Tag Archives: writer parent

How not to live number 12: Drains, mailings and finance #IFuckedThisUpSoYouDontHaveTo

Yep there’s a match made in heaven and here’s another how-not-to post from the queen of fuck ups at Spigot Towers.

Today’s topics are Drain Rodding, financial prudence and how to alienate just under five thousand potential new members of your mailing list in one fell swoop.

Mmmm… bet you can’t wait. OK on we go.

I think this captures the mood …

Tuesday morning and if you’re local to Bury St Edmunds (if you’re not you’ll just have to use your imagination) you may remember it was a bit of a crap day; the wind howled and the rain fell. Worse nature had plainly forgotten to switch the lights on because despite being officially ‘daylight’ the world outside was submerged in a kind of sub aqueous gloom. Obviously, my reactorlights went black the minute we went outside (fucking things) but their behaviour has no obvious baring on the amount of bright light in the environment requiring blocking which is why I look like one of those twats who wears sunglasses at all times because, basically, the fucking things turn black the minute I go outside. Yes, even in twilight.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. Tuesday. The clock is ticking, it’s time to get ready for the rainy walk to school and after two cups of coffee it’s also motility time for Mummy. Yes. I know. A liiiitle too much personal information there but it is relevant to the story. When I rose from the lavatory, refreshed, happy and several kilogrammes lighter, I flushed and the water level in the bowl rose alarmingly and stopped. Then there was a glubbing sound, a bubble rose to the surface and slowly, it disappeared down to normal levels. I almost expected it to burp but it didn’t.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought.

I flushed a second time and the same thing happened.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought a little more slowly and emphatically this time.

I ran upstairs to the third floor and flushed the loo up there. No problem, everything disappeared the way it should. Middle floor ditto. Last time this happened, that hadn’t; the upstairs loos had filled and glurped too.

‘Okaaaaay,’ I thought. ‘The downstairs loo is blocked, but clearly somewhere between the bowl and the drain because this upstairs loo is working perfectly. If it’s just a lump twixt cistern and drain I can probably unblock it myself, thus saving my bank account a £70 spanking if I can find some cheap drain rods. Joy.’ This was especially pertinent as I’d paid another £100 into my bike fund so there wasn’t £70 spare for said account spanking!

There wasn’t much more I could do then, so while McMini was getting his shoes and coats on I surfed the internet with my phone by googling, ‘drain rods for sale in Bury St Edmunds’. I found a set of at Argos for £13.99 and decided that even if I didn’t use them on the drain, they would come in handy for use when our drain pipes and guttering get blocked – which they do with monotonous regularity. So, I purchased them using the handy ‘collect from store’ option. To my delight they were ready for collection at once. Brilliant. I could pick them up after I’d dropped McMini at school. Woot!

Needless to say, unbeknown to me, the bottom of bag the rods came in was split. Yes. That’s right. The first thing I did as I came out of the store was drop them all over the pavement.

Thanking heavens that I don’t give a shit about my street cred (because if I did I’d have died of shame many years ago) I put them back, strapped them on my bike and went home.

So there I am at home, I get the rods and … they’re not bendy enough to go down the loo.

Arse.

I take them out, dry them, put them outside to really dry and go back inside. I look at the loo, half full of wee water.

‘Hmmm,’ I say.

I have an idea. I rush down to the cellar and get some bendy plastic that looks as if it’s part of some kind of contraption to hang half window net curtains, then I get some rubber gloves. I stuff the bendy plastic down the loo, it isn’t really bendy enough to go down so I put my gloved hands right in to coerce it round the U-bend. It finally goes and as it does, I push my hand in just a little bit too far and my right glove fills with wee water. I retract my hand, fast, because, wee aside, my not waterproof Fitbit is on that wrist, in that glove. I take the glove off, and the Fitbit which I then wash with antibac soap – very quickly because it’s not waterproof – and then dry it using some of the copious sheets of paper towel with which I have equipped myself, ‘just in case.’

Obviously, I throw the glove in the bin but keep the other because it’s not full of wee water, is still protecting my hand and I need it. I’ll just have to clean out the cat litter box one-handed until I remember to buy another pair.

Then I put my bare hand down the bog and rod it with the piece of plastic. I get too enthusiastic and wee water splashes onto my favourite jumper.

Joy.

Nothing happens to the water level.

‘Ah,’ I think.

Maybe I will have to go and open the drain outside and rod it with the rods from there. Yeh. Good plan. Then I will put my wee water spattered jumper in a boil wash which will probably kill it.

Out I go. I remove the big stump that is sitting on the drain lid – by the way, it’s not there for any sinister reason, just because it looks cool and hides the drain lid. There are little holes each side of the lid so you can insert a special tool and lift it up but even I can see that the drain is rusted shut. I try with a rake but it’s not budging. Then, looking through the hole, I notice a little white dot of light, the reflection of the sky, through the hole, on standing water. There shouldn’t be standing water in there, which means the loo to drain bit is fine, it’s the whole chuffing thing is blocked.

Nob ends.

There’s nothing for it, I will have to call the nice man I always call when this happens. The drains blocked the week we moved in. McOther was away on business (one of the few times) and me and 3 month old McMini were in the house alone. I called Drain Repair Man then and since he was a lovely chap and clearly knowledgeable, I kept his card. He has since had to unblock the drains the other side as well. We have two drains which does, at least, mean that if the loo in the en-suite blocks you can still have a poo in the others and vice versa. Drain Repair Man is a lovely chap with something close to a photographic memory. He makes the problem go away very quickly but making the problem go away is going to be expensive, especially now VAT is 20%.

But … I can’t get the lid off and there’s water in there.

Further along the pipe to the road there’s another drain. I go and haul the plant pot that sits on top of that onto the patio. It’s pretty overgrown round the edges. There will be smelly gunk and slugs, there’s only one glove and I don’t have time to go back into town and buy another pair before school pick up time. Can I be arsed to open it and utilise my rods? I think about trying to rod drains with McMini’s help, and about the alternative; more attrition to my jumper and the joy of passing brown goo covered rods through one not-gloved hand.

No.

Luckily Drain Repair Man is with me in minutes. Except there’s a dodgy moment when we think he might not get in because the bolt on our gate has rusted in position. However, luckily he is able to lend me a 2lb twatting hammer to hammer the bolt open and it works. Finally we are in. I make him and his sidekick (Drain Repair Robin?) a cup of tea and he makes the drains work again. It costs me £72 including VAT, plus £13.99 for the rods I didn’t use. Not bad for a good job’s jobby shifting but at a bad time for my bank account.

Sure enough. All is good until later on in the week when I get out some cash and see that I only have £88 in my account.

Shit. That’s not going to cover the £72 cheque I’ve given Saved My Butt Drain Repair Man and the £100 I’d paid to the bike shop, the day before, towards my new bike.

So I rush round transferring cash, I pay myself the petrol money for next week’s visit to my parents early, remove the last spare pennies from my business account and I am ready for the onslaught. Then I look at my bank account to check it’s all gone in. It has but of course, that’s when I discover that the £172 has also already gone out. I held onto the cash from my parents, it’s only 5 days early after all, but I put the pennies from my business account back.

It occurs to me that I could have saved myself a lot of phaffage and worry if I’d checked the actual drain, before I took any action and also if I’d checked my bank account before farting about transferring cash in from here there and everywhere.

I decide to chalk it up to experience.

The third instance of idiocy this week was with a mailing. I’ve just taken part in a prize draw and I have just shy of 5,000 people to write to. In theory, they should know they are signing up to the mailing lists of all the authors taking part when they enter the giveaway but no matter how often they are warned about that by the organisers there will nearly always be some who fail to take it in. Because of this I’m always very careful when I email them and in addition, since my work is pretty niche, I usually offer them Few Are Chosen free in return for signing up to my mailing list. I offer the book three times and then anyone who downloads it is transferred automatically to the list. Anyone who clicks unsubscribe is deleted from my files and at the end of it, anyone who’s not opened the emails or done nothing gets deleted as well.

This was a big giveaway so we were all allocated days upon which we were to contact the folks on the list. My day was yesterday. It involved moving to a higher price band on my mailing programme and to make it simpler, I did the three emails as a set-and-forget automatic series. Except that yesterday dawned, the send time came and went and they didn’t go. I spent the day, on and off, talking to my mailing provider’s customer service. They were great and eventually I made a new automation and a new list and copied the folks over to the new list. Half of them went and then it stopped. Half an hour later and the mailing had still only gone to half of them. It was getting on for six pm. Soon my access to the computer would be over for the day and if the automation didn’t go I’d have missed my slot. I panicked. Switched the automation off, set the three emails up as one ready to go draft and two separate emails on timed release, so to speak, made a list of people who hadn’t yet received the first letter in the automation series and sent them the first email manually.

Upshot of this? Yes, that’s right. Everyone got two.

Who replied first? Well obviously the first email I received was a massive bollocking from some irate woman who hadn’t read the giveaway blurb (it was there in BIG letters) and didn’t understand why all these authors were suddenly emailing her.

Bollocks. Way to win them round M T.

Then, this morning, I realised I’d had twenty 404 hits on my website because I’d managed to post a dud link. Which one? Why, the unsubscribe link of course. Let’s make the pissed off people really annoyed.

Head. Desk.

So what can we learn from this catalogue of stupidity? Is there a moral?

Yes: Look before you leap.

… Oh, and don’t rod drains in your favourite jumper.

On the up side, while I do still only have one cat litter tray cleaning glove, Favourite Jumper did survive the boil wash.

Ho hum. You can’t win ’em all.

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What do you see when you look at me?

You see a bad mother.

Church, if you want to do it, can be a bit of a conundrum with small people. McMini being a bit older now and more susceptible to boredom, it is not so easy to persuade him to come to the Sunday service. Furthermore, when he does, it’s probably no longer appropriate for a young gentleman his age to sit there with a huge stack of Beanos and a flask of tea, however quietly it is done. That’s why I jumped at the chance when the powers that be decided to introduce a more informal service during the week. Small church. It is called.

McMini is one of four to six small parishoners; the two youngest are girls, one of about eighteen months, one of three, then there is another little lad of five and McMini at nine. He enjoys the stories, the drawing and occasionally, when the vicar is around, and brave enough, to have a ‘mini mass’ he gets to serve. As he has expressed an interest in being the thurifer, we now have incense at this and take our lives in our hands as McMini enthusiastically wields a steaming hot thurible in our faces.

However, formal this sounds it isn’t. Last mini mass the adults tried to contain their laughter as the small parishoners wandered around, apparently oblivious to what was going on. One withdrew to the table to draw, McMini was sitting next to the radiator upon which he’d perched a cup of tea (next to the bread and wine) and was calmly drinking sips in between the responses. The two girls had a bit of a contretemps and we had ‘pencils at dawn’ until a smart adult realised they both wanted a pink and purple one and found a second pink and purple pencil so they could have one each. A few seconds later and the small plaintive voice of the three year old said, ‘down there’ and pointed to the grating. Her crayons had disappeared. Doubtless they are somewhere beneath the hot pipes but none of us dim-eyed adults could see them and so far, they have not been found.

Meanwhile, McMini had miscounted the amount of wafers – or sherbet free flying saucers as we blasphemously call them at home. This meant that, communion done, there were extras left. Quick as a flash, McMini chimes in.

‘Oooh look! There are some left over! Can I have another one?’
‘I’m not sure that’s quite-‘ I begin weakly, poker face in place, toes to curling silently.
‘Actually, as we have to eat them all up now, it’s quite acceptable for you to have another if I ask you to help me so, McMini, would you help me by eating another one?’ says our vicar as, completely unfazed, he proffers the platen towards my son.
‘Thank you, and the wine was delicious today,’ says McMini hopefully but luckily there’s no extra wine to finish.

I remember the day when McMini, after his first communion, stuck out his tongue and wiped it on his sleeve with a loud, ‘Yuck!’ to try and remove the taste of the wine from his mouth. Yes, well, at least he’s got used to it. Maybe I should thank myself for small mercies … possibly.

Usually, small church, is less eventful, indeed it’s rather like a normal Sunday school, a bible story, a discussion and some prayers, during which we all light a candle each and put it on the um … candle holder thingummy.

Two weeks ago, we were talking about thinking before we act. When prayer time arrives, my darling child comes up with the following gem.

‘Please guide Mummy to listen more and think before she acts so that she will be a good mother.’ He then places his candle in the holder with a very serious expression, to the sound of stifled sniggering from the grown ups.

‘Am I a bad mother?’ I ask afterwards, thinking that this might stem from my harrying him to clean his teeth that morning before school.
‘I’m afraid so, Mummy.’
‘Was it the teeth cleaning incident this morning?’
‘No Mummy it’s because you swear all the time and some of the language you use in front of me is very inappropriate, which is a pity, because you could be a very good mother otherwise.’

Damned with faint praise. What the right hand giveth the left hand taketh away so to speak, or at least, the other way round in this case, and also furnishing me with a very interesting insight into how his teacher talks when she is telling him off. I remember how much trouble I got into at school when I was a few years younger than him, for saying, ‘bloody hell is a very bad word, isn’t it?’ to my best friend and then, how mortified my mother was upon discovering that, when asked where I’d got such filthy language from, I’d told my teacher, ‘Daddy.’ And yes McMini has also done this to me with a similar situation centring around his use of the word, bollocks.

This last week, the theme was giving thanks for people who make the world a better place through their actions; folks who let their light shine in the world is roughly how the story put it. As we sat discussing this and deciding who we will pray for as folks who shine the light of kindly goodness in our lives, the small people all say ‘Mummy and Daddy.’ Except for McMini. I should be so lucky. Unfortunately, the fact that he got a laugh last week from chastising me hasn’t escaped his attention.

‘What about your Mummy McMini?’ says someone. ‘Aren’t you going to thank God for her?’
‘Regretfully, no,’ he says.
‘No?’ I say with mock affront. ‘Is that because ‘of the-‘
‘Swearing?’ He fixes me with a very serious look while the other adults snort with laughter behind their hands. ‘Yes.’
‘Have I not been better this week?’
‘No Mummy. Well, you have. You haven’t been doing it in front of me as much but it’s really not appropriate behaviour,’ there’s that word again, ‘in the presence of a nine year old.’
‘I don’t do it in your presence do I?’ I ask him omitting the ‘much’ that would make that statement a lot more honest.
‘True, Mummy, but you do it a lot in the other room when you think I can’t hear you.’
‘Then don’t listen,’ I tell him.
He shakes his head sadly. ‘You have a very loud voice Mummy. It’s difficult not to and you see, it will influence me.’

The lady who makes the tea and serves the biscuits, and who is trying so hard not to laugh she may, possibly, be in danger of rupturing herself moves away out of earshot.

When we eventually make it to prayer time, the other kids all thank the Lord for their mummies and daddies. Finally it is McMini’s turn. He says thank you for the ambulance staff, police and fire brigade who make the world a better place by protecting us and looking after us, and then says thank you for everyone and anyone working in the church. There’s a bit of a pause. He gives me a look and I start to giggle.

‘What about Mummy?’ asks one of the grown ups.
McMini heaves a sigh and then he finally adds, grudgingly,
‘Oh alright then, and thank you God for Mummy, too, because although she is a Bad Mother she is funny.’

The worst thing is, I know he’s doing it to take the piss out of me, no the worst thing is that I know it and I’m proud of him. But if he’s that sophisticated about taking the mickey out of me now, heaven help me when he’s older. I probably shouldn’t have played this in the car so much when he was tiny. I really don’t have a fucking clue about this parenting lark but it is fun.

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Calm in a crisis; elementary burglary for dunderheads …

One of the strange things people tell me often is that I am calm in a crisis. Positively the ice woman, apparently, in my capacity for quick thinking action.

Want to know a secret about that?

It’s bollocks.

Well not wholly bollocks but mostly. Amazingly, I am actually extremely cool-headed in a crisis, I can make calm decisions in the heat of the action and the blink of an eye. They are not always the best decisions, but they are decisions that are, usually, a great step on from the nothing at all that others are doing. Sometimes, my decisions even precipitate a solution of sorts. Let’s make it clear, we are not talking about the kind of person who is likely to confront an armed robber, but if someone else is in trouble, I’m usually reasonably handy for doing the thinking, or taking action, if they can’t. But that isn’t because I’m the kind of clear-thinking, lion-hearted, V.C. winning material that the phrase, ‘cool headed in a crisis’ conjures up.

No.

It’s because I’m a complete and utter twat.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Yesterday is an excellent example of why monumental twattery makes for good crisis management.

It’s three o’clock; time to walk up to the school to collect McMini. I grab the keys as I leave the house but when I shut the door and the yale lock clicks I can’t find the keys to do the chubb. I know what’s happened, I’ve grabbed them, and as I put them and the bag of post school snacks for McMini in my pocket, I’ve missed and dropped them. I look inside but can see no keys lying on the floor.

Aaaaaargh! No keys! What shall I do? Dan-dan-daaaaaargh! Thinks Mary … NOT.

It’s three o’clock and while I can break in and search for my keys it will take time. McMini is to be collected at three fifteen and if I’m late, he thinks I’m dead and gets worried. I will have to go. I mean, the door is locked.

‘Yeh laters,’ I think, since, in theory, I don’t need to try and get into the house for another forty minutes. The locked-in keys are not an immediate problem.

Except they are.

Having put the absence of keys aside to deal with later, the next, more immediate, thorny issue pops up; how to make the gate look locked, yet leave it secretly unlocked, so McMini and I can get in, but no-one else will try to.

Casting around I see the large chunk of a fallen tree trunk which we are using to edge a flowerbed. Thanking the good Lord for the gym, I heave it down the path and lean it against the back gate. Carefully, mind, I don’t want it to get jammed against the wooden reinforcing planks across the middle and jam it closed. That done to my satisfaction, I slip carefully through the gate so it continues to lean on the right place and head for the school.

When we return, the gate is still closed, yet we are able to open it because the wedge has worked correctly. Excellent. I shut the gate, flip the latch down so it locks and put the tree trunk back where it was. Now to open the yale lock.

Taking off my anorak I spread it on the doorstep because it’s damp and I don’t want to be soaked as well as irritated. Then I rummage about in the potting shed and select a long bamboo cane. I tie some wire round one end in a D-shaped loop, lie on the anorak and feed the pole, and my arm, through the cat flap. McMini holds the door handle down while I loop the D round the catch for the yale lock on the inside of the door. That done, I check he is still holding the handle as I require and pull the stick downwards, so it pushes against the straight side of the lock handle and turns it. You need the wire because the weight of the bamboo pole and the force of me are not strong enough on their own. The door opens and we are in. My keys are still on the peg, so basically, it seems I just bashed them with my hand in the way past. Yes, I created a crisis because I reached for my keys and actually, genuinely forgot to grip.

Give me strength.

Never mind. All is well. Total time to break in about thirty seconds; or roughly five minutes from the start of our search for a suitable stick.

How come I can break into my own house so fast?

Practise.

Practise? How do I get to practise?

Weeeeelllll. Being such a total fucktard, I manage to lock myself out of my house several times a month. See how it is that an event which would be a disaster for anyone normal is rendered routine and mundane by my awesome twattery. Yeh! Go me. Lock-out is a blip, a minor inconvenience to Mrs Shit-for-brains and son. Notice, too, how this crisis is of my own making.

So there you have it. I suspect, there are two vital components to managing a sudden crisis; the first is to be able to act at once, without being British about it and pausing to wonder if you ought to interfere. If you’re a prize pillock then clearly, you will have got over any feelings of self consciousness – or at least buried them – by din’t of the fact that you cannot afford to countenance what others think of you or you would never leave the house.

The second component of successful crisis management, I suspect, is to be able to suspend your disbelief. What I mean is that you just need to find a way of not noticing how gargantuan the pile of shit you are in actually is, but just approach it as a problem to be solved. In short, it’s down to conditioning. And if you’re the kind of spanner who regularly locks yourself out of the house, strands yourself in the middle of nowhere with a flat battery and jump leads that don’t work, misses planes, boats, hovercrafts and trains, loses your passport, takes a plane a day early etc, then you probably tackle a crisis of some sorts most days to the point where, for you, even a major crisis feels like a normal part of your day.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you,
You are, most like, a porridge-brained idiot
Who can’t remember their own name or find their own arse,
In the dark, with both hands. But when shit goes down, you stand up.

I’m really sorry Mr K.

If you want a calm head in a crisis you need practise, and being an utter tool in your day-to-day life will give you that practise. Yes, in every disorganised bollock-head lives the ice woman or man. Probably.


If you are despair of ever bing a big enough twat to crisis manage successfully never fear, why not pep yourself up with an uplifting, noblebright, humorous, science fiction fantasy box set for 40% off.

Yes, there are still a couple of days to get the K’Barthan Series Box Set at a drastically reduced price on Kobo.

To find out more – just click here.

On the other hand, if you are already becoming adept at creating small crises for yourself, failing to procure a calendar for 2018 for example, you can always grab an eyebombing calendar from my recently re-vamped and re-tidied Zazzle shop here.

Postcards of my best eyebombs are available there, too, along with K’Barthan bling and some other stuff.

Last of all a glimpse at my new marketing technique: I’ve decided to try threatening people*. So here we are. Buy my stuff or Lord Vernon will visit you.

Buy my stuff! Or I’ll send him round.

* That’s a joke, obviously. It’s a bit crap though, really, isn’t it? oh well, never mind.

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Welcome to my world. Oh look! It’s like a car crash only less pretty …

Last week I was talking about being organised.  Remember that. Mwahahahrgh! Yeh. I did mention, I think, that it’d be a while while I set my house in order first? Mmm. Looking at my schedule, it’s going to be quite a long while even for a normal person. But a good day, for me, is like the aftermath of a multiple car pile up. Messy. And then there’s the weird shit. Take yesterday. Yes, actually, take yesterday, I’d like a new one because it was dreadful. I’m just going to dump the day’s events here, wholesale, to give you an idea of what I’m up against.

For heaven’s sake!

Yes, let me share a glimpse of what my life is like; day in, day out. It all started earlier this week, Wednesday, I think when my Fitbit app started acting very oddly. All of a sudden, it was labelling today’s stats as completely blank, while the day before’s stats – the yesterday section – that was actually showing today’s step total etc. It was weird but I could still understand it so like the plug-in hard drive that my computer won’t read since the spring 2017 update, and like the printer I bought after Window’s decision that I didn’t need to be able to print pdfs anymore, and still haven’t set up, or my computer’s sudden – yet random – habit of arbitrarily closing down all open programmes without saving anything when I put it to sleep,  it wasn’t worth the time and effort sorting it out.

Come Friday morning I wake up, muzzy-headed and gritchy throated with pending cold and discover that it’s 7.33. That is 33 minutes after the alarm on my phone is supposed to have gone off and woken me. Never mind, all is not lost. I eschew any waking up time and leap straight out of bed, never something that puts me in good spirits. I rush to the bathroom to do my ablutions and head back into the bedroom to get dressed. I set the alarm alarm on my phone to go off at 8.50 so I can snooze it and it will keep ringing each 10 minutes. I have no sense of passing time, so if I don’t do this, I will get engrossed in something and suddenly realise that we are all still at home and it’s five to nine.

As I try to set my alarm it keeps saying it’s going to go off in six days’ time. Why the hell is it doing that, I wonder. I check. I’m setting it for ten minute’s time. Why won’t it chuffing set for for this morning like I’m asking it to. I go do something else, come back and the phone has locked, when I look at the lock screen I realise it is displaying the day and date as Saturday 13th January. My alarm didn’t go off in the first place because it’s set to go off from Monday through to Friday and the moronic sodding phone thinks it’s Saturday. Likewise, setting my alarm for 8.00 on a Friday won’t work.

Because it’s Saturday.

According to my phone.

Except it’s not.

Great, so now I will have to set the alarm for Saturday. No wait I really can’t be doing with this. Maybe if I turn it off and on again it will reset? What’s the worst that can happen? Oh yes, that the phone stops working and I lose my Mum and Dad’s banking app for ever. I did drop it in a car park before Christmas, and someone had driven over it and cracked the screen before I managed to find it but hey …

Hoorah it is OK. See the time, the weather app refreshed, 19.04 on 12th except it was the eleventh because this screenshot was taken on the 12th at the time shown the top right hand corner; 15:02. Yes, my weather app went into the future and refreshed itself.

No. It’ll be OK.

Are you sure MT? This is you, after all.

Yes, what’s life for if you can’t take risks now and again.

Sure enough it reboots but nothing goes wrong! Now it’s Friday. I set the alarm to get my 10 minute count downs and carry on. Downstairs, grabbing a hurried breakfast I lay out some vitamin pills and nip through to McMini with a bowl of cereal. When I return McCat is on the counter.

‘For fuck’s sake Harrison! Get off there!’ I shout.

He complies but he trots away with that special fast, I’m-not-running, there-is-nothing-to-see-here trot which means he has something he shouldn’t have. Sure enough he stops in the next room and puts something down that he’s been carrying in his mouth. One of my vitamin supplements. It’s some kind of essential oil but I’d laid out three different ones which come in identical capsules so I haven’t a blind clue which one. The cod liver oil capsule, I assume.

Later, buying cat litter at the pet shop the lady there and I had a bit of a giggle. She told me,

‘He’s definitely in the wrong body, that’s not a cat you have, it’s a dog. Still, maybe he thought he needed a more lustrous coat.’

The day didn’t improve. I had two skeins of wool which I decided I’d make into a pussy hat. I should have known that today was not the day to try and unravel a skein of wool shouldn’t I? I mean, why did I even fucking try. On I go, tosser that I am, and try to do it anyway. I even googled doing it right, hung the skein over a chair the way they tell you but I got this:

That’s fifty metres of wool there, my lovelies. I would buy another one but it’s silk and merino. Not something you think about buying twice. So over the next year and a half I’ll be unravelling that bastard in my spare time. For now, if anyone wants to hire a clown wig …

Yeh. That’s M T McGuire when she’s following the sodding instructions; using the back of a chair to hang the skein of wool over, winding it carefully onto one hand. What I didn’t realise was that the bloody thing was already knotted beyond help so when I started winding it just tied itself into the gargantuan Gordian knot you can see there. At first I couldn’t even find the other chuffing end so it was taking ages to tease out each loop and pass the ball of wool through. Finally I found the other. Then Harrison intervened and now I have four. All this because I want to knit a pussy hat but hate pink, so I thought light pink and the kind of pink that is, essentially, red, would get the message over without being all pink and I’m-a-girl-therefore-I-like-pink and fucking … PINK. Knob that I am.

On the up side, when I scolded the cat he did get the hint and he went away. Mummy is being both boring and grumpy while shaking the biggest and most exciting cat toy ever.

I’ve given up on the bloody thing for a while.

Actual plans for January …

Yes, I did have some.

However, unfortunately January is very busy with trying to catch up with all the shite I didn’t do because it was Christmas. There’s this quarter’s parish magazine – not going to happen until early February I’m afraid, and I promised I’d write a children’s picture book by mid January! Why in the name of God did I think I could do that? And of course, there’s all the pissy admin like putting all the dates of our holidays and term times in the diary in the kitchen and the one on my phone. Want to know how long that took? One and a half hours!

One and a half effing hours!!!! This must be a special skill. I’ve not even finished.

Now, I have to book the cattery for all our holidays and put the drop off and pick up dates in the diary. Aaaargh. And then there’s booking a baby sitter for the inevitable Christmas Party that one of McOther’s clients or another will always have – and yes, are having – this January. And not forgetting windows borking updates.

And I still haven’t done my tax return which has to be done end of January. Two years ago, I opted to do this online which is the stupidest thing I ever did. Sure I have until January to hand it in instead of October but actually October is easier, I have more time then than I do now. Also, if you fill in a paper form, then, if your income is under a certain amount – and mine very much is – you can fill in a short tax form. The online form is the long version. Fifteen pages of questions most of which are so incomprehensible to me they might as well be printed in a foreign language. All with the exciting frisson of knowing that if I get one wrong it’s a crime, my solicitor husband will be struck off and I’ll probably go to prison. Thank heavens the help line is helpful, even if there is a hefty wait to get on.

Then there’s the deadline aspect; miss the January deadline and I’m screwed, it’s a £100 fine but I am already at the point where HMRC will not be able to get a new password to me or unlock my access to their website should I discover I’ve lost my password and am unable to get onto it (they say it takes up to four weeks). That also adds to the excitement. Yes, of course I meant to do it last month! And the one before! But with all the joyous task of filling in those bastard Lasting Power of Attorney for Health forms and preparing for bastard Christmas it was impossible. Short of pulling an all-nighter, there was no time left to do it in.

Organised people won’t understand this but then organised people don’t have phones that tell them it’s tomorrow all fucking week and they probably have time to work out how to get Windows to install security updates but not the other periperal-destroying shite my version insists on adding as well.

Then there’s Dad. Dad is becoming increasingly surreal. On Thursday one of our lovely carers, Aimee, took Mum and Dad to the dentist, where Dad announced, loudly, that Mum was his mother, Aimee was his girlfriend and that although there was a bit of an age gap it was OK because he does have a ten inch cock. Jeez someone is going to sue us before long, and we will counter-sue for discrimination against someone with a disability. Luckily the folks in the dentist, like the folks at the garden centre and all the other places where Dad has been inappropriate are OK with it. On a lighter note, I discussed this behaviour with Mum and Dad’s doctor on Thursday morning. He was telling me that he had to prescribe medication to stop some of the gentlemen in the dementia wing at the local care home from making improper overtures to some of the lady inmates. I guess when you think you’re eighteen but are really an octogenarian with the social niceties of a toddler that’s what happens.

God help us.

And now, as I sit here and type, I look down and realise I’m wearing my jumper inside out and have been for half the day. Head, desk.

Every single fucking day is like this. Frankly, I’m I consider it a victory if I get enough of my shit together to dress before dark. And it’s not going to improve. This is a short term. Five weeks either side of half term. In other words, there will not be time to sort all this bollocks out before the wooden spoon is inserted back into my brain and everything is given a good old stir.

So to put it in pictures …

Planned MTM January.

Obviously … but I’m a realist.

Type of January MTM would settle for.

Yes, I would settle for this, I mean, it’s a bit stringy but it’s tidy and it’s all there.

How MTM’s actual January is going so far.

See illustration, left.

Status of MTM’s efforts to catch up: Exactly the same as day one.
Progress achieved: Zero.

Hey, it’s January, let’s see more people and do more things and catch up after being away for Christmas!

NO! Fuck off!

So there we have it. Clearly, I’m going to be spending January and February firefighting and catching up. Ho hum.

Here’s to the start of the MTM New Year in March, then.

Thank you for reading. If you have been trying to organise yourself this new year, and, like me, have had the wheels fall off your efforts before you begin, I hope this has given you a laugh and cheered you up.

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Navel Gazing and Pocket Lint; MTM’s Year in Publishing 2017

Yes it’s time for me to do a round up of business. When I say business, I mean my business, such as it is, not ‘the business’ of world book sales. Anyway here goes.

So, how’s it been?

So so if I’m honest. Marketing-wise, I have not had the time to do it justice but I’ve turned the corner with the writing, definitely.

Sometimes, in publishing, it can feel as if you are running faster and faster to stand still. Now, clearly an author with my output rates isn’t going to be able to keep up with the standard, low margins high output model that is doing so well.

However, I have happened upon a group of authors who are doing very well thank you without ever troubling the best seller lists. It all started with a thread on Kindleboards here from Australian sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen. She has also written a really good set of books about her alternative approach which I highly recommend any fellow authors who are stressing about sales, and what have you, should read.

Seeing as I’ve always had a slightly different approach to what I want to achieve with my book sales, I thought it was time I evaluated my efforts so far, all of them. I’m using Booktrakr, which may not be 100% accurate but is on point enough to give a good idea of my career wide sales.

One Man: No Plan M T McGuire

Which Genre? This one.

What genre are we in?

OK, in case you don’t know. I sell humorous science fiction fantasy action adventure books with a dash of romance here and there but no squelchy bits. They’ve been described by a friend as ‘Douglas Adams meets James Bond’.

Or to put it another way, the books are genre transcending, which is polite-speak for,

‘they’re an extremely hard sell.’

And when I say ‘hard sell’ I mean it. Frankly, I suspect I’d have an easier time trying sell a dog turd in a paper bag than my books. BUT when people finally read them, they do tend to enjoy them.

General overall goals in writing

Over the course of my writing ‘career’ I’ve rather loosely kept to four goals:

  1. Produce more books and find people who will love them.
  2. Find a way to access those people where I am in control ie no middle man like Facebook hiding my posts from everybody because they want me to pay for ads.
  3. Make some cash, although to be honest, I haven’t really written enough books to make much, but I’ve set a goal of £300 a month – about $400 – by the end of 2019.
  4. Increase sales from sites other than Amazon because they dick their suppliers around less than Amazon does.

In so far as I have a customer strategy, it’s get a small group of folks who love your work and buy everything you do. Keep as much control over your access to them as possible – ie have as many on your mailing list as possible rather than relying on third parties, although I’d rather someone followed me on Facebook than stayed on my newsletter list when they didn’t want to.

So basically, I’m looking at the 1,000 fans theory, I’m looking for superfans.

Goals for 2017.

Last year, such as they existed, my goals were:

  1. Experiment with new ways to find readers who will enjoy my stuff.
  2. Write more books.
  3. Concentrate on growing my mailing list and making sure that the people on there want the things I can give.
  4. Find out if there’s anything they want related to my fiction books which I can deliver but haven’t yet.
  5. Find out what the folks on my mailing list want if it’s not the books I’ve written and decide if I can deliver it to them.

What actually happened?

A lot happened in my personal life over 2017 and I had to stop writing and evaluate the situation. Basically, I had to work out if I could continue to write at all. Then I had to work out what, if anything, I could to change of the handful of factors within my control to make sure that happened. I sorted a new way of working. Tried it out, wrote a short and half a long, sent the short to my editor and … she died bless her.

So this year’s new release – originally for September – will now happen next year.

During the various crises, I let a lot of stuff ride, I just about kept the mailing list going with promos, book recommendations and group giveaways. I also did a couple of mailing swaps. I managed an International Bookbub.

However, it felt as if my book sales had stopped. Dead.

This morning, I decided I’d have a look and see if it really is and if so, how bad the situation was. Was I right thinking my sales are dropping like a stone?

Yes and no. Let’s look at some graphs!

No wait! Don’t run away.

Monthly Revenue 2014-2017

You can see three big spikes here, the first one, mid 2015 is when I first made Few Are Chosen permafree. I optimised it for UK readers and I was getting between eleven and thirty downloads a day. As you can see, a lot of those folks went on to buy the other books. In early May there was an algo change and the downloads dropped from eleven to thirty to about five or ten each day. Read throughs, drop accordingly. I never managed to optimise my listing for the UK store quite as effectively because they brought in KU and you weren’t allowed to use the words, Kindle, Good or Free so I had to bin my highest performing keyword phrase, ‘Good Free Kindle Books.’ As you can see, that cost me about $100 a month and Amazon about $30, which seems counter intuitive of them and is one of things that has me wondering if KU is about more about destroying the opposition than anything.

Monthly revenue from Jan 2013 to now … yeh you are welcome to laugh!

Numbers of books bought from 2013 to now note the 99c international Bookbub which makes a huge spike on right hand side of this graph but doesn’t register much in the revenue graph shown above.

As you can see there’s a small blip around the time Escape From B-Movie Hell comes out – Dec 2015/Jan 2016, that’s in red. I had about 400 people on my mailing list at that point and did a full-on launch. It shifted 65 of them but a lot of the original K’Barthan Series fans seemed unwilling to give Escape a try. Indeed, I wonder if those sales were simply folks from the Bookbub the month before who were moving on from the series to the stand alone.

Ditching the Permafree.

Since the permafree first in series was only getting a handful of downloads a day and a far lower proportion of those seemed to be translating into sales for the paid books, I put it back to paid in January 2017.

Yes, this cover attracts more readers than the cover for Few, but Escape, which has a person on it, does equally well.

Looking at the graphs now, that might have been a mistake but at the time, I’d recently discovered Instafreebie and was getting a fair few downloads there. Also, a 105k book is a hell of a lot to give away – I’m not sure if that means I got greedy or desperate. Since running a year’s worth of Instafreebie promos, I’ve discovered that the short story, Unlucky Dip, is downloaded far more in promos than the novel. Furthermore, the people who have downloaded it, joined my mailing list and stuck around are one of the most dynamic and responsive groups. Escape also scores more highly in downloads when offered free. Both the books doing better have a person, or people, on the cover. Clearly the adage about having people on book covers is true. Go figure.

The rates that folks read the other books seems a bit better on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel, too. Over the three years I had the first in series on permafree, it was downloaded 19,140 times (according to Booktrakr). You can gauge how well the permafree is working by the number of sales of the second book. The results break down as follows:

  • 2015-2016 227 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the two others sold 275.
  • 2016-2017 there were 148 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the others sold 206
  • 2017-2018 (or at least end of Dec) there were 32 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the others sold 60. However, the box set, sold 54 copies so in ‘real’ terms it’s probably a drop in onward sales of about 20 books.
  • Revenue is way down from about £1,500 the two previous years to £800 or so

On the face of it, that looks as if a permafree book might still be a smart move for me, but perhaps a new one, or one written specially to give away would be the way to go. I am sorting a potential candidate out with the K’Barthan Shorts. If they come in at 10-20k each I can use one of those or do one longer one at 50k so I can try and get it onto Bookbub.

That said, though less people are buying my books, meaning that growth has, in theory, slowed down, if those people are folks I can access, directly with new release bulletins, rather than being at the whim of Amazon, Facebook or the like, they might be a lot more valuable to have on my side in the long run.

Instafreebie or Bookfunnel versus Facebook Ads and Permafree.

Is the $20 a month on Instafreebie worth the outlay? Possibly. When I joined Instafreebie I was on a $10 account at Bookfunnel so I kept that and added Instafreebie by turning the Facebook Ads off (I was getting about 20 new sign ups a month for $30).

The thing with Instafreebie is that, barring the ones who’d downloaded Escape and Unlucky they seem to take a very long time to get round to reading, we are talking, literally, years in some cases from what they’ve told me, but they are keen, and interested, and they also buy from sites other than Amazon so they fit my ambitions to increase my access to readers on other platforms. Hopefully I’ve been sewing some seeds there.

With Instafreebie, 2,417 readers have downloaded books from me in return for mailing list sign up. I have offered three different books and I suspect I may have shot myself in the foot there with folks on my mailing list downloading all of them. This could well go some way to explain the drop in income I have experienced although this year, Escape, the pariah stand alone, has done way better this year although I did get a 99c International Bookbub on that. Then there’s the fact many haven’t read the books they’ve downloaded yet, so people are not reading them quickly and buying all the other books the way they were after downloading the permafree. Finally, there’s price, I have put it up from $4.99 to $8.99 – and lower on Amazon where the books are still $4.99. I may need to review that.

Interestingly, at Bookfunnel, I’ve given away 148 books – some a short and some the original permafree – in return for mailing list sign up, and 2,251 copies of Few Are Chosen, alone. Of those, 306 were giveaways and the rest were people who’d signed up to get the book on Instafreebie clicking the link on my autoresponder sequence to download the book from Bookfunnel.

I give the second book away in my mailings, too. 2,835 folks have downloaded those; 60% of the folks who’ve visited the download page.

Clearly it’s much easier to download books from Bookfunnel than from Instafreebie!

The numbers for this year that I gave in the last section suggest that the permafree made a big difference and that I should definitely add it to my marketing arsenal!

Sales from other vendors than Amazon

Free books given away. The big spike in the middle is an international Bookbub and the other to the left is an E-reader News Today.

This is the same graph; free books but shown by vendor. After the Bookbub vendors other than Amazon feature much more prominently. Woot!

Clearly the Bookbub for Escape From B-Movie Hell resulted in some sales on other sites than Amazon. At last there are other colours edging into the dark blue. To my delight, the trend continues right through to today. Kobo promos are excellent for this. What appears to be happening is that sales of my books on Amazon are, indeed, tanking since the April algorithm change. However, sales on the other sites have held steady. I never expected this. Sure, I do Kobo promos and they are excellent but Smashwords are delivering too. Google play is tailing off a little but sales are still trickling in – for all the reports that they are making free books invisible, a permafree on Google Play might be a good plan.

Paid book sales by vendor. Amazon still has the major share but Kobo and Smashwords are coming up the rails.

 

This is my yearly income since I’ve been publishing books.

If we look at the yearly income graph we can see a substantial drop this year on last year. It also includes a 99c international Bookbub.  Whereas most months, in 2016, I was selling at least one book every day, this year, that’s not happened at all and you can see that with no permafree there are fewer downloads of the second book in my series.

Is it all bad?

D’you know, I’m not sure but I think it might be better than it looks. April on Amazon was miserable for me this year. That could be an algo change, or it could simply be that after four months the last of the folks who’d downloaded the first book in my series for free had bought the rest. And of all the sales channels, it’s Amazon which is down the most, with Google Play dipping a little. Kobo and Smashwords seem to be reasonably stable.

Clearly, I want my books everywhere so I will always sell them on Amazon, but I also want to get away from relying on a single retailer which, in my experience, has been a more of a primadonna to supply to than the others. At the moment it looks as my efforts to widen the field, at least, are succeeding. Also, bear in mind I’ve not had a new book out for two years and my duties of care have eaten into my work time so I’ve done far less marketing. As we speak I have some ambivalent AMS ads which aren’t doing that well – and to be honest, I think it’s going to take too long to research and produce properly targeted ads to make them viable. However, I will definitely return to Facebook ads and I will also dip my toe into a couple of other advertising channels in the New Year. It may take months to produce some ads, and it will take months to produce some books, but a couple of hours a week on these things is better than nothing at all.

What does this tell us?

  • That I am correct and my income is dropping.
  • That it might be worth my looking at a permafree again, but something shorter than a full 120k book.
  • That my upped prices may be a little too high, either overall or on some sites.
  • That other platforms will tolerate a higher price than Amazon.
  • That my particular rate of output might be better suited to other platforms than it is to Amazon.
  • That my decision to pitch my books as artisan crafted rather than mass produced is the right one.
  • That people might, possibly, be taking longer to read free books.
  • That figures are sometimes different to your expectations.
  • That marketing evolves all the time, what works today may not work tomorrow.
  • That Amazon is quirky – and therefore best not relied upon.
  • That you can infer many things from the same information.
  • What works for other authors may not work for you.
  • Cultivating the right connections is important. You need to find places where folks will share information with you and where you can share it with them. Almost all the decent marketing information I’ve had this year comes from two groups, one on Facebook and one on Goodreads.
  • I think there may be a disconnect between the kind of people I think are on my mailing list, and reading my books, and the folks who actually are.

Tune in next week, if you can bear to, to discover how I’m going to try and breathe some life back into my book sales for 2018.

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(Brandy)Butter balls; a bit of Christmas wittering.

It occurred to me that I should be doing a Christmas round up soon or at least a what’s on next year. However, I have spectacularly failed to get my shit together in time for it this week – ooooo there’s a surprise – so instead I’m going to give you a recipe … eventually.

As you know, I am the original Grinch, only slightly more bad tempered; think of me as the Voldemort of Christmas cheer – or possibly the Lord Vernon.

BUT there are bits of the whole sorry mess that even I enjoy. I do a number of Christmas parties including two corporate wife events which are a gas. Last night was at a Cambridge college which is, basically, supper at Hogwarts so what’s not to like?

Dinner at Hogwarts. A typical Cambridge dining hall (last year’s) … very like my school’s dining hall but without the mashed potato on the ceiling, although I think they’ve taken that off the ceiling at my school now, too. Young people are much better behaved these days.

However,  unlike Hogwarts these places are properly cold. I went resplendent in a thick velvet jacket and trousers, a big warm shawl and thermal underwear. The meal was pretty good, especially the turkey and trimmings and, bonus, the waiter dropped a sausage on the table between me and the lady opposite and then served her another one ‘for hygiene reasons’ which meant me and the lady were able to cut it in half and enjoy a soupcon extra. Snortle.

On the way home we did the interesting road closed manoeuvre again – and we’ll be doing it tonight, too – but we went the right way this time so no single track roads, just country lanes.

This morning, through the hangover fug, it did occur to me that at all these events there is one aspect that lets them down; the brandy butter, or at least lack thereof.

Have you noticed how restaurants tend to serve brandy cream with the Christmas pud? Last week’s was good but many’s the time when it’s had an unfortunate tendency to taste like a mixture of methylated spirits and petroleum jelly – usually at school where they were afraid to serve brandy to the under-aged and were using ‘brandy flavour’ instead. Another favourite is a kind of custard. That sounds good on paper, but because it lacks the usual yellow dye it is white and a bit viscous and I’m afraid it comes up looking very like sperm. This is slightly unnerving when someone’s slathered it all over your food. You wonder what they’ve been doing out there in the kitchen. That said, it always tastes a lot better and since custard is always nice, no matter how jizz-like the colour, I’m game for as much as they’ll give me, which is never enough and … well … it’s not brandy butter is it?

When I was a kid growing up, my mum regularly made several hundred mince pies each year for church, the house (when we lived in the school) and any number of other events. She also made the pud, the cake, the stuffing for the turkey, grew the sprouts and the spuds and everything else from scratch. But then Mum is a kind of cordon-bleu-hunter-gatherer-Beth-Chatto*. The pud would be served in flames and the mince pies would be heated in the oven, all were served with brandy butter, and because it was so good, nobody was allowed it unless they had some pud or mince pies – or ‘little bleeders’ as we call them because when asked if he liked them at his first Christmas with us, McOther voiced all our thoughts by saying,

‘No, I hate the little bleeders.’

But I digress. Back to the brandy butter. OMG, as I believe young people say, that brandy butter was a slice of heaven. We’d have one mince pie and a dessert spoonful of brandy butter to go with, ie a lump of comparable size to the pie. Then you held the butter back when you ate the mince pie and would go in for seconds of pudding but this time, you’d done your duty and had some Christmas fayre so you were allowed to choose something you liked: a meringue. That there people is combo made in heaven – even if, most likely, it’s one that will swiftly see you in heaven, in a more literal sense, by blocking your arteries and giving you a heart attack.

These days, when I talk about brandy butter, hardly anyone seems to know what it is. That’s a crying shame and is a situation I wish to redress. However, Mum’s recipe for brandy butter is a bit generalist it goes like this:

‘Well darling, what I do is take some unsalted butter and some icing sugar, beat them in the mixer and add brandy to taste.’

You can try that if you like, it’s pretty much what I do, but I have managed to convert this, sort of, to a normal weights and measures type of thing.  I’ve stuck to weights and measures because everyone can weigh things out, but ‘cup’ size varies all over the world and doesn’t exist in the UK, so if I do cups no-one will have a fucking clue how much to put in. Mwahahahargh; not least of all, me!

I don’t have a picture of brandy butter so here’s a little fellow about to give you a warm hug. Yes, last night’s college was a target rich environment.

* famous gardener

Brandy Butter

75g/3oz butter left out first so it’s reasonably soft.
175g/6oz icing sugar
1 table spoon of Brandy – to start with, anyway but keep the bottle handy.
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice – preferably from an actual orange.
A smattering of orange zest from the same orange.

The trick with this one is you have to taste it. A lot. Here’s the method.

1. Put the butter in a mixing bowl and sieve the icing sugar over the top.
2. Beat it – either by hand or with a mixer is fine. I use a Kenwood Chef mixer which I bought at a jumble sale (rummage sale) about 25 years ago for £5 and I use the beater attachment rather than the whisk.
3. Eventually it will go quite smooth, like butter icing (butter frosting?). This is where you add your brandy – slowly so it doesn’t curdle.
4. Have a taste. Add more brandy if you need to but remember putting liquids in this is tricky so keep it to small amounts at a time. Add some orange zest.
5. Have another taste. Add the orange juice and a bit more orange zest if you want to. I like it with orange because it makes it a bit less sweet but avoid over doing it. You just want a background hint, it’s not orange butter, after all. That said, Mum’s never tasted over sweet and she didn’t use orange but I suspect it had absolutely gargantuan amounts of brandy in it.
6. Once you’ve got it how you like it, put it in a dish and keep it in the fridge. If you put enough brandy in, I’m telling you, this stuff will keep for a sod of a long time. Like a year at least.

The basic gist is two parts sugar to one butter so it’s reasonably easy to scale up, or down, but the more you make, the easier it is to mix.

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When dyslexic people try to fill in forms … #dementia

This week, a cry for sympathy rather than help, hopefully, in a way that is amusing or useful to you.

Last night, McOther and I were invited to a Christmas party. We went. He from London, me from here. I met him there. I was late because our babysitter couldn’t get here before 7.00pm – although I had only just hopped out of the shower when she arrived. This year, the babysitter had not had a car accident, McOther was not in the middle of some stupid deal and it all went off without a hitch. Until we drove home at which point we found a sign announcing that the road would be closed at the next junction. So we ended up having an interesting adventure driving around the Suffolk countryside on muddy single track roads, in the middle of the night, at temperatures of about four below so the mud was mostly ice.

This is the story of my life right now.

Nothing is quite going to plan.

It’s not that things are going badly, or over complicated even, just that they are consistently arse-about-face. The simple things complicated and the complicated things … nope they’re still complicated. It’s not all hand of God like that one though. A lot of the cock ups are my fault.

Obviously with Christmas looming I’d expect things to be going slightly wrong, but this year, even November, which is usually a nice quiet month, got complicated. It all started about ten days in, as I was cresting a very creditable 25k in the first ten days of NanoWriMo. My brother phoned in a panic because the accountant who does Mum’s tax return had been onto him telling him that he must do this that and the other, and suggesting we remove all Mum and Dad’s remaining estate from stocks and shares and into a high interest account. It sounded barking to me but what do I know? Luckily after a few phone calls to check the situation, and a consultation with McOther who understands banking and shizz in a way I don’t, it was all sorted out but it took several days.

At the same time, my brother raised a second thing; that we need to have a properly legal power of attorney over Mum and Dad’s health – yes my lovely peps a Do Not Resuscitate form is not enough, why, I do not know but it seems they have to express this intention formally, using a living will or a special government form. The form is massive and it has to be witnessed, counter witnessed, another independent person has to sign to say Mum and Dad are not being coerced and they all have to do this in front of one another. The form has to be signed in a certain order, or it’s void and when it’s done it costs £110 to file each form, which you don’t get back if you fuck it up and you have to pay again to resubmit, although they will let you resubmit it a second time for half the fee.

To complicate things Mum and Dad’s DNR was signed three or four years ago and the legal stuff must be organised while Mum and Dad are still capable of stating their intentions about this or we would have to make them wards of court or something horrifically complicated. Mum is fine but I wasn’t sure about Dad. I knew I’d have to get the forms filled in and ready to discuss by Wednesday so I could go through them with him when I visited.

Having taken this all in, it occurred to me that I had pissed several days of Nano to the four winds but I had written the middle week of Nano off anyway, because Mum’s birthday is on 18th November and she isn’t really able to organise things like a cake, day out etc for herself so some of that, notably the cake for 15 people, would fall to me. We were all going to have lunch with her at the pub on the Saturday. Likelihood of both attorneys, both deputy attorneys, Mum and Dad in a compos state and enough hangers on about to witness the thing being in the same room in the same place again within another year, low. And, as I said, the middle week of November was already shot writing-wise so I decided I may as well lob the form filling into the mix. Along with the cake.

Finding the forms online was reasonably straightforward and I printed them out and set about filling in the obvious bits. After cock ups galore, I ran out and when I came to print some more I discovered that the latest Windows update had some issue with older printers so I couldn’t print them. So I rang and got them to send me two copies. Thanks Microsoft, I have a computer that won’t save anything to the remote hard drive I bought for it after the last upgrade and which can’t print anything in less than half an hour after this one. Way to go. Yes if I had world enough and time, I am sure I could browse our help fora, as you very reasonably point out, because I’ve nothing better to do with my available time than spend a couple of weeks of it fixing my computer so the drive is useable and its 64bit operating system is, once again, able to talk to a 34 bit printer. I could. But unfortunately, you total and utter bastards, I have a life.

After the helpful intervention from Microsoft I sent the forms to my parents’ email address and on the next Wednesday, I visited Mum and Dad, printed out several copies and set about filling them in. I must state, at this point, that while the forms, themselves, are a nightmare, the government helpline to assist you is staffed by wonderful people who answered my numerous questions about the bleedin’ obvious with politeness and endless patience.

Filled in forms 1 and 2 on the left, instructions and stuffed up pages on the right. Pen, for size reference.

Naturally, since it’s a government form, and you have to have about ten people in the room at once to sign it, two of whom have dementia, plus three children ranging in age from seven to nine who are a bit bored. Distractions are everywhere and opportunities to fuck it up are legion. Add in that the person ‘organising’ it all, the ‘sensible one’ in my family is pathologically unable to fill in any form without fucking it up at least three times and you have a recipe for disaster. I had seven copies of each page. I used every. single. one.

Indeed I had to print an extra one to redo when I discovered that if I so much as scratched out a letter Mum and Dad, the two attorneys and the two deputy attorneys all had to initial them.

Mwahhahahahargh! Another MTM cake wreck.

Meanwhile, a family tragedy overtook two of the carers on the morning, which meant the cake for fifteen which I had made and McMini had helped me ice was somewhat redundant. It also meant that I was going to have to arrange lifts to the legion of appointments with the nurse, hospital, dentist etc that Mum had over the following two weeks while they were on compassionate leave. Obviously, dear Mum did just enough to make it really complicated, organising lifts, then forgetting, or asking me to and forgetting and then organising them so we found two doughty folks had stepped up to help. But we got it sorted. Just! And it could have been so much worse, because the other two carers stepped into the breech and were wonderful while the other ladies were on compassionate leave. We still had a good day on the birthday, Mum called it her ‘best birthday ever’ even if a cake for fifteen was a little more than was required … and I got the forms signed …

… Except I didn’t.

Oh no.

Dick brain here managed to miss the page where the attorneys have to sign and so I had buy two hard backed envelopes so I could send those to my brother to sign – with the second envelope stamped and self addressed inside (he lives further from a post office than I do). I left them to ‘rest’ for a week while he was doing that, on the pretence this would make me more efficient when I checked them but really, just to see if I could jemmy in the last few days of Nano.

This week, there was a panic about Christmas, who would make the cake? Not me!  Yippeee! Who would order the turkey, Mum hadn’t, I did, just in time. Phew.

And then yesterday, back to the forms. One round of final checks as I was getting them ready to post and I realised one of the other pages my brother signed had managed to slip through without a witness signature.

Head desk.

Another joy of having a form of dyslexia, you only seem to see these things one at a time, so you check and find a mistake, rectify it, check, find another and so on. I just hope I cease to find mistakes eventually, except, when I cease to find them, it won’t necessarily mean that there are none.

Anyhooo … The lady who had signed as a witness isn’t one I routinely see on a Wednesday. Would I have to arrange a special meet? I rang the government helpline and was told no it could be someone different. So now, on Wednesday, the lovely carer on duty is going to sign as witness.

At the same time, I was working on the other form my brother mentioned, the thing where Dad gets a community charge reduction. Turns out I’d filled that in and sent it to the Doctor to certify at some stage AND COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN! Help me God! How? I found out when he popped round to see us on Wednesday with it and while it was a lovely surprise to discover I’d been so efficient it was a bit of a shock to have completely erased such a land mark event from my memory.

Form for Dad was signed, I’d done one for Mum on the off chance but Mum has no diagnosis for her memory gaps and isn’t really mentally prepared for the news, if we are to get her one, so I can’t get a reduction for her but I can get one for Dad. So yesterday, having discovered I’d bollocksed the Lasting Power of Attorney for Health forms I turned to the Community Charge Disregard for Dad, called a ‘disregard’ because they disregard that person when totting up the bill, except they only disregard 25% of him but I’m not complaining because it’s a sod of a lot better than refusing to disregard him at all, sorry where was I? Oh yeh.

There are two parts to the form, a bit the doctor filled in and another bit which I fill in. Needless to say, I ballsed it up. Manfully I print one. After twenty minutes of printing enough of it has come out for me to discover it’s auto set for landscape.

The form is portrait.

Swearing colourfully, I cancel the print job and after waiting ten minutes for the printer and computer to sort that out with one another, I check the ‘portrait’ box and set it to print again. I leave it and sort the washing into darks and lights, change the sheets on the beds and come back to find it’s printed a quarter of a page. I go and make a spag bol for half an hour and discover it’s now half done. Then it occurs to me I have no address to send it to so I ring the council to ask, they ask me for my account reference, I say I don’t know it and ask for the address which the lady thinks is on the form but she’s kind enough to give it to me anyway. As I write it down, I hear the sound of the printer spitting out the completed sheet. I look at the form. It is set out as a table with shaded headers for each bit. At the top, above the table is a tiny bit of type which I only notice now that the woman has asked me for it. ‘Account Ref’ it says.

Fucking shit.

Do I have the account reference number? Do I bollocks?

But wait! I can look at the bank statement, it will be on there won’t it? I spend five minutes getting into the account with the special secret code that you get by putting a different password into to your phone and have to type in before it expires and it’s numbers and you have discalculia so you have to do it twice and it forgets all the other answers you’ve typed on the page because you got the one wrong so you have to type them all back in and then the new passcode has expired so you have to go back to your phone and do the other password again and so on.

I get in. Is the ref number there?

No.

Arse.

Second job for Wednesday, find the knobwanking reference number.

Here’s hoping that when I check these bastard forms next time, they will all be in order.

At the end of it all, Mum, my brother and my sister in-law sat me down and told me I must pay myself for the stuff I do for Mum and Dad. So now I’m earning one day’s ‘consultancy’ a week from them, which is what I’d be doing if I was efficient.

On top of that upside, what of Nano? Well, I did 35,000 words in less than half of November. OK so that isn’t a ‘win’ but in the number of days in which I was actually doing writing, that is a gargantuan result. And, it shows that:

  1. The Joe Nassis method of planning a bit, even if you don’t normally plan, on line seminar I went to and took copious notes about does actually work for me.
  2. That if I can make time to write, any time at all, and structure it properly, I’m fucking productive!
  3. There will be a novel out next year.

Woot.

Finally, a note on powers of attorney or planning generally. My parents sorted out enduring power of attorney forms in 2004 so that if anything happened we could take care of their finances smoothly. At that time health was usually implied, certainly in the way the homes and hospitals my grandparents ended up in consulted my parents over their wishes in regard to treatment. As I said last week, I remember talking to my Mum after the home where my Grandmother was had asked her whether they should aim to cure my grandmother of pneumonia or make her comfortable. These days she would need to be officially and legally entitled to make that decision for my Grandmother and likewise, I need to be, to make decisions like that for her and Dad. Best laid plans of mice and Mum and Dad etc. You can plan but even when you do, you have to accept that laws change, the landscape alters and things move on.

Also, if you’re doing these forms for finances it is worth consulting the bank. Despite having power of attorney over my Dad’s affairs, I am not allowed a bank card for him, so it’s worse than useless when it comes to the day to day matter of trying to buy things or get cash out for my parents, etc, etc. Luckily, they have a joint account and it is a key reason why we haven’t activated Mum’s; because she needs cash, and she’s two to three hours away by car, so the ability for her, or her carers, to get to a cashpoint themselves, or pay for things by card in a shop is very important. I am certified by the bank to do telephone and internet banking now, which helps a lot. So I keep an eye on her bank account, pay the wages and liaise with their stock broker when they need more cash. It works very well, and I consult Mum each week about what she’s paying and to whom, but it’s definitely a compromise and I’m not 100% sure if our method is exactly by the book.

After all this, the other day, McMini with his somewhat gappy smile, grinned at me and then, pointing to the large empty space where his new front tooth will grow said, ‘Look Mummy! My gums are bald.’

And so it continues …

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