Builders and Energy Prices

It’s whinging time!

First whinge, builders.

Wow, what a few weeks. I’ve been looking for a builder to do some work on my house. I live in ex-council semi-detached house. Now ex-council houses are well known for being well built, if a little lopsided in places, but this one was a bit weather worn when we first bought it. That was 21 years ago.

What I initially required was a simple repointing of the chimney and some of the gable end, the pointy end of the house, and a bit of rendering to cover over someone else’s botch job at the back of the house.

So far I have had three builders give me a quote. One I had to chase on the phone just to come look at the job, a second told me I needed lime mortar, a third told me I didn’t. One told me the whole gable needed doing, the whole front of the house, most of the roof too. One told me it couldn’t be done yet because it’s too wet and cold, March at the earliest, another said he could do it next week. The prices ranged from £3800 to £5500. The most promising neglected to say that his price didn’t include the scaffolding, which should cost about £300 (his price, not mine) but has yet, after a week, to get back to me on that. He’s supposed to be calling me today, but hasn’t so far.

Just what the hell am I supposed to make of all that? Do builders have special phones that only work at random intervals? Do they all wear special contact lenses that show different things?

Admittedly they do all offer pretty long guarantees, ranging from 10 – 20 years, and none of them want any money upfront, which is a good sign I suppose. I’m just not certain what actually needs doing.

Bearing in mind that, at the moment, I can afford to have the work done, and that it should never need doing again in my lifetime, in the end I have decided to have the whole front and gable end done, along with the chimney, that bit of rendering and the bottom course of tiles re-bedded on the roof. I have another builder coming today to give me a quote, that will make four. I await with bated breath what he has to say.

Second whinge, Energy Companies (and other profiteering parasites in general).

I got an email from my energy company (who shall go unnamed, like hell! It’s Scottish Power, who are about as Scottish as Napoleon Bonaparte), telling me my fixed tariff is coming to an end and that, to avoid being having my first born child eaten alive by rising energy prices, I should agree to a new tariff right now.

Well, I had a look at their new tariffs. There were four available, all pretty much the same, two green, two not, two for 24 months and two for 12 months and all two and a half times what I am paying now. After swearing at their website for a while and then finding myself unable to get through to their customer services, I decided to ignore it. My tariff doesn’t run out until the end of February anyway.

I got another email from them yesterday. This time it said if I didn’t choose a new tariff I would be put on their standard varaible tariff, which they helpfully listed alongside my current tariff, so I could see just how horrible it would be. It is indeed more than I pay now, by about 20%, much less than the 250% on their fixed tariffs. It could go up by perhaps 50% in April, but is capped at that and would still work out much cheaper.

People, including governments, are calling this an energy crisis. In conclusion I can only think these people are the profiteering parasites they resemble.

Back Ups

I know, it’s been a while again. I’ve been busy, sort of. I’ve done a load of world building, then done it all again after my USB stick decided to fall off the perch. Yes, yes, I know, I know. A programmer should know better and this one is now practicing grandfathering his backups. I my defence the USB stick did fail and absolutely corrupt all my work just when I was backing it up. So I ended up with a really nice back up of all the corruption. Unfortunately I hadn’t been keeping progressive backups so I had nothing to fall back on.

Now I have backups everywhere!

David Farland (Dave Wolverton)

David Farland (Dave Wolverton), the coordinating judge for Writer’s of the Future, and award winning author and all round good guy, has passed away.

I took the WotF online workshop last year and Dave was an instrumental part in it. He seems to have gone out of his way to help upcoming authors and has paid it forward to the extreme. I didn’t know him but he has awarded me many Honourable Mentions over the past few years and just a quarter ago my first Silver.

If you haven’t read any of his work, then go find some, you’ll learn a lot.

Writers of the Future Results, Ear Infections, Covid Jabs and Xmas

I’m still here and still kicking. My head is fine, well in the mental sense anyway. Physically it is bunged up still, but getting better.

Why is it bunged up? Well, mostly due to an ear infection which has left me sleepless and in pain for a week and a half. It’s all but cleared up now, with the help of some antibiotic spray. The spray has vinegar in it as an antiseptic, so I’ve been a bit stinky for a while too. I’ve never had an ear infection before, not that I can remember anyway. My daughter used to get them all the time as a child. Now I know how much they hurt.

The infection was barely clearing up when I gat a text from my doctor to go have my Covid booster. My son was invited to make an appointment a few weeks ago but the nearest place he could go was miles away. That all changed as soon as the Prime Minister declared that they were going to get us all jabbed before January.

I must say, our NHS has done a great job in rolling out these vaccines. Within a few days vaccination centres were popping up all over. We both got them done at our GP’s clinics.

Now I’me full of cold, probably from the booster jab, along with a sore arm, but don’t let that put you off getting one. I’d rather have a cold than end up in hospital.

Anyway, the sore ear, the sore arm and the bunged up head and snotty nose have stopped me writing for a few days. I’m also back working from home so there’s all that confusion in my head about whether I’m at work or not when I sit down at the computer.

Well, my last official day working was yesterday (and I got a Xmas bonus too), so now I can sit down and crack on.

Just a quick reminder of where I’m at. Since my last post I’ve finished a short sci-fi story, submitted a couple of stories and started world building a fantasy story. I’ve had the results from Quarters 3 and 4 of The Writers of the Future competition, a straight rejection (sort of expected) and a Honourable Mention, respectively.

I’ve submitted to this year’s Quarter 1 already and the fantasy I’m world building, or perhaps the sci-fi that I’ve already done a first draft for, will be my Quarter 2. I am leaning more to the unwritten fantasy though, it feels good in my head and I’ve got plenty of time until the end of March. The world building is about a third of the way through and I’ll get a bit more done tonight. I have Xmas Eve to myself. My daughter and her fiance are taking my son out to the movies, so I’m at home alone for the best part of the evening.

I should get plenty of writing done, but I’ve been left with an awful lot of food, chocolate and alcohol.

Merry Xmas, or whatever flavour your season is (I’m an atheist, I’m just here for the twinkly lights and the booze).

Oh, and the chickens are still laying, though they do look a little oven-ready (it’s moulting time).

A Longer Walk

I had a few days off work the other week and, donning a new coat and carrying a new rucksack replete with a new flask (filled with coffee), I went for a nice long walk. I went about ten miles in all, not exactly a trek, but much of it was hilly, some of it pretty steep.

I started by going through town and, having my rarely used camera with me, took a few pictures as I went. It was early enough to see the sunrise hitting St Mary’s church as I went up Hengate. There’s just something about sunlight hitting the stones that makes it all glow. I see the same thing on the other side of town with Beverley Minster.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

It’s not far from town to Beverley Westwood, a large expanse of common land, one of three around Beverley. I’m not sure just how big the place is but it generally takes a good twenty minutes to walk across it.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

I almost got lost after the Westwood. What started off as a sunny morning quickly clouded over and I thought I was in for a soaking. It’s been years since I walked further than the Westwood and I forgot just how far it was into Bishop Burton. I could have sworn it was just over the hill out of the Westwood, but it wasn’t, there’s quite a long road, a roundabout and then another long road first. It took about an hour to get there, but thankfully the rain held off.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

About the only think of note in Bishop Burton is the age old duck pond, but I wandered around a bit, intending to walk up a long, steep road I remembered led to Newbald Road. After a while of looking over some lovely old houses my bank account could never stretch too, I realsied I’d got lost in the few little side streets there. I came out on a road called Mill Hill and not the steep road I was looking for. Still, it was steep enough for me by that point.

As I’ve said above, it’s been a while since I walked so far. My legs were aching and my back was complaining and it was as far home as It’s already gone.

Mill Hill was a treat though. I passed a few cows who also looked like they were expecting rain, then discovered the mill the hill was clearly named for. Someone had, at some point, turned it into a house and it stood there, attached to someone’s home like a crenelated turret. I stood and stared at it for while, I can tell you. It would have made a great study.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

I eventually found Walkington, via a few miles of country road, dodging ever increasing traffic and stopping every now and then to enjoy the view and the silence while I could.

Before long I was back on Beverley Westwood, the opposite side this time, and heading back into town, past the narrow old gate house and the Whitening Works, a long established chalk quarry where my great grandad used to work, the remnants of the East Riding Lunatic Asylum (later Broadgates Hospital), where a few of my ancestors were incarcerated and eventually perished and finally, after a quick shop in Tesco, home for a slightly bigger lunch than usual and a long sit down.

Writing Progress and Why It Sometimes Stops

Currently I have eight stories out on submission, two at Writers of the Future, the rest at various magazines. I have a short story waiting for me to edit it, another in the process of being edited, another in the pipeline and a novel that has waited for over a year for me to get back to it. It’s a first draft and needs editing too. There are also a couple of other older shorts I want to take another look at. It seems I have a lot of editing to do.

I’m finally, after a few weeks of inactivity, getting back into the swing of things and starting to write new things too, at last.

There is a long list of things that stop me from writing. Most of it boils down to depression and anxiety, and that boils down to PTSD.

There’s been a lot in the media lately about mental health, in particular being able to talk about it. Now, I’ve never been one to shy away from the subject if asked specifically, but I don’t generally just go throw it out there. It can and does make people uncomfortable, it’s upsetting and, to be blunt, those who need to know already do.

Still, I post seldom, and I think I should say why. You never know, it might just help someone else. So, first a little personal history.

I have PTSD. It started, though I didn’t know it back then, in 2012, when my youngest daughter took her own life at the age of fourteen. It was August Bank Holiday weekend. She’d just come back from a fortnight long Army Cadet annual camp. I’m not going to go into the details, but on the Saturday morning she hugged me, told me she loved me and went off to do her paper round. I never saw her alive again.

We spent the weekend searching for her, me, my elder daughter, my brother-in-law, all our friends, most of Humberside Police, Air Sea Rescue and a good chunk of the population of Beverley. At one point there were four helicopters up looking for her, on one of the wettest August Bank Holiday weekends on record. The rain was torrential and lasted all Saturday and into Sunday.

Sunday evening, around eight I think, someone found her. She’d hanged herself in a tree that I had walked past several times and not seen her. Part of me thinks that was a blessing.

I went down to where they’d found her, one of her friend’s parents called me to let me know, and the police gently bundled me into the back of a huge black car, a Range Rover I think. A police officer, some kind of inspector, a big bloke, got in the back with me and gave me the news and then held me like a baby while I screamed a sound that I can still hear now.

Later on that day they took me to identify her. I collapsed on the floor and it took me ages to say the words they needed to hear. It just didn’t look like her. She was the wrong colour and her face didn’t look right at all. Just like that sound, that image has never gone away.

Sometime after that came her funeral and a little later, in the December, an inquest was held, but those, while still imprinted in my memory, were just a blur with little bullet points that still jump out now and then.

There was an awful lot more and a lot more awful that weekend, but that should be enough to give you the gist of it. Enough to make sense of the rest of what I have to say.

Fast forward a year, actually not quite a year, to the beginning of the following August. My wife of seventeen years, her mother and the mother of my other children, the nicest woman I have ever known, collapsed on the stairs and died in my arms.

We have a saying in our house now. Life has a habit of happening.

One of the old boys at the allotments, when my daughter died, said something along the lines of “When life knocks you down you have two choices. You can stay down or you can get back up again.” Gods, but how many times can you do that? Well it turns out you can do it as many times as you need to.

I still had two very good reasons, a son and a daughter, to get back up. They needed me now more than ever, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

I’ve developed a few sayings since, such as “Never say it can’t get worse, because it damn well can,” and the good old “I’ve had worse days,” because, yeah, I really have.

Anyway, back to the PTSD. I got diagnosed with that eventually. Not long after my wife died the sleepless nights and horrible flashbacks became more and more frequent.

I ended up, after a few failed rounds of talking therapy, being given something called EMDR treatment. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming and sounds like something used in a North Korean correctional facility. What it actually does is sort out your memories. It was explained to me in terms of the brain being like a computer. Every day it backs up the day’s experiences, image by image, and stores it all as memories. Unfortunately, when it comes to something traumatic, the brain baulks and the image isn’t stored right and ends up popping up, as in a flashback, when you least expect it.

This storing of memories is normally done when you are asleep, in that REM stage, and the EMDR treatment tries to emulate that by either making you watch a moving finger, lights or whatever or, in my case, with a pair of hand held buzzers, to simulate that rapid eye movement. You then talk through the trauma, which is exhausting, hard work and extremely upsetting.

EMDR works. Or it did from me. I went from being unable to sleep, having persistent flashbacks and being not far from the point of having a fatal incident with the wheels of a bus, to nowhere near normal but at least sleeping better and no longer suicidal after a few sessions.

Fast forward again, to now. My last EMDR session was getting on for five years ago now. One of my children has left home and is getting married next year, the other one is six inches taller than me and better at both maths and physics.

So, back to the writing. Just what, if the EMDR worked, stops me from writing? Well, it’s simply a case of, it just never stops. The PTSD, even though I no longer want to throw myself under a bus, is always there, or maybe it’s just the grief, but something is still there. I don’t have flashbacks anymore, well not often and rarely the kind that completely stop me in my tracks. Those ones that play out like a movie in your vision hardly ever happen anymore.

It’s little things like heavy rain. That takes me back to that weekend. That image of her laid out for me to identify is always there, as is that horrible scream. I can see that image and hear that scream all the time, even now. It’s been nine years now and I can still hear that scream.

Most of the time I’m alright. I keep that image and that scream locked up in a box inside my head. Yet sometimes, every now and then, heavy rain, or her birthday, or any other milestone, Christmas, Easter and many other days on the calendar of life give my head a shake and that box pops open. Helicopters, police officers, the sound of a certain news reporters voice, a thousand little things that I don’t even recognise until they hit me.

These are the things that stop me writing. It stops me because, when these things hit you, it’s exhausting. It drains all your energy away and you just kind of slump inside yourself. You know you need to snap out of it and do something, anything, go for a walk, write a few words, anything at all, but it takes a while sometimes. Sometimes I just munch on a bar of chocolate (one therapist told me, never punish yourself, if a bar of chocolate makes you feel better, eat one, forget the diet), even though I need to loose weight. I still function. I don’t start sharpening the knives or picking out a nice bit of rope or anything like that. I still clean the bathroom and do all of life’s other chores, but my heart’s not in it. I really can’t be bothered and I feel like I’m just stumbling along, dog tired and trying not to cry about it.

In those times I want to curl up in a ball and let that scream out, but I don’t, and this is the bit that might help someone. I don’t, because all the people who need to know all this about me do, and they are there for me. My kids, my family, the few friends I keep close and, most of all, my work colleagues who see more of me than anyone for the most part, who have seen me melt down and helped pick me back up on countless occassions.

These little moments, as I call them (“give me a minute, I’m having a moment” is often heard in the office), can last a few minutes if I see them coming (you learn to do it, really), or can go on for days, leaving me feeling like I’m in a fog, functioning still, but on auto-pilot, so to speak. Occasionally you don’t know it’s happening until someone asks if you’re alright and you realise you’re not.

Exercise is good too, keeping busy. Not worrying about it is better. When you get like me and your head explodes and that scream builds up, worrying about it and stressing about what other people make of it all will not make it stop. Trying to pick out the thing that triggered this particular moment off is good, so you can spot it coming next time. If you need to cry about it, have a damn good cry. If you need chocolate, have some. The people who matter don’t mind and those who mind just don’t matter. Just remember, the ones who matter need to know about it.

Anyway, not sure if that helped me, but I hope it helped someone else. I am now going to get on with that editing and if it’s a while before I post again, I’ll either be still editing or in the corner, rocking.

(The ability to laugh at yourself is also very helpful!)

Storm Arwen

As seen from the landing window (what the hell is all that?) at 7am on a Saturday morning. So much for a lie in. At first I thought the roof had come off the house (it was early and everything was a bit blurry), then I realised the roof wasn’t plastic.

A load of plastic sheets decided they no longer wanted to be in next door’s garden and threw themselves all over mine instead. A couple even managed to wedge themselves in the tree behind the polytunnel.

Storm Arwen has been and gone. Thankfully I haven’t seen the level of damage that some have in the past week or so, just a small tear in the polytunnel, quickly patched with repair tape, and my electricty is still on. I’m really not sure how some of those sheets didn’t cut right through the polytunnel though.

Anyway, they’re back next door now and, amazingly, none of it put the chickens off laying.

Writing and Golden Sunshine

Ok, so it’s been a while, again. I keep saying I’m going to post more often and end up vanishing for weeks on end. Anyway, I’m back at work now, well for the most part and am quite busy all of a sudden.

I’ve been writing, though it’s been a bit sporadic. I am part way through a story which had been on the back burner for a few weeks.

To be honest this whole pandemic thing, what with lock downs and working from home, then back to work and yet still working from home, has kind of thrown my routine all over the place.

Still I’m on holiday next week and will finish that story off, and post something more substantial with any luck.

In the meanwhile, have a look at this, golden sunlight lighting up the garden this morning.

Update, rude magazines and annoying banks.

I know, it’s been a while again, but it’s summer. The plot is in full growth, the sun is high, and very hot most of the time and it’s all very busy.

I have onions, potatoes and courgettes coming out of my ears. I have been almost living on salad and raspberries they have done so well. The polytunnel is full of lettuce and this year, for a change, the aubergines actually have flowers on them. With all the eggs the chooks are laying, rhubarb and custard is high on the menu along with poached eggs, one of my favourites.

I should be skinny by now, but I’m not.

I’ve also been writing and editing a lot. I have a story in the first edit phase, a couple waiting to be polished and the outlines of a couple more. I just need this relentless heat to give up so I can sit and write without dripping all over the keyboard.

Anyway, onto the traditional moaning, it wouldn’t be a proper blog post without a good moan.

First moan, magazines who don’t communicate. I submitted a story to a certain magazine, which will remain nameless, back in May. Their Grinder page didn’t raise any flags for me, save for a 4% withdrawal rate, but I started to get a niggling feeling when they didn’t even confirm receipt. Still, it’s a pretty short story that has already been out a few times, so I left it a while. Their guidelines said to query after six weeks, I left it eight. I got an auto response telling me to wait at least six weeks. I tried again a few weeks later only to get the same response. I messaged them via their website, just in case their auto responder was messed up and got no reply at all. So I withdrew my submission, on the assumption that there was no one there to read it anyway, and got the original auto response.

That story is now waiting in someone else’s slush pile, and they did confirm receipt. The first magazine has been put on my ignore list and noted as unprofessional and unresponsive. I followed their guidelines, they should do the same.

Second moan, banks. Or my bank to be precise and this time I will name them, Virgin Money. They used to be Yorkshire Bank (I think they still are underneath, but outwardly they are Virgin). This is all about their paperless policy, or saving trees as many companies put it. I set mine to off, on both my accounts, as I want paper statements (go through a messy divorce and you’ll be paranoid about having all your accounts in line too). I set both accounts back to paper on their website (they defaulted it to paperless for me), but both kept resetting themselves. I contacted them via their online chat and was told that both were set to paper no matter what I was seeing on the webpage (a glitch I was told). Anyway, today I got an email telling me my paperless statement was ready. So I called them, to be told that one account was set to paper and one paperless. I asked them to switch both to paper and was told I had to go online and do it myself. I had already explained that it didn’t work, and proceeded to explain again. I asked to speak to a manager, anyone, who could help me or at least take a complaint on board (their tech team is not front facing apparently, which I think means I can’t talk to them, but the customer service people can put a request through which, if I log on regularly enough to do it myself, will be declined – how bloody helpful.)

While I was on hold waiting for a manager to speak to me I went online and checked the settings myself. They were both paperless and I changed them to paper. This time it worked. They’d fixed it, but clearly hadn’t set mine right, and didn’t bother to tell me.  The guy on the phone confirmed both were now set to paper.

I’ve been with Yorkshire Bank for around thirty five years and can’t remember when I last had to call them with a problem. Since they changed to Virgin Money I’ve called them several times. Things do get sorted out, but they’re things that shouldn’t have needed sorting out in the first place. This should all have been done the first time I complained that it wasn’t working.

As for saving trees, that’s rubbish. It’s saving the bank money by pushing their printing costs onto me. They know damn well as soon as most people download a statement they’ll print it out. It’s not saving any trees. If they really wanted to go environmentally friendly they’d use 100% recycled paper and environmentally friendly inks for everything and all cycle to work, and stop all investment into fossil fuels. Only that wouldn’t save them any money.

As for the online statement, I went to have a look and guess what, their secure message service, where they hold them, was down. “Oh yes,” I was told while still on the phone with them, “there’s a problem with that.” It’s clearly not the only one.

New Stories, new games and more books.

Ok, it’s been a while again I know, but I’ve been busy writing, honest. I’ve been working on my quarter 4 entry for Writers of the Future and I think I’ve got a good one. Then I had a flash of inspiration and wrote my first foray into sci-fi and entered that instead. It only took two days to write and just felt, well right. So now I have a spare fantasy story to send out. In fact I now have seven or eight pieces doing the rounds.

My Q2 entry for WotF got a Silver Honourable Mention, so it got the Ken Rand 10% treatment and sent straight back out again.

Anyway, now I find myself in need of an idea for the next story. So, while my brain chews up and grinds bits of grist, I’ve been playing some new games. Well, new to me at least.

Enderal: Forgotten Stories is a fan made overhaul for Skyrim, with a completely new storyline that has nothing to do with Elder Scrolls. It looks amazing and seems, to me at least, a cross between Skyrim and Elder Scrolls Online. It has a few odd quirks to the gameplay and there are quite a few cutscenes, but it’s also free (but you do need Skyrim), so give it a go.

The second is The Outer Worlds, and what gave me the inspiration for the above sci-fi short. It’s a space faring, open ended world, just the kind of thing I go for. The storyline is pretty good and some of the companions dialogue is hilarious. I got it on Steam half price.

On the gardening front, I’ve been picking lots of salad and eating most of it. The chooks are in full lay and the courgettes have started to appear en masse. It’s been warm and wet lately so the weeding is non-stop. It’s hard work. The grass doesn’t seem to ever stop growing either. Still, it keeps me fit.

I’ve also been buying books again, this time a big box of sci-fi and fantasy from Ebay.

It was father’s day the other week too so, just to add more to the to-be-read pile, the kids both got me books. I think I have about a hundred or so to read now.

One of the father’s day presents was David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet. It’s part autobiography, part environmental warning. It makes for interesting, fascinating and ultimately disturbing reading. I recommend everyone buy a copy and use it to beat some sense into the nearest politician.

Today is my birthday and guess what, I got some more books along with a personal rejection from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.