Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Holding the fort

This is how Z described it while she's on Granny duties. In truth it's more a cross between baby-sitting and crowd control.

I've been tasked with looking after the chickens and the tots (Anastasia and Natasha - Russian Tortoises).

While the tots are content with basking in the glow of their heat lamp, eating copious amounts of lambs lettuce and swilling vodka doing their traditional Russian dancing, the chickens are another matter completely.

They lulled me into a false sense of security. Sunday evening they milled about the chicken pen innocently, pecking at the ground; they ate their dinner and went to bed without any bother. Yesterday morning however, they put their plans into action. I greeted them as normal, "Morning ladies." They ignored me and huddled together. I opened the door and a little black hen made a break for it.

Okay, I thought. I'll deal with you in a bit. I've looked after small children, I know how to prioritise my battles. The others merely watched as I filled their grain bowls, gave them a couple of bananas and some bread. Meanwhile, the little black hen taunted me from outside.

Fine, I thought. I'll deal with you now. I opened the door to go out.

The chickens rushed me en masse. They squeezed in between my legs and the door and that was that; they were out and free as, well, birds. They taunted me. It's true as God is my witness. They taunted me. 

I've looked after small children, I know how to prioritise my battles. 

I left them to it. They spent the day, scratching and pecking outside. I popped my head up every now and then to make sure they were alright. They were. In fact, it was wonderful to see them wandering around, scratching under hedges, squabbling over stuff. A lady pheasant even joined them for awhile. The cockerel is full of himself, as you'd expect. He struts around, looking all important trying to boss the hens. He doesn't take it too badly that they mostly ignore him. 

Late in the afternoon, I knew it was time to prepare for battle. After all, I've looked after small children, I know when I've got a battle on my hands. I girded my loins.

If you come across the little known fact that chickens are direct descendants of dinosaurs...believe it. It's totally true. Steven Spielberg knew what he was on about. The little buggers. I ended up having to herd them in several batches. 

When I got to the pen, there were some who decided it was getting close to bedtime and why the hell was I late with dinner? Then there was the majority of the group who wanted me to work a bit; to make it clear that they were only coming in because my antics had amused them enough and they felt sorry for me. Plus, they fancied a bit of bread before bed.

Then there was the cockerel and two of his co-conspirators. They'd decided to do a Peter Rabbit and see if Z had planted anything worth eating in greenhouse. Thankfully, they were a few weeks early. As far as I could make out, only God knows how they got into the walled garden, because when it came to it, the chickens sure as hell wouldn't get out the same way.

In the end, I had to herd the three chickens, one at a time back into the pen. Each calling me names under their breath as I waved my arms about. If it wouldn't have been for the fact there's been a fox that's been thinning the flock, I'd have been tempted to let them stay out. I was supposed to be in Norwich to meet up with a friend, I apologised profusely for being late.

I suppose as excuses go, "I was herding chickens" was at least different.

I learnt my lesson. This morning I just let them straight out. We all pretended that was what I wanted to do in the first place.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Showing Up

This has not been the best weeks I've ever had. The euphoria of being free to pursue my creative and caring impulses has died down to be replaced with: Oh My Gods - what was I thinking? Closely followed by: I Can't Do This; and the ever-helpful: I Am Not Worthy of my Dreams. The job stacking shelves at Tesco when I'm 80, because I don't have a pension, has been calling me and 2, 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning. I won't lie, I think I cried my way through half a box of tissues yesterday.

I picked up the Big Girl Pants and put them away. I gave myself permission to be scared, fearful, doubtful and terrified. I sat with them and then when the time came, I went out and got good nails and fabulous eyebrows. Because if I'm going to fall apart, then at least let me have two bloody eyebrows!

Today, hasn't happened very quickly. It's taken me all morning to do my workout, get clean and dressed. I've cleaned my hearth, hauled my wood and coal and built my fire. In the spirit of great procrastination, I made myself a massive lunch and as I ate I watched this:

Elizabeth Gilbert is my latest guru-crush. There's a lot about her that I adore: her humour, her courage and she talks sense to me. But in this TED talk she really nails it down, why I've been struggling so hard and for so many years about my creativity.

It has now been 7 years since I graduated with my BA in Creative Writing. I've had my hands full in this time. It has to be said that since then, my life has not been all shitz and gigglez as the kidz do say. However, what hasn't helped is my self-sabotage. I have been afraid of committing myself to my creative process. I hid behind an office job, my wish to economically sustainable and basically pretended that my creative process and longing didn't matter. I tried being "sensible". 

All that is changing. Today, I am still sharing my space with my doubts, but I've peeled them off me and told them to go sit in the corner and to be quiet.

I am showing up. 

It's like this Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to write genre fiction. I want to write paranormal romances with elves, wizards, vampires, witches and werewolves. I want to write about kick-ass women and the adoring men with whom they live happily ever after. I want to write the books people read to unwind after their days working, the kind of books that get dropped in the bath, taken on holiday, loaned to friends and never returned.

There you go. That's what I want and I am owning that now. My goal is to write for Harlequin Nocturne and then to have my own series published independently. 

I'm letting go the idea of writing "proper" fiction. I'm always going to go to the Voewood Literary Festival as a gawping attendee. I'm letting go the idea that people will have heard of me and that they'll have read my work and liked what they read. It's a hard one to release, but I'm going to have to set it free because it isn't my dream and it's not who I am. I may yet indulge my literary fantasy, as I don't really have any pensionable options, I may yet write that Pulitzer prizewinner when I'm 80. In the meantime, I will be having fun.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Hello February

When January began, I had everything all planned out. I wrote in my diary the time table for getting fit. I planned out my first novel and wrote down when it would be completed. I was waiting eagerly for the start of my Introduction to Counselling course. I was exceptionally nervous and full of doubts, but ready to go for it.

And then I went back to work at the office.

I've been at Insight for over 4 years. It is the longest I've ever worked anywhere. Ever. It's been absolutely brilliant. No two days have ever been the same and the people are brilliant (if slightly bonkers, which is probably why I got on there so well).

After the first couple of weeks and the start of my counselling course, I realised it was time. Those two weeks I was distracted and grumpy and tired because my heart wasn't in my work. Neither was my head. The counselling was course was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

I took stock of everything I want to do this year and where I want to be at the end of it. I realised there was only one thing for it: I had to go for it. 

I have to put my energy 100% behind the training and the professional development that will put me on the path to becoming a fully qualified counsellor. I have to put my energy 100% behind the three creative projects that have been rumbling around my head for years, to move them from my imagination and into the world. 

A couple of weeks ago I handed in my notice. Last Thursday was my last day. In between me handing in my notice and my leaving working, I hardly slept. During the day, I've been focused on making sure I left work in as tidy a fashion as I could. But at night...well, that's when everything hiding in the crevasses all day, came out to play. Plans, hopes, fears. Everything.

I only started sleeping properly again a couple of nights ago...

The last few days have been busy as well. There's the small matter of my tax return that needed to be filled in. And then, there was my Yuletide present from Dave...a gin making afternoon at the Adnams Distillery in Southwold.

But that's a blog post for another day...

In the meantime, I've be rearranging my working space. Dave being his usual lovely self, gave me a new desk. I'm now working in my front room as it's more comfortable. My study space is now being turned into my exercise area. I've got a lot of catching up to do. I'm more than aware that if I am to achieve everything I hope I can this year, I've got to be healthy and well. 

I am going to be 45 this year. The clock is a-ticking. There is no "safe" choice in life. Everything comes with a price and safety is the most expensive choice of all; one, I have never been very good at paying. It may make my life look a bit bizarre and haphazard from the outside, but I can't face the slow, living death of un-fulfilled dreams. Far better to take the leap into the unknown and face the consequences.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Drawing a line under 2014

"Don't let the door slam you on the butt as you leave!"

The less I say about 2014 the better. If we sum it up as "challenging", that will be an adequate enough adjective.

So. Onwards. 2015. 

The antibiotics are working incredibly well. My chest infection is much improved and there's even a small spring in my step again. It amazed me how awful I must have been feeling, now that I feel more myself. Still got a bit of a chesty cough, but the nasty rattle has gone.

I made mention to my lovely landlady that I would like to have a proper fire, could I please borrow her man to sweep my chimney (ahem). On return from my first outing for a week, everything was ready for me. The chimney had been swept and a fire laid out ready to go.

My first real fire!

That's right. I've been in England since 1988 and this is the first time I'd got around to having a real fire in my home. 

Pyromania runs in the family. My dad and brother used to build bonfires at the drop of a hat. Any excuse. I'm not really any different I've discovered. Having said that, Dave elbowed me out the way for a chance to play with my fire (no, it's not a euphemism, stop giggling in the back). 

This morning we went shopping for the proper accoutrements for my hearth. Because Ladies and Gentlemen, I now have a hearth. My fireplace, is no longer decorative. We bought all the things for my fire. And of course, once we got home, we had to make sure everything worked properly. After all, I wouldn't want to have had a duff poker (no really, stop sniggering, it's distracting).

I've still got some rearranging to do to get things just right, and of course I need a log basket. So, that's still to come. 

The New Year.

This New Year is about my creativity. I realise how much I miss writing for myself. There has been so much that has happened during 2014, that really brought home, how little I have to lose. It's time to stop making excuses and to start applying my imagination and perseverance to my laptop.

This New Year is about my health. Ending 2014 with a chest infection emphasised how much living well is not about so called "lifestyle choices" and more about being able to do the day to day stuff with energy and enthusiasm (I seriously lacked both in December).

This New Year is about cherishing my nearest and dearest. It's never too late to annoy the crap out of my Boy and Dave. I want to have more fun doing stuff with both of the men in my life. And yes, just because Boy is all grown up and manly-like, he's still Boy to me. It's also important to me to spend more time with the lovely people in my life. Old, new and good friends.

These three areas are where my focus will primarily rest. There are other things I would like to look into. There's the counselling course I'll be starting next week. And I'm also wondering about volunteering in my local community. But these are side issues at this point and I suspect as I get further along into 2015 more opportunities will pop up.

Darlings, I wish you all good health, oodles of wealth, lots of fabulous moments with friends and loved ones and as much joy and fun as you can possible cope with.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

First Christmas in the Country

What can I say? Boy is home. 

There's a ham baking in the oven. Boy is killing things on Halo 2. My world is as it should be.

When we started this year off, I had no idea what was coming. It's been a year full of things that don't ever get mentioned and should never be mentioned in those round robin letters that people include in Christmas cards. 

There hasn't been a part of my life that hasn't been thoroughly shaken; and while I'm still standing, I do feel somewhat bruised and fragile. The time off I'm taking over the festive period is to rest up. I've still got the dregs of a cold I suffered a few weeks ago; it's happily brewing in my sinuses. I think it's probably time to talk to a consultant about having everything flushed out, but I haven't got any resilience left and an op would flatten me. That's okay. I've got the time to rest and recover and if I'm frustrated by my lack of progress, I know trying to push through would only drag it out for longer.

This is the longest Boy has been in The Cottage. Even though he's still getting used to the space (I moved while he was at uni), he seems much happier here. We are so very blessed indeed that we can be here and breathe for a bit. 

Boy took me shopping last night to the big supermarket just outside of Norwich. There, the other shoppers were grimly focused on the task at hand, pushing past and scowling randomly at tins of baked beans. 

The country life is taking some getting used to. I insisted Boy drive me to the local Co-op for some last minute purchases, I decided I had to make ponche crema (Trinidadian eggnog) today and get some more milk (I've been drinking gallons of tea lately). It's just ridiculous! People were relaxed, smiling and making eye contact. Strangers in the queue actually struck up conversations! 

I could get used to this life. 

I'm not sure what 2015 holds. I have a list of things I would like to do:

- get back to my fitness regime
- complete and market two manuscripts
- do some counselling courses

But I'm sure Life has other Plans for me.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Revolting Consumer

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have developed a recent problem - I have become a rebellious consumer. I don't know why I've suddenly been struck with this deep seated need to be treated like a person, a human being, rather than an account number.

I don't want my human interaction to be dictated by a script. I want to be greeted by a cheerful voice on the end of the line, to have a bit of a laugh. To have lighted the load of having to part with my hard-earned cash with a bit of banter, or to access a necessary service.

It started with Virgin Media when I moved out to the Country. As they could not provide a service out in the sticks and as I was still in contract, they charged me for £200 for the pleasure. I'd been a loyal customer since way back, when they bought my custom from Cable and Wireless. Yes, that loyal. The fact that I would be returning to Norwich, probably within 12 months was of no interest. Then they insisted on my returning their equipment in a highly convoluted manner. They were willing to waive £50 if I recommended Virgin to the next owner of the flat. I told them to get stuffed. I recommend on basis of service, not bribery. I dropped off their equipment at the Virgin Shop as I told them I would and I will never be a Virgin Media customer again.

I just did some basic maths. If my annual payment for their service is £480 and assuming that I would still be accessing their service until I was say, 80 years old, not taking into account inflation and the 12 months when I wasn't their customer, they've kissed goodbye £17,280. You'd have thought that £200 would have been worth it for a loyal customer of 14 years.

A few years ago, I went to The Lemon Tree in Norwich for a massage, a facial that sort of stuff. I drifted off to somewhere else and then stopped frequenting beauty parlours. Four months ago I received a text from The Lemon Tree with a beauty offer. I'm sure some women would be pleased. I'm sure some people would shrug and just delete. 

My mobile phone is my personal communication device. I don't give it out to companies to contact me. I started carrying one with me when Boy first went to school, so I could always be reached. I am a member of the Telephone Preference Service for both my landline and my mobile phone. The cold caller who greeted me with the words "This is an urgent call for Ms Blackthorn, for your PPI claim..." got a tirade of abuse and suddenly couldn't manage to transfer me to her manager. 

I texted back The Lemon Tree and nicely asked them to take me off their lists. Both the number that had texted me and the number quoted in the text body. The next month, after I received their offer of the month, I went in and politely asked the girl on reception to remove my details from their marketing literature. The month after that, I emailed their info email account and said that it was going to be the last time I asked nicely for them to take me off their lists.

On Saturday, I lost my cool when I got their latest offer of the month. On Sunday, I amused myself by sending pictures of flags to the text given in the body of the text.

I started with Armenia, Afghanistan and Antarctica. Other people joined in. The next suggestion was Mauritius. 

Eventually, it was suggested I could block the number, which I did. But actually, I deeply resent.

I did not give the business my permission to use my number for marketing purposes. I asked nicely and politely to be removed from their marketing lists. Tell me, as a woman who wants to fee indulged by an experience in a beauty parlour, how is ignoring her wishes, good business practice? 

I'm sure as you read this you're thinking "bloody hell woman, just block the number and leave it", but how about this as thinking fodder:

Businesses are in business to provide product/service to their customers. I am a consumer, a customer. I would like to give my custom to people/businesses who are nice to me, who are fun to deal with and who provide a good product or service.

Virgin Media didn't treat me like a customer. They treated me like a number. An inconvenience. They didn't respect my long-term intention to remain a customer. My business wasn't that important to them. They have other customers.

The Lemon Tree, didn't listen to me. Another fundamental lack of respect. How could I put myself in their hands for a massage or a facial or waxing? Treatments which potentially put me in a vulnerable position in the first place. Am I exaggerating? How would you like to undress in front of someone, have their hands on your naked body, without trust and respect? A bikini wax? I understand their marketing person is not the beauty therapist. But here's the thing, they still represent their business.

National Flag of Mauritius

I am a marketing person. I understand the desire to reach out and engage with your customers. To promote your business. I really do get it. I understand how hard it is to turn your activities into direct sales. 

I know some reading this will say "get over it, it's the way that it is." But the fact of the matter is, it's not just business blatant disregard for their customers, this lack of respect exists throughout society and on a fundamental level in our government institutions as well. 

But I'm just a number, I don't count. My opinion doesn't amount to any change at all. I should lump it. Suck it up, Man Up and go spend some more money like a good little consumer.

Here's the thing, I have many numbers and they aren't me. I am committed to making a difference. I vote with my feet and my mouth. I talk to other people who vote with their feet and their mouths. The democratic process will only evolve, if we the voters, engage with it. By the way, if you haven't registered to vote, here's the link

If you don't vote, someone else will.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Spoilt Girl

It's true, I've been spoilt. These last seven days have been proof of this. I am a spoilt brat. In the last week, I have had cause to take to social media to have a middle-class rant, worthy of The Guardian newspaper.

It started innocently enough. Last Friday, I stopped off at a diner for something to eat. It looked like it would be good. The decor was 50's all baby pink and baby blue, with placard Elvises and Marilyns on the walls. But Ladies and Gentlemen, there were warning signs. 

In and amongst the 50's rock'n'roll atmosphere...they ruined it by playing the Tamla Motown hits from the 60's. I shit you not. It was 60's soul rocking the joint. Don't get me wrong, I like 60's soul. No such thing as too much Diana Ross. Worse! I spotted next to the triptych dedicated to Sandy and Danny...London 60's posters. Pfft. What can I tell you? I was surprised. But still, I ordered a burger and chips, telling myself these inconsistencies are easy to make. They don't matter.

Then the burger arrived. 

I'll just leave you with this: cheap roll that dissolved in the burger fat; gristly, greasey burger and styrofoam chips. I stopped eating half-way and left. I regretted spending the £8.20 and the 600 calories I ingested. Don't worry. The burger had it's revenge. I had heartburn for hours later.

Dave and I went to Warwick for the weekend. The UKBC's (that's UK Barista Championship.Coffee, not law) heat was being held at the University of Warwick and although Dave wasn't judging this year, he likes to keep involved. As for me, you know I'll turn up at the opening of an envelope. 

We trudged around historic Warwick in the damp and grey, which granted would make any UK city look as appealing as a regurgitated jelly fish. We declined the £6.00 carpark fee and £18.00 per adult entry fee to Warwick Castle and instead, walked around some more until we found the Tourist Information centre. 

Saturday night, university city...awesome. Live Music. Or so I thought. Or rather, hoped. If there was live music happening somewhere in Warwick last weekend, the two lovely women ringing round all the venues they could think of, couldn't find it. Not even in a smokey pub. We did however, have a lovely cuppa with matching china in a warm and cosy tea room. Which at 3.30 in the afternoon was the most buzzing aspect about the whole city. We left Warwick and Dave showed me Banbury and Stratford (and Shakespeare's old house, obv). I have to say I liked Banbury. I'd like to go and spend more time there in daylight. I wasn't too bothered about Stratford. I crossed it off my list.

I did have a lovely time away, despite my whinging. It was good to get out of Norfolk and experience a different way of being. It was also excellent to return.

The thing is, you can have a gourmet burger in Norwich for the same money as I paid in the diner. The homemade bread roll cuddling up to the handmade patty, chances are excellent that it actually would be cow (unless you asked for a different type of animal/vegetable). And knowing some of the places we frequent, the cow would have probably spent her time running around in a field with her mates all her life, only to come into the barn every night for her usual massage with Patchouli oil. 

We went to a gig on Wednesday night. It was great. We saw Clive Gregson at Bedfords. Don't know who he is? Here's a clip (not from the gig).

Did I mention he was then off to open for Jools Holland the next day? Click here if you fancy seeing a little bit more about the evening.

Yeah, okay. So perhaps I just needed a break from Norwich. I just needed to take stock and smell the M11. I've been spoilt in Norwich. Where there's fabulous live music being played most nights. Where there's great coffee and great food and you don't feel bullied into using chain restaurants because the other local alternatives are too expensive or too questionable. 

Last year, I floated the idea to Dave that we should spend every evening for a month, looking for live music in Norwich. I reckon there would be very few days without something happening. I think it would be a totally fun project to do next Spring, though it might become a bit expensive with the tickets etc. I'll leave that thought to simmer away on the back burner  for now.