Much Busyness and the End of an Era.

Many apologies for not posting a blog last week. What can I say? Time seriously got away from me. Although I had the week off work it was completely taken up with decorating, having a new bathroom installed, and getting Franki ready to return to university. By the time I fell into bed exhausted on Saturday night, I realised I had forgotten my blog was due and hadn’t written one. Never mind, I thought, I’ll get up early Sunday and write it. Nope. My body decided I was too tired and by the time I awoke at almost eight, I was running late for the Maker’s Market I was supposed to be at by nine. Anyway, more of that week later.

Firstly, of course, I can’t go on without saying something about the death of our beloved Queen. It was such a shock when the news broke, and it is difficult to process that her long reign is over. Whatever you may personally feel, it cannot be denied that she served this country and its people faithfully. No royal works as hard as she did, and she will be missed.

A true lady in every sense of the word, her devotion to her country was an inspiration. Listening to the comments of the people in The Queue, it is astounding how many have travelled so far and endured so long a wait simply to have a moment of quiet reflection with her. A truly momentous moment in history, we will never see the likes of this again.

RIP Ma’am, we are grateful for all that you have done for us.

How do I feel about Charles? I am hopeful he has inherited his mother’s strength of purpose and commitment to duty, but time will tell. He has big shoes to fill. Although I must admit, it does feel odd saying Long Live the King.

And now onto the blog.

Several of you messaged to ask about the blood-soaked crazy man running amok on my road after smashing his head through two of my neighbours’ glass front doors, before threatening others and finally being arrested by the police. They took him away and we assumed he’d be going to prison for quite some time. Nope. He was out the very next day on bail and once again living with his girlfriend in the block of flats opposite! This led to some anxious discussions as we feared he would once again come looking for revenge on us. For some reason, he holds us responsible for all his actions and blames us for calling the police. Mate, you threaten people with a knife, throw all your belongings out of a second-storey window, and smash up people’s houses with your head, of course, we’re going to call the police.

Anyway, a few days later we heard that he’d been sent to prison for a year. Not for all the damage to property, threatening behaviour, or even for attacking the police. No, he was sentenced for breaking a restraining order and a community order. Both Franki and I have given statements, twice, but I haven’t heard any more so assume we will not be required to give evidence in court, which is a relief.

In other news, my new bathroom is almost complete. There are a couple of finishing touches to do, and I’m still waiting for the builder to come and replace the window and plaster the ceiling, but the bulk of the work is now done.

Very sexy new bath

It was … interesting … the week the bathroom was installed. I had managed to take the whole week off work. The plumber was scheduled to begin work early on Monday and was confident it would all be complete by Thursday afternoon. Great, I thought, that all works out nicely. We were going out with my parents for dinner Thursday evening so it would be nice to have it all done. I planned to write my blog Friday morning, attend my local authors’ group Friday evening, and have Saturday to help Franki begin the mammoth task of packing up for university. Sunday I was going to be at a Maker’s Market all day, then it was back to work on Monday.

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

Monday. We were both up and finished in the bathroom by 8:30 – the time the plumber said he would be here. Time ticked on. At nine he texted me – running a little late, with you soon. Okay, that’s fine. At ten he phoned me. His tyre had blown in the middle of nowhere, he’d be a bit later than planned. Right. At almost eleven, he phoned again. He couldn’t get the tyre off so was waiting for the RAC. Very sorry, but I’ll be with you asap. Okaaay, deep breath, these things happen.

Whilst all this was happening, I was painting in the basement. The whole week off was earmarked for decorating the basement. At midday, I texted him asking what was happening and if he was okay. He called me back. I’m so in the middle of nowhere, he explained, that the RAC have only just found me.

50 Shades of Grey colour palette

I told him to be careful of the locals and if he heard banjos, to run.

I carried on painting. By this time, we’d managed to apply the first coat of primer to all the woodwork. Quite a large task as the original colour was a deep, chocolate brown and we were changing it to grey, so it needed a good primer/undercoat.

Mid-afternoon, another text from the missing plumber – be with you soon.

An hour later, another text – be with you really, really soon.

At four-thirty I texted him – would it be a good idea to write today off and make a fresh start tomorrow?

Back came an immediate reply – yes, see you tomorrow at eight.

Hmm, okay. I applied a second coat of primer, then washed up as best I could and made dinner.

Tuesday morning – I showered and again we made sure the bathroom was clear by eight. The plumber turned up just after nine. Because he was now a day behind, he set to with vigour ripping everything except the toilet out of the bathroom. A smashed-up bath and sink lay forlornly out in the garden being rained upon. Everything from the bathroom was stacked up on the dining room table. We were cleaning our teeth and washing in the kitchen sink. We had no shower. And, after a full-on day of decorating, trust me, I needed one.

Tuesday, we managed to get two coats of paint on all the walls. Franki helped a little, but she had a ton of university work to get through so the lion’s share of the decorating fell to me.

Big TV for guests. Secure cupboard for DVDs

I’ll be here bright and early on Wednesday, the plumber promised.

Will it still be finished by Thursday evening? I asked.

Oh yes, he assured me with confidence. I’ve really caught up today.

Wednesday morning dawned bright and sunny – with no sign of the plumber. At nine he called me; the builder’s merchant had let him down and my bath hadn’t been delivered. He was very sorry, but the bath was crucial and without it, he couldn’t progress any further. They’d promised him it would be delivered early Thursday direct to me, and he’d work until whenever Thursday night to get the job done.

I looked around my empty shell of a bathroom containing only a toilet and I did not share his confidence.

Still, I carried on painting. The ceiling had been done to the best of my abilities. My house is very shadowy, and I always struggle with painting ceilings because I can’t see which bit I’ve done and which I haven’t. This time though, I spent the extra money and bought the Dulux paint which goes on pink and dries up white. Brilliant, I thought, no more peering at the ceiling and having to resort to touching it to tell which bit is wet and which is still dry, this is the solution.

Only, it wasn’t.

Oh, I’m sure if you’re in a well-lit house and the painter has 20/20 vision it works a treat, but, as I said, my house is dim and shadowy – no matter how many lights you put on – and my eyesight is far from being 20/20 – more like 9 and a bit on a good day. Also, the paint was disappointingly not very pink at all. I’m not sure how pink I was expecting it to be, not shocking certainly, but maybe something a tad darker than it was. For all those of a certain age, you might remember the hint of range of Dulux colours that were popular in the eighties. There was bluebell white, oat white, daffodil white etc, all basically white with a whisper of another colour. Well, this pink was the rose white, in that you’d be hard-pressed to see it was pink at all.

Pretty new knobs

Muttering curses under my breath, I peered at the ceiling and dabbed uncertainly at where I thought it was possibly a different shade of white meaning I hadn’t done that bit yet. Franki came down into the basement and tried to be helpful. Shining her phone up at the ceiling, she pointed doubtfully – I think that bit needs doing, I think.

I did a couple of hit-and-miss coats then gave up. It’s better than it was and at least it’s clean.

We also managed to get the first coat of paint on all the woodwork and that was Wednesday.

Thursday. The plumber had pledged to be at ours by eight to make an early start to try and make up for two missed days now.

Unsurprisingly, he was over an hour late, but he went to work with gusto, throwing cheery motivational remarks our way as he took over the kitchen and started building all the vanity units. In hindsight, I honestly don’t know why he hadn’t come Wednesday and built all the units then. There were quite a few and they took him much of Thursday. He also could have taken away a van load of the rubbish, which would have saved time later.

We were supposed to be going out for dinner with my parents that evening. By mid-afternoon the plumber was showing no signs of slowing down, we still had no shower and, after three days of hard physical graft, there was no way I could be in polite society – or upwind of anyone. My hair was splattered with paint, we were both exhausted, and I was uncomfortable going out for the evening and leaving the plumber alone in the house.

So, we spoke to my parents, and they agreed it would be a good idea to postpone the dinner until Saturday, Hopefully, I’d be able to take a shower and wash my hair by then.

That left us with no dinner. I went and peered around the dining room door. The kitchen was crammed full of partially constructed units, tools, and plumber. No way would I be able to even heat up a pizza in there. We ordered a takeaway and took refuge in the lounge.

At going on for nine, I went through to talk to the plumber.

I think you need to admit defeat, I gently told him. Realistically, you’re not going to finish tonight.

He looked at me and his face fell. No, he reluctantly agreed, I’m not.

Go home, I told him. Get something to eat and get some sleep. We’ll see you in the morning.

Okay, he said. I’ll be here by eight.

So, that’s nine thirty then? I thought but didn’t say.

Off he went. I noticed that the huge packing crate the bath had been delivered in was still standing in the road behind my car. I knew the neighbours were probably not happy about it, so thought I’d put something about it on the road’s WhatsApp but went to bed and forget.

Friday. We awoke to some sarcastic comments about the crate on the WhatsApp page and hastily reassured them that yes, it would be going today.

The plumber turned up at eight-thirty – getting better. Meanwhile, work continued apace down in the basement. We’d decided to spruce up the large window area with some new grey, stick-down, mosaic effect tiles so popped to the shops to buy some. I’d decided it would be a good idea to get some thin board and cut it to perfectly fit the window area and stick the tiles onto them. My thinking was if ever rain got into that part I could lift the boards and dry it out. Also, it would be easier to clean and paint the walls in the future. I had begun chipping up the old cork tiles that were there and realised what a horrible job it was so figured if at any point I needed to replace the new tiles, not having them stuck directly to the ground would be a darn sight easier.

The first cork tile came up so easily you see, it had lulled me into a false sense of security that they’d all be that easy to remove. Of course, they weren’t! The rest had to be prised up with a chisel and hammer, came up in tiny pieces and took me most of the day to do. I also hurt my wrist from using the hammer so much.

When we got home with the two pieces of board and the tiles, the plumber was in the street cutting up the bath crate.

Are you up for a bribe? I asked him.

A bribe? What sort of bribe?

A cup of proper coffee and a custard doughnut.

There’s not a lot a man wouldn’t do for a coffee and a doughnut. What do you want?

I showed him the two pieces of board.

If I give you the measurements, could you please cut these to size for me?

He insisted on measuring the area again. Luckily, my measurements were spot on. He then cut them for me in a matter of seconds using his cutting tool thingie and Franki and I had fun sticking the tiles on. They really have made a difference to the window area and smartened it up nicely.

New floor in the fire escape

Saturday. No plumber, but then we weren’t expecting him back until Monday morning to finish up. We had the bathroom in – sort of. At least the shower was in, well, almost in. There was no sealant so the plumber told me to keep the water below the level in the bath otherwise it would flood under the tub. I was so desperate to have a shower, I didn’t care.

We had to get more tiles to finish the window, so we whizzed to the shop and then finished the last few pieces. We moved furniture back into place and Franki built the two small shelving units ready to go up in the basement. I tidied up the ground floor as best I could and cleaned the kitchen. On our way to the shop to buy tiles, we stopped at the recycling centre and disposed of the old radiator cover from the basement, a broken typing chair, and all the cardboard from the bathroom vanity units.

Mid-afternoon, I was able to stop, have a shower and wash my hair. It was bliss to be clean again. At four I had to dash to Argos to collect the new laundry basket I wanted, and then my parents turned up at five. As requested, Dad brought his drill to put up the two shelving units, and the new blind, and put a padlock on the cupboard door in the basement. We plan to store all our DVDs in there and Franki was convinced unless it was locked then Airbnb guests might steal them. Don’t think anyone in their right mind would steal her Barbie DVDs but hey ho.

We had time to do the shelves only, because, of course, they took longer than anticipated.

New shelves and blinds

Our table was booked for six-thirty, so we wandered down to the restaurant at six. It was very busy, and we had a lovely evening. It was so nice to relax, have a glass of wine, and have a meal that someone else had thought about, cooked, and cleared away from. The others had dessert, but I wasn’t hungry enough so instead, I had a tiramisu martini, which was the height of sophisticated bliss and a real treat.

Totally relaxed, we went home, and it was as I was cleaning my teeth that I realised it had been two weeks since I last blogged. Bugger, I thought, I’ll have to get up early and write a short one. But my body – possibly done in by a week of hard physical graft, a big meal, a relaxing evening, two glasses of red wine, and a cocktail – said no, and for once refused to wake at six as normal.

Opening my eyes at just gone eight Sunday morning, I realised I didn’t have time to blog as I had to be at the Maker’s Market by nine to set up ready for the doors to open at ten.

Despite being tired, I enjoyed the market. I sold about £50 worth of books but spoke to a lot of people and handed out lots of cards, so maybe seeds were sown which will later grow into book sales. You never know.

Monday and Tuesday were two long days. I was at work for both, then in the evenings was helping Franki to pack and cooking us nice dinners. The plumber was supposed to come Monday to finish the bathroom. He didn’t and I honestly can’t remember why not. But he came Tuesday and did as much as he could. There is a tiny bit of finishing up to do once the builder has taken out the window and plastered the ceiling, but the plumber told me to hold back £150 of the payment to cover those little bits.

One nice thing, when he found out I was a writer he got very excited and sent his wife the link to my website. Apparently, she was all over it and selected The Book of Eve as a good place to begin, so he bought a paperback copy off me which I signed and popped in a nice Julia Blake bag with a bookmark. When he came back on Tuesday he said she’d read the whole book over the weekend, loved it, and had told him to buy a copy of The Forest.

It just goes to show, that readers and selling opportunities can be found in the most unlikely places.

So, my bathroom is more or less complete. I’m now waiting for the builder, and he is waiting for the new window to come into stock. Life is all about waiting for one thing or another.

Non slip pebble stickers

Wednesday morning, we got up, showered, and packed up the car with all Franki’s things to go back to university. We were on the motorway by midday and had an uneventful run up to Cheshire to where Mx R, Franki’s partner, has rented a house with some friends for her next year of university. On a slightly different course to Franki, they must move to Chester university for their third year. We settled the hamster with Mx Rys – yes, that smelly, biting, noisy, carpet-eating pest of a rodent has gone!!! Forgive me whilst I do a little happy dance. Miss Moo will be living with Mx R now and I think Franki is relieved not to be a hamster single parent anymore.

We ate dinner and then they walked me around the corner to my Airbnb where I was staying the night. I was very interested to experience the whole Airbnb affair from the side of a renter and get some pointers for when I start my own business. There was a tray of tea and coffee things in the room, which was a nice touch and something I will certainly copy. But, I will add a couple of small bottles of water to the tray. When I got to my Airbnb room I realised I didn’t have any water. Yes, I could have gone downstairs to the kitchen and asked for some, but I could hear my hosts down there talking and cooking their dinner and I didn’t like to. I drank some water from the bathroom, but it tasted funny. I think fresh water in the room will be a nice touch.

And then there was the mattress.

Oh, the mattress.

Regular readers will know the issues I’ve had with almost every mattress in every hotel and guesthouse I’ve stayed in over the past year. This one, whilst certainly better than some, was a solid slab of foam no thicker than my finger. I was exhausted so did manage to sleep, off and on, but my back was hurting by the morning. The mattress is the most important thing in the room. It doesn’t matter how many fancy cushions there are, or individual sachets of coffee, if you haven’t slept because of the mattress then they were all for nothing.

Very thin foam mattress

Thursday, I was up early and gone. I had a quick breakfast at Mx R’s then we were in the car and on our way to Franki’s university by eight-thirty. Franki was panicking about the cupboard situation in their new house on campus. Apparently, there are good cupboards and bad cupboards. Franki had her heart set on the two cupboards in the kitchen island because they were a generous size and meant that the worktop above would be her space.

Fretting that somebody else might beat her to these desired cupboards, Franki jumped out of the car as soon as we reached the university and rushed off to register and get her key, whilst Mx R and I parked the car and lugged all Franki’s stuff to the door of the house and waited for them.

We needn’t have worried. Franki was the first person to move in so was able to stake their claim on the desired cupboards, and the freezer drawer and fridge space they wanted.

Leaving Franki to start unpacking all the things we’d brought from home, Mx R and I went to the storage unit to collect the first load of belongings. There were more than I remembered putting in there at the beginning of the summer and I wondered if someone had snuck more stuff in or they’d bred!

We filled the car with the first load and went back to the university. Unless someone has done it, they have no idea how much time it takes to transport an entire student’s life at the start of the academic year. Trying to help unpack, collapse boxes, and bag up rubbish as we went, I was relieved Franki was the only student in the house yet. It meant we didn’t have to worry about having mountains and mountains of things everywhere.

Mx R and I went for the next load. I hoped to do it all in two loads. Nope, the boxes kept coming out of the storage pod and I quickly realised it would take three trips. Back to university, we went. By now it’s gone midday. I’m seriously hungry and my blood sugar levels are crashing. I’m also tired, very tired, and when I get tired I get clumsy. Constantly tripping, stumbling, and falling upstairs, I knew I needed to have a break and something to eat and drink.

It was decided to do the supermarket run to stock up Franki with food and other supplies. They also needed a quick trip to the local B&M – a sort of sell everything superstore – for a few essential items, and I needed petrol.

By the time we’d done this and had a lunch break, it was gone two thirty and we still needed to get the last of the stuff from the storage pod. Mx R and I dragged ourselves reluctantly into the car to make the now familiar trip. It was coming up on school run time, so the roads were busier, and it took us longer than the previous two trips. I let the receptionist at the storage company know that the pod had been emptied. We’d paid at the beginning of the year so there was nothing else to do.

Wearily, we went back to the university and carried all the boxes up two flights of stairs. My legs were wobbling and before I could stop myself I fell up the stairs, bashed both my kneecaps and the box I was carrying crashed down with a horrible crunching sound. Horrified, I pulled the box open. It was a printer.

Oh, it’s okay, Franki told me, it was broken anyway.

Then why, I muttered through gritted teeth rubbing at my bruised knees, was I struggling up two flights of stairs with it?

It was getting late. Horribly aware I still had the long journey home and how tired I was, finally, at four, I threw in the towel.

Loading up the car with the broken printer, my overnight case, things Franki had decided they didn’t want and was sending back, plus all the boxes we’d salvaged and collapsed for me to keep until next year, I hugged them goodbye and pointed the car for home at four-thirty.

I don’t like motorway driving very much, but at least the radio works in my new car. Franki doesn’t let me listen to the radio when in the car with me and insists on playing her music. I don’t like the radio; she says, it’s all talking and shit. What they don’t understand is it’s all the talking and shit that helps keep me awake. Listening to the DJ chatter, the news, the weather, and the traffic reports pull me back into the moment. I think if it was a continuous wash of music there’s a real danger I would fall asleep.

I got home at seven-thirty, beaten up – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I unpacked the car and sent texts to let everyone know I was home. Fed the cat, had a plate of pasta, fell into bed, and slept for seven solid hours.

Friday. I wasn’t sure how much I would get done because of being so tired, but to my surprise, I cracked on with things and scrubbed the bathroom from top to toe. It may have been a new bathroom, but it was far from being a clean one. I stripped beds, did laundry, tidied the house, applied two coats of primer to the bathroom door and skirting boards. I sorted all the car boot stuff and loaded it into the car ready for an early start in the morning, realised there was a leaving do for a neighbour that afternoon and cooked some sausage rolls to take. There was quite a bit of food at the do, so I didn’t need to worry about dinner – which was just as well as I seriously need to go shopping. Then I chilled for the evening and had an early night.

Saturday, I was on the road by seven heading to the car boot sale. I really, really didn’t want to do it, but all that stuff had been sitting in the house for two weeks, so something had to be done with it. At the sale two weeks previously, we’d made £100. I didn’t expect to make anywhere near that amount this time. All the big items had been sold, plus it was colder, so I wasn’t expecting so many people. I was right, it was a much quieter affair. I was home by eleven and although I sold a lot of bits and pieces, once the pitch fee was removed I’d made £15 profit. Hardly worth it, but I guess it’s £15 I didn’t have before and a lot of rubbish gone. I will sort through what’s left. One or two things can go on the local Things for Sale Facebook page, some stuff will go to charity, and the rest will be dumped at the local recycling centre when it re-opens after the long weekend.

The rest of Saturday has been spent writing this simply enormous blog to make up for missing a week. I’m planning a nice dinner tonight in front of the TV. I may even light a small fire. The temperature has plummeted, and the nights are cold. I’m not switching the heating on though. Not until absolutely necessary. I have plenty of wood and coal and as there’s only me in the house I can make do with fires. I feel an early night is also in order as I’m back to work tomorrow for a six-hour shift before having another eight days off. It’s a pain going back for such a short time, but that’s the way it worked out, so hey ho.

And that’s it, you’re all caught up. Apologies again for missing last week, but I’m sure after reading this you can see how it happened. Take care and enjoy the weekend.

All the best.

Julia Blake

Breaking Glass!

What a busy two weeks it’s been. On top of working an extra day each week as overtime, I’ve also had my new dishwasher delivered and installed. I hadn’t appreciated how useless my old one was until I used the new one. My old dishwasher was random with its cleaning abilities. Sometimes, it would finish a cycle and announce – “I’ve cleaned everything in here except that plate because I didn’t like that plate,” or, more usually, “I’ve cleaned nothing in here except that plate.” I could only use the 60-degree hot wash if I had any chance of anything being cleaned, and there were optimal cleaning spots. Top tier, front left, you were confident anything put there would come out clean. Lower tier, nope, forget it.

Anyway, the new one was delivered on a Saturday and stood in the dining room until my appliance man could come the following Monday and install it. That was fun. Watching the poor man struggle to fit it I was very pleased he was doing it and not me. He took the old one away and that was that.

My new car was delivered that evening. So far, so good. It drives well and is comfortable. It wants to go fast though, driving at thirty miles an hour around town I can feel it straining on its leash and I wonder if the “boy racer” label usually attached to the drivers of Ford Fiestas is because the car has the need for speed.

As we normally name our cars, this one has been called Ruby. It’s a red car and Ruby is also one of the characters from my book Erinsmore, so it seemed apt. It is such a relief not to be relying on the bus. I mean, I managed, but two months without a car was a struggle.

The plumber has come back with a quote for the bathroom. To completely strip out the existing furniture, supply and fit all new – including swanky P-shaped bath with shower and curved shower door, a long vanity unit, and heated towel rail – retiling as necessary and making good, he has quoted £2500. This is a fair quote for that amount of work, so I’ve accepted it. Not that I had much choice, he was the only plumber I could find who was prepared to even talk to me, let alone come and give me a quote.

The house is upside down right now. My new boiler is being installed so there are workmen, pipes, and big boxes of tools in the bathroom, kitchen, and dining room. It’s taken two days. Yesterday we had no water or power for most of the day plus the bathroom was full of workmen. It made the whole toilet situation interesting. I consciously refrained from drinking all day and managed to not need to go from 8am until the workmen left at 4:30pm.

They did switch the water and power back on before they left, but we were still without hot water for the night. I had to wash my hair at least but know from experience that cold showers make me very angry, so I didn’t want to shock myself at 7am with freezing cold water. I have mixer taps and a hose on the bath, so I bent over the bath and just washed my hair in cold water. Still unpleasant, but better than a full shower.

The boiler has now been installed. I’ve been talked through running it and setting up the timer. It looks a bit rough right now. The new boiler is quite a bit smaller than the old one so tiles are missing and the new pipes are raw and copper coloured. I don’t know how I’m going to soften and disguise, but once the new bathroom is in I’ll figure something out.

The basement had to be emptied because part of the ceiling had to come down. I can’t remember if I told you, but an old lead pipe came out of the gas meter and connected to the main inlet pipe. It had to be replaced with a new pipe that complied with modern standards. Problem: the old pipe went under a section of the ceiling. That bit of ceiling would have to come down to access the pipe. This work was included in the quote to replace the boiler, so yesterday yet another workman turned up and proceeded to carry out the work.

He’s done a good job. The whole basement is going to be decorated including repainting the ceiling, so I can easily cover up the new raw ceiling. Franki and I paid a visit to the local hardware store on Wednesday and picked out a pale grey paint for the walls, a darker grey for all the woodwork, and white for the ceiling. This time I paid the extra and bought the special ceiling paint that goes on pink and dries up white. This is a very shadowy house and I know from bitter experience how annoying it is to be up a stepladder, trying to paint, unable to see where you’ve been because of shadows. Then days later, after the stepladder has been returned to Dad and the paint has dried, sitting there, and realise that you’ve missed in several places. I bought a large tin. Not only is there the basement ceiling to paint, but the dining room, the hall and landing ceilings could all do with a fresh coat of paint. The bathroom ceiling will also need doing, and if there’s any left it wouldn’t hurt to put a coat on the kitchen ceiling as well.

Along with a tin of wood primer/undercoat, a couple of bolts, and a bag of paintbrushes, the whole lot came to almost £140!

As it’s the August bank holiday this week, I will be working from Saturday to Tuesday, four full days, so won’t be able to do anything house or decorating-related. Then I have four days off. For the first three days, we will focus on decorating the basement. Not sure we will finish because there is a lot to do. As well as cleaning off all the dust caused by building work, all the woodwork needs a light sand – and there’s a lot of woodwork – then it will need priming and undercoating. The ceiling needs at least a coat. The walls will need two. All the woodwork will need a couple of coats. There are two new shelving units to be put up, a new grey wooden blind to fix, and the room put back to rights.

On the fourth day, we are hoping to do a car boot sale. For all my non-UK friends, this is like a yard sale but instead of piling all the stuff you no longer want in your driveway and hoping people come and buy it, you fill your car with it and go to a designated site where a car boot sale is being held.

This has many advantages over a yard sale. I don’t have a yard or any front of house area I could sell stuff from. My road is not a popular through road so not many people would happen to be passing and see that there is a sale. Some of these car boot sales regularly run all through the summer and have been established for many years, they are popular, and everyone knows about them. Hundreds, if not thousands of people will go to them so the chances of selling your tut are greatly increased. My problem was most car boot sales are held on a Sunday. I do not have a single Sunday over the next six weeks that I’m not working or already booked to do something else. Anyway, we did some research and found a big car boot sale that runs on a Saturday, not a Sunday.

The plan is to go through the house and have a purge of everything we wish to get rid of, then do a car boot sale and hopefully make some pennies to help offset how much money I’m currently spending. If it’s a good sale and we do well, we could even do it the following Saturday as well.

So, you’re now up to date on what’s been happening in the house.

Okay, now to the exciting bit. Something happened in my road yesterday that has shocked us all rigid and that I’m still trying to process.

The boilerman left at about five promising to be back the next day to finish the installation. I tidied up a bit, then was sitting in the lounge. The rain had stopped and as it was a hot and muggy day, the windows were all open. I was quietly sitting on the sofa checking Instagram when I heard breaking glass from outside in the road.

Curious, I went to the window and looked out. The first house in the road is opposite mine and the people who own it are currently living in Greece. Their grown-up son is living there whilst they are away and when I saw a man standing in the porch with his hands braced on either side of the door I assumed it was him. As I watched, he swayed alarmingly, and he was obviously the worse for alcohol. I wondered if the breaking glass was because he’d dropped a bottle. He turned his head, and I realised it wasn’t the son. Now concerned, I pulled aside the curtain to have a better look as he began to curse and shout at the door.

Yelling, “Come out you c**t” and “open this door you f****r”, I was horrified when he turned back to the door and started headbutting the glass. Over and again, he slammed his head violently into the glass and I heard it breaking further. Then he staggered back from the door and turned so I could see him face on. He was covered in blood, he had smashed in the glass pane in the door, there was broken glass all over the floor, and blood splattered up the door and walls of the porch.

Deeply shocked, I wondered what I should do as the man stumbled into the road and then disappeared from view. A second later I heard more breaking glass.

I knew it wasn’t my door or window and I could see it wasn’t my immediate neighbour. I realised he must be attacking the home of the elderly couple who lived two doors down. Very concerned for their wellbeing, I ran out of my house and down the road to their driveway. Maybe this was a stupid thing to do – I’ve been told it was – but in the heat of the moment, all I could think about was him attacking my neighbours. I wanted to make sure they were okay.

I stood at the bottom of the driveway and looked at their house. A big smear of blood was on their front window where he’d headbutted it. The man was standing at the door, hands again braced on either side of it, headbutting the glass violently. Glass was shattering and falling onto the floor. Again, he was shouting and swearing, calling them names, demanding that they come out and face him. That he knew it was them that had reported him.

To my horror, I saw the door open and realised one of my neighbours was there. Desperate to draw his attention away from them, I started yelling at him. “You’ve got the wrong house; you’ve got the wrong house! An elderly couple lives there. Leave them alone. They’ve done nothing to you.”

He ignored me and was shouting and threatening the person in the doorway.

I shouted louder and waved my arms. He turned towards me and staggered down the driveway to stop about three feet away from me. He was a mess. His forehead looked like chopped liver, blood was pouring down his face, and his mouth was full of blood. His clothing was splattered with blood, and it was gushing from his hands and arms.

He was yelling nonsense at me. Asking if it was me who reported him. I said I didn’t know who he was, so why would I? I kept saying he was in the wrong place, that no one on the road had hurt him, he was in the wrong place.

Then I looked into his eyes and saw the madness in there. I realised he wasn’t just drunk, that he was probably drugged up as well. I knew there would be no reasoning with him. He lurched towards me. I suddenly stopped being afraid for my neighbours and became afraid for myself.

I ran. Back into my house. I slammed the door and closed my front window, then phoned 999. I asked for the police, but the controller told me all the lines were busy. WTF?! I told him there was a blood-soaked man on the road who had already smashed in the doors of two properties, that he was not in control and was dangerous. The controller kept trying to get me through to the police, but all their lines were busy.

By this time, Franki had emerged from their room alarmed by the shouting and ran downstairs. Having the foresight to begin filming the man on their phone, we watched as he lurched about on the road. To my horror, other neighbours were coming out of their houses and approaching him.

Quickly, we ran upstairs, and I leaned out of my bedroom window and shouted at them to get back, that he was drunk and on drugs, that he’d already smashed the doors on two properties and was dangerous.

Luckily, they moved back. The controller was still trying to get through to the police when we heard sirens and a police car roared into the road. I told the controller that the police were there, so I didn’t need to be connected and hung up. The police stopped in front of the man. To our disbelief, he launched himself at the car and left bloody handprints all over the bonnet and up their windscreen.

The two male police officers tried to restrain him, but he fought them off. They wrestled him to the ground with blood spurting everywhere. One officer tried to pepper spray him, but it somehow bounced off the struggling man and hit the other police officer in the face. Rendered blind, he still tried to help hold the violently flailing man down. A young man passing by sat on the assailant’s legs until the officers managed to cuff him.

Franki videoed the whole thing. They were inches away from my car so on the video you can hear me plaintively squeaking to please mind my new car.

Once the man was restrained, we went downstairs and back out onto the street. The officer asked if we’d seen what happened. When I said I’d witnessed the whole thing, he told me that I’d have to give a statement. They wrenched the man to his feet.

“I haven’t done anything,” he kept insisting.

“Look at that door,” I cried, and pointed to the smashed window, all the glass and blood everywhere. “You also smashed in the door of a terrified elderly couple.”

“It wasn’t me,” he said. As they shoved him into the back of the police car he called me a c**t.

Lovely.

More police officers turned up to take statements and it was then I found out who he was. Regular readers will remember the problems we’ve had with a man who used to live in the horrible block of flats opposite. How one night I was awoken to the sound of him dragging a knife along the gate railings and asking us to “come out to play”. All the noise and disturbances when he and his girlfriend had epic fights in the street. The day I came home from work and couldn’t get into my road because he had thrown all his furniture off his balcony – including a washing machine, a TV, and a gaming chair. He has been relocated elsewhere but his girlfriend still lives in the flats. There is a restraining order and a community order against him. He is not allowed within a mile of the road. But blind drunk and high on drugs, he decided to ignore that and visit us. Convinced someone on the road had reported him to the police, he went on a vengeance fest.

The police have him in custody, for now. He will be charged with criminal damage, violence, anti-social behaviour, and resisting arrest, but I doubt he’ll be locked away. No, he’ll be given a smack on the wrist and set free. No one will do anything.

What does he have to do? We all asked the police officers. What does he have to do before anything is done about him?

I fear the answer is murder. Nothing will be done about him until he has seriously hurt or even killed someone, and then everyone will wring their hands and cry how awful, and fingers of blame will be pointed. Something needs to be done about it now before the unthinkable happens.

The policeman who’d received a face full of mace came into our house and took our statements. It took forever because he had to write it all out longhand and went over every tiny detail. I made the poor man a cup of tea, after all, he had been pepper sprayed. He also told us it was only his second week on the job, that he’d transferred here from London thinking Suffolk would be quieter and calmer.

Really?

How’s that working out for you?

We didn’t get dinner until gone eight. We were starving and wrung out. The plans I’d made to make a spaghetti bolognese were put on hold until tonight and we shoved an oven pizza and fries in. I opened a bottle of wine. After what had happened, I felt I deserved it. I worried it might stop me from sleeping, but a week of insomnia plus the come down from adrenalin meant I fell into bed at eleven and knew nothing until seven.

So, what happens now? I honestly don’t know. I’m not scared of this man, but I am concerned. He could come back at any time. At the very least, he could damage our homes or our cars, at the very worst he could damage one of us.

Franki has taken it hard. Now afraid of being alone in the house, I know the days of them being happy to have doors and windows open during the day because it’s so hot are over – especially if I’m not here. At their request, a bolt has been fitted to their bedroom door to make them feel more secure. I have reassured them that he will be in custody until a court date can be arranged. In all likelihood, he won’t be out until after they have returned to university.

And that is what happened.

I can’t believe that one person can have such an impact on the lives of so many people. It’s unfair. He broke both a restraining order and a community order, so that will go against him. He damaged property, disturbed the peace, exhibited violent and threatening behaviour, and assaulted two police officers whilst resisting arrest. How long will he go to prison for, if indeed he does go, I have no idea? We can only wait and see, and I will, of course, keep you posted.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost 5:30 and I am going to make myself a gin and tonic and gather with my neighbours in the street for our weekly get-together. Like survivors of a disaster, I guess the conversation will be about what’s happened as we try to make sense of it. I do live in an amazing street. After it happened yesterday, everyone who was home was out sweeping up glass and washing away blood off property and cars. A casserole was produced from somewhere for the elderly couple to have for dinner. Lots of hugs were given and received as we all mucked in to clean up the mess. We can’t let one evil individual spoil that. We won’t.

Have a wonderful couple of weeks my friends, and I will speak to you soon.

All the best.

Julia Blake

Money! Money! Money!

This may be a short blog because honestly, I have so much to do today that my head is spinning! What has happened since we last chatted? Well, where do I begin? Firstly, the pension money finally arrived – although H.M. Revenue & Customs have taken a massive chunk of it in taxes. My financial advisor has applied for me to get some of that back, but that might take a long time, so I’ve put it out of my mind and focused on what I do have.

The boiler is booked to be installed on the 25th and 26th of August. We already know they will need to cause a big mess in the basement because an old and now illegal lead pipe leads out of my gas meter and connects to the main inlet pipe. This must be changed. Unfortunately, it goes under part of the ceiling which will have to come down to access the pipe. Luckily it’s only a tiny part of the ceiling across the entrance way to the basement proper. The boiler fitters will be handling that, and it’s all included in the quote. But, as I said, it’s going to cause a big mess.

Mx R is returning to Wales on the 23rd of August and won’t be coming back. As soon as they have left, we will move Franki and all their belongings back up to their old room and they probably won’t be moving back down again until the next time they’re on holiday from university.

The reasons for this are obviously because of the building work going on, but also because once that is done we are going to completely redecorate the basement to get it ready to be let as an Airbnb. This will involve a massive amount of work. My brother has been and completed all the electrical work that needed to be done, including ripping down now defunct wires such as TV aerial, Sky dish connections etc. All things that are no longer necessary with Smart TVs. This has left slight damage to the walls so I will need to fill and sand down all holes etc. All the woodwork which is currently painted a dark chocolate brown will need to be rubbed down, undercoated, and then repainted in a soft grey. The ceiling needs a fresh coat of paint – and this time I’m going to use the special Dulux ceiling paint that goes on pink and dries up white! All the walls need painting. I have two grey wooden floating shelves to fit, the old purple velvet curtain is coming down and grey wooden slatted blinds are being fitted. Cool contemporary is the look we’re going for.

As you can imagine, trying to fit all that work in around my job (and bearing in mind I’m still working an extra day a week) will be difficult. Franki is going to help me as much as they can so hopefully many hands will make light work.

It was quite funny when my brother came to do the electrical work. I now have smart new lights in the bathroom plus a new pull cord (mine had been broken for years). He replaced dodgy light switches in the dining room and office. Removed defunct cables in the basement and had to figure out a way to earth the electric meter to the gas meter. Imagine the basement room as a box, with the gas meter in a cupboard in one corner, then diagonally opposite in the other corner is another cupboard with the electric meter. He had to try and get cabling from cupboard to cupboard. Of course, he could have dug into the wall and buried the cable. But that would have taken time, been incredibly messy, and very expensive, and I would need to find a plasterer to make good afterwards. It was decided that neat white plastic trunking running around the top of the wall from cupboard to cupboard would be the most practical solution. The only trouble was a large wardrobe was in the way. As the ceiling at that point in the basement is quite low, it left barely any space for him to manoeuvre above it.

I sat upstairs hearing much cussing and thumping coming from below my feet. Then an idea struck, and I went down to see him.

Just a thought, but if you took the cable out of the other side of the electric cupboard, tucked it neatly over the window and then ran it along the lip where the ceiling dips, it would be barely noticeable and would take you straight to the gas cupboard. Wouldn’t that be easier?

He stopped. He glared at me. Sweat was dripping from his brow. I looked up and saw he’d managed to get the trunking up over the wardrobe and was about the turn the corner and begin the run down the long wall to the gas cupboard. He looked at the solution I had suggested, and his face turned thunderous.

Yes, he ground out. I wish you’d thought of that earlier.

Oops, sorry.

Whilst he was in the electric cupboard, he was horrified to discover the age and condition of my fuse board. Old enough to be the one Noah used on the Ark, he condemned it as unsafe and told me it had to be replaced. Another £400. Gulp. But, it had to be done, so I told him to go ahead and make us safe.

In consultation with my appliance repair man, Rob, we chose a new dishwasher and ordered it from a local supplier. It’s being delivered this morning, but Rob can’t come until Monday morning to fit it, so I’ve had to try and clear some space in the dining room for it to stand in until then. Update: it’s just been delivered so is all ready to be installed on Monday!

I know what you’re all curious to know is how is the car situation going. Well, I’m still taking the bus, but hopefully, yesterday was the last day I needed to. Franki and I, plus a couple of friends, have been searching second-hand car sites trying to find a vehicle within my budget that suited my specifications. It didn’t prove easy. It turned out we’ve living in a desert as far as decent second-hand cars are concerned. I don’t know if everyone else has decided to buy them rather than spend all that money on new ones, but there was seriously nothing. We had to keep expanding the area we were searching in and looking at dealers that offered home delivery. It would add to the price, but I didn’t have much choice. What with Franki’s return to university looming on the horizon, I had to get a car sooner rather than later. Plus, I was sick of relying on public transport. The bus to work wasn’t the issue, it was the one home. Unreliable, and always late, at the end of a long day on my feet at work, the last thing I wanted was to sit for ages at a smelly bus stop, then sit on a sweaty bus for forty minutes going on scenic routes of the local housing estate. An hour-long journey on the bus to make a ten-minute car journey home is a joke that soon wears thin. And, of course, there are no buses on a Sunday, so I must walk home. Again, a fifty-minute walk at the end of a long day in the kind of heat we are experiencing is not fun.

Anyway, we found a red Ford Fiesta on Auto Trader that I kept coming back to. Something about it gave me a good feeling in my gut. At £2680 it was the top end of my budget, but it ticked all the right boxes. It was a hatchback, an automatic, good clean service record, six months MOT, a warranty, only 48,000 miles on the clock, air conditioning, parking assist, etc. We contacted the dealer, a very pleasant-sounding man called Alfie. He did a live video tour of the car for me so I could see inside and hear the engine. I will certainly be channelling my inner boy racer with this car – it has bright red seats and a matching dashboard.

Many phone calls were made with Alfie and the upshot is I am in the process of buying it, sight unseen, understanding that I am protected by distance buying laws. However, my instincts are telling me both Alfie and the car are sound. All being well, Alfie will be delivering the car early Monday evening. As my next shift isn’t until Tuesday that should mean my bus travelling days are over. I will keep you posted.

We had put my old, tiny TV down in the basement for Franki to use, but it’s so small they had to stand it on a bedside cabinet to see it, which wasn’t practical. Plus, it’s not a Smart TV so we had to buy a Now stick to make it one and it was a little problematic. If I wanted to run a top-level Airbnb and be able to charge premium rates, I would need to provide a decent TV. I thought about it. Our TV although about five years old was still a lovely 28” Smart TV and would be perfectly adequate in the basement. So, without stopping to think about it, I bought us a Samsung 32” and the old one was relocated to the basement – much to the delight of Franki. The little 19” old one I have put in storage because I may be able to use it in the dining room.

I need a plumber to replace my old 1950s shabby bathroom suite. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a plumber? They are mythical creatures, like the Yeti. You’ve heard of people claiming they’ve seen them, but you’re not sure whether to believe them or not. I followed up on a few leads, but they were all dead ends. Either the plumber was no longer self-employed, he was too busy to even quote for jobs this year, or simply didn’t answer his phone.

In the end, in sheer desperation Friday morning, I googled how do I find a good local plumber? The first option that came up was to register with something called Bark.com which would search for accredited tradesmen local to you. You simply entered your postcode and your requirements, and the website did the rest. Within minutes it had offered me five options. I requested quotes from all of them, and twenty minutes later Daniel from First Fix phoned me back. He asked for more details, got me to send him several pictures of the bathroom, and said he would get back to me. He then called again in the evening and arranged to come round this afternoon to measure up, look at the bathroom and chat about my requirements. He is so far the only plumber to respond, so I hope his quote is reasonable. His reviews are all good, so that’s reassuring.

It’s Franki’s birthday tomorrow, they are out for the day with Mx R as I originally was going to be working, but now I’m not, so I’m having a table at the Makers Market in the Market Cross instead. It was very last minute, but because I had the money I had taken the opportunity to stock up with all my books, buy a mini folding sack barrow, and mini clamps to hold the tablecloth on the table. All that needs to be done today is to laminate the blurbs of all the Blackwood Family Saga, The Perennials Trilogy, The Book of Eve, and Eclairs for Tea. We also need to make price labels for them. Franki has said they will help me with those later today.

Update: The car has been paid for and I actually feel physically sick at how much money I’ve spent.

The plumber has texted that he’ll be here in two hours.

Anyway, back to Franki’s birthday. As I didn’t give them a great present for their eighteenth last year because I was broke, I decided to make up for it this year and gave them £300 to do what they please with. I also wanted to buy them a little something to unwrap on the day. After all, a birthday doesn’t feel like a birthday without presents. Franki is obsessed with Star Trek – not the original series with Kirk, she finds that a bit creaky and misogynistic – but the Next Generation onwards, Picard etc. I found on Amazon a fabulous Star Fleet Academy hoodie and bought it, then Amazon informed me it wouldn’t be delivered until the 19th – five days after her birthday – so they still wouldn’t have something to unwrap on their birthday. I popped to Wilks when I got off the bus on Thursday evening and bought some pretty stationery and pens to stand in for the “something to unwrap” present on her birthday. Only to get home and find the hoodie had been delivered after all.

As I’m off to the Makers Market probably earlier than Franki and Mx R will be up tomorrow, it’s been decided that I’ll give Franki their presents from me this evening. I’m cooking a steak dinner with all the trimmings, which we’re having early because Franki’s godmother is coming round at 7:30 to see them. There is also a big fat chocolate birthday cake for this evening plus pink Prosecco. As soon as I’ve finished chatting with you, I must go and wrap presents and write in Franki’s card, otherwise, time will get away from me. I think Mx R needs paper as well.

Monday is also shaping up to be a very busy day. My appliance repair man, Rob, is coming first thing to install the new dishwasher. It will be nice to have one that actually washes the dishes, instead of giving them a lick and a promise, and one that doesn’t pee brown liquid all over the kitchen floor every time I use it.

In the afternoon, someone from Tapei Carpets is coming to measure up the dining room carpet and the hall, stairs, and landing. The hall, stairs, and landing carpet was fitted in 1996 and is dangerously worn over the stair nosings. You can also feel that the underlay has crumbled away to dust and it’s just floorboards underneath now.

The dining room carpet was fitted in 1999, but as it’s a through route it is worn as well, plus moths have eaten big holes in it. Apparently, modern carpets are all moth-proof! Fancy that.

I was going to hire professionals to do all the decorating but seeing how the money is slipping away and wishing to economise where possible, I have decided to decorate the dining room myself. I’m a good painter, I’m perfectly capable of doing it but am inwardly groaning at the thought of how long it will take me. Trying to fit anything around work and overtime right now is a struggle. Plus, my energy levels are not what they used to be. But it will save me hundreds.

The hall, stairs, and landing are a different matter. I can remove the carpet and much of the old wallpaper, I can even sand down the woodwork and stain it. I could even paint the hall ceiling and the walls. I can do some of the landing walls. But – my ceiling goes up ten feet over the stairwell. Not only is it impossible for me to reach it, but it’s too dangerous for me to even attempt. If I fell I could seriously hurt myself. I am the only captain of this ship; I cannot afford to be out of action. So, I will have to get professionals to do that.

Finally, Alfie will be delivering my new car early Monday evening. It will be nice to be able to drive to work on Tuesday. Can’t wait to see my colleagues’ faces when I rock up in my cherry red boy racer mobile.

The university has changed the date when Franki can move back in. The original date was Saturday the 17th. This was the only day available. The original plan was that Franki was going to travel to Chester by train on the 13th. Mx R is moving into their accommodation for their second year in the centre of Chester, so Franki was going to stay with them for a few days and help them settle in. I was then going to drive up alone on the 17th with the rest of Franki’s belongings and the demon hamster.

I was never keen on this plan.

It involved me making the drive alone. As I’ve never been to Mx R’s new house I would be trying to find it. It would also mean leaving me along with that hamster for several days, plus I would have to transport it by myself. Not an attractive proposition.

Anyway, the university is now saying that Franki can move in first thing in the morning on Thursday the 15th. Long hard thinking occurred, and Franki reluctantly concluded there was no point travelling all that way on the train for just two days with Mx R. That Franki might as well wait and then travel up with me. As their move-in slot is 9:30 on Thursday, we thought it best to travel up the night before and a delightful Airbnb room has been booked for me five minutes away from Mx R’s new home. Goodness, it was like trying to book a room at the Ritz. Because this host is what’s known as a super host, she can pick and choose whom she lets the room to. We had to supply ID and everything before she let me have the room. But it’s booked, so Franki and I will drive up early in the afternoon of Wednesday the 14th. On the way, we will swing by the storage locker and put as many boxes of Franki’s kitchen stuff in the car as we can fit in.

Franki and the hamster will stay at Mx R’s house that night, although I will take us all out to dinner. By having some of Franki’s kitchen stuff already in the car, we can get to the university bang on 9:30 so Franki can stake their claim on the premium cupboards in the kitchen. It’s first come, first served, and apparently there are desirable cupboards and some that are not so. Whilst Franki is playing with her cutlery and crockery, Mx R’s and I will head back to the storage locker and cram as much as we can into the car. Hopefully, because my car is bigger than Charlie’s little KA is, we won’t need to do so many trips. I’ll help get Franki settled as much as I can, before heading for home.

And then the summer will officially be over, and things will settle down to normal.

I must admit, I will be relieved not to be living at 100 miles an hour. The new part-timer has started at work and once she is up to speed, my hours will go back to three days a week, which will be wonderful. I am still trying to cram as much, if not more, into only three days a week off as I was into four.

Of course, the next focus for me now as the car and dishwasher problems have been addressed, the new boiler will soon be fitted, and hopefully, a plumber has been sorted, will be getting the house ready to register for Airbnb.

But that’s a problem for a different day.

Goodness, look at that word count. I said this would be a short blog and then rambled on for over 3300 words. I need to go. The plumber will be here soon, and I want to quickly clean the bathroom.

Take care of yourselves and I look forward to chatting with you all in another two weeks.

Julia Blake

It’s Too Darn Hot!

The last time we spoke, it was the day before my birthday and the day before St. Albans Comic-Con. So, how did they go? Well, my birthday was kind of a non-event this year, but St. Albans went well. I was up at 5:30 and was waiting at the bottom of the road for Mary to pick me up at 6:30. Mary drives a Lotus Elise so I didn’t think the neighbours would appreciate it growling up our road at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning. I waited and waited. By 6:50 I was beginning to worry when I heard a high-performance engine and Mary roared up.

At that hour on a Sunday morning, the roads were reasonably clear, so it didn’t take us long to get there, park, phone Rachel and for them to come and find us with our wristbands to indicate we were paid up stallholders.

We had two tables together shared between the three of us so divided the space into thirds and laid out our goods. Mary is a comedic sci-fi writer – think Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett – so she went one end. Rachel with her dystopian near future Battleground series went in the middle. I went on the other end.

We were ready in good time and nervously awaited the opening of the doors. We had no idea how this was going to go down. It was already hot, really hot, and there was no AC at all in the venue. At first, things were sluggish. A few people looked at our stall and spoke to us about our books, but they were very much just browsing at that stage and most wandered off promising to be back. Hmm, as a sales consultant I’ve heard that line way too often before.

By midday, though the crowd had thickened, and we began to sell. Not crazy amounts, but slow and steady, with time to chat to our new readers which was nice. The people ebbed and flowed. It got hotter. We were sticky and I was glad I’d brought an old towel to lay on the floor because it meant I could take my shoes off, and splash water on my ankles and feet and try to cool down a little.

There was a cosplay event taking place somewhere in the venue and some of the costumes were amazing, although I did feel sorry for those hardy souls dressed as stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Deadpool etc. In their tight, all-encompassing outfits with helmets or masks, they must have been sweltering.

We continued to sell. By mid-afternoon I’d sold all ten copies of Black Ice that I’d taken, so rearranged my stall and continued with just Erinsmore, The Forest and Lifesong. Approaching 4:00 it was clear the day was done. The event was due to close at 4:30 and we weren’t seeing any new faces in the crowd, just people who’d already visited our stall and were having one last look around. We began to pack up. I’d taken ten copies each of Black Ice, The Forest, and Erinsmore, and thirty-five of Lifesong. I sold all the copies of Black Ice, eight copies of The Forest, seven copies of Erinsmore, and twelve copies of Lifesong. So, not bad. We also spoke to a lot of people, handed out cards and flyers, connected with potential new readers and I know I gained a few new followers on social media. We all felt the day had been a success and that we’d consider doing it again.

We packed away our stall and took everything out to the cars. Most of our stuff had to go in Rachel’s car – a Lotus Elise doesn’t have much space for anything. I scrambled back into Mary’s car, and we headed for home.

Although it didn’t take long, about an hour and thirty minutes, by the time she dropped me off at the end of my road I was tired, sticky, and grubby. I needed to pee, shower, drink, and eat – in that order! There was a rack of ribs in the fridge, so whilst I attended to my needs, Franki did us BBQ rib and fries which was just what the doctor ordered.

Whilst I’d been at St. Albans, the lodger had moved out, so after dinner, we went down into the basement to check it out. Surprisingly, he’d done a reasonably good job of cleaning, so it wasn’t going to take long to turn the room around for Franki to move in.

Monday dawned, and the worst of the heatwave struck. It was over 40 degrees centigrade outside, so we stayed in. I know some people recommend keeping all windows and curtains closed in a heatwave but that wouldn’t work in my house – we’d swelter. It’s a Victorian house so it’s very well insulated and having all the doors and windows wide open meant a breeze blew through the house, so it was reasonably cool indoors. We spent most of the day freshening up the basement and moving Franki’s essentials down so they could at least sleep in it that night. Franki’s old room is narrow and small and in the centre of the house. Hot air rises so the bedrooms are always unpleasantly warm, their old room especially. At least the basement would be wonderfully cool for them. I was a bit jealous. Although my larger room with its two windows didn’t overheat as much as Franki’s old room, it still retained the heat and Monday night, and Tuesday night were unbearable. I lay starfished in the middle of the bed, wearing nothing but a pair of knickers and a layer of sweat. A fan stood by the bed and ran all night continuously wafting cold air over me.

It was still like sleeping in an active volcano. Every time I tried to roll over I left a puddle of sweat behind me. Needless to say, not much sleeping went on.

Tuesday I lay on the sofa in the dining room for much of the day with the fan playing over me whilst Franki got the new room to their liking. She informed me smugly, she had felt chilly enough during the night to need the duvet over her. If it hadn’t been so hot I might have thumped her for that.

The rest of my week off passed by in a bit of a blur. Even though the temperature dropped slightly it was still unbelievably hot, so I didn’t feel like doing much. I made a start on writing book fifteen but only managed 5500 words – not the high word count I had expected to manage during two weeks off work. I was tired and didn’t feel like doing anything other than lying around reading.

On Friday Franki and I went for lunch at Pizza Express courtesy of Tesco vouchers donated by Mum, and Franki paid the excess as a late birthday lunch. It was nice. I can’t remember the last time we went out just the two of us, so it was pleasant.

There was the usual Happy Hour drink with the neighbours in the street, then I chilled out in the evening and had an early night.

I was very aware I only had three days left of my holiday and I didn’t want to waste it, but the motivation was sadly lacking to do anything. I half-heartedly wrote another 1000 words on the book, then left it. I caught up with laundry and housework and did a little gardening, but it was still too hot to want to do anything much.

Sunday afternoon we were invited to a barbecue with fellow author Rachel Churcher and her husband. It was a gorgeous afternoon and we had fun – although I will be avoiding Long Island Iced Tea cocktails in future – it’s not tea and is lethal.

Monday was mostly spent recovering from the said cocktail.

Tuesday I went back to work. It was hard going back, lack of sleep over several nights due to the heat had left me exhausted and out of sorts. My shift was 9:30 to 5, but luckily I discovered a 5:10 bus that is supposed to get me into town at 5:22. The bus didn’t arrive until 5:20 so I was late getting home, but it was better than walking.

Wednesday was work again, a weird 11-5 shift. I was attending a fellow local author’s launch party in town that evening and was supposed to be there by 6:15. This caused an issue. Yes, I could have tried to catch the bus but if it was late again – I’ve discovered buses are late more often than they are on time – then it wasn’t going to leave me much time to eat, get changed, and walk to the venue. Luckily, the lovely Rachel Churcher offered me a lift, so I was home by 5:10 and able to quickly change whilst Franki cooked spaghetti and heated the mince mix I’d made on Monday ready. We were in the venue and set up before anyone else arrived.

It was a lovely evening. There were five local authors of different genres. There was a Q&A session, each author did a short reading from one of their books – I chose the first page of Black Ice – and then the audience was invited to ask us questions.

Turnout wasn’t as high as we had hoped, but enough came to make a respectable-sized audience and they all seemed to enjoy it. We didn’t sell many books, only a couple each, but again we gave out cards and talked to potential readers.

Thursday I was back to work again, a 10:30 to 6:00 shift. This meant no bus home. Well, that’s not strictly true, there is a 6:12 bus but I’ve caught it before and know what the deal is now. You wait for the bus. It eventually turns up. It takes you for a thirty-minute scenic tour of the massive residential estate nearby. It comes back to the original bus stop you got on at, before finally heading into town to drop you off at 7:02. I decided it was quicker to walk.

I left at 6:00 and started walking. Luckily, the weather had cooled down so at least I wasn’t dying of heatstroke. I met a lovely doggy with his owner, so of course, I had to stop and fuss him and have a nice little chat with her. Walking through town, I bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen in over ten years. We had a chat. I walked past Waitrose. My stomach rumbled. I wondered whether Franki had done anything for dinner. Probably not as I hadn’t asked her to.

I wandered about Waitrose. I fancied pizza so picked up a goat’s cheese and caramelized red onion one, with a bucket of cooked buffalo wings, a garlic dip for Franki and a pot of proper mayo for me. My tastebuds still aren’t right after Covid and things like garlic taste disgusting to me. Ooh, Waitrose still had the offer running on vegan Ben & Jerry’s ice cream – two tubs for £6 – so I grabbed a tub of cookie dough and one of berry and chocolate explosion. I remembered we needed bin bags.

Leaving Waitrose and crossing over into the Arc shopping centre a car pulled up beside me and a very confused looked elderly lady leaned out the window. She was lost, looking for the Apex car park. I gave directions, we chatted, and then she drove off and I continued home. I walked in the door at 7:02 precisely. By some telepathy, Franki had the oven warmed up ready for whatever I had decided to cook and was delighted to see the pizza. Leaving her to cook dinner, I got changed and opened a bottle of wine – well, it was my Friday evening, and I was very pleased to be home and even more pleased to be able to relax with a glass of wine, pizza, buffalo wings, and Netflix.

I didn’t sleep very well though. The street was noisy, and I kept waking up, so Friday morning I was grumpy and had a headache. I had a lot of phone calls to make and emails to respond to, so I tried to pull myself together and clear the decks.

Friday afternoon it was my local authors’ get-together and for once we were meeting in real life, not on Zoom, so I wandered down to the cathedral café where we sat in the garden, drank coffee, ate cake, and chatted about life, and all things bookish.

Again, it was Happy Hour in the street with the neighbours, but it was a short one this time as everyone except me and another neighbour had other things to rush off to. I invited her to come round and sit in the garden and finish our drinks. She seemed okay when we sat down, but ten minutes later it was clear she was very much not okay. I have honestly never seen anyone go from sober to falling down drunk so quickly! I tactfully suggested we needed to get her home, so helped her into the house where she collapsed onto the sofa, and I realised I’d need help. I bellowed for Franki who ran upstairs and assessed the situation at once. Together, we heaved the poor lady up and half-carried, half-dragged her three doors up the street to her house where we found her front door had been left wide open as well as all her windows and the back door – making me wonder what state she’d been in when she left the house! We left her to go to bed, and I hope she’s okay today and if she remembers much of the evening, doesn’t feel too embarrassed. It happens. Heck, it’s happened to me. You think you’re fine, then you have one more drink which proves the straw that broke the camel’s back.

And now it’s Saturday again, although as I’m back to work tomorrow it feels like my Sunday. This morning, Franki and I lay on the sofa and made TikTok videos for my new account. That was so funny. Last summer, Franki set me up a TikTok account and posted one video promising to teach me how to use it. They never got round to it, and I forgot my password and couldn’t remember what to do with TikTok anyway so didn’t bother. Anyway, last week Franki asked about TikTok, and I confessed I hadn’t touched it in over a year. Annoyed, they reset my password and went to my account, exclaiming that I wouldn’t have any followers because you can’t just drop one video and then bugger off for the year, TikTok didn’t work that way.

I had over 900 followers. Don’t ask me how, but there they were.

So, Franki has been making a stockpile of cool videos and this time has promised to teach me how to TikTok before they return to university. I need to expand onto other social media platforms. Instagram is a lovely place to connect with other authors and form a supportive network but it’s not very good for book sales. I know several authors who have branched out into TikTok and even Twitter and are doing very well with it. I know I need to try and so far TikTok isn’t too bad. It’s confusing and noisy and I don’t understand the whys and the what’s, but I can see the results. Greater reach, greater engagement, and more chance of getting the word out about my books.

Today is going to be a relaxing day. I feel I’m in danger of burn-out so need to take better care of myself and schedule resting and recharging my batteries. I’m not 25 anymore, I’m 55, and my body can’t keep going the way it used to.

Have a great weekend everyone! Mx R is coming back on Monday from their visit with their family, so it will be back to veggie cooking. So, tonight’s dinner is southern fried chicken! And no doubt tomorrow’s dinner will be meat-based as well.

See you in two weeks.

Julia Blake

Birthday, Houdini Hamster, and Comic-Con!

So, it’s my birthday tomorrow. I shall be 55. Most years I would have so many things planned to celebrate the occasion, but this year I simply can’t wrap my head around it.

It’s Saturday, at the end of the first week of my two-week “staycation” and what have I done? Well, nothing much really. I did go for lunch with a friend on Monday, which was nice. I’ve rested, eaten nice meals, and had a few drinks. I’ve read during the daytime – unusual for me – and I’ve spent time with Franki and Mx R. Oh, and of course, I published a book on Monday as well.

Link on Books page

Pitch & Pace – book five of the Blackwood Family Saga – those who’ve read it say it’s the best one yet but launch day itself was a little disappointing. I know everyone is currently struggling with sales, and book five of an ongoing series is always a slow sell. Engagement is down on all social media platforms and people are buying less – which is understandable given how tightly squeezed people are. Still, I did expect a little more but hey ho, that’s how the life of a writer does go.

I’ve also been preparing for the first live event I’ve done since November 2019, when I shared a stall with other local authors at the Bury Christmas Fayre.

St Albans Comic-con is a fantasy and sci-fi convention and I’m sharing two tables with a couple of my local author pals – Rachel Churcher who writes dystopian sci-fi, and Mary McGuire who writes comedic sci-fi.

If you’re nearby – pop in and say hi

None of us knows much about the event and we originally booked it back in early 2020. It was postponed because of Covid – as so many things were – but when 2021 rolled around it was felt it still wasn’t appropriate to hold large events yet, so it was postponed to the 17th of July 2022, which is coincidentally my birthday.

Black Ice – link on Books page

I honestly never imagined my 55th birthday would be spent in a crowded sports hall in St Albans with a bunch of fantasy and sci-fi freaks dressed in cosplay and no AC. That’s right, it’s going to be one of the hottest days of the year and we’re stuck in a crowded hall with no AC. I was going to dress up in full steampunk regalia but decided it’s far too hot to be in a leather corset so instead, I have a pure cotton t-shirt with a lovely steampunk pocket watch and cogs design, a loose long cotton skirt and flipflops. We have fans and will take lots of iced water, and we will manage.

Erinsmore – link on Books page

None of us knows how many books we might reasonably be expected to sell. Enough to cover our costs, I hope. I have needed to spend rather a lot on this what with the cost of the table, buying books upfront, a tablecloth, book display stands, bags to put the books in, and a laminator. The last time I did an event, I noticed how people would pick the books up to read the blurbs, so in these days of not wanting people’s grubby, germy mitts all over my books, I have printed out the blurbs on paper and laminated them. These will go on the front of the stall so people can handle them and then I can wipe them clean with antibacterial wipes. Thus, saving the books from being damaged and helping prevent the transmission of Covid.

The Forest – link on Books page

As it’s a fantasy and sci-fi convention, I am taking Black Ice, Erinsmore, The Forest, and Lifesong. The three bigger books will be priced at £10 each – signed and with a bookmark and Julia Blake bag – and Lifesong will be priced at £4 if bought alone, £2 if bought with another book plus signed and with a bookmark.

Lifesong – link on Books page

Fingers crossed for a good day for us. It’s going to be an early start. Because I don’t have a car right now the others divided me up between them. Rachel called around Friday afternoon and took all my boxes of books and other stuff in her bigger car, then Mary will collect me at 6:30am on Sunday.

That’s right, I still don’t have a car. My financial advisor can’t even apply to draw down all my pension until the day after my birthday and then apparently it could take up to four weeks to get my money! So, I will be taking the bus and walking for a while yet.

We did have a bit of excitement early Thursday morning involving Franki’s hamster who came home with them from university. Regular readers of my blog will know the biggest thing we had to try and transport home after my car died up there, was the large crate which was Miss Moo’s enclosure. Anyway, Franki decided they wanted to buy another enclosure to keep here so they didn’t have to keep transporting an enclosure every time they came home. The plan was to buy a collapsible one to use and keep here, then whenever Franki came home they could bring Miss Moo in her little carrier on the train. So, this hamster would have their regular home and a holiday home. Talk about posh!

The enclosure was bought. It was huge. It took up most of the floor space in the little back bedroom which serves as an office and spare room. I was very unsure about this pen because it had no top. Don’t worry, I was reassured, the sides are so slippery she can’t possibly climb up them. She can’t get it. It’s not HER getting OUT, I told them, it’s the CAT getting IN that’s worrying me.

Precautions were taken, the window was fixed with window locks, so it was only open a crack, not wide enough to admit the cat, and unless someone was in the room, the office door was kept firmly closed.

All seemed well. Until one day they cleaned her out and discovered that one of the plastic panels that made up the base was slightly warped, so the hamster had managed to get her little teeth under it and had gnawed a small hole right through until she hit the carpet. But she didn’t stop there. Nope. She then proceeded to eat through the carpet and the underlay right down to the floorboards! Great, so now I had a small hole in the carpet. It’s under the desk and the carpet in there is old and cheap, so I wasn’t that upset.

first hole

They replaced the panel and put the heavy wooden wheel over where it had been. All seemed well.

Thursday morning, at about 3am, something woke me. I still don’t know what. Both my bedroom windows were wide open because of the sweltering heat so it could have been noise from outside, I don’t know. Anyway, I woke up, lay there blinking stupidly, and realised that now I was awake, I needed to pee.

I tried to convince myself that I didn’t, but it was no good, my bladder was insistent I really, really did. Groaning, I sat up in bed and switched on my lamp. I got out of bed and opened my bedroom door and saw something lying in the middle of the landing.

Have you ever had that situation where your brain refuses to believe what your eyes are telling it?

EYES: It’s that hamster!

BRAIN: No, it can’t be.

EYES: I’m telling you, it’s that fecking hamster!

BRAIN: Bloody hell, you’re right, it is!

I froze, staring at the little pile of black and white fluff. Once my brain had accepted that yes, it was Miss Moo the hamster sitting there, the first thought that dashed through my mind was that what I had predicted had come true. The cat had somehow got into the room, scooped the creature out of the pen, killed it, and discarded the corpse in true “cats are jerks” fashion.

I took a step towards it, a black beady eye blinked up at me, and her ears twitched.

So, it was alive then.

Shit, what to do?!

Realising I needed something to try and trap the critter in, I stepped back into my room and looked about. In readiness for Comic-con that weekend, I had piles of boxes standing in the corner in various states of being packed. Grabbing the emptiest one, I frantically tipped out the bookmarks it contained and crept back to my door.

Miss Moo hadn’t moved an inch. Flattened on the floor, she didn’t so much as twitch as I silently oozed towards her, the box held aloft, open side facing down, and holding back the flaps ready to slam it down over her.

Inches. I got inches away from achieving my goal.

Do you know how fast a hamster can move?

Like greased bloody lightning.

That wretched thing shot between my feet and straight under a large chest of drawers in the alcove outside my bedroom door.

At this point, I decided to call in the cavalry. I banged on Franki’s door and called their name. At the mumbled enquiry, I said – your hamster’s escaped – and ten seconds later a wide-awake Franki was at the door, with Mx Rys hot on their heels.

All three of us, in various stages of undress, knelt by the chest of drawers and looked under. There, in the furthest corner, eyeing us defiantly was Miss Moo. We fetched her favourite treats and then spent twenty very long minutes holding our breaths and attempting to bait her out.

Eventually, greed got the better of her, she crept out and Franki scooped her up, put her in the box, hurried with her back to the office and deposited her into her carrier.

We’re not putting her back in her pen, I told them, not until we know how she escaped. She can stay in her carrier until morning.

But the poor baby is stressed, they protested. We must set up her old enclosure and get her settled in that.

I snorted, having less than charitable feelings about the wretched thing, but went off to attend to my bathroom needs, which by now were somewhat pressing, and when I came back they had sorted her old enclosure out and were settling Miss Moo in it with some treats and fresh water.

Two very guilty faces looked up at me when I entered the office.

Umm, we moved the pen, they told me and found where she got out. And don’t worry, we’ll buy you a new carpet.

That did not sound good, but I was too tired to worry about it then and we all went back to bed.

big hole she chewed to get out

The next day, they dismantled the pen entirely and contacted the Amazon seller who had promoted it as being perfect for hamsters. It has now been returned to them with a strongly worded complaint plus several photos of the damn great hole Miss Moo chewed through yet another panel, plus the quite considerable damage she has done to my carpet.

big hole!

We’ve tidied the office, they told me, and we’ve vacuumed it thoroughly. Hmm, not to my standards they hadn’t. Hamster bedding and sawdust were still everywhere. I moved furniture to vacuum properly and when I moved the small, corner bookcase out from under the window I found what Miss Moo had done with all the carpet and underlay she had ripped up. She had established a second nest in the corner behind the bookcase. Like some sort of rodent “Shawshank Redemption” she tunnelled her way out of the pen, pouching all the carpet and underlay as she went, squeezed behind the bookcase, un-pouched to make a nest, and then, for good measure, ate another hole in the carpet there.

last hole

So, the carpet is completely ruined and will have to be replaced!

I honestly don’t understand why people want to keep hamsters as pets. They are nocturnal so you can’t cuddle or play with them during the day. They only live for two years. They chew through everything. And if they bite you they can bite to the bone and cause serious damage.

So, the verdict is in, Miss Moo is guilty of the crime of eating my carpet and will stay in a maximum-security prison for the rest of her life. She’s sulking about being back in the smaller pen after the palatial mansion she had started to get used to, but that’s tough.

maximum security jail

After all, she had a lucky escape. If she scrambled up the bookshelves and onto the windowsill, she could have gone out the window, fallen off the roof and ended up as hamster jam on the path below. She could have got under the floorboards never to be seen again. She could have got downstairs and been caught by the cat. Whilst Skittles isn’t the most proficient of hunters, something small and furry scurrying about in her house is simply asking to be eaten.

We’ll never know what went through that pea-sized brain and why she decided to squeeze under the door and run down the landing. Seriously don’t know how she managed to get under the door, the space is tiny. I do wonder where she would have ended up if I hadn’t opened my bedroom door? Would she have squeezed under my door and come into my room? That’s where she was heading. I’m glad she didn’t make it to under my bed. There is a serious amount of stuff under there and if I’d had to pull it all out at silly o’clock in the morning to rescue a fricking hamster, I would not have been best pleased.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. The hamster was caught and is safely ensconced in a pen she can’t escape from – and this one has a stout mesh lid so nothing can get in at her either.

My carpet is ruined, but I was planning to replace it at some point, so, okay …

Miss Moo – Master Criminal

After a month of staying with us, Mx R has gone back to Wales to spend some time with her family. I’m not sure when they will be back. I’m assuming in time for Franki’s birthday, but no doubt I will be updated at some point. The house already feels quiet without them, but it will be nice to spend some quality time with Franki alone.

I have another week off work and a severe hot weather warning has been issued for Monday and Tuesday so don’t think we’ll be going very far. I plan to start writing my next book so have made a deal with Franki. Leave me alone with my laptop for three or four hours in the mornings, then in the afternoons, we can do whatever you please. We have a big Tesco shop arriving this evening, full of meat and other nice things to eat. Mx R being a vegetarian has made meals interesting, so I’m looking forward to some simplicity in our meals again.

And that is all my news this week. Keep your fingers crossed that we have a good day tomorrow – if I could simply cover my costs and hopefully gain new readers, anything above that will be a plus. But I will let you know how it went next time, and if I got around to celebrating my birthday in any way.

Take care, everyone!

Julia Blake

Hayfever, Buses, and Hamsters!

And just like that, we’re into July and the year is halfway over. Life has been hectic since we last chatted, so I’ll try to bring you up to date with everything that’s happened. Firstly, I know you’re probably wondering what’s transpired to my car. Well, it’s still up north. After asking for help on social media, a friend spoke to a family member who lives near Nantwich and came back with the name and telephone number of a garage there. I phoned and spoke to Dave, who then passed me on to his son – Dave was off on holiday the next day – so Chris arranged to collect the car from the university so at least it was off-campus. I’ve not heard anything since. The plan was that Chris would take whatever had any value off the car and scrap the rest. They would make what they could on the salvaged items, deduct their expenses, and then if there is anything left over I might get a few pennies back. I’m not holding my breath, but so long as it doesn’t cost me to get the car scrapped that’s all I’m worried about.

I’ve been two weeks without a car and to say it’s inconvenient is an understatement. I blithely assumed I’d be able to take the bus to and from work. After all, it is only about three miles away on a popular retail park where there are several shops, so lots of shoppers and workers want to get there and back again. It turns out I was only half right. Getting to work – not a problem. Getting home from work – not so easy.

There is a bus going out to the retail park at two minutes past every hour all day. So, if my shift starts at 9:30 I catch the 9:02 bus which gets me to work at about 9:17. If my shift is 10:30, I catch the 10:02 bus. It’s a pain if my shift starts at 10:00 because then I must still catch the 9:02 bus which gets me there forty minutes sooner than necessary, but I can deal with that. No, it’s the end of the day and getting home that has caused major problems.

If I leave off at 5:00, there isn’t a bus until 5:40, so I must hang around at work for forty minutes and then still have the bus ride home. If I leave off at 6:00 there isn’t a bus until 6:50. If I leave off at 4:30 then I just miss the 4:28 bus! And, of course, there are no buses to or from work on a Sunday.

The first day I had to get to work after getting back from up north happened to be a Sunday, but a neighbour very kindly offered to give me a lift there and back, which was fabulous. The next day, Monday, I got the bus to work but because my shift ended at 5:00 my neighbour couldn’t give me a lift home. I didn’t fancy hanging around for forty minutes waiting for a bus, so I decided to walk home. I mean, how hard could it be? I wasn’t that out of shape.

I knew there was a bridlepath I could take which would lead me over the fields and bring me back into town through the Abbey Gardens. It was a beautiful summer evening, so I thought I’d take it and maybe enjoy my walk home.

And it was a very pretty walk. There was a small stream running alongside the path which at one point I crossed over on a charming, wooden bridge. There were birds, butterflies and insects zooming about. Trees were overhanging the path and eight-foot-high banks of cow parsley and wild thistle lined the walk. Yeah, turns out my hayfever doesn’t like cow parsley. I mean, seriously dislikes it.

As I marched along my eyes began to itch and run, my nose gushed like a broken tap, and I could taste pollen in the back of my throat. Heck, I could see it floating in the air! I kept on walking. My eyes flooded with itchy tears which poured down my face. I did get funny looks from the few people I passed. It went beyond annoying to painful as I tried to not touch my eyes, knowing from bitter experience that it would only make things worse.

I finally left the bridlepath and walked through the Abbey Gardens. By now, I’m sobbing, and my eyes are burning as if chilli sauce had been rubbed into them. It was another twenty minutes from the Gardens to home and when I finally staggered in the front door, Franki took one look at me and recoiled in horror.

What’s the matter with your face?!

I went into the bathroom. My eyes had puffed up to three times their normal size and were an angry reddish-purple colour. Tears had washed every scrap of makeup off, and I had a grubby nose where I’d permanently been wiping it. Bright yellow pollen was seeping from the corners of my eyes. I was a complete mess. It took another hayfever pill, a good wash in clean water, eye spray, plus a couple of squirts of my steroid nasal spray to calm things down.

I decided not to take the pretty “shortcut” again. It had taken fifty minutes to get home, so I wasn’t convinced it was a shortcut anyway.

The next day I had to walk home again, so this time I played it safe and walked through town. I was still exhausted, hot, and sweaty by the time I got home, but at least my face hadn’t blown up, plus it only took forty-five minutes.

On Friday, I was working 10-4 so decided to catch the 4:28 bus. Typically, a customer walked in a few minutes before I was due to leave off. Time ticked by. It was now 4:15. The thing I’ve learnt about buses is that it may say on the schedule that they’re not supposed to leave the stop until 4:28, but if the bus is running early it won’t wait. It WILL leave without you, so I was keen to get to the stop. My boss knew the score, so when he’d finished with his customer, he stepped in and took over for me so I could leave.

I rushed to the stop, it was 4:18. Sure enough, a minute later the bus turned up. I got on and off we went. Now, the journey to work on the bus takes about fifteen minutes so I was expecting the journey home to take the same. We trundled off to the nearby suburban residential estate, Moreton Hall. Now, this estate is massive! Years of expansion mean it’s now the size of a village and is a complete rabbit warren of roads and cul-de-sacs. We whizzed by the pub – it looked very inviting, with lights twinkling around the large garden and people already sprawled at the tables outside enjoying a Friday after-work drink. Then we went into parts of the estate I was unfamiliar with. Round and round we went. Back past the pub garden – it was even fuller now – surely, we’d now head back into town? Nope, off we went again, almost to the next village, then back again. Down twisting roads and back onto the estate ­– Tassel Road, I was sure we’d been here before – we turned down a different road.

I was hopelessly lost by this point. I had no choice but to trust that the driver knew where he was going and that I would eventually get back to the town – or at least to somewhere I recognised.

If you’ve ever travelled by bus, you’ll know it’s an unwritten law there must always be one old crazy person on it. Hunched in a seat and muttering away to themselves, regular bus riders know to avoid them, but of course, I managed to sit down behind the crazy old man on this bus route. He mumbled into his sleeve the whole ride. His opinions about the houses and gardens we passed, the weather, the other people on the bus – all whispered into his sleeve like a crackpot secret service agent.

I looked out of the window and avoided eye contact.

We whizzed by the pub again. By now it was 4:40. If I’d known, I could have asked to be dropped off there the first time by, had a drink, and then caught the bus the third pass by. We reached an area I recognised and turned onto the main road. Surely not? Were we about to pass the bus stop I originally caught the bus at? Yep. Some thirty minutes after I got on the bus, we stopped at the identical stop to let people on and off. What the heck?!

Finally, we headed into town. But I didn’t end up at the bus station, which is a minute’s walk from my home, nope, he dropped us in the centre of town which is an eight-minute walk. I walked through my front door at 5:12. It had taken an hour and twelve minutes to make a ten-minute car drive home!

Looking at the bus timetable, I realised what had happened. There was an earlier bus from the stop outside my work, the 4:11 one. I think that bus was running late so I caught it at 4:19 believing it to be the 4:28 running early. So, when we stopped again at the same bus stop at 4:40, that was the 4:28 bus running very late. Think I’d rather walk home than sit for an hour on a hot bus seeing parts of the Moreton Hall I never knew existed.

The following week my neighbour very kindly picked me up from work on Monday, I walked home on Tuesday, and then my neighbour picked me up on Wednesday and Thursday. I have one more week at work until I’m on my two-week holiday. Maybe I will have a car by the time I go back – I hope so. One funny thing happened on my walk home through town on Tuesday. Crazy guy from the bus was walking up the road ahead of me, shouting into his sleeve – which looked even more peculiar than before as he was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt so was yelling into his wrist. I crossed the road and avoided him. It was hot, I was tired, and I didn’t need the hassle.

I am guessing the other thing regular readers want to know is – did I evict the lodger? And how did he take it? To which the answers are yes, and surprisingly well. As you know, I left him a very tactfully worded letter explaining how due to personal circumstances and mindful of all the building work that was due to take place in the house over the summer, I had decided not to let the room for the foreseeable future.

When he finally spoke to me about it on Sunday, he shrugged his shoulders and said he’d guessed which way the wind was blowing and already had viewings lined up for other rooms. I gave him a month’s notice, which meant he had to be out by the 18th of July (the day after my birthday) but was kind of hoping he’d leave sooner. His rent was paid until the 30th of June, so any days he stayed after that would either be paid for or deducted from his damages deposit.

It has been more of a strain than I realised it would be, having four adults in a reasonably small house with only one bathroom! I want to enjoy having Franki and Rys home for the summer, and it is stressful worrying about disturbing the lodger – although he doesn’t care about disturbing us. Also, the youngsters are very keen to move into the basement as soon as he moves out. It makes sense. It’s a much bigger room than Franki’s old one they are currently occupying. A bigger bed that can be accessed from either side, instead of a small double against the wall. There’s tons more storage plus being a basement room it’s deliciously cool. Franki’s room is in the middle of the house and is small, so it gets hot in there.

The hamster will be going down into the basement with them, which I’m very pleased about. Noisy little sod has been waking me up at night with all the noise she makes.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet, but I need my sleep.

The stupid creature managed to get the cork lining off her wheel last night and pouched most of it. It was quite impressive how much she managed to stuff into her cheeks. She went from being a small streak of black and white fur to a round tubby ball of fluff. There was an hour of concern until finally, she decided to un-pouch the lot so it could be removed from her enclosure.

When the hamster goes down into the basement, not only will I be able to sleep better at night, but it will free up the office for me to use if Franki and Rys are using the lounge so I can’t get to my desk there. It will just be nicer and more practical all-around to let them have the basement for the summer. Come September when they return to university, I will have to seriously think about my options. I might try Airbnb. There are pros and cons to it. The pros are a lot more money, plus flexibility. I can block out dates I don’t want someone in the house, for example, when Franki is home, or I have friends staying, or at Christmas. The cons are having strangers in my house without even the reassurance of holding a large damages deposit.

We shall see. Right now, I have two months where I don’t have to think about it.

I’m writing this on Saturday. So far, I’ve had a very early start and have cleaned and swept both the front and back garden and watered and fed all my pots. The neighbour across the road – the husband of the lady who has been giving me lifts – saw me pruning the Red Robin tree by my front door and offered to trim the hedge with his trimmer. He cut whilst I swept and bagged all the bits. It’s amazing how much light is now flooding into the lounge with the hedge at a more respectable height. I do need to go out there though with a bucket of soapy water and scrub the windowsill and the basement hatchway. The judges of the Bury in Bloom contest will be coming around any day and I want to win another certificate.

Talking of gardens, tomorrow is the Hidden Gardens of Bury. It’s the first time it’s happened since the pandemic and Franki and Rys are very keen to go. It’s good fun, you pay a small sum and get a yellow lapel sticker and a map showing which houses are participating. Then you wander about town looking for the yellow signs showing where the entrances to the gardens are and gloriously peer, snoop, and explore other people’s gardens. Most of the gardens are behind houses or high walls so are truly hidden, and this is the only opportunity to see them. I’ve done it before and have always been staggered at how amazing they are. It’s a fun day, joining the hundreds of people wandering up and down the streets, clutching their maps, and looking for the gardens. Some garden owners set up stalls to sell refreshments. One house even had homemade ice cream, which was delicious. Hopefully, the beautiful weather will hold. I will take lots of photos and share them in the next blog.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. Final news is that Pitch & Pace will be released in eBook format on the 11th of July. It is available to pre-order now at the low sale price of just £1.99 (or local currency equivalent) but that will go back up to its normal retail price on launch day.

Only £1.99 to pre-order

Between the 1st and the 4th of July, the eBook version of Sugar & Spice – book three of the Blackwood Family Saga – is on sale at only 99p (or local currency equivalent).

Only 99p 1-4 July

The paperback version of Pitch & Pace is already available to buy at the low pre-launch price of just £6.99 – as are Lost & Found, Fixtures & Fittings, Sugar & Spice, and Kiss & Tell!

ALL paperbacks only £6.99

That’s right! The paperback versions of all five books in the Blackwood Family Saga are available for £6.99 for the week before the launch date. All are available from Amazon and universal purchase links are on the books page of this blog.

Take care and I look forward to chatting in two weeks.

Julia Blake

Day from Hell!

Where do I start? I truly think the events I’m about to relate to you resulted in one of the worst – certainly one of the most stressful – twenty-four hours I have ever had.

Anyway, good morning. Although a few other things have happened in the fortnight since we last spoke, I will only have time to talk about this one particular day.

As most of you know, I was due to drive to Miss F’s university on Thursday, 16th of June. In the back of my tiny car was a replacement mattress for the one I’d bought her before Christmas that is now faulty. Although I left a little later than intended – due to being woken up by a murder of crows having a cawing competition right outside my bedroom window at four in the morning. They went on for over twenty minutes before a winner was declared, they all buggered off and I fell asleep again, only to wake up thirty minutes later than planned. Still, I was on the road by ten past seven, it was a gorgeous day, and I was confident of making up the time.

The trip up was smooth and uneventful, and I was driving onto the university campus at ten, thinking it should only take two or three hours to take the faulty mattress to the Dreams store in nearby Crewe, pack all Miss F’s belongings into the storage pod I’d rented nearby, have some lunch, and then be on the road going home.

 The car park was full, but there was a single space left and I began to pull into it when my car stopped. Stopped dead. Puzzled, I took it out of gear and put it back into reverse. Nothing. I turned the engine off and tried to restart it. Dead. But every single light on the dashboard came on. All of them.

Panicked, I got out of the car and banged long and loudly on the door to Miss F’s student house. No answer and the door was locked. I phoned Miss F. It went to voicemail. I left a terse message. Hung up. Tried again. This time she answered and came down to let me in.

Trying hard not to sound as concerned as I felt, I told her about the car. We went out to it, I tried again. One of Miss F’s friends, Charlie, came out and told me to pop the hood. They knew a little something about cars, so looked, but were none the wiser.

Meanwhile, I phoned my insurance company’s breakdown recovery number. A few months ago, I beefed up my breakdown insurance and was now very pleased I had. They took all my details and promised to get a recovery vehicle out within two hours. Two hours?!

Charlie saw my distress and offered the services of their car to at least take the old mattress to Dreams in Crewe and then begin the mammoth task of ferrying all Miss F’s belongings to the storage pod. Only problem? Charlie’s car was a tiny KA even smaller than my Nissan Micra.

Never mind, where there’s a will, there’s a way. With all Miss F’s flatmates now up and willing to help, we wrapped and bent the mattress in half and tied it with string as tightly as possible and somehow managed to get it in the back of Charlie’s car. Of course, the back seats had to be down.

I went with Charlie, and we found the Dreams store and lugged the mattress in. That bit was easy as my boss had prepared the way. They knew it was coming and arrangements had been made for it to be collected for recycling from their store. Then Charlie drove us to the storage company – they had done the same thing the previous year so knew where it was.

The storage company were concerned about what had happened and asked if I needed the number of a local garage, then showed us our pod, and when I said I’d left our padlock back at the university, gave us one for free.

We drove back to the university and began packing Miss F’s stuff – oh, sooooo much stuff – into Charlie’s car. Then Charlie and their girlfriend, Sara, did the first trip to the pod whilst Miss F, Mx R (Formerly Miss C), and I quickly had something to eat and drink, then carried on with the packing.

Charlie came back. We loaded up their car again – there was still quite a bit left, but we estimated one more trip after that would do it. Off to the storage pod – this time I went along – we went and piled all the boxes into it. On the drive back to the university, my mobile went, and it was Gordon, the recovery breakdown guy, who was lost and had no idea where he was. The satnav had taken him to the wrong entrance to the university. Tell him to stay put, Charlie said, I know where that is and we’re only five minutes away. We’ll come and find him, and he can follow us. I relayed this all to Gordon. Righty oh, he said, I’ll look out for you.

By now I’m a hot sweaty mess. It’s a sweltering hot day and what with that, plus stress, I was not nice to be near.

ME:  Have you ever got to the point where you can smell yourself?

CHARLIE: Yep.

We found Gordon and he followed us back to the university. I did feel for him as we drove onto the campus. There are some brutal speedbumps and unless you crawl over them, then it’s whoops, where did my suspension go?

Gordon looked at the car. He tutted and sighed.

GORDON: I think it’s the alternator.

ME: Umm, okay. Is that bad?

GORDON: Well. It’s not good.

ME: How much roughly to replace it?

GORDON: About £300.

ME: But it can be replaced?

GORDON: Oh, yes.

At this point, my only concern is getting us home.

GORDON: Let me put the jump leads on and let’s see what happens.

I leave him to it, surrounded by a group of interested students, and go back into the house to see if any more progress has been done on the packing front. Going up to Miss F’s room, I help organise the final bits and get them downstairs so Miss F can give her room a quick clean.

Down in the kitchen, the final boxes I had posted up to Miss F the week before had all been used. Luckily, I’d bought three more up with me, plus some soft zip-up bags for the bedding.

Gordon called me out to the car.

GORDON: I don’t think it is the alternator now.

ME: Okay. What do you think it is?

GORDON: I think your battery is completely gone and you need a new one.

ME: Oh. Umm, is that good?

GORDON: Well, it’s better than the alternator.

ME: And the cost to replace it?

GORDON: About £60.

ME: Cool!

I phone the insurance company again to explain what the verdict was. Find a local KwikFit garage, they ordered, and we’ll get the car there. We found one, I phoned it, spoke to the lovely Harry, and told him my tale of woe.

He made all the right sympathetic noises. I handed him over to Gordon who had a quick chat with him. It was arranged that Gordon would take the car, whilst Charlie and I made the final trip to the storage pod and got the last things in there.

Helped by a gaggle of obliging students, Gordon managed to get the car onto the back of his recovery vehicle and off they went. Harry promised to ring me the moment he’d had a chance to assess the vehicle. We piled all the remaining stuff into Charlie’s little car and off we went again.

There was AC in the storage facility. I wanted to stay there. I wondered if things got desperate, whether they’d let me sleep there. I was so hot by this point. A sweltering, sweaty mess of stress and angst.

We drove back to the university. At least all of Miss F’s stuff was now safely in storage until September. Back at the university, we guzzled water and piled all the stuff that was coming home to Suffolk with us in a big heap. I eyed it nervously. There was A LOT of stuff to fit into my little Nissan, plus me, Miss F, Mx R, and the little hamster, Miss Moo, who was getting a bit stressed in her small carrying case.

A long hour ticked by.

Harry from Kwikfit phoned. The battery had been replaced but due to the age of the car, they’d had to get a battery couriered over specially. Instead of being £60, it was £100. By this point, I didn’t care, I just wanted to go home. Then, my mate, Harry dropped his bombshell. There’s a problem with the gearbox, he said. In fact, it looks like it’s on its last legs.

I got into Charlie’s car again and we drove to Kwikfit.

I paid for the battery and the work, and then Harry and another mechanic who was reassuringly elderly took me out to the car.

OLD MECHANIC: The gearbox is basically knackered, and when a gearbox goes in an automatic it’s Good Night, Vienna, as far as the car is concerned.

ME: Will it get me home?

That was the million-dollar question. They looked at each other.

OLD MECHANIC: The gearbox is confused. You can’t start in park anymore, only in neutral. Reverse is now in park, and neutral is somewhere between neutral and reverse.

ME: And where is drive?

OLD MECHANIC: Oh, that’s in drive, except when it’s not.

ME: Umm, okay.

OLD MECHANIC: I wouldn’t risk it, personally, but I know you must get home. My advice would be don’t go motorway. It’s dangerous and the worst place to break down. Go back roads, I know it will take longer but at least it will be safer. And minimise the weight in the car.

Charlie and I looked at one another, both thinking of the mountains of stuff to go in my car for the return journey, the three adults plus a hamster that would add to the weight.

CHARLIE: I’m following you home so I can put all the stuff in my car, plus Miss F and Mx R.

ME: I can’t ask you to do that.

CHARLIE: You’re not asking, I’m offering.

They would not be swayed, and apart from having a stand-up fight on KwikFit forecourt – which I’m not sure I would have won anyway – there was nothing I could say to change their mind. And to be honest, I was too relieved by the offer to fight it very hard.

We left KwikFit to get petrol in both our cars for the return journey. Charlie led and I gingerly followed them. I’m not sure what I was expecting but the car handled fine. I followed Charlie to an Esso garage where we both filled up. £50 in my car and almost £60 in Charlie’s. I paid for both lots – well, it seemed only fair.

There was a hairy moment when I had to reverse because it wasn’t in park but back in reverse, then I followed Charlie back to the university, and again the car seemed fine. Maybe, I thought, once I got home and dropped the car off at my mechanic – I had already spoken to them and arranged to do this – they could patch it up enough to do one more month. If I restricted all car journeys to home and work, then come my birthday when I had planned to draw down only 25% of my pension, I would have to take more and buy a new car.

Yes, I thought, I would do that.

Feeling happier about life, I once again drove into the university car park and the car died.

I mean, it really died, and then the gear stick came out completely in my hand.

At that point, I knew there would be no driving this car anywhere, ever again. It was officially, properly dead. RIP Basil.

With the help of the students, we managed to push it into the parking space. The steering wheel was almost impossible to turn and took all my strength to yank it down to steer. Then we regrouped in the house, and I once again phoned the insurance company.

Oh dear, they said, that’s unfortunate.

What are my options? I asked.

We will reimburse £100 per person in the car to go towards either train or bus tickets to get you home. A hotel for the night, or a rental vehicle.

We went over those options. We had a lot of stuff to get home, plus a hamster. Public transport wasn’t an option. There certainly wouldn’t be a bus and as for the train. We googled train times. We would have to travel into London, sit on a railway platform for hours, and we wouldn’t get home until 8am the following morning. Not doable.

Hotel? What use was that? We would still have to get home the next morning and I only had the sweaty clothes I stood up in. Plus, no hotel would take the hamster and we had to get her somewhere we could set up her normal habitat. She couldn’t stay in a tiny carrier all night. So, that was a no to the hotel option.

Car rental? We looked at a couple of local car rental firms. There were no vehicles of any description available.

In desperation, I phoned my brother. He would come and get us but could only fit himself and one other person in his van. By now it was almost 7pm, even if he left straight away he wouldn’t reach us until gone ten, and it still left the problem of the other person.

Then Charlie – who is now officially renamed Saint Charlie – spoke up and offered to try and get all of us into their car, plus all the stuff, and drive us all home.

We eyed the mountain – was it possible we could get it all into Charlie’s KA?

The biggest thing was Miss Moo’s habitat. Imagine a large 138L stacker box with a wire mesh lid. It had been emptied and cleaned out and things had been thrown into it. We carried the box out to the car – it would fit, but only if the back seats were down. We carried it back into the house. Take everything out, I said. We emptied it, then I turned it onto its side and began repacking it. Like a game of Tetris, I stacked that box with precision engineering. Denser things that couldn’t be damaged on the bottom. Carefully, I layered it up, leaving no inch of space wasted. We tipped it back over and tied the lid on with stout string. We carried it back out to the car. It wasn’t a square container but tapered down so the widest bit was the top. We tipped it back over and angled it into the car on its side with the top facing in, so the smallest side was against the back windscreen.

Would it go in? Yes. Would the back seats go up? Yes, but they didn’t quite click into place. Never mind.

The next biggest thing was Miss F’s large solid shell suitcase. Sara had one of those vacuum bags left. We took all Miss F’s clothes out of the case and all Mx R’s out of their bulging backpack. All the clothes went in the bag, we sucked all the air out, and then carried the stiff board of clothes out to the car. There was room for Miss F’s handbag down the side of the stacker box then the clothes went on top. The back seat headrests had to come out, we’d have to keep our heads bent slightly forward the whole way home because the clothes bag jutted out, but never mind.

Mx R got in and belted up. We piled a bag on their feet and another on their lap. Miss F squeezed into the middle – there was no belt because technically it wasn’t a seat. We put a bag on her feet and a lamp on her lap. I squeezed in and belted up. My bag went on my feet, the large cool bag went on my lap, and Miss Moo in her travel case went on top. Sara got in the front with two bags on her feet, and then Charlie got in.

The car dipped alarmingly, but we were in and off we went.

Driving up it had taken three hours, but I’d had an empty car and was able to drive very fast. Charlie’s car was smaller and so loaded down it would be dangerous to go any faster than 50mph. It was going to be a long journey.

About 45 minutes in, I suggested before we hit the motorway and before it got properly dark, that we stop for something to eat. We were all tired and hot and thirsty, and I was very aware Charlie had eaten nothing all day.

We stopped at a service station that had a nice, wooded area with picnic benches. Although still warm the fierce sweltering heat had gone from the day and it was pleasantly cool. We got McDonald’s for us and a fruit salad for Miss Moo.

She tried melon and grape for the first time and liked them both very much judging by how quickly she ate them.

We used the facilities, then reluctantly packed ourselves back into the car and we off.

I can’t describe that journey. We were squished in like sardines. We were all uncomfortable, hot, and sticking to each other with sweat. I honestly felt like I’d been born in that car – I felt like I was probably going to die in it as well. On and on we drove. It got dark. In the back, I fell into a sort of fugue state where I wasn’t asleep – that wasn’t possible – but my brain was shutting down from being on an adrenalin high all day. It seemed the drive would never end, that this was my existence now, but of course, it did, and finally, at midnight, we got home.

We tried to be quiet unpacking, but that damn great heavy box had to be lugged up the stairs. A picture got knocked off the wall, so that made a noise. Of course, Charlie and Sara were grabbing a few hours’ kip before heading back – Charlie had a hospital appointment they couldn’t miss at 11am in Hull – so they’d have to be on the road by 6:30am at the latest. I pulled out the sofa bed in the lounge which also made a thump, despite my trying to be quiet. Then there was the noise of five people trying to use one bathroom and up and down the stairs – all over the lodger’s room in the basement and yes, I can appreciate how annoying that must have been, but it does not excuse his attitude next morning.

Anyone would have been put out at being woken up at midnight, but upon learning the circumstances behind the disturbance, what a horrific, nightmarish day we’d all had, and that I was now without a car – any “normal” person would have put aside the petty inconvenience of being woken up and said “oh my goodness, that’s terrible, is everyone okay? Thank heavens you finally got home.”

Was this how my lodger reacted?

Was it hell.

He grumped and moaned about being woken up, then stomped off to work.

It is the final straw for me as far as he is concerned. Such lack of empathy is unnerving and a mouldy cherry on top of a long list of grievances I have against him. I will be giving him a month’s notice when I see him later today (Saturday) and the sooner he moves out of my house, the better.

After all, if I will now be taking all my pension I can afford to be without a lodger for a month or two. It means Miss F and Mx R can use the basement room for most of their stay – which will be so much nicer and more convenient for them, and when they have returned to university I will look at restructuring how I let the room out.

Maybe short-term lets of a month or so at a time is a better idea. Then I can arrange for the room to be empty during the longer university holidays so it can be used by my family, and we can have our home to ourselves. With only one bathroom currently in the house, it is a struggle when there are four adults all wanting to use it.

I could even look at Airbnb, although would have to explore all the angles of that from a tax point of view.

There are lots of possibilities and things to think about, but for the immediate future, I want the summer with my family to be as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. And with all the building work planned for the bathroom plus the hassle of changing the boiler, it will make it a lot easier not having to accommodate the needs of a very unpleasant and inflexible lodger.

I think that is the basic reason why I wish him gone. I don’t like him. And sharing your home with someone you don’t like is never a good plan.

So, that is what I will be doing when I have finished writing this blog. Constructing a carefully worded eviction letter. I only hope he doesn’t react as belligerently as I suspect he’s going to, although I honestly can’t believe he’s happy here. Given how untidy, anti-social and moody he is, sharing a house with someone who is the complete opposite cannot be fun for him either.

Oh well, it must be done, and I will let you know next time how well it goes.

This has been an incredibly long blog and all about a single day. I hope you didn’t find it too boring and that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you are happy and well.

Take care everyone.

Julia Blake

Jubilee!

It’s the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this weekend and the whole country is caught up in a frenzy of union jack celebrations. It’s lovely to see all the flags, bunting, and other such decorations adorning shops and homes around town. The Queen very graciously gave the nation an extra bank holiday to help her celebrate – sadly she didn’t specify that ALL her subjects were to benefit from the day off, so only those working in offices and schools are allowed to not work. Anyone who works in retail, or the catering and leisure industries will still be slaving away. Unfair? Yes, it is, but there’s nothing to be done about it.

We originally thought that we would be forced to all work all weekend in my shop, but my boss quite sensibly made the executive decision that we wouldn’t be that busy – duh, everyone is going to be at parties and barbecues – so said as there were four days and four of us, we would all work two days and have two days off. These are counting as our normal days so none of us is getting an extra day off.

My two days were Thursday and Sunday. On Sunday, as you may remember, my street has gained permission to close and is holding a big street party. Everyone has worked hard to make it a wonderful day, but the weather forecast is not looking great. Very unfairly, the weather so far – I am writing this Friday morning – has been beautiful. Thursday, my first day off, was a gorgeous hot sunny day and I spent the day at a nearby stately home with friends visiting from America, but more about that later.

So, what have I been up to over the past fortnight? Mostly what I normally get up to. Work, home, beavering away at my current work in progress to get it ready for publication. In case you don’t follow me on Instagram where I revealed the cover and title last week, below is a picture of the cover for the eBook.

The book is called Pitch & Pace and is book five in the popular romantic suspense series the Blackwood Family Saga. It’s an exciting read all right, and it is the turn of the youngest sibling, Kristina Blackwood, to step into the limelight and tell her story. Set on the wild Yorkshire moors, it’s a tale of music, murder, and a mysterious stranger. The eBook is now available to pre-order from Amazon at a special sale price of £1.99, and it will be launched on the 11th of July – although it may happen earlier if everything comes together. The paperback will be available to buy at a slightly discounted price a week before the eBook launch date.

I wrote the book incredibly quickly, but as usual, all the other stuff that must be done has taken me by surprise. The editing, beta reading, formatting, etc is time-consuming, and then there’s the blurb for the back page, the review to write for Goodreads, the page to create for the website, promo images to source and make, the video trailer to create, the list goes on and on.

If you would like to place your order, then there’s a handy direct link in my bio on Instagram, or you can go directly to Amazon and search for Pitch & Pace in books. It’s the only one with that title so it’s at the top of the list. Or you can wait until after Miss F is home and has put the cover and link on here. I don’t know how to do it myself.

If you haven’t yet discovered the Blackwood Family Saga and would like to, then for today only book one in the series – Lost & Found – is on sale at the tiny price of just 99p (or local currency equivalent). That’s right, this is your chance to meet the Blackwood Family and find out how it all begins for half the price of a cup of coffee. Go to the books page on here, click on the link under the book, and it will take you to the book’s listing on your local Amazon site. Within a minute you could be reading the book!

What’s next, I hear you ask. Well, I need to start writing book fifteen soon. I want to finally write the next book in the Erinsmore Chronicles, and it will be a longer, more complicated book than Pitch & Pace. It will also be illustrated so I need to begin sourcing images and laying out how the book will appear. I am looking forward to writing it. It’s been in my head for almost fifteen years so it will be a relief to finally get it out.

As you know, I’m driving up North soon to collect Miss F from university and bring her home for the long summer break. It’s quite a trek for my poor little car so I always take it into the garage for a bit of a “dad” service. This is when they check my tyres, my water, oil, screenwash, bulbs etc and just generally make sure nothing is going to fall off the car when I’m belting up the M6. I always do this before a long journey, and it usually costs about £40 which I consider money well spent. This time, however, they phoned me.

THEM: There’s a problem.

ME: Problem? What sort of problem?

THEM: Your handbrake cable is snapped on one side and stretched almost to breaking point on the other.

ME: Oh, umm, is that serious?

THEM: …….!

ME: Okay, I guess you better replace it then.

Instead of the anticipated £40, it cost me £175 – so that’s all my overtime for the past three months gone in one hit. Not a happy bunny.

I must sort out getting some packing boxes shipped up to Miss F. I need all her packing to be completed by the time I arrive at the university on the 16th of June. It’s going to be a long enough day as it is without having to do that when I get there as well. As it is, I must make the journey up there and that’s the bit I don’t like – driving long distances by myself, especially as my radio is rubbish. Then we must roll up her old, damaged mattress and bag it, get it into the car and take it to Dreams in Crewe where they will take it in for me and arrange collection by the disposal team from their store. We then must make as many trips as it takes to get all Miss F’s stuff into the storage pod, then load up the car with Miss F, Miss C, two suitcases and anything else they’re bringing home for the summer. Oh, and Miss Moo – the hamster – and make the long journey home. All in one day.

Think I will need a jolly good rest the next day – luckily, I do have that day off.

I turn 55 this July and am allowed to draw down some, or indeed, all, of the little pension I’ve had since the age of 21. It’s not a huge amount, only about £17,000 but I was thinking to take half of it. I couldn’t take it all because it would push my earnings over the limit that Miss F would be entitled to student finance for. Buggered if I’m going to have paid into a pension all this time only to see it all go on paying for her education!

Anyway, I talked to the pension provider and discovered to my horror that even though I have already been taxed on this pension, if I draw down more than 25% of it, I will be taxed again! This seems monumentally unfair and it’s a wonder H.M. Revenue & Customs are allowed to get away with such outright thievery. So now my plans have changed. If I can only have 25% then I must plan and budget extremely carefully what I’m going to use it for.

A new boiler is top of the list. My current one is about 25 years old. I have been warned by the company I have the service plan with that it will become harder to get parts for it and keep it going. I know it’s not very energy efficient and, with utility bills set to double again in October, I need to do whatever it takes to get my energy use down. An appointment has been made for next week for a consultant to pay a visit and advise and quote me for the most energy-efficient combi boiler I can afford.

I’ve also had a builder come round to look at giving me a quote for bricking up the old 1950s window and replacing it with a mirror and a smaller window that won’t rattle in its frame every time there’s a puff of wind. Honestly, the window is only a single pane and I know I’m leaking heat out through it. If you put your hand to the window you can feel the cold air pouring through. I think replacing it will also help cut down on energy bills. I had two skylights put in three years ago so there’s plenty of light in the bathroom – the new, double glazed, much smaller window will be for ventilation only.

I’m having new lights put in the bathroom ceiling, and the builder will quote for making good around the skylights and reskimming the ceiling.

Not sure if there will be anything left from my £4000 after that, but, if there is, then I desperately need a new dishwasher. Mine is nineteen years old, and although it was a good make – hence why it’s lasted nineteen years – it is on its last legs. It will no longer wash the dishes on the lower temperature settings, so everything must go through at sixty degrees, it’s noisy, and not good at its job.

I also had to buy a new kettle this week as mine was so scaled up and going rusty that quite frankly I didn’t want to drink the water that came out of it. Whilst I was at it, I bought a toaster. I’ve had toasters in the past and they’ve never been too successful – with everything coming out either a burnt offering or a bloody sacrifice, I did wonder if there was some religious significance to them? I don’t toast things that often, and when I do, I use the grill feature on the oven. However, I’ve noticed that the lodger toasts things for breakfast almost every day – be it bread, waffles, crumpets, or muffins – the grill is on every morning and my thinking was, it must be using a lot more electricity than a simple, quick toaster would.

I bought the one that matched the grey kettle, but, when I opened it at home I found it was too enormous to fit on my work surface. I’d bought a four-slot one thinking that would be more economical but had to take it back and replace it with a two-slot, smaller version. They didn’t have one to match the kettle, so I had to get a basic chrome one, but that doesn’t matter.

I only hope all the measures I’m taking this summer to get energy consumption down make any kind of difference to my bills. Probably not, but all I can do is try.

It’s been a busy week. An American friend on Instagram whom I met before back in 2019 when she and her husband were touring the UK, had messaged earlier this year to say they would be hopefully in my vicinity sometime in May or June and could we meet up again. Of course, I said, yes, then heard nothing more until suddenly she messaged that they were arriving at the train station at 2:30pm on Tuesday! Luckily, I had the day off so was able to collect them and all their baggage and take them to the rather charming room they had reserved at a local pub. Leaving them to settle in, I walked back later that evening and met them for dinner, which was a surprising treat for me.

I had to work Wednesday – a very quiet day again. Where have all the customers gone?

Thursday looked set to be a gorgeous day, so I suggested I take them to Kentwell Hall for the day. This is a beautiful Tudor manor house out in the countryside and is well worth a visit anyway to see the stunning house and extensive gardens. However, once a year they hold a historical extravaganza when actors dress up in costume from different periods of British history and there are all sorts of activities going on. Coincidentally, this was happening on the day we planned to go.

It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny with a brilliant blue sky overhead. We spent almost five hours wandering around the house and grounds. The time periods stretched from the Neolithic right up to the 1980s and everywhere in-between. A lovely lady in the kitchen talked us through rationing during WWII, a charming Regency lady showed us her silk patchwork and talked about the revolution in the colonies and the South Sea Bubble. We saw crude but efficient looms in the Bronze Age period and learnt how to smelt bronze to make arrowheads and axes. We watched an exhibition about using a British longbow and found an eccentric Tudor alchemist deep in the woods who performed magic for us and told us how amazing chameleons are.

All told, it was a lovely day, and I dropped off my friends at almost four that afternoon back in town to go to their room to rest and freshen up. I shot home and cooked an entire roast lamb dinner in under two hours before walking to collect them from the pub, so they’d know the way back.

We relaxed in the garden before we ate with a glass of chilled wine, and it was a relief to sit down and rest my aching feet. I’d been on the go since 5:30am that morning – when the cat woke me up banging on my bedroom door to be let in. I know I shut her downstairs last night, so can only assume the lodger didn’t close the door properly when he left to go to work at silly o’clock that morning.

We ate dinner and chatted before they left at about ten. They had a long journey the next day by train to Salisbury, so didn’t want too late a night. I emptied the dishwasher, reloaded it, cleared down the kitchen and the table, and then fell into bed exhausted. Two hours later I awoke, my brain sparking for some reason, and couldn’t get back to sleep for the rest of the night.

I wish I slept as well as my cat does.

I’ve included some pictures of Kentwell for you to see how great it was. I did take more, but for some reason, they didn’t come out.

Wherever you are in the UK, and whatever you’re doing to celebrate the Jubilee, I hope you had a fantastic weekend. I have my flags out already and have some pretty bunting to put up on Sunday morning. It’s fabric, not plastic so I don’t want to put it out until the last minute. Rather than wasting money on union jack bunting, which I wouldn’t use again, I bought some pretty fabric bunting in the colours of my garden so once Sunday is over I can reuse it.

I hope the weather forecast is wrong and that it stays dry for Sunday. Of course, a warm sunny day like Thursday would be perfect, but may be too much to ask for – this is Britain, after all.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Julia Blake

Spring Has Sprung!

Hello Everyone! How have you been? The past two weeks have flown by and I’m not sure what I’ve done at all. Work. I have done a lot of work. Although several interviews have been conducted we are still no closer to finding another part-timer and so the overtime continues. That is good from an “extra pennies in my pay-packet” point of view, but, as my company are tediously slow at paying overtime – seriously slow, the overtime I did in March won’t be paid until the end of June – I’m not feeling any benefits yet.

I’ve seen a few of the applicants and I can’t say too much about them, or indeed, anything at all, but I am wondering quite when dressing with some semblance of smartness for an interview became obsolete? Am I hopelessly old-fashioned, or is rocking up in skin-tight leggings, a t-shirt that doesn’t hide your muffin top, unbrushed hair, chipped nail varnish, scruffy trainers, and too much make-up now acceptable when you want to impress potential employers – and that was just the blokes!

I remember when I applied for this job I arrived for the interview on time, wearing smart black trousers, a grey blouse, a fitted grey jacket, and clean shoes. No wonder I was offered the job practically on the spot.

The weather has been a bit weird as well, veering from bitterly cold, grey, and raining, to gorgeous hot sunny days where you can taste the pollen as soon as you step outdoors. I think we’re heading in the general direction of summer, but it’s like Mother Nature is dragging her feet and looking longingly over her shoulder at winter.

I think the threat of frost is over though, so last week my mother and I went plant shopping for some pretties to go into the three beds on the right side of my garden. These beds are almost constantly in the sun or dappled shade so I can grow almost anything I want there. The beds were empty apart from a rose climbing up the pergola, a small clematis scrambling up a willow wigwam, and my wisteria that has decided to completely forgive my brutal treatment of it when relocating it and has burst into leaf and even dark purple buds!

Anyway, we trundled off to Dobies which is a large and well-stocked garden centre on the other side of town. There were a lot of lovely plants to look at, but I had to be sensible and not choose things that would establish world domination over the garden and bully the other plants. I needed perennials that would come back year after year, plants that would be self-sufficient, and I wanted pretty, long-flowering plants that were bee-friendly.

Trying to stick to the colour palette of lilac/purple, cream/white, and lemon/yellow, I threw in a couple of pops of orange to liven things up. A white bleeding heart was a definite, as were white daisies and yellow daisies. Purple clematis to climb the trellis panels, and a white passionflower to scramble up the pergola and keep the rose company. Three lupins – purple, white, and orange. Poppies, snapdragons, scabius, pennestons, verbena, and a few other things I can’t remember the names of but trust me, are pretty.

Although I was selective it was still £100 that first trip, and then I returned the following day and spent another £70 on plants plus potting compost ready for my pots and hanging basket. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it’s the final push on a garden that has been fifteen years in the making. And, let’s face it, without plants there’s not much point to a garden. They are perennials so will return year after year, they will enrich my life, add value to my property, help the environment, and provide food for bees and other essential insects.

I must admit, buying the plants and seeing how good they look has fired me up to keep going. I’m now looking around the garden to see where else I can fit plants in. On the left side of my garden – the side that’s so permanently in shade it is a woodland environment – I’m planning to plant more ferns and other shade-loving plants. When we visited Ickworth Park last month, I was fascinated by the stumpery they had and although I can’t do anything on the scale they have, I may be able to replicate it in a mini form in my little patch of woodland.

Ideas are bursting in my head. I could create something magical in what I’d always dismissed as a rather boring part of the garden. I will keep you posted.

Talking of being creative. My latest book has now been to two of my beta readers, who couldn’t find anything wrong with it and both loved it. It’s now with my third and final beta reader, she of the eagle-eyes and ninja punctuation skills. I’m hoping she won’t find too much; I have done my best with this one, and I feel with every book I write I learn and improve. The covers have been made and when I get five minutes I will need to write the copy for the video trailer and think about how I want it to look.

I’ve written the blurb, which was done in under ten minutes when I received a message from Becky at Platform House Publishing saying James has a slot tomorrow morning to make your covers, if you want them done before next month get the blurb to us NOW! Gulp. Nothing like a deadline to make the ideas flow. So, everything is falling into place with this book and I’m hoping for a June launch date.

So much is happening in June. Not just the book being launched, but it is both my parents’ birthdays, and I will be driving back up North on the 16th to collect Miss F and Miss C from university. Regular readers will remember I said last time I would be booking a storage pod close to the university because Miss F must completely clear all her belongings from the campus for the long summer break. Not only could I not fit everything in my car but storing everything in our tiny house would also be a problem. I searched the area around the university and got a few quotes, then in the end settled with a local company offering a special student deal of £1 for the first month. For the three months, we need the storage unit it’s going to cost £205 plus £45 insurance. It sounds a lot, but when you factor in hiring a van or even paying my brother for his time and petrol to make the return journey twice, plus the sheer inconvenience of having everything piled up at home, it is the only solution.

Miss F contacted me this morning – there’s an issue with the new mattress I bought her before Christmas! Two of the springs are broken and are poking through. She sent me a photo and it does look bad. They have punched holes in the mattress topper, the protector, and the sheet. There is nothing I can do about it until Monday when my boss is back from holiday, and he can advise me on the best way to go about getting it replaced.

Why is my life constantly one pain-in-the-arse issue after another?!

I’m currently looking after two kittens for my new American neighbours who live at the top of my road. They were let down at the last minute by their house sitter, so I offered to pop in night and morning to feed and clean out the critters for the ten days they’re away. I love cats so I’m happy to help, but they are sphinx cats which has taken a little getting used to. They’re sweet and very friendly, but there’s no denying they are odd little things. You don’t realise how small cats are under all that fluff so it’s strange seeing them naked. With their crinkled little faces and big floppy ears, there is a startling resemblance to Dobbie the house-elf from the Harry Potter films. They were wary of me when I first went in, but they quickly realised I was the bringer of food, and then last night I took them a few Dreamies cat treats and now I’m their favourite auntie.

Remember the building site at the bottom of my garden with the huge crane? Well, to add to our misery they have now closed off the street at the bottom of my road which means I can no longer get to work that way. Instead, I’m having to drive across town, get onto the A14, bypass town, get off the A14 and then head into work that way. I thought it would take me ages, but surprisingly I think it might be a quicker route. Going through town I hit a total of eleven traffic lights and if they are all against me it can add ten minutes to my commute. Going via the motorway there is only one set of pedestrian lights. The other night it took me six minutes to get home – I’m not going to grumble about that – and even when the road is opened again, I might stick to the new route. But still, my town is a nightmare right now. There is barely one road anywhere that doesn’t have roadworks, temporary traffic lights, single-lane traffic, or is closed completely. I honestly don’t know which braindead idiot oversees planning this, but I can only assume he or she does not live in town, work in town, nor have any reason to come to town at all, and dislikes the poor bloody residents of Bury St Edmunds!

I have good news regarding the Queen’s Jubilee weekend. Do you remember I told you that my street has been given permission to close on the Sunday and will be holding a street party? I feared I wouldn’t be able to attend because although Queenie has granted the nation a four-day weekend to help her celebrate the occasion, it only applies to schools and people who work in offices – so will cause mega childcare problems for parents who work in retail with school-age kids! Anyway, as my shop will be staying open for the whole weekend, it looked like we were all going to have to work despite the fact we don’t anticipate being very busy. None of us was happy about it and sat there kicking our chairs like petulant children and muttering under our breath how unfair it all was.

My boss spoke to our regional manager who shrugged his shoulders in a “see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya” attitude because the whole “you have to work rule” only applies to us shop staff, not those at higher levels. Of course, it doesn’t.

Anyway, the upshot is the regional manager told my boss to rota his staff as he wished over the four-day weekend. There are four of us, so all of us will work two days and have two days off. My boss knew I wanted the Sunday and nobody else was that fussed about which days off they had – they just wanted some time off. So, the boss and I are having Thursday and Sunday off, and the other two are having Friday and Saturday. It does mean I have to sacrifice my local authors’ meeting that week, but as it’s a bank holiday and some people are away or doing other things, it might have been cancelled anyway. I don’t care. If it’s the price tag for having Sunday off then that’s fine.

I can’t believe how quickly this year is passing. There are only three weeks before Miss F will be home for the summer. It’s a long stay this time – three months in total – because they have such a long summer break. It will be nice to have so much time together. When she visited at Easter we were trying to cram so much into such a short period it was exhausting. With so many people to visit and trips and treats to fit in, it meant we never really had any downtime.

That doesn’t mean the summer won’t be busy though. Whilst Miss F is home we will be celebrating both my parents’ birthdays, my niece’s, Miss F’s, and mine. Miss F will still want to visit friends and family and go for outings, but because it will be spread out over three months it won’t be so frantic. I think that’s another reason why I’m determined to sort the garden out. It will be nice for us to have the outdoor space to chill out in, to be able to eat outside and to have games evenings under the pergola. That is if the British weather decides to be kind to us.

Miss C, Miss F’s girlfriend, will be coming home with us for the first couple of weeks of summer, before heading back to Wales to spend time with their own family. They will be returning for a long visit later in the summer before they head back to Chester to settle Miss C in their new student accommodation ready for the new academic year.

I think the plan may be for Miss F to pick up some shifts at her old place of employment. I know she vowed never to return there, but Miss F is sensible enough to realise that they need money and finding a temporary part-time job that pays as well as the restaurant does will be hard, if not impossible.

I have two full weeks’ holiday from work coming up in July – the two weeks over my birthday – which I’m very much looking forward to. I won’t be able to celebrate my birthday on the actual day though because I will be at a book fair in St Albans. But there are thirteen other days which I have no doubt will be filled with birthday shenanigans.

Hard to imagine I will be 55 this year. I don’t feel that old. Well, scratch that, some days I feel twice that age what with bits of me creaking when I bend and the fact I now make noises getting up. As for my memory … does anyone else have that weird thing when they walk into a room, stop, and then wonder why the heck you’ve gone in there? Mind you, I don’t want to boast, but the other day I did walk into a room and remember why I was there. It was the bathroom, but still …

This week has been a nice week – both from a weather and personal point of view. Monday I had to work, and it was so quiet it was a relief to get home with two days off to look forward to.

Tuesday a fellow author whom I’m following on Instagram contacted me to say they were visiting friends in a nearby town and would I be free to meet up that afternoon for coffee. He is new to the author world and would like to ask me some questions about indie publishing and the various forms that can take. I managed to round up a couple of my fellow local authors and we met him in the rather lovely cathedral garden café. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, so we sat outside for hours chatting about all things bookish. It’s great meeting fellow authors, there’s always so much to talk about.

On Wednesday I went to visit my bookish bestie, the lovely Becky Wright, at her charming little house in a tiny village about thirty minutes away. It was my turn to provide lunch, so I took some mozzarella stuffed meatballs in a cheesy, tomato sauce and some gnocchi and salad. Becky provided wonderful coffee and a box of eclairs. I am ashamed to say we scoffed the lot. I think her young son was hoping for a nibble of one when he got home from school. Sorry, Master A, but a pair of piggy authors ate every crumb.

The last time we met in person had been at the beginning of December, and regular readers will remember it was whilst I was parked outside Becky’s that an Amazon delivery driver threw up a stone which shattered my back windscreen. I will never forget that drive home as long as I live. With several binbags taped over the gaping hole where my windscreen used to be, in the dark, with the wind whistling through the car, an ever-increasing line of impatient traffic growing behind me because I dare not drive too fast, and the tinkle of broken glass falling playing on repeat in my ear, it was truly terrifying. This time I went prepared with a bamboo mat which I secured to my rear windscreen – just in case.

Thursday I had a short six-hour shift, during which I saw hardly anyone and only made one tiny sale. Business is a bit slow now, which makes for long boring days at work.

Friday (today) has been frantic – what with the video chat with Miss F about her mattress, going to pick up my shopping, feeding and cleaning out the cats, writing a couple of book reviews, phoning my pension company about possibly drawing down some of my pension this year, and going on Zoom with my local author group, there hasn’t been much time to do anything else other than try to prepare my blog. I’m working all weekend and know from experience that when I get home from work late Saturday evening, the last thing I will feel like doing is writing it.

And now it’s gone five. I will finish this, then pop over and make sure the cats are happy, clean, fed, and watered. After that, I will fix myself a sneaky gin and tonic and see if any of my neighbours are about for our usual happy hour chat. Then it will be dinner and Netflix before an early night ready for work tomorrow.

What an exciting life I live.

I guess that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed the pictures of my new plants. I will try to take more later in the summer so you can see how much they’ve grown. Have a great weekend and I look forward to chatting with you in a fortnight.

Best Wishes.

Julia Blake

A Sore Throat, A Hamster, and Lots of Writing!

Hello everyone! What a busy couple of weeks it’s been since we last chatted. As I told you last time, I began writing book fourteen – book five of the Blackwood Family Saga – and am delighted to report that I finished writing it two days ago. Standing at 52,000 words, it took me exactly two weeks to write it and I’m pleased with how it’s turned out. I tend to write directly into the appropriate size paperback template, format as I go, and page number it. I also run each chapter through spellchecker and Grammarly as I go. I find it saves so much time at the end of writing the first draft if it’s already done.

Sitting down to begin writing, I only had the vaguest idea of what the book was going to be about. I did know it was going to be Kristina (Kit) Blackwood’s tale, I knew it would involve music and singing, and that there is a brutal killer at large on the Yorkshire Moors. But that was it. The plot revealed itself gradually as I wrote and hopefully fans of the series will enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Once finished, I went through with the Find feature on Word and checked all my crutch words. These are fattening and filling words that maybe the sentence can do without. My crutch words tend to be – really, just, suddenly, had, and felt – so I went through eliminating all the unnecessary uses of those words.

On Saturday I listened to the whole book read back to me using the Read Aloud feature on Word. This is such a useful editing tool. Listening to the story being read out loud helps me to pick up all those niggly typos that are hard to spot – it inside of in, an instead of as, women instead of woman – and so on. Once I’m happy the book is as perfect as I can get it, I will send it to the wonderful Becky Wright at Platform House Publishing. She will make the interior title pages for me and check all the chapter icons and dropped capitals are correct and will stay in place. She may even read it through herself if she’s not too busy and look for anything I may have missed.

When it comes back from Becky, it will then be sent to my eagle-eyed proof-reader, Caroline, for her to work her magic on. No matter how perfect I think it is, she always manages to find something.

Whilst Caroline has the book, I will be writing the blurb, my author review for the book to go on Goodreads, the copy for the book’s page on my website, plus sourcing all the images I will need for the cover, the video trailer, images for the website, and promo images. I will also be liaising with James Wright at Platform Horse Publishing about the video trailer. As you can see, there is still a lot to be done. I often think writing a book is the easy part.

Having worked Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after I last spoke to you, meant I had six days off in a row which I was looking forward to. I intended to put everything else on hold and just write. I was determined to get a sizeable chunk of the book under my belt.

Saturday evening, I started to feel unwell. A dry itchy throat was making me cough and my nose was congested. Thinking it to be a simple summer head cold caused by stress and tiredness, I self-medicated with honey and lemon, rest, Ibuprofen, and over-the-counter medication. As the cough worsened, I did test for Covid, but I was negative. I didn’t think it was Covid – let’s face it, after having it twice and having bad reactions to my jabs and the booster, I’m very familiar now with how it feels, and this felt different.

I was due to return to work on Thursday, and then have one day off on Friday, before returning to work for the three-day bank holiday weekend. By Wednesday though, I was not feeling at all well and phoned work to report there was a chance I may not make it in. Thursday morning, I awoke to glands so swollen in my throat that I looked like Jabba the Hutt, with a croaky gruff voice, and a bright yellow tongue.

Seriously alarmed, I took another Covid test – negative – then I phoned my surgery at 7:15am. Knowing I wouldn’t get through to a human being, I thought they might at least have an automated appointment booking system I could use. The way I was feeling, I knew it had gone beyond self-medication and I probably needed antibiotics.

The phone was answered, and an automated message told me that if I was phoning to make an appointment, then I really should go on their website where I could leave a message, and someone would call me back 48 hours later!

What the heck! That would make it Saturday morning when I’d be needing to go to work. It would also be the start of the bank holiday weekend when I would have two hopes of getting an appointment – one of which was Bob, and he was dead!

I held on. The phone kept ringing. Sporadically the automated voice would cut in pleading with me to use their website. I held my nerve and stayed on the line. Eventually, almost ten minutes later, the phone was answered by a real, live human being!

“How can I help?” she asked.

“I need to make an appointment to see a doctor,” I managed to croak, my voice so gravelly I sounded like Bonnie Tyler with a forty a day habit.

“What seems to be the problem?”

Really? She had to ask, wasn’t my rather sexy growl a big enough clue. I refrained from making any sarcastic comments though, afraid she might tell me to try their website.

“I think I have a throat infection, my glands are very swollen, and I have a bright yellow tongue.”

Yes, that delightful symptom had also appeared Thursday morning.

“Right, I see. What doctor do you normally see?”

“Any, all of them, I don’t care!”

Yeah, lady, I have no loyalty. I’ll see whoever is free.

“I need to ask, have you…”

“Taken a Covid test? Yes, I have, twice, both times negative.”

“Fine, Dr B can see you at 9:50am.”

“Thank you, I’ll be there.”

And that was that!

An actual appointment, face to face, with a real live doctor. If I’d given up and gone to their website as they’d tried their darndest to make me do, heaven only knows when I would have been seen.

I got ready to go to the doctor and phoned work to tell them the good news that I wouldn’t be in. I was proud of myself for being sensible for once.

Knowing me, how this would have usually gone down is I’d have dragged my pestilent carcass into work Thursday morning, made myself really really ill and probably infected everyone else, then been off work for days. No, I thought, see a doctor, and get the antibiotics I knew I needed Thursday morning – that way I’d have two days’ worth which would make me well enough to work all weekend.

Dr B was lovely, and peered down my throat, shaking her head in sympathy.

“That’s a nasty infection you’ve got there.”

“Oh, I thought it was just a cold. I’ve been trying to heal it with honey.”

“You have laryngitis, there’s not enough honey in the world to cure that.”

“Not even manuka honey?”

“No, not even manuka.”

She gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a steroid nasal spray to clear the congestion. Filling the prescription at the pharmacy, I hurried home. I was eager to take the first dose as quickly as possible and continue writing.

It was amazing how quickly the medication worked. By Friday morning my glands had returned to normal size, and by the evening my tongue was pink again. I decided unless I took a turn for the worse overnight, I would be well enough to work the three-day weekend and was proud of myself for being so sensible about it.

The weekend was busy – being a bank holiday we had sales running and people piled into the shop to buy. If people had money worries we didn’t see much sign of it – although we have all noticed there has been an increase in people using interest-free credit to purchase. Perhaps people still want and need stuff, but don’t have the ready money they used to have or are concerned about blowing all their savings on a big-ticket item.

I had Tuesday off and had to thoroughly scrub the kitchen and bathroom. It had been my turn to clean them that weekend, but because I worked it all I hadn’t had time, and besides, I felt they needed a bit of a deeper clean than normal. It’s all very well giving things a lick and a promise, sooner or later you must make good on that promise.

Every spare moment I had I was writing. I was even squeezing in an hour before going to work, which I never normally do because I’m worried about losing track of time and being late. I don’t know what got into me. I was over halfway through the book and desperate to keep writing to find out what happened.

The usual scenario happened. I aim to make all the Blackwood Family Saga books an even length of between 50,000 to 52,000 words. I had reached about 30,000 words and was fretting that I didn’t have enough plot to fill the remaining 20,000 words. I wrote more, then when I had reached 46,000 words, I fretted that I’d have too much plot. But, of course, I should know by now to trust the process because the book clocked in at 52,000 which is the perfect length.

Last week, I was video chatting with Miss F and Miss C when they sheepishly admitted they had something to tell me.

“What?”

All sorts of scenarios were playing out in my head – none of them good.

They then embarked on a long and convoluted tale of illegal hamsters being kept in the university – even though it’s against the rules, everyone did it and honestly, what did the powers-that-be expect? It is a university for animal studies, after all.

One of their friends, they explained, had a lot of hamsters and someone told on her, so there was a mad scramble to hide the hamsters before their room was checked. Miss F and Miss C ended up hiding one in their wardrobe. The hamster hoarding friend then decided to leave the university and took most of the hamsters with them except – you’ve guessed it – the hamster Miss F was harbouring.

The upshot of this tale of woe was that I was now grandmother to a hamster who would be coming home with Miss F for the summer.

Umm. A hamster? Here? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared of any rodent, but to have one in a house where a cat already lives seems like a plan doomed to tragic failure. Okay, Skittles is a lazy, old lump, but she will still chase and catch things that cross her path and having a tempting little furry morsel living under the same roof as her, is pushing temptation under her nose.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea, I said, determined to stay firm about this.

Miss F then bombarded me with video after video of this little scrap of black and white fur cleaning its whiskers, nibbling at food, scampering about its cage, running on its wheel … and, well, the upshot is … we are now a one hamster family.

One, it stops at one!

It is a cute little thing, with black and white patches. It’s called Miss Moo, both because of her markings and because she is a right moo. Okay, great.

I can’t believe how soon Miss F will be coming home for the long summer break. I was thinking it wouldn’t be until mid-end July, but I’ve been told I will need to drive up and collect her sometime in mid-June. Before then I will need to rent a storage pod as close to the university as possible. Miss F has a lot of stuff, including a 4’ mattress, and there’s no way I can fit it all into my tiny car. If I rented a van it would be expensive and cumbersome for me to drive, plus even if I did bring all her stuff home, where on earth would we store it all? Yes, it could fill the spare room, but if Miss F has friends come to stay over the summer, or even if I do, that will mean we’d have nowhere for them to sleep. Then I would have the added expense of renting a van again to get Miss F and all her stuff back to the university in September.

Being an agricultural and animal university, it runs various residential courses during the summer so needs the students’ rooms available to house the summer interns. It’s a complete pain in the backside, but at least if I’ve rented a storage pod close by we’ll be able to make several trips to put all Miss F’s things into storage for the long summer break. I am confident the mattress will fit in my car if I put all the seats down. Well, I’m pretty sure. Let’s put it this way, it either fits in the car or I’m strapping it to the roof, but either way, it will have to be transported somehow.

Reading through this blog, even though I said it had been a busy two weeks, it looks like I haven’t done much. I guess my time has all been eaten up with writing the book and I suppose if you think about it, to write a 52,000-word novel in two weeks is not bad – especially as it’s also formatted, paginated, and has had a basic edit.

Anyway, that’s all my news for now. I hope wherever you are that life is being good to you and look forward to chatting again in two weeks.

Julia Blake