MTM Fails at modern life …

Yeh, I know, again. Here’s the whole sorry tale.

This week, I went to the first art exhibition I’d attended in a long time. It was this one, at Moyses’ Hall in Bury St Edmunds. NB it’s a temporary exhibition so that link might die after September 2021. Basically, it was an exhibition of modern stuff by artists like Banksey, Tracy Enim, My Dog Sighs, Pure Evil etc …

As far as contemporary art goes, I like it, but I guess I’m quite choosey. I love Banksey’s stuff because I think it’s incredibly thought provoking and I enjoy a lot of street art for the same reason. Some contemporary art strikes me as a bit too much about the idea and I find it hard to engage, this exhibition wasn’t like that. Stuff, like Banksey, is subversive, clever and often funny which, of course, I love. Other things, like a Belgian artist, whose name, to my chagrin, I can’t remember does stencils of street cleaners and other municipal workers interacting with a crack in the pavement, the white bar across a no-entry sign, etc. They are fabulous and very subtle, like the army of real municipal workers, street cleaners and dustmen who are pretty much invisible but without whom everything would go pretty pear-shaped pretty fast.

When it comes to street art, I think most folks think of those gorgeous multi-coloured letters – I think they’re just tags aren’t they? Obviously, we all know how hip and down with modern trends I am so I haven’t a fucking clue. Some folks think they are shit, I absolutely love them. I take pictures of French motorway stanchions out of the car window because I’m amazed by the art. Take one grey shitty wall. Add vibrancy and colour. What’s not to like?

The other thing that appeals, I guess is how much someone can say in one line. There’s very little space or time, so it’s a deceptively skilful art parsing that quick quip well enough to count. There were several works in this exhibition with the kinds of massively sarcastic, throw-away comments we British (oh alright, and the French) do so well. It made me think of my friend Duncan. Sat at lunch one day, one of Dad’s colleagues came out with some throw away line which was a bit close to the knuckle and Duncan just said quietly, ‘Well, you’re not a xenophobic old bigot then are you?’ which made everyone laugh, but also made the point.

Some of this stuff has that similar wry directness. I was amazed at how much thought a short, snappy comment can provoke, and also hugely impressed at how well the artists made that short space count. There was a gorgeous one of Captain Tom, usual stencil style, all black and white except for his footprints which were rainbow coloured. It sounds rather cheesy when I describe it, but the actual art work wasn’t. I guess what I really mean is that street art is totally accessible. The other part of the impact is the fact that edgy out-there people who, if you met them, might be slightly intimidatingly trendy, are doing stuff that makes them very normal. Street artists, above all others, seem to be so utterly human, fellows rather than art gods. They’re unafraid to display their humanity in what they say and paint, and I love that, too.

Pure Evil print … Yes.

It was only a small exhibition really, but it took us well over an hour to go round. At the end there were art works for sale and yes … you guessed it. I decided I’d buy one. Except when I looked through, a lot of the prints in my price range just kind of didn’t speak to me … except one. I decided to think about it. By the time I got home I knew I was going to go and buy it, so I turned straight round and went back up the hill. Picture, or at least print, procured (12 of 100) I then went straight to the art shop in Bury to get it framed. That would take 6 – 8 weeks. Ah. Bit too long that. I paid for them to cut a mount in black card for a 50 x 70 frame and took it home where I thought I had a similar sized frame of my own.

Turned out I didn’t.

Oh.

On the upside, I found one exactly the same as the one in the shop in the internet for a great deal less so I ordered it. Looking at it the picture again, I decided that a painted frame would be pretty cool so I ordered a can each of fluorescent pink and green paint. Wednesday I was off to Mum’s so it was Thursday that I picked up the mount – sorry this is beginning to sound a bit like ‘The Gas Man Cometh’ by Flanders and Swan. When I arrived home I received a text to say my proscription sunglasses were ready so back out I went to get those, they are well cool, not that I’m likely to get to wear them again this year. The minute I left the house, the most enormous box arrived with the frame I’d ordered. Woot for me, slight pain in the arse for McOther. While I was picking up the specs, fearing that my fluorescent paint mightn’t arrive before the weekend, I went to Halfords and bought a can each of pink, green, yellow and red.

On the way back I popped into Waterstones to buy a friend’s book. It isn’t in yet so I ordered it from the lady behind the counter who happened to be the mother of one of McMini’s school friends. There are two Waterstones in town and she’d just been moved to this one from the other where she had ensured they stocked the K’Barthan Series (yay for her!). I said it was all still there and she told me to go in and offer to sign it. That way it would get a signed by the author sticker on it. So in I went. By this time it was throwing it down with rain and I looked like a bedraggled rat. I took off my specs, because I can’t see to read or write with them on. As I walked away, delighted that I’d done an authory thing, I couldn’t help noticing how fabulously my glasses were coping with my mask. Not steaming up one bit.

Hang on.

Ah. Yes. They were not steaming up because they were not on. Not on me at any rate. Yep they were on the counter in Waterstones but not on me. Knobs. Back I went and with a brief apologetic explanation I grabbed the specs. I’d walked about five miles by this time so I was a bit knackered on the walk home. This is menopausal me. On the upside, without the HRT I’d probably only be realising that I can’t actually see round about now. That’s the difference; both HRT me and pre HRT me leave the specs behind. Nothing can be done to fix that. But HRT me actually remembers to go back for them.

Back at home, unpacking my booty, I felt that things were getting exciting. I wanted to frame the picture right then but it was supper time. Also, I needed to spray the frame in ‘a well ventilated area’ – or ‘outside’ as it is often known among those of us who do not own a spray booth – and it was pissing with rain so I had to leave it.

Saturday dawned and it was not raining, so I decided to strike while the iron was hot. I took the back off the frame and removed the glass. First to mount the print. We’d measured it in the shop and they’d cut it beautifully but it was too narrow. You couldn’t see all of the signature, and since Pure Evil’s signature has a distinctive bunny shape/motif I wanted it to be shown. Now what? Take it back?

Noooo! That would take too long.

I rummaged in the cupboard and dug out my mount cutting set. Yes. I have one. I used to paint illustrated names and I started cutting my own mounts because it was cheaper.

That said, I was never great at this sort of thing. First side, I took off a couple of mil and it looked awesome. Yeh, still got it after all these years. Second side, total and utter abortion. I ended up taking about 4 mm off until I had something passable. Passable but nothing like as good as the lovely cutting the art shop had done.

For fuck’s sake.

Should I take it back, I wondered. No. Because … time. I was far too excited about this to wait any longer than I had to. I cut another 2 mil off the side I’d already done and of course I fucked it up, not as badly as the other side but enough. Ugh. I fixed the damage as best I could and then tried it over the print.

Mounted print and colour swatches.

Was the signature visible? Yes.

Was the hole in the middle still smaller than the print? Yes. Booyacka!

Did I need to tidy it up? Yes because I— No! Quit while you’re ahead … or at least not as far behind as you were.

Cutting done, I put everything away and mounted the print. That sentence makes the process sound so much simpler than it was but I did eventually get the picture mounted with reasonably equal gaps each side and as much of the signature showing as was ever going to be. Yeh, looking good, despite the fact I’d done such a shite job of the cutting and had been compelled to fix a couple of bits with black pen (shhhh!). I put it on the table and admired it. Yeh. Lush.

Next I popped outside and spray painted three envelopes, red, green and pink. Back indoors to size up which colour would work best. Once again, pink was the colour. Even McOther agreed that, though he hates pink with a vengeance, it was the best match in this case.

Right. Colour chosen. Now to paint it. To protect the patio table, I put a huge sheet of cardboard over it, yes that huge box the frame came in was good for something, after all. I put the frame on top, donned my trusty face mask and began to spray. It took a fair bit and having finally reached the point where I believed I had finished a bug landed on the bottom right hand corner and got stuck in the wet paint.

The bastard.

Knackered bug bit scraped off

When I removed the bug, or at least its corpse, I think the paint fumes killed it off pretty quickly, it left a mark and what looked like some legs … oh dear … sorry bug. At least it was already dead. Never mind, it wouldn’t show if I just scraped that bit of paint off and painted over it again. Offending blemish removed using a hankie and my penknife, I sprayed it with a new coat of paint and of course, after not enough paint had gone on, the paint ran out.

Bum.

Never mind. I’d just nip up to Halfords for more. I was knackered now and my knee was a bit swollen. Too swollen to get into my car so I decided I’d cycle up there, which I did and grabbed a second can of pink paint. Back home I began to apply paint to the disaster area. I didn’t think it was going to work but it matched better and better as each coat dried until finally, three quarters into the second can, I was left with a uniform expanse of fluorescent pink. Yes. After leaving it half an hour to dry it was time to put the glass back in.

First, I laid the frame out on the table, then I picked up the back and the glass. It was going to need a bit of snuggling to fit. I lifted it too high and at the wrong angle, resulting in a situation where I was, basically, holding the bottom half of a 50×60 cm bit of glass. Ooo, better slide one hand up and hold it at opposite corners, I thought, or it’ll – ohmygawd!

It shattered.

Well, bollocks!

Baby Yoda. He likes this too.

How could I be such an absolute wanker? Seriously though, what a complete fucking arse! Does my cockwomblery know no bounds? Mwahahaahrgh! Jeez, clearly not. Once I’d finished mashing my forehead against an empty part of the table I set about clearing up the broken glass, with the help of a very sympathetic McOther. Since there was no glass to put into the frame, I put everything else in. I was happy to leave it without glass for the time being. I was happy with no glass in it full-stop, to be honest, but … dust, thunder bugs, air full of brown smeal from the road and countless other shit so, no. Sure, it looked good, but glass-free was almost certainly bad from a preservation point of view.

Now what though? Put it together and hang it up for now. So I did and hung the picture on my wall. That done I turned to Monsieur Google for advice. Replacement picture glass. Hoorah, there was a firm that would cut me a sheet for £11.50 but wait, no, I had to go there to collect it. They could only post me perspex and they were north of Manchester.

Mmm. Might be a bit of a schlepp. Yeh. Probably not then.

Now there is ‘glass’. It was the wrong light to take this photo … dark basically so the window reflections are horrendous but … you get the gist, I’m sure.

Maybe I should buy a clip frame? Yes. That’s what I’d do. Buy a clip frame and use the glass from that. Once again I turned to my friend, Monsieur Google. Nearest one £8.99 from Dunelm. Right then. I leapt into McOther’s car because 50×70 plus protective packaging isn’t going to fit into my boot, and headed off. Twenty minutes later I was the proud owner of a clip frame with a very and I meant very thin piece of perspex over it. Never mind it would have to do. I disassembled my recently assembled print and put the perspex into the frame where the glass should have been. It was a bit flimsy but at least it fitted. So far so good.

Now I would have to add a bit of packing because the frame was designed to have a 2mm thick piece of glass and the perspex replacement was probably only a few microns. I picked up the piece of cardboard that came in the frame originally, masquerading as a picture. Yeh, that should do it. But wait! No! It was full of acid. Back to my office where I grabbed some sheets of acid free tissue paper to put over the back of the picture. There. Then I stuck in the cardboard and put on the back and although I say it myself, the result isn’t half bad. Except that there is so much shit reflected in the perspex that you can hardly see the picture … although the glass was like that too.

How was your Saturday?

Talking about cool things …

Yes because I’m ridiculously excited about this, too! Too Good To Be True is now available in audio format. As I may have mentioned, I am super-stoked about this because not only is it one of the more decent books I’ve written, and not only is it, to be honest, a bit funnier than some of the others, but Gareth has done a ridiculously good job on it.

Here’s the blurb:

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True

When trouble comes knocking, meet the one man dumb enough to answer the door …

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Written in British English with a dash of light swearing. Suitable for any reader of any age from 10 up – younger readers who have read all the Harry Potter books without any worries will be fine with the Hamgeean Misfit stories.

Suggested cinema rating, PG. Running time, 10 hrs approx (9 hrs 57 mins)

Here’s the sample. And if you like it and want to know more there are links to the main retailers here.

Last of all, so it chooses the right image, I managed to take a lovely just-about-to-spring picture of McCat.

Ready for action

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Filed under General Wittering

Birthdays and some inane wittering

Do you ever wonder what you’re going to be when you grow up? I was 53 yesterday so I suspect I should hvae grown out of the habit by now. However, I still look to the future and wonder what I will ‘be’. Well no, I don’t wonder that, being an author is definitely what I’m here to do but I do wonder if I will ever ‘make it’. Making it, here, is earning £20k a year. Even minimum wage would be nice. I was going to do a long post today, trying to put my jumbled thoughts about selling audio books in order. It’s a bit rambly though, so I’m going to leave it to rest in the faint hope that if I come back to it fresh next week I’ll be able to make it more articulate. Also,it’s my birthday weekend and I decided that, instead, I’d just describe some MTM-ness … so long as I can make it funny enough.

It was a hot day yesterday but I did some gardening so I am still bathing in that warm sense of fitness smugglers I get when I’ve taken enough exercise to get my fitbit in a dither. I was expecting to wake up with vertigo or at the least hayfever. It was hayfever only, which was grand, although not so grand when I had to sing a solo in church. My voice went all crackly on the low notes which was a bit of a bummer so I had to sing very quietly to stop the low notes coming out as more of a yodel. Plus points, well, it was mostly in tune.

Other domestic news and general goings on. It was McMini’s birthday on Saturday as well as mine. This being the case, yesterday, I set about making a cake. McMini being not the biggest fan of chocolate and me loving it, I have resigned myself to the fact I will never have a chocolate birthday cake again. On the other hand … there’s always stealth chocolate. The white stuff. Among my family and friends, I am renowned for my horrible looking, but quite tasty cakes. Thinking about it, there are probably photos deep in the archives of this blog of my cakewrecks from previous occasions. If there are, I will try and find them and dot them about this post when I’ve finished.

There wasn’t much time, when is there ever? But I reckoned I could bash out a fatless sponge (swiss roll cake to the uninitiated) and I had some white chocolate which I could melt across the top of it (Bury St Edmunds market, £1 per catering sized bag). Excellent. I made the fatless sponge and it being a hot day the eggs and sugar took about five seconds to get to the right consistency. Believe it or not, it can take as long as 15 minutes on a cold day, I suppose that’s why they used to recommend you did this in a bowl perched over the top of a saucepan of hot water. That was in the olden days of beating it by hand, of course. Obviously, neither I, nor Mum, who handed this recipe down to me, can be arsed with that sort of malarkey. Also, two words. Kenwood and Chef. Yep. I have two of these babies but McOther has put one away in the pantry under the stairs where I can’t remove it without kneeling down so that one is temporarily out of action. Instead I had to use the, supposedly mothballed, back up machine, purchased some years ago for £5 from a car boot sale. Note to self, remember to mention to McOther that he has mothballed the wrong one.

When I’d finished the mixture I discovered I’d made a bit too much so there were seven bonus buns as well. Jolly dee. I rustled up some icing for the middle; butter, sieved icing sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence to taste and then just mix it about and add sugar or butter as desired until it tastes like butter icing. It was one of those days when it all comes together straight away and tastes as if a real chef made it. I was very pleased with the results and even more pleased that I remembered to let the cake get cold before I slathered it all across the middle. Cake pretty much constructed, next it was time to do the white chocolate icing for the top. The trouble with purchasing catering sized bags of stuff is that they are big and this can led you to believe you have an inexhaustible supply.

Over the past few weeks, since I purchased the bag, I have been grazing lightly, on the white chocolate. Just the odd couple of buttons here and there, but when I came to examine it, I realised I might have been grazing a bit more heavily than I’d anticipated. There wasn’t quite enough of the stuff to just melt it and pour it over the top of the cake, indeed, there wasn’t nearly enough.

Mmm … cake!

Bollocks.

Never mind I would add icing sugar and butter, warm them all up in a saucepan and it would set hard with any luck. The result of my efforts was a ball of great-tasting stuff which, unfortunately, was not unlike pastry in consistency.

Right.

After a brief internal debate as to whether or not to ‘loosen’ it with milk, I decided not to because I didn’t have any ingredients left to start again if I fucked it up. Nope. I just spread it on anyway. It looked a bit flakey. In fact it looked like giant lumps of dandruff. And because fatless sponge has a sort of crumbly crunchy outside it didn’t stick.

Ah well, never mind. Nobody would notice if I decorated it with enough crap. I sprayed it with edible gold paint to give it a nice sheen, looked out the Happy Birthday candle that we light every year, and threw some white chocolate stars on it.

Then I discovered some Halloween icing decorations; pumpkin faces, Frankenstein’s monster faces, an eyeball and two severed fingers. Perfect for McMini then. On they want and hoorah, we were done. After a bit of trouble, I managed to remove the airtight box I keep cakes in from the under the stairs bit of the pantry by using a strange grippy handle thing which has been in the family for years. My mother remembers her grandfather using it to reach for high up blackberries when she was a kid. From an early age I spotted it at my grandparents’ house and have been fascinated with it all my life. When my grandmother died, I inherited this strange thing and I am still fascinated by it.

Sorry, digression there. ‘Cake’ made I put it in the airtight box to have on ‘the day’. Birthdaygeddon dawned and McMini went off to town with a friend and disappeared. On the downside, he did not return at teatime and I was agog to try the cake. On the upside, he has grown out of wanting a party. Eventually texted said friend’s mother at five, and asked her to tell him to come home because I wanted to eat the chuffing cake. He arrived at half past five. On the upside, the cake was delicious and the dandruffy icing turned out to be lumps of crumbly fudge (tablet, basically). The most important thing was that it tasted wonderful. Yeh. Job done I’d say.

Having stuffed ourselves with cake at a point in the day which was, if we were honest with ourselves, a bit close to dinner, McOther got the bar-b-queue on and handed me a bottle of beer and some nuts to enjoy while I was upstairs having a shower and getting into my pyjamas. Yes, I put my pyjamas on at about seven pm because I have come to rather dislike going out in the evening. Well, I am fifty three after all. And I already have arthritis and one replaced knee so I may be even older on paper, so to speak. Not that I was going to have time to enjoy the beer and nuts either, since he told me, cheerfully, that I had five minutes. As I mounted the stairs I took a swig of beer from the bottle.

Big mistake.

You know how the first sip of beer from a bottle causes this foam eruption that just goes on and on and looks as if it’s never going to stop. Yeh, well the bastard thing did that. By the time it had finished bubbling it’s guts onto the stair carpet there was only about half the bottle left. Well fuck. Since I’d been gardening all afternoon I needed that shower. I was stinky and dirty and appeared to have a bad case of greenfly … almost as bad as some of my plants. Three and a half minutes of mopping them with a hanky later the beer stains had disappeared. I belted upstairs and hurled myself into the shower. Sod it, I was going to be late for supper which the cook does not appreciate. Never mind better late than stinky, washed the earth off my legs, feet and hands but didn’t have time to rinse the greenfly infestation out of my hair. Oh well.

McMini’s Donald Trump bun … obviously having a plate like that to put it on helps.

Luckily supper was a bit late so I wasn’t and the McOther was not upset that we’d failed to enjoy his smashing cooking. McMini peeled all the coating off his burger bun and it ended up looking a bit like Donald Trump which amused me. An evening vegetating in front of Montalbano and McMini went off to bed. McOther disappeared upstairs to put his light out and after about twenty minutes I realised he’d done that weird thing blokes do when they just disappear up to bed without telling you and you sit there watching telly for half an hour and then suddenly realise that the rest of the house is dark and you can hear snoring coming from the bedroom.

Realising that it was bed time I set about going to bed when McMini arrived for our evening chat. McMini likes a chat before bed. He arrived with a balloon pump and set about trying to puff me to death, at which point I want and got my balloon pump and before long we were puffing things at one another, or he was trying to puff the birthday cards off the mantelpiece while I puffed at them from the other direction, trying to keep them upright. Standard procedure for us then. McMini doesn’t have a sibling but as McOther pointed out, because I am merely another child, he sort of does. Having finally persuaded McMini that bed and sleep would be a good idea, I got to bed at about midnight.

First thing this morning, McOther headed off to car boots. I woke up and discovered that I could hear strange thumping sounds. I couldn’t work out if it was the cat in his ‘bedroom’ which is the room below our en suite, or McMini who is a demi-floor up from us. Our house is the same height all round but there are two rooms on top of each other at the front and three rooms on top of each other at the back, which is weird but just the way it is. Seeing as McOther was not there I indulged my Chaucerian side and ‘lette flye a fart’. Unfortunately, even when I am alone the sound of farts makes me giggle and McMini heard and appeared with a build-your-own hydraulic hand model that he’d been given for his birthday, the previous day. Yes, it seems he had built it over night.

‘Have you slept?’ I asked him blearily.

‘Oh yes, but I woke up at 4 am and was bored so and built this.’

Gads. Four am. Urrgh. Clearly McMini is like his father in that he has never really got the hang of going to sleep, or at least, both seem to be pathologically unable to go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Me, I grew up in a boy’s school so I have no trouble with this. Mind you, not being able to sleep again after being woken up would have resulted in something like the Russian Sleep Experiment for anyone living there. As it was, I learned to sleep through the sound of fireworks – but not bombs, it seems I can differentiate between the two – drunken shouting, loud music and the fire alarm – I will be burned in my sleep if ever a building I’m in catches fire and there’s no one else with me to hear the alarm and drag me out of bed.

McMini was very much awake and ‘tested’ the robot hand by throwing a ball at me with it, stroking my face with it and generally being an evil troll. And now we are just on the brink of going out for a walk, except by the time I’ve found the pictures and phaffed with the stupid keywords, it will probably be evening and we’ll probably have been for the walk before you see this.

In other news …

HUP Swishy new logo.

The results of the K’Barthan invective quiz are in. Mwahahahrgh! Boy oh boy this was close. There were two run-away winners but the rest of the vote was comprehensively split between about six of them. Here are the results:

  1. Smeck: Out-and-out winner this one with a huge 40% of the votes. Smeck is a word I made up that would sound a bit like fuck but not be as rude. I suspect I now need to think of something along the lines of Red Dwarf’s, ‘Better dead than smeg!’ Only in K’Barthan, using smeck.
  2. Arnold’s Y-fronts! Not a huge surprise this one because lots of characters use it. It received 35% of the votes.
  3. There are two in third position: Arnold’s conkers! and Arnold’s underpants! Hmm … do I detect a theme here? These two picked up 30% of the votes.
  4. Fourth equal – because my list making thing can’t cope with jumping to five the way I’m meant to after a tie – with 25% of the votes, we have: Arnold’s bum! Smecking Arnold! Arnold’s smecking sweaty … and a suddenly clean, Arnold’s eyeballs! and Arnold’s Armpits!
  5. Close behind these we have: Arnold’s earwax, Arnold’s toe jam! and Arnold’s plums.

There seems to be a theme here, which is that anything to do with bottoms and undergarments or the word ‘Smeck’ is a goer, along with dodgy effluvia such as toe jam and ear wax. I did write my books for people like me. Maybe there are more of them than I thought.

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Filed under General Wittering, Mary Fails at Modern Life

Floating aimlessly

Yeh. Welcome to my world, the world of what might be the most unproductive human being on earth.

Shit! A squirrel has just run under my chair. Sorry where was I? Apart from outside, I mean. No squirrels indoors at this point, I’m glad to say. Ah yeh. Being the world’s most unproductive human. Not true. I do understand that. It just feels like it sometimes. I need to relax and take a chill pill.

Well, I sort of have. It’s half term this week so I have put writing aside and instead have been Humaning. I enjoy Humaning from time to time, especially when I seem to be particularly devoid of any creative inspiration, as I am this week. By doing nothing on my writing stuff, it’s not as if I’m doing any damage. I did get my ten minutes of writing in on Saturday, Sunday and Monday last week, though. Woot.

As I type this I am sitting outside. Yeh we did that didn’t we? Anyway, it’s cloudy but warm so I am stolidly refusing to acknowledge that it is, actually, beginning to rain. Hopefully it’s just going to be a bit of gentle spattering that passes harmlessly by rather than a full-on, race-for-the-door, deluge. Maybe that’s where the squirrel was going then. Somewhere dry. Hmm.

It being half term for us this week, we went to see the in-laws after nearly a year and a half of their being ill, us being ill, COVID19 or Nicola not letting us in because we have English Covid Cooties. It was wonderful to see them again and check that they are OK. They have a fair bit to contend with but seem to be doing alright, which was a relief. And I think their finally being able to see McOther and McMini after so long must have perked them up a bit.

It was a short trip because we didn’t want to knacker them out. The weather was kind to us and we went to Kelso, where there is a gorgeous house that used to belong to the family that started Pringle. We went for a walk round the lake while McMum and McDad sat and relaxed on a bench. The McOther and I went back a second time because I’d left my glasses there – I’d put them in my glasses case and put on my prescription sunglasses. Then the box had fallen out of my jacket pocket. On the upside, though we did get home to discover I had not brought my specs with me, no water closets were involved. I did find them straight away upon my return too. Someone had left the case in a little hole in the seat, end up, so that it was really obvious and easy to find. Bless ’em.

Impending week of oops-I’ve-lost-my-glasses-and-I-only-have-these-prescription-sunglasses Roy Orbison-ness avoided? Check.

It was a gorgeous house. Big, but not massive. I could imagine that if you were as rich as Croesus you could run a really happy team of staff there. It was a lovely spot, with a very pleasant and peaceful feel to it, which was unexpected. The volunteers gradually doing it up maintain the grounds and there were beds of flowers, not corporate planting but sympathetic stuff that went with it all so well. Cracking job all round. There was a lake too … cf pics I took, shown below.

When we got back, after a very rainy Friday, we spent Saturday with some friends in a cottage they’d hired Burnham Market. We passed a beautiful field of blue flax on the way, which I failed spectacularly to photograph. I also failed to capture a record of the sign to a place called Pudding Norton.

When I was a kid we used to holiday there and the ridiculous place names used to make us laugh. Before he came back to Sussex and met Mum, Dad taught at a school in Holt. North Norfolk was a popular holiday destination, not just because of the scenery but because Dad and Mum could visit all his old friends. Usually it was a bit like an episode of The Road Trip, in that Dad was funny, and a great mimic, and Mum was just plain funny. The friends; likewise. The conversation was always absolutely bats and normally involved Dad or one of his mates doing impressions, be-it Dad’s famous impression of a teacher from his school days at Lancing, who had a wooden leg, dropping dead in assembly one morning, or um … other stuff. All were very wicked and probably quite un-PC except they were always delivered with such obvious fondness for the unfortunate victim. Thinking about it, looking at the way they took the piss out of one another, I doubt the objects of their ribaldry would have batted an eyelid if they’d been around to see it. They were probably similar.

Wells next the sea at high tide.

At some point we usually went to Stiffkey salt marsh for the day – at low tide – and walked four half an hour or so to find the sea. There’d be indentations in the sand full of seawater that had been warmed to bath water levels by the sun, there would usually be a seal pup or two and sometime fossils. Finally, after walking for half an hour or so, we’d find the sea and skinny dip in the ice cold water, an event which usually involved a lot of screaming.

This Saturday, visiting our friends, we went past Holkolm Hall, a place of many happy memories, and then all of us went crabbing at Wells Next The Sea. Well, the kids crabbed, we walked along the prom and back. It made me smile to remember the happy times I’d spent up that way as a kid. But it was also lovely to think that I was walking somewhere where my father had undoubtedly walked before he’d ever fallen in love with my mother, in a part of the country where he had been very happy as a young man … until someone broke his heart. That’s why he came back to Sussex; new job, new start.

The architecture and stuff up there is so different that it really is like visiting another country, you know, northern France or something. It reminded me of Valerie Sur Somme, right down to a similar little train! So that was a bit of a gas.

It was gloriously sunny, but with a cool breeze off the sea that took it from a bit much in the heat department, to just right.

Now it’s back to Real Life.

Sea rowers at Wells Next The Sea.

Since Lock Down is ending … supposedly … it seems there’s so much to do. I sat down in a free moment to write this yesterday but realised that I needed to sort out a method of giving away Unlucky Dip in Audio because I can’t set the price to free at all the retailers, although I can set it for 99c so I’ve done that. Then this morning, I realised that I’d forgotten to publicise the fact that my standalone ebook, Escape From B-Movie Hell, is at the promotional price of 99c or pence or whatever, this month. Tomorrow I also have a newsletter to write which will take forever because everything uses blocks and the blocks interface takes about forty seconds to a minute to load.

Fine, roll your eyes and tell me I should learn some patience. But actually that’s a massive time suck. Added to that, doing stupid blocks on here, as I am now, when our internet connection drops, which it does, frequently, it’s likely I will lose it all. Sure I do save from time to time but originally, when the internet dropped and the annoying stupid little circle thing started going round and round on the screen, I could just do select all and copy everything I had written. That way, if I had lost it, I could just cut and paste it all back in and save it when the internet resurrected itself. Can I do that now? Can I bollocks? Stupid knobbing blocks are set up so the CtrlA – or CommandA on an I thing – only saves one paragraph; the one I’m actually editing. How is that in any way helpful?

Creative mojo, a fickle and fleeting thing.

Worse, if you look underneath at the code, it’s exactly the same as the stuff I used to get when I typed it into an editor. Seriously there’s no reason for this blocks shit other than to make it really and I mean REALLY hard for people. Likewise, Mailerlite … I moved to them from Mail Chimp and it was like a breath of fresh air. I clicked to edit an email and up it popped. It was blocks but it was fast. No waiting ages for it to crank up before you could edit. Then you just dropped your block onto the page and wrote in it.

Now? Nah. You have a preview pane and you have to do a paragraph at a time in the side bar.

Just in case that’s not irritating enough there are several parts to the side bar for each block template and there used to be a scroll bar so you could move up and down. That’s now gone. So you get the thing where you’re editing a paragraph and the bit that lets you do bold or alter the justification isn’t in frame. So you have to click on the edge and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to make it move. But they don’t always work because if you click into a box by mistake it just thinks you’re editing that and doesn’t budge. What was wrong with the bloody scroll bar ffs? It didn’t take up any space but it meant I could do those edits way faster. Is this finger trouble? Am I such a moronic twat that I’ve somehow removed the scroll bar from my option and if so why the fuck is there no easy and obvious way to put it back?

At least with windows when I do that thing on the keyboard and the box suddenly appears saying, ‘do you want to turn on sticky keys?’ I can shout, ‘No! No! I fucking don’t!’ and click on cancel. Clearly I’ve borked something the same way but there was no, ‘Are you sure you want to remove this really useful scroll bar that you actually rely on rather heavily?’ box. It just disappeared! Poof! Gone.

Bastards!

Then there’s the fact that fucking Linked In randomly disconnects itself so when I come to publish it tells me I have to go refresh my connection to Linked In. Every. Fucking. Time. Why, Linked in, you total and utter cockwomble! Why? This is total bollocks and phaff that I do not need in my life. I’ve connected you to my blog because I want the two of you to be fucking connected. Randomly disconnecting yourself is not looking after my security. It is bing a fucking pain in the arse. If I wanted to disconnect you from my blog, I would disconnect you from my blog. I haven’t ergo I do not chuffing want to. How hard is that to understand, you absolute fucking muppet?

Yeh, I can imagine what anyone normal and sensible reading this is saying now. This stuff is chicken shit and doesn’t make any difference. Except trust me, it does.

Don’t believe me?

OK, here are some Real Life examples. When I drive to Mum’s on a Wednesday, it takes around two and a quarter to two and a half hours. In lock down, it took two hours. There was no difference in speed. I drive at 3,000 revs which is usually around 70mph give or take a bit – it varies a little with the weather, the gear I’m in and the speed limit, clearly. The reduced journey time was simply caused by the fact that I wasn’t dropping down to 57 as a lorry pulled into my path, or proceeding through the only two miles on the M11 where lorries aren’t allowed to overtake at 57mph, because some absolute bell end in one lorry was overtaking another gargantuan twatwank in another one, and neither of them was giving way to the other. Or, it could be that I wasn’t following a wide load down the double track bit of the M11 with a weaving escort vehicle that wouldn’t let anyone pass for health and safety reasons – even though there was room to put a couple of bloody buses past it side by side without causing the buses or the load any problems. Let alone my stupidly tiny, tiny car.

Likewise, many years ago, I used to commute to Birmingham from Ely. It used to take about two hours or thereabouts going at 70mph most of the way. Limited to 60mph, running-in my brand new Lotus, it took me about twenty five minutes less. Yes even running in at 60mph all the way, it was quicker in a Lotus than in a Triumph Spitfire going 70mph. Why? because those people who sit in the fast lane drifting along for miles and miles saw me coming and actually got out of the chuffing way. It’s the acceleration and deceleration time that drives the journey time up, so the smoother your journey the quicker.

This is not new. There’s a whole fitness and training strategy based on the little things, I believe. I think it was the Team GB cycling trainer who worked out that small things added up. An uncomfortable night with less sleep might make an athlete tired and not quite at their best, it might only make a couple of hundredths of a second to their time but in the velodrome, that might be the difference between winning or losing. So he hit on the idea that if he made sure that all these, seemingly irrelevant, pernickety things were right, the effect on overall performance might be quite substantial. Needless to say, it was. Suddenly Team GB were winning medals.

It’s a genius idea and over the course of my years doing motorway journeys I’ve begun to think that there is definitely something in it. It’s not about whether you blat along in the fast lane at 90mph, it’s about whether other motorists think you will and get out of your way so you can do a solid 3,000 revs all the time. That makes a huge difference to petrol consumption as well. It’s also whether there are a small enough number of other motorists for you to be able to drive smoothly at that speed. And of course, constantly standing on the anchors because a lorry has pulled out in front of you makes for inefficient acceleration and deceleration time. I suppose it’s only natural, there are many proponents of the ten minutes a day fitness regime. I did try doing a 6 minute, high intensity interval thing once a day for a couple of weeks and there was a noticeable drop in my resting pulse so I think there’s definitely something in that approach.

Similarly the ten minutes a day approach to writing, in the last year that I was able to keep it up consistently, 2019, it netted me a stupid amount of words at a point when they weren’t really coming that easily. OK, so, in 2020 it was different. I managed 55k in a couple of months as I changed my 30k short into Too Good To Be True. But that was because there was zero stress on the horizon. Right now I’m back to stressy hormonal can’t think straight so the ten minutes a day is a good discipline to resurrect.

So where am I going with this? Well, two ways, I guess. First I’m saying that the old adage that you should break a huge job into tiny pieces and deal with each of those pieces one at a time is great advice. But conversely it means that each of these tiny, pissy things that are sent to try us also add up; to something big and, in my case, cataclysmic. In lock down, all the pissy administrative shit went away. I couldn’t have a smear test, eye test, dental check or boob x-ray so I didn’t have to remember to book them, note the correct time/date and get to them. We weren’t going away so I didn’t have to remember to book the cat into kennels. I didn’t have to do social things which involved me remembering to shave my legs or find something that made me look slightly less like a parked zeppelin draped in camouflage material than usual. OK so I still had to make sure I did the wages and fix whatever the latest thing was that had broken at Mum’s house, from a distance, but that’s alright because there was only the one life I had to sort out: hers. Mine was on hold, as were McOther’s and McMini’s so no organising McMini’s bloody PE kit either.

The second point I wanted to make was that sometimes, you just have to let it all go. There is shit I have to do right now. And I have McMini’s birthday coming up which will involve doing stuff like making a cake. And I have some more boring pissy administria to do so I decided that I’d take two weeks out, one before and one after half term, to do it. It’s not going badly. I’ve signed up for too many promos so it will take me all day to sort out the mailing tomorrow. But I have planned time for it. After that there will be more humaning, which will be fun, and a bit more admin, which won’t. But if I can crack through it diligently enough then the week afterwards, with any luck, I may be able to do a bit of writing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to McOther about booking the cat into kennels … while I remember.

Award-winning fiction for a snip!

Escape From B-Movie Hell is down to 99c or p or whatever it is you do instead of cents or pence. In case you have forgotten, or for those of you who don’t know about it, here’s the blurb:

Escape From B-Movie Hell

Escape From B’Movie Hell

First contact, in films, was never like this …

If you asked Andi Turbot whether she had anything in common with Flash Gordon she’d say no, emphatically. Saving the world is for dynamic, go-ahead, leaders of men and while it would be nice to see a woman getting involved for a change, she believes she could be the least well equipped being in her Galaxy for the job.

Then her best friend, Eric, reveals that he is an extra terrestrial. He’s not just any ET either. He’s Gamalian: seven-foot, lobster-shaped and covered in marmite-scented goo. Just when Andi’s getting used to that he tells her about the Apocalypse and really ruins her day.

The human race will perish unless Eric’s Gamalian superiors step in. Abducted and trapped on an alien ship, Andi must convince the Gamalians her world is worth saving. Or escape from their clutches and save it herself.

If you’re interested you can find a page of links to the main retail sites here.

If you are not interested, do feel free to share it with your friends, family, the postman, the bloke who sometimes collects the empty cups at your local coffee shop and anyone else you can think of to spam, because it isn’t spam from you because it’s not your book.

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Filed under General Wittering

Life in plastic is fantastic …

Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve managed to do some more writing (woot!) but a little less because I had other stuff I needed to do as well. On the up side, some of that other stuff was proofing Too Good To Be True in audio. Oh. Yeh. It did not disappoint.

Other news, McCat has become rather too enthusiastic at jumping onto the back of my ball – phnark. I sit on a Swiss Ball to work. I do have one of those kneeling seats but I can’t quite bend the replaced knee enough to be comfortable yet so it’s short bursts for that. As a result, I usually sit on a Swiss Ball that’s specially designed for weight lifting so it will take my enormous bulk on a regular basis – plus that of the cat – without exploding.

McCat regularly jumps onto the back of it but that hasn’t caused any trouble until recently when he started reaching up and hanging onto it, with predictable results. As I sat on it yesterday morning, I thought I could hear a hissing noise. Hmm … Vos ist das? I wondered.

I was listening back to the speaky file I had been doing for the pronunciations and twiddly bits that needed changed in the audio, ready to send to Gareth, so naturally, at first, I wondered if the hissing was an unfortunate side effect of the piss-poor quality of my recording. I hit pause and listened. No. The hissing continued. Maybe it was ambient noise from my computer or my headphones. I took the ear buds out of my ears. Still the hissing noise continued.

The penny dropped. Maybe it was my ball.

Tentatively, I put a hand round behind me and felt about. Sure enough, I soon found a drought where air was not so much leaking as gushing out … of the ball, obviously, not my arse. At about the same time, I clocked that the desk seemed to be a bit higher than before. Yes. My ball was ruptured and I was sinking. Fast. Oops.

That’s not how it should look. It’s a Swiss Ball, not a beanbag.

I went into the hall, where the boxes I am supposed to be going through to sort my collection of tat into stuff for my office and stuff to store or sell still sit after about seven months. Somewhere in there, I knew, there was a back up ball. I couldn’t find it but McOther knew where it was instantly, bless him. Brilliant! Panic over. I bore the spare ball back to my office in triumph, where I was confronted with the true extent of the damage to my ball of choice, so to speak. It was looking a bit wrinkly and very, very small. Oh dear.

Dumping the alternative ball on my desk, I went to find a pump. After a bit of a rummage I realised it was in the cupboard in my office – I’ve sorted a couple of things out then – and went back to get it. On opening the door my nose was assailed by a very rubbery scent. The room smelled more like a rubber fetishists room of pain than an office. Hmm … and I was going to sit on this thing. No doubt my trousers would smell of rubber too after I’d been sitting on it a while. Jeepers, people would think I was wearing underwear like Dafyd, off Little Britain.

Mmm. I mean fine if it floats people’s boats jolly dee, but it doesn’t float mine so I don’t really want everyone to think I’m packing latex. I might be into vinyl but that’s records, not um … rubber. And the smell gets really a bit much after a while.

Yeh. Perhaps back up ball was not such a good idea. So I turned to t’interweb. Luckily, I was able to find an exact replacement ball for just over twenty quid. It’s coming next week. Until then, I’m stuck with the stool that’s not 100% comfy. Oh well, I suppose it could be worse, I could be wandering around stinking of rubber.

On the writing front, I have had trouble trying to write the thing I should be writing, which is, of course, another K’Barthan Extra. It’s time the poor Pan of Hamgee had to do another delivery for Big Merv, probably in torrential rain and storms after the weather has broken and with the usual nearly disastrous consequences. Naturally, because this is the one I need to write, my mojo is not playing ball. Instead, the first instalment of Space Dustmen seems to be unfolding merrily and there’s even been a bit of a break through in Traffick which is the sweeping epic one which might be a bit dark unless I’m careful. Never mind. You can’t win ‘em all.

Other news … well … there’s been very little. The weather’s been shit and I’ve been staying in doors and going out as little as possible! Also hay fever. I have vertigo today but luckily it was church and singing high notes does seem to help clear the sinuses so things are a bit less evil in that department. With any luck it’ll be gone by tomorrow, or certainly the end of the week when our wisteria and the lilac over the road will have finished flowering.

While ranting about my stinky spare ball, I mentioned vinyl which reminded me of the other vinyl, which I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time.

Vinyl?

Bizarre Beatles US import ‘juke box only’ coloured vinyls. Preciousssss

Yes, I’m going to talk about records.

McOther and I have always been big fans but over the lock down, we’ve been trying to have a bit of a life laundry moment and sort our stuff out. This hasn’t gone quite as well for me as it has for the others but it did mean I got my record player out. After eleven years in storage. McMini already knows the joy of playing records, we used to have a listening session with him just before bed time when he was small.

However, recently McMini has really taken to his music. He’s in three bands. He also loves records, so there are now three record players in the house. This might, possibly, be an extravagance but I do love having them. All three of us have somewhat eclectic taste. 70s and 80s music is a big plus, but think Ska and Punk, or stuff like the Smiths in the case of the McOthers, but also Talking Heads, stuff like that. It’s mostly alternative or indie. Stock, Aitken and Waterman are not on the agenda. The leaning towards punk is stronger in the case of McMini and I, and McMini ventures, alone, into metal, beyond Slayer, Metallica and the like into the realms of death metal. His father and I can appreciate the skill of the musicians and the musicality of the arrangements but the singing is … to be honest it sounds like someone doing a giant burp. He also listens to the non-Nazi black metal (some black metal isn’t pleasant) where the vocals sound like someone being murdered. Oh well, each to their own. He loves it.

McMini’s favourite singers rejoice in names like, George (Corpse Grinder) Fisher and the lyrics of these songs are hilarious; like a melodramatic fourteen year old boy trying to write about festering gore in the manner of Lovecraft – except totally exaggerated until it’s barking mad. I am pretty certain that, for the most part, it’s meant to be tongue in cheek. Naturally, McMini, micro troll that he is, loves the contrarian nature and general hamminess of it all. The bands are very interesting when interviewed. Some take themselves far too seriously, but a lot tend to be intelligent, amusing misfits. Ideal for McMini I guess. I’d have probably loved it all if I was younger. I do have this old fashioned thing about a catchy tune though.

After years I have unpacked my records and started playing them. I have reverted to my habit of wandering through charity shops buying vinyl albums and 45s. It’s bliss. There is also a record shop in town, which seems extraordinary but is true. Having been somewhat intimidated by its effortless trendiness, I eventually ventured in with McMini to hold my hand (he is a regular, needless to say). I have now managed to pick up a fair few singles I was after, either from there, or from second hand shops in town. I have started searching for the remaining quest songs, stuff I heard blaring out of study-bedrooms growing up in a school but couldn’t name. Things I remember from the John Peel show; heard once, thought were fab but couldn’t buy, on account of that I’d forgotten the name of the band and never heard them again. These days you’d just put some of the lyrics into Google and up they pop. In many cases, it’s a case of working out who is singing, since a lot of them were by groups or people who became famous later on. Electricity by OMD springs to mind, although I picked up the album with that on a few years ago (yes even though my record player was in a box in the garage at the time).

This last week, McOther arrived home from a car boot proudly bearing a copy of Video Killed the Radio Star, by the Buggles. Trevor Horn’s first musical incarnation and the venture that convinced him he wanted to be in a studio behind a mixing desk rather than out front, on stage. I also caved in and bought Size Ten Girlfriend, by The Chairs, from discogs for a whole four British pounds. Do I regret this? Not one jot! I have it on tape somewhere, taped from the John Peel show when I heard the first few bars and thought it sounded interesting. I never heard it again … until now and while it’s not quite as slick as some music – no auto tune in those days, remember – it’s still every bit as good as I remember it. Other delights include Being Boiled, by the Human League, although I haven’t managed to find a copy of Dare yet. I did score the Duran Duran album Rio the other day though.

Meanwhile McMini has started buying coloured vinyls; ELO’s Mr Blue Sky in blue … well … blue (yes, I’m as jealous as fuck) and he also scored a copy of his favourite Slayer album on pink vinyl the other day. To be fair, I’m less jealous of that one. I do envy the colours he’s managed to get though. I have a selection of Beatles singles in various colours but few things the gorgeous bright blue of his ELO single.

What a Waste – my signature song because I graduated in an arts subject during the massive recession of 1990

Indeed, through fluke rather than design, most of my favourites seem to be on red … with the exception of What a Waste, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, which I have on yellow vinyl and which is my signature song, pretty much. While being worth jack shit in financial terms, it’s pretty much the pride of my collection … along with the photo of Jonathan Lyndon which he sent me, himself, a signed Hugh Cornwall album (lead singer of the Stranglers) and a signed photo of Paul McCartney which I have somewhere … but I’m not sure where. And the multicoloured Beatles singles … probably. Oh yeh and a red vinyl (see what I mean?) lip by the Ting Tings – I can’t remember the name of the album, it’s the one with That’s Not My Name on it.

Next stop, of course, is to rip my records to MP3 so I can listen to them in the car. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, I have a plug that goes into the earphone socket of my computer one end and the output of my stereo the other which, as far as I recall, allows it to ‘listen’. I also have an ancient programme called LP recorder which should work for recording them all … unless I can get it to work on Audacity and then … yes … we shall be making playlists, or mix tapes as they were called when I was a nipper. Yeh, the name changed but the idea hasn’t.

Too Good To Be True in Audio, coming soon!

Too Good To Be True! In audio! Woot!

Yes because I’m ridiculously excited about this I’m just giving you the heads up here that Too Good To Be True will be available in audio format soon. As I may have mentioned, I am super-stoked about this because not only is it one of the more decent books I’ve written, and not only is it, to be honest, a bit funnier than some of the others, but Gareth has done a ridiculously good job on it.

With Audio, it’s not as easy to know when your books will appear as with ebooks. However, when I have a better clue of a release date you will be the first to know. It will appear on Kobo and in my web store within a couple of weeks, on other retailers it will take a little longer to filter through. Keep your eyes on your in box if you’re subscribed to my Readers’ Group, otherwise, keep checking back here or the K’Barthan Jolly Japery facebook group.

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Filed under audio publishing, General Wittering

Let’s talk about THINGS!

Blimey, here we are nearly at the end of another week. I’m becoming very concerned about the quality of the comedy on this blog. For some reason, I am sitting down to write on Saturday mornings feeling increasingly unfunny. It’s a bit of a pisser so I do apologise that the joke quality seems to have plummeted. It’s very much I did this and I did that. I must try harder.

My smashing detecting booty!

In the meantime, if I can’t make it funny, I’ll make it succinct!

This morning there is a sensible reason in that I’m just plain knackered. I went metal detecting yesterday and the luck gods smiled on me, which meant we did an extra hour which was probably a bridge too far. It was fun though and there were two hammered coins in that hour so even if I can’t walk for a couple of days it was worth doing! One of the highlights was a coin from the reign of King John … I think. But I got a George III shilling, a really lovely Victorian half crown which is enormous and a long cross penny of some description. We went back to the area where I found the silver … thing … and I found a very knackered Saxon strap end and a medieval stud (or half a hollow button, I’m not sure which) that still had remnants of guilding round the edges, so that was a bit of a bonus.

It has to be said that I am comprehensively knackered though, which is why I am only writing this now. And since I have been metal detecting more regularly recently, usually on a Friday, it might explain why I arrive at the blog a little bit puggled of a Saturday morning these days. That said, I did, until today, have an incredibly alert ten days when I was almost myself. Hence last week’s blog being a bit more zippy. That was ace-tastic and I’m hoping it will come back when I’ve bounced back from my detecting extravagances.

Yesterday I was trying out a new spade. Yeh, I know. I usually go for lightness so I have a small, short-handled spade I use. However, when the soil is hard it’s hard going so I thought I’d look at something longer, or sharper or possibly slightly heavier. I was recommended three. The one I wanted most was out of stock so I went for the cheapest, a Fiskars spade for the princely sum of £13.95 plus P&P. It arrived, in timely fashion, on Thursday.

Fiskars is a Finnish company and what I learned, from ordering my spade, was that Finnish people might, possibly, be very tall. Either that or they have a Grongolian trading arm, from which I have somehow ordered a spade designed for a larger, stronger species than mine. No. I think probably this is about the average height in Finland.

In the picture the spade looked like a normal metal detecting spade size, so a blade? A business end that is about as long as a normal spade but about half the width and quite curved so it will do nice round holes and won’t flex. The a handle’s usually shorter than average, about seventy five centimetres long – about I dunno, just under a yard in old money. The rationale is, usually, that if you’re going to be dragging it about all day it should be as compact and lightweight as possible. In the picture, the Fiskars spade looked about that. When it arrived … wow. The pointy bit had the same dimensions as a metal detecting spade but it was the same width as a normal one and the handle was loooooong. It came up to just below my boobs. No room in the boot for it, it had to be put in the passenger seat!

So I turned up with this giant spade, but, I have to confess, though it was heavier it was really good to dig with. It did flex a couple of times – when I had the entire cutty/diggy bit buried up to the hilt, but what I noticed was that I got a lot more soil out with each dig. That meant that when, for example, I dug pretty much to Australia only to discover the thing I was looking for was about two inches down in the side of the hole, it didn’t take me as long. As a result, I dug about three times as many targets as I had the week before. Or to put it another way, I kissed more frogs; ergo, a higher handsome prince quotient, so to speak. This would also explain my knackeredness … I dug more holes.

Meanwhile yesterday evening, McMini tried and, luckily, failed to review one of my books. I mentioned a review one of them has on Google play which is complete gibberish – it’s clearly typed on a different keyboard or something because the letters are grouped like words, in some places they are words but mostly they aren’t and it makes absolutely no sense. I don’t mind whoever it was gave it 3 stars. However it is quite bizarre. I’m not sure how it cropped up last night, but McMini threatened to one star bomb me unless I gave him one of my chocolates so I asked him if he’d left me a review on Google, because he has a gibberish thing he does, and I genuinely wondered if it was him.

‘Of course,’ he said, adding, ‘er … no.’ Which made sense, because if it had been McMini he would have used a joke name, as you can see from the ‘review’ he did try to post for Nothing To See Here on my website. I haven’t approved it, but this is what it said:

Phil McCrackin (joke name) says

‘THE HOW IF WHEN IS THE WHAT NO ME GUSTA AH NO PLEASE NO WHAT THE HOW IF WHEN IS HOW TIMES WHAT THE YELLOW PEP’ note the crazy person caps lock on.

The review was this …

You see why I asked, I mean, that is pretty mad. Probably it’s just someone’s keyboard is broken. Or it’s Enigma code.

What made us guffaw about this is the fact that despite being complete gibberish. We liked that Munich features and also the BBC, NBC, MGM and … Bob. Lots about GB too. And someone has liked it! Mwahaharhgh. Why?

Why indeed, we wondered. Were these instructions from the handlers of an assassin to their asset? Does this say ‘do not throw the perfume bottle into the canal. This is Britain and someone will find it?’ Is it some kind of message from MI6? Did the person to whom the message was sent click ‘like’ to acknowledge that these orders had been carried out? If I ask Google to remove it will some men in dark suits come and kill me? Will they come and kill me for writing this blog? With this paragraph have I just signed my own death warrant? You can see how easy it is for me to write a character like The Pan of Hamgee, can’t you?

Other good news, I have managed to kickstart the writing again. Clearly Wednesday was a bit quiet because once I’ve got to and from Mum’s (via McMini’s school run) there’s not much time. Ditto Friday, because I went metal detecting – but hey, you can’t win ’em all. To get back into writing, I’ve re-started my ten minutes a day thing. In grand scheme of things ten minutes isn’t much but if it’s flowing I carry on. To my delight, I’ve managed to write 5,904 words this week.

Yes that’s as many words as some folks achieve in a morning but for me that’s pretty good. I will probably do ten minutes after I’ve finished this. I am feeling extremely uninspired but there are some A to B bits that I can write which don’t call for a huge amount of inspiration. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and plug on with these things, bum in chair, words on screen day after day until it’s done. Thanks to Too Good To Be True, there is a whole new aspect of K’Barthan life to play with; Goojan Spiced sausage. It’s just asking for a wealth of stories about smuggling sausage, forging it and other sausage-related skull duggery. Even better, one of the sweeping this’ll-take-years-because-you’ll-hardly-ever-be-alert-enough-to-work-on-it epics I’m working on now has a much better driver. I was going to have it that one character was trafficking beings, but it was a pretty grim topic for a humorous novel. There is still an aspect of slavery involved but I can temper it with sausage related stuff so it doesn’t get too dark.

It doesn’t sound much, I appreciate, but I am pleased to get some momentum going. Initially, I was slightly concerned that I couldn’t find a lot of Space Dustmen. Luckily, this turned out to be because the beginning is so old that it comes from my pre Scriviner days. I hadn’t realised that I’d been working on that story for so long.

The writing has been causing me a little trouble in that I’ve been trying to push some of the projects on a little before I revert to some Hamgeean Misfit. Especially as Hamgeean Misfit is the one I need to write next to, naturally, with the pressure on, it’s proving difficult. That said, I got 1.6k of the next one down this week so it can’t be all bad and doubtless The Pan will end up delivering something at some point, with disastrous consequences, naturally.

Meanwhile Gareth is still working on the audio and yes, it is still an absolute joy. Wonderful stuff. He’s so clearly enjoying himself. I love it when that happens. You see it sometimes, in plays or films, when it’s just obvious that the cast are having an absolute scream. It adds an extra layer of atmosphere which I always like so I’m delighted. Next, I need to listen to it extremely closely and flag up any typos that need re-recorded or pronunciations I want edited a.s.a.p. so he can fix them up and go on to other things. He’s going to be doing some books with Scottish characters next so he’s been riffing with Scottish accents in mine.

K’Barthan Swearing Quiz Update

Early K’Barthan blingery samples.

When I compiled this, I thought folks would be on it like a rat up a pipe but there has been a surprisingly small take up.

Maybe people are getting quiz fatigue! Or it might just be that not enough people have read all of the books to feel entitled to vote. Or I might just have not publicised it widely enough.

That said, while things K’Barthan do have a dedicated fan base, it is a small one and I forgot to share this on social media, or say much about it, if I’m honest, so I doubt everyone has seen.

However, so far we have six clear leaders, the first two, though, are right out in front.

  • Arnold’s toe jam!
  • Arnold’s Y-fronts!
  • Smeck!
  • Arnold’s sweaty sandals!
  • Arnold’s armpits!
  • Arnold’s underpants!

So there you are. If you haven’t done the K’Barthan Swearing Quiz yet, and you’d like to, click here.

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An incredibly witty title that will entice visitors to my site

So here we are at that time of the week when it’s blog time again. This week I have been out and about a bit but suddenly, on Thursday morning, to my delight and joy, I woke up with a brain. Hello Mary! Welcome back.

Net result I am now close to 3k up on three different projects. Yes I was able to do that real Grown Up Professional Author thing of working on a project for an hour or so until I’d had enough and then going onto another one … three times. Ooo. There are few things better for the all round well-being than when I manage to get some writing done.

Other exciting things, I put the addresses of everyone who’d done the question for Too Good To Be True into the randomiser and contacted the winner. She was delighted, which is always gratifying, and when I gave her a choice of the ritzy Hamgeean Misfit Cup or one of the new Humbertisms set. She said surprise me, so I surprised her with a wipe my conkers mug. To my delight she’s really chuffed. Woot.

This was also the week when I discovered that Zazzle do a teapot. Um … yeh. So naturally we now have this …

For more details about that, just click this link https://www.zazzle.co.uk/im_a_little-180930934370375055.

Naturally, because Zazzle puts the name of everything on the listing I’ve just called it I’m a little … and Zazzle has added, ‘teapot’ which, of course, I find completely hilarious because I’m incredibly mature.

Hear’s some audio news …

Oh ho ho. Did you see what I did there? Yes, other joyous news this week, Gareth is recording Too Good To Be True.

Excuse me while I laugh with manic glee.

Mwahahahahahahrgh! Mah hwahahahahahaahrgh! Mwahahaahrgh!

Thank you.

There is something amazing about listening to someone else bringing the words I have written to life. It’s always a joy, but the more stories I read in forums about audio where people have picked the wrong narrator and aren’t getting on, or the narrator is refusing to do any changes, or the author is being a prig to the narrator, the more I thank my lucky stars. Gareth is a consummate professional but at the same time, not in a scary overly formal manner. He just does stuff when he says he will and if he can’t he tells you why and gives you a revised estimate of when he’ll do it. And he’s decent cove and amusing, and of course, he’s polite enough to laugh at my jokes which always helps.

As we speak, we are up to Chapter 16, the denouement of which caused me to laugh rather suddenly and spray my keyboard with coffee. Oops.

One of the best bits of the process is how each book seems to improve on the last. I don’t think it’s my imagination. I suppose recording audio could be like writing in that you’re always, kind of, in the learning phase and improving but I guess we never notice our own journeys in these things so it’s quite an eye opener to see someone else’s close up. Obviously, I’d expect him to be tinkering with his production efficiency to get the maximum out of his time; you know, the way he works or sends the chapters over, when he does the alts (as they come, or at the end) whether he stands up or sits down to record and stuff like that. And he has. But he’s also found a way to fine-tune the acting, which is a bit of an eye-opener because, frankly, I didn’t think that could be any better than it already was.

OK, so it might just be that he’s more confident with the tech and the process, meaning that his performance is more relaxed, but it seems that Gareth is not content with a product that is merely top-drawer and that his ultimate aim is to get beyond, that, to the top of the whole unit, where his work will sit, resplendent, with the mirror and the hair brushes. What he has done of Too Good To Be True so far is golden, I’m so chuffed with it. From my own point of view, I do think it’s the best thing I’ve written but Gareth is certainly doing it justice. I cannot wait until it comes out and those of you that do audio can have a listen to what he’s done with it. Sometimes you can hear the smile in his voice when he’s reading the bits he finds funny which gives the whole thing an unexpected intimacy and warmth which is great.

Other things, still on audiobooks … when I proof them, I usually listen to the chapters a couple of times, first just to get a feel for the voices, the flow and the narration generally and to get into it I suppose. Then I listen with a fine tooth comb to try and winkle out any misreadings or mistakes. Although Gareth hardly ever makes any, and if there are, more often than not it’s differences in pronunciation. Yes, I obsess over my books as badly when someone else is reading the bloody things as when I write them. Never mind that’s all part of being an author, or at least, part of being this one. This Wednesday, I had some new chapters, so that was a woot as I got to listen to them in the car on the way down to Mum’s.

When I arrived, Mum was in cracking form. I always play it by ear when I visit her. Sometimes, when I turn up she doesn’t really clock it so well but stays in the drawing room with the telly on. Those days, often, she will be too tired to do a whole visit and come lunchtime her words are slury and she’s nodding off. When that happens I pop in and say hello and then do an hour’s detecting and come back in just before 12.00. Other times, she comes out to greet me while I’m still faffing about getting my stuff from the car. If she does this it’s always a good day and so I don’t do any metal detecting. I know she’ll go the distance so I chat to her instead.

Another technique is to bring some gardening homework. She has an arthritic knee which gives way on her so she falls a lot. It’s no fun but it’s also dented her confidence a bit so she isn’t comfortable going out to the greenhouse on her own – we’re not comfortable letting her either. She loves pottering in there, though, she has a perching stool so she can sit and tend to her plants and it’s warm so there’s not the worry that she’ll get cold. Usually the gardening team help her but both the main ones have cancer at the moment and aren’t able to come. The third is keeping the lawns as short as he can and he and the carers are also watering the pots round the outside of the house, the greenhouse and the raised veg beds near the house. There’s another veg garden which we’ve let go this year because watering them takes a while and it’s not really fair to ask the care team to do that or the single garden team member – who is only doing it in his spare time anyway.

One of the pheasants at Mum’s there are two.

I’ve volunteered to grow extra plants so I can bring a few bits and bobs down to Mum’s, tomatoes, four or five broccoli plants, some cut-and-come-again salad maybe, courgettes, cucumbers and some climbing French beans. All those can be planted in the raised beds and watered easily by the carers. If it gets warm enough I can also get Mum out to the raised beds and she can help me sew carrots and lettuces … although we may need more netting as we’ll have the pheasants to contend with.

A few weeks ago, I took a tray of broccoli plants down there and told Mum that her homework was to plant them into pots. I got a big tray and some pots from the greenhouse which I filled with compost and she planted them all. Then I took four home and left five for her. Mum definitely has green fingers. Those four broccoli plants are happier and healthier than anything I’ve potted on so far. That was a huge success so last week I took down some tomato plants – although sadly I hadn’t any homework she could do other than looking after them – but she insisted they be put in the drawing room where she could keep a proper eye on them. This week I’m going to bring a seed tray and some climbing French bean seeds. Mine aren’t growing at all and the ones that have come up are unbelievably weak and feeble so I thought we could see if she has a bit more success.

We set up a big soaking tray on a table with a waterproof cloth at the end of the drawing room for the tomato plants so I can sit her up there and we can plant beans this week. It’s been great doing this because I know she enjoys it and I think it makes her a lot more chirpy. She loves a bit of gardening. It’s probably not quite the done thing but I reckon that if she can’t get to the garden, it will do no harm to bring the garden to her … it’s a pity it’s an antique table but unfortunately all the second-hand, junk room furniture Mum and Dad bought when they got married is now antique. Oops.

Anyway, last week, as I arranged the tomatoes in the tray on the table she was chatting away and she mentioned that she loved my books and asked if I’d written any more. She also admitted that she can’t follow them but thought it might be easier in audio. Could I set it up so she could listen? To be honest, I don’t think she could cope with MP3 files when I’m not there, although I might add them to the tablet I got her to do Zoom church on. But setting that aside, I can play her the odd extract when I go and see her. I told her that I had some with me if she wanted to listen now.

She seemed genuinely delighted at the idea so I played her the chapter from Too Good To Be True with Goldy McSpim – another one where Gareth has excelled himself – and she loved it and wanted to listen to some more. So then I played her the chapter which follows on, with a bunch of surly Grongles doing a house-to-house search while The Pan of Hamgee hides from them and she loved that too.

Her verdict was, ‘Well, darling! That’s as good as anything you’d hear on Radio Four.’ Which is what she usually says, but it was lovely because she was able to follow it and enjoy it. And because for the moment, she knows I’m an author again and that she loved the books I wrote and read them all. So all in all a happy week.

Right. Now I have to go and paint a wall. Two walls actually. A bientot.

One … two free …

Three things … first one free, if you haven’t read any of the K’Barthan Extras series about The Pan of Hamgee’s adventures working for Big Merv the first one, Small Beginnings, is free everywhere except Amazon. Feel free to click the report a lower price button there and ping them a link to Kobo or wherever if you want to. I have been meaning to get them to price match but as I explained last week … On the upside if you enter the code 3SB at check out you can download it free from my site. If you’re on for that you can find links to all retailers here.

Second thing; and second freebie. If you haven’t already done so and you want to hear the first ever audiobook that Gareth narrated for me. Actually, I think it was the first one he ever narrated for anyone that he was prepared to share publicly. He did a great job, as ever. Anyway, if you want to hear it, you can download it for free from my author’s direct account and also from Apple Books and Kobo for the rest of the month. Links to that can be found here.

Third thing. This is the last reminder that, if you haven’t done the K’Barthan invective quiz, now is the time. At the moment we have two out-and-out leaders but the rest is absolutely touch and go. Vote for your favourite! Or add one I’ve forgotten. You can find that here.

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Unicorn farts and other sundry ephemora

This is going to be a short one because it’s twenty past five, which means I have approximately forty minutes to write my usual fifteen hundred word blog post. Hmm. Isn’t going to happen.

Looking at my notes to write about this week they read as follows:

  • Auto correct and bloody Duke
  • Metal detecting and throwing a six

That is all. Okay… off we go then.

Metal Detecting and throwing a six

Saxon ... thing.
A Saxon … thing.

Quite pertinent as I write this, that one. Yesterday, to my absolute delight, I was invited along to a friend’s permission to do some detecting. It was an old club permission so I’ve been going there for a while. The land owner is thoroughly good egg and it’s a lovely spot.

The last time I was there I found a crushed silver thimble from the 1600s I think, and a hammered coin. I love finding stuff from that era because it was such a stormy time in our past. Anything less civil than our Civil War is hard to imagine. You know I’m fairly obsessed because I’ve told you the story about a house called Woodbines which my family lived in, in Kingston, although I’m not sure it’s on this blog. You can read it on the blog on my official author’s site, which I no longer post to, down the end of this link here. Excuse the lack of pictures. I believe that if you’re using a picture to illustrate something under discussion, on a personal blog, it’s supposed to be fair use. However, I still got hit by copyright trolls. I don’t want to risk a huge bill, but also I don’t want to inadvertently pirate photos. I thought it was clear cut but it seems not. Hence, I’ve removed the three pictures I, personally, haven’t taken from all my blogs and two of them were on that post.

Where was I? Oh yeh, so I love Civil War era artefacts mainly because that era was so uncivil and it makes me feel close to a very turbulent part of our history.

The thimble wasn’t my first bit of treasure, there was a bit of Anglo Saxon strap end previously to that from another permission. Both were interesting and have to go through the process by din’t of being silver, rather than particularly brilliant in any respect. That said, a museum somewhere might want the thimble because it’s a bit rarer, coming as it does from an era in history when they were being melted down to make coins to fund the war effort. The modern day ‘evangelists’ yelling ‘Jesus needs your money’ on telly are clearly nothing new since the Puritans really believed they were doing God’s work. Humourless and uptight, they were eventually kicked out of the UK and a lot of them became the founding fathers of America. I’m wandering off on one though.

So we started detecting. The setting is one of the many studs in this neck of the woods and our main purpose is to get any big or spiky bits of iron out of the ground after a piece injured one of the horses a few years ago. This week there was a gorgeous little foal who was too shy to be photographed. I nearly managed it though. After a while I felt I should try and actually find some iron, it wasn’t going very well, I was digging what I thought were big crap signals and discovering, after digging a very deep hole, that the thing that had caused the bing was not iron. Eventually, I got what, in theory, should be a decent bing and sure enough, down in the hole, I found a random silver bit of something. I checked the hole but a bit was all there was. I thought it was either arts and crafts or Saxon. To be honest there wasn’t going to be any middle ground.

Now, having consulted smarter people I am pretty sure it’s Saxon, so that’ll be off to the treasure process then. On the up side, it’s so good it’s likely to come from a grave so there may be more of it. Even better, we should be back on the site this week so I will be able to have a look. But the thing I find most amazing is that when I pulled it out of the ground, mine were the first hands to touch it since someone living six to eight hundred years after the death of Christ pinned it, grieving, to the tunic of a recently dead loved one.

Where is the throwing a six bit to this? Well, I have this theory. I’ve never found gold or anything like that with my detector and I’ve always assumed that my main problem there is the walking over it bit. Because I think, to walk over something really valuable like a hoard or a piece of valuable gold, you have have a certain kind of luck. I remember as a kid playing Ludo with my family. You had to throw a six to start and then you threw the dice to go round the board and back into your ‘home’. The person who got all four of their counters home first was the winner. I remember sitting there, round after round, trying to throw a six to get out and failing dismally. Often I’d not succeed to get anyone out onto the board until my brother’s first counter was already ‘home’. Then Mum, who had similar dice throwing skills, and I would make our way round the board throwing a one each time.

I was always last.

The luck that follows me is not the kind of luck that wins me many premium bonds … or board games. When the Unicorn farts, I am usually up-wind or indoors or … I dunno … facing the wrong way. Except for people; there’s the McOthers, many of my friends and a lot of the colleagues I’ve stumbled upon through my working and writing life. Work stuff would clearly be things like Gareth popping up and wanting to narrate my books … well it could only have been a cloud of sparkly unicorn gas that wafted that piece of good fortune my way! Bloody hell! And nothing gives a person a bigger lift than when someone with a generous dollop of talent in their own field seems to think your stuff is good, I mean he is an actor but I think that’s genuine! Mwahahargh. Also Katherine Jackson, who taught me so much about editing, while editing my books and really had no business dying like that. I still miss her. Then there’s the lovely folks who do my covers, who I blundered upon because they were the people my employers used. And the lovely folks I’ve met and become cyber buddies with in my authoring efforts. But that’s not the luck I’m talking about. The luck I mean is the throwing a six and winning at board games kind of luck.

Am I content with that? Well yes, I think for the most part I am. If I can only choose one, I’ll take the one I have. But reverting to the silver thing – actually I’m pretty sure it’s a silver gilt thing – it’s clearly a tiny fragment of something special. What, exactly, I do not know but, as I mentioned before, most likely it’s grave goods. A brooch pinned to the clothes of a very loved, cherished and high-status dead person before burial so they would be looking at their best in the next life. The rest of it is probably still there somewhere … if I can find it.

If …

Part of me thinks – possibly a little churlishly – that were I the kind of person who could throw a six on a regular basis, I’d have found the whole thing. Another part of me realises that even this tiny fragment is like throwing a double five, a whole one would be the find of a life-time. It’s not that they’re rare, although they are, I believe, but one that good, whole, would be a hen’s teeth job. On the other hand, it definitely ties in with my ability to find interesting things. The ideal, of course, being something interesting enough to be fabulous (to me) but not so interesting it’s worth stacks and I have to sell it! And then another part of me is thinking that I’ll be back there next Thursday. I was chatting to the ex finds liaison officer for this area on line. He told me that in his time, someone had found a fragments of a similar things, returned to the site and found more … Mmm. I’ll keep you posted.

Autocorrect and bloody Duke

A brief one here. Anyone who knows me, personally, will know that when it comes to communication, using my phone, if I’m not speaking, is the bane of my life as it is one long battle with auto correct/auto complete. Auto whatever it is is like wearing a gag, although if I turn auto correct off it seems to be even worse. Part of the problem is that I use the swift keyboard – the Google one.

What is wrong with that thing? It seems to be possessed by some dyslexic demon with an exotic name fetish. Case in point, here in the UK, on the whole, Duke is a surname, a title or something you call your dog. I do not know anyone called Duke as a first name and I think, in the entire two years, so far, that I’ve owned this phone that I’ve typed the word ‘Duke’ on purpose, twice. Yet, whenever I type the word ‘done’ Duke is what it gives me. Not only does it give me Duke but if I change it to done and continue I will find, when I hit send, that it’s quietly changed ‘done’ back to Duke again. Every. single. fucking. time.

Someone or sometime. Bog-standard words. Often used you’d have thought. Summertime. Not so common. Uh-uh-uh, says Auto correct. Every time I type either of those words it defaults to summertime. This is with actual real auto correct switched off. This is just the stupid slidey keyboard getting it wrong. Then there’s or. What is so fucking difficult about understanding it when my finger is sliding from the o to the r key? I’ve no clue but what I get for ‘or’ is out or put. And once again that’s every. fucking. time.

I read somewhere that these things work by looking at what the normals type, averaging it out and offering suggestions. Lord above I haven’t a fucking hope then have I? I mean, look at the words I use. OK so it’s learned the word, K’Barthan. That said it seems to unlearn it and have to be taught afresh from time to time. I’ve no idea why that is. But if it can learn that when I type in K’ I’m going to be saying K’Barthan because that’s what I type every time I write K’ then why the fuck can’t it learn, by the same logic, that every time I type in Mc I’m going to type McGuire? Why is it able to understand that I spell ‘realise’ without an ess rather than a zed but at the same time, be pathologically unable to grasp that if, every time I type done and it offers me Duke I cancel it and type done again until it accepts it, I must actually mean done. Why, when I type in the letters d-o-n-e and not Duke, does it default to Duke, a word I never type, comprising completely different fucking letters?

Also, new factor here. Random capitalisation. If I am in the middle of a sentence, or sometimes in the middle of a word it will suddenly give me a capital letter so I get stuff like,

Hello, how are You doiNg today?

Mental. It’s not as if I’m typing the name of some obscure chemical that is only written by out in full every six million years. These are bog-standard words that everyone uses. Seriously though, who, in God’s name, are the people it’s taking averages from to work out how english … well … you know … works? What in the name of holy fuck are they saying to produce the shit-show that is my phone’s text suggestions? I can only assume it’s mostly folks in Asia where English is used a lot but isn’t anyone’s first language, or that my vocabulary is simply too wide for the parameters of the algorithm to operate. (Really, though? Sounds doubtful.)

At a complete loss, I tried speaking to it. But it can’t understand my fucking accent! My fucking ENGLISH accent for fuck’s sake! The other day I was speaking a sentence which involved the phrase, ‘power of attorney’. My phone decided I’d said, ‘parrot Ernie.’ Give me fucking strength!

As a result, I find myself typing each word tiny letter by tiny letter and the phone, which should be something I can use to quickly reply to stuff, turns into a time sink.

Bah! Swift key? There’s a fucking oxymoron if ever I heard it.

Bookish things …

Yeh, those. So, this month, was officially the worst in about three years for sales.

Last April, I made £408.74 in book sales. This April, I made, er hem, about £65 if I count the sale on my website. Then again it’s up on April 2019 when I made £56.68. Mmm.

Something appears to have happened to Amazon, maybe it’s because I dicked with my series pages – as in changed the name from ‘K’Barthan Trilogy Series’ to K’Barthan Series. Actually no, thinking about that it wasn’t this month. But needless to say, the K’Barthan Trilogy, while disappearing completely from my dashboard, is still alive and well on Amazon. I now have a two book series called the K’Barthan Trilogy (it contains books three and four) which appears nowhere on my dashboard and is therefore undeletable, but alas, all over Amazon. I will sort it out but at the moment I just don’t have the strength of will to deal with emailing KDP customer service repeatedly until they stop giving me boiler plate answers to some other vaguely related question, finally read my actual query and give me a bastard answer.

On the up side, I discovered something weird about myself. Because I’ve made about forty quid on Amazon this month, instead of a hundred and fifty, my wide sales are a much bigger percentage. For the first time they are over a third; 34%. For some bizarre reason, this makes me feel fantastic. Audiobooks, I still appear to be unable to give the bloody things away off Amazon/Audible – except for the odd library purchase or sale on Google Play. Ebooks though, there’s a weeny hint of movement from non-Amazon vendors. This may be because I’ve been actively advertising to people in countries where Amazon companies are not the number one supplier.

It’s not that I don’t like Amazon as a customer, it’s alright, except it’s getting harder and harder to find out how to pay for anything I buy without joining Prime – talk about black pathways. But while I don’t want to penalise Amazon users, I have no wish to be beholden for my income to a company with such rancid corporate ethics, so ideally, I’d like to see a lot of my income derived elsewhere.

Yes, here I am a hundred dollars plus down on my monthly earnings and I’m not nearly as pissed off as I should be – and year-on-year looking at 2018 and 2019 they were about the same – but the distribution of sales over the different platforms is making me happier than money? Well yes. But also it’s because the action on other platforms seems to be increasing a teeny bit. Even better, as my Amazon sales continue to flatline, I have sold my first book of the month, on the first day, from Kobo. Yes, for a while I have a 100% wide sales chart. This also makes me unaccountably happy. There is zero logic in this. I am doing badly and I should be worried but strangely I care more about increasing my sales elsewhere (which is really hard) than on Amazon. I appreciate it sounds a bit touched in the head. But Amazon is difficult to deal with and has the corporate ethics of a morally louche confidence trickster. All its rules are enforced by AI but it’s the cheapest crappest AI possible – NOT like the algorithm at all – which means they are totally inconsistent and their measures ridiculously draconian, often with no appeal or recourse.

Amazon’s customers love the experience but they mostly do prime. The books I’m interested in are usually like my own, outside Kindle Select so I know I wouldn’t maximise the benefits of Prime. Also I don’t understand people who pay £7 a month for netflix, £7 a month for prime, £7 a month for Spotify and so on ad infinitum. All those invisible direct debits chipping away at my income … the thought gives me hives. I need to know the cash is going out. Then again, I am eclectic and have a wide range of interests. Therefore, just as auto correct throws up its hands and has a melt down trying to predict what I will say, so a subscription algorithm probably isn’t going to deliver me with what I require once it is tweaked for commercial gain. Since Amazon’s algorithms are now driven by advertising payments rather than entirely by the desires of the customer, it’s unlikely I’d find what I wanted there. And since Spotify has announced that it, too, will be shifting to that model, I’d suspect theirs will become the same.

I appreciate that the Normals like Prime and Amazon’s customer service is excellent for those who fit their ideal customer criteria (I don’t). But to deal with as a distributor, Amazon is extremely high maintenance. Clearly, they are important and I will always have my books there, but ideally, I want the lion’s share of my income and interaction to be with entities where things are smoother, pleasanter and better run. And where my royalties will not inexplicably go tumbling from over £300 a month to £40. Not to mention that the other sites, and my own, all pay me higher royalties than Amazon for book sales. That’s just business logic innit?

And now, some free stuff and a lot of Things On The End …

Small Beginnings …

Small Beginnings: Ebook version

This month, I have mostly been doing some marketing. I have two things that might be useful. First, Small Beginnings is now free pretty much everywhere except Amazon. I’m hoping it will go free at Amazon eventually.

Normally if I reduce books in price to zero pence elsewhere Amazon makes it free on their own but they don’t seem to have noticed this time. Anyway, if you’d like to bag yourself a free copy of Small Beginnings, or you know someone who might, you can find a page with links to download it. NB, in this particular case, avoid my online shop as I haven’t sorted out a discount code yet and Amazon, because … ditto. Yeh, still steeling myself to contact KDP help (shudders) with the web address of my book on every single Amazon site, followed by the web address of it shown as free on every single country Amazon serves on Kobo, Google Play and iBooks.

Kobo are featuring it in their free section this week, too. For that information link click here.

Unlucky Dip: Audiobook version

OK so you do actually get this as part of my mailing list sign up protocol but if you aren’t, and you have a boring half hour job to do and would like something to listen to to lighten your spirits while you do it, you can’t really go wrong with this. It’s all that is joyous and wonderful about Gareth doing his thing – albeit on a bit of writing that is, if I’m honest, not my best work. Never mind. That is free in two places this month, from iBooks and from Kobo. For links to that, click here.

Merchandise …

Finally, do you remember that K’Barthan merchandise I was talking about? Two developments on that one.

Thing one … If you would like to vote and haven’t yet, the quiz is still open for you to choose your favourite K’Barthan invective. because I have to send it to my mailing list in two week’s time as well! You can still vote for your favourite invective here.

Well I finally have a sort of shop, although it’s Zazzle so no-one will be able to afford anything – I’m working on other suppliers who are less expansive (and pay more royalties) – and also I haven’t finished adding products. But if you’re interested to see how it’s going and you want a gander, you can see that here.

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Arnold’s snot!

Well, things are a little more up-beat this week. Thank the lord for that, I hear you mutter. Seriously though, I do know what’s going on and why I’m out of sorts. Worry ye not, I won’t be explaining it again because I did that last week. Suffice it to say that many people are in the same boat as me. It’s not a unique problem this duty of love stuff and I think a lot of us are victims of the Meh what with the winter that didn’t end until last week – it might not have ended yet, I don’t want to Murry us, but even if it comes back and we’re froz up our bums for May, at least we’ve had this week!

Things are better though, MTM mood wise. OK there is going to be a bit of whinging but hopefully, only in amusing manner. At last, I think I’m settling into the rise in traffic levels on the trip to Mum’s – back to pre covid on the M25. Instead of the blissful 2 hrs 15 mins it’s been over the past year we are now reverting to the situation where there is always one direction at three hours plus due to accidents and breakdowns.

This could be partly because, over the period of lock down, everyone’s been doing less driving and it seems that a lot of us have forgotten how it’s done. I wandered worryingly close to someone the other day, myself, just because we’re all squished up together like little bricks in a mosaic again, going at 70mph, and it hasn’t been like that for a while. I always look out of the side windows at the blind spots before I change lanes but I discovered, this week, that I’d unconsciously slipped into a bad habit of starting to move as I looked rather than waiting until I’d looked first and moving afterwards. Until two weeks ago there was never anything there so checking was more of a technicality than a necessity. Not any more. It wasn’t anything close to a near miss but I definitely gave the bloke in the van next to me an, ‘oh lordy is the daft bat going to pull in?’ moment. Sorry if I worried you, man in van.

Once we hit holiday season in full traffic mode then there are two recurring events on the M25, usually throughout the summer, until September. On the way down, I’m occasionally held up because Fred and Neris, towing their caravan from Skye to Land’s End via Kent have broken down in one of the lanes on the four lane part. There’s no hard shoulder there so it’s three into two and consequently, there are delays. Fred can’t understand it, it’s not like he’s even moved that caravan all year. It’s been sat on their drive with the cover on and all the bearings in one the caravan’s wheels have inexplicably seized. It’s not like he touched the wheels or checked them or anything so they should be alright. He tuts and shakes his head in consternation as he and Neris wait to be rescued.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Patel with Mrs Patel’s brother in-law, Steve, and family are are on their way to Ummi’s and while queuing to get past, discover that their ancient Honda Acclaim hasn’t the same capacity to sit about with its engine running that it used to. It’s overheated and they have to pull over. But there’s no hard shoulder so they can only make it to the slow lane where they pull as far off against the barrier as they can and stop, the Acclaim enveloped in cloud of steam. The Patels – and Steve – with their families now cause another blockage, and the delay time for traffic behind is up to half an hour as they too have to sit tight and wait for the AA. Breakdown help arrives for both stranded parties, at which point the police block off an extra lane, bringing it down from four lanes to two and upping the delay time even more as both the Patels (with Steve) and Neris and Fred are towed to safety.

On the way back, it’s less about Fred and Neris. This time it’s The Patels coming back from Ummi’s. Overheating has done something to the Accord and it’s running a bit lumpy. Mr Patel has had to pull over again but this time the delay isn’t so bad, only about ten minutes. Meanwhile further round Ethel and Norbert are driving from Cornwall to Lowestoft in their VW camper. Norbert started her up for the first time in five years this morning (with a bit of help from a battery charger) and it’s been running like a dream until the M25. Now Norbert realises that bit where he hit 80mph overtaking the lorry was too much for the VW and the engine has let go in the in one of the Dartford tunnels. There’s oil all over the road, too, so as well as waiting for a break down lorry, the road surface will need to be cleaned. The tow truck is doing its thing and the sweeper is on its way from the Dartford depot at a heady top speed of 35mph. Meanwhile the authorities have been forced to close that bore for everyone’s safety, precipitating a gargantuan fifteen mile tailback and hour long delay as four lanes of traffic try to get into one two lane tunnel.

Welcome to summer on the M25.

Every week. I kid you not. One summer holidays someone broke down in the tunnel for 6 out of 7 trips. Handy tip people. Don’t just jump into the car or hook up the caravan and head off without getting it checked over. Grease the bearings on that boat trailer, check the brakes on your combi, check the oil and water and move the bastard things more than once a year, even if you’re just getting the caravan out, towing it round the block and putting it back. Ditto that ancient combi van or mobile home. Drive the bloody thing for over twenty minutes once a month can you? And if you can’t, accept that left on your drive for months without use, things will seize, including the brakes and if you’re not careful, once you’ve started moving, the engine. Check them and get them serviced before you travel. You will save yourself, not to mention the rest of us, an enormous headache.

Thank you.

Picture of a street in the City of London
Perfect example of that diffused print-room style light.

Other things. I am now officially discharged from Mr Davies’ tender care (the knee surgeon this is, not the one who narrates my audiobooks). I was very pleased about that. He asked how far I could walk and I said I’d been wandering about London for two hours and he told me that was pretty hard core. Which made me feel very chipper. He also said that I’d been starting further back than most people who have this done as on the whole, folks seldom reach the bone-on-bone stage, let alone continue like that for several years. So that was good. It was another glorious day in London so again I sauntered round the city in that lovely blue, print room-like light reflected from the mirror glass buildings and enjoyed the scenery. It was busier than before but still looking grand.

As well as wandering about taking pictures, I noticed a hole in the side of the Shard which, blown up, with a starry night behind, could make a grand cover for the right kind of science fiction novel. Sadly it’s just the hole the window cleaning equipment comes out of so no matter how long you wait you will not see a tie fighter fly out of that hole at any point.

Yeh, I know. It should be but it’s not even a helipad.

A bit of a disappointment.

Never mind, you can’t win ‘em all.

Once I got to the river, I walked almost from London Bridge to Tower Bridge along the embankment.

Even though I much prefer coming to London on the train, because I get to walk about, I did miss the vicarious thrill I get every time I drive the Lotus over Tower Bridge. Something about that always gives me a bit of a lift, especially if I select some suitable music, Ian Dury and the Blockheads or something a teeny bit subversive. But there’s a set of lights just before I turn onto the bridge with a mirror so I can see if there are any cyclists next to me. It’s convex so I have this really cool view of my car from above. Something about the bird’s eye angle makes it look like a speeder or hover vehicle – not a car at all. I should have taken a picture of that but I’m not sure of the rules on taking pictures from a stationery car. I suspect even at a standstill the penalties are firm.

Anyway, my original plan was to hit the river, walk down one bank, saunter over Tower Bridge and then walk back down the other side to the hospital. In the end I got rather too immersed in wandering around the city, eating my lunch on a bench outside the Royal Exchange – which is a real sun trap – and generally enjoying the scenery. It was much busier than last time I visited but still pretty much devoid of people. Having dithered about there for too long, I realised I wasn’t going to have time to do the whole circle loop thing over Tower Bridge and back so I turned and retraced my steps along the embankment.

On the way past a ritzy 5 star hotel just next to the Tower of London I saw a gentleman doing some extreme window cleaning, which amused me.

Extreme window cleaning

All in all a good week.

Oh alright, yes, there have been some downsides. Mum was on good form on Wednesday but it took ages to get to her. CF earlier comments about the four lane bit of the M25, although this time it was a pukka accident which had been cleared up by the time I got there but the resulting breakdowns from elderly overheating vehicles hadn’t. Note to road planners. Roads with no hard shoulder are cheap to build but you may as well not have bothered with the extra lane once the holiday season gets underway.

Other news …

It seems that the writing well has run completely dry. No point forcing it then, I’ve just abandoned all projects for a bit and I will concentrate on other things. If nothing is coming out then clearly the answer is to put more stuff in. This includes looking at my metal detecting finds … which basically involves making a god awful mess, but has been interesting. I discovered that some thimbles had steel tips which is why two of the four I’ve found at Mum’s look as if they have been mended with different metal. Not mended it seems. Merely made like that. I also discovered that a lovely – but extremely knackered – button I found is a clan Murray livery button and I found a Roman coin in Mum’s veg patch. OK so it was worn completely smooth but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that if there’s one Roman coin, there may well be more. I will have to search carefully.

The week has also been one for sorting out. I have even arranged something approaching a social life for next week and am hoping I may get out for a whole day’s detecting. Fingers crossed. I also have to have all the medical appointments I haven’t had during lock down, boob squish, smear test, eye test and dental check up. Boob squish on Tuesday. Just the smear, eye test and dental to organise then. Jolly dee.

The other thing that was worrying me a bit, the statement of wishes for my will, is finally finished. I have given hints and tips for my funeral and explained what to do with the family jewellery. That sounds posher than it is. On the up-against-admin front, I have been attempting to persuade Nationwide building society to share information about my son’s trust account with the people managing his financial stuff. Jeez that’s been a ball ache. The firm we are using gave me a form letter to modify, sign and send, which I did. Nothing happened so I had to ring. After 15 minutes on hold I got someone who told me I needed to talk to someone else. After another 40 minutes on hold enduring the kind of anodyne muzak which, I feared, might precipitate haemorrhaging from my ears if I was forced to listen for long, I got a lovely lady who explained what I needed to do. I obeyed her instructions and sent the notice to a specific email address worded the way she told me. A reply came back to say it had been received.

Three weeks later and Nationwide are still telling the people setting up the new trust account for my son that they haven’t heard a peep from me. There is no evidence of the calls or my email. Except there is because they emailed a receipt on 6th April. Fucking useless bastards. So now I have to piss another hour and a half up the wall on the phone in pointless pursuit of them doing fuck all again. Urgh. That said, I think their branch in town is open now so I will go up there, speak to a human and see what I can achieve that way.

cover of too good to be true audio edition

On a very much more optimistic and generally smashing note, Gareth has started recording Too Good To Be True … aaaah be still my beating heart! And excuse me while I do the happy dance.

There’s something about hearing my stuff in audio that’s utterly golden. It’s as if it’s suddenly appearing in 3d. I absolutely love it. I suspect I’m an aural person since, if I want to learn something by heart, listening to it read aloud and following along usually does the trick. It helps that Gareth is dripping with talent and does a fantastic job. I am slightly in awe of what he manages to do, and like the people who design my book covers, he is a joy to work with – always a bonus. He also has an amusing habit of forgetting to tell me when he’s finished some more chapters. It was a rather jolly surprise to discover he’d got to chapter 7 this morning. A whole five new chapters there that he’d recorded and, apparently, forgotten about. He tells me this is because he is rehearsing for something with some real actual humans at the moment so I will accept his excuse! Far be it from me to criticise anyone for being vague … as we all know, I have trouble remembering my own name.

Which reminds me. I’m starting a clinical trial of rosemary oil. Does it or does it not improve cognitive function in menopausal women? We really don’t know, but hopefully, I’m going to be helping them to find out. I will be using an infuser and inhaling rosemary oil for a set period of time every day and completing assessments online on a Tuesday so I’m agog to know if it will help. Please, let it help that would be so marvellous.

Other jolly stuff, the Bury St Edmunds writers group that I’m part of had our meeting by Zoom this Friday and we were discussing a lot of writing stuff which was both useful and interesting, as well as other side things which were also eye-opening and intriguing – one of our number has something called Fabry and is taking part in Fabry Awareness Month – here’s some info about what Fabry is from the MPS society. To this end, she’s guest blogger there. It was interesting to chat, somewhat incoherently on my part, about things that affect my ability to write, which is pretty much everything in my case. But as well as the lady with Fabry, there is someone else with a wee one, and a smaller microdot than McMini but she’s clearly facing the same challenges to her writing as I did.

All in all then, things are looking up. I have made a quarter of my usual monthly income selling books this month. Nothing I’m doing seems to be pushing the needle so the time has definitely come to ignore the marketing for a bit until the slump goes away. In the meantime, I will just go back to investigating the world around me, doing stuff and trying to do a little bit of writing each day. I found a brilliant quote this week from someone I’ve never heard of called Emory Austin.

‘Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.’

That sounds like a plan.

And now the cheerful bit at the end.

picture of K'Barthan series themed badges
K’Barthan Bling

This week there wasn’t time for much and next week will be the same. However, I did finally get round to creating some K’Barthan themed products.

For some reason all four of the badges I ordered for product testing purposes feature K’Barthan invective. I thought I ordered more Humbertisms. Suffice it to say that going on the results of the poll I have made a set of six K’Barthan coffee/tea mugs in white on black and a set of six badges featuring the phrases discussed last week. I also added Futtocks away and I’ve sent one of those to Gareth.

  • Windy Trussocks!
  • Bite my winkey!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin but don’t spill my drink.
  • Jiggle my tumpkin!
  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Futtocks away!

I haven’t actually done the invective on anything other than badges because the results of the invective quiz aren’t in yet. Luckily one of the first people to reply pointed out that I’d forgotten ‘Arnold’s , eyeballs!’ Anyway, if you would like to vote the quiz is still open because I have to send it to my mailing list in two week’s time as well! You can vote for your favourite invective here.

Right then, I’m off to make some K’Barthan Koasters phnark did you see what I did there with the K, did you? Did you? Yeh … I know. It was a bit shit. Never mind. Onwards and upwards. A bientot.

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Another fine mess I’ve got me into …

Although also … possibly … out of.

Too Much Information Alert …

OK, this post is, officially, going to begin with Too Much Information. I’m going go talk about one of the last taboos, my monthly cycle.

As a lady of a certain age, who is fitted with an … er hem … coil … I have been spared the joy – a word I use with extreme irony – of periods for the last ten years. Gone are the days when, were I to get appendicitis at the wrong moment, I would simply fail to notice and die. I have had both (although I still have an appendix) and on the pain-o-meter the monthly cramps won hands down.

However, despite this, I still have a, you know, cycle. There are days when I am completely sapped of all creativity and depending if it’s a long or short cycle the creative down times last from between forty eight hours to two weeks. I call this the meh time.

When Meh strikes (let’s give it a capital M) the trick is just not to try too hard until it’s gone. I can do artistic creative so long as there’s zero pressure on myself to succeed. So I can draw or twiddle with things in photoshop so long as I don’t take it too seriously. With writing, I can sometimes do stuff long hand but basically, I have to accept, at that point, that my muse has gone on a bender. I’m never sure if it’s on holiday, relaxing on a beach somewhere or if it’s lying in a dark back alley somewhere, out cold, in a pool of its own sick, empty vodka bottle still clutched in one limp hand. If I give it the time to have a bath and several black coffees it might produce something intelligible but on the whole, at moments like this it’s best left to sleep it off. I let it be and get on with other things. To do so is quiching out in many respects. But I’m not really talking about failing to turn up to the chair and write, this is more about sidestepping burnout.

An interesting aspect of this is that I hadn’t thought to count non fiction in the writing I do. Because despite the muse having fucked off on a bender, I have written quite a lot of things this week and historically, have written a fair bit of stuff in these phases. The bit that’s in trouble is the bit that makes up an intelligible plot then, it would seem. It may be that it’s not all Meh, or at least, not all Monthly Meh. I’ve found it really hard to get back into the saddle with the Sussex run and the whole looking after Mum thing and, as discussed last week (or was it the week before?) we have reached the stage where there is no point in denying our arses off any more. We have to accept that her memory is not what it was or, to be honest, I could probably just leave that statement at simply, her memory is not. It is slightly as if the whole looking after Dad thing has left me too exhausted to carry on. Whenever that thought occurs to me, I just have to accept that it’s probably true, file it in the can’t-be-fixed section and then ignore it and hope it goes away. Think of me as the owner of a 1960s car with a snapped fan belt, looping an old pair of tights round the alternator so it will generate enough juice to get me home. All that increased care and concern does tend to drop an anvil on the fiction-creation centre of my brain.

Usually from a great height.

Possibly even from the stratosphere.

Ideally, what I’d be doing right now is starting some K’Barthan Extras. But what I want to write is the big sweeping epic that will take years to finish and won’t sell (not that any of my books sell) – the Betsy’s Bordello origins story – and of course Space Dustmen. Neither of these will be finished by September which is, ideally, the point at which I ought to be publishing my next book. That said I could give Space Dustmen a go as I think that’s going to be less complicated and easier to split into adventures but in my world of highly-polished, unmarketable literary turds it’s the K’Barthan stuff that sells.

That said there wasn’t anything doing this week so I decided to do some of the things I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t got round to. This includes the thing for my will which I still haven’t done but hope to have finished today. Fingers crossed. It also included having a go at some of the settings on my metal detector and finally sending Gareth his share of the royalties for this quarter. Note to self: do the royalties quarterly from now on, it makes it look as if there are more of them. Mwahahaaaahrgh! Self-deception is my friend.

Chatting to Gareth via whatsapp this week, he was talking about his singing lessons and how he is trying to alter some of the physical aspects about the way he sings so it’s more natural – and is therefore more effective – I think that’s the gist. He was worried about sounding ‘wanky’ snortle – one of my own favourite descriptors, that one – so he didn’t go into too much detail.

However, it did strike me that talking to Gareth about these things is very like conversations I’ve had with an ex triathlete friend, who now mostly rides a bike. Both are extremely talented, but a big part of it, I suspect, is that they are also very aware of absolutely everything that they can do to maximise that talent. They have learned every shortcut that will speed their progress from bleargh to perfection. Actually neither of them is starting from bleargh, they start from exceptional and kind of go on from there but you get the picture. I love that artists and sports people are as insanely geeky about their various theatres of operation as any scientist – although Triathlon Man is a scientist so perhaps the geekery is slightly less unexpected in his case. But I’m drifting from the point which is that this intensity, to me, is what separates the men from the boys and, probably, me from the professionals. I have those short cuts but … I dunno … I still seem to get nowhere. I spent the last three years doing a ground-up rebuild on how I produce and think about the books I write. Maybe it hasn’t worked so well, or maybe it’s just that the background stress levels are going up again so, once more, I’m having to fight harder. I’m at a bit of a loss. Again, I’ve reached a stage with my writing where I should accept that I’m not in a situation where I can have a career of my own. I should stop and give up but I just … can’t. On the other hand, I’ve just read an article by Robert Webb during which he stated that having said he wanted to be a novelist he has realised, after staring at a blank screen for the last twelve months, that he might need to give himself some other options. Ah Robert, Robert … I feel your pain. Welcome to the writing pleasure dome.

For whatever reason, writing, for me, seems to take a huge amount of emotional energy, and after years and years of grinding, spirit-sapping stress with Dad and now Mum, a whole decade plus of playing to everything I’m shit at in life and existence – thanks a fucking bunch there, God – I just don’t seem to have that energy any more, or at least, only in very small amounts. I am so, so much closer to burn-out over that than I was with Dad, because I’ve already done ten years of worry – including five of the kind of high intensity stuff I expected to have to maintain for three or four years at the outside. Right now, after a brief dip, I’m looking at another five or ten years of the same thing again. It is not … yeh. Let’s just leave it at … it is not. But having time off in lockdown, while handy at the time, might not have helped to be honest. Not at all. It just gave me a glimpse of what could be, but which I’m beginning to think never will be. There will always be someone with dementia I need to look after, until I reach the point where it’s me. I am really, really struggling to get back into it all. At the start, I remember thinking I probably had the stamina for three years or so, five at the outside. I guess the basic gist is, I was right. But there is no option for the battery to run flat. No way out. No end in sight. Just more and more and more admin, my mother’s, my son’s, my own – blimey but I’m a miserable bastard today aren’t I?! I just have to get better at pretending it’s not happening and carry on. Tights round the mental fan belt. I can do it. I might need a bit more CBT. I’ll look into some options.

Additional Meh factors might be the fact that it’s April, a month during which I traditionally sell fuck all books but I’ve had the worst month for book sales for five years. I’ve up to earn 40 dollars this month. All on Amazon. Usually I earn over a hundred. The fact that I can no longer construct a Facebook ad of any description that gets out of the learning phase isn’t helping either. The frustrating thing with those is that I had an ad that was working well, inadvertently edited something and had to reload it and now it can’t get out of the learning phase. That said. People are signing up it seems so maybe I should just leave it. My Facebook ads always go tits up around Christmas, Halloween and American Elections. But there’s nothing worse than spaffing a load of money up the wall for zero return in a field of operations at which you used to excel. I don’t understand it. If I narrow it down it says my audience is too small to have any hits, but it’s saying my audience is to small to achieve any hits if I choose people in NZ and AU who like Terry Pratchett and Books. According to the numbers, when it bothers to say something other than that my audience is to small, that’s well over a million people. At the same time, I’m getting three sign ups a day for my two bucks so I dunno, go figure.

Out of the Meh came forth Merch …

Back to the point. Meh. I decided that if writing was difficult I’d do something book related that didn’t feel like pulling teeth but needed to be done. So it was that out of the Meh came forth Merch. I spent Tuesday and a lot of Thursday making products which featured Humbert the Parrot quotes. I also did a couple of K’Barthan swearing things. So far I’ve done a couple of badges – oh and one sticker! Mwahahahrgh. Despite feeling a bit Meh, I observed that I was still able to do stupid product descriptions. Well, they made me laugh anyway. Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are funny. Still after anticipating a rather flat couple of days, I had a remarkably amusing time with myself. Mum was on good form too, on the Wednesday, which always helps and we went to the beach yesterday for a walk and it was beautiful light with bright sun.

I think these Meh periods are probably part of life for every creative. OK some folks seem to be able to produce hundreds of books and I salute them. I could do that if literary creativity was like painting. I can paint like ringing a bell just … not as well as I can write. The fact is though, I seem to be so adversely affected by every little thing that sometimes, I’m surprised I produce anything at all. What I do manage is the result of hours of analysis and effort into the how and why of my ability to create so I can squeeze the maximum juice out of each tiny drop. I suppose if you want to be good at something that’s what you do. Maximise it. But … I dunno … it’s as if I have a few drips of potent creativity and I have to make it cover each book. While everywhere I look other writers seem to be just vomiting out books. Really good books too. Burp! Oooh there’s another one. I am probably looking at the wrong people and in the wrong places.

Talking of books, Gareth is hoping to start work on Too Good To Be True soon, singing-related shenanigans permitting. Which made me think of something else and that is, how intensely physical the performing arts are. I remember reading somewhere how people who are in a production full time often have to do an extensive range of weird and arcane physio exercises to keep all sorts of obscure body parts in trim. It’s amazing how much of something that seems large cerebral is, in fact, physical when it comes to doing stuff with your voice or an instrument. I do remember talking about this kind of stuff with my violin teacher when I was small and good at it. Body posture and stance are a huge part of it because you’re not just playing the instrument, you’re part of it because the sound is resonating through you. And that’s why the way you stand or breathe can make a huge difference.

That got me thinking more about writing. There seem to be three important factors that can fuck mine up. The first is pressure. Can I make up stories under pressure? No. This is probably why I am struggling writing more K’Barthan extras. There is pressure to finish them whereas there is not any pressure to finish the other projects which are ticking along nicely. Well … not really. So I have this strange dichotomy where I can write an 85k novel in about six weeks but only if a) that’s not what I’m actually trying to do, b) other stress is reduced and c) the six weeks are spread out over the course of about a year. It’s like learning to fly Adams style. Except instead of throwing myself at the ground, getting distracted before I land and missing, I have to throw myself into writing the next book, forget why I’m writing it and just … enjoy my K’Barthan holiday.

Getting the first set up started is the difficult bit. Once that’s there, if it’s a simple story with a main character and not much else, it will get from beginning to end reasonably fast.

Second thing … admin. If I have something looming, like a tax return or, in this case, some bits and bobs for my will, I feel pathologically compelled to do it before I write. But when I come to do it, because I want to write, I get bored and my mind wanders and I stare at my computer and get distracted and before I know it a day has gone by of me staring at the screen doing … I dunno what. The way round that one is to do a short burst of writing before I start the admin. Then at east I’ve done a bit of what I’m supposed to.

Third thing, hormones. There is the one week in every four where I’m never going to write anything. This is the time I use for editing or to drop writing and have a pop at other stuff; newsletters, writing ads, booking promos. Downloading the graphics and sorting all the links I have to share … that kind of stuff.

Fourth thing, I need to take the right measures. If that means giving up on it for a day or two and doing other things so be it. Yesterday we went to the beach for a day. We spent an amusing hour having lunch in a pub garden and the conversation included inventing euphemisms for going to the loo. Starting with the well known ‘I must go siphon the python’ we built on the theme and finally ended up with McMini calling it, ‘I just have to go and deal with some yard trimmings,’ while I preferred, ‘I just have to go and fly-tip a sofa’. Yeh, I know but we thought it was funny. McOther just sat there with a contented, these-are-my-children kind of smile on his face.

picture of the sea
I must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky. I left my socks there yesterday. I wonder … continued on page 94/…

Thing is though – going back to my ongoing fight with my muse – for most of 2020, pandemic aside, I was in post op recovery or a great deal less stressed. I couldn’t do the Sussex run for a lot of it and in many ways, Mum’s well-being was out of my hands – or at least, I didn’t feel as painfully responsible for it and I was able to let so much stuff go. It was awesome. I didn’t need to take measures, or follow any of the protocols I usually have to follow to write. I ate exactly what I’m eating now, but I lost weight instead of putting it on. There was no need to keep a daily word count and do the ten minutes a day thing. Now there is. Now, I’m back to the place I was in 2018. I need to pull every trick in the book to keep the tiniest trickle running from the creative well. I need to keep it alive because if I don’t the other stuff is going to get a bit overwhelming and if I get overwhelmed, I’ll be no good to anyone. I need another holiday – already – and since I can’t have a real one, I have to pretend. And if there is any talent in me, it seems that I have to support it with a lot of painfully convoluted mental gymnastics. It’s a a gargantuan ball ache but it is what it is. I just have to accept it and get on with it. I guess part of it is simply that I’ve reached a perfect storm where everything writing related is going dismally badly at once. I just need to grit my teeth and push on through. And do those bloody lists for my will. Ugh.


On a lighter note … K’Barthan invective poll results! Phark.

As discussed here, last week … K’Barthan products. Mmm. Last week I asked if you’d like to vote on your favourite Humbert phrases. Many did.

Congratulations.

As you may have gathered from my previous wittering, I took the recommendations and ran with them, well, OK, it was more of a case of, I shambled crazily for a few metres, went purple in the face and had to sit down for a minute or two … but it’s a start!

The runaway winners, if that’s the right word, were ‘Wipe my conkers!’ and ‘Bite my winkey!’ but there were many more, here are the top six:

  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Bite my winkey!
  • Windy trussocks!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin but don’t touch my drink!

Extremely close behind ‘windy’ and ‘jiggle’ were:

  • Arse!
  • Shroud my futtocks!
  • Bombs away!
  • Gits in a bag!

After talking to Gareth, I realised that I’d completely forgotten to offer ‘Futtocks away!’ as an option which is, apparently, his particular favourite, and one of mine, too. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all. If you’d like to see the resulting merchandise you can find it here:

This week, K’Barthan swearing is under the spotlight. So if you wish to vote for your favourite piece of K’Barthan invective, you can go right ahead and do that too. The ‘voting’ form is at the end of this link. Enjoy.

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Ouch …

Well it’s that time of the week to write a blog and as I sit here, tapping at my keyboard, I see from my BBC Newsfeed that the Duke of Edinburgh has died. It kind of reflects my mood. I sat down, determined to share a couple of stories about him, which reflect a warm, kindly fellow with a sense of humour. Except really what I need to write about today is Mum. Since one of the stories about the Duke is an encounter with Mum I guess it kind of ties in then. This should probably come with a trigger warning. If you do not want to read me whinging about dementia cut this one and wait until next week.

Random picturesque illustration for M T McGuire's blog, in this case Arras Grand Place.
Random picturesque illustration because I’m all out of – shrugs – y’know … pictures.

Right, those of you who are left, on we go.

We’ve had a bit of a time of it with Mum yesterday. First one of the loos at her house has broken and needs fixed. It does need fixed too because it’s the one the guests and the carer’s use. Well, it was put in 48 years ago so it doesn’t owe us anything. It needs a new siphon but odds are, we are better off buying a new loo. As sis in-law said, ‘it’s a rubbish flusher’ and she’s spot on. We could have limped on with it, but now it’s actually bust, I think it has to go. That evening, the night carer turned up to discover Mum sitting downstairs in the kitchen having breakfast. She thought it was morning.

Pretty much anyone who has a relative with dementia will recognise this. I think most of us reach this point in the journey when there is absolutely unequivocal, incontrovertible proof that the person with dementia really has dementia and that it’s getting worse, a lot worse. Not better. That’s so hard.

The thing about dementia is there is no way back, no getting better, no relief, no recourse. Nothing but deterioration and death. I try really hard, but it’s difficult to see that any which way but grim. The only thing you can do for a person with dementia is try to ensure that their days are filled with kindness and sympathy, that the moments they live in are happy and that this will amount to a feeling of overall wellbeing, even if they don’t remember why or where it comes from. Oh and that they experience the least fear possible. There is nothing else to be done. There’s a honeymoon period from the first signs to this point, where you are all denying your arses off and telling each other that it’s just old age and that a gentle peaceful death will intervene way before madness does.

Thing is. It won’t.

And when you hit the point when you realise that, odds are, there’s going to be no mercy. That’s when it’s really, really hard to stay … well … chipper. Truth be told, I do far more snivelling at this point than later on.

But you have this horrible dichotomy when you want the person to carry on living, no matter how ill they are, because you love them and you don’t want them to go. But at the same time, you know they can’t and that if they do, the person with you won’t necessarily be the one with whom you are familiar. So far, Mum is still, mostly, Mum. We are lucky in that.

Mum goes to bed very early. This is partly because if someone helps her to bed at six and she sits and watches telly in bed all evening there is less risk of her falling. She is self aware enough, in her good moments, not only to have mentioned falls but explained that avoiding this risk is a big part of her original decision to get to bed earlier. Later she was always a bit more wobbly, especially if she’d had a sleep in the chair. Now, even more so, it’s a case of doing it while she has someone to help with the buttons and to remind her what she’s doing. It’s also partly because as she becomes less mobile, she is far more worried about lighting the fire in case a log falls out and she can’t get to it or isn’t strong enough to wield the fire tongs and put it back. It’s cold downstairs without the fire and a lot warmer upstairs. Another reason to get to bed early. She is also smart enough to know the extent of her disability and realises that if a log fell out and the hearth rug caught fire, she might not be able to remember how to use the phone if she became flustered or panicked. The third thing is that she often nods off in the afternoon and she didn’t like it if she nodded off and woke up, confused and disorientated, downstairs. She found it easier to combobulate, so to speak (or is that re-combobulate?) if she was already in bed. Hence she started going to bed earlier, straight after she’d eaten her tea at half five, sixish. That way if she did wake up she was already in bed, which reduced the WTF factor when she woke up.

A couple of months ago she rang me at about half past five in the evening asking for help. She’d got herself into a right old muddle, she told me, and she didn’t know what time it was or what she was supposed to be doing. It was easy to tell that she was afraid and it was horrible. I reassured her and explained that it was about time she got herself her supper – which the carers usually leave out for her.

‘What do I do after that?’ she asked me.

‘Ah well, then, usually, you draw the curtains and go upstairs to bed where it’s nice and warm and toasty. You sit in your bed, in your room and watch telly and doze for the evening.’

‘Oh, I see, I’ll do that then.’

‘Good plan. Do you want me to stay on the line and guide you through it all.’

‘No darling, I’ll be alright. Just remind me though, curtains first then supper and bed?’

‘Yes and don’t forget to put your eye drops in.’

After that one, we upped the care so the carers now pop in at half five or six-ish and give her supper, have a chat, help her get undressed and help her to bed.

We’ve had a couple of dodgy episodes since, usually when she knows she’s got something on and insists on getting up and getting dressed if she wakes up at four am to go to the loo, so she can be ready in time. Then there was the moving to higher ground because the news on the telly about Covid was bad and her worry that I’d been trying to persuade her she hadn’t been living in the house very long – that was the other way round. She was saying she moved there in 1986 and I was trying to explain she had lived there over the holidays from 1974.

This one though. Waking up and thinking it’s morning, I’d guess that nearly everyone looking after a dementia sufferer has experienced this. It’s an unmistakeable marker, if we didn’t know it already, that Mum is leaving us. It’s more than an imagined shape in the mist this time, it’s clearly delineated shadow.

We’ve done this with Dad and do you know, I thought it would be easier. Why on God’s green earth did I think that? It’s just as shit. Except that actually, it’s worse, because it makes me miss Dad. I miss Dad with all my heart because THERE’S NO SANE ONE. There’s nobody Bruv and I can talk to who can reassure us we are doing the right thing. It feels as if it’s all guesswork. But worse than that; the most horrible thing of all, is that even though she’s still here, I miss Mum. The time I spend with her is very precious because she’s still there when I’m with her and when we live in the moment. But just as Dad got to the point when he couldn’t really talk so well phone any more, so Mum is beginning to have days when, if I give her a call, I know we aren’t going to have much of a chat. Those are the days when I’ll ask how she is and have a few brief words and then sign off. Kind of a relief if I’m strapped for time, but sad in other ways. And hard now because it’s one of the few things I can do for her and it was something she really enjoyed. But I also miss being able to ask her for advice, because she could do advice and she liked being asked and being able to help. It made her feel useful. Incidentally, that’s a really, really good thing to do in the early stages. Ask them advice. Ask them lots of it. It helps them think as well, which is also good.

This is the hardest bit really. I’m not very good at it. I thought that if we got to this point with Mum I might cry less, but I don’t. I’m not hardened to it at all. It still hurts like a bastard and if I’m going to look after her properly I have to let it, which is a bit of a pisser. The thing is, it’s light and shade, the shadows are there and we can all see them clearly now. Hence the tears. But there is also light and I just have to concentrate on the good days. And possibly up the care a little or have the night ladies come a little earlier. And exorcise it … elsewhere. Doubtless I’m going to be giving The poor old Pan of Hamgee a completely shit time in the next Extra. Either that or the series about Ada, Gladys and Their Trev at the Parrot and Screwdriver is going to get very dark.

Never mind, I have a fun quiz for you to do in a minute and since I’m here I may as well share those stories about the Duke of Edinburgh as well.

Duke of Edinburgh Stories.

The Duke of Edinburgh is controversial in many respects, I know but as someone with an inate and similarly powerful ability to cause unwitting offence he was a man with whom I could empathise. There are folks saying they are glad the Duke has died. The way others see it, the Duke of Edinburgh was the product of a generation which had seen the world very differently and whose intentions were clearly good since, while he might have seemed old-fashioned and insensitive, he had done good things, like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. I remember Dad going to the Palace with one of the boys in the house who’d got a gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. I think the Duke presented the gold awards personally until very recently. He did good stuff and the Duke of Edinburgh Award is both class and colour blind, exactly the way it should be. There’s a good article about it here. So his legacy there is not the way some people, and here-say, paint him.

Already, I know of a couple of people who’ve had a spat over this. Person A believes HRH to be a racist and stated that if Person B didn’t believe the same thing then they were a racist too. Person B said they felt that was a rather black and white interpretation. Especially in light of the fact that all they were saying was that they felt it was not compassionate or humane behaviour to be glad at someone’s death. Person A told Person B that they needn’t bother staying in touch. Person B’s other friends are now taking the mickey out of them for being a racist. Apparently there’s an awful lot of quoting Father Ted.

‘So father, I hear you’re a racist now!’ (best delivered in the voice of Mrs Doyle).

It would be hard to find a more laid back, less judgemental person than Person B, who takes everyone as they come but it does herald the kinds of comments I’m going to get from those who are a little more intransigent about their views than I am for trying to be even-handed here.

Note spud in hand …

Going back to the Duke of Edinburgh. Whatever his faults, he appeared to me, as an outsider, to be a reasonably intelligent man, with an enquiring mind who was interested in many things and, for the most part, wished to do good. He also had a sense of humour, which is a hugely underrated attribute. It’s surprising how many people, if you ask them, have a Duke of Edinburgh story. Well, it was a long old life he lived, and he did get around but that is the point. He tried to promote and help a lot of people and took an interest in many things. Hence I have a picture of Mr Potato, McMini’s godfather, seen here waxing lyrical to HRH at some agronomy do about … well, yes, potatoes. And believe me, this is a man who can wax extremely lyrical about potatoes to the point where HRH may well have been late for his next appointment.

I also look at the Duke through the lens of someone who knows that, as people age, they lose a lot of filters, or unthinkingly say things that would not have turned a hair when they were younger but now do, especially when those things are taken out of context. But I also notice that we, as people, are becoming more literal. I suppose it’s because everything is written down on the internet these days so there is no non-verbal aspect to so much of our communication. But I remember people taking the piss out of me about my looks and not being bothered at all because I understood the spirit in which the remarks were made, while other folks could say the same things in a slightly different way and I’d be extremely angry. I do understand that you can’t say a lot of stuff because even benignly meant, it could be taken out of context and will always be read as nasty rather than cheeky should that happen. But in many ways this loss of judgement and appreciation that there is a middle ground between the black and the white is unlikely to better things or make us happy. Anyway, here are the stories.

Story number one. Back in medieval times, when I was at school, a friend’s mum was big in to scurry racing. This is micro ponies with equally micro light weight traps raced round a course of twists and turns, hills, slaloms etc. Her mum was at some big event, probably the Surrey county show or the like and doing rather well, except there was one point on the course where she kept muddling her left from her right and almost going the wrong way. Friend’s dad was trying to think of ways that Friend’s Mum could remember which her left and right hand were – I so identify with this because I’m absolutely clueless at telling my left from my right. Anyway they were waiting to do their run and still talking about this with the ‘solutions’ suggested by Friend’s dad getting sillier and sillier as he tried to calm her nerves. While they were talking a Random Fellow nearby, overheard them and chuckling, he said.

‘Maybe you should try tying a red ribbon round your right wrist.’

Quick as a flash friend’s dad retorted wryly, ‘Why? Do you do that to your wife?’

There was an almighty guffaw and that’s when friend’s mum and dad clocked that Random Fellow was the Duke of Edinburgh.

Other quick one. Mum was a debutant and as such you get presented at court. I asked her what the hell happened and I wrote it down somewhere but needless to say, I can’t remember where. Basically there’d be a few days of it when hundreds of young ladies gathered in groups in the White Drawing Room, I think it was, at Buckingham Palace, to be herded through into an adjoining state room and PRESENTED AT COURT. No judges or juries involved. You were put into groups and then you were called forward, one-by-one and introduced to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who were seated at one end. Your name was announced and you walked up to them, your name was given, you curtseyed and I think the occasional pleasantry was exchanged after which you went off and the next person came in. Mum had the same knee disease as I did and had surgery aged seventeen. I think she walked with a stick until she was about twenty five although, I suspect, not for this. I remember, as a wee nipper, that every time we knelt down at the altar in church, at communion, Mum’s knees would crack. It was always the same noise, and always quite loud. I could hear my mother kneeling down in another room and know who it was from that crack. Hmm, thinking about it, that probably is quite loud. Indeed every time she bends the dodgy knee, said crack still rings out like a gunshot – only marginally less noisily than it used to.

So there was Mum in her best bib and tucker, walking the length, breadth, diagonal or whatever it was of either the White Drawing Room or a state room into which it led. There was H M The Queen and the Duke at the other end. Mum walked over to them in stately, demure fashion in her smashing debutant’s dress, curtseyed and of course, off went her knee. Crack! She was very embarrassed and as she turned a gentle shade of puce and tried to maintain her shredded dignity the Duke gave her a massive smile and winked at her. It doesn’t sound much, but remember this was the late 1950s so things were very much more austere and proper in those days. Mum assured me that wink was like a giant get-out-of-gaol free card. It was just enough to let her know it didn’t matter, and put her at her ease, without drawing attention to it and embarrassing her even more. I’d have liked to have met the Duke, if only to thank him for being kind enough to put my mum at ease, but I wouldn’t have wanted to meet them like that. Luckily all that malarkey had been done away with by the time I hit eighteen so I didn’t have to do it.

I always felt that The Duke was a man with a sense of humour – and as far as I could tell, from the anecdotes I heard, which are mostly stories like these, he clearly had a somewhat acerbic wit on occasion, and I suspect he may not have suffered fools gladly, but I can also imagine that he was a very much more well-meaning and dignified person than is made out.

And now for something completely different …

Yes, it’s quiz time … again.

Hamgee University Press Logo

OK, so I had an idea that it would be fun to use the black on white and white on black versions of the spiffy new HUP logo to make some print on demand stuff on Zazzle, Society 6 or somewhere similar that will feature favourite K’Barthan centric quotes.

In particular I like the idea of a set of mugs with the things that Humbert shouts. What could be more fun then wowing your work colleagues with a mug that says, ‘Bite my winkeyi!’ Yeh. OK, possibly quite a few things but … you get the picture.

Alternatively, some mugs or possibly even t-shirts and badges/pins featuring K’Barthan swearing would be fun and a Great Snurd (of K’Barth) Company Limited baseball cap.

That said, I think a first wave of Humbertisms, to test the water, would be best to start. To answer the question click the button or click here.

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