Category Archives: General Wittering

Licensed to chill …

Better late than never this week, yes the blog goes out on a Sunday because MTM was phaffing about too long on Saturday. On the upside, the phaffing involved writing 2,000 new words on Hamgeean Misfit 5. Hoorah. On the downside, I wrote 202 words of it today, and this!

Yep. News this week, I decided, at the last minute (but then, how else do I do anything?) that I’d have a bash at NanoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, it stands for November Novel Writing Month … actually it doesn’t does it?Well look, that’s what it is, anyway.

The idea behind it is that you write about 1,600 words every day throughout November and at the end you have, 50,000 words, which is a novel. Obviously, the chances of me writing anything on a Wednesday are slim so that’s five days down before we start. That means that if I want to write 50,000 words in November I have to do at least 2,000 a day. Hey, you know me. I  like a challenge.

When you’re writing it all on one story it is quite a tall order. My brain takes ages to mull things over and so I usually write several things at once. I might yet do that with Nano and call the results ‘a book’, but at the same time, I want to finish this particular story and this seems as good a time as any. At the moment I suspect that it’s terribly slow and lacking in action but I’m thinking that once I get the bulk of it down I can fix that. Everything I’ve written is stuff I can use, although I did have to move chunks around a lot yesterday to make it work. I guess what I mean is, I’m not so worried about whether or not I’m writing these scenes in the right order (or even the write order, badoom tish! Oh ho ho).

Thus far, yeh, a week in, I’ve managed to write an average of 1,000 words a day because I managed 2,202 yesterday which means I’ve got Wednesday covered. OK that means I’m 600 words a day down. On the up side, this particular book has now reached 17,000 and something words. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen but I’m enjoying finding out. There are any number of bizarre plot strings which may or may not come together into something meaningful. One involves an actor with a colourful past as an all-in wrestler. I like the idea that Marcella the Pirate, who is a key character and a total cow right now, might reform somehow after a run-in with the Grongles and retire from her life of crime as part of some travelling wrestle-tainment show.

Or not.

This was not a good idea.

Other strings involve someone in The Pan’s party getting kidnapped and the plot, or at least, the next bit, revolving around his efforts to free the kidnapped person. It’s kind of a mystery and I like the idea of them solving things by blundering blindly deeper and deeper into the thick of it like the bunch of clueless fools they are. It remains to be seen if my intellect is capable of constructing a suitably mysterious mystery to solve. Probably not. It’s all rather jolly though because I’m just agog to see what happens at the moment.

Today, I also wanted to share some thoughts that have been drifting about in my head for some time now about writing generally, and my career, such as it is. The hurriedly written newsletter I sent out this week seems to have hit a chord as a fair few people replied. There’s a small group who reply regularly, anyway, but there were a couple of extras this time and one sent me a truly wonderful letter asking why I wasn’t famous, which was actually quite humbling, as well as touching. And then a similar discussion popped up with a member of the K’Barthan Jolly Japery group on Facebook who said I didn’t give myself credit over the books and then proceeded to say lovely things about them which had me walking on air for the rest of the day. Woot!

Funnily enough, I remember asking Gareth exactly the same question on Whatsapp while he was doing the K’Barthan Series. It was a question neither of us could easily answer. Why is one artist famous and another not?

Sometimes, it does appear that an artist’s skill at marketing or reading the zeitgeist surpasses their actual ability. But also, I think there are disciplines where the art of succeeding is about so much more than just the artist doing their thing. It’s really hard to talk about this sort of thing when you aren’t successful because you can come over as bitter, or sad or whatever. I feel none of that, surprisingly.

When I look at my books, I’m pretty sure they’re commercial, yet different. Hell, I’m even confident that, if you like that kind of thing, they are good. They just … don’t sell.

Strangely, I have come to realise over the last year that I am completely alright with that.

Perhaps it’s because I write my books for me. Sure, I want to share them with others but I like them. It turns out, they differ from the type of thing most people want to read, but they are the kind of thing I want to read and the kind of thing I like. I enjoy writing them, indeed, I kind of have to. It isn’t 100% voluntary, this writing gig. It’s a cross between a bad crack habit and a calling. I need to do it, I need to tell and share stories. It’s a compulsion and I think most people practising an arts ‘thing’ feel the same way about their creative weapon of choice. I’d say there are very few of us do it because we can, we do it because we have to.

So if we’re all telling stories, why do some people succeed and some people not? Well apart from the obvious things, I mean, in that some books are just terrible, or too out there, or badly presented, or the authors have a higher opinion of their own talent than perhaps they should.

Here’s my guess, or at least, this is what I said to the lovely person who emailed me, anyway. I think that ‘success’—or at least financial and fame-type success—in any arts career is about 73% hard work, 25% talent and 2% luck.

While talent and work can get you to the point where you can turn in the kind of stuff you are proud of and which may even get you earning, I suspect that the thing that gets you into the stratosphere, and household-namery, is that 2% of luck. You can probably succeed with less work and more talent, or perhaps if you put in more work, you can succeed with less talent but I suspect it’s the luck that takes you over the edge.

Luck is the right person encountering your stuff and then telling the right people. It’s Stephen Fry discovering one of your books and mentioning it on twitter, it’s David Gilmour hearing you and championing your work to the record company. I genuinely believe that all you can do, as the artist, is make sure you cover your arse; put in the other 98% of the equation, do the work, do it to the best of your ability, rinse and repeat in the hope that it will be enough, and then learn the other skills; do your best to make the luck.

Sometimes, I do feel that my books are the equivalent of Kate Bush’s music. Strange but good, only without the Gilmour. Other times, I think that I am probably being slightly deluded about my skills as a story teller to put myself on the same plane as someone like Kate Bush. And furthermore, that she would have succeeded without the Gilmour factor and that the ‘Dave’ effect was just the icing on a the cake that was already well and truly cooking.

The thing is, you just put your head down, make your shit and put it out there. Because the more of your shit there is floating in the ether, the greater the probability of Mr Gilmour—or equivalent— finding it. Or that huge review blogger—you know, the one with the thousands of followers who blindly buy everything she recommends—she’s more likely to find your books if there are sixty than if there are six.

It’s just maths innit?

That means, I guess, that one of the biggest parts of success is having a LOT of content available. Look at Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo hit the big time quite recently with the film and all but it actually came out in the 1980s. I remember my friends reading it to their younger siblings when I was at school. Ditto Michael Morpurgo, who spent a lifetime producing scores of the most fabulous books but became major league when, some years after it was published, one of his books was made into a West End show. Behind those big successes are years and years of bum on chair, head down, create, rinse, repeat.

This is how it should look.

In my case, it does feel, slightly, that the amount of material people cite as essential to gain traction is always the number of books I have out, plus about 30%. When I had one book out it was three, when I had three out it was five, when I had five out it was ten, now I have ten out, it’s twelve. It is what it is; funny in a painful sort of way.

It might be, possibly, that availability everywhere also helps. I’m talking less about KU versus wide as large print, paperback, hardback, french, german, audio, ebook etc etc. If I ensure my content is out there in as many formats as possible it has to help a bit, right? And I have ensured that my whole publishing ecosystem is primed and ready so that, should the luck unicorn fart at the right place and time, and a cloud of richly-scented glittery sparkles float my way, I can maximise the exposure to that magic spangly guffage.

If a gargantuan back catalogue is the way to succeed, it’s unlikely to happen for me. My rate of output is way too slow to play the numbers game. But people do succeed without it. Perhaps I could be like that author who wrote a crime book, put it on Amazon so her family could buy it and woke up five weeks later to discover she’d sold 80,000 copies without doing anything. Oh no hang on, that was a) a crime book and the key word there is crime (or thriller or romance). And b) she was a solicitor writing in her spare time, as so many break out indie authors are—maybe there’s something in the mindset. And anyway, I’ve written ten books now and it still hasn’t happened so I suspect that boat has sailed.

As for making my own luck. Hmm … well. There are about 2,965  people on my mailing list. With every new release that number goes up by about 20. It seems that I cannot break through that 3k barrier until the next two books are out, at which point, presumably, my having hit the holy grail of twelve, the magic traction number will be fifteen.

Certainly, if it’s really true that I need about 10,000 engaged mailing list readers for any of my new releases to be even half visible in the stores—and I’m pretty sure it is—I will have to write an absolute craptonne of books.

Yeh. As, you can see I have a very long way to go. If I’m totally honest with myself, it’s probably further than I’m going to get in this life time.

Do I care about that?

Strangely, not the way I used to. When I started writing books, I thought my stuff was so mainstream and bleedin’ obvious that it would sell by the truckload. I thought a good product was enough and, sure, if I went back to 2010 knowing the things about book marketing that I know now, perhaps it would be.

At the time, I wanted to sell enough books to rescue McOther from his job because it was high stress and he was clearly not enjoying it the way he had at the beginning. Even in my most high-powered job—national responsibility, household name company—I didn’t earn what he paid in tax so between you and me, it was probably a rather ambitious target.

However, this last year, somehow, I seem to have let a lot of that stuff go. Perhaps it’s because McOther is retiring so he doesn’t need rescuing and there isn’t that same urgency. Perhaps it’s because he’s at home now and McMini was at home school for a fair part of the last two years and that’s been really lovely. Maybe it’s that life is easier now Dad’s gone. It was bad watching him suffer his illness but it was also very distressing to watch Mum endure it too. Now he is OK, and though she has dementia, Mum is OK at the moment, since she’s happy enough and ensuring that she is as happy as possible is all I can do. Maybe with less angst about other stuff it’s easier to let the writing angst go. Or maybe I’ve accepted that while success, on the world’s terms, is possible, it’s probably not going to happen, and that’s OK.

Perhaps there is just too much joy to be had in the texture of life to obsess over succeeding in one specific area. And perhaps that single-minded approach is what sets successful writers apart from people who are reasonably talented, but unsuccessful, like me. But I don’t want to miss Real Life and anyway, without it I can’t write. The daft games with the McOthers, McMini discovering the first faint signs of armpit hair and obsessively checking for extra growth and reporting his finds. His endless search for thrash metal records, his ludicrous out there view of the world. The pleasant, gentle rhythm of life casa McGuire or the holidays we have. All that stuff has to be experienced and lived. Not only is it important to me but without it, my mojo is as useless as a car without petrol. Life, living, experience has to go in for any writing to come out.

Anyway what is success if it isn’t happiness?

So will I keep writing. Of course. And without the pressure on myself to succeed, I find I enjoy it better and write more. Strange huh?

Will lots of people start reading my books? Will I earn a craptonne of cash from them? Will they become bestsellers? Will they be made into a film? Will The Pan of Hamgee become a household name? Well … it would be nice but if I’m honest … probably not. But you know what? Amazingly. That’s alright.

As long as I can carry on writing books, and as long as the handful of folks who do read and enjoy them keep on reading and enjoying them, I’m OK with that.

Talking about books …

Which reminds me, if you want to decide for yourself if my books are any good, feel free to read one. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

Or you can sign up to my mailing list and grab Night Swimming for free here:

Night Swimming

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Adventures … many of them.

Trigger warning: This is a very long post and there is swearing!

What can I say about this week, it’s been action-packed and I can’t see anything slowing down as we begin the headlong rush towards the organisational nightmare that is Christmas. Christmas isn’t bad but there are definitely times when I wish all the admin would just fuck off and leave me alone. This is one of them but mostly that’s because of other admin.

Highlights this week?

Well, I’ve just spent the last ten days in Portugal. That’s a stonking highlight, I can tell you. The weather was gorgeous, I doubt we’ve ever had it that good. The food was wonderful, as ever, one of our favourite restaurants, which we were worried about, because it’s small and family run, has expanded into the shop next door and is doing well. It was brilliant to see that and to discover that the food is still ace but they’ve now added a pizza oven. Our other fave restaurants had also survived the pandemic and appeared to be doing well, I got to eat a Don Rodrigues … think baclava made with this kind of extruded egg. Holy smokes it’s yummy. I even managed to get a slice of Algarvian Almond Swiss Roll but it was a supermarket one so it wasn’t quite as good as it should have been.

The hotel had stopped providing Portuguese egg custard tarts for breakfast or at least, it only produced them on Sunday. This was sad but doubtless my waistline is relieved. On the up side we did find some to buy and troughed those.

Lowlight? Or at least, narrow squeak …

Sunset photo of coast

Was this photo worth smashing the phone for? Dunno …

On the first night, as we drove down the hill into town the sun was setting, bathing the sea and the cliffs in a gorgeous pink light. I wound down the window and put my phone out to take a picture. In an unprecedented event, the wind caught the case and whipped it out of my hand. Erk. I watched the case land on one corner and then the phone fell out and flipped over and over along the road, on its corners. McOther did an emergency stop, I leapt out and ran towards where the stricken case lay. The phone, sliding gently down the asphalt on its face, came to rest against my foot.

Ah.

The back was absolutely fine, including the Leica camera lenses. Phew.

The front … well … the glass screen at two opposing corners is powdered and there’s a big crack across it but it still appears to work so I borrowed some sellotape from the hotel. I have a plastic iPad protector in my desk drawer which I can hack down to the right size with scissors and I’ll use that as a screen protector for now. Everything about the phone still seems to work, although I’m not quite sure whether or not it had a Micro SD card in it at some point. If it did, that’s gone now. Gulp.

Onwards and upwards.

Pissy Pandemic Admin

Do not bollock me for complaining about this. Sure it has to be done, we have to try and keep the show on the road and do the hoops. However, I still reserve the right to whinge vociferously – not to mention endlessly – about the total unintuitive way the hoops are thought out. OK they are improving, which is good, but they are still an absolutely stonking pain in the arse.

While we were out there we had to fill in our Passenger Locator Forms. Lord above! What a phaff. How many times can they ask me to type the same number in a different box? Ugh.

Because it’s always a pain in the arse, I had this great idea, I would set up an account. First they needed my email address and they helpfully gave me guidance in the box name@host.com how simple is that? Brilliant. Then comes the phone number box and what do they put? This: +12125551234

I’m sorry? Say what? Throw me a smecking bone here for Arnold’s sake! I’m an idiot. I need more help than that. What does this mean? Is that +44 code number? Or is it just my phone number? What the fuck are they asking for there?

Note, it’s hot and I’m doing this on a phone screen because nothing in the entire fucking world will function with a touch screen iThing running either Chrome or Safari and I don’t have my computer with me. This means I’m even more of a thickie with numbers in this particular situation than I usually am. To be honest, I think if they’d put the +44 there it would probably have been enough to clue me in.

In the end, I put in my phone number with the 01480 style area code. That didn’t work and it said no so I did the area code with no zero and a + This is the point where, were it like the name@host box or the one for the password, it would say, ‘there aren’t enough numbers here mate, have you checked that?’ Did it?

Did it balls?

It looked like it had worked, except then the activation text message didn’t come through, and now I realised it had the wrong phone number and it never would. Never mind I’d go back and—Oh. I couldn’t go back to alter the number so I tried starting again. ‘That email is already in use by another account,’ it told me. Yeh well. It smecking would, wouldn’t it. I knew, by this time, that I would never receive the activation code or set up an account with that particular email address. It would be sitting in limbo forever. I had a go anyway and screwed it totally. Thank heavens for extra email addresses.

I set up a second email address. A second look at the number part and I counted the digits with my fat, stupid, dyslexic moron’s fingers and then wrote out my phone number with the country code, the + and no zero on the area code and yes there were the same number of …  you know … numbers.

+12125551234 does not tell me that. In no place did it say, type in your country code, area code and phone number as it would be dialled from abroad. That’s all they had to do, have a little question mark and put it in plain English for fuckwits such as myself, which are many and legion.

Urgh.

This time, the code comes through. Hoorah! Now to do a password. I type one. Computer says no. Not surprising, but they’ve given me list; upper case letter, yes, lower case letter, yes a, b, and c unarrupted, some numbers, yes, ‘special character?’ yeees … wait they want it to be FOURTEEN FUCKING CHARACTERS LONG!

FOURTEEN!

What bloody planet are they living on?

Not this one, surely. Who are these people? Jeez! I mean, clearly this stuff was made up by someone who’s good at figures and doesn’t use words much, someone who has one hundred different passwords, all a random mixture of letters, symbols and numbers and who—get this—remembers each and every last one of them and knows exactly which site each is for, a robot in other words. Yes, I understand that, but blimey. I typed two easily memorable passwords back to back. Then we got to the point where we were landing in the UK at 18:45 and the time was 17:55 two days before so it wouldn’t actually let us submit the stupid effing form because it wasn’t yet ‘within 48 hours of our arrival time’ by about 40 pissy little minutes.

The absolute bastard wankers.

No, you can’t do it now. Computer says, ‘no.’ You must wait 40 minutes. This, in the voice Gareth does for Denarghi.

But we’ll miss our supper booking and won’t be able to try again until tomorrow when it’s our last day and we want to be outside in the sun.

[Sound of snickering] Exactly.

That’s not my problem you pathetic little pleb you must jump through all the hoops and we will make them as difficult and varied as possible. We will give no quarter, and we certainly won’t be  letting  you off two and a half hours of pissy administrivia on your last day. Anyway, REAL people go by private jet, or they don’t go at all, you worthless middle-class cockwomble with your thinking and trying to be inclusive, and trying to care for the planet, and trying be nice.

Now piss off and revel in your misery you fucking, too-good-to-be-true fuck!

So it was that the next day, at lunch time, when the sun was a bit hot, we went back to the room for a cup of tea and decided to finish the forms.

So far so good, we entered all the stuff, mine had even remembered some of the information I’d put in previously, which was a turn up. Next we needed to either add a screen shot of our vaccination certificate or get the QR code upon our phones and use the iPad to take a photo. Did it work? Did it jacksey!

After a bit the form just threw up it’s hands and said, ‘you can’t fucking do this’ and automatically answered the question as NO.

Right. Onwards then. Now we needed the order number of the tests we’d ordered from Boots to take when we arrived home. Except it wasn’t a bastard order number they wanted, they wanted the serial number for each test which is a completely different chuffing thing. McOther was on the phone for ages to someone who appeared not to have a clue what he was talking about. It’s a big website, and it’s a complicated website and these people are so far in that they have no idea how totally incomprehensible parts of it can become to the uninitiated. Likewise they have no clue how many tiny, simple-yet-desperately-important pieces of guidance information that have become blindingly obvious to them are not at all clear to those of us using the thing are they have a tendency to leave crucial bits out.

Without any help from the person at the Gov website help centre, McOther finally clocked that there’d been two emails from boots, one saying, ‘here’s your order number’ and another with ‘here’s your order number and Oh! Look! here are some different details with the specific number of each one of your tests.’

By the time he was done, we’d been indoors for two ours on our last day, his face was beetroot red, there was a vain pulsing visibly in his temple and all he could say was ‘gnnnnnnrrrgh’ for some time. Actually, this isn’t true, he was remarkably chilled, but it’s an apt description of how we both felt and it makes good blog comedy so I’ll leave it in.

Having finally finished the bloody passenger locator form, we went out to play.

The Big Question.

Here it is. Why are the five hours at airports either side of the two hour flight so fucking awful? Yes, the journey home.

Saints preserve us! OK Easyjet are alright. I like them, they’re quite good and a friend of mine, whose son is a friend of McMini’s even worked for them as crew for a few months between acting jobs – as I understand it, part of the interview involved singing some bits of Les Miserables. I also have worked for National Express so I know exactly how the general public treats the people with which it interfaces while travelling. Here’s a clue. It’s warn, brown and sticky but it’s not a stick. That said, air travel is so grim that I can see why people are pretty much apoplectic with rage by the time they reach the actual bastard aeroplane.

So we arrived at the airport and while waiting for our flight to be called, we ate a packed lunch of cheese and ham with rolls and in my case, a hard boiled egg nicked from the buffet from breakfast in the hotel.

Finally, our flight was called and we went straight round to the desk and got into the queue. We waited. We waited and waited and they processed those passengers from ‘speedy boarding’ first at an extremely leisurely pace of ten minutes per group, or if it was just one on their own, ten minutes per person. People around us started doing sums about how many people fit on the model of Airbus Easyjet use and working out how long we would be waiting at ten minutes per person. Check-in opened at two o’clock and closed at four twenty. We queued until nine minutes past four, with eleven minutes to spare before they officially closed the flight.

There were two desks open and three staff; two on desks and one to flounce up and down the queue telling us to ensure we’d done our Passenger Locator Forms (why can’t they just call it a virtual landing card, for fuck’s sake! That’s what it is) and ushering the people with kids (smaller kids than our lad, obviously, to the ‘speedy’ boarding queue). Call me old fashioned but I think, possibly, if she’d just got onto another desk and processed some passengers it might have been more useful.

It was very hot and I’m still not great at standing for hours on end. I can walk or sit but stand? Nah, not really. I’ve always had a bit of a tendency to passing out when standing for great lengths of time. This was no exception. We were wearing masks which is OK but can get a bit stuffy. By the time we reached the desk, everything felt a bit weird and I had to keep bending over and putting my head down to ward off the black blobs at the corner of my vision. By the time we’d walked the short distance to the bit where they frisk you, everything was getting a bit dim and at one point when I decided to lean on a nearby bollard it all got a bit tricky to hang onto because my brain thought it had started moving.

More queuing and again, I fulfilled the eternal law that no matter how empty your pockets and beltless your ruddy trousers you will still have forgotten to take off something that makes the stupid bastard beepy, beep-every-fucking-time  thing go … you know … beep. Well, apart from my leg which will set the ruddy thing off from here on in. Clearly I can’t put that in the tray though.

In this case, it was the eyelets on my shoes so I had to wait while they were taken away and put through the x ray machine again. Needless to say they saw me coming. I, the one who is always going to be frisked, was sent to stand behind some bloke who decided he would see if hell would actually freeze over before he filled his fucking tray with his stupid chuffing electronics, belt, shoes etc and pissed off out of my face through the portal of doom to pick it up the other side so I could follow suit.

As a result, both the McOthers were already through the portal of doom without being frisked and picking up their things while I was still waiting for Slow Motion Man to take off his bastard watch. Then, at last, I got to put my jacket and jumper in the tray, remove my watch, fitbit and hat (because it has a metal clip). I emptied my pockets – note to self, maybe cargo pants with loads of pockets aren’t such a good idea after all – got the ipad, kindle, phone and electronic writing tablet out of my bag, laid my bag flat, took sanitising gel and lipsalve in their special pathetic ziplock bag and put them in and then forgot to take off my stupid bloody shoes with their stupid eyelets that go beep.

Then they ran the detector over my leg and it beeped.

‘What’s in your pocket?’ demanded the lady, pulling at the pocket in my combats at the side of my leg, at which point I just rolled up my trouser leg, showed the ten inch scar and said,

‘My knee is metal.’

Ugh.

We got on the plane with about ten minutes to spare and they held it for a few minutes more so everyone else could get on. Faro is always a bit slow and steady but this time it was absolutely fucking glacial … except in temperature. Blimey.

Was it worth the hassle to go away somewhere?

Boy looking at rough see on sunny day

The sea, with human for scale.

Oh yeh. The sun shone the entire time, I wrote about 7k words which isn’t bad seeing as I was on holiday and therefore mainly interacting with the McOthers, and we all relaxed.

The beds at the hotel are unbelievably comfortable and we slept like logs all night, every night. It was epic. Even better, despite the fact I’ve got into the habit of waking up at 8.00 am, the clocks go back at the weekend so it’ll be seven by Monday. Bonus!

Homecoming …

I always arrange to pick up McCat the day after we get back. He wasn’t as demonstrative as sometimes but since returning home he has spent the day wandering round after me. He also yells when he comes in at which point either McMini or I will call him and he will rush to join us. It’s very endearing. There are still some pears in the garden and a friend has kept things watered – where required.

One slight fly in the ointment. We arrived to discover that the little access lane to our house is going to be dug up. I spent most of Thursday morning on the phone to various people until I tracked down a lovely woman who is managing the works and said that it would be fine and that yes, there would be trenches across the road but they would have boards and would put them over the trenches so we could get in and out. So they’re not totally closing the road.

It is a bit of a pain that our address is one street, but we live on the corner of the other one, and are one of only two  houses that are accessed from the other one by car, three others have front doors there. As a result, people tend not to warn us about this stuff because they see us as the address street rather than the access street. The engineer who rang gave me her mobile number so hopefully, I can ring her if there is any trouble.

Any other disasters?

Um … yes. There’s a story but bear with me. You see, I used to get terrible acid reflux and discovered that I can reduce it hugely by drinking keffir. I therefore have a kefir plant at home which is lovingly, and not so lovingly, known as Bob, The Blob.

Bob can last two weeks if I give him lots of milk and leave him in the fridge, so this is what I had done. On Friday, realising that he’d be ravening hungry, I decided I’d better sort him out, so I got the jam jar he lives in and put it on top of the fridge freezer. Then, I got half a pint of milk—which I’d frozen specifically to feed Bob upon my return—from the freezer section. Looking at the milk, I decided I’d better put it in the fridge. I opened the fridge door and realised that a bit of Bob’s jam jar was clearly on the actual door rather than the top of the fridge.

You can tell what’s coming next, can’t you? I don’t really need to tell you.

Correct. Bob is in a glass container and in order that he doesn’t suffocate, you have to leave the lid off. In three years I have never dropped Bob … until now.  Bob’s container being glass, I didn’t want to have him fall from above my head and smash on the floor. I had the fridge door handle in one hand, and I had some frozen milk in a plastic container in the other. How did I stop Bob falling? I slammed the fridge door, batting him into it. I heard the glass jar land on the glass shelf with a bang, but it was a clunk rather than the sound of a half pint jar of vile-smelling milky sludge and a glass shelf smashing into a thousand pieces.

Okaaay.

A brief aside to describe Bob. Imagine something that looks and smells like raw milk with bits of translucent tripe-like stuff (the culture) sloshing about in it. Sometimes it separates into cheesy stuff and juice. It varies in taste, usually, if you get it right, it tastes like mild feta cheese as a drink. It’s much nicer brewed in the fridge over a few days than over night in the cupboard but I do put it in the cupboard from time to time because I don’t want to stress Bob by making him too cold.

Anyway, I took a deep breath and looked into the fridge. Bob was lying on his side. Quite a lot of him was lying on the shelf, up the walls of the fridge and dripping gloopily down on the the shelves below. Upside, he hadn’t leaked into any of the drawers, and there are three. Now that’s what I call a result, even if the initial spillage was … less than successful. So I scooped most of Bob back into the jar screwed the lid on, washed it and unscrewed it.

Then I cleaned the other bits of Bob off the fridge, which took about an hour.

Downside. I had to clean the fridge, and the floor and I’ll have to rinse bob and return him to the jar without actually being able to drink any of this batch.

Upside, McOther was out and really chuffed I’d cleaned the fridge. Also the fridge needed cleaning extremely badly, and now I’ve done it.

It should be said, here, that I have NOT admitted to McOther why I’ve cleaned the fridge. This probably makes me a Bad Person. But he’s so delighted that I’ve noticed cleaning issues and fixed them (it was pretty bogging) that I haven’t the heart—or, perhaps, the courage. If you are one of my friends from the Real World, please can you keep the Real Reason for my sudden act of domesticated Proper Woman-ness under your hat. Thank you, that would be peachy.

What have we learned this week?

That I can’t half bang on, that you can throw a phone out of a moving vehicle at 30mph and it will still work and also from a straw poll of me looking at other people with their phones, that hardly anyone has a phone with an intact screen.

Mmm. It’s been a long three days since I got home. Which reminds me, Bob is still in the cupboard, in the dark, recovering from his ordeal of being splattered. I’d better give him some new milk and put him into the Fridge.

Free books …

If you like this post and want to see what my books are like you can try two of them for free. Unlucky Dip and Small Beginnings are both free to download from most of the major sites, although Amazon do have a tendency to dick with the price a bit. Anyway if you’re interested Unlucky Dip is 4,000 words and is the second glimpse we have of The Pan of Hamgee’s life as he meets Big Merv, Boss of Ning Dang Po and inadvertently steals his wallet, after which, Big Merv offers him a choice; work, on an ad hoc basis, or death. The Pan, ever an intelligent young man, chooses work. Next we move onto Small Beginnings, which describes the first ‘job’ Big Merv gives The Pan to do. That is also free from most places. If you’re interested in those, you can find links to your favourite store (or my payhip store) to download them here:

Unlucky Dip


Small Beginnings

Night Swimming

If you like, you can also find out a little about The Pan’s life when he first comes to Ning Dang Po from Hamgee.

Remember the bit in The Wrong Stuff, when The Pan tells Ruth he jumped off a bridge? Well, Night Swimming is the book to read if you want to discover what happened. Here’s the blurb:

After stealing one of the best meat pies he’s ever eaten, and returning a small lost boy home, The Pan of Hamgee should feel smug. But somehow all these things do is make him miss his own family more. In a moment of very poor judgement, he decides to end it all. But The Pan should know by now that few things he plans ever turn out the way he expects.

This story is only available when people sign up to my mailing list which entails an extra set of wittering like this once a month and stories, competitions and other jolly japes. You can sign up for that, and grab your story, here:

 Audio version of Night Swimming or

Ebook version of Night Swimming

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There was an old lady who swallowed a fly …

Or at least, some swimming pool water. More on that story later …

Nareens in Mum’s garden with a fabulous sky … because I can

Wow, that was a long break. I hadn’t realised. I just thought I’d be away for a week or two. Here I am, then, to do a catch up post because so much has gone on while I’ve downed pen/fingers … blog, whatever. If you thought I might have had a smooth time of it, or lived a normal life over this blog-free period, you were wrong. I just couldn’t be arsed to tell you about it … until now. Let’s get started on the past couple of week’s madness shall we? I confess I’ve forgotten everything earlier than that.

This is a post about repercussions … and thinking in advance … and other things that are not widely pegged as MTM attributes.

We will begin at the start of last week. A post popped up on my feed, quite an old one, which talked about how inadvertently inhaling swimming pool water can give you all sorts of nasty infections because the toxins in the pool chemicals are great at growing bugs.

Hmm.

Noted.

I filed it away under Interesting Facts That I Will Probably Forget in a Moment and moved on.

Tuesday: McMini’s school does a parents’ swim on Tuesday mornings after drop off. I haven’t been all the way through Covid but finally started back this term. As I swum across the bow wave of someone overtaking me in the next door lane (not hard to overtake me) I sort of caught a crab. As I came up to breathe, a little wave broke right in front of my mouth and I inhaled some water. Not enough water to cough, or sneeze or even stop swimming. I did it a second time coming back the other way and then managed to time myself better so I wasn’t breathing so close to the water and any breaking wavelets caused no further problems. On the way home, I scored a tank of fuel.

The noisy cricket has a six gallon tank, or is it seven gallons? It’s 44 litres anyway. It’s small; 25 litres, or about three gallons, is half of it. I had got reasonably near the bottom and managed to fill it to the brim. This meant I could do the Mum visit there and back on a tank. It’s 144 miles each way plus 12 to take McMini to school and the range is about 350 – 380 depending what I’m doing – it guzzles horribly in traffic but can get 40mpg plus if I’m gentle with the accelerator pedal and am cruising along on the motorway at a sustained level of revs and speed.

Wednesday: went to Mum’s as is the new form, I ended up taking the scenic route through Essex between junctions 29 and 30 of the M25 to avoid a 30 minute delay. On the way back I got stuck in a massive jam behind a car fire. I was singing along to the stereo and noticed there was a kind of pull from throat to chest when I sang. Didn’t think much of it. Also scored petrol from the services because as all the traffic was stuck there was no queue. Lots of giggling with the other customers at the till as we’d all been running on fumes, and we were a bit giddy about our success!

Wednesday night I began to get a stomach ache. It really felt as if there was a large metal ball right in the centre of my stomach, just under my diaphragm, and to the right a bit. I was burping lots as well, which was chuffing annoying because the bloody burps hurt my shoulder. Yeh, I dunno why either. I thought I must have got a bit hot and then cold in the big traffic jam and chilled myself. I reckoned it would be gone the next day. Yes, of course it would, I reasoned when I got in the shower and discovered that it responded magnificently to heat. Bliss.

Thursday: the strange stomach pain had very much not gone. Indeed, now, if I pressed my stomach where the pain was, my right shoulder and neck hurt too. It occurred to me that if I didn’t want to think that I was dying of an embolism all weekend (not that I’m melodramatic or anything) I’d probably better see a doctor. Naturally this being a pandemic and it being Thursday there was no doctor to hand and all other avenues of advice just assumed that chest pain = patient in death throes and referred me swiftly to A&E. I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t death throes, but I did very much want to know what it was so I could start doing things to make it go away. Even if that was just resting very hard.

Finally, I sorted it and saw the emergency doctor at my own surgery. After examining me and finding that, when she pressed my gall bladder area and I breathed in it hurt (Murphy’s sign I think it’s called) she advised me that she thought it was a gall stone in the wrong place, and possibly a pulled muscle from the swimming, combining to give a nasty cocktail of pain. Sounded about right to me so after she’d given me some dietary advice to help ease the pain, I thanked her, went home and took some ibuprofen.

Friday: woke up with the pain still there but it was definitely more in my chest and ribs now as well as neck and gall bladder section. Hmm. Went for a very gentle walk with a friend, reasoning that if there was, essentially an over sized ball stuck in a pipe somewhere inside me, a bit of gentle movement might free it, or wiggle the pipe enough for it to plop back into the bag.

The NHS site suggested that I should stay home unless my temperature began to rise, in which case it might be infected and I should go to A&E.

Of course my bloody temperature started to rise, didn’t it? But not until after 8pm on Friday night. Arse.

Off we went to A&E. The McOthers weren’t allowed in of course so I sat there with a book for a couple of hours – although I was beginning to feel very tired and sleepy, so I spent most of the time putting it up against the glass partition next to me and using it as a pillow. I peed in a pot, they did bloods and then I ended up on an examination … thingy. The Murphy’s sign gave no sign this time and I was sore round my chest more. The only thing they could get it to do was if I breathed in while they were pushing just below my ribs it made my shoulder hurt. Apparently this can mean there are problems with your aorta, a big important artery. Joy.

Finally, they found a scan I’d had in 2020 and completely forgotten about because I appear to have blanked that entire year from my memory. I got a lot of reflux so I’d been referred for an ultrasound. It did come back to me when they mentioned it, but I suppose it was also the other side of the knee replacement so a lot of water had passed under the bridge since. I’d no idea what they’d looked for or the results were, the doctor had just said they were OK.

However, it seems that they’d done a really thorough job of the scan and looked at my liver and accompanying appendages at the same time. The aorta was fine in the scan and they explained that if it was knackered enough to be hurting even a little bit now, there’d be some sign in the scan then. And there wasn’t. Hoorah! By this time, I had a thumping headache but of course, no temperature anymore. That went pretty much the moment I walked into A&E, making me feel very guilty.

They did one more examination during which I dropped the polished stone I carry about with me to fiddle with so I’m not too weird and ADHD with the normals and of course, I forgot to pick it up. If you’re in examination bay 15 have a look for it. It’s pretty.

The next day, I spent the morning asleep in bed, with the electric blanket on, which was bliss. Later, talking to my sister in-law, she remarked that the symptoms sounded very similar to the way she’d felt when she had pleurisy. And then I remembered the swimming pool water and it made complete sense. Talking to Very Smart nurse buddy on t’interweb, she mentioned, late Saturday night, that if I thought it was cold-type bug, I should take a Covid test. Not a lateral flow, but a PCR – which is similar to do but you go to a test centre and they send it off to a lab. I didn’t really hoist this in.

By Sunday I unequivocally had a chest cold but it was going away steadily. I did one of McMini’s lateral flow tests and it was negative. Hoorah. In subsequent chat with Very Smart nurse buddy on the Monday, she pointed out that there was still a 25% chance I had covid.

Ah.

Test was booked for Tuesday am and to my delight, there’s a centre just up the road. It’s a shitty, uphill-all-the-way, one-and-a-half mile bike ride to get there but it’s downhill all the way back. And that’s my exercise done for the day as well. That done, I had to put off my weekly walk and whinge which I have with a friend in the local park until Friday. That  meant I couldn’t meet my Zoom writers’ group again, which was a pain but I did, at least, meet one of them on Sunday to go to see Ed Byrne at the local theatre. It was great fun. I thought he was hilarious.

I want to Mum’s on Thursday as she had a hospital appointment and it turned out that I didn’t have Covid. Which was nice. Although by the time I realised what I had was a cold/bogey thing I only had five days to isolate anyway. The thing is, I had no idea this was anything snot-related until Saturday evening, which meant I was walking around happily huffing over everyone from pillar to post, although luckily, not really that, because I felt so shit.

It does make me understand how easily it spreads though, because if I come up positive I will be absolutely mortified.

How to lose friends and alienate people …

I know, it’s wrong because the traffic’s moving but it is the A14 and is part of my route … so there’s that!

Not me this time. Bloody Insulate Britain.

You what? Ask my foreign readers.

Insulate Britain. This appears to be a bunch of people from the insulation industry masquerading as eco warriors. They block roads, gluing themselves to the tarmac sometimes, and stopping traffic because they believe the government should set up a scheme to have every house properly insulated, thereby saving energy and stopping global warming in its tracks.

In short, they are very, very militant and it all seems a bit bizarre. Nothing to do with Extinction Rebellion this is something else.

They are either:

a) fucking nuts or

b) the whole thing is a not very subtle ruse to create more jobs in the insulation industry (which may already be over saturated) under the pretence of being ‘green’. Or,

c) the whole thing is a not very clever way to try and make money for their own loft/cavity wall insulation/double glazing and PVC window installing concerns.

What in the name of holy fuck brought them to their current line of activity though? I mean, really? Hey everyone! I know who to get the country behind us. Let’s do something that will fuck off all the little people. Let’s make everyone’s lives drabber and harder and more grim than they already are with covid and the shortages (I’m not allowed to call it the Brexshit hitting the fan, however similar to the projected prognosis that might be – and to be honest it isn’t actually all caused by Brexit – just the lorry bit because they employed foreign workers to keep the wages artificially low and overheads down and after Brexit the lorry drivers were some of the ‘them’ who got sent home).

Seriously though, who drives for fun on the motorway? Abso-fucking-lutely nobody. Zilch. People use the roads because they have to in order to get from A to B. They have jobs to get to, stuff to deliver, kids to take to school or a duty of care to visit someone. This time of year a few are still on holidays but nobody with kids, so that’s about three quarters of the holiday makers back at work now. In short, most of it, be it Wandsworth Bridge or bloody Dartford, is people who are there because they have to be. Are these road users on business?

Well, this is the thing. In a lot of cases, not exactly, no.

Ergo, who on God’s green earth is not only so dumb but also so shitty as to make the commute or work journey even more crappy than it already is. That’s really going to get us on side with your cause isn’t it you absolute spunk buckets. Bear in mind that this is a journey, which, for the most part is to work or school, so it’s a journey many travellers wish they could avoid taking to a place they’d prefer not to be visiting.

What bright spark ever thought making that worse would be a good idea?

If the insulation industry is in trouble and looking for ways to create jobs, then maybe, instead of pretending to be green, they should look to their behaviour. Perhaps the many companies cold-calling folks with a view to selling insulation and double glazing might think about a different approach. What’s the current schpeil? Ah yes …

‘We want to tell you about a government grant that will allow you to have your loft insulated.’ Yeh. Sure. Or did you mean, ‘We’ll charge you twice as much, so you get the job done for the going rate, but think you’ve had a bargain because the Government pays the other half, which we pocket.’ There’s another one where they do a ‘survey’ to ask you about home improvements. In both cases you end up being sold to, it’s just a loop to still be able to call people who are on the Telephone Preference Service (and have, therefore, opted out of cold sales calls) without getting a five grand fine because they can say it’s a survey or giving out information rather than a sales call.

Except it’s a sales call. Natch.

Then again, thinking about it, maybe that’s why Insulate Britain are behaving like such a bunch of insane cockwombles. Are we talking about them? Yes. But is anyone sympathetic to their cause? Is anyone thinking, ‘hmm yes, maybe we should think about setting up a government scheme to get every house in Britain properly insulated to stop heat loss, save energy and single handedly halt global warming.’?

Of course we’re fucking not. And a lot of people in Britain have already insulated their houses.

Has gluing themselves to the M25, or Wandsworth Bridge or wherever furthered their cause …?

NO!

It’s just royally pissed everyone off and made our lives a bit harder and fuller of admin and pissy shit than they already were. Marvellous, can’t have enough admin and pissy shit, now, can we? You go ahead and super-glue your sorry arses to the road. We’ll wait.

Bastards!

Seriously, imagine it. Employee break room in a nondescript red brick building on a science park near Dartford. A fleet of vans is parked outside.

Activist one: Hey friends, nobody is buying insulation any more and the industry is in crisis. All our jobs are in jeopardy.

Activist two: My next job isn’t in jeopardy, it’s down the road in Billericay.*

* Sorry I know this is a shit joke but I couldn’t resist it.

Activist one: No, you spigot! I meant that our jobs, and everyone else’s, are looking a bit wobbly.

Activist three: Isn’t that the pandemic though? I thought it was because people have been furloughed, and they’re skint, or they’ve already got insulation. Then, there’re others who are pissed off with the cold calls we make, pretending to be conducting surveys so we don’t get done for it. It makes them think we’re all smarmy spivs. If I hadn’t already done my own house, I’d have got local builders in, who I know and trust.

Activist one: What d’you mean? Why would that kind of behaviour piss anyone off? People love having cold calls from sales people who start by pretending not to sell things. It’s fun. It’s the only time they get to talk to someone in a day for some of them.

Activist two: It would piss me off.

Activist one: Bollocks! Everyone does it. I’ve this great idea. If we could persuade the government to make it compulsory for everyone in the UK to buy the most up to date insulation, we’d be working till the cows come home. It would save our jobs and our industry and if we say we are doing it for environmental reasons we look like the good guys.

Activist three: How would you get their attention?

Activist one: Easy. Pick on the little people. Let’s find something that the person in the street really hates doing, and make it even more difficult and shitty for them. They’ll get behind us straight away if we do that.

Activist three: But shouldn’t we go after government? Isn’t picking on the little people just causing a lot of pain to folks who have no power to help us anyway?

Activist one: No. Well … yes but that’s the point. If we really, really piss everyone off, they’ll do absolutely anything to make it stop.

Activist three: That’s like torture, and we all know that doesn’t work! They’ve done scientific studies and everything. People just say any old rubbish to make the pain go away. We want results.

Activist one: We’ll get results!

Activist three: Are  you sure we’ll get the results we want? People will angry and grumpy with each other, and us, but the people we want to inconvenience … they don’t drive round the M25 with the plebs. They’ve got chauffeurs and helicopters and that. They won’t even notice.

Maybe if Insulate Britain disrupted the champagne delivery to number ten or caviar sales or something they might get somewhere, but pissing off the normals? Can you see anyone in Government giving a toss?

Yeh, I’m not convinced.

Other highlights …

Recently I’ve been trying to get out more so last month McMini and I went to see Jonathon Lydon’s one man show. We were going to some friends’ wedding anniversary party the night the Lydon show was on in Bury so McMini and I headed off in the car to Ipswich. It was awesome, as was the party! Although I probably hadn’t thought through quite how sweary Mr Lydon was. He is a gem though, an national treasure.

The only Georgian theatre left in Britain.

This week I continued my I-must-get-out-more drive to Do Things by going with a writer friend to see Ed Byrne at my local theatre. On a Sunday night and all! That was also excellent, although I’d forgotten a) how bad and loud my laugh is and b) how much the sat-down, stand-up comedienne in me misses doing live events … He was very funny, and I think he relaxed with us a lot more in the second half. There weren’t any no photography signs so I took a photo and got told off. Oops. I’m not going to put it anywhere public. It’ll just stay on my phone but it’s a nice souvenir. One the up side, I do have this rather lovely picture of the inside of the theatre, which I think is OK to post. For the whole of the first half there were two empty seats in front of  us so we decided we’d sit in them for the second half. After the interval, I headed off to the bog and my friend went back to our seats ahead of me. Needless to say the minute she sat in one of the empty ones at the front, the people whose seats they were turned up for the second half. Oops. Never mind.

Mum is well although she was having trouble with her words on Wednesday’s visit so I am hoping that she’ll be alright for the next couple of weeks as I can’t get to her. It’s half term, though, so Bruv is going to see her with his crew. On the up side, this last week, I had the first journey down to Mum’s for six weeks when I was able to drive up to the QEII Bridge without having to take a scenic tour of Essex round some giant traffic jam. Chatting to Mum, we did also decide how we are going to thank the venue for Dad’s memorial so I wrote an email to them, but haven’t heard back yet. It may be that my email was too weird, or that I emailed the wrong member of staff. I’ll give it a week or two and then try a tentative second approach after half term. Or I’ll just use my standard procedure if I have trouble being heard, get my brother to ask. People always take notice of him. 🙂

It was a lovely hot day so we sat outside and had a sherry. I think that’s where the trouble started. She’d been up to the school Dad worked in and had a wonderful time celebrating the fact that the school chapel is finally completed … it only took 153 years! She saw lots of old friends and had three ‘glasses’ of champagne … except I think it might have been more because she was drinking it out of a teacup! As a result it had absolutely wiped her out, but in a good way because she’d had so much fun. And of course, if she’d just given in and had a ten minute nap she’d have been fine but she refused to sleep because she wanted to enjoy her time with me. Bless her.

Right then. I think that’s probably enough wittering. I’d better go and get on. This post is going to come to you, through the wonders of modern technology, a week after I write this, while I’m busy doing other things.

Bored?

You could always try reading one of my books! Well … if you’re desperate that is. The first book in the Hamgeean Misfit series is currently free everywhere and the audiobook is still free from my author store – because I forgot to change the price back to £1.99. So if you want to grab a quick freebie, that’s the one to go for. More information and links to all retailers can be found as follows:

For info about the ebook click here.
For info about the audiobook click here.

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Urgh! Just kill me now …

This week I have been making a very credible attempt to disappear up my own bum. Jeepers, if this is what it takes to visit another country I am never ever smecking going abroad again. And I’m not even the poor bastard trying to organise it. That’s McOther.

Suffice it to say that we had been looking at the prospect of escaping to France at some point, but I suspect the gargantuan mound of admin we have to attend to, were we to do so, would compare unfavourably with the amount of forward planning Scot did for that fatal trip to the Antarctic.

Other news this week, my website – not this blog but the actual http://www.hamgee.co.uk one – fell over. OK it didn’t really fall over exactly, I pushed it … a little bit. But NOT on purpose.

For some time now my web interface over there has been pestering me to upgrade  to WordPress 5.8. However every time I do I get a server error. This was something which had always happened at first release but there was usually the option to upgrade to the US version. I’d do that and then the GB version would work fine. This time there was no US version.

This was not a good idea.

Looking up on t’interweb, I discovered that it might be down to lack of server space, possibly, or I might need to do a manual install. I deleted a lot of posts from my blog, except for the two years when it was there rather than here. Then I attempted the manual install. I followed the instructions carefully and … when I loaded the site, I got a little message telling me something was missing. And a white screen. But nothing more.

Shit.

I backed up the copy I had on my own computer and then cracked open the original copy I’d downloaded in 2014. Then I wiped everything on the server and uploaded that. Maybe that would work?

Nope.

Maybe if I uploaded the backed up recent version on my computer then?

Nope.

Shit.

The galling thing was that this was obviously a really simple fix, I was just having trouble understanding what things it was telling me it needed.

Long and the short of it was I contacted the fellow who designed the site and does my web hosting. After a fraught 24 hours waiting for him to come back to me. He was away bless him, he reassured me that there was a back up on the server and reinstalled one from Friday. It’s still a bit borked so he’s going to have a look at it and see if he can straighten things out. Fingers crossed.

Other news this week, I suddenly got two promo slots for Hello Books, which is rather good and as a result I added a couple of other promo sites and yesterday Escape From B-Movie Hell received a massive 40 downloads. I am very chuffed about this as they came from other sites as well as Amazon, including Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Woot. Happy with that then. Yes it cost more than I’m going to earn but at the moment it’s a case of collecting new readers any way I can and hoping that as they join in with the whole K’Barthan Jolly Japes community, they will stick around and read my other stuff too.

Yesterday, I managed to step on a dead chick which I think may be the most revolting thing I’ve ever done. It was very windy here and I think it must have blown out of a tree or been dropped by one of the squirrels/magpies. It still had a yellow egg sack and it was primrose yellow and fluffy and definitely hadn’t been caught by the cat as there were no bite/puncture marks. Ugh. Just thinking about it gives me the boake.

Over the next four weeks I have many, many things to do. Just the thought of it is giving me hives, also characteristically, many things I wanted to do are, of course, happening at the same time, or when I’m not around; church friend’s funeral, the first metal detecting rally I’ve had access to in two years … all fall on days I can’t get to them. I guess that’s the same old same old.

During the next month, I suspect there will be no blog posts because there will not be time. I’m really sorry about that. There is so much admin that it’s all I’ll have time to do. If you feel denuded of all things K’Barthan, and are on Facebook, do feel free to hop over there and join the K’Barthan Jolly Japery Group. It’s a scream and I should be able to check in there a couple of times a day.

Right then. That’s it, I think. A bientot! Waves.

In the meantime, if you are hankering after some K’Barthan nuttery …

You can get some of my books reduced at the moment. Woot.

There may be a security error on some of these links but last Friday, I installed something that fixed that, but clearly after the time the site was backed up to. I have just installed it again. Oh yes I have. Hopefully it will work and nothing will break.

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Dreams, weirdness and …

WTF? I can see I’m going to be using this picture a lot.

Yes, this week I am going to talk about dreams and then I’m going to have a massive rant. Run with me, there is a kind of connection between the two.

A few days ago, I had a dream about Lord Vernon. In case you are unaware, Lord Vernon is the bad guy in my first series of books. He is a gargantuan shit. I went for love-to-hate with this guy. Kate, who edited the books, loved his vileness. For some people, he’s a bit much.

The dream went like this. I was outside at Mum’s and someone gave me a laser pistol and said, ‘see that bloke there, that’s Lord Vernon. We’ve captured him and we’re just off to get the Black Maria,’ (prison van) ‘Don’t let him out of your sight.’ Then they bugger off, leaving me alone to guard an invincible green bastard who makes Hitler at his worst look like your cuddly uncle.

Lord Vernon is sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall of the house, apparently unperturbed.

I look at him.

Lord Vernon … uber git

He looks at me, his expression one of sneering condescension, with a dash of mocking amusement thrown in. Jeez. A few seconds in and already I want to punch the smecking bastard. Nothing is said. I throw a clod of earth at him. I have no idea why. I mean I have a laser pistol as far as I recall. The logical move is to stun him so the idiot who left me guarding him can just chuck his limp, unconscious form in the van upon their return. But this is a dream so logic is not an abundant factor here.

The clod of earth I’ve thrown falls short because throwing in a dream is like running in a dream, natch. He laughs and asks if I really think I can keep him there. I say, ‘yes,’ obviously and try to sound as if I’m convinced. I fail. He just shoots me his best ‘as if’ smile, folds his arms, leans back against the wall and relaxes. Except he’s also staring at me.

‘I will kill you,’ that stare says. Smug smecker.

So we’re sitting there, and every now and again I lob a clod of earth at him, which does fuck all except prove even more conclusively how weak an opponent I am each time I do it. Arnold knows why but it still hasn’t occurred to me to use the chuffing gun. I’m really pissed off now because a) he’s quite clearly not taking me seriously and because b) he’s going to kill me any minute … hang on. While my mind has been wandering, Lord Vernon has quietly stood up and made off without my noticing.

Shit! Civilisation as we know it is relying on me to keep that bastard where he is. I leap up and run round the corner of the house only to realise that Lord Vernon has got inside, into the drawing room and has leaned out through the window and grabbed one of Mum’s carers by the neck.  I know seems a bit convoluted doesn’t it?

But wait.

It’s OK because I’m armed, right?

Wrong. By this point, the laser pistol seems to have completely slipped my mind because when my mind turns to a weapon it turns, not to the pistol, but the penknife in my pocket. It has a two inch blade … like this one.

The pathetic knife in question, the pen is to give a reference for size.

I take it out and start stabbing him in the arm so he will let go of the carer, who is not appreciating being strangled and is now saying, ‘grk’ a lot and pointing to the arm round her neck in the universal sign language for, ‘can you get this off me?’ the world over.

My efforts are a partial success. Clearly I’m doing some damage in that my hands are now covered in blood which appears to be Lord Vernon’s rather than mine or, heaven forbid, the carer’s. I suppose that’s progress. There are also a lot of rips in his uniform through which I can see that I’ve made some holes in his actual arm. On the downside he appears completely unaffected by the experience. Not much progress then. Indeed, now he’s just laughing at me. Laughing and bleeding at me. A lot. I renew my efforts to get stabby on him. I have to. I must maim him enough, not only to let go of the carer but also, so that he can’t hurt Mum either.

At this point, I woke up, greatly relieved that I didn’t have to dream the bit where Lord Vernon killed us all and the incompetent buffoon who left him in my charge came back and discovered our lifeless bodies.

Obviously, I awoke, sat up and thought, ‘what the fuck was that about?’ But actually, in this case, I think I know.

At the moment, I feel as if I’m living in the version of the world in Back to The Future where Biff has nicked the sports almanack, made loads of money at the bookies and taken charge. It’s like everything that is fuckwitted, moronic, and morally bankrupt is in control. Where reason and science are ignored. Where the Far Right; Steve Bannon and his friends have successfully eroded people’s confidence in researched news and are winning the war of hearts and minds hands down.

A video popped up on my Facebook feed the other day. I can’t remember where from but I think the gist of it was supposed to be that sometimes when we let people settle in Britain, they turn out to be rum’uns. Well no shit Sherlock. That will happen because humans are not perfect and the administrative process of the state should be as blind as justice. If someone has the right criteria and ticks the right boxes they are chosen. Sometimes that doesn’t work out or they aren’t as they are painted.

However, the tone of the vid was a bit, these foreign bastards are all the same, we are letting everyone in (which isn’t true, it’s chuffing difficult to get into Britain these days and ever more so as we abandon our British sense of fair play and move to a more American, winner-takes-all, losers-lose-because-they-were-weak-and-deserve-to attitude). It was a similar argument to the one Farage posited over Brexit; vote leave to get rid of the brown people, a sentiment to which, as a direct descendent of one of the brown people, I take great exception.

In this video though, it was very clear that the narrator despised immigrants, asylum seekers, victims of torture, migrants and any others who seek refuge in Britain. There was a lot of effing and blinding about this, while film footage played of a Spitfire flying over Beachy Head. I dunno how that has more credibility than thoughtful researched journalism but apparently it does. And how dare they appropriate another icon like the Spitfire. They’ve already taken our flag. That’ll be fair few downed RAF pilots spinning in their graves then. Bravo.

When darkness falls …

When the aliens come, or Lord Vernon and his Grongolian hoards invade from a parallel reality, our donkey leaders will be too stupid to defend us. At the moment, if you’re looking at the news the way I do, and I must really try harder not to, it’s as if natural selection has decided the human race has had it’s day and it will seal our fate by ensuring that only the most gargantuan tossers end up in charge of anything. Who thought it was a good idea to put the dumbest fucks who shout the loudest in control?

Then there’s all this ‘real news’. Real my arse. Some struck off doctor in Alabama or somewhere says it’s dangerous to wear masks. It probably is for some people, and they have exemptions but for the rest of us, well… if wearing a mask stops me spreading Covid to others, that’s grand. When I see some information about the criminally high numbers of surgeons, doctors and nurses who died in their droves, before the pandemic, from the PPE they wore? That’s when I’ll worry. Or when I see articles about the huge death rate among the thousands of people in South East Asia who have been wearing masks in cities for years, yeh, when I see that those are higher than, or equal to, pollution related deaths, I’ll be concerned.

At least smokers got that when they exercise their freedom to smoke indoors, the rest of us in there with them have to smoke, too. If you don’t want to wear a mask, stay home, you know, like the vulnerable people are doing, the ones who have to stay home because you won’t wear a mask.

Meanwhile the idiots in charge set an example by wearing masks when they feel like it and then expect us to do as we’re told ie wear them all the time. I do see that side of the conspiracy theorists’ beef.

All this batshit crazy shit, flat earth and the rest of it, science is WRONG because it’s the establishment. Jeez who thinks humans are that malleable. I mean we are but to pick one at random, how could they have faked the moon landings. Seriously did they kill every single person involved? Because they would have to. Because that’s the only way they could get everyone to shut up. It just looks, to me, like the far right – as in the Putin influenced ones – flexing at the democratic world.

‘Hey world leaders! Look how fucking stupid we can make your people be. We own you, weaklings and we will destroy you.’ And I look at the apparently rational-minded and sensible people falling for this shit and I think, ‘yes, Mr P, it looks as if you will.’

Meanwhile they think I’m the sheep because science is part of the establishment and therefore part of the conspiracy. Oh yeh and don’t forget, if you take a knee you’re following in the footsteps of that famous Marxist, Martin Luther King and that’s bad. Oh and if you do anything kind or wear a t-shirt supporting a cause that’s not endorsed by the far right, I dunno something principled and an obviously good like comic relief, you’re virtue signalling. If you say, ‘hey, let’s be kind to one another,’ that’s also virtue signalling. Let’s stop people from doing anything pleasant. Let’s make it shameful to own up to a sympathetic or kindly action. We don’t want it catching on. Way to fucking go you absolute spunk buckets. I’m sure that’ll really help make the world a nicer place and hasten on your utopia! Arnold’s socks! Stop already, Mary.

More tea vicar?

This isn’t true. I know that, but I’m feeling it. And I guess part of the reason I’m feeling it is because good people will keep dying.

This week, a lovely lady who goes to my church died of many and varied cancers. She hadn’t been to the doctor, she wasn’t well but had celiac’s disease so the symptoms were very similar.

I was talking to her just four weeks ago. She always sat in the same place and throughout the Pandemic I’ve walked past her after communion most times and we would exchange conspiratorial winks, grins, waves etc. If something funny happened, she was one of the people whose eye I’d catch.

She was one of those people of quiet, unassuming, steadfast integrity who just got on with things. If it looked like there was tea to be made and I cottoned on, I’d go to the kitchen area to sort it and she’d already be there, putting out the cups, urn plugged in and well on the way to boiling. She was just one of those rock steady people who is utterly solid in a crisis. I went round to tea at hers just before lockdown and was looking forward to inviting her back but then … Covid. We never will have that cup of tea now and it’s a pisser. But I think one of the biggest pissers is that every decent, balanced, kindly disposed person who checks out means there are less of us and more of them.

And I guess my dream was about this; how a couple of good people have left this world and I feel more than ever that it’s down to me to throw my increasingly ineffective clods of logic, facts, kindness, decent behaviour earth in a desperate attempt to hold back the tsunami of stupid and/or evil completely invincible Lord Vernon as it he laughs in my face. I think I’m probably having a bit of a bleak one at the moment, or perhaps that’s how I’m processing my grief at my friends’ deaths. I dunno.

Goebbels, I think it was Gobbels, said once that, ‘the art of propaganda is to convince one group of people, that another group of people is less than human.’

Maybe it’s time we looked or behaved more like the Chuckle brothers, not the comedy duo, the other ones (look it up) because where the far right do have a point, even if they are being disingenuous in making it, is that prejudice does go two ways. It’s hard not to be prejudiced against them the way they are against … well … pretty much everyone who isn’t a white, straight man. It’s hard not to despise pointless bigotry and hatred (it takes a lot of effort though, Arnold’s socks where do they get the energy for all bile and vitriol) but actually that’s just being like them and doing what they do. The rest of us have to be better than that. Because if a person believes they stand for what is good and right, they have to be as good and right as they can. The thing that makes us good and them bad is that we don’t torture prisoners and- oh hang on. Less of the Vernon then and more of the Vimes, perhaps.

Crikey but it’s hard work sometimes, though, isn’t it?

</rantmode>

Well … I definitely went off on one there and now I feel a lot better. If you need to go off on one too, please help yourself and have a rant in the comments about anything you like! Get it off your chest the way I’ve just done.

Now then, shall we all relax with a lovely free audiobook? Yes. I think that would be a good idea.

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Extras, Hamgeean Misfit: Part 1

Destiny called and everyone else was out.

When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

This is free to download from most of the major ebook retailers for August and also in audio from my store, the exception is Amazon, I changed some keywords last night and now they’re dicking me about. Also, I can’t make it free from the book vendors in audio so if you’re after that one, it has to be just from my store, you can get it from my store if you normally buy from Amazon too.

If you’re interested in the ebook, click here.
If you’d like to give the audiobook a go, click here.

If you aren’t interested but you want to help, feel free to copy and paste either of these links into the social media thingy of your choice and share away:

Audiobook: https://payhip.com/b/ubYs
Ebook – free from all the main vendors: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

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Filed under General Wittering

Yikes …

An eventful one this week. It’s the summer holidays so pretty much anything except admin and Mum stuff has gone out of the window because all three of us are off. Instead we are Doing Things. Well … a bit.

This week McMini gamely came to Mum’s with me and we had a lovely lunch. Duck confit salad (om-nom-nom) and she was in great form. The lovely gardener was there too, one of his first days back after a long illness and a really tough time. He joined us and ate his packed lunch while we ate ours.

However, on the journey down we saw something that shook us a bit. A few miles out from the Dartford Bridge there’s a junction to Southend, I think it’s number 30, I’m not sure. The penultimate one in the stack, anyway – the other side of the Bridge they start at one. There was quite a bit of traffic and I was in the outside/fast lane, in a long, long queue of cars going at a steady 70 past a bunch of other cars and lorries going slower.

As we passed the Southend junction, a purple Mazda 2 came flying across three lanes of traffic and tucked into the fast lane in front of a grey Jaguar. There are four lanes there. The Jag was about to overtake a car that was going quite slowly in lane three and it looked as if there were about fifteen feet between the Jag and the car it was overtaking when the Mazda barged through this very small gap at speed.

What the actual f***?

The Jag driver was irritated, and as soon as both of them were past the car in lane 3 he undertook the Mazda and pulled a similar stunt, cutting in a few feet in front of the other driver in a there!-see-how-you-like-it gesture. The young man in the Mazda (I’m afraid it’s always a young man) then completely lost his biscuits. He tried to return the compliment but didn’t have enough grunt to undertake in the room available. He pulled in behind the Jag and drove up close on to the Jaguar’s back bumper, hanging out a bit, as if that was going to help him get past.

Just to go off on a tangent slightly, you do this because a) if they get past they may suddenly swerve in front of you and stop dead, causing you to run into them b) they might do the same thing but with a view to boxing you in, giving themselves time to either reverse their car into yours and smash it, or to get out of their car and smash you before you have time to reverse and escape. Or c) when they get alongside you they might try to side-swipe you or run you off the road. Amazing as it may seem, I have seen all of these things attempted on the UK road network. There are some very angry young men out there and sometimes, just noticing that a woman is driving a car they consider unsuitable for females – or simply being overtaken by a female (even as part of a long stream of other traffic) – is enough to set them off.

After a quarter of a mile or so, the Mazda driver suddenly broke left, swerved through three lanes of traffic, gunned it up lane one, the slow lane, in a few empty yards between lorries and then piled across three more lanes, but he still failed to pull in ahead of the guy in the Jag. By this point I had started to leave a gap so that if they hit each other or stopped in the fast lane to have a pagga, I had time to stop. They continued with the argy bargy but a giant flabby Range Rover drifted into my lane so I couldn’t see much of their antics, only that the Mazda had swerved back across the other three lanes into lane one again, presumably having another go at getting past. Meanwhile the Jag was doing what any self respecting motorist does when presented with an insane nutter, you keep them behind you.

An Arnold's Produce van.
Some traffic yesterday. Not on the M25 clearly, coz I couldn’t stop.

Since the Jag driver was now fleeing for their life, both cars were doing well above the speed limit and the knob in the Mazda was repeatedly weaving through three lanes of traffic, using gaps that were not a great deal longer than his car, then gunning it up lane one and trying to get back across to the fast lane in front of the Jag. I wondered if I should dial 101 (or is it 111?) to call the officially-less-urgent-than-999 police contact line and report them. They kept this up until we got to the speed limited section before the bridge. Once again, I saw the Mazda pile over from lane three to lane one, narrowly missing the back bumpers and front noses of other cars as he went. I slowed down to 50mph along with everyone else, and watched as he used lane one to undertook a lorry in lane two. Lane three had a lorry in it as well and the jag, in the fast lane, passed that. They were about 600 yards ahead of me at this point because by now I was firmly convinced they were going to have (or cause) an accident and I wanted time to stop. Once they disappeared behind their respective lorries they were masked from view.

However, a moment after the Mazda 2 disappeared, the traffic stopped. Dead. I didn’t get time to look much. I was concentrating, first on slowing, then on letting some of the traffic merge in front of me but not so much that I stopped completely and pissed off everyone behind me. We had ended up with three lorries at a standstill in lanes one, two and three and the only lane still open was fast lane; the one I was in.

It took about 30 seconds to file through. There, in lane three, was a metallic silver-green people mover. I’m not sure what it was, cause I was driving so I couldn’t really look that hard. I think it might have been an old Renault Espace, or the model below because, though it was a people mover, it was one of the smaller ones. It was facing in completely the wrong direction and its left front wing had collided with something resulting in a big crumple and the presence of a lot of other bits of metallic silver-green people mover all over the road.

The A14 in lockdown, because that’s all I have! Mwahahahrgh.

Total kudos to the drivers of those three lorries. They had stopped, in a line, to temporarily block the three lanes so the poor woman driving the green thing could walk across to the safety of the hard shoulder. A lorry was parked on the hard shoulder a couple of hundred yards further on, although I wasn’t sure if that had been involved or was just there, and another woman in a bright blue Suzuki Jeep (or at least a 4×4) had stopped and was giving the poor woman a hug. She was probably late fifties or early sixties, and clearly shaken. I couldn’t help wondering if the Mazda 2 had clipped her, spinning her car round 180 degrees, or if his sudden appearance, overtaking her on the wrong side, or cutting across her path had given her a start, shocking her into an instinctive swerve before she had time to check the space around her. The good thing is that the whole area of road is on CCTV and the dart charge cameras photograph the numberplate of every car that goes over there, so if the idiots in the Jag and the Mazda are required for questioning, I suspect the police will have no trouble finding them.

What is it about men in their twenties or thirties who drive hot hatches that makes them such utter and complete wankmuppets? I have not seen a lady driving like this, indeed, I have never seen anyone but young males, either alone or in a very small, hot hatch full of enormously tall men, driving like this.

After a quick debate with McMini I rang 999 and was relieved to discover that I was the first person who had called and was not, therefore, wasting their time. It’s really difficult to know whether to phone the police in situations like this or to just assume someone else will. I explained about the Mazda and the Jag, and I explained that while I hadn’t witnessed them cause an accident I was not surprised that there had been one. I explained where the lady was and that her car would need recovered and possibly someone would have to come and pick the debris off the road.

As the old adage says, I guess if idiots could fly, this place would be an airport.

Triffid!

On the up side, a cause for smugness. McBicycle was not happy and needed fixed. Yesterday, I fixed it. I realised after lockdown and my knee op, that it had got salt water on it at some point and a lot of the gubbins to move the big cogs at the front gears had seized net result, 9 gears rather than 28. Indeed, it wouldn’t change gear at all. I put WD40 on it, which is not what you’re supposed to do, but I decided I should un-seize it before I washed it, and since I was going to wash the WD40 off, I hoped it would be OK. So having squirted the offending bit with WD40 on Thursday afternoon, I spent yesterday removing the chain and cleaning it with bicycle de-greaser, plus the deralier (I think that’s how it’s spelt) cogs which were all totally filthy, and cleaning the gear mechanisms too, before putting it all back together and putting bicycle lubricant all over it. Yes, there is such a thing. Mine is called ‘Wet Ride’. Snortle, yeh, don’t even go there.

The result is a bicycle which will change through all it’s gears, and a lot more smoothly than before, to boot. I love fixing things so it was a very enjoyable afternoon all round.

Last but not least, my triffid flowered again.

On a completely different note …

In case no-one knew – and we’re talking my organisational skills here, so that is a very real possibility – I have reduced the cost of Small Beginnings, the first K’Barthan Extra, to zero. That’s right, you can pick up a copy for NO PEE. Mwahahahrgh. You can also pick up a copy of the audiobook for free from my store as well, if you’re into that kind of thing. This is the one I’m talking about:

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Extras, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

Small Beginnings …

Destiny called and everyone else was out.

When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

This is free to download from all the major ebook retailers for August and also in audio from my store – but I can’t make it free from the book vendors in audio so if you’re after that one, it has to be just from my store.

If you’re interested in the ebook, click here.
If you’d like to give the audiobook a go, click here.

If you aren’t interested but you want to help, feel free to copy and paste either of these links into the social media thingy of your choice and share away:

Audiobook: https://payhip.com/b/ubYs
Ebook – free from all the main vendors: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

11 Comments

Filed under Author Updates, Free Stuff, General Wittering

Best foot forward …

Well another action-packed week this week so it’s all a bit random. Hold onto your hats and off we go.

First of all the Noisy Cricket is back from the mechanic’s and I am considerably lighter financially. On the up side, the entire job – and there was a lot of labour involved – cost the same amount as the part on pretty much all the other Lotuses. Ouch. There have been a few big bills in the last year which suggest, as I mentioned last week, that I should probably start thinking about a new car. But we’re sort of in flux between internal combustion and electrical and possibly between electrical and whatever comes next.

However, the whole electric car thing … hmm. OK so on the one hand it’s clean on the other, I’m not 100% convinced that if I buy an electric car it will be more ecologically friendly than my current internal combustion-driven motor. On the one hand, air pollution, noise pollution, global warming etc. On the other air pollution and global warming from a different source and safe and ecologically friendly disposal of batteries. The only difference really appears to be noise pollution – lots less in an electric car. Between you, me and the gate post, I think the thing that will win out is … not what am I even thinking about. The type of car we’ll all end up driving will be about whatever science it is that the most powerful multi-millionaire has the biggest vested interest in. Let’s hope it’s something sensible. At least I feel I can trust Elon Musk to look for ways to improve batteries and power cells. Maybe we’ll be filling up future Teslas with wee.

And of course, if there’s less of a demand for bio diesel, there’ll be less of a demand for palm oil in theory. But it’s a bit like those things where people go vegetarian for ecological reasons … is it just the same ecological load distributed in a different way?

Nature: red in tooth and claw

This morning, after doing lots of metal detecting yesterday (more on that story … later) I was feeling a bit stiff. A bit stiff doesn’t quite cover that, it was more a case of feeling as if I was made out of various bricks held together with string. That lovely feeling that the composite parts of each joint are grating against one another. It’s better now, I’ve been for a gentle walk. McOther is a lark and I’m an owl so he was already up when I woke and kindly brought me a coffee in bed before he popped out. He let out the cat and sorted out a few other bits and bobs downstairs and then headed off.

A few minutes after McOther’s departure I had a phone call from him. He explained that McCat had caught something because there was blood all over the door but that it seemed he hadn’t been able to get it through the cat flap and had gone off with it. McOther was unsure as to where McCat had gone but advised me that he had locked the cat flap.

Was McCat in the house I asked McOther? And if there was a body, was that in the house?

McOther couldn’t 100% guarantee his answer for sure about either, but he reckoned that no, McCat was not in the house. He also deduced that the body was not in the house since it wasn’t on the landing outside the spare room, which is where McCat has a tendency to take his prizes, on the few occasions he does catch something. I thanked McOther for the warning and off he went. He was going to an auction to bid on some stuff so he couldn’t really stay and help.

Picture of a cat sprawling on a bed
Butter wouldn’t melt …

Unwillingly, I climbed out of bed and got dressed. It was time to find the body and clean up the mess. I’m not sure what McCat’s kill technique is but it appears to involve severing some major artery. There were spatters of bright red blood all over the door and doorstep as McOther had warned me as well as drips going along the path. Clearly the best way to find the body – and probably McCat – was to follow the trail. About half way along with a burrp of greeting, McCat appeared. He had a feather stuck on his lip which was flapping up and down as he meowed.

Culprit identified? Check.

More meowing ensued, I think the basic gist of the conversation was something along the lines of, ‘Look at me, I’m fucking clever, oh and can you get this annoying thing off my chin? Thanks.’ I congratulated him on being clever but explained that I’d really rather he didn’t kill people, and I removed the feather from his chin, because he kept sneezing and shaking his head. Since I had now performed my required function he sauntered off – I presumed it was to lie in the undergrowth somewhere until I saw him squeezing himself into a tiny hole at the bottom of the zipper in McMini’s tent. Lords I hoped the body wasn’t in there.

Picture of cat flap and doorstep with drips of blood
Um …

Interruption over, I continued to follow the trail, at the end of which was a pile of feathers. No, on further investigation, that was where the poor unfortunate bird had met its end. I followed the blood trail back to the back door and then turned round and started up the path, looking for drips where McBeast might have deviated in one direction or the other.

Bear in mind, I’m not much good at this kind of thing. If I was Tonto, I’d put my ear to the train track for a minute or two, straighten up and say, ‘Hmm, steel horse not come any time soon,’ at which precise moment the San Francisco to Ferndale Express would clart me in the back at high speed.

At last after a fair bit of hapless searching, I finally found McCat’s departure point from the path. Spots of blood on the leaves of the plants in the beds to one side and yes there were more spatters, leading away under the apple tree and then … ah yes; under the hedge. I went and got a shovel gently put the pigeon onto it. Then I took it round the back where, with an apologetic prayer and a direct apology, to the pigeon itself, I put it in the bin. Next I ‘pressure washed’ the path … and the back door. Since we don’t actually own a pressure washer, this involved improvisation in the form of putting the hose nozzle thing to maximum squirt and putting it very close to the surface to be cleaned. Unfortunately, that meant splash back in copious quantities. It also involved soaking my shoes and the bottom of my trousers. While assessing the amount of mud included in the spatterage, I also discovered that despite my reverence handling the body and his very, very, ex-ness of being, the pigeon had still managed to bleed on my socks and trousers.

Oh bloody marvellous. ‘Bloody’ being the operative word here.

Never mind everything was cleared up, at which point I went indoors, bunged the bloodied trousers and socks in the wash, noticed I’d got it on my shirt as well and bunged that in before re-dressing in new, clean clothes.

Wrong footed

That bit back there, where I mentioned detector finds. It’s later so here’s the rest of that story. Four of us went out to some land where we regularly detect. It’s a really interesting area with an ancient farm house and some pasture. We have never found any Roman artefacts there but the partifact bit of Saxon brooch I found a while back came from there and every now and again someone digs up something really lovely. Last time out, I had a bumper day; two big old silver milled coins from the early and middle 1800s and a couple of hammered coins, one I’m not sure about but I thought the other might be from the reign of King John.

After a bumper day like that, I wasn’t expecting much this time and sure enough, to start with, I didn’t get much. There was a tonne of lead in the field we picked, tiny molten blobs that my pinpointer couldn’t find but my detector could. However, I had an alternative new ritzy spade which was a bit less heavy, but I could still extend the shaft to give long leverage. Some of the others found nice stuff though, a buckle with a little bit of gilt on it, some old pennies, a lead farm token and a lovely great chunky Roman coin. That was a belter as we hadn’t found anything Roman there, ever.

left to right, a bit of strap … something, a harness mount in partifact, a leg made from pure green and a bull head florin.
Strap end, harness mount partifact, leg key and Florin

After lunch we went to what they were jokingly calling ‘my field’ the one where I found four silver coins last time out. After detecting for a while with not much to show – lots of lead there, too – I found what I think is a florin from 1819. It’s really worn but I was still chuffed. Then at half three, the others said they were going to head home but the person whose permission it is said the farmer was fine if I stayed until later. I stayed until half four and went carefully and methodically up and down in the area where I’d found the hammered coins last time. I’d found a seventeenth century silver thimble in the field just next door so I reckoned that maybe there’d been a stile between two fields in that area, or perhaps a big tree where people sat and had their lunch.

After finding a whole bunch of shotgun cartridges, and yet more infinitesimally tiny pieces of lead I got a fairly loud bing and dug up … a green thing. As you know, when I talk about my detecting experiences, there are few things I love more than a WTF is this find. At first sight, I thought was that it was a Roman brooch because it was long and thin and it was the Official Green Patina of all things Roman – or at least anything Roman with a green patina is pretty much the same colour and this green is it; other colours of Roman relic are available.

In order to have a better look I took off my specs. I’ve almost, but not quite, reached the bifocal stage. Up close examination revealed that it was a leg with a left foot on it. My spirits sank a little. There was me thinking it was Roman and now I realised that it was just the leg off a toy; one of those things with flappy arms and legs and a string sticking out of its arse which you pull to make the legs and arms flip upwards.

Gnurrrgh …

Thinking about it, I don’t know why I didn’t put two and two together at the time, I guess the fact it was a leg, and very definitely a left leg, wrong footed me …

[That was in aid of Crap Jokes R-Us Week. This is just a little pause to let the tumbleweed blow through. Right, that’s enough, I think it’s gone now. On we go then.]

When I got home I shared the best of my finds with the others. A tiny piece of medieval harness pendant, complete with green and yellow enamel, the 1819 Florin, a bit of a medieval strap end/mount/thingy – although I guess that could have been the end of a different type of key called a latchlifter (wrong patina though this was more medieval in colour and the guy who identified them for me on-line is very, very seldom wrong).

Everyone, including the bloke who always gets it right, was convinced that my leg was Roman and was a key. I have always wanted to find a Roman key because they hadn’t quite got the gist of locks so they are made to look complicated and important but basically … aren’t. I suppose keys were relatively new back then so they were mostly uncomplicated affairs and meant to look the part. Same kind of thing as those massive medieval strong boxes that look impregnable but have locks that even I could could pick in three minutes. It’s mostly about image and effect rather than actual pregnability or impregnability.

People wore keys as rings to keep them safe. These were for the smaller boxes where they kept the precious stuff. The foot thing, well, the Romans did like a something that looked like something else. I suspect it was that shape by necessity and they made it look like a leg and foot for the fun of it. I guess it’s unlikely burglars breaking in would think, ‘nah this is the leg of an old toy,’ the way I did. Then again, I suppose it’s not beyond the realms … No, it is beyond the realms. Nobody is that thick. Mwahahahrgh! Except me on an off day. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Never mind eh? Let’s forget about that and try this.

I have no books officially reduced at the moment but if you want to dip your toe into the world of The Pan of Hamgee before the K’Barthan Series takes place there is a whole series of books and the first one is free. Woot. So if you have any friends you think might enjoy the world of K’Barth, feel free to point them at:

The cover of the book Small Seginnings.
Small Beginnings

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Extras, Hamgeean Misfit: Part 1

The world needs a hero but they’re all busy … 

When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

If you like the sound of that, there are information pages with links to download the book in audio and in ebook format. You can find those here:

Audiobook they should use my shop and enter the catchy code at checkout: FREE81E remember to cut and paste this exactly or it may not work.
Ebook this should be free everywhere but if your Amazon has it as a paid book then you, too, can find the ebook in my shop, enter the same code and it’s free from there too.

If you’ve read it, or it’s not your bag, feel free to pass this information along to any friends who you think might enjoy it.

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Interesting times

This week, I single-handedly caused a gargantuan traffic jam and discovered that I am strong enough to brake a centimetre thick bar of steel. Move over Hulk, here I come. There’s a story in that and we’ll get to it in a minute. Meanwhile, writing news.

Yes, the writing is creeping along, McMini is off for his last day of school as I begin this, although it’ll probably be Saturday by the time I’m finishing it! It will also have to be today’s word count total as I’m off out with a friend. While working on the space dustmen book I’ve done a little bit of research as well as writing and discovered some information about micro bacterial fuel cells. Really interesting stuff. If you’re interested you can read more here.

As a result, I now have a space station which gains much of its power from the ‘waste products’ produced. Yes. It runs on wee. The stuff that isn’t useable is ‘processed’ by cockroaches who were already planned in as the rubbish processing facility in the plant. They had developed sentience and become minor characters. They still are but now, they run the recycling centre, eating cleaning the kack off the things that have had food or other stuff in them, sorting the rubbish and processing it.

Yesterday, I visited Mum. She wasn’t as switched on as sometimes. Mind you, by the time I got to her, I wasn’t either. The M11 was borked – there was a 2 hour delay – so I had to cut across country a little way and go down the A1 to the M25 instead.

Naturally, by the time I got to the M25, a lorry had caught fire between the A1 junction and the M11 junction. It wasn’t on my side but I made a mental note that it would be, when I returned, and despite being the other carriageway, the road was closed my way too. Joy. I ended up and taking the other, 80 miles longer, route round the M25 via Heathrow. I arrived about an hour and a quarter after I would usually have done but still a good 40 minutes before I’d have got there via the borked M11 route. Despite not being very with it, Mum was in reasonable form.

It was annoying being late as I’d suspected that the raspberries in Mum’s garden might be ready and I’d wanted to get there in time to pick them. I went down to the fruit cage anyway. The kitchen garden there is lying fallow this year. The weeds are up to my waist. I got soaked and it wasn’t helped by the fact there’s a power line over the fruit cage and the birds sit on it and shit onto the waist high weeds in the fruit cage below. Not just water smearing all over my trousers as I moved among the weeds then, but also shit. Copious clods of the kinds of massive turds pigeons do.

Bastards.

The raspberries were way more ready than I thought and some of them had rotted in the seemingly endless rain, which has never fucking stopped. All in all it was a bit of a disaster really. I was pissed off with myself for not checking them last week as I’d have been able to pick them as they ripened rather than letting a load rot on the canes by mistake. Then again, I got some and we had them for lunch. A partial success then. However, by the time I was done I was covered in fruit juice from the mouldy squishy ones along with bird shit.

Nature, one: MTM’s salmon pink combat trousers, nil.

Burrs … many, many burrs

In addition to the lovely fruit juice and turd smears on my trousers, I also had burrs all over my shoes. After lunch, as Mum and I chatted and watched the tennis, I picked them all off. Here they are with a pen in the photo for reference. See? That’s a lot of burrs.

As usual, I left at half two but bearing in mind the lorry fire, I had a quick look at google maps before departure because I reckoned they’d be resurfacing the road after that one. Sure enough the M25 was closed for resurfacing and everyone was using the M11 as the route round it so that was at a standstill. Alternative routes are available for this so I nipped up the A12 and decided that I’d cut across from Chelmsford, via Ongar and Toots Hill (mwahahahahrgh!) on the A 414, cleverly joining the M11 at the junction where everyone else who was trying to avoid the lorry fire was turning off. Away I went with a podcast I particularly enjoy playing on my phone and the plastic lady from Google shouting directions imperiously at intermediate intervals.

All was well until I ended up at the back of a slow moving convoy of vehicles stuck behind a breakdown truck with a lorry on the back. Poor bugger. I felt for him but it wasn’t exactly well met. Top speed? Oh I dunno … 40mph? But it was mostly 30mph. As we crept up a hill the speed dropped and I changed down a gear. At which point, something happened and the gearstick suddenly went limp, between the gears, with my foot on the clutch. I took my foot off the clutch but discovered the car was stuck in neutral. No drive. Just momentum.

As you can imagine, at 20mph, on a hill there’s not much momentum or coasting potential. I managed to creep slowly to the side of the road, but to be frank, not as ‘at the side of the road’ as I’d have liked and there wasn’t enough umph to get it up the curb onto the verge which is where I’d have preferred to have ended up. Once I had stopped, I realised that there wasn’t going to be enough of a let up in the traffic whizzing past for me to get out and push it onto the verge either. Indeed, the cars and lorries overtaking me were probably taking the same detour as I. The road was narrow and they were not leaving any room or taking any prisoners as they passed. Open the door and something would smack it – or me – at high speed. Nope. Nothing doing there. I had to exit, with very little dignity, through the passenger side.

It was looking ominous but not actually raining at this point so I spread my anorak on the grass verge and took stock. There was a lot of traffic because it was a busy trunk road; that is one lane going in one direction and one in the other. And I’d blocked the one going my way. As a result, everyone had to wait behind my car until there was a gap in the almost never ending stream of oncoming traffic or until someone in the huge queue of oncoming cars was kind enough to stop and flash a handful through. On the up side, at least it was a straight bit and there was reasonable visibility both ways so folks could see where the gaps were to try and overtake.

Traffic … as far as the eye can see. Zoom in for the full horror!

Er hem. Yeh.

From my vantage point, the statutory ‘as far as possible’ away from the car, I looked along the road in the direction from which I had come, and which I was now blocking. The queue of cars stuck behind mine filled the whole straight and snaked away into the distance out of sight. About three quarters of a mile of it by the looks of things.

Shizz.

But also, in a very selfish and unpleasant, wow!-I-did-this! kind of way a bit rewarding. It made me understand how satisfying it must be to drive a caravan and cause this kind of mayhem wherever you go. Look at all those gits stuck behind me, they’ll have to learn some patience etc, etc. Except I did have the good grace to be mortified in majority, rather than smug.

Yes, well … that’s enough of that.

OK, better get the breakdown truck. I had never rung my breakdown company, had no clue what they’d be like, and wasn’t confident at all. My spirits sank further as I got the usual recorded announcement about COVID19 decimating their routine, although luckily it was just to apologise that some folks would be answering calls from home and that there might be some background noise. Not half as much as there was my end, I thought. The phone was answered quickly by a gentleman who asked where I was, at which point, I looked at google maps and discovered that I was half way between Chelmsford and Ongar, quite near to the highly amusingly named, Toots Hill. Then I realised that there was an enormous red bit on this road which started right about … ah yes … where I was standing.

When I mentioned this the gentleman on the other end asked if I was in danger. Judging by the number of people hooting and shaking their fists at me, I suspected there might be a small chance that someone who had been stuck in the queue behind me might stop to smack me in the mouth but otherwise, no, not especially. It’s all relative. I said that I was OK and that the car was in the middle of a straight, which was good, but that it wasn’t parked quite as I’d have liked. He suggested that I might be wise to ring off, call the police to warn them that I had single-handedly brought the traffic to a standstill. The call was logged, he explained so there’d be a truck on the way to the Ongar area I could just ring them back in ten minutes or so and fill in the details of my destination. There was much giggling from both of us because I told him that it appeared I’d done some kind of Hulk move and ripped the gearstick off, that it needed a viagra, etc. So I hung up and dialled 101.

It took a while but I finally got through to a dispatch officer with Essex police. She was lovely. The road was a bit loud and her what three words weren’t working so it was difficult for me to give her my exact location. We were on the phone for longer than we might have been, I suspect. I explained roughly where I was and she patched it all through. We then had a conversation that went something like this:

‘The traffic sounds like it’s going quite fast,’ she said.
No,’ I replied. ‘That’s the stuff coming the other way. The traffic my side is mostly stationary.’
Just at that moment a bunch of them got past and someone vented their anger by beeping their hooter long and hard.
‘Are they hooting at you?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Yes, they’re not happy.’ I replied. ‘They’re probably all avoiding the M25 like I am.’
‘Seriously, what do they think you’re doing?’ she said.
‘It looks like they think I’ve decided that this would be a really good place to stop and make a phone call,’ I said with my best sarcastic, idiot-spotting tone in place.
She laughed at that. ’Some people!’ she said.
‘Yeh. They’re not all bad, though. Some are looking sympathetic,’ I said, at which point a girl in a Fiat 500 stopped and asked if I needed any help and I said that I was fine and that the police were on their way.
‘That was a nice woman in a fiat asking if I needed any help,’ I duly reported to the officer who was still trying to get her version of what three words to link up with their mapping stuff.
‘Of course, the only person who offers to help would be a woman,’ she said drily and I liked her even more.
‘Right, there’s a car on its way, they’ll be with you in nine minutes.’
‘Brilliant,’
I replied at which point we said our goodbyes.

Oops …

Before I rang the breakdown people again, I rang the mechanic who fixes my car to ask if I could have it delivered to his workshop. He was fine with that so I then rang the breakdown people and told them where I was. Luckily their what three words was working so that was pretty quick.

Just as I was thinking of writing ‘sorry’ in big letters on a piece of paper and holding it up, I heard sirens in the distance. Yep there was a police car doing the full blues and twos piling towards me down the wrong side of the road past the huge queue of traffic. Shizz, was this for me?

Yes it was. Ooo. That was a bit of a thrill.

And also completely mortifying.

Yes.

They did, at least hold up the traffic and agree to help me push the car off the road but they had a ‘danger to life’ to go to next so instead of being able to enlist their help to push the car to the gateway of a field further up, they pushed it into a sort of half lay-by on the other side of the road. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and at least now I was safe enough from the traffic.

Now that I was safely parked, I got into the car and rang the breakdown people explaining that I wanted to be taken to the address of my garage. They warned me there might not be room for me in the truck and I might have to be dropped ‘in a safe place’ where McOther could pick me up. Was that alright?

Shit.

‘Yes,’ I said, because, what else could I say?

Then I rang McOther and he was happy to pick me up from the mechanic’s garage. Lastly I rang Mum and pretended that I was in the driveway and that the traffic was the cars on Northgate Street. That done I realised I only had 20% charge on my phone so I got my charger out, fixed it, because it had come apart, and plugged the phone in to charge. By the time I’d finished that lot and discovered the text from my break down people saying the truck would be there at 5.57 I just had a few minutes to nip behind the hedge for a wee and my rescuer would probably have arrived.

The lay-by was part of the original road, which had been moved over. The metalled remains was left, hidden from the new road by a row of scrubby elms and blocked off at the beginning and end with piles of paving stones. There was a path but there were also a lot of brambles. I put on the sheepskin gloves I wear to fill up with petrol, picked my way gingerly over the pile of bricks and slabs and had a very, very much needed wee. Great. Now I was comfortable I could face anything.

Probably.

Even on a tow truck I still think my car looks cool.

The guy arrived exactly when he had said and when I told him my destination, thought he might well have been there before, with other stricken Lotuses, or would that be Loti? He had to pretty much stand in the hedge to get to the winch controls but he clearly knew what he was doing and it was on the back very quickly with the minimum of fuss or bother. Had he been doing this all his life? I asked. It turned out that yes he had. His father had been a mechanic before him and had also done recovery work. He remembered ‘cabbing’ with his dad to help at breakdown jobs from as young as three. He told he was a grumpy old git which made me warm to him immediately.

We didn’t go through the amusingly named, ‘Toots Hill’, much to my disappointment instead the road took us through Ongar and as we approached the junction with the M11 we hit a queue. It wasn’t long before we got chatting. His mother had died of Alzheimer’s. We talked about the first warning signs. In his case, his father had taken his mum away on holiday. She had a light smoking habit, about ten a day, which she started fairly late on in life. While they were away on this particular trip, his father popped out from the hotel to get some bits and bobs from the shops and bought her a packet of cigarettes. When he handed them over, she seemed nonplussed and explained that she didn’t smoke. She’d forgotten that she did, completely. Such a weird thing.

Everything went smoothly. We chatted happily over the course of the journey and arrived back at the mechanic’s workshop a bit after seven pm. Not bad really. He deposited my car exactly where the mechanic had asked me to park it, once more, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of quiet competence, then off he went with a cheery wave. McOther was already there to collect me and we got home just before 8 o’clock.

What was wrong with it? I hear you ask. Well, to be honest, I was expecting it to be the little pin that holds the gearstick onto the … thing. It wasn’t. It turns out that it had broken off. Yes I’d actually managed to rip a piece of steel half an inch thick in half. For fuck’s sake. OK so I get a bit panicky sometimes and miss gears and kind of flap at it in a kind of go-in-go-in headless-chicken panic but I have come away with a rather sobering reassessment of my own strength.

The mechanic, who is called Gerald, but I promise the one in my book was called Gerald/Gerry before this one appeared in my actual Real Life, told me that the gear stick used to be available separately but that even though Lotus only stopped making the 1.6 Elise three years ago, in 2018, they have ceased manufacture of all its bespoke parts. So there was one set of gear stuff that comprised the whole linkage, which I don’t need, but which included the stick, for £650 plus 20% VAT. Otherwise, I could wait until a gear stick appeared on the second hand market. That would render a perfectly serviceable car un-drivable for weeks … months … years? … Until somebody broke one up somewhere.

Yikes.

The supplier had given him three minutes to say yes or no because they knew this was the last one in Britain. Jeez, I know the noisy cricket is inanimate and not sentient and that but seriously? It’s like it knows I spent all that money on art last week.

In case you’d forgotten what the noisy cricket (after which my car is named) actually is, here’s a refresher. 🙂

Yeh. Bollocks.

What to do?

Say yes to the last replacement part in existence, obviously.

Even if I end up paying about £500 over the odds for a whole lot of extra stuff on it that I don’t need, I’d prefer that to having a perfectly useable car standing idle for want of of an 18 inch piece of metal. The part will arrive next Wednesday and be fitted soon after with any luck. But now I have to think about what I do from here on in. Because if finding parts for my ten year old car is going to be like trying to source bits for a 1920s Lagonda or something, it’s going to be impractical and expensive. If I’m having to have a new gear stick bespoke machined from the plans from here on in, I’m in trouble.

If I sell it right now, there aren’t any new models of Lotus to buy and the Elises are all being retired. I doubt I’d get one and certainly not in my go to favourite shade of gunmetal grey. Anyway, two years down the line, my three year old car would be in the same situation as the current ten year old one.

Furthermore, I don’t think I can quite afford another Lotus, not new. Although, with the part exchange, if I start saving up I might be able to in a few years’ time. I also have to think in terms of my knee, which doesn’t straighten quite enough for the effortless exits and entries I used to be able to make. I do now look like an ancient old bag heaving herself in and out of it, and whatever the repercussions of walking wrong for so long have been on my hip are causing problems now that I’m walking properly again. The easy twist of the leg to slide under the steering wheel now hurts me. A lot. That said, I was going to wait a year or two and see if I could get physio and sort the hip out because it’s probably something some physiotherapy exercises could fix – shortened flexor muscles or similar.

Perhaps it would be smart to start thinking about what I drive next. Gulp. When the time comes, do I buy another Lotus? Where can they go after the current range of heart-wrenchingly pretty cars? Surely the only way is down. Or is it time to bite the bullet and buy … shudders … a normal car? I’ve driven a Lotus for 21 years and I had a spitfire for 11 years before that. 32 years of two-seaters that are like getting in and out of a sleeping bag. I like it like that. I feel safe looking up at the hub caps of taxis. And whatever car I buy, it needs to be absorbing enough to hold my attention for a 300 mile round trip every week or my mind will wander at the wheel and I’ll die. And when I say absorbing, I mean absorbing in a good way, in a way that makes schlepping up and down to Sussex as enjoyable as possible. And … pointy steering. I need pointy steering. Most normal cars are like driving a water bed on castors.

Also while Lotus might stand for Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious, this one has 81,000 miles on the clock and this is only the third major expense I’ve had … and one of those was the headlight which was a major expense but not quite as life threatening as say, the suspension, which went just after lock down but only cost £600. Most of the things I have done cost about £600 to be honest.

Modern cars are also a bit toss. They’re over engineered where it doesn’t matter, and under engineered where it does. I don’t want a million crappy gizmos. I don’t want caps on my tyres that cost £120 because there’s a pressure sensor in each one, it’s pointless shit. I’m not a complete moron. I can check my tyre pressure. I don’t need an electronic voice to tell me my washer fluid is low, I don’t need a stupid ‘console’ with a smart speaker and all manner of other shizz programmed in that’s connected to the internet and that I have to pay a monthly subscription for (yes another chuffing £7 a month). I have a phone for that. And if there is going to be a nut job at the wheel, I’d prefer it to be me and not some radicalised teenage whack job hacker in a bedroom somewhere who has got into my car’s smart software and is now controlling it.

All I want from a car is headlights, a heater, indicators, windscreen wipers and a radio/cd player that I can plug a flash memory stick into. Hell, even electric windows are a bit of an extravagance in my book. I mean, I have arms don’t I? Likewise, air-con would have been nice last summer but this year I wouldn’t have needed to use it at all so it’s not 100% necessary.

Nope. What I want is the kind of engineering that gets 0-60 in 6 seconds out of a 1.6 Toyota Yaris engine. The kind of engineering that gets me 0-60 in 6 seconds but delivers 40mpg on the motorway. That kind of elegant, logical, common sense, smart engineering that is spectacularly fucking absent from pretty much any other marque of car. The only alternative, really, is a Tesla, but the range is 250 miles and I need 300 to get to Sussex and back.

Or possibly a fiat 500 Abarth because … 0-60 in 6 seconds is enough to give me a thrill but 4 seconds would be even more fun.

Hmm … decisions, decisions …

Talking about vehicles with a mind of their own …

If you want to read about the fictional version of the Noisy Cricket, it features in Too Good To Be True, my latest release in both ebook and audio format. Here’s a bit more about it.

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True (Audiobook cover)

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. Ebook: 247 pages, Paperback: 295 pages, Audiobook running time, 9hrs 57 mins.

You and find out more (or listen to the audio sample) using these links:

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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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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