Happy Easter from Julia Blake

I know it’s late for my blog to be going out, for which I’m sorry. But this week has been so full on busy that by the time I stopped to even consider what I could write about, it was gone 6pm last night and I was tired, so I’m afraid I shrugged my shoulders, said “meh” and made myself a gin and tonic.

So, what has filled this third week of isolation, I hear all six of you who regularly read my blog, cry. Well, Monday I began on my mucky kitchen. Like most busy, working mothers I cruise by with a lick and a promise. I clean the bits that show and promise myself that one day I’ll have a real thorough deep clean. Now, I used to religiously do this either once a year or between lodgers, whichever came first, but, the last three years have been ones of ill health, hospital stays and upheavals in my working life, and I’m afraid spring cleaning got pushed further and further down the list.

I now had no excuse. No work to go to, no social gatherings or events to keep me occupied, this was really it. I had to prove that all those times I’d claimed not to have the time to clean were justified, because now I had the time, lots of it, so if I didn’t clean then it would show I’d simply been lazy, not busy.

So, Monday, everything removable came out of my kitchen and was piled up in the dining room. Then it began. Now, as every women (and the odd man, maybe) knows, in order to clean properly first you have to make a big mess, as I tried to explain to Miss F when she wandered downstairs later and stared in disbelief at a stripped bare kitchen and a trashed dining room.

“Thought you were tidying?” she muttered.

“I am,” I replied through clenched teeth. “But to do it properly you first have to make it worse.”

It took me two and a half days to deep clean my kitchen, and it’s not even a particularly big one, but taking every single thing out of a cupboard, scrubbing inside the cupboard, and then cleaning and putting everything back before moving onto the next one, takes time. I also didn’t push myself. There was no need, after all, I had no deadline other than wanting it all done before the weekend, so there was no urgency to start at daybreak and keep going until I dropped. I started at a sensible time and had lots of breaks.

I finished midday on Wednesday. Took a deep breath, then started on the painting. Now, I can tell you exactly when my kitchen was last painted – June 2010. I know this, because Miss F had gone away with her grandparents to Disneyland Paris for five days. I had taken the week off and everyone assumed I’d go away myself, or at the very least enjoy a much-needed rest. Don’t be silly, that’s not how we roll in my shire.

Monday morning, I did the weekly shop as usual, then went to visit my parents and then went to my goddaughter’s birthday party. Tuesday the new bed and mattress I’d ordered for Miss F arrived and my dad came in and helped me relocate her old bed into the spare room and assemble the new bed, all ready for when she came home. Wednesday, I cleaned the house from top to bottom, all except the kitchen. Thursday, everything came out of the kitchen into the dining room and I deep cleaned the whole kitchen as I’ve been doing this week. It took a single day back then. Well, it was ten years ago, I was ten years less tired, it was pre-surgery and illness days and I started at 7am and didn’t stop for anything until it was done.

I went out with a friend for dinner in the evening, enjoying a rare opportunity of not being stuck at home with a young child every night. Whilst at dinner, Miss F phoned me in a state of sugar induced excitement – yeah, thanks grandma – to happily inform me she was having a great time, and no, she didn’t think at 9pm she should be in bed yet, oh, and she now loved French food, Really? I asked. What sort of French food? French fries and chicken nuggets, she shrieked. Ah yes, those well-known French culinary delights.

Friday, I made a ridiculously early start and gave the kitchen two coats of paint and got every back in place before a sleepy, sweaty and distinctly smelly Miss F was delivered back to me at 11pm. Barely noticing her new bed, she was tumbled into it as she was and slept until almost midday on Saturday. When she woke, she scrambled into my bed and that’s where we spent most of the day and I read practically the whole of “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” to her.

So, it’s been ten years since the kitchen was last painted and although it didn’t look too bad, the opportunity was there, the kitchen was clean to its bones and all possessions were piled up in the dining room, so I decided to go for it. I got the first coat done on Wednesday and the second on Thursday. Giving it a day to dry before piling everything back in. Miss F walked in to inspect and pass judgement.

“Well, it certainly looks a lot cleaner and fresher, but the colour…” she wrinkled her nose in thought. “Isn’t it exactly…”

“The same colour as it was before? Yep.”

Somehow, even though ten years separated the purchases, I’d managed to buy exactly the same colour. Well, what can I say? I’m obviously someone who sticks to what she likes. I liked Happy Sunshine yellow back then and I still like it today.

I’ve also, between working on the kitchen, been busy with last minute preparations for the re-launch of Erinsmore next week. I am beyond thrilled with how it’s turned out, the book looks amazing and the wonderful Becky and James Wright over at Platform House Publishing have made a simply awesome video trailer to help launch day go with a bang. If anyone is reading this who follows me on social media, I would be extremely grateful for any help with the release of the book. Any shares of the video or other promo posts would be amazing. I spent all my spare pennies on the actual book and the video so there’s not really any money for advertising, so anything anyone can do to help will be very much appreciated.

I’ve been out of the house precisely twice in the whole week. Both times to top up with essential items. Being very reluctant to drive to one of the bigger supermarkets, I’ve confined myself to a quick scuttle up town and foraging for what I could carry home. Shopping now really has turned into a game of PacMan. Avoid all contact, grab the food, take any route to avoid touching others. Sometimes, in the stores though, it’s so hard to stay 2m away from people in the aisles. They are not designed for social distancing and some people don’t seem to care that they’ve crowded into you. All you can do is wear the horrible latex gloves, hold your breath, make yourself as small as possible and scurry past.

On the whole I think I am handling isolation incredibly well. In fact, I’ve been so busy I seriously don’t know how I ever managed to find time to go to work, or how I’m going to be able to go back. The key for me is having a routine and structure to my days. I get up at a sensible time, before 8am every day. I face each day washed, dressed, teeth cleaned, and hair brushed – I simply couldn’t be one of those people who slob about unwashed in their PJs for days on end. To me, PJs = sleepy time.

Over my morning cup of tea, I plan my day. For years, I’ve had a to-do list as long as my arm of things I meant to do when I had the time. Well, I have that time now, so I’m working my way through that list. When and if I reach the end of that list, if we are still in lockdown, then will be the time to relax, kick back and tackle my to be read pile and catch up on all those Netflix shows I never have time to watch. Until then, I will and must work.

We are all handling this in our own way, but for me, personally, I simply don’t see the point of sitting at home whimpering about how stressed and bored I am. Whatever awfulness is going on outside my own front door, other than obeying isolation and social distancing rules, there is nothing I can do about it. And sure, maybe spring cleaning and painting my kitchen won’t do anything to change the global situation, but it will keep me busy and active and at the end of it all, I’ll have a clean and freshly painted kitchen. What will all those coach potatoes in their PJs have? Apart from extra weight to lose and a feeling that they wasted the precious gift of time they were given.

Miss F isn’t faring so well. Like most teenagers, her life revolves around education and her friends, and although she was given a couple of projects to complete, she is more or less done with college for the year so has nothing academic wise to occupy her days. Sure, she can and does interact with her friends virtually, but as she constantly informs me, it’s not the same. She also has a real reluctance to leave the house, so doesn’t even accompany me on my once a week shopping trips. She’s even loath to venture out into our private garden unless I actively force or bribe her to go out there – and yes, I do bribe my child, frequently and without compunction.

I’m a little bit at a loss as to how to help her. All my suggestions such as read a book, tidy her room, start a project of her own based on her studies, are met with derision and scorn, so I’m afraid I’ve given up and am letting her stew in her own juices. I had thought my example of keeping busy and improving our environment would encourage her, but no, so what can I do. Hopefully, she’ll get bored of endless Minecraft sessions and will do something a little more productive with her days, but, she’s a teenager, so maybe channelling her inner sloth is her way of coping. Hey, to quote Miss F herself, you do you babe.

And so here we are on another Sunday. It’s now 9:30am, I am sitting at my little desk in my very pleasant lounge where the morning sun is streaming through dirty windows – yes, spring cleaning the lounge is on my list for the coming week. I have coffee and I’m talking to you, and it’s also sofa and snack Sunday. Every Sunday, I do essential chores until midday, then stop and put a part-baked baguette in the oven and grill lots of bacon. I then rendezvous with Miss F on the sofa in the lounge and we binge watch films all afternoon, interspersed with frequent snacking. This week I managed to source some Pringles and sweet’n’salty popcorn. And as the afternoon turns into evening, I open a bottle of wine and we have pizza, wedges and dip for dinner.

I look forward to Sunday all week, but know, if this was something we did every single day it would quickly grow monotonous and boring, but because it is a once a week treat, it’s become something special for us. We’ve been working our way through all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and have the big finale film today. After that, it will be Miss F’s turn to choose the films we’ll binge, she was talking about doing all the Marvel movies in order and I’m up for that.

And it’s not just any old Sunday, it’s Easter. I know a lot of people are upset that the churches won’t be open, and although I’m not religious myself, I can understand why they are upset. But it is to protect the weak and vulnerable and I’m sure Jesus would be up for that, after all, isn’t that what he and Easter are all about? Whilst working in my kitchen I had the radio on all day so listened to a lot of news, and discussions were plentiful about whether churches should be open today for private reflection or not. It was decided to keep them closed, and personally I think that’s a good call. After all, if people can’t be trusted not to keep congregating in large groups all over the place, I think if people knew the churches were open, even those who never normally set foot in them would suddenly come over all pious and crowd into them.

One minister in an interview on the radio, said this might be a pivotal moment for Christianity. Attendances at church have been steadily dropping, yet now, during these difficult times, many are turning to religion for comfort and companionship and are finding new ways to congregate and worship. There is a world of connectivity out there now, and this seems to have forced the church to catch up with all the possibilities available. Who knows, maybe virtual worship is now here to stay.

For non-Christians and those who are not religious, Easter can still be celebrated for its more pagan, ancient meaning. It is believed that the early church did its usual trick of poaching existing pagan celebrations to make this new religion more palatable to the masses. Easter probably derives from the worship of the pagan goddess Eostre. This lady was all about Spring, rebirth, renewal and fertility – where did you think all the bunnies and eggs came from – so that’s why she is venerated at this time of year.

It’s a neat theory, and one that makes sense and that I like. In the Western hemisphere this time of year is all about survival and rebuilding. In ancient times Winter was a very dangerous affair, it was cold, and the nights were long and dark, food was scarce and the sheer act of staying warm took incredible amounts of energy and time. To have emerged alive on the other side into Spring would have been a massive accomplishment, one worthy of giving thanks for.

Anyone else see the parallels with today’s situation? We are going through a long, tough and dark time, hopefully, the first small shoots of recovery are there though. We just need to hang on a little longer, stay strong and give thanks that it wasn’t worse than it was. Yes, the death rates are scary and heart-breaking, but, compared to previous pandemics (anyone doesn’t believe me, look up the numbers for the 1919 Spanish Flu outbreak) we got off lightly.

Also, there are some silver linings. People are learning a new appreciation of the small things in life, and perhaps are realising that at the end of the day what matters are your family and having shelter, food and drink, and that’s basically it. We have also gained a massive appreciation for all those amazing people working in the medical field and all other essential areas. The NHS, in particular, heard the call and answered wholeheartedly. When this is all over, they should and must receive pay rises to reflect their status in our society. After all, during the crisis, who you gonna call? Your accountant? Your banker? No, a doctor or a nurse. So, let’s stop paying them pittances and afford them the respect they truly deserve.

Also, nature is taking a long, deep breath and is attempting to renew itself without the ever-constant presence of us polluting the air, land and sea. Anyone else feel it’s almost as if the Earth threw its hands up in despair and said – “right, I will bloody make you all stop for a while”. Small things maybe, but hopefully enough to make us take a long hard look at our lives, the way we live them and the impact we are having on the planet.

Anyway, that all went a little preachy there didn’t it, the Gospel according to Julia, sorry, totally didn’t mean to go down that avenue, but then this blog is simply an outpouring of me onto the page. No filter, no editing, no read through and no pre-planning or thinking. It’s just me, now, talking to you all on a beautiful Easter Sunday morning.

It’s now 10am and my blog is really, really late being posted, but I trust you will all understand and forgive me – all six of my regular readers.

Take care of yourself and your family.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

Report from the Home Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Change of plan for dinner.”

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

“It’s not beef stew.”

“Ok-a-ay, what is it then?”

“Minted lamb hotpot.”


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

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

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

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not lasagne.”

“What isn’t?”

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

“Well, what is it then?”

“Chocolate cake!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Blake

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