Tag Archives: writer mom

I aitn’t dead

Several things have happened this week which are very apposite to this heading but since they aren’t fully resolved and I want to wait and talk about them when they are, I thought I’d settle for these two.

The strange case of the discombobulated cabbage.

This first piece of oddness is for interest more than anything. A couple of weeks ago Mum’s fabulous garden team started to harvest her rather splendid cabbage crop. Having picked a few on the Tuesday afternoon they left one on the kitchen table for me to take home when I visited the following day. When I arrived I walked into the kitchen and there was my cabbage, except it looked a funny shape and when I turned it over I found … this.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. What the hell takes a bite like that out of a cabbage and how did nobody notice the previous day when they were picked? I’m not that bothered usually, it’s all going to be boiled for a few minutes anyway, but the idea of eating something that was covered in fox slobber during a pandemic didn’t appeal. We were all set to cut large swathes off it, or bin it, when I turned it back over and peeled off some of the outer leaves. The crack went round well beyond the point where they were unbroken and still wrapped round it.

Surely no animal would do that. So what did? We had a look to see if I could piece the two sides of the crack together. While it wasn’t possible to do so en masse, it was possible to see that both halves of the broken leaves on each side of the fissure matched up. These leaves hadn’t been chewed. They’d been ripped asunder (sounds theatrical). The cabbage, once picked, had continued to grow … in parts. Those parts, while growing, had torn the other, non growing leaves apart. So what you see there is a cabbage that has exploded in slow motion. Weird, and kind of cool. Also, I imagine this isn’t that unusual, so presumably farmers and harvesters of fast growing veg have to factor this in when they pick them in case of … accidents. I also love the idea of something taking fifteen hours or so to explode. Wish I’d had a time lapse camera on it.

Living on the edge! Because that’s how I roll …

Recently I was listening to Joanna Penn’s excellent podcast and she was talking about setting goals and also the whole getting comfortable with smaller horizons aspect of lockdown. Her podcasts are great by the way, if you are interested, you can find a list and listen to them here.

When it comes to targets she was saying she’d love to earn seven figures. Frankly, I think seven figures in comedic sci fi and fantasy probably isn’t going to happen unless my surname is Pratchett, Fforde or Adams. I’d be really, really happy with five figures, per year, sod it, four would be good. If I made myself a profit of £1000 a year I’d practically jizz, except I’m a lady so I can’t. Yet my ultimate ambition, though it isn’t exactly monetary is that I want the action figures on my desk to be characters from my own books. That’s probably more than a seven figure ambition right there – so it’s pretty unlikely – but hope springs eternal eh?

Focusing on reality, in the short term, I want to try and push my monthly sales from £150 – £200 ish to £500 and my resulting profits from about £10 to say … £50? This will involve writing more books I suspect. Working on that, I promise. As well I suspect it involves working on a series that people actually want to read, rather than one that they love but only after they’ve been forced to read it at gunpoint.

Further to my ultimate end of maybe earning … something … I’m hoping to produce a box set of first in series funny sci-fi and fantasy books. There are ten of us and it will be given away free. This is one of those projects that’s happening, slowly. I’ll keep you posted on progress with that because it should be a good read once it’s sorted and of course, it won’t cost anything. Woot!

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the broadcast. Joanna was saying that one of the things she loved about travel was how it pushed her out of her comfort zone. She felt that it was important to do that every now and again, step out of the comfort zone I mean – and I agree with her. She asked what her listeners were doing to push their boundaries … if anything. Well it just so happens that, this week I did worry myself and learned that travel isn’t the only way out of your comfort zone. Oh no. I present to you … this tried and tested method.

I grew up in the country and was brought up as a bit of a forager. If I go on a walk I’m the one at the back of the group picking fruit out of the hedges or leaves from the verge and eating them. I also grew up picking mushrooms. There are a number of these that I am totally comfortable picking and eating, some that I’m perfectly comfortable picking but can’t eat because I’m allergic to them and others that I’m pretty sure I can identify but am not comfortable putting in my or anyone else’s mouth (phnark).

Young parasol mushroom, the snakeskin er … shaft is unique to this mushroom. If it has that, you will not die from eating this.

A few years ago McOther and I went on a mushroom picking day at one of the nature reserves on the fens somewhere – probably Welney. They showed us how to identify a parasol mushroom and then they cooked some, which we ate. They were delicious and as they have some unique aspects I swore that I would pick them and eat them the next time I saw them.

However it was 5 or 10 years until I saw my first parasols in the wild and I wasn’t confident enough to pick them. Especially as the folks I was with patently had zero confidence in my fungus identifying abilities. This was in the days when all you did on a mobile phone was talk to people, text them or play snake so there was no looking on t’interweb to check. Anyway looking it up on t’interweb doesn’t always help and the point is probably moot because, at the time we happened upon them, we were on on roof of the Shropshire hills. Even now I doubt you can get a signal up there. Then last week while having a walk in the grounds of McMini’s school I found a load of them. I was almost certain what they were but – as usual – not 100 percent.

Having erred on the side of caution, I went home and looked them up. Now, I was as sure as I could be that these were the Real Deal. Still too scared to pick one though. Then I hit on a way to jog myself out of my inertia.

I was due to be driving to Mum’s to have lunch after school drop off the next day. To gather that much needed vote of confidence, I hit on the idea of asking her care team if any of them would like me to bring a mushroom down and leave it at hers for them. My cunning plan was that my Mum’s country care buddies could identify it, know it was parasol mushroom at once and asked me to bring one for them I would know it was edible.

Sure enough. The lady with Mum the day I was to visit said yes please.

Good. Now I had to pick them.

A mature parasol mushroom.

That Wednesday, morning I dropped the lad off and headed across the park to pick me mushroom … or two. In the end I picked three. I also photographed some of the mushrooms in situ in various stages of development. Naturally, once I was half way back to the car I realised that, having taken those photos, I’d left my phone on the ground by the mushrooms.

Bollocks.

Back I went. As I swished through the grassy field, filling my sandals with dew and soggy dead grass, I turned on my Bluetooth headset. Eventually the plastic voice said ‘connected’ in my ear and I knew the phone was within a 12 metre range. After a quick search I found it, put it in my pocket and returned to the car. Never mind, I expect the extra walking did me good.

When I arrived at Mum’s the lovely carer and I had a look at them, consulted our phones decided that we could definitely eat them without dying. She cooked one for Mum and I, took one home for herself, and I took the other one home and had it for my lunch on Thursday and Friday.

All three of us; Mum, career and I are delighted that we are not dead. And I’m very glad that I stepped out of the zone and finally summoned up the courage to eat a parasol mushroom after a mere twenty years. And it tasted chuffing marvellous, too. Another edible fungi on the list of things I’m confident picking, then. I call that a win.

I think the three of us felt quite pumped by the act of taking that small risk.

So the moral of this rather long story is that you don’t have to leave the country to enjoy that little frisson of danger. You can experience it right at home.

___________________________

Has this inspired you to do something unusual? (Trust me, this is unusual.)

If you’re feeling like pushing the envelope (snortle) or stepping out of your comfort zone, you can always try reading one of my books. I mean, they’re not that weird.

Well … only a bit.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling up for anything and really, really brave, you can help yourself to a couple without even paying for them when you join my mailing list.

If you want to do that, you can join here:

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens.html

Think how pumped and smug you’ll feel afterwards, as well.

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This week, I have been mostly …

How are you all doing?

This week, I mostly did … a podcast appearance. The one I mentioned last week with Bonnie Dillabough. OK so I’m not sure I acquitted myself too well, especially not when it came to answering the questions, but Bonnie is a complete scream. Ex website designer and ex professional clown among many other things. She’s also worked in audio visuals so she edits her own stuff. She has six kids and she has grandchildren … I’ve no idea when she finds the time to write books! The editing and geekery is impressive but the coolest bit is the professional clown part! I got the feeling that we have a similar outlook. She started off in KU but soon decided that she wanted to get her books into libraries and similar and so she is in the process of going wide with all retailers, which is brilliant as it means I can share her books with my mailing list a lot more easily.

She asked me what I loved most and hated most about writing! Jeez that was hard. So obviously the bit I love most is the writing bit. The daydreaming, writing stuff down, giggling at the funny bits. The bit I dislike most is probably the fact there isn’t enough time to do it in. But unfortunately, that’s not what I said. I went completely blank.

In the end, I cited one of a number of pet hates: those people who take the time to email you to be pissy rather than just unsubscribe.

The way I advertise is to invite people to sign up to my mailing list in return for a free book. A few weeks afterwards, I send them links to download a second book. My theory is that sending people a couple of free books is quite a decent thing to do – even if they’re short books at 14k and 4k, respectively (or 90 mins and 30 mins in audio). Obviously I’m hoping they’ll like the book but if they don’t that’s absolutely fine, there’s a big unsubscribe button so they don’t have to carry on receiving my emails. Usually, if the book isn’t their thing, the point they unsubscribe is when they receive an email about the second book, ‘would you like another book?’ It’s called. I guess it serves as a reminder. The last thing I want on my email list is folks who don’t want to be there, so if the book isn’t their bag and they unsubscribe I am, quite frankly, delighted. I’m aiming for a small, but perfectly formed, email list where I have a couple of thousand subscribers and an open rate that’s as close to 100% as is actually possible.

Sometimes, people write me really lovely emails saying that they appreciated the free book but they are going to unsubscribe because my stuff is not for them. If they take the trouble to do that I always thank them for their time and reassure them that I’m absolutely OK with their unsubscribing because it would be daft for them to stay.

Other times though, you get people who don’t unsubscribe, oh no because that would be sensible. Instead they email you to be condescending and unpleasant about the book you’ve given them. They act as if your offering them a gift, which they were perfectly at liberty to refuse, is an act of deliberate disrespect on your part.

‘How dare you give me a book I don’t like!’ They cry usually in the most pompous and condescending tone they can muster. ‘You have wasted my precious executive time.’

Also, as stated, they are often so tied up with being pissy that they do this without even asking to unsubscribe in the email either. I had one recently and I suppose that is why I cited people like this as my pet hate. I shouldn’t have done. It makes me come over as similarly small-minded. But I have to admit I do heartily dislike that handful of people in the industry; readers, other authors, sometimes editors, who actively go out of their way to be pissy to everyone else. Like those morons who register words like ‘tree’ and ‘sky’ as trademarks. Bellends, every man jack of ’em. I have no time for such cockwomblery.

Also, if you’re going to write to an author making disparaging comments about the quality of a book’s editing, it’s a good plan to check the email for typos before clicking send. So few of these people do.

Mostly, I simply unsubscribe them without bothering to reply. However, sometimes, if they are pompous enough, I will send them something along the lines of, ‘thank you for your honesty, I assume the purpose of your contacting me was to request that I unsubscribe you from my mailing list, this I have done.’ The more pompous and pointless their email the more scathingly polite my reply, and of course, if I can match their pomposity I give myself bonus points. This probably makes me a troll, but I reckon that since with this sort of bellendery is an unavoidable part of doing anything on t’interweb, the least I can do is have some fun out of it.

I was thinking about marketing this week. Yeh, I try not to but [MTM leans in and whispers] I enjoy it. The geek in me likes tinkering with marketing, yep the same one who would have loved to have done something scientific but … maths. Marketing is one of those things where you get to do your own mad experiments. Thus far my advertising has had the strap line, Dr Who meets Terry Pratchett … sort of. I then talk about how I’m cutting my own throat giving them a free book. I don’t think the nod to Pratchett in the body matters, but having it in the strap line makes me nervous. I’ve been looking for something else. I came up with a list of rather similar ones:

  1. When the finger of fate points, duck.
  2. When fate comes knocking, be out.
  3. When destiny calls don’t be at home.
  4. When destiny calls pretend to be out.
  5. Destiny called but it got the wrong number.
  6. Destiny called but it got the wrong guy.
  7. A man called by fate: the wrong man.
  8. Fate called. The wrong man listened.
  9. When fate calls, don’t be at home.
  10. Use ‘Destiny called. The wrong man answered’ anyway

The results were intriguing. The clear winner was 1, but hide or run were also suggested. 5 also got a fair few votes and there’s me thinking 7 or 8 were the best! If it’ll fit on the ad I think I’ll probably settle for ‘When the finger of fate points, run away.’ But it also opens up the possibility of, ‘When Destiny calls, hide’ ‘When Destiny calls, run,’ or even, ‘When Destiny calls, hide behind the sofa.’

If you have a favourite feel free to post it in the comments!

Other smashing news … despite our respective feelings of lock down meh, Gareth and I have got it together enough to do another audiobook. Small Beginnings will soon be coming to a store near you on audio!

Yesterday we had a slight alarum with Mum. She fell in the kitchen and hit her head so, because she’s on blood thinners, they carted her off to A&E for a brain scan. It happened at 11 ish. She said she lay there a while and then thought that if she could turn over she might be able to get up. But then she ended up trapped on her side and couldn’t even sit up, at which point, she admitted defeat and pressed her panic button. It goes through to two different people nearby and one couple came round and picked her up. The ambulance was also called automatically. Mum’s carer arrived shortly afterwards and after a brief chat the other lovely peps went home.

As the ambulance was going to be two hours, the carer very sensibly gave Mum lunch. Then they arrived and despite my brother and I saying no they insisted they took her to A&E to be checked. We were all a bit worried as she had to go on her own. No-one was allowed in with her.

Eventually, at 6.00pm I rang to see how she was getting on. The staff member answering the phone sounded a bit brusque and said that no-one had even seen her yet. I thought she was angry with me, it was only afterwards I realised she might have been as pissed off as I was about the fact Mum had been sitting there for three hours, rather than annoyed with me for calling. Nobody helped Mum but I doubt she asked. She went to the loo by clinging onto the wall. She gets confused but I think her dementia is vascular rather than Alzheimer’s so it’s different and definitely far more variable. By a stroke of luck she was having a really good day and was very on the ball. Even better they’d scanned and released her by seven and she was home and in bed eating a light supper by 8.00 at which point she rang me to give me a blow-by-blow account of her adventures!

Luckily, all is well and I didn’t have to go down there. I’m thinking that, since she has arthritic knees that give way and she is already very tottery, it might be time to start trying to persuade her to use a zimmer. I do have a thing you can strap on so she’ll still be able to carry stuff. It’ll take some time though.

Although it was not a pleasant few hours, I did feel hugely relieved when I chatted to her by how much more with it she was than sometimes. We had a lovely conversation and it left me hoping that some of her recent deterioration is more about lockdown fatigue. Fingers crossed.

Which reminds me …

__________________

If you’re looking for something to take your mind off all the pissy administrivia that takes six times as long under the ‘New Normal’ (lord I hate that phrase) Small Beginnings is currently free from all retailers. Or you can try some other authors by downloading the free box set anthology, ‘Future Adventures’ which contains eight excellent books but a number of different authors, including me – Few Are Chosen. To find out more, or discover a link to download either at your vendor of choice. Just click on the picture of the one that interests you.


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Smug mode …

One of the things I’ve been trying to do since lockdown eased is continue walking for an hour each day. Unfortunately, I’m coming up against the usual problem which is that post lock down is back to busy holidays mode and I don’t really have time to walk for an hour each day. As a result I’ve been trying to incentivise myself by listening to podcasts.

Last week, I listened to Joanna Penn’s interview with Marion Roach (episode 496) about writing memoir. In the preamble, she talked about experiencing feelings of tiredness, possibly even exhaustion. She explained that she’d looked it up and discovered that there is a phenomenon called lock down fatigue.

As I understood it, the gist of this goes as follows; while things are opening up and people are able to get out again, there is an increased sense of danger. So on the one hand, your social well being is probably increased. On the other, your limbic system doesn’t really know the difference between the danger posed by a stalking tiger and the knowledge that if you get COVID:19 you might die, or might not. The whole Russian roulette nature of the thing is classed by your limbic system as ‘danger’. This, in turn, means that whether or not you actually notice, your fight or flight centre is at heightened awareness. Think of it as amber alert.

The theory is that this constant state of readiness on the part of your limbic system makes you feel tired, whether you consciously realise it is in action or not. Other symptoms include struggling with memory, lethargy, having difficulty concentrating … there’s a pretty good potted summary of the main points here. The main gist of it is that the limbic system regards mere worry as a danger. As I listened to this, I suddenly had a bit of a penny dropping moment.

I’ve been worried about my father, and then my mother for a good fourteen years but certainly in earnest since 2012. 2012 was the year I had shingles and sought help dealing with the fact that I would not be looking after my parents the way I had expected to. After a fair amount of CBT I got to the point where I could cope. Add to this long term arthritic pain, which, in itself is thought to stimulate your limbic system to think danger and fog your thinking. Now throw in hormones, some people going through the menopause also get brain fog – both peri and post menopause (I’ve no idea which I am on the peri/post front but the brain fog was the clincher in actually diagnosing it).

Or to put it another way. I’ve had lockdown fatigue for the past eight years.

And with that realisation came a whole load of secondary ones. I realised that I probably don’t have dementia – if I had it when I thought I did, at the start, and I’d followed the same path as Dad I’d be at the shouty sex pest stage by now. So clearly, while I could have segued seamlessly into the early stages by now, without noticing, it’s most likely a no for the moment. That’s quite a relief.

Then there’s the mental exhaustion. I have been on the brink of burnout, and suffering mental exhaustion for at least eight years. OK, so that is a massive pisser in many respects, but at the same time, a sustained situation like that means that coping mechanisms are already learned and lock down is merely more of the same. Most likely, there is another eight years or so to go but once Mum gets to the lying in bed stage, or reaches the point where visits are really hard and she doesn’t have much idea who I am, I will probably cut the visits to once a fortnight, maybe even once a month. It will be easier this time with just the patient to consider. Some of the hardest things to deal with about Dad was seeing Mum’s distress and trying to support her through it all as well.

The single most wonderful thing about lockdown was not having to disrupt my momentum mid week. There is a lot of shite in my life which I can’t ditch, but there is a lot that I can. I’ve decided I will ditch that. Also, I think I will see if I can be referred privately to see a knee surgeon. I want to know all the alternatives which are available to me. There are people in the US with severe arthritis who are already having stem cell treatment. Here in the UK there is very little of that kind of thing available.

There is also the option of a partial replacement. I’m not sure the NHS even does those. They are still in a situation where they can only do two knee replacements so they prefer to wait until you are desperate. The idea is that one replacement only lasts x number of years so if the first implant goes wrong you may be in a wheelchair if it’s done too early. However, since I will definitely be in a wheelchair if I have to wait until I’m sixty, I’d rather do the wheelchair bit aged 70 or so than … well … sometime in the next couple of years. So my target now is to persuade the NHS, while, at the same time, saving up £20 grand for a knee op in case the NHS refuses. Hopefully, it wouldn’t cost that but I suspect all the preceding appointments, x-rays etc might up the cost a bit. I haven’t checked if the figures I’ve read are all in. So yeh, this week, I am mostly looking at, knee replacement costs.

Finally sent off my W8-BEN to Barnes & Noble. As far as I can see, if you have an EIN you use that where other folks would use an SSN (social security number). That checked, I’ve filled in the form, here’s hoping it works. Presumably I’ll hear from B&N when they receive it and They will soon tell me whether I have got it wrong or not. More on that story as it unfolds.

Have just been for a night with Mum to get this nipper together with his cousins. That was fun and involved going to the beach, even though it was not that warm. It was windy though, and they had a kite so McMini and I flew that while others swam.

Other cheerful news. I finished my first novel in 5 years. This is a major achievement. OK so it isn’t great but it’s 75k and it isn’t that awful so I’m hopeful I can turn it into something some people might enjoy reading. The only thing I have to decide now is if I’m going to write another short in the interim to be ‘Too Good To Be True’ and call this one something else.

Ah the joy of simple decisions.

__________________________

Talking of simple decisions, if you want to try out one of my books feel free to have a look at this one. I’m afraid you’ll have to sign up to my mailing list – otherwise I can’t send it to you – but it’s not a problem if you unsubscribe afterwards! To find out more go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens1.html

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General wittering …

A quick one this week as I am currently in the thoes of trying to locate my W8BN form. Gads! I have decided to open a Barnes&Noble publisher account to sell my books direct. Why in the name of Pete I decided that would be a good idea now I do not know. These days, Amazon and the like ask you to fill in tax information and giving a UK tax number is enough for them not to withhold 30% of my earnings.

Unfortunately, unlike every other US based company I deal with nowadays, Barnes&Noble still require you to do the whole get the form from the IRS and fill it in yourself malarky, which I can do but … just not anywhere I can track it down without about five days of rigorous searching. Worse, I suspect that what I have is an EIN number which may mean that for the sake of about three quid a month I would have to spend 40 minutes on hold to the IRS to have an ITIN assigned to me, and I have a feeling that this involves affadavits and sending my passport off to the IRS in America which is not an appealing prospect.

Naturally, there is no question that I should just do this when I have time. No, I have to do it all within 30 days of opening my account. Except they don’t tell you that until after you’ve opened one at the beginning of the holidays, like a moron, when, frankly, you haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of writing that 1,000 words you need to write to finish your next book.

So we’ll have to chalk that one up to experience. Gah except now I am worrying about it so I will have to go through all my stupid bits of paper because, naturally, the W section in my filing case, which I thought was the location for my Withholding/W8bN information, is missing. Jeepers. Head. Desk. With any luck it’ll be in the folder for special urgent things at the front. There isn’t time to look and do this so I’ll have to check when I’m done. Sorry to leave you in suspense. Fingers crossed.

On the up side, it seems I have grown a triffid. OK it’s not strictly a triffid, it calls itself an epiphillium. There’s a guy who sells plants from his front garden for charity – you know, take one and put the money through the door. One Sunday a few years ago, on the way home from church, I found this in his tray of for sale plants. It was quite small and it was labelled, ‘epiphillium/moon flower’. It was only 50p so I bought it.

On a side note, this is the guy who put a big wooden trunk outside with ‘free to a good home’ on it once. I carried it a little way home and then two kind gentlemen took it for me, which was jolly splendid of them. It became the box for McMini’s lego. Turns out this fellow’s father was a seaman and that the box was the trunk in which he kept all his possessions. It has travelled all over the world.

Back to the plant. What does it look like? Well … imagine a Christmas Cactus on steroids. It’s getting a bit big. The two segmented um … bits … in a pot have become a large … thing. Every now and again it sends out an enormous long shoot which turns in to a long spindly branch. It has little hairy bits that grow out of it occasionally, leading me to suspect that normally it would climb things. This one doesn’t. It sits in our conservatory. A couple of times in the last four years, it has produced a flower bud. My life being what it is, we are usually away when this bud opens up so I have never seen a flower until now.

Note my hand in the left bottom corner for size reference.

This year it’s gone a bit mad. It started off with sixteen buds but a few died off and we were left with nine. One day this week, as we were eating supper, I noticed the first flower was opening. It opened so fast it was almost possible to detect the movement with the naked eye.

Each day this week it has treated us to a nightly display of gargantuan triffid like flowers which are really rather splendid. Weirdly, they don’t smell of much close up but the part of the house in which they are situated ends up smelling strongly of vanilla. Which is lovely. They last the night and are wilted by morning.

Naturally, in a spirit of scientific enquiry, I have set about them with a paint brush to see if I can pollinate them and make seeds. Why I do not know. I mean, if I want to grow more of these all I have to do is pick a leaf and plant it in some compost and it will grow. But I want to see the weird triffid fruit I guess.

Yeh. Okaaaaay.

I wonder what these things are pollinated by in the wild. I’m not sure but I’d guess it is something like an actual bird, a humming bird? Either that or the biggest fuck off moth imaginable. Hang on … OK I’ve just had a quick google and it is, indeed, a big fuck off moth. A sphinx moth – which, as far as I can make out, is a variant, or possibly another name for, the humming bird hawk moth or the like – and Bats. Yes actual bats. Fuck me.

Hmm … Well … these flowers are enormous. Clearly despite being an old bat I am not a bat – or a moth – and my pollination efforts may not work. Also what with it being flowers on the same plant it may not work for reasons of floral incest but then again … they might.

Before and after, spiffy new case for my kindle although it hurts my eyes in the morning.

Other news, my kindle broke a couple of weeks ago. There was a crack in the screen, NB do not let fat cat walk across screen of kindle while it is left in dodgy old case on bed. Yes that is how it cracked. Not the front but behind it. Head Desk. After looking at the price of a new kindle I wondered about buying a KoboGlo. But I wasn’t sure how much of a ball ache getting amazon books onto Kobo hardware would be. I reckoned impulse buys on holiday would be right out as I tend to leave the lap top at home. There’s the remarkable, that does ebooks but not very well to be honest. I use both for editing, making notes with the keyboard on the kindle and scribbling all over it on the remarkable but the remarkable displays it in a very strange way so I prefer the kindle.

After a bit of thought, I decided I’d see if I could get a new screen. God bless the internet for making these sorts of endeavours possible. So I sent off for a new screen from China which was, apparently delivered yesterday. But not here ‘to PO Box’. Hopefully that means it’ll be actually delivered on Monday.

Luckily having mentioned it in passing, a dear lady on one of the Goodreads groups I visit mentioned she had the same model as mine but doesn’t use it any more. She warned me that the battery no longer works and the on off switch is a bit shonky so she’s bought herself a new one. She asked if I’d like her to send it to me. I said that yes, I would and bless her, it arrived way before the official new one I’m expecting. A couple of weeks ago, on Monday, I sat down and took both kindles to bits, swapped the screen from hers into mine and … wahooo … it works again. I was so excited by this development that I treated myself to a spiffy new case from Caseable – the state of my old one was part of the problem, the elastic had gone soggy and it was knackered. Now that the print version of Close Enough has arrived I can send the lovely lady who helped me out the first three Hamgeean Misfit books to compensate.

Talking about books … it looks like there might be a gap in Gareth’s schedule for another audio book in week or two – aaaah be still my beating heart! I know but this is still such a massive novelty. Squee! Shiny thing! More on that story as it unfolds.

It seems that my ridiculous, childish excitement at hearing my books in audio is not going to abate. I’ve been listening back to them recently, kind of by mistake because I set my phone to shuffle and it keeps playing me chapters in among the music. But bizarre as this sounds I have loved hearing the odd one when it crops up and then there is the whole, is the next song going to fit in with what I’ve heard? thing. I’m amazed how often it does. This is probably very egocentric of me but it also amuses me, although when I get McMini’s grade three drum pieces it’s not quite so splendid. Can’t win ’em all.

This week at casa McGuire, there has been a lot of furniture moving going on. McMini has requested an office swap. I am delighted about this as my office is upstairs next to his bedroom. I love it up there when the house is quiet and it’s just me but with e-school and all day gaming it’s a) not quiet and b) understandably, McMini doesn’t want his McMother lurking within earshot all the time. Since it’s two rooms and a bathroom up there, it makes sense to have his ‘office’ up there too. It also means that when he has cousins or friends to stay they can stay in that room, all kids together on the same floor, rather than having a room next to his that I’d rather no kids went into!

The room downstairs, which was his playroom, is near to the kitchen and other areas where I might normally be doing things. It worked brilliantly for him as a nipper as I was able to whizz through when he called but now he’s older it makes more sense if it’s an office for me.  We have been setting everything up in there including my music system, which has not been in operation for twelve years. I’d forgotten how good actual vinyl records sound. Although mine are all a bit dusty and need fixing. Anyway, so far, the room looks like this. The wooden things in front of the shelves are a pair of 1930s (I think) skis which came with Mum and Dad’s house. Nobody wants them and I was going to sell them but now I think they’re too cool. This happens when I think I might be able to sell something. The blue oar is part of the escape dinghy set which came set into the wings of a B15. It’s from the rubber dinghy Mum and Uncle had when they were kids. It was yellow, apparently. Grandpa sourced it from army surplus me thinks! I’m pretty sure I mentioned that in another post somewhere. If I was any good at this blogging thing, I’d link but it will take me too long to find it if I want to publish this by the correct time.

McMini has also, finally, managed to procure all the items he needs for his ‘army costume’ and I thought I’d share the slightly sinister results. He’s now on the search for a thermo nuclear war suit. Hmm.

McMini talks a good army/sport but left to his own devices he is such a complete couch potato that I suspect he would dislike the army intensely. Frankly, I see him more as a Bletchley Park kind of guy. But I thought I’d share the completed kit. Most comes from car boots but the odd bits come from t’interweb. The bizarre four way goggles are pretend night vision glasses. They are fitted with blue lenses which look very impressive but render him completely blind when they are in use! He is so going to be doing cosplay at conventions.

We are starting to do social stuff again. Hoping to make a quick trip to Scotland to see the in laws for McDad’s birthday, which should be lovely. McMini and I are heading down to Sussex to see Mum next week and spend the night as the cousins are in residence so that should be a gas and we are seeing friends again too, for appropriately socially distanced gatherings, obviously. My writers groups are still suspended or on line because we have members who are shielding. But the local restaurant we always visit is opening this week which is very exciting. And the sun’s out today … woot.

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Smashing K’Barthan Mug Competition

Perhaps you can ameliorate the total mundanity of this post by making me give you a cup. You can do this by winning my competition and evincing extreme mug envy from your friends and family. Or if you’re feeling outrageous, you could use it to hold your hot beverage of choice. Or cuppa soup if that’s your thing.

Because yes. That’s right! I’m giving away another mug like this one in the picture. You have until Sunday 20th July 2020 to enter.

All you have to do is read Close Enough answer the easy question and fill in your email you can find out more here: https://forms.gle/6dDGpnQU23bdMpwT7.

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Down, down, down in a burning ring of fire … a ring of fire …

Yep. That’s where I’m going this week. Flame throwers at the ready. You see, for a while I’ve been wanting to say something about Black Lives Matter but I haven’t really known how. This week … well … it’s hot and I’m fed up. The Kessel Run to Sussex took a fuck of a lot more than twelve Parsecs yesterday and some plonker got all aggressive and shitty with me because as a 52 year old bag I have the temerity to drive a sports car and worse, I overtook him. O.M.G. The horror! You’d have thought I’d peppered him with machine gun fire. If I drove a real snurd, I confess it would have been tempting.

Yeh, and to be frank, I probably listened to Never Mind the Bollocks too many times and that’s ANGRY political stuff. And you know me, never one to avoid getting flamed if I can. But yeh, Black Lives Matter (AS WELL) … Here is my incredibly simplistic take on it.

[Rant Mode]

It seems that a lot of us have huge difficulty with being open minded these days. When I meet people for the first time, I confess I find it as tough as anyone to avoid making snap judgements based on their choice of clothes, hair colour, voice and any amount of other irrelevant crap. I suspect we all do. I am beginning to wonder if there is some kind of instinctive tribal thing that makes us all judge by appearances and that humans can’t stop themselves from doing so in the first instance. Perhaps it’s a thing from way back, a pack thing. Maybe. The point is, the part where we become thinking, rational beings is where we set ourselves above that, where we ignore our instincts and broach the difficult task of talking to people we aren’t sure about or are uncomfortable with.

Perhaps it helps if we are not in a bubble. Where I live, people go abroad a lot, people visit from abroad and we walk from a to b to go to the shops, church, the library, etc etc. We are lucky enough to be exposed to many other cultures. If you walk everywhere, you meet people on the street, in shops and around town who are different from you. And when you get the opportunity to talk to them you realise that other people are not black, white, old, young, foreign, scary etc they are actually just … people … well except teenagers, they really are scary (joke sorry teenagers). In this country we are beginning to drive more and walk less and we are beginning to fragment a little into like minded groups.

That’s not bad in one sense, but in others it reinforces stereotypes.

One of the difficulties of all this is that for political parties, there is a great benefit to reinforcing our little bubbles and stereotypes. They want to engender a sense of belonging among their followers; a feeling that all members of party X or Y are PLU (people like us) and that we’re all in this together, working towards a common aim. The unfortunate side effect is the implication that other people following other parties are not like us and don’t belong. It also doesn’t help that some of them gloss over disagreements within their own ranks by pointing the finger at other groups or people who hold a different point of view and blaming everything on them.

This is probably alright in a situation where people are not taking politics too seriously and are still seeing it for what it is, ie, the machinery by which a nation governs itself, as best as it can. But increasingly here in Britain, we seem to be losing that detachment and cynicism for which we are famous.

Even I’m losing it. And I’ve been trying to work out why. After a lot of thinking, here’s my Anne Elk theory.

These days, there are far fewer people of faith. That’s not a problem in itself. However, humans seem to have an inherent need to believe fervently in … something. Without a religion to put our efforts into, it seems a lot of us pour that spiritual fervour into the most ridiculous things, which hair colour brand we use, whether we like tattoos or not, reality TV and, of course, our political affiliations. When you add that need to believe into the mix, suddenly the results of the PLU marketing start to become a bit grim.

Going out on a serious limb here – yeh I can feel the cross hairs lining up as I write – I am beginning to think that the difficulty with some aspects of modern politics is not that people’s political choices are driven by their religion but that their political affiliations ARE their religion. My religion affects everything I do, political choices as well. But my politics are NOT my religion. I think that if you are a Christian and you start believing that a single political party is … you know … God’s party, you are in trouble.

OK so perhaps it also depends where you are. In Britain, where I live, it’s absolutely OK to question authority, rules, politicians, the status quo and everything else, indeed to not do so is considered a bit naive. As a Christian that’s also OK because Jesus did it the whole chuffing time. In some countries it’s rather frowned upon to make fun of politicians, here in Britain, frankly, we think that’s what they’re for.

For me personally what that means is I vote for the party whose policies most closely align with my religious beliefs. My religious beliefs are about doing what I believe is the Right Thing – other people’s interpretation of Right may vary – mine are as follows:

  • Love your neighbour as yourself.
  • That which you do to the least of my bretheren, you do to me.
  • What would Jesus do? (Turning over tables, trashing the place and making a whip from cords and setting about people cannot be ruled out here).
  • No hatred – ‘if I say I love God and hate my neighbour I am a liar, for if I cannot love my neighbour, who I have seen, how can I love God who I have not seen?’
  • My job is not judgement, ‘Do not judge others lest you be judged’ and ‘leave judgement to God.’

This means I have chosen who to vote for based on how closely the follow my version of Christian philosophy. As a result I am the original floating voter. I’ve voted Liberal (which means a different thing in the UK to America, think Conservative with a small c). I have also voted, Labour (socialist – relax, my American friends, this is not the socialism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that’s communism. Socialism, proper is a different thing based, originally, on Christian love-thy-neighbour kinds of principles, help the poor, welfare state, that kind of stuff, funded by asking the rich to pay a little more tax to help it along). I think I may have voted Conservative once, and I’ve voted for the Green Party. It just depends which one is suggesting policies that most closely resemble ‘the right thing’ (as outlined in my points above) at the time.

This also means that I do not believe in ‘them’ and ‘us’ but ‘we’. This appears to get me in the shit with pretty much everyone, which is unfortunate, but there we go. What do I mean by that. I mean completely disregarding how people look and honing in on who they are.

I think the greatest example of that I’ve encountered recently is a lady called Irene.

Every weekday morning at roughly 9.15, on the radio show I listen to, they have this thing called, Pause for Thought. They have someone of faith on who gives a little pep talk. They are from all faiths, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Humanist etc and are usually brilliant. Last week, they had this lovely guy on from ooop north somewhere who is a vicar in the Church of England – that’s basically episcopalian for everyone everywhere else in the world. I can’t remember his name but he was talking about modern answers to the question, ‘who is my neighbour’. JC’s answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan, obviously. This guy told us about Irene.

Irene is a stalwart of his church. A lovely lady who is always on hand to help, listen, make cakes – and tea – and generally muck in. I think she may even have been a lay reader or church warden but I can’t remember. One Sunday, she said goodbye to everyone as they were all drinking coffee after the service and went off home. A few minutes later she was found lying on the pavement just outside in a state of disarray, her sticks beside her. Someone had hauled her out of her car onto the street and driven off in it.

The young gentleman concerned was apprehended by the police, convicted and went to gaol.

Irene would spell it neighbour but beggars can’t be choosers. 🙂

Irene knew his name from the trial so she did some research and when she discovered which prison he was in, she made enquiries as to whether she could contact him. When he said it was OK, she started writing to him. After a while, she started visiting him, too.

Long and the short, a few years later, the priest who was giving this talk turned up to a church event and there was Irene, behind the tea stall as ever, and there beside her, wielding a teapot, was a smiling young man who had originally thrown her onto the pavement and nicked her car. With her help and support he had completely turned his life around. He had a job, he was settled and he felt he also had a purpose. When she had every reason to be angry and vengeful, she, his victim, had the grace and compassion to see him simply as another human, to seek reconciliation with him and to help him become a good man.

So … We Christians can make judgements about whether or not George Floyd was a ‘good’ person and ‘deserved’ his fate. Yeh. We can do that if we like but that isn’t our job is it? CF Jesus Christ’s pretty fucking clear instructions ‘do not judge others lest you be judged’.

It’s also not the point.

Black Lives Matter (too) isn’t really about who George Floyd was, and whether he was a good person. It’s about a situation where someone has so lost sight of the humanity of another human being, because of their skin colour, that he can kneel on their neck for one and a half hours, while they repeatedly tell him they can’t breathe, and think that’s OK, possibly even deserved. And it’s the fact that this event can be played out daily, again and again along with other smaller pettier dehumanising things across the length and breadth of the world and nobody questions it. It’s the fact that even today, people are still a commodity. There are still slaves.

It’s about people, all over the world, who are victimised because of completely petty bollocks like their colour, what they wear, their gender or who they want to have a relationship with (who cares if it’s someone of the same gender they’re not asking you to shag someone you don’t want to are they so why do you have to force them to. Nothing spreads misery faster than unhappy people).

It’s about trying to persuade people to cast aside the petty stupid tribal trivia of the packaging; like colour, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, height, hair and eye colour and all that other totally irrelevant crap – and see only the person inside.

It’s not about whether George Soros funded demonstrations, or who has donated to Black Lives Matter (too) (because clearly, if he funds a political campaign and he’s left wing, that’s immoral but if someone right wing funds a political campaign – in the flack I’m getting – that’s fine. Newsflash, neither matters.). It’s probably greatly about the frustrations of lockdown, about people in poorer housing, smaller flats, poorer areas, with less garden, less space who have been climbing up the walls as they try to work out what a fronted adverbial is and explain it to their children while they work from home, or don’t work and watch their savings dwindling or their debts mount up.

How did it start all over the world at once? Could it be because everyone all over the world is going through the same thing right now; lock down, pandemic etc. Oh and world news services. The entire world saw it on the news.

Black lives matter is not saying black lives matter more than white lives. It’s saying black lives matter too. At the moment, it sounds as if black lives matter less than white lives. So yeh, all lives matter and at the moment those of our black friends are being counted cheaply so I’m happy to support them and help them redress the balance.

Are the riots bad? Of course they fucking are. Rioting is always bad but it tends to happen when people are angry and no-one is listening to them. They’ve been asking nicely for two hundred fucking years. When you tell someone, my life matters, you’re hurting. If someone dismisses that hurt with a trite, all lives matter, it’s unkind. As someone on reddit said, imagine you’re sitting at the dinner table. Your mum serves everyone except you. You say, ‘I want some too?’ and your Mum says, ‘we all want some,’ and doesn’t give you any. That’s what you’re doing when you say all lives matter. And that’s where Black Lives Matter really needs the Too on the end, I reckon.

Is defacing statues bad, yes but … look at it this way. If you were in Germany and there were a load of statues of Hitler and there were streets named after him and nobody minded, what would you think? I’m guessing you’d take a dim view. Yet all over the UK there are statues celebrating people who treated other human beings as possessions and assets, bought and sold them as if they were things. Thought of them as things, which, to quote the great Sir Terry, is where the trouble starts. Put them in a museum, explain what happened, explain that we are NOT like that anymore. We need to face up to our past and learn from it rather than destroy everything and try to pretend it never happened.

Is it so hard to imagine how another person from a different background or in a different situation might see our world? Is it so hard to to try and look through someone else’s eyes for a moment and ask how we could make it better, kinder for folks like them? Is it so wrong to wish the world was as pleasant for everyone as it is for us? Well as a woman, and a woman who often went to places with a person who had a severe mental disability, I know that yes, sadly yes, this small act of imagination is extremely hard for some people, but interestingly, far less so at a point of encounter. People who were lovely to my Dad would then make sweeping, generalist statements about the mentally ill and just totally fail to see the hypocrisy of that. Indeed, I see this again and again, people conflating all black people with criminals because they knew someone black who committed a crime or even because they read about it in the paper.

Even some of my friends conflate all economic migrants with freeloaders, but laud British people who emigrate elsewhere for the same fucking reason for having so much get up and go.

Some people are dicks. It’s not because they are Muslim, Foreign, Black or Women, it’s because they are dicks. They might use their faith to justify their dickishness but at the base of it all they’re just twats. I’m a Christian but I know some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can be monumental tossers. Jesus doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t even need your obedience. Jesus needs your love and your compassion. Jesus needs the difficult stuff. Jesus needs you to love your enemy. If you tell people they should turn the other cheek, Jesus sure as hell wants you to check that you aren’t the person hitting them first.

Christians are supposed to be Christlike. End of. Jesus didn’t tell people not to mix with the tax collectors, nope, it was the Pharisees who did that, when Jesus met a tax collector, he blagged dinner off him.

Do I think black lives matter?

You fucking bet I do.

And you know why?

Because when I grow up I want to be Irene.

[/Rant mode]

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And on a different note …

… if you need something to take your mind of my horrific left wingishness and your grinding teeth after reading this week’s blog post, maybe a nice relaxing audiobook would help.

Few Are Chosen is not just available on audio! It’s reduced until 30th June! If you do Kobo, Chirp or iBooks it’s a mere $5.99 (or £5.99 on Kobo and whatever $5.99 is in other currencies on Chirp and iBooks).

So if you want to find out why I think Gareth is brilliant, you can pick it up for a song, or at least … a snip.

If you think that might be your bag, click on the picture on on this link …

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audiofac.html

 

Smashing K’Barthan Mug Competition

Perhaps you can ameliorate the impact of my utterly satanic left wing nature by making me give you a cup. You can do this by winning my competition. Then, when you win, you can do what you like … I dunno, voodoo, spit in it, smash it because I’m so awful. Or if you’re feeling outrageous, you could use it to hold your hot beverage of choice. Or cuppa soup if that’s your thing.

Because yes. That’s right! I’m giving away another mug like this one in the picture. Once again you have until the end of this month, 30th June 2020 to enter. Hint, you have an extremely good chance of winning. Put it like this, I’m giving one cup away and so far, all the entrants have won.

All you have to do is read Close Enough answer the easy question and fill in your email you can find out more here: https://forms.gle/6dDGpnQU23bdMpwT7.

Next week, I promise, I will try and go back to being funny.

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Well there’s a thing …

Grumpy bastards R us

This week has been a bit of an interesting mix. Is it just me or is everyone a bit grumpy coming out of lockdown? I live on one of the main drags into town so there’s a fair bit of traffic noise. The one thing I’ve noticed is how much more often people are hooting at other motorists at the moment.

It seems that what most people have decided, during lock down, is that they’re ‘not going to take any shit from anybody’ and what that appears to mean, in practise, is more firmly entrenched views, an even deeper aversion to keeping an open mind and an even more frequent recourse to knee jerk anger about insubstantial crap, like whether or not they should wear a mask (seriously? WTF people find a REAL issue to get upset about) rather than … you know actually not taking any shit. I suppose nothing makes people intolerant more quickly than when the economy goes down the shitter. And all the pundits are telling us it has – although how on God’s green earth they think they know is a mystery to me – but presumably folks are believing them.

Oh my Gaaaaaaaad! We’re going into a recession! The economy has gone tits up and it’s all (insert name of political party of choice or group of ‘them’ you don’t really like)’s fault. Britain’s economy has shrunk by 20%.

Okaayyy.

Yes it’s a chandelier, to illustrate my point.

Hang on though, we’re only coming out of lock down and for the major part of lock down the economy has been switched off. No-one expects their car to carry on running after they’ve turned off the ignition do they? … Well, OK some old cars chug on a bit before they stop but that’s about fuel mixture and not generally a THING so let’s rule it out at this point shall we?

Seriously though, things are still not back to normal and surely any figures obtained while the economy is switched off are pretty much moot.

Here’s an analogy. Say you have a chandelier. Like a healthy economy, it has many bulbs (different types of businesses) and they are all burning brightly. If you cut off the power to the chandelier, obviously, you’re going to end up in the dark. This is not a surprise is it? Likewise, the economic statistics for March and April can do nothing more than illustrate that the economy was switched off and the country was, as it were, in economic darkness. Because no-one was allowed out and three quarters of businesses were closed.

Here’s another chandelier …

My point is. We’re not going to have a fucking clue what’s happened to the economy until we turn the bastard thing back on are we? And we haven’t. So when the papers and news channels gloomily tell us that the economy shrunk 20% in March, and tell us this is bigger than any shrinkage in the entire history of fucking time, it means absolutely bugger all.

Sure it’s true but is it the truth about our economy? Yes it is, but only in so far as it indicates that the economy was switched off at that time, just the same way that things get pretty dark when you turn out the lights and the figures might show that there is NO power going through to the bulbs at this time.

I really should stop taking pictures of people’s chandeliers.

Taking the chandelier analogy further. Say you live in a house with an annoying safety feature on the ring main like ours has, which cuts the power when just about anything happens. You want to go into your darkened room, so you stop in the doorway to flick the light switch and, ‘POP!’ a bulb has gone and in doing so, it’s tripped the on off switch on your fuse box. You’re in the dark and you know that switching on the chandelier did it. You know that, most likely one of the bulbs on the chandelier has blown, possibly more. Obviously, you don’t know the exact number of bulbs that have blown until you go to the fuse box to reset the trip, go back to your darkened room and turn the chandelier back on. Then, and ONLY then, when it’s actually switched on, can you assess the damage and see how many bulbs you’ve lost, or if it was more than a bulb, that you’ve lost the entire chandelier. My point is, you’re not going to fucking know until you turn the bastard thing back on. Are you?

While the chandelier is off, we have a number of choices. We could start on all that doom and gloom about how we’re screwed and condemned to sit in darkness for evermore because it’s broken now. Or we could say, ‘hmm, let’s go reset the trip (thus restoring the electricity supply to the chandelier) switch it on, and see if any of the fucking bulbs light up before we panic, shall we?’

Money is all arbitrary and illusory. The economy is about ‘confidence’ and to be frank, the last time we had a recession, I felt that we were almost talked into it by people who were trying to give the Conservative government a hard ride … or was it a Labour government then I’ve no idea. How many small business owners are going to give up after hearing that 20% statistic? How many small businesses are going to go into administration because their customers have read that and are saving every penny and not buying that thrombdimulator or whatever it is our lovely small local business sells?

But if the economy is about confidence then we need confidence right now. And that need should come before the need for sensationalism to gain a news service more adherents. We believe and we achieve, or at least, do a sod of a lot better than we will with all this doom and gloom shit. No wonder everyone out there is fucking miserable and standing on their hooters so long that those unfortunate enough to live nearby are beginning to think the ruddy things are stuck on.

In the Jewish faith, every 50 years they have a Jubilee, yes that’s where we get the word. And at that time, all debts are written off. So you’re never going to get a situation where someone is so far in debt that even their grandchildren haven’t a hope in hell of sorting it out. Coz … jubilee.

Why don’t we do that? Seriously though, why can’t we just reset the entire god forsaken thing and start again. Just write off everything. Let’s face it, France and Britain are practically bankrupt, they’re billions and billions in debt and the only reason they aren’t bankrupt is because they’re France and Britain rather than say, Liberia or the Cameroon … or Greece.

If we can stop the fucking world, surely a post lock-down jubilee is a piece of cake. No of course it isn’t because the people least affected couldn’t possibly forego the chance of supplementing to their billions.

It’s just mental.

And of course, by pedalling this 20% bell endery – rather than just admitting that they don’t know what’s going to happen so we’ll have to sit tight – the credible news sources erode people’s belief in them, and that’s how your bog-standard person in the street starts believing the ludicrous shite pedalled by the far right and left who, big news here, are NO different from one another, each as fucking awful. Worse this reduction of everything to generalist sound bites, with lots of NLP trigger words like disastrous, terrible, wicked etc means that people actually believe this shit. It’s how normal, kindly every day souls start to actually believe the kind of cartoon, absolutist bollocks pedalled as ‘news’ in papers like The Sun and the Daily Mail.

I remember when, as a kid, the BBC news would be different to all others. They would report a disaster as dispassionately and un-emotively as possible. I remember watching the BBC newscasters describing ‘substantial damage’ and a ‘major incident’ while their counterparts on ITV were referring to ‘absolute carnage’ and an ‘unprecidented disaster’. ITV was all NLP trigger words, BBC was, on the whole, an effort to establish the facts. Now the BBC have joined the race to the bottom and sealed their own doom.

There is so much good stuff we will lose.

Speaking of which, has anyone seen the programme with Professor Brian Cox about the planets. It’s really interesting. Stuffed to the gunwales with fabulous effects, photography and facts. Loads and loads of facts. Not ten minutes about how you’re going to learn some facts, another fact strung out for five minutes, an ad break followed by another five minutes to recap the fact you’ve discovered in the first half and explain what you’ll learn in the second half, followed by a second fact and another five minutes to sum up what you’ve learned before the credits roll.

Anyway, if you get a chance, have a look because it’s wonderful and incredibly interesting. Plus the way that all the diverse planetary bodies in the solar system are actually linked is kind of magical, and the stuff of another science fiction novel I think.

Talking of which …

Knock me down with a feather but Audible finally got their fingers out of their arses and published Few Are Chosen. So now the whole K’Barthan Series, is live. That’s sixty three hours, eight minutes and fifty seven seconds of meaty K’Barthan goodness … narrated by Gareth – the voice of K’Barth – Davies. And with Unlucky dip on top that’s sixty three hours, forty one minutes and seven seconds of meaty K’Barthan goodness.

It took me three hours to upload the box set to Audible and the. Entire. Battery. Life. Of my lap top. Please God let there not be any errors.

If you’re interested, you can find information about my audiobooks here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html.

Spikes … Robert Smith and that bloke out of the Alarm eat your heart out! Mwwahahahahrgh

Another joy this week, in a bid to try and help McMini come to terms with his chances of sustaining anything approaching a proper Mohican with his curly hair I treated him to a demonstration of how I used to make my hair stick up. A lot. Yep, no gel, straighteners or anything else required, not even back combing, you just rub it with a towel in a gentle circular motion.

The ideal length for hair, if you are doing this, is anywhere from four to six inches. Mine currently stands at about a foot. I only did the front because I didn’t have all day but I reckon this isn’t too shabby. Note to self, do not play with spiking hair, try to take selfie in bathroom mirror, fail and take a second photo in the bathroom while wearing a sun top. It does look startlingly as if I’m in the all together there doesn’t it? Oops.

And there we are that’s it from sunny Bury St Edmunds this week. More crap next week including, why I can’t understand how people get all het up about gayness and how I intend to mend my broken kindle … A bientot.

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If you feel like something to escape into …

There’s always my new book. A big thank you to everyone who ordered Close Enough. Apologies the paperback isn’t out yet. That’s a whole other story.

If these books aren’t your thing but you want to help any other way, feel free to share the information page in my website with your friends: link below.

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infoce.html

Here’s the blurb again, just in case you need it …

As recently appointed delivery man for Big Merv, one of Ning Dang Po’s most powerful crime bosses, The Pan of Hamgee is ordered to deliver a gift to Big Merv’s current girlfriend. With a pair of bespoke-made, sapphire and diamond earrings on board, and a trip across the city in the offing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything.

While you’re at it, this and all my other books in paperback, audio and ebook format should be available from your public library. Just check your library app or ask your librarian.

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This week I have been mostly been …

Finding out about how the bunny got on …

Bunny!

It’s coming down to the wire I have about 50 minutes to break the back of this before we all knock off for the evening, with a quick ten minutes of lighting candles and stuffing our faces with cake yes it’s the McBirthdays: McMini’s and McMine.

First of all the bunny!

Remember him? He turned out to be a young one, perfectly healthy and able to see so he was clearly just incredibly tame.

After a week at the vet’s, his owners couldn’t be traced so they decided they would re-home him. Apparently his new owners absolutely adore him so he is very happy and being well looked after. In other words he is …

… a happy bunny. Oh ho ho. So that’s a grand.

Eating cake …

But not baking one. Yes, this week it was mine and McMini’s birthdays which usually means it’s time to make one of my bizarre cakes that look so horrendous that they end up being almost cool. Amazingly, I didn’t make a cake this time. I was requested not to.

This is mostly because each the men in my life has an incredibly sweet tooth and prefers a bought one. McOther bought a white one for me to decorate but McMini even eschewed any attempts to add further decorations because he dislikes the lemon icing I make. Mwahahahrgh.

Never mind. Saved me a job. Instead the cake was artfully decorated with candles and ting until it looked like some kind of hedgehog with hair loss and, after we removed the candles it bore an uncanny resemblance to a stilton. Hmm.

Tasted good though.

Pulling my hair out

The next K’Barthan Shorts book, Close Enough, is out next Thursday. I spent a lot of the week checking that all the right files were uploaded everywhere. Making sure it was listed on the sites where I wanted it listed. Trying to make it go live on Apple. Jeepers, I don’t think like an Mac-er so that took a bit of doing. I did, finally discover that as well as uploading the book, setting the price and adding all the information, I needed to actually click an on sale button.

Doh.

Yeh. Won’t be getting many pre-orders off apple then but it is on sale there now. Phew.

Fighting gremlins

Yes it wasn’t just Apple – although to give them their due, that was finger trouble my side of the house rather than any actual ghost in their machine. This was different.

In what clearly was a gremlin-driven escapade at Ingram Spark there was an unusual wobble with the paperback, too. Having heard a lot of other authors complaining about bugs in the new Ingram dashboard I left it as late as I dared to set up the record there ready to upload my book. But starting the set up process appears to have locked my prices in as round numbers before I had even reached the page with options to edit them. When I tried to change them, nothing happened. It was only when I contacted the help desk that I managed to alter them, Arnold, The Prophet in all his munificence bless the chap who came to my aid.

When I explained the prices hadn’t changed he assured me that they would but it would take a while.

The next joyous discovery came the following day when I discovered exactly how long ‘taking a while’ was. Having automatically set up some random prices on the book, the system would not incorporate my corrected prices until the following Friday because they only batch price changes once a week. This, I know, but their doing it before you have even uploaded a manuscript for your book or made the record live was a new one on me. Strange though it was, it didn’t look like a particularly significant problem, until I uploaded my cover with the correct price of £5.99 on the back at which point, it was refused. They take three days to send a proof sometimes, so I was rather keen to persuade them to process it and let me proof the results. After all, it wasn’t as if the book was on sale yet or would be for another week.

A second query to the help desk and I discovered that yes, this was their new normal (I do dislike that phrase) and I would not be able to upload the cover before the prices went live on Friday (today as I type this bit). That seemed like a special kind of madness. I guess it saves mistakes being made in the field as it were but for a book that’s not even going to be published when the prices come into effect it seemed a novel way to proceed.

This morning, I waited on nervous tenterhooks to see if my book’s prices actually did change to the correct ones. They did but from now on I will have to factor in that week from the point of set up, to the subsequent Friday lunch time, that it will take to change the prices that are automatically added in when I start. What makes it more confusing was that you were able to change prices under the old system several times and it would change your most recent entry. It wouldn’t change on the public sales side of stuff until the following Friday but your dashboard would show the new prices, yellowed out, so you could see the were pending.

Hopefully, I’ll get the proofs back in time to sign this one off before Thursday. Should do, but they will probably come in on Wednesday when I’m in Sussex so I’ll have to remember to take the right electronic gizmo with me to be able to read it and sign it off while I’m there.

A few dicey moments there then, but I think we’re more or less set. The only other thing I’ll need to do is upload the files to my payhip store late on Wednesday, although Bookfunnel will send the files on to the folks who have pre-ordered it from there.

Still it all appears to be drifting vaguely in the right direction so definite spud points all round this month.

Frankly, apart from on this here blog, I haven’t really made much of a thing about my forthcoming launch. Perhaps I should but I think you need to have an engaged community of about 20,000 followers before it makes much difference.

Exploring options

Other exciting developments this week, Findaway voices rolled out Authors Direct, their direct selling platform, to authors in the UK. Sadly it involves a monthly sub of $20 which is too expensive for my nascent sales to stand. There’s also a set up fee, although because I was on the waiting list they reduced that from a rather hefty $90 to $25. The cancellation is only a month each way so I think if I was a bit further down the line I might have jumped in and given it a go but right now that $20 a month is more needed to spend on the mailing service I use and Bookfunnel.

Attempting to persuade ACX to publish Few Are Chosen to Audible

And failing.

Yep. First one still not published.

However, I have ‘claimed’ the kindle version on ACX. I suspect this is what I needed to do in the first place as I went for the kindle version with all the others and not only did they go live much quicker but they have linked with the paperback. In the case of Few, I ‘claimed’ the paperback – because it has the proper title instead of the stupid shit Amazon insists on because they won’t change the word ‘trilogy’ to series – but it hasn’t linked with the Kindle version the same way.

You have no idea how sorely, sorely tempted I am to upload the book again, using my second ‘claim’ and see if that speeds things up.

There will also be a new audiobook releasing in September some time, which will be the K’Barthan Series Box Set. I don’t know why I didn’t get that done last time. But I tend to batch my art work requirements around the time of any new releases. This time, I have have had audiobook covers done for all my other works, including a K’Barthan Box Set cover. I’ve also got them to add Gareth’s name on the covers, because I hadn’t, which is a bit embarrassing.

So I will upload the box set onto Findaway Voices and ACX next week. I suspect that will go live before Few Are Chosen ever does. If it does, I’ll give you the heads up when it lands. If you use one of the other sites, or your library, you can read Few Are Chosen anyway. Also, I might have some tokens for free copies of my audiobooks from Findaway which will allow me to give you a copy of Few Are Chosen from certain sites. I’ll have to look into that and find out more.

Treating myself … and you lot

Also, as a birthday present to myself, I paid for Gareth to do and audio version of Night Swimming. One of the lovely things about working with someone who is learning as they go is that you get to see the curve. I think we were starting from a pretty high level anyway with Gareth. Even so, his narration still gets better and better with each book. He just sounds more relaxed and at ease. Perhaps narration is a bit like writing in that it takes a little while to find your ‘voice’ or at least, your mode of expression? Dunno. Anyway, it’s just lovely.

Hopefully I should sign that off tomorrow or Sunday and he’ll be done next week. I just want to listen to the last two chapters one more time. Then I can change the audio sign up list so people get Night Swimming. Gareth is doing this and the K’Barthan Shorts series as and when he’s a bit bored or has some time, so I’ve sent him all three of the completed K’Barthan shorts so he can work on them any time the mood takes him.

Cocking up another series name

The fourth K’Barthan short is not short at all. It’s 54,000 words and counting which is a novel in anyone’s book. Never mind. I guess you can’t win ’em all.

______________________

If you’re a bit bored …

Why not pre-order my new book, Close Enough. It is out next Thursday, 18th June. I have to confess, I am quite pleased with this one.

Despite having been writing for a living in some form or another for over 20 years, I reckon I still have a lot to learn and I still feel as if each book I write is better than the last. I’m not sure the shorts are everyone’s cup of tea, they are more snapshots than anything but I enjoyed writing this one and it feels a tiny bit more complex. Not like the novels but more complex. If these books aren’t your thing but you want to help any other way, feel free to share the information page in my website with your friends: link below.

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infoce.html

Here’s the blurb again, just in case you need it …

As recently appointed delivery man for Big Merv, one of Ning Dang Po’s most powerful crime bosses, The Pan of Hamgee is ordered to deliver a gift to Big Merv’s current girlfriend. With a pair of bespoke-made, sapphire and diamond earrings on board, and a trip across the city in the offing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything.

That’s all for this week. Until next, have a good one.

 

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Handcart locked and loaded. Destination: Hell … mind the doors please.

This morning it is pissing down and rather cold. Bit of a bummer after it’s been so lovely, although the plants need the rain and I bet the blackbird is pleased not to have to be eternally dive bombing my cat. Politics has rather dominated this week despite my best efforts not to let it. There are a lot of things I could say but I’ll only go off on … OK all of them. Sorry.

(RANT MODE ON).

The trouble with having a nation where everyone is armed to the teeth is that, in an altercation, things seem to move from shouting and pointy sticks to bullets very quickly. Since Trump has followed Hitler’s playbook from the get go, I’m not going to be hugely surprised if he suddenly stands up and actually, you know, says that he’s a full on white supremacist.

After all, he is a man who would prefer to appear in public looking like an orange panda with a Brillo pad on his head than admit to being pale and bald. That’s impressive. Someone like that is always going to be full of interesting surprises. Although, I think I may possibly be starting to understand why he chose orange foundation over a more natural shade like say … brown.

Then again, he may be President but he’s also an American businessman and foremost, he’s going to act as such. If Henry Ford can have his workers shot for going on strike, I guess Donald Trump can send anonymous armed guards to shoot demonstrators. I was amused by the way that the actual city administration of Washington DC appears to have trolled him by painting Black Lives Matter on the streets near the Whitehouse. I probably shouldn’t be. I’m sure it makes me a bad person. But I can’t help thinking that DT going down to the bunker and the wire fences being put up around the Whitehouse might say as much about his private view of some Americans as it does about their intentions towards him.

Or to spell it out a bit. Is he getting worried the people he derides feel the way about him that he does about them? Or maybe it’s just precedent. I mean Americans do have a bit of a thing about shooting their presidents. No but hang on, aren’t the nutters with guns are mostly in his fan base? You can never be too careful I guess.

What does strike me is all the posts where young black lads in the USA are talking about the things they have to remember. Don’t go out after dark, avoid wearing certain clothes … I can empathise with them hugely since, while theirs go further, these kinds of dos and don’ts are still integral to any woman’s life, no matter what her age or colour. Fist bump. Welcome to my world darling.

Except times about one trillion.

This is something that upsets me. I totally get why people over there are angry and rioting.

My great to the power of … many … grandfather was black. This is something we’ve learned accidentally from blood analysis rather than tracing the family tree, we think he must have been Roman. The thing is, I look at this and think, there but for the quirks of genetics, go I. I once encountered someone on facebook who was banging on about how the BBC was crap because there should be only white people on it and that coloured people weren’t representative of ‘Britain’ – that they shouldn’t live in this country and should all be ‘sent home’. I told him coloured people had been settling in Britain for at least a thousand years and that I was living proof, explaining about my Great (however many it is) grandfather. Would I have to leave your utopian only Britain? I asked him. He told me that I didn’t count, because, ‘your skin is white.’ I’m not making this shit up. Racism is that arbitrary and pathetic.

As my 87 year old mother said the other day, ‘ it’s disgusting.’

‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do to me.’

I wonder which bit of that the conservative ‘Christians’ in the USA fail to get.

Moving on.

Here in Britain, we’ve had the Dominic Cummings thing. Jeepers. So my first thought, on that one, was that if I was worried one of us had the Rona, and that McOther and I might end up in hospital with McMini here alone, I’d have been up the M6 to my brother’s with him like a rat up a drainpipe. But then Mr Cummings tried to explain his trip to Barnard Castle the following day.

What the actual fuck did he think he was doing? Seriously? Who advised him to come out with that utter tosh? There are so many explanations that are reasonable. ‘I was an idiot, I didn’t think, it’s a lovely place and I just took a run out there without thinking it through. I was foolish and I’m sorry.’ That would have done it.

But no. That would involve him admitting to a mistake. Can’t have that. For he is perfect. As I understand it, the explanation is that, worried the Rona might have left him a bit blind, despite having driven 200 miles up the A1 from London the day before without a second thought, he decided to test his eyesight. Rather than go outside and see if he could read a number plate from 30 yards away, like you do at the beginning of a driving test, he decided he’d do this by going for a thirty mile drive.

How did that work?

If I don’t crash the car and kill anyone. I’m not blind.

Yeh good call.

Seriously though.

What?

This is the kind of logic behind the ducking stool. I know our current batch of Conservatives is quite a lot further to the right than some of their predecessors have been but … really?

Surely you need to get your reasoning skills a bit further than that to advise the Prime Minister these days. Or maybe not. Hmm… strange that there’s a big Glaxo facility in Barney. Is that where he was going? Is Not Wanting To Talk About Glaxo why he was prepared to come out with the kind of excuse a three year old caught nicking biscuits would be ashamed of?

The point is, he went from having a reasonably valid excuse, or at least a reason for transgressing that any parent could understand, to looking like the biggest lying bastard ever.  The Barnard Castle (northern euphemism for cobblers) he was talking about his visit to Barney immediately makes any sensible person wonder what the actual reason for going north in the first place might have been.

Seriously, McMini, bearded in the larder with a half eaten biscuit in one hand and the opened packet in the other could argue more cogently that he had not been pilfering biscuits than Mr Cummings argued a valid reason for his trip to Barnard Castle.

From feeling a certain amount of empathy with Cummings I now wonder about the veracity of all of it. He only stayed up there two days. Why? Sounds like he was just visiting the parents. Or was it something more sinister than that? Were he or his wife even ill?

Mr Cummings, if you’re reading this, do get in touch with me. I can put you in contact with my young son. I’m sure he’ll help you to come up with something a bit more plausible next time you’re caught being a naughty boy. Or thinking about it, your own lad’s four so doubtless you can sort your next excuse in house. Yeh, cut out your advisors and talk to the four year old next time you want to think of an excuse because I assure you, he’ll come up with quality compared to this last effort.

Then there’s Boris’ knee jerk reaction. Nothing sensible like,

‘OK, I can’t make any constructive comment on this until I’ve spoken to my colleague and found out what’s going on, I will do so and make a statement as soon as I am able.’

Nope it’s  ‘He was here all the time, honest guv!’ So now he just looks like an almighty liar who will put his loyalty to his friends ahead of both his loyalty to the nation and his integrity. A kind of reverse Thomas a Becket. And as Prime Minister, his loyaltay to his nation is important. This is not what you do when you work for governments. If you work for MI6 and you are tasked with spying on your best friend, you do it. That’s why working for MI6 is not a pleasant job. Likewise politics. Not an easy job. Not really. That’s why it now comes with a good wage. Because if you do it properly and you make it about helping others, rather than stepping over them and helping yourself, it’s actually a very tough gig. And like Thomas a Becket, if you do it properly, you’re going to make a lot of enemies out of folks who might, once, have been your friends.

It’s as much a non-story as that thing about Gordon Brown was when he called that woman a racist. To be honest, while I got what she was saying, it did come over as a bit, ‘send the brown people home,’ so I could see his point.

But all these non-stories are about smearing others. Groups of people or political parties who don’t like someone looking for a reason to destroy them. They haven’t the wit to wait for something really good. They use the first piece of dubious shit they can find, with no substance to back it up. They undermine their own integrity, not to mention the credibility of any genuinely pertinent information they might discover at a later date. Which is one of the reasons why the far right’s supporters don’t believe anyone except their own mouth pieces anymore (sure the other is brainwashing but that’s one).

On that ‘outrage’, I sympathised with Gordon Brown. I felt that no journalist of integrity should have printed/released a throw away remark made in private. And however much of a get Mr Brown may or may not have been, the place where he should be tried and tested for his actions was not the newspapers. It was within government, parliament, the law – possibly – and his own party? Through whatever the official channels were, anyway, not on telly.

Likewise, I actually sympathised with Dominic Cummings – until his laughable attempts to explain himself. But I do still have some sympathy, in that the whole thing does come over as another nothing whipped up into something by his political enemies. There are a lot of very unpleasant people in politics but some are reasonably proficient at the things they are there to do. I guess it’s balancing that. If someone is unctuous, condescending and rude but a brilliant chancellor, maybe that’s OK.

Yes, politicians need to be held accountable and, yes, that’s what the press is there to do. But it needs to be done with integrity. If the press prints something to hold people in power accountable, they need to do it because making their actions public is the right thing to do. Not to make news. The nub is that the news making is a by product. The story has to serve some other purpose. There has to be some vague nod at a quest for truth or a point to it all. It’s very subtle but there’s a difference in there and I wonder if we are losing sight of it.

It’s like there’s nothing interesting happening so politicians and press alike have to whip some piece of mundane crap up into this gargantuan pseudo scandal. And then when, in the 1980s, there was some very compelling evidence that a cabinet minister was abusing children. Politicians and press, alike, hushed it up.

The notable thing that struck me was the lack of statesmanlike behaviour on all sides. Clearly a lot of people in Whitehall and Parliament have got where they are today by going round in big groups, overwhelming and shouting down the opposition rather than winning debates. Perhaps that’s why Mr Cummings was incapable of mustering any humility or making a genuine apology and a reasonable explanation. Perhaps he’s never had to acknowledge a mistake before and doesn’t understand how to. Perhaps he lacks the humility to acknowledge his failings. Perhaps that’s why Boris just blustered defensively instead of admitting that he didn’t know the facts and would look into them and report back. Or could it be that the truth of that trip really is something so deeply insidious that it must be buried. It probably isn’t, but after their behaviour, I suspect a lot of people are going to think it is, whether or not that’s true.

(/RANT MODE)

____________________________

If current politics is doing your head in, world wide or at home, why not lose yourself in a good book, or alternatively, one of mine. There are several options.

1. Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1 on AUDIO wooooot

This should be reduced to £5.99 or $5.99 AU/CA/US/NZ and €5.99 on Kobo, from now until 28th June.

In addition, it’ll be available for the same price on Chirp and iBooks from 13th – 28th June.

Links to those sites can be found here:

In other audio news, hopefully the new shorts will be available over the coming year. After a bit of thought, I’ve decided it will also including the free mailing list exclusive, Night Swimming. One of the joys of this is that, with any luck, these will be a bit shorter so I will be able to sell them direct from my site.

2. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 3

Close Enough cover

This is out on 18th June.

It’s also available for preorder in most places, except possibly Apple because it’s the first time I’ve uploaded there direct and it’s taking me a fair while to understand how their store works.

If you’re interested, here’s the blurb.

As recently appointed delivery man for Big Merv, one of Ning Dang Po’s most powerful crime bosses, The Pan of Hamgee is ordered to deliver a gift to Big Merv’s current girlfriend. With a pair of bespoke-made, sapphire and diamond earrings on board, and a trip across the city in the offing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything.

If you like the sound of that, click here

If you’ve got all the way down here, congratulations and thanks for reading. A bientot!

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Today, a bunny thing happened …

This week, I had intended to write a deep and poignant post about stages along the dementia path. But then stuff happened. So, instead I’m going to share another slice of my completely bat shit crazy life. Something connected with my oh-ho-ho so clever pun in the title there (phnark).

First up, I invented a joke. Who do mice worship? Cheesus. This is, possibly, the only funny joke I’ve ever thought of, and probably ever will so enjoy it while you can.

Next, ACX, which publishes audiobooks on Audible. Jeez but seriously? What a chuffing shower. Talk about arse doesn’t know what the elbow’s doing. Seriously, total, epic big-company style fuckwittery. They used to approve audiobooks by listening to them, which is commendable, but takes ages. I think they still do but they have an autovetter as well, now, that saves them a lot of time. There was a big surge in audio submissions at the end of last year apparently, and basically, they were swamped.

Friends submitting books early December were only having them put on sale in late February/early March. One of the biggest reasons I published non-exclusively with them is because I looked at them and I just thought … do I really want to rely on these insane nutters for all my audiobook income? And the immediate answer was no. Lucky because they removed the key benefit of going all-in just after I uploaded my first book with them – on a non-exclusive deal. Phew.

Anyway, the issue is that I submitted four audiobooks which are in a series. The audiobooks were submitted in order one, two, three, four in the hope that they would appear on the market in that same order. Did they? Of course not. Book two appeared first and then, worse, some poor bugger bought one – they’re going to be well confused, unless it’s Gareth’s mum (my mum wouldn’t be up to that kind of thing) but Gareth doesn’t think so.

Anyway, I wrote to ACX help, you can’t reach that from the UK by the way, the help links just pipe you through to sign up to audible, but some friends in the US and Australia shared the web address. I wrote and explained that the books need to be read in order and asked if there was any chance they could hurry up book one. I received a boilerplate reply saying that they’d look into it but that book one would probably go live before they came back with an answer. The best way of saying ‘we’ll investigate this when hell freezes over’ I’ve come across.

Well done ACX! Mwahahahargh!

OK so maybe I’m being harsh, the (possibly) person or (probably) bot replying might have made some sort of effort. Who knows, but the result of my enquiry after the status of book one was the rapid release of book four. Mwahahahahrgh!

What cockwomblery is this? I thought, but give them some time. Maybe the first book will appear next.

Sure enough ACX did put another of the books on sale that very same day, can you guess which one? Yes! That’s right. Book three! Mwahahahahrgh! Book one, which was submitted before all of them, remains stolidly ‘in review’ at the moment. Gareth’s reaction, ‘that is mad in so many ways’ pretty much sums it up.

Writing has been a bit on the back burner this week, although I have written about 6,000 words because I know exactly what’s happening so I can dash off a thousand in a few ten minute stints here and there. Also did the first Sussex trip for nine weeks, which was lovely in most ways and a little difficult in others. I will be taking McMini next week, which we are all looking forward to. McMini lost a bit of focus on his school work recently. Got a sucked into his gaming. The school raised concerns so we’ve been liaising with them since. He’s been really good about catching up. It’s half term this week and I think he has a couple of assignments left to do but otherwise, he’s nearly back on track, which is brilliant. But it does mean we’ve been spending a lot more time checking his work over with him and ensuring it’s all done. He responds much better to hearing and seeing someone explain a concept rather than reading it … like me bless him. We’ve also been distracting him from his screen so it’s been good to spend more time with him.

On Thursday, after he’d finished his lessons, he came through to the kitchen and after a bit of chatting we decided we’d go for a walk. Off we went and half way round our usual circuit McMini asked if we could take a different path and explore, so we did, ending up on a really lovely cycle/foot path through the countryside – even if it was a bit close to the A14. It came out on a road I know well and I worked out we could do a loop back home. Having decided to do this we set off, onwards, when I noticed a black rabbit calmly munching grass in broad daylight on the verge.

‘Uh-oh, looks like someone’s rabbit has got out,’ I said, making to walk on.

‘Mum! We can’t leave it. Remember when we lost our cat, remember how horrible it was, there will be people looking for him.’

‘Well … we can’t catch him,’ I said, dubiously. ‘Tell you what then, let’s ring the vet.’

Our vet was on another call and anyway, I knew they were only taking emergency calls and that they were well busy – we’d walked past the surgery and seen that the car park was hooching with folks and pets, all emergencies, waiting to be seen. So I rang another vet. They said to ring the RSPCA. I found a local rep but the number went to voicemail so I rang the hotline.

‘Your call will be answered in … thirty … minutes,’ said the electronic voice. I relayed this, pretty horrific news to McMini.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I asked McMini.

‘Yes Mum.’

‘Right oh then.’

Bunny!

So we held … for forty minutes. During which time we stayed with the rabbit so we didn’t lose it. It was very friendly, sniffling at my feet and sniffing my fingers. Definitely tame but a bit shy as well and seemingly very short sighted. At one point it was attacked by another wild rabbit. Did you know that when one rabbit jumps another rabbit from behind, the surprised one can jump at least four feet high? No, neither did I but it did. It was chased around until it ran back to us and the wild rabbit stopped. There was stare down for a moment or two and then I clicked my fingers at the wild rabbit and it scarpered whereas our chap, being tame, was not alarmed.

Finally, the RSPCA answered and told us – you guessed it – to call the vet. They gave us the number of our own vet, the one which was engaged in the first instance and extremely busy. I rang them and told them that I hoped to be bringing in a rabbit. However, while waiting, I had texted the RSPCA local rep to explain what was happening. I texted McOther as well. He came to collect us with the car, some carrots and lettuce, and a cat box. There was a lay by just near us so he parked there. By six fifteen, we reckoned we weren’t going to get the rabbit, it came close, a couple of times but we decided we’d have to leave it and we came home. Rabbits do get out and usually, they do go home on their own.

More bunny!

Later, while exchanging messages with Gareth about the curious antics of ACX I mentioned the rabbit. He said he’d owned two pairs of rabbits and that yes, he did indeed pull them … well … not out of a hat but out of a house apparently. Mwahahaargh. He gave them to his nephew and nice when he quit being a children’s entertainer and got a job with a touring theatre company. He had two pairs and told me his would get out frequently, to the point where he stopped trying to catch them because it was a pain in the arse and pointless, anyway, when they’d always come home.

This was reassuring but our bunny seemed to have very poor vision, and while he probably wanted to go home, I wondered if he’d be able to find his way. More to the point, surely he’d have left the area when the other rabbit attacked him if he knew how to get home. Worse, there was the possibility that he might have been abandoned, in a moment of desperation, by skint, locked-down, parents who’d told the kids he ran away. Maybe that was why he was staying where he was, because that was where he had been let out of someone’s car. Or maybe he was just lost. Perhaps the increased traffic on the A14 was drowning out the noises he would have used to navigate his way home. Or, he may simply have stayed in that spot because, as a tame, domesticated bunny, albeit a lost one, he liked human company. Maybe munching pine cones and relaxing on the grass near a busy footpath was as close to human interaction as he dared get. I thought way too much about this, as you can see, but I decided that in order to come out of this liking myself, I’d have to go back and have one last go at catching him the next day.

Action bunny!

During our NHS clapping session, the local RSPCA lady who I’d texted got back to me. She’d called a local vet, would I mind if the vet called me? I said not at all and sure enough within a couple of minutes a lovely lady from a completely different vet’s practice called me. Yep, there is a third practice in Bury of which I knew nothing and this lady was from there. She went and found the bunny, but she couldn’t catch him either. I said I’d try again the following day and she told me to pop by and she’d give me some food and a box. That morning, McOther had planned to go to a supermarket near the spot where we’d seen the rabbit. He said he’d go check and see if it was still there. However, when he reached the spot, the lay-by had eight or nine cars in it and there were loads of blokes in yellow tabards wielding noisy gardening machinery. No sign of the rabbit. Unsurprisingly. Maybe it had moved on. If it hadn’t, it would now.

Later, at about two fifteen, I reckoned the council gardeners would probably have gone and wondered, that being likely, whether I should go and have one last go at finding the rabbit anyway. It had probably run away to somewhere else, but it was more than just a lost bunny. It was someone’s loved pet. And it was so very clearly a particularly docile, kindly and sweet natured one. The more nights it was out, the higher the chances it’d be eaten by a fox. I dashed off a thousand words of the W.I.P. but by about quarter to three, I knew I would feel terrible leaving the poor little chap out there for another night without trying to catch him first. Cursing my soft centre, because I had other things to do, off I went.

I packed two bowls and a bottle of water into a rucksack and stopped at the vet’s surgery, which was on the way, where they donated a box and some rabbit pellets to help me catch him. The rabbit took about ten minutes to find and was roughly where McMini, McOther and I had given up on it the previous day. It hopped into a patch of grass so I sat down with it, put some rabbit mix in one bowl and some water in the other, opened the box and waited. I noticed there were several big balls of fluff about which had clearly come off something during a fight, one was damp with dew so might have been there a day or two, the other was much fresher. I hoped they weren’t off the rabbit I was trying to catch.

Gradually, as I sat still, reading, my rabbit-shaped friend came nearer, probably more by happenstance than design. I rattled the bowl of grass pellets and almost got it to follow them into the box. Almost but not quite.

For a few minutes I let it get on with eating grass and just sat there with it. It sniffled my feet again at one point and then wandered off to wherever its nose for tasty forget-me-nots led next. It looked like I wasn’t going to tempt it into the box this time. I’d report back to the vet and try again tomorrow. I was a bit worried it might be thirsty, so I thought that before I left I should, at least, try to get it to drink some water. I flipped my finger in the bowl to make … what the hell do you call them … watery noises and it perked up and listened. More splishing and … yes, it was definitely interested. I leaned down and put the bowl right in front of its face. It sniffled it a bit and then had a long drink. Excellent.

After that I put the food bowl down and it nibbled a few grass pellets, I tried stroking it, and it moved on a foot or two. Gently, followed and tried again, stroking its head. I could almost hear it go, ‘Aaaaaaaa.’ It was clear it loved this, had missed it and was craving affection. So I kept stroking it and talking gently to it and then I put my hands round it to pick it up. It still didn’t tense or get scared, not until the point where I lifted it into the air. I didn’t dare support it’s back legs in case it sprang out of my grasp so I did get a couple of scratches from it’s paddling back feet but managed to put it into the box and close the door.

In the process of kicking, one flailing leg caught its own fur and ripped a lump off its tum. It was the same as the lumps of fur strewn around on the grass. The poor little thing had clearly had a horrid night, presumably being attacked by the other rabbit.

On the way back to the vet surgery the box nearly came open. Luckily someone stopped me to ask what I was carrying, noticed and told me. When I told her the box contained a rabbit she melted a bit – clearly a rabbit fan – and asked if she could say hello. I told her of course and as she put her finger through the grill and stroked its head I explained where I’d found it. She’d seen it too, it transpired. I said I thought it might be a bit blind and that, when I’d told a vet this, she had said rabbits get glaucoma. Yes, the lady said, they do, it’s quite common. She told me she still had a hutch and that she’d kept rabbits but didn’t have any right now. She had been with friends when she’d seen this bunny the previous day and intended to see if it was still there. She, too, was wondering whether she should try to catch him. Why wasn’t I just taking him home and keeping him, she asked. I said that he was so trusting and loving that I thought he must belong to someone who’d be sorely missing him. I told her where I was taking him and that if the owners didn’t come forward they’d have to re-home him, encouraging her to ring and say she was interested if she thought she’d like to keep him. She said she’d pop in and ask.

Second owner lined up then … although I am very, very tempted. McOther says that he already has three dumb animals to look after though (McMini, McCat and myself) and felt a fourth might tip him over into insanity. Mwahahaargh. Still …

As I walked on, I felt the rabbit shift and relax and all the weight in the box moved to one corner. Tufts of black fur stuck out of the air holes where he was reclining against the side. A good sign, I thought. Clearly a relaxed bunny. So there we are. The rabbit is safe, with kindly humans who will treat him well and look after him. He’ll spend a week at the vet – which is a legal requirement – during which they’ll try and trace his owner. Then, if they can’t find the family who lost him, he will be re-homed. Who knows, perhaps, with the lovely lady I met on the footpath.

Mood this week. Smug.

_____________________

If, like our friendly bunny, you wish to escape for a while, why not get yourself lost in a good book? And if you can’t find one of those, there’s always one of mine. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers, as well as from me. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Sod’s law and other constants …

This morning, I woke from a dream in which McMini and I were trapped in a version of my parents’ bedroom in our house in the school in which I grew up. We were about to be mauled to death by a very well-meaning and playful – but nonetheless large, powerful and dangerous – semi-adult tiger cub. It was early but even so, I was uncharacteristically pleased to be waking up at such an hour, the alternative being a certain mauling. Groggily I looked at the clock and I realised it was Sunday.

On Sundays, I attend church via t’interweb. This one was no exception. As a somewhat stolid anglican, I tend to go for the Church of England website. Also it’s at 9 am and if I have to set myself apart from the McOthers to do it, as opposed to going somewhere, it’s easier if it happens earlier than later. Something said by the lady preaching struck me. She was talking about trust, trusting in the future, in a future and it got me thinking about routine.

Routine is something I’ve written about before. When things get a bit overwhelming – in my case, in the situation with Dad – hanging onto the small bits of routine can keep your feet on the ground and get you through. This Corona thing … this feels like the opposite. I don’t know about you but my routine had been severely disrupted. I don’t go out or to the same places, the morning routine is different. We are all here together every day, which we are lucky enough to enjoy. But is it the same? No. Not at all. And that’s the thing.

If you think about it. We humans are often creatures of habit. We like routine. Without routine, everything feels a bit impermanent. I’m guessing this is a part of our self-preservation genes. Doubtless, to our cave dwelling ancestors, impermanence and change were synonymous with danger. Life on the move, looking for food and water which might not always have been abundant. Moving from one source of water to where we hoped there was another … everything was a risk. No wonder we stopped and put down roots. No wonder we grew our food, which gave us a much higher guarantee of eating then wandering around trying to forage for it. We could store it, too, rather than carrying a little with us. Maybe it was being settled with part of the day’s chores done – like finding a place to sleep and maybe building a shelter for the night – that gave them that little bit more time to think and have ideas.

Coming back to us, with routine, there are bits of the day you can conduct pretty much on autopilot, freeing up important mental resources for other things. My grandmother always used to say that innovation and technological thinking in the ancient world was bound to be centred round the Mediterranean because it was warm. She felt that those of us unlucky enough to live in Northern Europe at that time had far too much surviving to do. She reckoned that after we’d kept warm through the winter and then spent the summer months gathering and growing enough food, and finding enough wood, to get through the next winter without starving, time was scarce for for thinking, discussion and sitting about having ideas. I’m not sure it quite holds water – after all, look at the way dire times like war always seem to put a bomb under science, which there is never quite enough money for in peacetime (yes, that’s what happened to scram jets and Australia to London in 3hrs, no war, no money, no-one bothered) – but I reckon she might have been onto something.

Personally, I have this theory that on an instinctive, animal level, freeing up brain power and thinking time is what the whole routine thing is about. You don’t think about cleaning your teeth every morning, you just do it. If you did have to plan it and think about it every day it would take longer and it would take more brain capacity. So we’ve learned to do some small tasks, unthinkingly by rote. Once we’d evolved that big brain, it makes sense that changes in our behaviour might have evolved to give ourselves the time and space to use it. Could it be that we are evolutionarily hot-wired to thrive on stability and routine? Maybe it could. Especially as the first of our ancestors who settled were probably safer from predators – although I should imagine they were a bit of a sitting duck in the face of surprise attack from other hostile humans. Hence the practise among our ancient forebears of putting walls around towns.

The thing about Covid:19 is it’s completely buggered this routine. I reckon that’s going to leave certain humans feeling very vulnerable straight off, even if they have no idea why. There is no certainty. What lies ahead? A lot of money troubles for starters. Barring a handful of billionaires, every single person in the world is going to take a hit financially. A lot of people are going to be completely and utterly screwed. Except that may not be the case. We don’t know for certain, because we don’t know what the future holds. The solid ground on which we stand has shifted, but it’s difficult to do anything more than try to stay upright for the moment, until it stops moving.

Then there’s the uncertainty. Each day I set out in hope; hoping the virus will become a bit less virulent and SARS like. Hoping that, if I catch it, I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets sick without dying. I imagine a lot of the people who died in the Blitz felt the same way as I do at the start of the Second World War. Their hopes and dreams were just as valid as the ones who made it to the other side but … they didn’t. Even so, everyone must have felt like this, survivors and casualties; unsure of the future, wondering whether they would come out the other side. Whether they’d be one of the lucky ones. It’s hard not to keep wondering, which one am I?

Life with Covid: 19 is the human race stepping off the precipice. Nothing above us, around us, below us. Out into the blackness of the unknown. I think that, without the Dad thing, that would have disturbed me a lot more than it does. I like my routine and my life. It being my life, though and my routine, I’m aware that there’s nothing more guaranteed to provoke Sod than getting comfortable, or content in my existence. Doubtless everything is about to go completely tits up, accordingly. That’s how my life goes. But even so, this is the first time I’ve felt that my weird, mixed up manner of existence has put me at an advantage. Because that side of it, at least, holds no fear for me now. I’ve done it and come through the other side.

It’s true that I dislike change, I dislike the feeling that I’m not in control but I know the only thing I control is my reaction. I learned that lesson years ago.

What I’m trying to say is that although it’s a pain in the arse and can also be very sad and painful – depending on how, exactly, Sod and his law choose to fuck up your life, good things can come of it too. Case in point. Writing.

Writing is the best thing ever. I love writing. One of the reasons I loved the jobs I had in marketing was down to the amount of writing required and the fact I didn’t have to look for it or think about it. It was just always there, as part of the job. Explaining concepts and ideas, instructions, press releases. I liked the geeky stats, the parsing spread sheets because I can’t add up and all that, but I enjoyed the writing bit above all else. It’s why I ended up specialising in branding, because they liked my ‘voice’.

Loads of people who want to write a book never do.  The existence of the K’Barthan series is down to many things but there are two specific events that were mostly responsible. Two events which, on the face of it, could each be classed as a bit of a fucking disaster. Since I’ve nothing better to do this week, I’m going to share them with you now.

Event one; I was in an extremely unsuitable job which was not working out, at all. It was a two and a half year contract for a great deal less per annum than the previous job I’d been in (but it was in Cambridge where you pretty much need a maths degree to get on a work experience scheme, and as I have no maths qualifications it was kind of needs must). It was also in a university museum so, for an art history graduate, it should have been ideal. It wasn’t. They did their best but I never really learned how to get on with my boss.

When I arrived, a month after accepting the job, I had no work station. I fished an old desk out of a nearby skip along with a chair. That was my work station the first few months until my actual desk arrived. They tried so hard to be a decent employer but they were struggling with a university politics nightmare that made it tricky. I believe they did crack it eventually but only some years after I’d left. For the first six weeks I did nothing because I had no computer. Even after it arrived, neither of my bosses would give me anything beyond the most mundane secretarial tasks to do, although one was slightly ahead of the other in that respect, and significantly so as she began to trust me to write her correspondence. It was still very much PA stuff though rather than the assistant’s role I was supposed to be in. She left soon after I arrived. With the other one … I guess I just completely failed to gain her trust.

I should add that the Museum, itself, was a great place to work and the people, including my boss, were lovely. But though the boss meant well she was pathologically unable to delegate. Most of the time I would invent spurious tasks to do for the Friends organisation that involved going into the Museum so I could twiddle my thumbs looking at the exhibits rather than sitting at a desk. If that job was a crisp flavour this would be it … a combination of things that are fine separately but which, put together, are stonkingly awful.

It was well into year two of this job and I was looking for an out before my contract expired. It really wasn’t going well and an extension looked unlikely. Another department in the Museum was advertising a very much better paid and more senior job and the department head contacted me one day, while my boss was at a meeting, and invited me in for a chat about it. I left his office with what sounded like it might be a job offer … possibly … at the least, I’d just been invited to apply if the job was advertised. It looked very hopeful.

Back in the office, my boss had returned from her meeting. She knew the job was coming up and seemed to know I’d been to see the department head about it. She expressed what appeared to be a genuine interest. I was delighted, as usually any conversation I had with her was like the Handsome Dan scene in Wayne’s World. She’d ask me a question and then about half way through the first sentence of my answer I’d realise she wasn’t listening. Then I’d be in a quandary as to whether I should just stop talking with my reply half said – which felt a bit odd – or soldier on as if she was actually listening. But no, on this occasion, she was friendly, open, encouraging and all years. I admitted to chatting, informally, with the head of department. She was very enthusiastic and interested and asked all about it, including how much they were offering. Moron that I am, I told her the salary range he’d mentioned.

The next morning, arriving at work, there was a lot of shouting coming from somewhere. One of the voices was my boss and she was having a stand up row with someone in another part of the building. She appeared in the office an hour later, and, when asked if she was ok replied with a rather tart, ‘yes’ and nothing more. Then she got down to work. Shortly after she had left for the day I was called over to see the head of the department who’d discussed the job with me.

Turned out he hadn’t told my boss, she’d guessed. Turned out I wasn’t supposed to say but he hadn’t told me that, and I was a very naive 28 year old, and too dim to clock it on my own. And because my boss said she knew and gave me the impression she and he had talked about it, I thought it was OK. Clearly I had got completely the wrong end of the stick from him about what salary range he was offering because he told me he’d never mentioned the figures I’d remembered. He said he couldn’t possibly offer me the job, now, because the internal politics of it would be too complicated. They advertised it a week or two later. I was told I needn’t apply.

Wow. Invited to apply for the ruddy job, at the very least and I’d still managed to blow it. That took some going. I had completely fucked the dog, as the Americans say. OK. So maybe the world was trying to tell me something. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the world of work. Maybe I should write that book. So I did. I wrote three books. OK so reading them now, I kind of wish someone else had written them but I got them done. And I learned things. And eventually, before my contract expired I got a much, much more interesting job as a marketing manager for a transport group.

Four years later, working for a company who’d acquired the transport group, I was in a High Powered Job that also paid reasonably well. For the first time in my life I was a Successful Human Being in that respect. OK so my salary was still nowhere near what McOther was earning, but it was getting close to my secondary ambition, to earn what he paid in tax. I was masquerading as a Normal. Succeeding on their terms without compromising on who I was. I was valued, so valued that I’d survived four rounds of redundancies. I was flying.

One Monday morning a very excited colleague greeted me on arrival. He told me he’d been to a company meeting the previous Friday and that the MD had gathered the entire junior management together and told them, among other things, that if they wanted to know who his ideal employee was they should come to the marketing department and seek me out. ‘That’s what I’m looking for in a manager,’ the MD had told them. What he didn’t know, when he held me up as a shining example to his junior managers, of course, was that my salary was paid by a different part of the organisation and their MD didn’t value my input quite so highly. Despite hearing this shining accolade upon my arrival, the HR Director arrived a couple of hours later to tell me about the special fifth round of redundancies they were making for one employee: me.

See? Sod. I remember thinking at the time, ‘This would be quite funny if I wasn’t living it.’

If I put either of those events in a book, people would say, ‘well that would never happen.’ But both did. You couldn’t make this shit up. I remember driving back to Cambridgeshire from Birmingham after my redundancy in a state of complete disbelief. It felt as if another version of me from a different reality had somehow swapped our timelines. Weirdly, I felt the exact same thing, in reverse, when Gareth appeared out of nowhere and wanted to narrate the K’Barthan Series. To the point where there were several occasions where I caught myself muttering, ‘Ha! Take that you cow!’ at her.

Again, the bombshell stopped me in my tracks and the world fell away. It was back to hunting for a job in Cambridge, land of maths and science geeks, looking for someone, anyone, willing to give an arts graduate a job. Opportunities were extremely thin on the ground. It didn’t help that I wasn’t actually qualified to apply for jobs at the level on which I’d been operating. And of course after working in Birmingham, where salaries are exponentially higher than Cambridge it was a tough call applying for jobs which paid what the people working for the people who worked for the people at my level earned. After a couple of months sharing my pain with McOther, he said, ‘I think we can survive if you don’t work in a full time job.’ So I went freelance. And one day, when things were a bit slow, dusted off the appalling books I’d written and thought, ‘hmm I wonder if I could write a real one …’

It’s always been about communication, I guess; about the writing. Writing corporate puff was the lazy way to write for a living. No plotting required, just clear, concise and (hopefully) charming prose and a really big learning curve. I thought I was happy with that. And if sod hadn’t shat on me I expect I would have been. That’s the thing isn’t it? We get comfortable in life. We think we’re OK.

But brand manager wasn’t a vocation.

And I’m an authorholic.

As well as communicating, I need to tell stories – to escape Real Life into a world of my own creating. Sitting down at the desk and writing is completely fulfilling. It doesn’t matter that hardly any fucker reads the lunacy produced, so long as writing it is fun and it means something, anything, to the handful who do read it, that’s enough. Writing books is what I’m for. But it took two major setbacks to realise it.

In conclusion, I guess what I’m saying is this: the whole corona virus thing feels like a kick in the teeth to the human race from Sod doesn’t it? Each one of us everywhere is being shat on by Sod right now – to a greater or lesser degree. Trust me though. No matter how difficult it feels. You will come out the other side of this stronger, more confident, smarter and with any luck wiser and kinder. Because when Sod kicks someone in the soft and squelchy bits it’s amazing how often it ends up doing that person a favour. Not then, but somewhere else, later down the timeline. One of the most interesting reactions to my redundancy was that of one of my oldest and dearest friends who said, ‘It was a great job and I know you had a wonderful time, but it had to end. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. It wasn’t you.’

Take my hand, walk into the darkness with me and we will step into the void without fear. After all, God knows we’re not alone, the entire chuffing planet is in the same shit.

Are you happy now, Sod?

_____________________

If reality is feeling a bit dystopian for your taste right now you can always escape into a good book. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Filed under General Wittering