, but then messaged that she couldn’t be bothered to travel to Bury to view the room in person so please could I conduct a virtual tour for her. Hmm, my gut is telling me to pass on this one. Too needy and way too complicated.

An agency manager trying to find a room for a young male carer freshly arrived in the country. Again, can’t view but wants to move straight in. No. I must meet them first. Maybe I’m being unreasonable sticking to this rule, but this is my home. I will be sharing a kitchen and a bathroom with them. I must like them. There must be points of connection. I don’t want to feel awkward or in the way in my own home, and I certainly don’t want to feel unsafe.

Even though it was still early days, I did wonder if this was going to be the way of it, nothing but foreigners who didn’t have a clue about the rules and etiquette of renting a room. Then I had a message first thing this morning from a guy who is starting work as a lecturer at the local college which is only a seven-minute walk away. He seems potentially suitable. He can’t view the room until next Thursday, but at least he’s a backup plan. Then at eleven this morning (I am writing this on Saturday) I had a message from a man asking about the room. He has no car or bike (good), works at Waitrose which is a two-minute walk from mine (perfect), and works 6am to 2pm which is perfect. No crowding in the bathroom in the morning as he’ll be gone before I get up. His interests are music, theatre, and yoga (even better)! It’s when they list their interests as drumming and heavy metal that you think, oh no.

He is coming for a viewing in fifteen minutes, so I will let you know how it goes. Would be amazing if I found the perfect lodger that quickly, but it has happened before. It has also taken three weeks before so it just all depends on who sees the ad and when.

Anyway, more good news. After four weeks, over forty emails and two phone calls, the paperback version of Becoming Lili is finally up and available again. No explanation as to why it’s taken so long, and certainly no apology! It’s disgusting how much power KDP have over us authors. They can take away our livelihood on a whim and there is precious little we can do about it. Now Amazon is so huge it is being run mostly by AI so when there is a glitch – as there invariably will be – instead of a human being looking at the issue and solving it, the AI tries to deal with it. It takes an endless bombardment of emails before the AI finally gives up and spits you out of its system and further up the food chain to an actual person.

And then there is the not such good news about the scary fuel crisis that is currently gripping the UK. Regular readers of my blog will know the issues I had earlier in the year with Green Suppliers when they suddenly decided that my energy usage for May and June was triple that of December and January and took vast amounts of money from my bank account.

I fought back, left them, and joined Octopus Energy who so far have proved a lot more transparent and upfront than Green ever were. My account when I left Green showed I was £60 in credit, yet ever since mid-June when I left them, they have been sending me increasingly hostile emails informing me I am £63 in debt to them and that every month I don’t pay they will add £20 to the outstanding bill. Although I knew I didn’t owe them anything, the situation was becoming so stressful that I was beginning to think I would have to pay them £63 just to get rid of them – they could whistle for the extra £40, I wasn’t paying that!

Anyway, I was making dinner Wednesday evening when the news came on the radio. Of course, the ongoing fuel crisis was the headline, and they listed the small energy companies that had already gone belly up. And guess what, Green Suppliers were one of them. Of course, I’m very sorry for all their employees who have lost their jobs, and I’m even more sorry for all their customers who are suddenly without an energy provider and, presumably, are scrabbling around desperately trying to find another company to take them on. Am I surprised though? No, not in the slightest. Going by how they treated me they weren’t fit to be trading.

Listening to the news report it became apparent that I was right – it hadn’t been my energy consumption that had tripled back in April, but rather their unit prices that had increased. And despite all their protestations that it wasn’t them, it was me – it was them.

The government are saying that they won’t bail out any energy company that goes under and I wonder if the underwriters will bother to come after me for £63. I wouldn’t have thought it was worth their while but will wait to see what happens.

The situation re fuel is worrying though. I have a quarter of a tankful so will need to top up when I go shopping on Monday. Will there be long queues? Will there be any fuel in the pumps for me to buy? I also think my energy company will be putting its prices up soon to cope with the increase in costs, which makes getting a lodger even more essential.

Excellent news! I have a new lodger. My 12:15 viewing turned out to be beyond perfect. A quiet and nicely mannered guy in his late thirties, he works in the local supermarket which is a two-minute walk away. No car and no bike so that’s ideal. He works 6am to 2pm which means no queue for the bathroom in the morning and when I’m not working, I’ll have the house to myself. Over the seventeen years, I’ve been taking in lodgers I’ve learnt to trust my gut. And my gut was telling me yes over this one.

Of course, nothing is definite until their money hits my bank account and we’ve exchanged contracts, but he seemed all okay with that and is going to pick up the contracts and my bank details over the next couple of days, get the first months rent and the deposit paid, and then move in next weekend. But until I see the colour of his money, I will leave the ad up and continue to conduct viewings – hedging my bets in case it all goes wrong.

I have another viewing in a minute, but I’m confident with my first choice.

Okay, the second viewing went surprisingly well. Nice, polite young man from Morocco. If the first choice falls through, I would be happy to go with him. I’ve told him I have viewings until Thursday morning so will let him know by Thursday lunchtime. That will give contestant number one plenty of time to sign contracts and pay over the money.

Feeling a lot more positive about life now. Things finally seem to be on the up. Miss F is nicely settled at university and judging by her messages and photos is happy and making lots of friends. KDP has sorted out my book. I think the energy company will stop pestering me now. I received my replacement watch, and, best of all, I’m 99% confident of having a new lodger within the week so that’s rental income coming into the house again which will provide me with a buffer for rising bills.

I even had an old friend I lost touch with over twenty years ago walk into the shop on Thursday. It was so nice to see her, and we swapped contact details and promised to stay in touch.

Do I dare be cautiously optimistic that the run of bad luck that has dogged me since the start of the year is finally at an end? Am I back in the favour of the gods? Has the wheel turned and I’m now riding at the top instead of being crushed into the mud?

I hope so, I really really hope so. I’m so tired of dealing with one niggly problem after another and long for my life to be on an even keel so I can concentrate on trying to get this book written. Yes, I am very aware that we are at the end of September and I’m only halfway through writing the first draft, thank you for reminding me. It seems impossible that I will be able to publish it this year, but we shall see. All distractions and obstacles now seem to be cleared so I should be able to get my head down and write.

Anyway, that’s about it for the week – all good news for once. Take care everyone and wherever you are, stay safe and stay happy.

Julia Blake

KDP Mess With My Head!

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll keep you posted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME: Umm, yes?

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

He stopped before pronouncing the surname.

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

Police: Yes, him.

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

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

Police: Are you his ex?

I snorted at the thought.

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

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

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

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

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

Police: C****?

ME: Yes, there.

Police: Right, thanks.

ME: You’re welcome.

Police: ………..

ME: …………..

ME: What did he do?

Police: I’m not at liberty to say.

ME: Oh, go on.

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

ME: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

Huh? What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I held on…

And on…

And on…

And on…

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

I waited…

And waited…

And waited…

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

Grinding my teeth in utter frustration, I tried again.

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

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

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

Not quite there, Shutterstock, not quite there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

The Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

Miss F starting nursery September 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two negative Covid tests

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

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

Miss F starting university September 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m here! He crowed in triumph.

So are we! We replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have to shower? You look fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much needed big dinner

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

That was the plan.

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

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

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

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

My breakfast box had been delivered.

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

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

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

One small bottle of orange juice.

One tiny banana

A gnarly apple

One tiny, squished croissant

One equally tiny pain au chocolat – also squashed

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

For £9.

I felt robbed.

Not much of a breakfast

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

Checking out? Chirped the lady on the desk.

Yes, I am.

Room number?

Number one.

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

Umm, I have a breakfast box to pay for?

No, it’s been paid for.

Are you sure?

Yes, the computer isn’t showing anything owing.

Oh, okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the rubbish I brought home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

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

Have a wonderful week everyone.

Julia Blake

Stuff … So much Stuff!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, brilliant, at least that’s something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s lovely, she agreed.

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

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

Well? Does it fit you?

Like a glove, she muttered.

Do you love it?


I’ll buy it for you.

You don’t have to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no, not him. He talks too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three substitutions, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you? That would be amazing, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What wasn’t marbled? I had to know.

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

Ah, I see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

Two Birthday Cakes and a Tattoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I showed it to the assistants.

ME:  Oh no! Her birthday cake is broken.

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

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

THEM: We’re so sorry!

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

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

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

One perfect Birthday Cake

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

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

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

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

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

She’s very happy with it.

Model plane or feminist symbol?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My tattoo – 20 years old

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake