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The Chaos Fairies are back … the little bastards.

This week, as promised, how I was banned from Facebook. Many years ago Amazon had product discussion forums and I used to hang out on the one in the UK, for books mostly. It was typical Amazon, moderated only by AI. If your name was Richard, or William, you couldn’t be Dick or Willy even if you … you know … were. It would tell you you’d typed a profanity and refuse to let you post. Meanwhile on the dot com site, there was a really unpleasant bunch of people who used to descend on threads en masse and bully people they didn’t like. Even Anne Rice. Yes. Anne fucking Rice used to post on there. She was lovely. But they used to hunt down each thread she started and filibuster or ‘call her out’ as they called it, until they killed the conversation stone dead. 

Weird.

If ever there was comprehensive proof that AI is not going to take over the world any time soon, the AI Amazon used—and still uses on other parts of its site—is it.

Facebook appears to use the same lame AI, except it doesn’t say there’s a problem. It just lets you post and then the AI bans you.

Unfortunately much of what is banned appears to be harmless banter. I’m on one particular group there which is fans of a fellow comedy author. There are folks from all over the world and we take the piss out of one another about our nationalities, among other things.

In case you can’t read it, I said something along the lines of, ‘I love you all and everything but you Americans are crazy!’ on a post with some crazy guy doing mad stuff. I actually messaged one of the mods in that group, because I do post there quite a lot, and she posted a screen shot of what I said, at which point about 50 people commented variants of ‘but we ARE crazy!’ etc.  I was banned for seven days. I was also banned for three days for a humorous reply to someone commenting on a post about my son’s lost socks, saying ‘Yep, boys are gross!’

Since then I’ve read up and discovered that Facebook is particularly hot on taking down posts that diss Americans or males. Now I know. But because most of this stuff is just British humour, it means I am going to lose my account soon, for just … you know … being myself. Which is a bit of a worry. The last ban was five days in the end, I think and four days banned from groups which went up to seven on my profile but I was allowed to post in groups after 4 days as per the original smack down.

This afternoon, I notice that once again, my account has a red flag. I have no idea why but I’m guessing it’s a comment I liked somewhere. I think I dimly remember commenting on a post that someone had said might not be right but was still funny. Ho hum.

‘I’m sorry Madam, we at the CIA Facebook do not have a sense of humour of which we are aware.’

So that’s a joy. I admit that this one thing is hardly a proper Chaos Fairies attack but no, it’s not the only thing on its own. There was more.

What else happened then, Mary?

There was a death in the family. In this case, an electronic death rather than a human or pet one and an absolutely royal pain in the arse.

So. Why is it that if you save up for something really expensive, in this case, an electric enhancement for my bicycle, you will immediately incur a huge bill, out of the blue, the day after you’ve bought it?

Yes, last Monday night, I finally ordered a swytchbike kit for my trusty fluorescent orange bicycle. I haven’t used my bike much recently, mainly because it is always windy. Not me, obviously, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t emit the odd tone poem but I actually mean the weather. Hence, thinking that if I got some electronic assist I would a) ride at a pace that is faster than walking and b) passers by would not be treated to my tourette’s like swearing at the fucking annoying wind blowing in my face making it like riding up a mountain in the stiffest gear. You know, one of the ones I’d use to pedal it faster while going down a hill at 20mph.

Yes. I get pissed off and then I mutter, ‘Fuck off! Wind! Fuck off! Wind.’ as I pedal.

I never pretended I was a model human did I? Although even I understand that’s probably not a good look.

The following day, I went for a walk with a friend for our weekly grumble in the jungle, whinge in the woods, etc and I dropped my phone. When I picked it up a strange line of light had appeared at one side of the screen. Not a big line but it was there. As you know, my phone had survived being dropped out of a car window at 35mph so I did realise that it might be quite … sensitive … to any future drops. I think the killer for this one was that it landed at the edge of a puddle, perhaps the water got in and … I dunno.

While we had a cup of coffee I got out a USB a-c stick I always carry with me and I downloaded all my photos. Suffice to say, by the time I got home, not only did the phone have the strange light bit but it also had a little blue smudge. It was 4.30pm. I looked at the blue smudge and wondered if it was going to get bigger.

If it was the fluid leaking out of the display I knew the thing was, essentially, haemorrhaging its life blood. The only question. How long did I have? Hours? Days? I didn’t know.

Naturally, it was Tuesday and the following day was drive-to-Mum’s-day so there’d be no getting near a shop. If it wasn’t going to last until the end of the next day or Thursday morning, I had to get a phone. NOW. On the other hand, while the blue splodge was getting bigger, it wasn’t growing that fast and so long as I made sure I’d backed up my pictures, music and audio books, which were the most important things, I might be able to limp on for a day or two. I didn’t want to buy a new phone if I could avoid it, having just stumped up six hundred and something quid for the electric bicycle kit thing. But if I had to then, even if I could string it out a few days, just to give myself time to identify some phones, track down a bargain and move some of my savings into my account, it would help.

The next problem would be backing up the settings, apps and stuff. My phone’s hard drive was double the size of my computer’s and over three quarters full so I didn’t think I should use my computer for this.  I therefore downloaded the important stuff I mentioned earlier onto two SD memory things. I had to keep recharging the phone because it only had one port and if I had the SD memory thing plugged into the USBc port, I couldn’t charge the ruddy thing. By the time I’d done that, the blue splurge was big enough for me to know that I’d be lucky if the phone lasted the night. It was also six p.m.

There were two things on my phone which couldn’t be transferred to a new one unless the old one was still working. The first was the card reader I use selling books at events and the second was my mother’s banking app.

Shit. The banking app. Fuckity-fuck! Yes. That put a rocket up my arse.

I was going to have to get a new phone.

With phones, I tend to go for as close to the top of the range as I can, and then I hang onto it for about five years. Unless I break it after three. That means I usually have to get one on contract and pay monthly because it works out cheaper than paying for a sim free. This was not a luxury I open to me right now though.

A quick google and we discovered Curries was upon until 8. I arrived at ten to seven and they were locking up. They actually close at 7.00. I tend to prioritise camera quality as ‘The Thing’ choosing a phone and with a sim-free now costing stupid money, I’d decided to go for the latest model but one, so it was a bit less expensive. I’d a list of three I’d been looking at (since I originally dropped the current one, you know, just in case this happened). The first choice, a Samsung S21 was out of stock. They might be able to get it the next day though.

Having showed him my phone, the screen of which was getting steadily bluer, he agreed that it might be risky to wait until then.

They didn’t stock the modern version of the phone that was dying, which was the second phone on my list. Indeed they had few high end phones to speak of because … COVID, Brexit and chip shortages …

I looked at the cheaper ones but none was so cheap I could justify buying it to tide myself over the next few months until I could afford something ritzy for long term use. I was also concerned that any new phone at the low end would be less backwards compatible with my 4G sim card, as well, which I could replace but not that night when I NEEDED the phone to work to move Mum’s banking app over. There were none by any brands I knew much about and none I’d researched, and as we were still looking at £300 or so I wasn’t keen.

As I turned to go, I noticed they had some Google phones. Their cameras are supposed to be great but I didn’t know much else about them. There were two, for £500 and something and £700 and something. I asked about the difference. Not much, it seemed and the £500 one was the same level as the Samsung I’d asked about. Ooo.

‘Do you have any of those?’ I asked him pointing at it the top of the range one.

‘No. But we have one of these left,’ he pointed to the £500 one.

‘Is that an older one then?’

‘No, it’s their flagship phone. It just has a slightly older chip and the camera doesn’t zoom as well. We have one left in this colour.’ He pointed to one with an orange stripe across the top and a doll’s-flesh-coloured body.

‘Right …’ I said slowly. Crikey!

‘You might get the Samsung you wanted from a supermarket,’ he said.

‘Hmm … but if I take ten minutes to nip down the road to Sainsbury’s and they don’t have it, will you still be open when I come back?’

‘No.’

And the Samsung one they had for £700 and something was nearer £900 in the supermarkets. I’d looked it up. OK, I’d found one I was happy to use for three years. I could get it NOW and I needed it NOW. There was nothing for it. I told him to hit me up with the grimly-coloured Pixel. It would be OK. I’d have to get a wallet case for it anyway.

When I got it home, I was able to connect it to my old phone to copy everything over. That done, it started downloading updates. Except the old phone had been charging off it and without my knowing, it had gone below 50% charged so although it showed apps updating they just hung like that. Nothing actually updated.

Luckily, I realised.

Even more luckily, I’d bought a wireless charger so I stuck it on that, although it still hadn’t finished updating until midnight. It had copied the files and google apps from the new phone but none of the others apps like WhatsApp, Signal, etc … or Mum’s banking app, for example.

I started with that. It needed either a second password—which I didn’t have—or a QR code, but by that time, the screen was too blue for the new phone to read the QR code off the old phone and it wasn’t doing auto rotate so I couldn’t rotate it so the QR code was in the white bit rather than the blue bit.

At last, I managed to get into the banking app on my laptop and use the (by now totally blue) screen to get a number to change the password.

It was now 2.30 am and I was doing a 300 mile round trip to Sussex and back the following day. Mmm. Probably time to go to bed. I’d started sending myself emails of the notes on my phone because I had assumed that when the new one said it was ‘copying over my files’ that it would have copied them and discovered it didn’t. I managed to get four or five really important ones but I lost the how-to for Mum’s call blocking on her phone and two or three others I could really have done with keeping. On the other hand, I did manage to save all my music and audio files and my photos … all six thousand of them. Gulp. For that, I am very grateful.

Even better, we are now sorted for Mum’s op. She’s going to have a bog-standard surgical procedure. It’ll last 30 minutes and her carer can go in with her. The surgeon wanted to do something called Mohs but you have to wait for results for a couple of hours, and with a chance that she’d be there all day, the carer was COVID barred from that one.

On a final note, a brief bit of politics. Last year, The Queen buried her husband. There as a poignant picture of her masked, in black, sitting alone in the stalls of Windsor Castle chapel. The day before, the Prime Minister attended a bring a bottle ‘business meeting’ in his garden. The contrast is striking. The Queen, leading by example as a leader should. The Prime Minister apparently assuming that he was too important for his own fucking rules to apply to him. Then he lies like an 8 year old caught with their hand in the biscuit tin. Idiot.

On a more cheerful note …

Just a quick reminder, the Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth is currently performing in Worms (shortle) but there is an audiobook scheduled for late February.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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It is accomplished

To be honest, there’s not much more to say. This is going to come over as a monstrously self-indulgent and whinge to most of you and it probably is (although it’s supposed to be funny as well). But caring is a horrible conflict of emotions. It’s hard and difficult and you are very responsible for the safety of a vulnerable person, a vulnerable person who you love very much but who, at the same time, can be utterly exasperating. Especially during the night!

However, if there is anyone reading this to whom the business of caring and the endless enduring tension feels almost unbearably heavy. This is for you. You’re not alone.  Also, I’m also going to tell you about a narrow escape from a multiple bollocking and explain how being British is probably going to get my Facebook account terminated.

On the up side, most of the Christmas period was pretty relaxing but I have to confess that, on the downside the stay with Mum wasn’t. I was hoping for the best but fearing the worst and I had got myself in a bit of a dither – the exact same way she does, incidentally – and it was everything I feared.

The last two or three weeks have basically been one long panic attack. To the point where I have been referred for an ECG. It’s not fun and I’ve had to do far to much sensible, no-you-are-not-dying CBT for any of it to have been enjoyable.

On balance, I think it cost too much. I’m not great at caring. I find it really, really demanding, I do not relax and I have hit a point in life, and an age, when I’m not actually capable of three days of high stress with no let up and very little sleep. By day three I was a hot, sleep-deprived, tearful mess.

There’s also more going on with Mum than usual. The money has run out so we are mortgaging Mum’s house to pay for care. We have, pretty much agreed on how a skin cancer on her nose is treated subject to my pinning down exactly what happens during the procedure we’ve chosen so we can be sure we made the decision in an informed manner. I also have to find out if she’s been using her capital gains tax allowance but she hasn’t done a tax return for years so I’m not sure I’ll be able to uncover much.

First night, Mum was up at 1 am to wee and change her sleep pants and then again at 3 am getting showered and ready for Christmas Day because she didn’t want to be late for Church. I’d been expecting her to get up early for church so I was ready for that one. She did listen to reason so I managed to cut her off at the pass, before she started her shower and persuade her to go back to bed. She woke at six thirty but I was expecting that and I let her do her own thing for a while and then went in and got her sorted. We got to church on time so all was well.

Getting up at 3.00 am is not a usual occurrence. It does happen when she’s excited about something or worried about getting somewhere but not usually. Mum likes to do her own thing so I’d intended to leave her to shower, dress and get ready on her own – just popping in if she needed help with buttons etc.

When it came to it, though, she was very tired and wobbly and having trouble finding words. Sometimes I could tell from the rhythm of her speech what she was trying to say but most of the time I couldn’t. Hence, instead of leaving her to do her own thing, I hovered. None of the anticipated letting her get into the shower and going back to sleep because if she is too tired to string a coherent sentence together, the danger of a fall goes up quite a lot and it was just me. There was no-one else.

I got her to church but obviously, throughout the day when she wanted a wee, someone had to help her pull up her pants. I was that someone. I found it unbelievably hard and because she was a bit more distracted than usual, most times we found that she’d filled her pants so I had to put on a clean set, which involved removing the trousers and shoes putting a clean one on, putting the old one in a nappy sack and doing them all up again. That is so much less simple than it sounds if you don’t do this stuff regularly and the person you are helping is bent and twisted and arthritic and you are aware that every time her toes catch on those bloody trousers it hurts her.

Late that afternoon the event I’d been dreading happened – I really need some dan dan daaaaaah music for this moment but I haven’t any so you’ll have to imagine that in. Where was I? Ah yes.

The event I’d been dreading happened. Mum had a poo. She didn’t really know if she had finished or not (she only gets that distray once in a blue moon, lucky, lucky me!). I didn’t know either because I hadn’t done this. Turns out, I should have reminded her to wait for the splash (oh god). Since I didn’t she started to wipe while things were very much still in motion. On the up side, that did precipitate said splash though, I have to give her that. She got it on her hands, but luckily I managed to wipe it all off before she got it over everything else.

Learning note. Wiping someone’s arse when they’re standing up straight is really difficult.

Christmas night was wonderful, she was up at 1.00am to wee and that was it. I managed to relax the palpitations away enough to sleep and got 8 hours in! Woot. Obviously she was up at crack of sparrow’s fart because she always is. On the downside, when I went in to say hello, she was still all wobbly and couldn’t find her words, so once again, I didn’t dare stray too far away from her because I wanted to be on hand to catch her if anything happened.

Boxing day was alright but despite her fabulous sleep on Christmas night, Mum still seemed to be very tired. I left her to her own devices for an hour or two while I did some metal detecting in the garden and yes, the minute I got outside she did another poo and McMini came to find me. McMini, bless his heart, stayed up listening out for Mum, in case I didn’t hear and then came to tell me if he’d heard her moving about. It meant he was knackered, too, but I am so proud of him. Anyway, back to the poo …

Things went better this time. She tried to wipe early but I was able to remind her to listen out for the splash (oh god, sorry god). Oh you haven’t lived until you’ve donned single use rubber gloves and wiped a much loved parent’s bum after a crap. Yep some people are fine with it and if you are, well bully for you, you lucky, lucky fucker! On the one hand it’s a duty of love and I am happy to do it, on another it’s so unbelievably sad and upsetting.

I think one of the things that is difficult about caring for vulnerable loved ones is that by din’t of being vulnerable they can be downright exasperating. The word finding made things difficult. I was aware that I hadn’t stayed over for two years, that I’d kept the night care on when I did so and that a lot had changed. Even so, I’d kind of expected to be guided by Mum over the new bits or the parts with which I was unfamiliar. But that didn’t work because she wasn’t always able to make sense. The most exasperating aspect of it all, by far though, was that every night when I put her to bed, she’d say,

‘Now darling, I don’t want to be a pain and get up to early tomorrow so what time would you like me to wake up?’

‘If you can relax and watch telly until half seven that would be wonderful,’ I would say.

‘Right oh, darling, half seven.’

And the next morning, or the middle of the next night, there she’d be insisting on getting up, bless her. It just made it worse.

We got her to bed early most nights and Boxing Day we managed to get her happily into bed by about seven. I was a bit worried things were going tits up when she woke at 10.00pm for a wee. I was right. I was lying awake having palpitations until she woke at midnight and I carried on having them until she woke again at 1.00pm when I helped her change her pants. I did manage to got to sleep after that one but she woke again at three and then again at half past four when I went in to discover her preparing to get into the shower.

This time, there was no stopping her.

‘NO! I NEED to get up! NOW!’ she told me. She was quite agitated.

‘Mum, it’s four in the morning, everyone else is asleep.’

‘I don’t care. I must get up and get on.’

‘Why?’

‘Because otherwise we’ll be LATE!’ she said in some exasperation.

‘But why? What what for? We’re not going anywhere!’

‘Yes we will!’ She turned and looked at me very seriously and said, ‘The mice are rising.’

‘Er …’

This is where I should have laughed, made a joke and she’d have laughed too. Then I could have said she’d be saying more batty things like that if she didn’t get back to bed and sleep some more and she’d probably have gone back to sleep until 7.30 but I was so tired I just couldn’t think and act with that sort of coherence. Instead I asked,

‘Do you mean, the others are up already?’

She said something slurred and unintelligible which I thought was probably along the lines of, ‘Of course they bloody are! Everyone is.’

‘They’re honestly not Mum. It’s four thirty am, they’ll be asleep until nine at the earliest. If you get up and go downstairs now it’ll just be you and me, on our own, with nothing on telly sitting looking out at the dark for FIVE hours.’

‘I don’t care! I MUST get up NOW! It’s important!’ she demanded.

At which point, I just burst into tears and begged. I’m not proud of this but I’ll bet I’m not the only person who’s done it while looking after a vulnerable elderly loved one when they are all in, not to mention when the loved one is also knackered and therefore at their nadir, as well, as far as their easiness-to-look-after goes.

‘Please, Mum,’ I sobbed. ‘Please. I’ve only had four hours sleep, if you can give me another one hour and we make it five I’ll be OK please, I’m so tired, I can’t look after you today without one more hour. I can’t do it. Please, help me. Please go back to bed. You can get up at six, it’s only an hour. Please.’

‘No,’ she said angrily.

Right.

She was wearing no nappy at this point and she headed off to her bed and sat down.

‘OK,’ I said, taking some deep breaths and trying to sound calm. Wait. It looked as if … surely I couldn’t be that lucky. Had she forgotten what she was doing? Please, please God let her have forgotten. ‘What are you doing now?’ I asked, meaning to ask how can I help.

‘What do you think? I’m going back to bed!’ she said she still sounded nettled.

‘D’you want a hand with your pull ups?’

She softened a little, ‘Yes, please.’

So I helped her put them on, took her slippers off, got everything ship shaped and put her back to bed.

I suspect she was just aware that we were leaving and wanting to make the most of us before we departed. Or possibly she got 7.30 lodged in her head and started getting up three hours ahead because she wanted to be ready.

Aiming to get a visit in where she was relaxed, I took McMini down to Mum’s on Wednesday and managed to disgrace myself with an impressive driving disaster. Mum has a garage near her and I always fill up with petrol there, on arrival, before going to Mum’s. There is a tiny road leading from the forecourt to the street Mum lives on. It’s single track and if you meet someone coming the other way you usually have to back up. I don’t like backing up onto the forecourt because not everyone knows there’s a road there and as I kid we were rammed several times by people running off the forecourt and into us as we motored along the road.

Obviously, in these situations, what usually happens is that the driver with the least far to back, or the easiest manoeuvre open to them backs up. That meant the gentleman in the Prius should have backed up but now, it was abundantly clear that the entitled old bedge wasn’t going to. That left three alternatives.

  1. The old git in the Prius facing me could back up to the corner – a nice straight run of about three metres.
  2. I could back round a very sharp corner into the loading bay behind the garage. Doable in about fifty turns with my stupid low profile tyres, big brakes and 84ft turning circle (OK it’s not that bad but it’s not great either).
  3. I could pull up onto the sloped drive of a nearby house.

This is the point where actually, I should have just got out a newspaper and waited, pointedly, for him to back his short straight line to the corner where I could pass.

After a bit of futtering and flustered efforts to get round the corner into the back end of the garage I gave up and had a go at the the drive.

‘Mind the bin,’ said McMini.

‘Yes, yes,’ I said. What did he say? I thought.

There was a god almighty bang.

Arnold’s fucking socks I’ve knocked their bastard wall down! I thought. But managed to get away with saying, ‘Shit McMini! Have I just knocked down their wall?’

Images of what happens when you try to take out bricks and concrete with a few hundred quid’s worth of shiny fibreglass flashed into my head, along with projections as to the size of the repair bill. Because just as there’s food and then there’s M&S food so there is fibreglass and there is fibreglass that is part of a Lotus.

‘God mum! I told you to look out for the bin!’ McMini’s eyes almost audibly rolled in their sockets as he said this.

‘Wait, it was the bin?’

‘Of course it was.’

Oh lord be praised!

… or not.

Still from the comic relief Dragon’s Den video with Harry Enfield as Deborah Meaden

Someone had just appeared at the window. A woman, who was wearing an expression of gurning disdain, like Harry Enfield doing Deborah Meaden in the Dragon’s Den rip off on his TV show – see picture; this is from the Victorian Dragon’s Den as done for Comic Relief.

Shit.

Oh and thinking about it. We still hadn’t got out of the way of the miserable old bastard in his Prius and he was glaring at us and all. With an expectant expression. I ignored him. He could fuck off. You could have backed up instead you Knut and we’d have been on our way by now. I thought.

I drove up into the drive a few feet, avoiding the prone bin and scattered bin bags to let the miserable git in his Prius drive past. He glared at me, obviously saying thank you or anything was beneath him. So I did a thumbs up at him and said, ‘thank you, thank you for being so considerate and kind you’ve been really helpful!’ all the while nodding my head but doubtless with an expression that said ‘rot in hell you rancid fuck!’ because that was really what I meant.

Next I backed into the road, got out of the car and did a very hammy, ‘oh my goodness!’ kind of open-mouthed arms spread gesture of pantomime horror. I rushed to the bin, made sure I was handling it incredibly carefully and respectfully as I put it upright. I reloaded the five billion nappy sacks that were lying about on these people’s drive, along with their bin bags and then I lobbed in very carefully placed a plastic glove that had obviously blown round from the petrol forecourt on top of the bags, for good measure. All done, I closed the lid.

Finally, I put the bin back, really carefully, taking time to park it properly in the small square bit at the gate they’d put there specially, and make sure it was straight, and check if it had damaged my car without them noticing (it hadn’t result!). Deborah Meaden was no longer looking on but I feared that merely meant she was busy unlocking the door ready to come out and have a go at me. So bin replaced, I leapt into the car and drove away.

Doubtless a video of it all will appear on idiots in cars before long. Or bad women drivers abroad or … I dunno, something demeaning. For the meantime, though, I feel I did well. The old git in the Prius didn’t have a go and neither did Deborah – although McMini is as certain that ‘Deborah’ was a bloke as I am that she was a lady.

And there’s not a scratch on the car … And the bin was completely unscathed! And Mum was in cracking form and she and McMini watched Father Brown together and both loved it. I’m so glad I made him come with me.

Win-win, I’d say.

Facebook? I hear you ask. Yeh. I think I’m going to have to carry that one over until next week! Sorry about that but I want to ham that one with the prerequisite amount of sarcasm and generally give the whole sorry tale the column space it deserves! Mwahahargh!

Just a quick reminder, the Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, starting on 13th January, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download the Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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I ai’tn’t dead … honest.

Although I can forgive you for thinking I might have been because, I concede, it’s been ages since I’ve had time to write the blog. I’ve had to keep dropping it in favour of writing for Nano – which I ‘won’ – or doing other things. I even had two posts ready to go but ran out of time to upload photos and then didn’t post them. They’re a bit out of date now although I might post the one about NanoWriMo  midweek just coz … you know … I can.

Truth be told, it was my own fault. I stymied myself completely by ensuring that I’ve not a single clear day in the three weeks running up to Christmas. That wasn’t a good idea. My recent writing deadline of 15k words in three weeks has fallen by the wayside at 5k. Then again that is 5k I wouldn’t have written otherwise and I achieved it in 5 of the 15 days so I’ll take that.

Thursday: I should have realised things might not go the way I planned when I discovered, while having a mid-morning wee, that I was wearing my knickers inside out. No time to change them so inside out they remained. All day. Nice. I’d arranged to go round to a friend’s house for lunch and I discovered, to my complete and utter horror, that I needed to bring some food. This, at a point when the only cooking slot available was just before I set off. So no writing that morning either!

On the up side, once I’d finally got my head round the idea that everyone had volunteered to bring things, I was left with the something sweet brief. Easy, I would make chocolate log, except I’d make the ‘log’ into buns and ice them with a lovely piped rosette of chocolate icing. Mmmmm.

Luckily, it was McMini’s last day of term so we were all up early and the mixer was droning away in the conservatory, with the door shut because it’s a bit noisy sometimes, before McMini even departed for school at 8.10 or at least 8.25 because McMini’s interpretation of time is somewhat elastic. He is a teenager after all.

Talking of McMini, he is still hilarious. I sent him off to get a tea light the other day to go in the lamp on the table which we light at supper. We have three bags of the damn things, but two have been put away by McOther who has no idea where they are and, since they’ve been put away by him in a ‘logical’ place, the likelihood of my ever finding them is, frankly, remote. Luckily I’d bought a big bag a few days previously and kept hold of them in my office so I told McMini where to find them; on the floor by my desk.

The next time we needed one, I said, ‘Remember that you’ve already torn one side of the bag to shreds and turned it over to make it look as if it wasn’t you, so please don’t rip the other side open as well.’

He looked at me with a certain amount of horror the more than a hint of admiration and shock, as if I’d just seen into his very soul.

‘Blimey Mum, I swear you are telepathic or something. How on earth do you know I did that?’

I glanced over at McOther who had a huge grin on his face because he knew the answer, and then back to McMini who was still wearing an expression of complete disbelief.

‘It’s because the genes are very strong, and it’s the sort of thing I would have done,’ I told him.

The discussion then went on to how he was doomed because there was so much of my side of the house in him. Although luckily he doesn’t suffer from discalculia and has a science brain so he won’t have to go through his entire life trying to do arts with a science brain that he can’t use because he can’t speak maths, and being told how thick he is.

Result.

Back to the cakes. I put them into cup cake cases and didn’t bother neatening them up much because the mixture normally kind of … settles in the oven so they look normal. Needless to say, this one time, when I came to get them out of the oven, I discovered that they hadn’t settled and were still as lumpy and strange as they had been when I put them in.

Arse.

Never mind, I can do piping quite well so I reckoned I could squeesh a rosette of icing onto the top of each one, throw on a few chocolate stars, dust it with icing sugar and the irregularity of the buns underneath would be well hidden.

Next stop, while the buns were cooling, make the icing. This was butter, cocoa powder, icing sugar and a little milk. That done, I spooned it all into the piping bag. Buns now cool, I approached the first one, held the bag over it and squeezed. Nothing came out of the nozzle but big brown poo-like gushes of icing oozed out of the seam in a kind of star shape, landing randomly everywhere.

picture of untidy kitchenAh.

That wasn’t how I expected it to go.

The oozing was somehow extremely comic to watch, so of course now I was laughing.

On my own.

In the kitchen.

With a piping bag that appeared to have many extra orifices, all of which were producing something brown and very poo-like in consistency, apart from the one in the nozzle, as if they were the arse end of one of those poodles that shivers a lot.

For a moment I wondered if I should be asking myself some serious questions about my sanity but then I realised that if I was going to get to lunch with my mates at 12.30, I really didn’t have the time.

Onwards and upwards.

Nothing for it then. I turned out the lump of icing, scraped off the bit so f the icing bag that had dissolved and stuck to the outside. Oh dear, that left a lot less icing. Never mind, I washed the bag and threw it in the bin. Why did I wash it first? No clue. There you go.

Taking the pallet knife I smeared icing onto the cakes, but they wouldn’t stay still so the first problem was that my fingers got covered in icing and because of that, the lovely white pristine cup cake cases got covered in icing too.

That done I stood back to have a look. Oh dear. Something about the marks the pallet knife had left didn’t work for brown icing. In fact it made the cakes look like licked turds. Oops. Not the vibe I was going for.

Time for plan … heaven knows, I was probably onto about Plan F by this time, A, B, C, D and E having failed comprehensively. I got a fork and distressed the tops of the cakes so they looked sort of spiky. That was a bit better. Next I got a sieve and some icing sugar and sieved it over the top of them. That was a lot better until I dropped the sieve on the cakes, followed by the palette knife, and then had to do it again.

cakes in a plastic box that looks like abs

Some of the Cakes, this box is called ‘the abs’ although it’s more … the sumo.

Next I put some stars on them and some chocolate popping candy which neither popped nor tasted of chocolate before putting them into various tupperware boxes. Needless to say, we lack the right sized box to put all the cakes in one so they were added to several different lunch boxes in groups of anything from two to seven. Standing back to admire my handiwork I dropped one of the boxes, resulting in my having to return to square one with the fork fluffing and icing sugar sprinkling.

Head desk, or to be accurate; head counter-top.

On the upside, I did manage to get to my friend’s house with some of the cakes and arrived just as she was sorting out an electrical problem with her toaster. Too many crumbs in the bottom coupled with the fact a stray blini that she was toasting had somehow got across the divide so it was completing the circuit between some of the wires in a way that was not conducive to the happiness of either the toaster or the electrical system of the house. They’re buggers like that, blinis.

We had a wonderful lunch. I ate too much and the three of us consumed two bottles of wine. It was a few minutes before I left for home that I ran one hand across my face and a large lump of chocolate icing appeared on one finger. Turned out it had been hanging from one eyebrow like some giant clagg. Nice.

Thinking about it, I suspect it did me good to walk home in the fresh air. I finished the day feeling very tired, although the fact I went to bed at ridiculous o’clock the previous night and, indeed, had done all week probably contributed to that as much as the wine.

As it was McMini’s last day at school there was that magic moment at the end of the day which I always treasure, when I switch the 7.00 am alarm off on my phone. Sure I get two hours less in the day but lordy me I need the sleep! I’m at the horrible time in the month when I sleep really badly but mainly because I sleep too lightly rather than because I don’t sleep at all. As a result, a couple of extra hours in bed is a tonic.

The next blog post will be Christmas Day and I will be releasing a Christmas story for you all to read. Although clearly, since it’s K’Barth, it won’t be a Christmas Day story exactly, it’ll be about The Prophet’s Birthday, but that’s kind of the same thing.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

It’s called The Last Word … I think, although I’m also tempted by Trouble Afoot: Parrot Abroad, then again, I could use that as the subtitle quite happily. And I’ve sort of done a cover … just. In the end, after three years of not having a clue, I decided to learn to use my iPad and iPencil to draw something. Woah. So that was fun and although it’s still a bit half cock – a lot cock really – it will do until I can get my lovely friends at A Trouble Halved to design one properly … for now.

This is the short 10k version which I wrote for an anthology in the same manner as Nothing To See Here – same anthology too. In this case though, the anthology was never produced so I have it knocking about. As I did with the anthology version of Nothing To See Here, I have expansion plans for this one so it will become another novella – it’s 12k already. I might also, possibly use it as a mailing list exclusive for the series I’m writing now about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. Alternatively, if it takes ages to finish Misfit Five I’ll switch to this one, finish it and release it in February or March 2022 so that something comes out next year.

The Betsy story will take me ages because that’s a massive sweeping epic but I’m really enjoying writing it. Lots of new characters or at least bit people out of the other books. Doing the Pratchett take-a-sub-character-and-focus-in technique. Oh alright, attempting it, not doing it per se. Big Merv’s in it though and Trev is so lovely. I hadn’t realised until I started to write this one what an absolute sweetie he is. We find out a lot about him because he’s one of the main characters.

Talking about Misfit Five, or at least, I was a couple of paragraphs back, it’s coming on nicely. I have just shy of 65k of it at the moment although I’m thrashing with the wobbly middle before I can get the end done.

To my unfettered joy, I think it’s going involve a fight in a balloon warehouse full of helium canisters. I have warned Gareth because it seemed only fair.  Someone’s going to see the gas canisters and smack the end off one or shoot it thinking that it’s H rather than He and that it’ll blow everyone up, but instead it won’t and they’ll all end up speaking in very high voices like the Chipmunks or Pinky and Perky (depending on your age and country of origin). Obviously I’m looking forward to writing that bit immensely. There will be one cannister of hydrogen – or oxyacetylene, or something else flammable – because the warehouse must blow up. After all, you can’t go wrong with a good fireball and also I have this mental picture of The Pan and two other characters he’s working with walking out of the flames with a bag of Goojan spiced sausages. Thank you diddly guitar bit at the beginning of Coldplay’s ‘Slow It Down’ for that image!

The Hamgeean Misfit series is also turning into a bit more of an epic than I intended as The Pan gets inexorably drawn into Big Merv’s organisation and gets more and more trapped, while the net tightens around him from the other direction as it were, as Lord Vernon increases in power and influence.

There are only going to be six books in it too, because the way the relationship between Big Merv and The Pan is developing is not something I can string out much longer than that. Not if his fear of The Big Thing in Few Are Chosen is going to make any sense. What is fun about that though, is giving the low down on what Big Merv thinks. The Pan is so scared of Big Merv that somehow the idea that he really likes The Pan but is stern and bluff and that because of this, The Pan, mister zero confidence, doesn’t realise, actually works.

It’s weird. One of the things I really enjoy about writing is not really knowing where it’s going to go and the interesting journey involved in finding out. Somehow, I’ve managed to relax with that over the last eighteen months or so. I’m just taking my time and enjoying what I’m working on. Although I’ve resolved that I must finish the 5th Misfit before I work on anything else. The way my year tends to pan out, the release window is May at the latest, after that, it becomes summer holidays, there are trips abroad and then in September every single piece of admin I have to take care of comes up all at once. So basically, if I miss getting it to the editor before April, it doesn’t get released until the next year.

Also, while it’s nice having lots in progress it’s a shame if there’s nothing actually finished. And I want to release something each year which means Misfit 5 for 2022. But the fact I took a little longer over Too Good To Be True and let it rest before I published left me with a way, way better book.  Therefore, Misfit 5 has got to be done by the end of February if I stand a realistic chance.

If push comes to shove, next year, I’ll finish off The Last Word, publish that in March and do Misfit 5 later on in May or June. After that it’s summer holidays and I can’t write or work until October/November and then only if I completely ignore Christmas like I have this year! Mwahahahrgh! That suits me but probably isn’t quite so great every year.

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Filed under About My Writing, audio publishing, General Wittering

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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Filed under General Wittering

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

Floating aimlessly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wells next the sea at high tide.

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

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

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

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

Now it’s back to Real Life.

Sea rowers at Wells Next The Sea.

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

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

Creative mojo, a fickle and fleeting thing.

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

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

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

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

Bastards!

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

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

Don’t believe me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Award-winning fiction for a snip!

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

Escape From B-Movie Hell

Escape From B’Movie Hell

First contact, in films, was never like this …

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under General Wittering

Another fine mess I’ve got me into …

Although also … possibly … out of.

Too Much Information Alert …

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

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

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

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

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

Usually from a great height.

Possibly even from the stratosphere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the Meh came forth Merch …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Congratulations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small wins …

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Spring. In case, like me, you’d forgotten what it was fucking like.

So here we are at Easter. Recently, here in GB, we passed the anniversary of lockdown one. Things are still strange, although I’ve had the first shot and we are hoping to see some friends for a meal in the garden tomorrow. Note to self, put thermals on. Spring appeared for a day at the beginning of this week, which was nice. Now we are back to the usual yellowy smeary grey skies and absolutely fucking freezing north wind. Bastard global warming. We are not getting as much of the gulf stream as we should be and the absence of that warming/cooling effect of the current on our shores is making for colder winters, hotter summers and it would seem, this year at least, no spring. Winter is getting very, very old but still it persists. Thermals at the ready? Yea even unto eternity, it would seem.

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Ditto.

Never mind. Onwards and upwards.

Small breakthroughs this week. First up, I have wanted to do a humorous first in series box set for ages. The idea is a bunch of us who write funny books get together to put all our first in series in a a funny box set and then I make it free. That done, we share the crap out of it with our mailing lists and hopefully keep a steady stream of new peps introduced to our work, for nothing. I have a book in one of these which is riding high in the best seller charts and I reckon it probably accounts for most of my sales. I got some really big hitters to sign up to the one I’m doing and there were ten of us all told. Unfortunately, the deadline came and went and the three biggest authors never submitted their books. They were happy to go in but unfortunately, I need a word doc of their files to make the book. I’m guessing they didn’t have one. I dunno. You can only write to them and ask so many times. I made that number of times three.

A lot of authors are mac based and use a thing called Vellum so maybe their most up to date versions of their books are in that. But I’d have thought they would need to export to a word doc to get their stuff edited so presumably it’s not impossible. I dunno, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they’re so big their editors use Vellum too. Shrugs. Anyway, they didn’t so …

The idea of organising a box set is quite daunting. Mainly because I can’t design for toffee and can’t afford to pay for a cover, but also because I am spectacularly shite at organising things. Seriously, I’d have trouble organising myself enough to breathe and do other things at the same time.

The only thing I might, possibly, be able to do for this box set was making the actual ebook. Even so, when the others signed up, I hadn’t a chuffing clue how it was done, only a vague idea of how it might look. The big sticking point was how to sort out a table of contents for seven novels. My box set is on Amazon at the moment but I daren’t update it because it’s a word file and it has something shonky about the table of contents which Amazon doesn’t like. They fixed it for me last time but sternly warned me that on no account would they be doing so a second time. I haven’t dared change it there for the last six years! The box setters and I agreed we’d do this thing about six months ago but LIFE has interrupted my efforts rudely. Well, life and launching my own book.

As I may have mentioned, McOther is sorting our wills which has not helped me to be efficient either, because it means administrivia. This week I was trying to get hold of a building society to see what I needed to do to so they would allow the investors McOther has chosen access to the account we hold in trust for our son. I knew I was in for a long time on hold and the music was a particularly grating piece of muzak on loop. After ten minutes someone answered but she simply said she’d put me through to another department and I was back on hold.

Sod it.

There was no doubt about it, if I listened to much more of this muzak I was going to do someone an injury so I opened up my lap top and decided it was time to do something. Yeh. Something mindless and yet … absorbing. Absorbing enough to blot out the muzak while, at the same time, not so absorbing that I’d fail to notice if a human appeared on the line at any point.

Opening my lap top, I began tinkering about with Jutoh which is the software I use to build my epub files. Completely by accident discovered how to do a table of contents for seven novels so the one at the start of the document has seven items, rather than 7×50 or however many chapters there are in each of the books … at least I think I did.

OK, so I’m going to have to import the word document for each book and then go through them separating out the chapters into individual files in each book’s directory. I am not quite sure, yet, if I can get a proper table of contents for each book into each folder, but if I’ve worked out how to do the first bit, I’m more confident I may manage to do that, too. The important thing is … it’s going to make a book with a table of contents and chapters and … Halellujah! Woot and t’ing. So having got the books and the copyright forms back from these authors about six months ago I have finally started sorting out the book. I can see, as I look, that there are bits missing but I am way, way more confident that I can fix those. I’m also toying with using another book, rather than the first in my full length series, since that one is in the box set that’s already out there.

Thinking about it, I could put in Too Good To Be True but that would put more pressure on me to write more full length books for that series. It’s highly likely I will anyway, but it’s a lot less likely if I put pressure on myself like that. The Hamgeean Misfit series is good for any number of stories but if none of those is a novel, using Too Good To Be True will merely give people false expectations about the others, and it may not make sense. On the other hand, I could put in the first two books in that series, especially as Nothing To See Here is hugely popular. It’s the one in that series which everyone downloads and the two together would be novel-sized. Small novel, but novel-sized nonetheless. It’s a thought.

On the other hand, the box set Few Are Chosen appears in is one for planet-based sci-fi and as such comedy isn’t a feature – so there are some advantages of having a total genre mash up. That being the case though, I could probably get away with using it twice because it’s two different markets. And if readers on my mailing list are folks who have come in from the two box sets, each has the six other books to read for free, even if they’ve already read mine.

The other slight worry is the cover. Having cracked the innards, possibly, I am now thinking that I might be able to do that, myself. If it’s just a black, star-covered background with lettering I should be alright for it. There seem to be two styles for comedy books, very simple, like that, or insanely excellent drawing. I can’t afford the drawing and might have to pay for a star-field-and-words style cover. We shall see. I am hoping that I can do enough and that, if I can’t, we can get away with something simple enough for me not to have to fork out masses of cash on it.

Mood on the writing front then, cautiously up-beat. The good thing is, I can keep work on the box set going even if doing my will and all the associated admin cuts into the available bandwidth to do anything else. And so much of this is about psychology. Keeping things moving forward or at least ensuring that it feels that way. Not quite a productivity hack then, more of a hackette, to be honest, but something to remember, nonetheless.

McCat being a pain in the arse.
Before …

Another productivity hack I have discovered is in the arena of cat management. The current McCat is basically a labrador – not just in the sense that he enjoys having his tummy rubbed – but also in that he’s a stomach on legs. He is also incredibly bossy and a terrible attention-seeker.

I tend to find that I can do a bit of writing stuff at the beginning of the day but can’t really persuade myself to do anything much until I’ve done the stuff I’m supposed to do. But because of whatever weird thing it is in my make up that makes Real Life impossible to organise, to the point where it takes me two or three weeks to do something that McOther can smack on the head in ten minutes, I tend to spend almost the entire day doing the things I ought to do before I get round to doing the things I want, or am supposed, to do.

This means that by the time I think, phew, that’s those taken care of, now I can do some writing, it’s about ten to five and I have an hour before it’s time to switch off from my writing and go and Interact With The Other Humans. Other Human Time is important, obviously, because it’s fun and I love them.

McCat
Yes I know I like having my tummy rubbed but if you try it, I’ll have yer arm off!

The other slight downside of this is that McCat usually decides it’s supper time somewhere around four p.m. and pesters me. His methods of pesterance vary but a lot of them involve jumping onto my desk and sitting himself down on my keyboard. Interestingly, McCat MK1 used to do exactly the same thing. Usually I push him off, at which point he sits on the table next to my desk where I keep my printer and when he is certain he has eye contact, he begins to push things off my desk, a pen, an elastic band, a coaster, a box and anything else that is placed on the desk to that side of my computer. This goes on, ad infinitum, until he is fed.

Every now and again, he gets all wild-eyed and bitey, which is no fun.

This seemed to be my only meaningful writing time so I didn’t really want to be distracted every few minutes. After all, if you’ve been thinking about it all day, it’s amazing how much you can write in an hour. But if it’s an hour punctuated by cat shenanigans every ten minutes it’s amazing how much less you get done. When I had my knee done, my brother and his family sent me a baby Yoda.

Angry cat.
Touch me and I’ll fucking kill you.

McCat has been sitting in the box Baby Yoda arrived in since … well … since it arrived. He also sits on the sofa. But as yet, I haven’t been able to find him somewhere to sit on my desk. I bought him a special hammock which you could stick on the window with suckers and which he was then supposed to be able to lie in and enjoy. Except he spurned it and no amount of gentle coaxing would persuade him to sit in it.

After some deliberation, I put it on the radiator in front of the desk, with strings between sucker and hammock to hold it steady. He wasn’t having that either.

Until I found a box. On Tuesday, I took the spurned hammock away, put the box over the radiator and some of the desk, and turned the lovely, boiling hot desk lamp onto it. McCat appeared and did indeed sit in the box for a bit, allowing me twenty minutes at a stretch, which was an improvement.

The obvious, sensible answer, is just to feed him. But if he’s fed too early he’s ravening the next day and hungry for supper at about three p.m. I bought a lovely hammock that sticks on the windows with suckers so he could lie in it and look out. The result was a very definite no thank you.

After

Then, yesterday, McCat appeared at ten to five by alighting beside me on the desk with the lightness of a frozen checking that had been fired from a cannon hitting a wall. I rubbed his ears a bit and then patted the bottom of the box. He does understand the phrase, ‘get in your box,’ but tends to go to the one on the floor so rather than say anything, I just kept patting it and pointing. He got the message and climbed in.

He is keen on the desk lamp. One of the unwelcome places he likes to sit is beside me, right under the lamp, absorbing the heat. Therefore, in order to sweeten the deal, I turned the desk lamp round a bit so the nice warm bulb was pointing at the box. He, curled up and after making a few purry whiffly noises, he went to sleep.

He was still asleep in there at twenty past six, well past his supper time. The moral of this story? For all the motivating platitudes circulating around t’interweb, there’s only one that really matters and it’s this one; ‘if I fits I sits.’

Yeh.

It may not last, but for now, I will chalk that up as a win, I think.

In the meantime, Happy Easter!


Win a mug competition deadline extended*!

*Because I forgot to send a reminder to my mailing list so I have to send one on Tuesday.

And also because hardly anyone’s entered. Mainly because I keep forgetting to share it on Facebook and Instragram … or with my mailing list or to be perfectly honest, with anyone!

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until 19th April (yes, I did pick that date completely at random). Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

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