Monday, 29 November 2010

Natchickity Story

'We are putting on a proper Nativity this Christmas,' announces Mrs Miggins. 'Mrs Slocombe says her crotch still hasn't recovered from last year's Winter Extravaganza and she'd prefer to do something far less strenuous this year.'

She is in the kitchen of the Manor, sifting through the rustic basket that contains my selection of dodgy but much loved tea towels. 'Have you got anything in stripes?' she continues.

'No,' I say. 'As you can see, my eclectic collection extends to plain and spotty, and sometimes to novelty but not to stripey.'

'Oh,' says Miggins. 'Er, will you be in later today? Only I'm expecting a delivery that needs signing for.'
'Which is?' I say.
'A camel,' says Miggins. 'Possibly three.'
'I'm not taking delivery of three camels for you,' I say. 'Absolutely not, no way, no how, never.'
'But we can't do a Nativity without camels,' says Mrs M. 'What will the Wise Men sit upon?'
'How about chairs?' I say, thinking there would be a lot less mess to clear up if three leather high backs were installed on set rather than three automatic poop machines.
'We'll discuss camels later,' says Miggins.
'Anyway, why can't you sign for your own camels?' I say.
'I have auditions,' says Miggins. 'Mary and Joseph, Angel Gabriel, Angel Delight and Shepherd's Pie.'
'Shepherd's Pie and Angel Delight?' I say.
'Luncheon with Tango Pete,' says Miggins. 'He's schmoozing me for a role in the Nativity. First King as long as he can wear his gold lamee pants.'
'Mrs Pumphrey won't like it,' I say.
'Oh, she won't mind,' says Mrs Miggins. 'She's way too busy sewing sequins on her Star of Bethlehen costume.'
'And what of Mrs Slocombe?' I say. 'Which role is she to play?'
'Scrooge,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Scrooge isn't in the Nativity,' I say. 'At least not in the version I know.'
'There's your problem,' says Mrs Miggins. 'This is a different version of the Nativity. A cutting edge, hot new take on an old story. With a twist of lemon.'

'I can't wait,' I say.
'I bet you can't,' says Miggins.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Away in a Manger

There is a knock on the back door, which is unusual because any visitations from the back garden are generally preceeded by the crashing open of the door, the letting in of an icy blast of chill air (at this time of year anyway) and a chorus of 'COOOOO-EEEEEEEEE!!!!! Any cake to be had?'

I open the door. I can see why knocking was the only option available to the knockee, who is Mrs Miggins. She is dressed in at least three Winter jumpers topped with a huge scarf, and thus her wing stretch ability is limited. Actually, she can't move her wings at all, and has had to attract my attention using her beak.

I check the garden thermometer. Minus seven and a half degrees.

'Morning Mrs M,' I say. 'What can I do for you?'
'It's about this here Orangery that Andy has installed,' says Miggins. I glance behind her and see Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe installed 'neath in the Orangery, their toes er...well, toe deep in the straw I strewed yesterday. Mrs Pumphrey is practising her American Smooth for the Strictly Come Dancing semi's and Mrs Slocombe is singing thus...

'Good King Whatsisface looked out, on the beast of Bodmin
Lots of snow lay hereabout, some robins they were bobbing,
Brightly shone the moose that night
Though the frogs were cru-el,
Then an aardvark came in sight
Boasting of his toooo-oooo-ellllllll!'

...she sang.

'That's not the right words and you know it,' I call to here. She waves back. At least I think she's waving - it's difficult to tell when she's wearing mittens.
'It's your fault,' says Mrs Miggins.
'How so?' I say.
'They are thinking the Orangery is more like a stable,' says Mrs M. 'Especially since you strew the straw. She's cranking up for Christmas.'
'I'm expecting a visitation from the Angel Gabriel,' shouts Mrs Pumphrey, mid-rondez.
'I'm just waiting for the one with the gold,' shouts Mrs Slocombe. 'Bring me grapes and bring me cheese, but not too much, they make me sneeze....' she continues singing.

'I suppose they do look a bit Nativity-esque,' I say. 'So which part are you playing in all this? The Virgin Mary? Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!'
'Watch it,' snaps Miggins, 'or I'll invite you out to play the cow.'
'I apologise,' I say. 'But what do you want me to do about the Orangery/ Stable/ Manger issue? It's dry, it's warm, it'll be good to shelter in from the snow the Met Office keep promising. And you've got to admit that you love the straw that I strew.'
'Well, yes, we do,' says Miggins. 'But could you have a word with Andy and ask him if he can make it look a bit more, well, Orangery?'
'Like painting it orange?' I say. 'Ahahahahahahahahaha! Blimey, I'm on fire today, aren't I?'
'Hmmmmm....' says Miggins giving me a bit of a look. 'I was thinking more along the lines of installing a wood burning stove, some comfy chairs, a few angora throws and a cocktail cabinet. Possibly a toasting fork.'
'I'll see what I can do,' I say. 'Anything else?'
'Yes,' says Miggins. 'Roll me back to the others, will you? I can't move. My feet have frozen to the ground.'

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A review and keeping toes warm!

I should like to say thank you to Sarah who posted notes of delight on her blog following her reading of Nearly King Jimbo. She enjoyed it enormously, and has called for there to be sequels. She has even suggested ideas for titles, one of which was a bit iffy and involved a certain genre of adult film; Nearly King Jimbo wouldn't get involved in such shenanigans, I'm afraid, well, not if he wanted to stay off the front page of the News of the World anyhow. And Alice would be appalled. (However, I shan't bring up the past of his mother, the Queen, as she might take offence and sue me.)

But thank you anyway, Sarah - it means a lot that you have bought the book, read it and felt it worthy enough to recommend to other people. Bless you, and come around for some cake when you're next passing by.

So, up with the lark this morning and out into the garden to scatter straw hither and thither amongst the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace. I am convinced that the recent plunge in temperature (minus 6 this morning - brrrrrrrrr!!!), means that I'm going to come home from work one day to find Les Mesdames iced to the ground and unable to move.

'Well, that's not going to happen,' says Mrs Pumphrey who has got over her disappointment at not being a Queen of England in waiting by going shopping and treating herself to a pair of Ugg boots. 'Not now I've got these babies,' and she waggles her feet at me and promptly falls over because one should never waggle both feet in the air at once unless one is sitting on one's assets.

'And I've got these,' says Mrs Miggins, showing off her Fat Face Furry Slipper Boots. She got a pair after seeing the ones Andy got me for Christmas last year which I ADORE because they are so soft and warm it's like walking around wearing a cat on each foot.

'And as long as I can stay balanced on these stilts,' says Mrs Slocombe,'my feet shall ne'er come in contact with the ground all this Winter.'

I am suspicious of this. I know what she's like after a Christmas sherry or five.

'That's as maybe,' I say. 'But I am still worried about the freezing ground and your skinny little chicken feet becoming as one. Therefore, I am going to scatter a goodly layer of straw around the place, so get over it.'
'If you must,' says Mrs Miggins.
'I must,' I say, and set about scattering.

I scattered in the bivouac, I scattered under the new orangery. Oh yes, Andy has built an orangery at the Palace. Okay, it's a wooden frame with a bit of corrugated roofing plastic tacked to the top, but it forms another light and airy shelter for the Winter and you know what the girls are like about naming the various architectural aspects of their abode. I tried to scatter under the pod, but the eucalyptus tree that was, is still determindely sending out baby branchlettes, so I need to crawl into the undergrowth and have a prune if a want to stand even a snowball's chance of getting any straw under there.

And then the chickens followed behind me and had a riotous time scattering the straw out of the bivouac and out of the orangery and all over the place.

But even they had to admit it was a jolly good idea and would keep their toes extra toasty warm in this weather.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Can I just say...?

Can I just say that all I have to say about AOL is their customer service deserves 'nil points?' And that they don't understand the concept of a) keeping their customers fully informed of doings with their account and b) what 'automated customer service line' means? Can I just say that Wickes' customer services deserve 'douze points?' because a) they are cheerful, polite and b) they ANSWER THE FLIPPIN' PHONE rather than letting it ring and ring and ring before putting you on hold FOREVER so they can take your money at x amount of pee per minute in order to boost their coffers?

And can I just say that only one of the encounters with aforesaid customer services has this prevented me from writing my blogette and I'll leave it up to you to ascertain which one?

And can I also say a BIG huggly 'thank you' to you if you have supported the efforts towards making 'Nearly King Jimbo' a global literary success by purchasing a copy from Lulu?

And that I was rather thrilled that I got a lovely tax rebate with my salary this month and I did a little 'Yay! Christmas!' jig in the office where I have nested in order to do tutoring?

And can I just point out to one of my tutees that arachnids are NOT called arachnids because they come from Iraq, despite what he thinks he might have heard on the telly once?

Can I just say that my grand-daughter is turning into a very knowing little human being, which suggests to me she is in possession of a highly intelligent brain, and that I could squeeze her until she squeaks because she is soooooooo scrummy?

And can I say that I hope Phoebe's tummy upset clears up soon because all this week I feel like I've done little more than clear up cat doo-doo and am beginning to think I'd rather eat rice pudding and we all know how I feel about rice pudding?

Also, can I say that even though I fight very hard against fuelling Andy's obsession with Doctor Who, we actually had a cake to celebrate Doctor Who's birthday yesterday?

And finally, that I am glad Ann Widdecombe is still in Strictly Come Dancing because she caused me to laugh so much at her performance last Saturday that I almost wet myself!

Go Ann!!!!!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Right Royal Let Down

I am afraid I cannot stay long today as I am tending to Mrs Pumphrey who is bereft at the announcement that Prince William is to marry Kate Middleton.

Mrs Pumphrey was led to believe she had an 'understanding' with the aforesaid Prince, and that when she came of age (next week) it would be she who would become Gloria, Princess of the Kent and Light Sussex Borderland, and ultimately Queen Gloriana Windsor I.

She was even taken last weekend by a Royal bodyguard to H Samuels to choose an engagement ring; however, on hearing the Royal announcement yesterday, in a fit of understandable pique she climbed onto the roof of the Manor, declared the Prince a love-rat and promptly swallowed the engagement ring.

This facilitated a visit to casualty in order to retrieve the ring which, had Mrs Slocombe not interferred with its descent by tossing an ill-timed swede into a prevailing wind, would most likely have gone down the hatch and out the other end without a problem.

Tango Pete, who has long held a torch for Mrs Pumphrey (especially when she has to go into the cellar to bring up the coal) rescued her from the roof using a fireman's lift and a bungee rope. And since that hour, Mrs Miggins and I have been administering tender care to our beloved and broken-hearted friend. Mrs Slocombe has been less sympathetic, mostly because she is appalled at the waste of a perfectly good swede.

We have suggested that there is another Prince waiting in the wings but Pumphrey will have none of it. Apparently, she couldn't possibly marry someone with ginger hair and pink cheeks who regularly falls out of night clubs wearing dubious fancy dress uniforms and spend his weekends flying helicopters. Something to do with her high standing at the Ladies' Crochet and Croquet Guild.

I shall keep you all posted...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Return of the Psycho Penguin

It's that time of year when you find yourself greeting the morning in the dark. This is okay, because after 45 odd years one becomes adept at stumbling around in the gloom to get dressed so as to avoid startling one's high blood pressure hubbie by slamming on the lights and shouting 'Wakey, wakey! Up and at 'em!! Start the day with a smile and get it over and done with!'

And only occasional does one find oneself at some point in the day walking around with one's pants on inside out or an ill-matching sock combo.

Anyway, on rising yesterday, I could hear something odd going on upon the landing. There came a noise like Bagpuss sings Fiddy Cent (or whoever that disgraceful rapper type person is or was, they all seem to get shot these days, or possibly Dappy from N that right???). So I stood on the landing trying to gain my bearings. Did Heather have a new alarm clock, I wondered. If so, I much prefered the beep-tiddly-beep-tiddly-beep-tiddly one she had previously. Was it coming from next door? Was it coming from outside? I waited until my hearing achieved its usual bat-like sonar quality, and then I realised it was coming from the loft. And then I worked our what it was.

'I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas!'

Over and over and over again on a madly incessant loop.

'It's those bloody penguins!' I said. 'They're in the loft in the Christmas decoration bag and somehow their magnetic beaks have become locked in a penguin kiss and set them off.'

I banged open the bedroom door and slammed on the light.

'Can you hear that?' I yelled at Andy. (At this point, to my shame, I showed a blatant disregard for his blood pressure.) 'That possessed penguin toy you bought me two years ago has set itself off in the loft!'

And then I crashed about, unravelling the loft ladder and making a quite unholy racket for 6 in the morning. And all the while, the psycho penguins carried on - 'I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas!' Arrghhhhhhhh!!!! (That was me, not the psycho penguins.)

Anyway, Andy went up the ladder into the loft to sort them out because I was convinced at this point the Christmas decoration bag had been set flying by a giant rat that had taken up residence, or possibly an escaped convict or a Doctor Who monster or Andy's until now unrevealed lunatic first wife a la Mrs Rochester in the attic.

The psycho penguin beaks were duly unattached, Andy took his blood pressure pills and all was well.

Until I got home from tutoring. It's an early finish on Monday, more like a half day really, which is nice. I picked up the post from the doormat. One for me. From an insurance company offering me cheaper home insurance because I am over 50.

'Nooooooooooo!!!! 45....I am 45!!!!!' I ranted, remembering the blog I wrote a week or so ago and thinking Saga will be after me next.

And then, an hour or so later, my mobile went off. Unknown number. I answered, in case it was a hospital or police station or the Ernie bonds.

'Hello?' I said.
'May I speak to Mrs Denise Hunt?' said a voice.
'Speaking,' said I.
'Hello Denise, my name is Mike and I'm calling from hfwq[48hnfrag;bfr;ng'' said Mike.

Well, two points of irritation here. 1) I don't know Mike from byf8pqbuyapbfrai;fbrya;b so his address seemed rather familiar I thought and 2) what the heck was hf79qpyapb;bgfsbgy;qg'qb? Honestly, some people do mumble.

Anyway, h7[wygt[ahnu5gnpa;hgn'[wgh turned out to be a company who ring people to offer free (ha!) reviews of their pension arrangements because they want to make sure people are getting the best deal especially since the Government have brought in recent changes to pension schemes. Have they? I thought. Actually, I was still feeling tetchy about Mike's over-familiar and persistent use of my Christian name so I wasn't really absorbing his sales patter.

'So, Denise,' Mike continued, 'what provision have you made for your pension and what are the current values?'

'Pardon me?' I said.

'Your pensions, Denise,' said Mike, who clearly wasn't picking up the subtle undertones of irritation that were peppering my responses, 'how many pension plans do you have? What are their values.'

'Quite frankly, 'Mike' ' I said, 'my pensions arrangements are none of your business and I am NOT prepared to discuss them with you.'

At this point he hung up on me! How dare he!!! I was the affronted one. If there was any hanging up to be done, it was to be done by me!!!

Well, Andy arrived home at this point so I had a bit of a rant and all was well.

But if you're reading this 'Mikey pal', my pension arrangements revolve around paying off the mortgage as soon as possible, selling the house and then swanning around the countryside staying in posh hotels until the money runs out and then dumping myself on the doorstep of either and /or both of my children and making as much nuisance of myself as possible until I go to the great retirement home in the sky.

Is that 'plan' enough for you.

Today's blog was brought to you by 'PossessedByAPsychoPenguin. com' for all your irrational pension ranting needs.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Full Stop

Well, the excitement when our copy of Nearly King Jimbo arrived! I felt a little ridiculous, feeling so thrilled about it really, but it has turned out sooooooooo well! I mean, it looks like a proper book for heaven's sake.

'The only thing,' I said to Andy as we sat staring at our artistic baby, 'is that I don't think I can bear to read it in case I find any errors.'
'Yes,' said Andy, who had already picked unnecessary holes in his wonderful illustrations. 'I know what you mean.'

For we had edited and edited and gone over the final script with a fine tooth biro and it seemed that every time we looked at it, we found something not quite right. But finally we convinced ourselves the copy was as perfect as it was going to be and Andy pushed the 'Send' button and away it went.

I am doing quite a bit of reading at the moment. In fact I have just finished 'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory which was very good. And as I read it, because I still had my editor's brain to the fore, I found three very obvious typos. So today, when I read a bit of Nearly King Jimbo, I wasn't too upset on finding an errant full stop. Just a little bit, but not too much. Well, if a multi-million selling author like Gregory employs a proof reader who lets obvious mistakes slip through, I think that me, the amateur, can be forgiven the escape of a little full stop. Maybe. Still a bit irksome though. Stop thinking about it....okay....I've stopped...

So, this week has gone really quickly. A bit of part-time tutoring has brought in some cash, and a visit to the theatre yesterday brought in some cultural stimulation. We went to see 'The Rivals' by R.B. Sheridan. It was very funny, and because it was a matinee and the theatre wasn't full we got free upgrades to better seats, too. And whilst we were dawdling around waiting for the performance to start, we booked tickets to go and see 'The Phaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantom of the Operaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!' just before Christmas.

I went to find the Assistant Head at lunch time for her to sign my time sheet for this week.
'Ah!' she said. 'Just the person,' which, a few months ago would have been a phrase which brought a sense of impeding doom to my shoulders, but since I am enjoying what I am doing and know I can put a full stop to it at any time I like without having to do ridiculous things like work out notice, it doesn't bother me at all now.

'How would you like to do some internal exam marking at the beginning of December?' she continued.
'Tell me more,' I said, because marking is, like tutoring, a very lucrative sideline for teachers. Especially if you have a bottom set class with lazy boys in it who don't do writing because they can't be arsed and they manage about three paragraphs before their wrists come over all limp so they down pens and spend the majority of the exam time slumped in their seats staring at the ceiling and sighing a lot.

So she explained. Two sets of exam papers from bottom set Year 11 and one set of papers from bottom set Year 10. And I agreed. I thought, there's next year's holiday paid for.

And then she looked at me more closely.
'You're very flexible, organised and determined, aren't you? I don't suppose you'd consider applying for the Head of English post would you?' she said. 'Only they could do with someone like you.'

'Absolutely not,' I said. 'Full stop!'

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tutor Time

So I return to my last school, at their request, to deliver one-to-one tutoring to a selection of very special children. Most gratifyingly, when I appeared yesterday, I was swamped in the corridors by students I taught last year who were very excited to see me back.

'Have you come to teach us drama again?' some of them wanted to know.
'Absolutely not,' I said. 'Do you think I'm crazy or something?'
And I explained the whole one-to-one tutoring malarkey.

To wit some of them wanted to know if they could have a session of one-to-one tutoring.
'No,' I said, 'because you aren't special enough. Except you, Cameron, so come and find me at the top of the English Department Block lesson 6 please.'
'Yes!!!' said Cameron, punching the air with delight. But that could be more to do with the fact he'd be missing Geography.

Anyway, I've been given a mixture of years 7, 8, 9 and 11. Worryingly, one of the Year 11s is the same boy who coughed his germs over me last February and gave me a nasty ear, nose and throat infection that resulted in my having to take a lengthy course of anti-biotics which my innards are still recovering from (there is only so much pro-biotic yogurt one can ingest in order to rebalance the flora of one's guts, but we're getting there slowly.) So I am thinking perhaps I should wear a mask when I see this student. Except he has 'anger management issues' so he might object to my outward display of disdain for his potential as a disease-ridden bug host. Or perhaps I've developed an immunity from him. One can only hope...

One Year 7 was INCENSED that he was on the list for extra tuition.
'I think my English is fine,' he informed me. 'I think my English teacher has given me the wrong marks.'
Anyway, we had a bit of a chat and a laugh in our first session and he agreed that actually he wouldn't mind coming back for more tuition after all, because he might get the hang of spelling if he did.

Another student, whom I taught last year and has the habit of turning into a stroppy mare with the fluctuations of the moon,was thrilled to be selected for tutoring and has decided I am going to help her to write a book. I found her skulking in the Behaviour Support Unit, looking contrite-yet-slightly-sulky.
'So why are you up here?' I said.
'I hit Emma,' she said. 'She was annoying me.'
Oh, if only...I thought. The price we have to pay for being a Grown -Up.

Anyway, me and the Emma Thumper are going to write a book. A bit of a drastic method to help conquer appalling punctuation habits I suppose, but I'm a bit of an educational pioneer like that.

Stewart is also happy I am back. We practised some subject-specific vocabulary; Stewart has just started Food Tech GCSE and is struggling. We made a spelling list of all the different ways one can cook an egg. Three minutes into the exercise I sensed his concentration was drifting. I glanced up and found him staring at me really intently.
'How were your pumkins this year, Ma'am?' he said. Stewart, like me, grows his own veg.
'They were tiddly,' I said.
'Mine didn't even germinate,' he sighed wistfully.
'Oh dear,' I said.
'Beans were good though,' he said.
'Yes,' I agreed.
'And I'm still picking carrots,' he said.
'Me too,' I said. I can't believe I'm having a vegetable competition with a 14 year old, I thought.
'What about your bees?' he said.
'Never mind the bees,' I said. 'Spell 'scrambled' for me.'
'S..K..R..U...B..B..L...I...D,' he said.

You see what I am up against?

But the students I have been allotted have all been lovely. They have all worked hard, they have all shown keenness for their special sessions. They all have different needs so no two sessions are the same. They have all been cheery and polite. It's like I am doing proper teaching after all these years.

Big black lorry update - the police visited the owner. They discovered he had a white van also untaxed, a car also untaxed, no lorry operator's license, no excuse for the lorry being left in the road when it should have been parked in a designated yard other than it has 'broken down'. And then he swore at and argued with the police officer, which is never a wise move, especially when one has just come out of prison.

So my nerves are back in retreat, the sledgehammer remains in the garden storage box and Andy is saved the trauma of trying to install a set of vertical blinds in the bay window.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Baby Sitting, Baby Sales

So yesterday I had a call to arms, of babe-in-arms to be precise. Could I go and collect Kayleigh and look after her for a couple of hours? Of course I could, I said. That's what Grans are for.

So off we went, and gathered Baby plus a bag of accoutrements. We struggled a bit to get the car seat in the car, and then we struggled a bit to get the Baby in the car seat but Kayleigh was very good-natured and smiley about the whole chaos and with all parts secured, off we went.

Chez the Manor, Andy and I set about the process of Entertaining Baby. We spread some toys over the floor and plonked her in their midst. She immediately made a bee-line for the new cat water fountain. Copious amounts of kitchen roll were used to mop her up, and one or two strops were thrown until she realised she wouldn't be able to shift me from blocking her further access to the fountain until she is at least 14, and she headed back to the living room, leaving me to get over my stropping.

As with all babies of my acquaintance, Kayleigh isn't really interested in toys. She is more likely to be entertained by, in yesterday's case, a wooden salad server spoon, the cardboard tube from the aforementioned kitchen roll, an empty egg box and the colour supplements from the Daily Mail and the Guardian. Interestingly, she seemed to show more rage when ripping the Dail Mail supplement to shreds. Is she her grandmother's grand-daughter I ask myself.

Then she ate two oat cakes, half of which she schmooshed into the living room rug. And then stared at Andy who was eating an apple until he capitulated and gave her a slice to share. And then she added a load of appley dribble to the oat cake schmoosh in the rug. And then she had a drink from her tippee cup. More dribble. Mmmmmm.......

And then she started getting a bit grumpsome, so I changed her nappy( a first in over 20 years - they're a lot more stretchy than I remember) and snuggled her until she went to sleep. And then I showed I was a sterling Granny stalwart by remaining utterly still for a good half an hour even though my arm went dead within the first ten minutes and my bladder was bursting for a tinkle.
And the best bit was that Andy held several conversations with Kayleigh and Kayleigh didn't cry once. She stared at him in a very solemn way, especially when he was explaining oxymorons and galaxy systems to her. And somehow I felt she was taking it all in. Andy is very determined to play a full part in her education. He is also determined to build her a doll's house, but that will be a different story all together.

On more baby notes, I am THRILLED to report we have secured sales of 3 copies of Nearly King Jimbo. I suspect they have been bought by my pal Sarah, but nonetheless I have written a book that has sold 3 copies that weren't bought by me! I am soooooooooo excited!! So if it was you, Sarah, bless your heart and roll on our 'beside the sea-side weekend'. And if it was someone else, thank you too. The sales may be baby, but you have made my year!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Knock at the Door

Finally I have bought a doormat to put atop the new wood floor in the hallway in order to save me from having to kneel atop the new wood floor to clean off the wet mud malarkey that gets wiped atop the new wood floor every time people enter the front door with their November weather feet and have no mat to wipe them upon.

But they do now! Aha!

Yesterday, a big gruff police officer knocked at the door. Actually, I thought he was breaking down the door, so firmly did he knock - me and the cats fair jumped from our skins. But I guess that's what police officers do in order to make their presence felt.

Anyway, the reason for his visit was the re-appearance of the big black lorry outside the front of the house. You remember the big black lorry? The one that caused me much angst earlier this year because it was THERE outside the window IN MY FACE being an EYESORE and making a RACKET at all ungodly hours and BLOCKING the drive and the road and GETTING ON EVERYONE'S NERVES?? So me and the neighbours waged a war against its presence by reporting it to VOSA, the council, the DVLA and the police because it didn't have a tax disc, and, it turned out no insurance either. And parking our cars on the road so it couldn't. It got a bit petty, all the car shuffling, but was ultimately very satisfying when the lorry appeared in the afternoons and had to drive away because there was nowhere for it to park.

Well, after eight months of lorry-free bliss, it pitched up again. I could have cried when I opened the curtains on Friday morning and there it was, in my face again. My neighbour across the road appeared and said he had already reported it to the police because it had nearly run him over when it arrived the night before. And did I know that the reason it was back was because the owner had just been released from prison. Again. And did I know it didn't have a tax disc.

Aaarggghhhh!!! So in order to off-set a potential nervous breakdown, I said to Andy that if the lorry was back for good then could we install vertical blinds in the front bay window so I wouldn't be able to see the effing thing. And possibly install some wooden fencing atop the front brick wall to make it 7 feet high?

And Andy, who is very understanding of my irrational, middle aged and menopausal moments said yes, of course we could.

And then the police officer arrived. Did we know who the lorry belonged to, said he. I told him all I knew and said how much it aggravated me and the neighbours being there. I thought it prudent not to mention I really wanted to take a sledgehammer to the windscreen and/ or fill the back of it with cat poo. The police officer said that unfortunately, although it was an eyesore, it wasn't causing an obstruction (well, I'd like to see a fire engine get past it into the road), but he noticed it didn't have a tax disc, so leave it with him, he'd make enquiries and see what he could do. And six hours later, it had gone.

And I hope it stays away. For the sake of my fragile sanity and the windscreen.

The doormat looks nice, though.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Thermal Undercurrents

Well, that's it then, isn't it? I am OFFICIALLY OLD. Two days after my birthday, and what arrives in the post? A Damart catalogue, that's what. Did I request a Damart catalogue? No, I most certainly did not. And its arrival has more than convinced me there is some Big Brother data base somewhere which, when it flagged up I was 45, automatically sent out the thermal undie 'n' polyester skirts with elasticated waistbands booklet because now I am clearly entrenched in middle age I must be in need of a different fashion approach. I'm just waiting to hear from Saga, Stannah Stairlift and the company who sells those tall sit-up baths with the door in the side and then I'm calling it a day and taking to my bed like Grandma Josephine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I have no need of thermal undies because a) I have gas central heating and the wherewithal to pay the bills due to my recently acquired and very lucrative part-time tutoring job b) I have a coal-effect electric fire in the living room ditto a) and c) I have my own personal summer heating system called Hot Lady Flushes Galore. And if I am still chilly I shall put on an extra jumper and get the cats to sit on me in a big furry pile-on.

Damart catalogue indeed! Pah!!

And talking of cats, we have brought them a new toy. Well, more a piece of equipment vital to their health actually. We have got them a drinking fountain! An indoor water feature! It's in the kitchen now just waiting to be kicked over because we had to stand it in a hitherto unoccupied area of floor space in order to plug it into a spare socket. I am guessing it is only a matter of time before someone kicks it over when taking the corner a bit quickly but I expect we'll get used to it being there eventually. and our feet shall remain dry.

The instructions said 'Your cat may take a day or two to get used to the free-flowing movement of the water.' Various websites suggested the same timescale but reviewers all said their cats got used to it and really love it as a water source. Andy the Vet said it was a good idea, especially for Phoebe aged 14 and a quarter and Tybalt aged 8 and a half who both need to keep their water intake up as they are getting on a bit.

Once installed it took Phoebe about 2 minutes to drink from it, Tybalt 4 minutes and Pandora 4 and a half minutes but that was probably because she didn't like to think they were getting something she wasn't. So they all conquered the water fountain in under five minutes. In fact, Phoebe especially loves the water fountain, so much so that I half expect to come downstairs tomorrow morning and find her sitting in it wearing a spangly swimming cossie and drinking champagne whilst the bubbles tickle her fancy.

As I suspected, we clearly have very intelligent cats who knew exactly what the fountain was for and weren't going to embarrass the feline populace by skirting around it in a suspicious manner for a day or two like a bunch of weirdos.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cover Girl

We've done the text, we've done the illustrations. We've done the 'About the Author and Illustrator' pages, we've done the back of book blurb. We've done even done a dedication.

'How about putting a Much Malarkey Manor logo on the back cover?' I say to Andy. 'You know, like Penguin Books has a tiny penguin and Faber and Faber have funny fuffs.'

'Yes,' says Andy. 'It could be our trade mark.'

So we have a think about what we could use as our trademark logo. It didn't take a lot of thinking about, of course, because the obvious choice was chickens.

'All of them, or one of them?' says Andy.
'Well,' I say, 'I have always been rather fond of the cartoon you do of Mrs Miggins. The one with her wearing her Dame Edna spectacles. And Mrs Miggins was our very first chicken and she is the best chicken, isn't she?'

'Yes I am,' says Mrs Miggins, who is listening in like she does. She's popped into the kitchen to warm up her chest embrocation on the hob. Although her feathers are re-growing after this year's moult, they are taking a little longer to reach their full fluffage and she's doing her best to keep warm now the Winter drawers are on.
'Would you like to be our cover girl?' I say.
'Would it be tasteful?' say Mrs Miggins.
'Of course,' I say. 'Tasteful and dignified.'
'No tassles or cleavage?' she says.
'No tassles or cleavage,' I say. 'Your portrait is an exemplar of the height of decorum. It's the one Andy drew of you wearing your Dame Edna spectacles and looking superior.'
'That's because I am superior,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Would I get paid to be the cover girl?'
'No,' I say. 'Because the copyright of Andy's drawing belongs to him. I could ask him to get a bag of sunflower seeds next time he goes to Pets R Us At Home City if you like.'

Mrs Miggins gives this some thought. 'Okay,' she says. 'And some corn as well. We haven't had corn for a while.'
'I'm a bit loathe to let you have corn,' I say. 'On account of it turning Mrs Slocombe into a nut case.'
'It does make her a bit wild, doesn't it?' says Mrs Miggins.
'Like feeding meat to Oliver Twist,' I say.

'Okay, perhaps not corn,' says Miggins. 'Extra apples then. And grapes.'
'Done,' I say for I am just thankful she hasn't mentioned getting her agent involved in the negotiations.

So, we are ready to roll with the publication of Nearly King Jimbo. We have been so motivated by the project that we are even thinking about next year.
'We could do a Christmas Annual,' says Andy.
'Like a Much Malarkey Manor Almanac?' I say.
'Indeed,' says Andy. 'In fact, we could put together Much Malarkey Manor Hampers for everyone. We could include a bottle of dodgy home-made wine or sloe gin, a jar of marmalade, a jar of chilli jam...'
'A calendar, 'I say, catching onto the whole merchandise thing. 'I could knit novelty chickens and bees and make cakes and biscuits.'
'Oh, the possibilities are endless,' says Andy.
'Indeed they are,' I say.

We are soooo excited about the whole enterprise it's ridiculous!

Let the consumer beware!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Birthday Fun

Firstly, Happy Birthday to Olly who shares 2nd November with me as a Birthday. May your day be merry and the next year bright! And thank you for continuing to follow all the Malarkey.

Secondly, I love birthdays!! And this year has been a particularly good one. Many cards. Many flowers. And lots of really nice pressies, like books (Stephen Fry's Chronicles, The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory, The Encylopedia of Quilting and Patchwork, Rose Elliot's Complete Vegetarian, 100 ways for a Chicken to Train Its Human (!!!!!), Stories the Feet Can Tell Reflexology), CDs (Scissor Sisters and Ladies of Letters), lovely posh smelly candles, two key-rings (one Nissan Figaro, one zebra with 'Grandma' printed on it), a snazzy bag with cats on it, chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, DVDs (Outnumbered Series 1 and 2 and The Mummy 3), 'a 'Beware Chickens!' sign, a subscription to a vegetarian magazine, some M and S vouchers with the instruction I was NOT to spend them on sensible shoes or black trousers, a floaty flowery purply boho dress, a mouse mat printed with a bee picture that I took of a bumblebee on Malarkey lavender this summer, and a packet of quinoa (don't ask!!).

And then my Mum came round with an ENORMOUS chocolate birthday cake, so we had tea and cake and chat.

And then Andy took me, Leane and Kayleigh out to lunch, to a pub which serves THE best fat chips ever.

And this evening we are having a proper birthday party with proper party food like nibbles and dips and crisps and stuff.

And next week Andy and I are going to see Penelope Keith in 'The Rivals'.

And I've been offered some part time work until Christmas which means we can turn the central heating on this Winter!!

So thank you to all my lovely family and friends who made this birthday a special day.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Proper Books

I write today in a tone of reverential hush, because upstairs a work of genius is occurring. Over the weekend, Andy the Pen completed the illustrations for 'Nearly King Jimbo' and today he is constructing the book in some kind of a file that will be accepted by Lulu, the self-publishing company.

Well, every now and then Andy appears downstairs where I have been skulking, doing rivetting stuff such as cleaning out the fridge and my reflexology homework, and he asks me VERY IMPORTANT QUESTIONS about things like page numbering, chapter headings and the placing of illustrations within the body of the text. It's all very publishy and booky and proper! And I've just taken him a cup of tea, and had a sneaky peak over his shoulder, and there are pages with numbers and text and pictures on his computer screen that look like they are from a PROPER book!!


We had a discussion about ISBN numbers over the weekend. And Andy made some more wine and I knitted a pig, but that's two different stories altogether. We've found out where you buy the numbers from, and that they come in blocks of ten. Do we really need an ISBN number, we wondered? According to Lulu, we don't. We can publish through them, and people can order copies without the need for an official number. But if you want to make your book available through somewhere like Amazon, you need an ISBN. And, get this, if you publish with an ISBN number you have to donate a copy of your book to the British Library Archives for free. Ha! What if you don't want to, eh? Do they send round a librarian to shout in your kitchen or something??

Okay, so if we splash the cash (£115 and something pee) for 10 ISBN numbers, what do we do with the other 9? Do they go off? I mean, do we have to use them within a certain period of time, or can we save them ad infinitum? Could I, for example, have one stamped on the side of my coffin, to go with the inscription of 'See, She Was A Proper Writer' on the headstone?' I said we could publish 'The Chicken Blogs' next year. That'd use up two. And I feel I could write more Nearly King Jimbo adventures, in fact once I get started I'm going to be difficult to stop given the potential goings-on in Titbury von Streudelheim.

Anyway, more research vis a vis ISBN numbers is required. And of course a lot of the issue depends on how cocky we feel that people are actually going to want to buy a copy of the book. I mean, it's all well and good handing them out as freebie Christmas presents, but getting people to actually part with cash for them is another pot of ink altogether. Except for my friend Sarah who is still determined to buy copies for her friends and relatives. And I can't imagine anything more depressing than checking your book for sales and feedback and seeing it surrounded by balls of tumbleweed, a lone coyote howling in the background.

Right, I'm going to check on progress at Much Malarkey Manor Publishing House; Andy has just informed me he is uploading a test copy to see how much it's all going to cost.

And apparently there is a difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing. I think I'm going to have to look up that one, too...