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A little bit of mousework …

Yep, more rodent-related shizz.

So … this week it’s half term and we’ve been on the road. I’ve realised we are going to be on the road the entire length of all our holidays until summer 2021. This is kind of good, we have exciting plans afoot, but also a little daunting from the point of view of my organising my life at all over this period, let alone doing any writing … Never mind. I’m sure I’ll work something out.

After last week’s exciting vole-centric adventure you may not be expecting any more up-close rodent-related action on my part – and who could blame you – but you’d be wrong.

Visiting my brother and family for the first weekend in half term we looked out of the window and noticed a little mouse on their bird feeder. A very sweet little brown mouse, no less, with a white tummy.

‘Aaawwwww,’ we all said.

And then I looked closer.

‘Hang on, is it stuck?’ I asked.

‘Hmm … might be,’ the others said.

Only one way to find out. I went outside and discovered that, yes, it was, indeed stuck. The bird feeder was an iron pole with two curled arms welded on either side from which to hang bird seed dispensers. Where they joined the main stem was a small gap and the mouse had got its leg stuck in it. It’s foot was very red but not purple, which I hoped was a reasonable sign. It was healthy, its fur luxuriantly shiny and I reckoned it would be fine if it didn’t rip it’s own leg off before I could free it. So with one hand, I held the mouse and with the other I tried to pry the arm of the feeder out a little so I could release its leg.

Nothing doing.

My sis in-law arrived and I asked her to hold the mouse and try to lift it upwards while I pulled the arm of the feeder outwards to widen the gap.

This did not go well.

I suggested we swapped as I got the impression she wasn’t enjoying holding the mouse. Except that the mouse was seriously unimpressed with the entire proceedings by now and had clearly decided the safest, and most prudent, course of action would be to make the big pink things manhandling it go away by biting them.

For a few seconds as I fumbled with it. I managed not to get bitten but then, as the mouse attacked what it clearly considered to be, the lumbering pink fleshy thing which was trying to envelop it in a hot, clammy, marsh-mallowy embrace – or maybe it just thought my fingers were attack sausages, I dunno – with renewed vigour it finally succeeded.

Yes, it got a firm grip on my thumb and bit it. Hard.

Oops.

‘Hold it by the scruff of the neck,’ my sis in-law suggested.

Good plan. Holding the scruff of its neck, carefully, and bleeding all the while, I gently lifted it up while she held the iron bits a little further apart. I put it on the plate of seeds in the middle of the feeder. It bounced off as if it had been shot from a cannon and ran into the undergrowth.

One of us was OK then, even if it was dragging its leg a bit, it looked as if it was going to be able to get around alright. I looked at the blood running down the side of my thumb.

Bro and sis in-law were extremely concerned that I’d die of rabies while McOther, rather cheekily in my view, expressed doubts that any rabidness displayed on my part would result in a noticeable change of behaviour or temperament. We put antiseptic cream on it anyway, and a plaster, but fearful that I might die on their watch, bro and sis in-law rang sis in-law’s mum and step dad who are both GPs. They endorsed our actions and asked if I’d have a tetanus jab recently. I’ve no clue if I have or not. Now I’m back, I might pop into my GPs surgery and ask but I suspect it’s OK, and if it isn’t a week after the event is probably too late anyway.

This reminds me of the story I didn’t have room for last week, and would rather like to tell you now! At my last grief counselling session, I told the grief counsellor about the vole. It turned out she had her own sorry (but hilarious) tale of rodent related social horror.

Some years ago, the counsellor had a cat and the cat tended to catch things and bring them indoors where it would lose interest and forget about them. Yeh, I know, cats do this, they’re gross. Sometimes, it was a case of removing the body, other times it was a case of never knowing until something started nibbling at things left out on the kitchen side or died and ponged. On this occasion, her cat had brought a large rat indoors. Said rat, knackered and a bit stunned but otherwise, basically, OK, had hidden. The cat, unable to find the rat, had lost interest and wandered away, leaving the rat nestled in its warm dark hiding place, sleeping it off.

Our friend the counsellor had no idea the cat had brought anything into the house and so unaware that there was a large rat … well … at large in her house, she put on her jumper and headed out to Palmers department store, in Bury St Edmunds. As she browsed the kitchen section she realised she could feel a lump in the shoulder of her jumper.

Can you see where this is going? Yep I bet you can.

‘Dammit, I’ve got a sock down there or something,’ she thought.

She put her hand up and felt the lump, at which point it squeaked. She gasped and held her jumper out by the hem in a kind of ‘what is this?’ manner, at which point the rat leapt off her shoulder and out of her jumper, or should that be out of her jumper and off her shoulder? The rat fell to the floor and ran off. She saw it disappear behind a display of saucepans and stood, in a state of shocked surprise, very possibly doing a little low key hyperventilating at the same time. I can neither confirm nor deny that about the hyperventilating, though, as I forgot to ask her.

Well, that was grim. She’d been walking around town with a rat in her jumper. But, on the up side, it wasn’t there anymore and, bonus, it hadn’t had a wee or poo while it was in there.

Every cloud has a silver lining eh?

What to do now though? Dare she go up to the counter and explain that she had inadvertently released vermin into their auspicious premises? She looked over at the stern, matronly ladies stationed at the till.

No, not really.

She looked around her.

There were some shoppers about and two women nearby but no-one appeared have noticed her moment of horror.

She could say something to one of the ladies at the till … she could and she probably should … or … not.

Yes. Right then. Probably time for a sharp exit.

As she turned and walked towards the door, the two women who’d been near her headed towards the display of saucepans. Oooo. The counsellor took a deep breath and with her best and fastest nothing-to-see-here walk, she stepped up her pace. Just outside, in the street, she heard a blood curdling scream as one of the women picked up a saucepan from the display, revealing the rat.  I imagine it was rather bedraggled after doing battle with the cat, and possibly a bit spiky haired from jumper static. In my mind’s eye, I see it squinting back at her or, perhaps, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

The counsellor paused for a fraction of a second as more screaming ensued. Once again, she thought about returning and explaining, and again she imagined how well that might go, whether they would believe her, if charges would be pressed and … Yeh. She kept walking.

Apparently, the rat in Palmers episode was quite famous in town folklore. No-one ever knew how it got there, and my bereavement counsellor – who I am not going to name – has carried the secret of its origins for many years. She has given me permission to finally let the cat, or should that be the rat? Out of the bag on my blog.

So now you know …

On the book front … glory be but Gareth managed to pull book four out of the hat before he went off on tour. Despite Storm Dennis, Windy Ethel, Farty Fred, Gusty Georgina or whoever we’re onto now. Fine work Gareth! Thank you, if you’re reading this (but I suspect he has better things to do). Then the book sat there on my phone, and I couldn’t listen, because you can’t really do that while you’re visiting relations, it’s quite rude. And while I think it’s fine if you’re all hanging out reading books together and chatting from time to time, sticking ear phones in and listening to something is definitely antisocial. I did manage the odd listen in the loo, or ten minutes or so before I got out of bed in the morning.

And …

Apart from the fact the anticipation has nearly killed me you mean?

Well, yes. Of course it’s fabulous.

It’s so gob-smackingly fabulous that, hang the expense, I’ll have to pay him proper money to do the other books. I was also surprised that for all the darkness in the story, books three and four made me laugh out loud … quite a lot. Yeh. I’m so horrifically egocentric that I laugh at my own books but obviously I’m going to lay the blame squarely on Gareth’s sense of comic timing. Yeh. Your fault Gareth. Nyar-nyar! But actually, it is pretty spot on so I reckon I can justifiably do that. I’m on chapter 28 so I’ll keep you posted on progress.

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A vole lot of trouble going on …

Just coming into half term so things are hectic here. Let’s see how much of tomorrow’s blog post I can write in 40 minutes. And the clock starts … NOW.

Well, it’s been an interesting one this week, I’ve released a book – you might have noticed that in last week’s post – I also received the third book in the K’Barthan series on audio. But first, I feel I should share the story of The Vole. Clears throat. Um … yeh.

A while back, last November in fact, our cat appeared to happen on a family of voles. To my horror he got four. They are feisty little creatures so they puff themselves up and bark at him. In three cases this didn’t work and, worse, it just alerted me to their plight and I still couldn’t get to them in time. In the case of the fourth, it did work. But I still couldn’t get there in time to liberate the vole, or get bucket down on it to trap it and take it outside before it belted under the fridge and stayed there.

Frank the vole

Ground zero: the failed bucket capture and flight to under the fridge, was 13th November, we took everything out of the room and found nothing. Yet, if I went in there in a quiet moment, stood still and listened, I could hear the sound of rustling and our small vole-shaped friend munching on things. I even managed to take this rather cute picture of it sitting under our fridge. We moved the fridge out after that, and I never found the vole but I did clean the floor and hoover up all the crumbs under there … I probably, unwittingly, did for our little friend doing that but … back to the story.

Our cat sleeps in the utility room, so we took him out, and all the furniture – except the fridge – and I set a humane trap. The vole was too fat for the trap, so I ordered a rat trap and guiltily put the cat back in his bedroom. With the vole. Since it seemed to be doing just fine nipping out during the day to eat his food and drink his water while he was elsewhere. Yes, I tried to feed it separately, but it appeared to be supremely uninterested in the more rodent appropriate fare I had purchased specifically for this purpose and pushed under the fridge, or at least it was, while there were the odd lost or discarded kibbles of Royal Canin Obesity Control in the offing, anyway.

A few days later, when the rat trap arrived. I set it with a dab of peanut butter. Nothing doing there either.

Hmm …

Over the weeks, the room began to smell a little bit. Was it dead? We didn’t know. We searched extensively but found no body.

The smell seemed, to me, to be more like the smell of our rabbit’s hutch when it needed cleaning out when I was a kid. The smell of vole excreta. Lovely. The McOthers posited a theory that it had died and was decomposing but I thought no.

Growing up in the school where my father was a housemaster, vermin was a fact of life. At one point, our bathroom began to smell as if something had died. Something quite big. The lavatory was in a separate room, so it wasn’t that. All was not well. One of the more stalwart members of the works department came to sniff the smell and pass his verdict. All the workers there knew the smell of a rat that had died under the floorboards when they caught a whiff of it. He did have a hopeful look, taking off the panelling along the side of the bath and having a thorough root around with a torch but he found nothing and short of taking all the floorboards up, at which point we were just as likely to find it was in the boxing round the pipes, the insides of the wall or some such, and which would involve removing the bath, anyway, my parents felt it was probably best to leave it. We’d grit our teeth and ride out the stench.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ the chap told us, ‘it’ll stop smelling in three weeks at the outside.’

So we waited. Sure enough, the smell became pretty pungent and when I say pungent, I mean it was so strong it had almost evolved into a life form, with a personality of its own. Even so, within a month … gone. And I did learn a valuable lesson from this, ergo, what a rodent smells like decomposing. And it’s amazing how many of the rather nastier things of that nature learned during my childhood have come in handy later on in life.

And the thing was, a rodent decomposing did NOT smell like our utility room. I told the McOthers as much. Since I was the only one of us who had actually lived with the smell of putrifying rodents, and let’s face it, not many of us have, they bowed to my judgement.

So it was, that we looked out for the vole, hoping to find it and free it. The smell didn’t really get any worse and come January it was still ponging away. Not like the rat under the bath, so we assumed that it was, indeed, alive and well and it’s ‘cage’ was in need of a clean out. I continued my efforts to catch it, because I didn’t really want a vole living in our utility room, however cute it was.

Spool forward to Monday just gone. It had been consistently fine in the morning and throwing it down with rain in the afternoon for some days so I decided to get the washing on first thing so I could get it out for a quick blow before the rain came. Yeh. When I say first thing, I mean a time that, for me, was close to the middle of the fucking night. Seven something. Well before eight o’clock anyway.

The washing finished as I was on the phone to my Mum. I had the headset on so I could wander round chatting to her as I did other stuff. So I went to empty the washing machine, opened the door and … what was that thing? Eugh, what had McMini put in the pocket of his PE kit? I reached out and picked it up, it was like a bag full of liquid, at which point I realised it had arms and legs and with a small squeak, which was quite restrained of me in the circumstances I thought, I dropped it.

Splat! it went as it landed on the rubber door seal.

Yeh, I nearly hurled like this guy…

‘Aaaaargh (sorry Mum)!’  I said.

‘What’s up?’ she asked me.

I told her about the vole as I compulsively washed my hands again and again.

‘I’ve just found it,’ I explained. ‘Poor little bugger! I killed it!’ I moaned sadly.

Except, when I examined it further, I began to wonder if it had already been dead. Maybe the cat had found the body and been playing with it. Yes cats are gross and ours is grosser than most.

‘Well, you’ll soon know,’ said Mum.

‘How?’

‘If it was dead then, when you put it outside in the bin, the smell will go with it won’t it?’ she said. Ever practical.

At this point I finished the call with Mum, donned gloves, put the corpse in the dustbin, took the washing out of the machine and put the machine on a service wash at 75 degrees centigrade to sterilise it. It took an hour and a half.

Needless to say, the washing was all the stuff that couldn’t be washed over 40 degrees. Never mind, I had some of those eco balls and they claim to sterilise the washing at 40 so I’d stick those in, with about five soap pods, set it on a programme that would have it washing for a really long time and hope for the best. Two hours later it was done. I put it out for twenty minutes and then it started to rain. I suppose that was par for the course.

As I write now, the smell has gone.

‘It is winter,’ McOther told me kindly, ‘it probably decomposed very slowly.’

Anyway, after that bloody disgusting start to the week the only way was up really!

And it was.

Book three of the audio landed. Wahooo! I braced myself for another battle with my own personal artistic bell-endery. What’s up Mary? Well … I’ve this horrible suspicion that my material is not up to Gareth’s talent and I feel like a creative charlatan! Mwhahahaahrgh! (Drama queen? Creative hissy? Moi? Never.) I think part of it was simply that I’ve not done a creative collaboration with anyone else for absolutely ages, and certainly not at a professional level. And I probably don’t see myself as being at a professional level with this writing gig. After all, average earnings of £35 a month is definitely shite on anyone’s scale of achievement.

Conversely, while he plays down the amount of acting he does for a living, and makes jokes about living in his brother’s attic, Gareth has been pretty busy with actual proper work over the months we’ve been doing the audio stuff. Or to put it another way, despite the fact he is clearly a lunatic of similar ilk to myself, he is an actual, pukka professional. And his art thing is his career. He doesn’t appear to be a part time anything else to make ends meet. And my books … do. Not. Sell. Or at least, not widely, and only, pretty much, at gunpoint. So there’s … an achievement gap there. On top of which, I have a great deal of respect (possibly even mild awe) for anyone with the tenacity, strength of character and sheer, dogged bloody-mindedness required to get anywhere, in a profession which makes the average author’s 2% chance of getting a trad deal look like a walk in the park. Yep. Gareth is hard core.

Except that, as I listened to book three, I got completely lost in it, and this time I was surprised by the quality of the writing, to the point where it felt as if someone else had written it (this is the QA test, if I read it and think ‘fuck! Did I actually write this stuff, no way can I have written this can I?’ I know it’s OK). Which was a massive relief. Even if it meant I had to go back and start proofing that section again. Yes. At long fucking last, it felt as if there was a bit of talent in the offing my end of this project. And behold, those pesky feelings of imposterdom vanished! Thank bastard heavens for that!

So, hopefully that’s the third-of-the-way-wobble done with then and I’m through to the yes-those-doubts-probably-were-bollocks stage. Fingers crossed.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed a lot about this is that it’s always interesting learning about something, and it’s been quite a steep curve. But it’s even more intriguing watching someone else learning their bit of the whole thing with you. Each book Gareth’s sent me is a little more relaxed, yet, a little sharper and better than the last. It’s as if he’s just got through his one-third-in creative hissy and all – yeh well, maybe he has, trust me, we creative nutters all have them, although if he had one, I think it was on book one. Now that we’ve reached book three, I can occasionally hear the smile in his voice when he’s reading a bit he finds funny, even if he’s doing it straight, which is encouraging, because it makes the whole reading more intimate and friendly, which I’d guess any listening punters who buy it are going to like, a lot, even if they don’t know why. Proofing this one has been fun for me; relaxing and enjoyable, rather than the crisis of confidence melt down provoked by book two!

Take a chill pill MTM, this is not exactly news

But I suppose what I’m really saying, same as, or at least similarly, to last week, sorry to be boring, is that doing any creative stuff will always involve serious self doubt. But there’s this weird dichotomy between having serious doubts about something you’ve produced, yet still knowing that it’s up to your quality standards, that it’s good enough, and that you were right to put it out into the ether. And having doubts about something because it actually, genuinely is crap. And learning that difference is part of doing any kind of art stuff. It’s also part of the reason why you have to try and finish your shit, even when you are dying inside over how shite you think it might be … because it probably isn’t.

It may be that I’m not explaining this very well but I wanted to try because I reckon anyone who creates anything goes through a similar kind of head-fuckery. The more creative people I meet, the more certain I am of this. And I thought that if I talked about mine, it might make any others experiencing it as they read this feel better, or at least that they’re not alone … or … I dunno … something. I’ve made a tit of myself so you don’t have to, kind of thing. It’s just hard to put it into words in an intelligible manner and very hard to put it into words without sounding like a monumentally pretentious prick. But I hope it helps anyway! Because nearly all creative people are this nuts and even if you’re not creative, yourself, you should know this if you live with one! Mwahahahrgh.

As I write, Gareth is ploughing his way through book four, hoping to finish the first draft by Monday. It’s absolutely massive, but bless him, he’s going to give it his best shot. Go Gareth. Obviously, I hope he does, because it sounds as if he’s really into it now, and there’s definitely an extra energy to the recording of book three so I’m like … c’mon finish it while you’re in The Zone. Also I’m agog to hear the last book and then listen to all four, to see how the whole thing sounds as a … well … you know … work. But, at the same time the poor man does actually have a life, not to mention the fact that, as I keep saying … quality can’t be rushed!

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Why is life so fucking annoying?

Yeh, I know. There’s an eternal question if ever there was one. Not a great week so far. The chaos fairies are afflicting me with a vengeance. I literally cannot remember my own name, or the names of, for example, any of the ladies I go swimming with.

Everything seems to be a bit up and down. Good things happen but the frustration levels of every day existence are at an all time high. Why, I can’t fathom. I’m not sure if I’m feeling it extra specially at the moment. Maybe I am. I got the power of attorney over Mum’s finances back this week. I’ve been managing them for nearly four years, but this does make her vulnerability that bit more official. Maybe I’ve passed through the eye of the storm with the relative calm after Dad’s death, and it’s the prospect of going through something similar with Mum that’s hurting. I suppose that could be it. Or am just going through one of those phases when every single fucking thing that can go wrong does, at a point where I’m not quite as emotionally robust as usual? Hmm … could be that too.

Whatever is causing it, I’m afraid the irritation needs to be exorcised the only way I know how. Yeh, this is going to be a rant, although I’ll try to walk the line between a Basil Fawlty style funniness and poor little me. Apologies in advance if I fail on that one. And of course, as usual, there’s a certain amount of melodrama.

But seriously. Why does life have to be so fucking annoying? And why won’t the Chaos Fairies piss off?

First up, Mum’s electricity. She pays by direct debit but she’s over paid this year so they have told me they’re carrying more than £200 over to her next bill. So I have to ring them and ask for it back. At the time I phoned them, I had to do this with Mum so she could tell them it was OK for me to speak on her behalf. So yesterday, we duly rang and after pressing various buttons to navigate our way through the menu reached a message which said.

‘Our offices are currently closed for staff training. We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause. Goodbye,’ click, dialling tone.

NO, SSE. This is how it’s done,

‘We apologise that our offices are closed for training today but we will reopen on X date at X time.’

And you don’t leave customers navigating through all the bloody menus first either, wasting minutes of their precious chuffing time. Even a government department, like the Office of the Public Guardian, knows to tell you about that sort of stuff up front.

Second, I’ve been referred for a gym membership on the NHS, three months at a reduced rate to try and get my knees a bit better. Unfortunately, I sat on this for a while, I got it in the last week of November, just after Dad’s memorial. Two weeks before Christmas I rang to book an evaluation. I got an out of office reply message explaining that the lady was now away until after Christmas. I tried ringing, anyway. The answerphone message said that we would be contacted about appointments in the order we’d rung.

When the lady returned to work in January, I discovered that no, the appointments were not being allocated the way the message said, it was the usual free-for-all, post-Christmas gannet fest where the Normal Organised people ring and bag the appointments for the next four months within about three minutes of the lines opening and the rest of us are left with their pecked over, spittle-flecked remains. Bastards.

So now they’re taking bookings for February but the lady only works three days a week and of course one of them’s Wednesday. Sigh.

Double foiled then, in my efforts to get the booking in before Christmas and then in believing the message. I found this out when she sent an email saying she’d a few appointments left in January to everyone on the waiting list. I emailed back about the one I could do, which was gone, and she suggested I call and gave me the number.

I called the next day, and was told that they only had January’s appointments, that she’d already gone home and to ring the following day, which was Wednesday, of course. So I rang from Mum’s at two and discovered that she’d already gone home. The staff informed me that they’d lost the appointment sheet so I was best emailing her, I explained I had and she’d told me to ring them. They suggested I try a different email address, which bounced.

So I sent her an email saying, politely, and I hope humorously, ‘throw me a frigging bone here.’ I’ll try again on Monday. Who knows, some time in the next month, I might manage to swing things so that I remember to ring at a point when she’s actually there.

Third … sort of … Wednesday’s visit to Mum’s was good and bad. Mum was on form, but very tired after an extremely windy night – wind blowing round the house and garden banging things about, I mean, not Mum’s bum. I could go off on a tangent here about how much Mum and I laugh about farts, but luckily for you, I’ll leave that for another day.

Anyway, Mum was knackered so not as switched on as sometimes. And she kept falling asleep, which made it hard to have a conversation, but at the same time, instead of just relaxing and having a snooze, she was trying to stay awake, bless her, so she’d just drift off and I’d keep talking until I reckoned she’d gone off, get out my book and bing, she’d wake up again. So the conversation was quite weird because it happened in instalments and I had to keep reminding her what she was saying before she dozed off. At which point, on a couple of occasions, she dozed off again.

We had lunch, and it was pork chops. It was one of those days when the rinds hadn’t caught. I looked at the uncrackled rind on my plate and then at the fire, which Mum laid first thing, and which had lit itself, and was now burning merrily in the grate. It would be nice to have crackled pork skin, but we didn’t want to go obviously into the kitchen and put it in the microwave (brilliant way to crackle crackling is 1.5 minutes on high, however many times it takes). We didn’t want to do it because it might look like an oblique criticism of the lovely lady who’d cooked lunch. (Not overthinking this in a ludicrously British way at all, there, were we?)

We decided we’d try toasting the un-crackled crackling on the fire and after some reminiscences about Dad toasting crumpets that way, when my brother and I were small, I toasted both our rinds. The two of us giggled like naughty children as the rinds bubbled and spat in the flames. If I’m honest, I could have done with another foot on the toasting fork, but never mind, our skins crackled up beautifully and no matter how it might have felt, I was relieved to discover that my knuckles hadn’t.

So it was light and shade, but sad – especially as, of course, Mum still gets 28 out of 30 in the pathetic NHS memory test which seems to be constructed as a method of delaying any meaningful treatment for as long as possible. I’m guessing Alzheimer’s drugs are expensive. But whatever they say, she’s not alright. There is something wrong. And it may be vascular dementia but it may also be Alzheimer’s and if is Alzheimer’s and we knew, we could hold it back for a little while with treatment. The Doctor said he’d put her through, but she’d have to have blood tests first, and that he thought, personally, that she was OK. She’s said she’ll go with what he advises, sigh.

Meanwhile, fourth my car. One of its dipped headlights has been randomly turning on and off for some time. Serendipitously, I discovered, this week, that Kinky Winky, as I’ve been calling it, is probably the same trouble as last time. The £1,120 plus VAT part trouble. How did I discover this? Incidentally actually, during …

Fifth, my car ate my son’s sports bag.

Six, because of five I missed parents’ swim.

Bastard thing. It may look the dog’s – it may be the dog’s, it can proceed, axle deep, across a muddy farm yard and it ploughed through at least six inches of standing water at 60mph without so much as a twitch on Wednesday (driving in the dark with one headlight anyone?) – but aspects of it are ridiculous. And why does Kinky Winky have to afflict dipped beam? I probably used full beam for about five milliseconds last year, in 25,000 miles of driving. And driving with one light, well, when the person in front of you who’s overtaking suddenly slows up and pulls in … because he’s seen a massive puddle that you haven’t … that’s when two working dipped lights are a lot better than one.

Because I hit the massive puddle with McMini on board and two cars next to me. And the bow wave came over the windscreen. Tight lipped I hung grimly onto the wheel and kept accelerating, in the hope that I could keep the pressure of the exhaust coming out of the pipe higher than that of the water wanting to come in, and the balance of the car where it was. The ABS light came on to tell me that it was giving up on this one, but the car stayed straight and true. Which was good because with the two cars next to me on McMini’s side, any fishtailing would have ended badly.

We did get steam in the ventilation system though and the entire car fugged up, instantly. I had no meaningful clue as to the location of the traffic round me, although I knew it was clear ahead and that I was approaching a roundabout. Once there I was supposed to be turning left. Rather than try and pull in where I knew there were two cars … somewhere … I wiped a quick hole in the fugged up windscreen, opened my window so I could see, indicated right and turned left by going all the way round.

That was when I thought maybe I should get the Kinky Winky syndrome investigated. I should have known. I mean this is Britain, and if there’s one thing we do know about Britain, it’s that it’s fucking heaving with people. And they all drive. You know when you lift up a stone and there are loads of ants under there, rushing around with white eggs? Yeh, that’s Britain’s roads, except there aren’t enough bastard ants for this analogy to ring totally true. Our roads are a lot busier than that.

The only thing you can guarantee about driving in the dark here in Britain is that no matter how obscure or empty the road appears to be THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMETHING COMING THE OTHER WAY. If you are living in an obscure part of the Outher Hebrides and there’s only one other car on the entire fucking island, IT WILL BE COMING THE OTHER WAY should you decide to drive anywhere at night.

Yes. You’d better get used to driving with dipped headlights people, because if you think you’re going to be able to use full beam for more than a fucking millisecond per nine billion hours of night driving, you’ve another think coming. So yeh, completely missed the existence of a massive eff off puddle. Won’t be doing that again.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Thing five.

My car ate my son’s sports bag.

No shit. It has a ridiculous boot which opens by pulling a string in the cab. Every now and again the string breaks, or becomes detached. When it does that, the boot can sometimes be opened with a bit of jiggling the lid but mostly it’s only going to be opened by experts. The latch on the boot is adjustable, so it can be aligned, precisely, to go through the hole in the bodywork where the rest of the lock is.

Mmm sports bag. Om-nom-nom. Look at its smug fucking face. The git. 😡

Trouble is, roads are bumpy and so this beautifully aligned latch, which is held in place with a bolt, can move if the bolt loosens. And it does.

Muggins here, with her arthritic thumbs, was aware this was happening and tried to put it back. This worked but only sporadically as the Stupid Hands won’t do it tight enough, even on the rare occasions when I can find The Right Sized Spanner. So it was that on Thursday morning, I put McMini’s bag in the boot, plus the clubs he takes to after school golf lessons, and closed the lid. Then I remembered I’d forgotten his sports shoes. That was OK, I would just open the boot and … add … them …

Could I open the boot? Could I bollocks?

No of course I could. I tried all the usual things that work.

Nothing.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

I stalked back to the kitchen, because if I stayed in the garage with that bloody car I was going to take a hatchet to it. And then … which is the slightly worrying bit here … I had a full on melt down. At my husband. Well, not at him, but to him, about … everything. I cried and railed and told him that he and McMini were the only good things in my life (which is not entirely true but they are the only consistently wonderful things, everything else does tend to be a bit off and on … rather like the Noisy Cricket’s stupid bloody headlight).

And McOther listened in silence. And then he said.

‘I’ll take McMini to school, you get onto the mechanic and get this sorted.’

And he did.

And I hot footed it to Newmarket to get the lovely and extremely competent mechanic who works on my car to open the fucking thing. He has constructed a special tool out of wire to do this.

It turned out the latch was so loosely attached to the lid it had, basically, enmeshed itself in the lock and got stuck. While I was there I asked him about the headlight, which is how I know. As he was pretty sure it’s the same deal. So we’re starting to look into that, because it’s only the dipped light at the moment and it’s not off all the time so if I can limp through to summer, it should be OK until next October.

So … I’ve a car that ate my son’s bag and doesn’t work properly in the dark.

Footnote, or possibly seven and eight, my metal detector turned itself off the other day and wouldn’t turn on again for five seconds. I’ve a dig on Saturday, and I bet I’m going to discover that’s not a one-off anomaly. Nine, I’ve just put the washing out and some Important Piece of Metal pinged off the washing line. It pinged off easily enough but would it go back? Would it fuck? I had to go and slip it over the side of a saucepan and pull the long end about so it’d widen and go back on. Now it’s too wide and it’ll ping off every time. Grrr. And having phaffed about with all that and put the washing out in bright sunlight, here we are ten minutes later and it’s sodding raining. Biblically. So that was another twenty minutes of my precious fucking time pissed up the wall to nowhere!

See that? That’s the road of life … cold, dark, uphill the whole fucking way and all the shops are shut!* It’s doing my head in.

I also finally reached the stage where, instead of laughing at the fact every single fucking thing I do goes tits up, or odd, or according to someone else’s bastard plan, I lost it. Totally. When I am looking at one to five years of walking beside Mum and with the very real prospect that we will be following the same journey as Dad I know it’s going to cost me. Keeping my shit together is quite important. So that’s not a great sign. Protective measures will be taken. I’ll let you know what they are when I do.

Oh yeh, ten, The Stupid Hands … knees, shoulders back and ankles. And eleven. I still have my tax return to do. I suspect I’ll feel a lot better when I’ve done that.

Ho hum. I swear this would be a lot funnier if I wasn’t fucking living it.

* Yes. I do completely, and utterly know that’s not true. I’m actually ludicrously blessed and I understand that. I’m just having a rough time right now so it’s harder to appreciate.

Never mind, on the upside, thanks to the HRT, my hair’s looking quite good at the moment. Suddenly it has body again. It’s all long and curly and everywhere. There aren’t many people who could rock a periwig without one! Mwahahahargh! And it’s keeping my head nice and warm.

Eeee look at my chuffing periwig! Phnark.

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And now … this!

It’s a bit of an amazing thing that having spent the last four years or so writing posts on my blog that were, basically, excuses not to write, I’m now having to write posts apologising for not talking about the stuff I normally talk about because I’ve too much writing news to impart. Yeh, here I go again, because this week this happened.

Unlucky Dip Audio Book

Yes people, that is an audiobook cover and Unlucky Dip is now live and available for pre order on Kobo. Swoon!

It’s ready to publish on Findaway Voices too but I haven’t dared press the button yet, just in case. Naturally ACX, an Amazon company, is a whole different kettle of fish.

Gareth and I are both on a bit of a learning curve with this audio gig so when I uploaded the book to Findaway Voices, first, I discovered that there was a problem. An error message popped up informing me that the file was qqwe[ru09025jbm’ ytopqq09t574qyhgwa – or at least whatever it was it said, it made as much sense to me as that does. So I carefully cut and pasted it and sent it to Gareth, who knew exactly what it meant and fixed it.

Kobo, well, clearly everything went without a hitch there because we’d fixed the qqwe[ru09025jbm’ ytopqq09t574qyhgwa problem we discovered at Findaway. So with a little trepidation, I decided I’d submit to ACX which is an Amazon company. I’d forgotten why I deal with Amazon as little as possible. This reminded me. I uploaded all the files and when I tried to click the submit button which is labelled funkily, ‘I’m done’ I discovered it was greyed out and when I hovered over it this illuminating message popped up.

‘cannot submit production because there are issues with the uploaded audio.’

Marvellous.

I had a look at the submission guidelines to see if it was anything I’d done. It might be that the name is different. On all outlets the book is called Unlucky Dip but Amazon may want the series title given. This is where the problem will arise, because, if it does, it will not be looking for K’Barthan Series, instead it’ll be looking for K’Barthan Trilogy, because Amazon refuses to change the series name – unlike like every single other site on earth. Thanks for the blistering two star review that invoked, too, Amazon.

I tried to find help but ACX help was about as useful as a chocolate tea pot, thousands and thousands of help pages that tell you nothing and basically tell it to check it your fucking self! Mwahahahrgh! I clicked on their help pages and then on contact to ask their help desk. The link took me to Audible. I tried to contact the Audible help desk and explain. Chat didn’t work just tried to load again and again and asked for my log in details occasionally. Email did nothing either so I clicked on the button that would get them to phone me. A very kind fellow gave me the email address to write to but warned me that ACX help is only open from 12.00 to 9.00pm on Monday through to Thursday. It was Friday.

I emailed them, anyway, and got the standard canned Amazon response that they didn’t like my mail forwarding. So I emailed them again from the ‘right’ address. They replied. Had I published to ACX from Findaway? No. I replied but I had published to Apple, or at least I was going to but I hadn’t actually clicked publish on Findaway yet, in case something went wrong with ACX. Prescient of me eh? That’s as far as we got before 8.00pm.

Despite being officially closed, or maybe that’s the phone line, ACX support have emailed me today as well. Go them. I notice their version of the qqwe[ru09025jbm’ ytopqq09t574qyhgwa problem that we had at Findaway is slightly different. Possibly. So I’ve passed that on to Gareth, who must be doing his nut with all this. Especially as it’s the same as Findaway on the ACX guidelines you download. It’s only different on the help pages you see when you are trying to work out what to do if you have some unspecified error and the boilerplate bit of the support email that says, have you checked this? It’s like querying publishers or agents, they all want the same thing only each one is just that tiny, tiny bit different, and mistakes bar entry!

The little bit I’ve learned about Audiobook publishing so far

What I know about audio could be written on the back of a teaspoon. All I knew was that I wanted to go wide because I want to get my books into libraries if I can, hoping to start that process soon so I’ll let you know how I get on. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far.

You’ll need an ISBN and that means you have to add the record to Nielsen book data here in the UK. I found I needed to do the long form so that I can stipulate that the book is in audio format. (I was only allowed to choose an ebook imprint or a paper imprint so I have emailed them about that but in the meantime, I’ve logged the isbn as an ebook and then chose audio format later on in the form.) Yeh. I know. Counter intuitive or what? Or maybe it’s just me being really dim.

Kobo allows you to upload finished books, direct, but you may have to contact their support and ask them to add the audiobooks tab to your dashboard. I did and they added it swiftly without fuss. Kobo will pay you a 35% royalty for audio books under a certain price and a 45% royalty above it. They distribute to Walmart, Indigo in Canada and something called BOL in the Netherlands.

Findaway pay from 30-50% depending on the model you are using and distribute to over 40 outlets and libraries, including Apple, Audible and Amazon.

ACX accept publications from wide authors, with ready made books, and will pay 25% royalties. They publish to ‘a minimum of’ Audible, Amazon and Apple.

My cunning plan …

Publish to Kobo direct for 40% royalties. Go to ACX for Audible, Amazon and Apple for 25% royalties. Go through Findaway Voices for 40-45% of everything else, including Apple, again, but also libraries.

Knowing that ACX is run by Amazon, I decided that I would only claim the short story on ACX to start with and would see how it went before I committed to using them for everything. If ACX transpires to be as batshit crazy as Amazon, the reduced demands on my time and sanity, from not going direct, may be worth more than the reduced royalty rate in the long run.

  1. ACX does not allow you to opt out of Apple at the ACX end, more on that later.
  2. As I understand it, if you go to ACX through an aggregator you will not be eligible for their bonus system – so if you get someone go sign up to audible to buy your book, you won’t receive a ‘bounty’ unless you’re direct. Likewise, I think it precludes you from tokens to give away free books. This is why a lot of people go to both.
  3. The authors who I ‘spoke’ to have mixed results with the bounty system, some have done really well, some haven’t had a blip.
  4. At the moment, you can publish to Apple through Findaway and ACX at the same time, then you contact Findaway and they will contact Apple who will prioritise your Findaway, higher-royalty-paying listing. However, the support email I received said,‘Findaway distributes to Audible and Amazon through ACX, so if you already distributed you book with them you cannot submit the book through ACX yourself.Duplicate products are prohibited as per our legal contracts and agreements.’Which looks a bit worrying, although it doesn’t mention Apple specifically. I’ll have to double check the contract. I have demurred from pressing the go button at Findaway, anyway so I can deselect Apple if I have to.

So there we are … baby steps but yeh, audio is going to be a thing …

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Alarums, excursions and jolly japes

This week, I am speaking to you from the past by the wonders of scheduling, as I do from time to time. When this post goes live, I will be at Dad’s memorial service, which, incidentally, takes place in a building that, with a few tweaks, became the High Temple in the K’Barthan Series. Here it is. It looks a bit frillier in this picture than it really is. I think I wrote in prettier chandeliers though.

This is where I went to church every other Sunday in term time, from eight weeks old to when I was a teenager. We sat in a stall; one of those raised seats at the sides, the second one on the left in this picture. As a small child, I remember playing in the Chapel (that’s its name) while Mum did the flowers. Running up and down the aisle under the kind auspices of Mr Kendall, the verger who would warn me not to run past the altar rail for fear of setting off the burglar alarm.

Once he gave me one of the hosts to eat. It was delicious! Just like a flying saucer only without the sherbet. I also remember playing with the hassocks, but they were blue leather, like cushions rather than the traditional home-embroidered, sorbet-rubber brick, so they couldn’t be stacked into walls or towers, and weren’t nearly as much fun as they should have been. It was a school, so they were probably designed like that deliberately. Therefore, I usually eschewed hassock-related japes in favour of running around. Sometimes I went down the stairs into the crypt, although, not so often after I fell down them and cracked my head open (3 stitches).

Later it wasn’t as much fun. If you will, imagine sitting raised up on high like that as a shy gawky teenager, looking out over around 500 or so boys who were sitting in the seats below. I was a shade of puce throughout the whole hour and it felt as if every single one of them was staring at me. I liked the music, I sang in the choir of the other church we went to and I enjoyed listening to most types of music (still do). The hymns helped, in that they were usually tub-thumpers and it was fun to listen to the boys and try and work out what their alternative words were; Glory, glory Brighton Hove Albion, with a small contingent trying to shout Glory, glory Man United more loudly, etc. But apart from that, mostly it was a pretty cringeworthy experience.

If you do that every other term Sunday, and get as many regular bollockings at your own school as I did (a different institution to the one attached to the chapel in the picture) you come out the other end almost unembarrassable … if that’s a word. I was so glad when I finally went to the school I actually lived in (girls were only allowed in the sixth form in those days) and I was able to leave the stall and disappear into the anonymous mass of pupils below. Actually I sat in about the position this picture was taken from.

Anway I’m wandering off topic terribly here, what I was really going to say was that I’m actually writing this from a few days in the past. It’s been a busy week but all in all, things seem to be going reasonably well.

First up, Mum. After discussing it with her financial advisor, we have decided it’s time to get Mum’s enduring power of attorney for her finances activated. I looked out all the paperwork we’d done on Dad’s and dropped the solicitor a line, by email, explaining what we were going to do and asking if she could send me the original document of Mum’s enduring power of attorney. I did it first thing but got one of those weird, ‘your message couldn’t be delivered so we’ll try again’ type things. Not an out-and-out bounce but a kind of, might have, maybe bounced.

After a bit of thought, I decided that the best thing to do would be to ring the solicitor, explaining what had happened and apologise for pestering her by phone as well if it had got through. The lady who answers the telephone there is great, we had a chat, I explained what had happened and I gave her as much info as I could. She asked the date Mum and Dad signed their powers of attorney and I reckoned it was 2004 but I had all the paperwork in front of me.

‘Give me a sec, I have Dad’s here, I’ll look it up,’ I said. I grabbed the document in front of me. ‘Oh … hang on,’ I said as I read the name on the front, ‘Um … this is Mum’s. Oh … I must have got you folks to send it through when I did Dad’s. That was … surprisingly organised of me.’

‘I bet it’s a nice surprise,’ she said.

‘It is but I still managed to forget, phone you lot and make a monumental twat of myself,’ I said.

She laughed, which was lucky. I doubt she gets many people telling her they’re twats. She told me she’d tell the lawyer I’d emailed that I didn’t need her to do anything and I thanked her and hung up. Then I made some toast by holding a piece of bread against my red face. No. I didn’t make toast actually even though I was quite embarrassed and my cheeks were burning. NO! The ones on my face you dirty bastards!

And there we have it. Three years ago, while sorting Dad’s enduring power of attorney I had been prescient, not to mention organised, enough to get them to send me Mum’s as well. It was heartening to know that I am capable of such giddy heights of organisational prowess, but it would have been more heartening if I’d remembered, or at least discovered my uncharacteristic attack of forward planning before I’d made a tit of myself.

Ruthless efficiency, and yet also, gargantuan twattery. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

Meanwhile McMini is enjoying his new school and is as nuts as ever. Lately, he has introduced me to the joy of ttsreader.com This is a site which allows you to type text into a box and it will then read it in an electronic voice. For some strange reason best known to ourselves, McMini and I find this unaccountably funny. Obviously, we don’t use it as it is intended. Although we do happily conduct whole conversations using it in about six times the time it should take were we speaking; laboriously typing what we want to say into the reader, highlighting it all and clicking play. Clearly we try to do more than talk with this thing, I think McMini has come closer than I to getting it to produce a realistic raspberry but that’s not for want of extensive effort on both our parts. All the while, as we pursue this ridiculous game, tears of laughter stream down our faces – because we’re really mature. Well, OK to give him his due, McMini is only eleven, after all, and probably is quite mature for an eleven year old. He already displays a great deal more maturity than I but then, I guess that’s not difficult.

Even McOther started giggling the other day, though, when McMini finally scored a realistic sounding raspberry.

On the books front. They’ve managed to squeeze me in at the Christmas Fayre so I am busy ordering books etc, which reminds me … Even better, the date of the new release creeps ever closer. Anyone who has pre-ordered it should get the ebook on Monday 29th. Woot. The paperback is coming later. I have also been doing lots of research into audio books. It’s kind of doing my head in because there have been a lot of changes to the audiobook scene just recently, with evidence that Findaway Voices might be edging ahead of ACX as a provider. I might post more about that as I discover it, or at least, some pros and cons if I can. But my own experience is going to be atypical because Gareth The Voice and I have done pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to! Mwahahahargh!

Anyway, that’s enough of that, here is a quick reminder about my two new releases … on about to come out and one out already. Pipple toot!

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

Available for preorder. If you are interested there is a page which gives you link to the main book vendors. Just click on the picture or follow this link here …

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

There will be print links, to follow. The print version is out on 23rd November.

Here’s the blurb:

Terry Pratchett meets Dr Who … sort of. 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.

Future Adventures Box Set … Gorge yourself on free sci-fi!

This features full length novels from eight science fiction authors. I can vouch for the quality of the books in here, even more so now that I’ve read some of them!

But, if any of you haven’t read my first full length novel, Few Are Chosen, and would like to, it’s in this book, which is free, but more importantly it comes with all these other brilliant stories by seriously accomplished wordsmiths who really know what they are doing. So, you can grab a copy of Few Are Chosen with seven other books by authors who are seriously gifted and of whom I am, frankly, a bit in awe. And all for zero pence. If you want to pick up a copy, just click on the picture to visit a page of links to find it on all the major stores … or click on the link below:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

 

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Ham, Jam and Spam.

Woah! There’s a whole gamut of stuff to talk about today. It’s been a chuffing amazing week and I am feeling happier than I’ve felt in years, which I am enjoying thoroughly! OK, maybe I’m owed some Karma or something but even the scam phone call we received yesterday morning did us all a favour. First up:

The Audiobook Project

Aroogah! Aroogah! Pretentiousness alert.

OK, now I’m going to get a bit artsy fartsy here and talk about the business of creating … um … can I call it art? Yes, I’m going to call it art! Snortle. What that means, for you, is that this next bit’s going to sound a trifle pretentious. Look I’ll try and keep it funny, OK. But it is a completely fascinating process this and one I’m really enjoying so I wanted to talk about it.

The thing is, I’d thought about doing my own audiobooks, I did stand up after all. I even tried reading a bit of Unlucky Dip. But there’s a big difference between being able to do funny voices and being able to actually act. Acting is an underrated skill. Yep, there’s a reason why these folks who cross into acting from other careers can’t always pull it off. When I played my recording back, I’d managed to make my story so boring and so lacking in energy, and my attempts at the accents were so hammy that I decided that, if anyone did it, it would have to be someone who could do it properly. Which definitely wasn’t me. And that being the case it also, definitely wasn’t anything I could afford. Because you can’t really join audible and offer someone a royalty split when it’s only going to be a couple of quid a month.

And then, up pops this lunatic called Gareth who wants to record my books on audio, lord help him! And he’s brilliant. And extremely professional about it, but not in a boring killjoy I’m-a-professional kind of way. He just is. On a point of honour, I have made it very clear to him that we’ll only make a few pence each a month if we’re lucky, but he seems completely undaunted by this triviality. Well, he enjoyed the books so he’s obviously a bit of a nutter but it does lend this project a whole aura of, is this actually happening?

This week, we’ve been trying to set what the main characters sound like, which is great fun and allows for total geekery. It’s hilarious trying to describe how you want something to sound when you’re not a good enough mimic to demonstrate. And I’m not. Instead I have to go, ‘she’s a bit like so and so in x, y or z film but a bit more gruff,’ or, ‘General Moteurs? Steed from the Avengers with a bit of that clipped Richard Burton delivery in Where Eagles Dare,’ and then he adds a tiny tiny sprinkling of ‘you my fire h-when ready’ Peter Cushing in StarWars because General Moteurs is quite up himself, especially at the start,’ and so on. General Moteurs is quite tricky because he has to sound like an anally retentive neat bot, but at the same time, he can’t sound too elderly because he’s only in his mid 40s and he gets it on with Deirdre. I’ve really enjoyed trawling my memory of old films for the voices I want. It’s like a competition for who can think of the obscurest mainstream film character – Donald Pleasance doing Blowfeldt anyone?

And then Gareth sends through a sound sample in which he talks in his normal voice about what he’s doing and then does thirty seconds of extremely sinister Lord Vernon, and then he flips out of it again and goes, kind of, ‘is that the sort of thing you meant?’ and it’s like two different blokes on the same tape and it’s gloriously bizarre, and, of course, completely hilarious. So I’m sitting there laughing like a drain and McOther is saying, ‘what on God’s earth are you doing?’ And I have to explain and he gives me the kindly smiling-at-toothless-simpletons look. The one he does when McMini and I get giggly about the Arnold’s Produce vans.

And all the time, these characters are becoming more and more real and I am ludicrously excited to hear them taking aural shape (is that a thing? Mmwahahahargh! It is now). I can tell you, for nothing, that if anyone tried to buy the film rights of one of my books, or make a film, and I was remotely involved in any way, I would probably actually die from the excitement. Luckily Gareth seems to be experiencing a similar Tigger-like enthusiasm for it all, so at least we’re both as nuts as each other.

It’s also weird that I have the character voices quite clearly in my head, but when I look at it, it’s more the tone or delivery technique than the actual sound. Does that make sense? So then there’s this odd dichotomy between what I ‘hear’ and what readers might be hearing and what Gareth, who knows and likes the books, hears when he reads them. And also what is possible with one person’s voice – although we haven’t hit any roadblocks on that score yet. So, interestingly, he’s always imagined the Grongles with American accents, like the British baddie thing in reverse, which would have been hilarious, but ill advised in the current climate, I think. I do visit the States from time to time and it would be a pity if I got set upon for dissing the mother nation, especially when so many of them carry firearms.

But the other thing is that the voices in my head are a lot more similar than they can be in an audiobook because they’re basically all talking with my voice, except for the ones I’ve given comedy accents; the Mervinettes and the Parrot and Screwdriver contingent. They need to be different so there’s some re-imagining required, which is where having an actual actor on board changes everything. He did a voice for Sir Robin which sounded exactly like my dad, which is how it is in my head. But then he did this other voice, which is a bit of a cheeky nod at Sir Alec Guinness in Star Wars and obviously there was no contest and the Geek in me chose that one! Mwahahahahrgh!

What I love about something like this is the whole collaboration thing. Writing is a singularly solo pursuit, and now the involvement of someone else brings a different slant to it all and opens all kinds of doors (Lordy me! Pretension anyone? I know, I’m sorry, but I can’t think of another way of putting it). But it’s like having someone else in on the jokes! Also I’m a great believer that a collaboration is just that, and that a person looking at my stuff as a reader will see things I don’t. So, while I’m choosing these voices, some of them are completely new and different to how I thought they’d be and bits of the reading a little different to how it sounds in my head. On the one hand, it’s old ground, on another it’s totally new.

It’s a hell of a thing.

Other news …

After you …

A while back, McMini and I entered a photography competition. It was themed around tall buildings, or at least things, because trees were acceptable too. There were two classes; under 18 and the others (I can’t remember what it was really called) and you could enter up to five photos so I entered five pictures into ‘the others’ section and McMini entered two into the under 18 class.

We were informed that three of mine and one of his had made the shortlist, which was very exciting as it meant they would be part of an exhibition and offered for sale to the unwitting public. We were asked if we could ensure that we, or a representative, came to the exhibition space for the prize giving on Tuesday. We duly turned up, me thinking that McMini had won something. I was dead chuffed when a mum friend from McMini’s old school got a highly commended, but then it turned out one of mine had come chuffing second!!! Fucking Ada I was floored. And then they handed me a big fuck off cheque, which means I can afford to print an eyebombing calendar this year at the kind of price which will give me a proper margin to sell it into other places. So I’m stoked.

For your delectation, the photo which won is the one on the right there.

McOther is also a great deal more relaxed this week, as we get towards a visit from his US-dwelling bro and our trip to Portugal so that’s grand.

Finally

Useful things come in odd guises. Yesterday morning some bunch of gitoids with an autodialler rang us early. The entire house was asleep and McOther leapt out of bed and answered. It was the usual recorded message, with a foreign accent, telling us that our internet would be switched off in the next 24 hours unless we pressed one to put us through to the help desk or whatever. Either way, it would be a premium rate line that would cost us £100 a minute or it would go through to someone who’d take a ‘payment’ to get our credit card details. Foggy with sleep, I looked at my watch. It was 7.57 a.m.

Shit!

‘I have some good news and some bad news,’ I told McOther as he returned to our bedroom. ‘The good news, is, that was a fantastic sleep we’ve just had. The bad news is we’ve both slept through our alarms and McMini is supposed to be leaving for school in three minutes.’

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck! Panic stations!

I ran downstairs and got his bag sorted, stuffing all the PE socks and other bits I’d washed and left to dry over night into it. McMini dressed in about seven minutes flat, McOther too, then with some cheese biscuits in hand (I’m not sure what normal people call those. Savoury crackers?) McMini and McOther fled to the car. McMini didn’t have time for a cup of tea, so he sniffed a tea bag before he left!

They departed ten minutes late and got to the school with five minutes to spare. Go McOther with your flash motor and McMini with your speed dressing prowess! Phnark.

Which just goes to show that even bad things can have good results! Thank heavens it’s half term next week I suspect we need it.

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More bad parenting.

Remember my post last week about my epic parenting skills well here is another instalment. I was going to tell you one from many moons ago but I don’t want you to feel you need to be sympathetic, I just want to raise a chuckle, and also, there’s a second instalment of last week’s debacle which you might enjoy. I’m afraid it’s not as funny but it’s the kind of thing that happens on a normal non-eventful day in our lives so it will give you the idea of the kind of life I lead.

This week I finally managed to go to the talk McMini and I enthusiastically tried to attend somewhat prematurely last week. Here’s how it went.

McMini is able to stay at home this time with McOther though, as in a rare moment of normal person working hours, he is home by six. Woot.

However, nothing is that simple and shortly before leaving I am faced with a new challenge. McMini explains that while at school that day, he took his watch off to do some painting and that when he came to put it back on again, ‘it wasn’t there’.

He’s McMini, he’ll have left it somewhere precarious it and it will have fallen onto the floor.

‘My teachers are going to have a really good look for it tonight,’ he tells me.

McMini is McMini. He is not one of the normals – CF this picture (left) – although he’s slightly better at pretending than I am. Also, he has time keeping skills like mine, as in negligible. This inconveniences him when he wants to watch his favourite TV programme, the Simpsons, which he loves, because he keeps losing track of time and missing the start. To combat this singular source of annoyance, he has set an alarm on his watch to go off at the time the Simpsons begins; six pm.

Cue 1950s Technicolor miraculous moment Oooo-aaa-aaah music.

Yes! I realise that if the watch is somewhere non-standard, which it will be because this is McMini, the caretaker or teachers may well have difficulty finding it. But should that happen, all they need to do is stand in the room where he lost it at around six o’clock, wait for it to start beeping and home in. It also goes off five minutes afterwards so even if they don’t quite manage to find it the first time, hang around for five minutes and they’ll get a second shot when it goes off again.

Following this blinding revelation comes another one – I know, two in one night! Steady on – but I realise that I’m about to go up to the school and actually be there at six pm. I reckon I can find McMini’s watch if I can persuade them to let me stand in the classroom for a minute or two. Excellent, the watch may have disappeared but I have a very real shot at finding it.

When I arrive at the school I discover there are two events going on and one of the ladies from the office is doing a meet and greet, pointing people in the right direction for each one. She steps forward the minute I appear and says,

‘Oh Mrs McGuire, about McMini’s watch, his teacher thinks it might be in his drawer. They all put their watches in their drawers before PE.’

‘Ah, I think McMini put his on again and took it off for art,’ I explain and then I tell her about the alarm that’s going to go beep at six and ask if I can go and stand in the classroom.

‘I can go and have a look for it if you like? If you don’t mind waiting here …’

‘Not at all,’ I say, ‘shall I carry on letting people in?’

‘If you could.’

So off she goes. I do what she’s been doing, press the button to let people through the airlock and tell them that the year two meeting is in bumblebee class and that year six parents are to go to the main hall.

Time ticks on. I say hello to various friends going into the hall for the meeting I’m supposed to be attending. Finally, when things are looking a bit worryingly quiet, the lady comes back.

‘You’re right,’ she says, ‘It wasn’t in his drawer but then I heard it beeping like you said, so I followed the noise and found it.’

‘Bonanza!’ I say, ‘Thank you.’

I take the watch and scuttle swiftly in the direction of the hall.

Obviously, I am last in, but to my complete amazement, the meeting hasn’t started yet. McMini’s class teacher rushes up to me to reassure me that all hands are to the pump in the search for the watch and I am delighted to be able to break the good news to her; that we’ve found it and I explain how.

‘That’s genius!’ she says, and appears to really mean it, bless her.

We exchange a few more brief pleasantries and I walk to the front and sit next to a friend.

All goes well until, a few minutes into the talk, there is an insistent beeping from somewhere. The speaker stops. As the beeping gets louder, and faster, people shift uncomfortably and rummage in their bags for their phones to check it isn’t them. That’s when I realise the noise is coming from my arm. The lovely lady who found McMini’s watch heard the alarm and used the sound to locate it, but it seems she didn’t get there in time to switch it off. That means the five minute snooze period is up and it’s going off a second time.

Luckily no-one really minded.

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