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.