Always Check Twice.

I don’t do DIY as a rule, not unless necessary, not even a lick of paint. I can do it. I’ve made my own desk fitted my own kitchen, decorated the whole house, tiled bathrooms and kitchen floors. I do all kinds of odd jobs in the garden and on the plot. I just don’t care for it. My general rule is, if isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. Those magnolia walls will generally do for a few more years, that’s my approach.

Then the other day I was walking out of the bathroom and the landing floor sounded out a loud clunk as it has done regularly for years now. Anyway, it seemed that some necessary repairs were needed, long ago to be honest. So, up came the carpet and the offending floor board. It was just a little bit, a foot long, that had been cut out when the central heating went in roughly eighteen years ago. Anyway, it had slipped off the joist and was clattering against the water pipes under the floor. It was a simple fix, a length of timber slipped underneath and screwed through the boards either side of it. It took a quarter hour, if that.

Then came lunch, then tea, then a nice soak in the bath, a movie (Zulu, if you must know), then bed. It wasn’t until I went to turn off the heating (none of those fancy smart thermostats in my house), that I noticed the pressure in the boiler had dropped to next to nothing. Then the penny dropped. A drop in pressure meant a leak somewhere. I had a sudden vision of all those water pipes under the landing floor and just knew one had a screw through it. It was the only explanation.

I checked under the stairs, directly under where I had repaired the floor, and saw nothing amiss. There should have been water coming through the ceiling, though it might have run along a short way, but there was nothing either side. So, up came the landing carpet again, out came the screws and the little bit of floor board that had started the trouble in the first place. Nothing. Under the boards was snuff dry, dusty as hell, but snuff dry.

Then it dawned on me. After I’d repaired that floor board I’d seen another sticking up proud and, after checking there was nothing important under it and that there was indeed a joist beneath it, I rammed it back down with a nice long screw.

Yes, you guessed it, that was where I saw the tiny little wet patch and where, when I took the screw out again, the water squirted up. There was something under it, both central heating pipes that went to the radiator in my bedroom, through the joist. I turned to a quick mental map of the house and worked out I was just above the corner of the living room and yes, there was water in the living room. Where half an hour earlier Michael Caine had been slaughtering scantily clad African warriors, there was now a mini Victoria Falls welling up in the coving and dribbling down the magnolia wall. The picture is from the next morning after it had dried a bit, at the time I was too busy drying up to take photos (save a couple for insurance if needed).

Cursing whichever god looks over DIYers and clumsy oafs, I went into a mild panic, which is not like me at all. I went all of a dither for a moment (possibly something to do with having PTSD) and blanked out mentally for a few more. I had to give myself a shake and a stern talking too. All the things I’ve been through in the past few years and a holed water pipe is the one that turns me into a jibbering wreck? Not likely, said I, and rummaged around for the Tesco insurance documents.

By the time I’d picked up the phone it was nearly eleven at night and the only number I could get through to was Tesco’s emergency cover line, which I quickly discovered wasn’t part of my policy. To his credit, the guy on the other end gave me the number of the emergency plumber they use and said to just keep any receipts and ring the normal claim line the next morning.

The emergency plumber they recommened was a company called Metro Rod, based in Manchester as it happens. After a bit of confusion, as they only deal with insurance claims and this didn’t seem like one, they got in touch with a guy on call. They reckoned he’d be a couple of hours (by this time it was gone midnight), and he was here quicker than that (I can’t remember what time he arrived as I was dead on my feet by then). He’d come all the way from the other side of Lincoln and had just pulled up on his own drive when he got the call.

While I had been waiting for him I took up the bit of floor where the leak was so he could get straight at it when he arrived.

It turned out that he didn’t have enough of the size of pipe in question to do a proper repair but managed to find a couple of connectors and an off cut from somewhere in his van, and fixed the leak.

He wasn’t registered Gas Safe though, so I had to repressurise the boiler and bleed all the radiators myself (which I actually knew how do do), though he did supervise and give advice. It was just gone two in the morning when he left. I was surprised at the price too. I was expecting my eyes to water and was all set to ring Tesco in the morning to try and get some money back, but it wasn’t that bad. Given the time of night and the distance the guy had to travel I thought £145 was quite reasonable.

He also left me a momento, which I may or may not get framed.

Still, it could have been worse. The water in the living room was pretty close to the TV and the sockets that power my PC, internet and everything else in the living room. As it is, the damage is all cosmetic, no one died and, in all the years I’ve been begrudgingly doing DIY, it’s the worse thing that’s happened (that was my fault anyway). So, put into perspective, it was an expensive dribble that wll take a lick of paint to put right.

Oddly enough, a small, but persistant dripping that had been coming from the boiler, long ago fixed but suddenly returned, seems to have just as suddenly gone away again.

Anyway, thanks man from Tesco and Metro Rod.

Here we go again.

Well, here we go again. Back to work (after a fashion) and back in lock down. At least, I suppose, we are all used to it now and know how to get on with things. We should, for instance, know not to bulk buy toilet roll, though I notice that Tesco, my local one at least, are only letting people buy one pack at a time.

We can only go out for exercise once a day again, so instead of a walk in the morning and another in the afternoon, I’m taking a bit of a longer stroll in the morning.

Work is a bit slow at the moment so I’m keeping my self busy reading, both my own manuscript (which is not as bad as I thought it might be) and the few dozen books on my ‘to be read’ shelf. It’s helping me keep my mind off the fact that I’m trying to stick to a calorie count (I’ve lost 5lbs since New Year’s day), and helping to preserve my sanity (though many would say that is a lost cause).

It would be better if I could get on with the plot, the winter digging is only half way done, but last week it was sopping wet and this week it’s frozen solid. Still, I’m still getting leeks, kale, mooli and beetroot off it.

On the writing front I’m almost done with a first pass through of a novel, it needs a good edit and a drastic trimming, it’s way too long. But I think it deserves to be sent around a few places. I’ve long since given up on ever getting published, but I’ve never given up trying (contradictary, I know). I’ve also got the beginnings, a few scrappy thoughts, of a short story stirring around in my head. I just need to grab hold of them all and pin them down in the right order.

Anyway, happy lock down three, (or is it four?) and a merry New Year.

I’m Still Alive

Well, It’s been a while again. I am still alive and kicking, but I’ve been busy lately.

For a start I’ve been decorating again. My daughter has left home and so my son has had a bedroom upgrade and his old room has become an office for me. I’m still working from home and have been quite busy with that too. It seems some of our clients deal with the EU on a regular basis and their software needed changing to meet whatever the new rules will end up being.

We have a new member of the household too, a rather agile and quite speedy bearded dragon called Viserion (yeah I know, but my son named him). He’s also rather prickly, in physique, not temper. I had to spend a little while repairing and upgrading a large and worn out vivarium for him, all the while keeping his impending arrival a secret. He was an early Christmas present for my son from his sister. I know the thing about not getting pets for Christmas, but we’ve had one before (in fact she left home with my daughter) and we’re not the kind of family to go abandoning him.

The new office, along with a new desk and filing cabinet, made from a double wardrobe that was no longer needed, is a wonderful thing of magnolia. It is now home to my laptop and wireless printer (which is connected to my brand new full fibre internet connection).

I do seem to spend an awful lot of time in there though and I’ve had to stop using my laptop for writing as my brain associates the office with, well the office. I now do my writing on my PC downstairs and take a break whenever my son needs to use it for school work. I may switch back to the laptop over the Christmas holidays when it may feel less like being in a workplace.

At the moment I’m editing more than writing anyway. I’m going through a novel that I finished the first draft of at the beginning of lockdown. It’s not bad, in fact I think it deserves to be published once it’s trimmed back a bit and cleaned up. So I’ll be submitting it as soon as I’m able, though it’s a pretty hefty size and will need an awful lot of cutting back first. I’ll probably do it in fits and starts, hopefully with a few short stories and a plot for another novel in between.

On the gardening front, I’m still eating lots of fresh veg, even at this time of year and with all this horrible weather, though I have been forced to buy eggs just lately. The chooks are just not pulling their weight at this time of year.

Charlie the Carrion Crow

Ok, picture the scene, I’m just getting out of the bath (alright, you don’t need to picture that bit if you’re particularly squeamish). The bath was hot, too hot, and I’m in more of a lather getting out that I was when I was in there.

I head to the window in search of a bit of autumnal cool air to revive myself, and what do I see in the garden? A cat. Oh yes, my garden gets visited by lots of cats, but this one is hunched down in the grass waiting to pounce on a big black bird that shows absolutely no alarm whatsoever, and no inclination to fly away.

It’s a carrion crow, some vague memory tells me. Now carrion crows are pretty big, with a wicked looking beak, but not big and tough enough to take that cat on. I swear it was licking it’s lips and imagining a crow supper.

Just lately there has been a spate of foul murders (horrible pun intended) in my garden and, still glowering out the window, I think I’ve found the culprit. This huge, tortoiseshell moggie has the blood of a half a dozen pigeons, at least one blackbird and a pair of collared doves on its claws.

Well, it wasn’t going to add a carrion crow to its meal list, not while I was watching. I legged it down the stairs (ohh, deliberate change in tense), yanked open the back door and the cat vanished like a streak of tangerine and smoke, across the lawn and through the back hedge. The crow should have flown off too, but it didn’t.

Instead it took a few hops away from me as I crossed the lawn toward it, intent on chasing it off before it became cat food the moment my back was turned, then it hopped back again and just stood there staring at me. Then it came even closer, until it was just down at my feet looking up at me.

My daughter came out, wondering what Dad was doing in just his dressing gown, squatting down on the lawn, bare feet turning blue on the cold wet grass. She trained in animal care at college for a few years and has a caring nature towards animals. I was brought up by my grandfather, a game keeper. We could both see that something was wrong with the poor bird, but were confused as to why it wasn’t trying to escape. It didn’t look injured, but experience with the chickens has taught me that means nothing.

In the end I put a tub of birdseed in front of it and, while it was busy eating, my daughter took hold of it. It turned out it had deformed feet. They were twisted upside down so that the talons were pointing upwards.

Anyway, we put it in a cardboard box and called the R.S.P.C.A. It took me three attempts to navigate their phone system. It reminded me of a particularly bad customer service department, fully set up to make you give up and go away. When I did get through to someone I was told to take it to a vet.

Luckily our local vet stays open pretty late and so I rang them. It was about 7pm by then and they couldn’t see it until morning, so I put food and water in the box and then fretted about the poor thing all night. My daughter kept getting up during the night to check on it.

Ordinarily I would have let nature take it’s course, but there was something about this bird. It actually came to me when I first went outside to it, like it wanted to be helped. It was also very beautiful up close, almost shining.

So, this morning, I took it to the vets and waited outside in the covid queue (that’s covid, not corvid, they don’t have a special queue just for crows), masked up and half asleep. They took all my details and I left the bird with them. On the walk there it had become a bit agitated but all I did was talk to it and it calmed down immediately, wich was odd.

It got odder when I got home. My daughter had fired up FaceBook and was surprised to find on her timeline a picture of a carrion crow and a message about a missing pet.

It turned out that this carrion crow is called Charlie and she (I have no idea how you tell) was found three and half years ago after having fallen out of its nest and being used as a football by a bunch of kids (for kids read evil little shits). Anyway, it was rescued by a man who lives just down the road from me, hand reared and kept as a pet. All of which explains why it seemed to take to me and wasn’t at all phased by the cat.

Pet and kind hearted rescuer have been reunited.

Now for a cute photo of a carrion crow in a vinegar box.

So much for karma. Not long after getting home from the vets I was informed that I wont be going back to work properly now for at least three months (new rules about furlough), my dental appointment had been postponed for six weeks (I sneezed a filling out, you couldn’t make it up), and I got a story rejection from Clarkesworld. All within half an hour.

I have however still got my hopes pinned on the Wednesday night Lotto.

Decorating, submissions and teeth

Things have been a bit busy just lately. I’ve had a little bit of day job work to do, but not much. Last week I took as holiday and decorated the living room, which sent my fitbit mental. Apperently I did three hours of aerobics (stripping wallpaper) and a session of swimming (sanding down the walls).

Anyway, the living room is much lighter and brighter now, and I’ve lost a kilo or so off my belly, so all good.

On the writing front, not much has happened. I’ve revisted a couple of old stories, one of which won an honourable mention from Writers of the Future, and submitted them. So I have done a bit of writting, though nothing fresh.

I have five stories out doing the submission rounds now and a couple rattling around in my head, one of which is shouting to be written so loud that the final bits just fell into place while I was soaking in the bath.

Unfortunately I have a bit of a tooth problem at the moment. I sneezed quite violently last night and blew out a filling. It’s not painful at the moment, but it’s starting to nag at me and I keep catching my lip in the gap. Hopefully my dentist is open again for appointments. I’ll find out in the morning.

*really not sure about this new WordPress editor, why so many bells and whistles?

Decorating and a FitBit

Since I last posted I’ve written about a quarter of a short story. I’ve got my excuses in order though. I keep getting interrupted (and thus thrown right out of the mood) by the day job, even though I never seem to have much to do, and I’ve started decorating the living room.

The decorating is probably the main culprit and will take me most of next week to complete. I’m on holiday next week, not going anywhere, but not getting interrupted by work either, so I may fit some writing in.

On another note I am now the owner of a FitBit HR. All I know so far is that I walk as much as I always have and that I actually have a heart beat, So I’m alive then.

And I’m still waiting on a response on that short story. I notice that a lot of others (according to Diabolical Plots Grinder) submitted around the same time have been dealt with. My fingers are still crossed.

A good old moan.

Another week goes by and it seems that I’ve not done much of anything at all. I’ve managed to do about one and a half hours of actual day job work (which is all there was), I’ve done the housework, harvested all sorts from the plot and garden and cooked a good, healthy meal every single day, mostly with home grown produce. I’ve even donned a surgical face mask (which combined with the recent heat seemed almost as dangerous as the thing it was supposed to be keeping at bay) and been shopping. I’ve plotted out a couple of short stories and got my head in gear to get started on writing one. I’ve done a bit more world building on the novel that is waiting for me to start it and I’ve read a couple of books. Yet it feels like I’ve done nothing.

I’d like to put it down to the heat, it’s been miserably hot for the past few days and I really don’t function all that well in the heat. I’ve not been sleeping well either, which is also down to the heat. So as soon as I’m about to write something my brain switches off.

I’ve also lost a chook, to old age this time. I think she went blind in the end and couldn’t see to eat. I found her bobbing about in the pond not looking so good. I assume she fell in as chooks are not noted for their swimming prowess. Anyway,  I made her comfortable and let her slip away. She was a good age for a chicken, just over six.

And I’m still waiting on that submission that is now well overdue.

Whinge over. Back to writing.

Writing, work, diets, fake alcohol, real alcohol, and the distant sound of wedding bells.

I’ve had a week off from writing, but I have a story in my head that wants to be written. The only problem I have is that with this odd flexible furlough thing going on I’m never sure when I’ll be disturbed and have to unscrew my writing head and put on the working one.

My boss has told me not to worry about doing stuff straight away, that I’m supposed to be given plenty of notice, and I must say that they do stick to that. Most stuff that comes my way has the tag “no rush for it” stuck on the end of the email. But that’s not how I work. I tend to see what needs doing and then do it as soon as I can. I’ve been caught out before with the “it can wait until tomorrow” thing. That’s just a way to allow work to build up until you end up buried in the stuff.

Oddly enough, for the last week I’ve had no work at all, yet done no writing to speak of. I’m going to have to set a time, outside of work hours, for writing now and try to stick to it. I have already said that I’ll only be available for work during my normal hours anyway, though I have being doing bits outside those hours if it suits me. Work seem to be fine with that.

Anyway, enough (or not enough) of work. I bought a book on Ebay the other week. Actually I bought quite a few books on Ebay last week, but this one, Scene and Structure, from the Elements of Fiction Writing books, came all the way from America. I saw a price sticker on the back, in dollars, and thought to myself, in one of those odd wondering moments, wouldn’t it be nice to know just who in America had this book before me. I have quite a lot of old books, Victorian and earlier, and many have names and even addresses written inside, something I don’t tend to see often in modern books. I find it a fascinating little bit of social history. Anyway, lo and behold, I opened up the book and there it was, a name and address. So O. Bermander of Dutton’s, Hollywood, I hope you had a good read back there in 1997 (all assuming I’m reading your handwriting properly). I’ve not read it yet, I’ve started Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar books again for the umpteenth time and I’m only on the second one (Silverthorn), there are another 27 to go if my collection is as complete as I think it is (and my finger and toe counting).

One last word, a general warning to all you red wine drinkers out there. I’m on a diet-ish-kind-of-thing, whereby, if I concentrate really hard and pinch myself, stub my toe and scream a few times, I actually put the chocolate bar down again. Anyway, whilst in a state of euphoria over losing a couple of pounds and a couple of inches off my rather portly physique (thanks to some insane 7 minute exercise routine that I downloaded to my mobile phone and which is slowly, by 7 minute degrees, trying to kill me), I decided to go all health conscious and try a bottle of low alcohol wine, and to go the whole metaphorical hog (which did not get eaten), I also bought a bottle of low alcohol Old Speckled Hen ale. The wine tasted and smelled like someone had taken a rather sweet fruit juice, possibly with plums in it, and mixed it with balsamic vinegar. It was disgusting, utterly horrible, but it did make a nice gurgle as it went down the sink. The beer was worse, it actually made me feel sick. It was an acrid taste that clung to the throat and remained there for hours. It also made a rather satisfying gurgle as it joined the wine in the water board’s subterranean domain.

So tonight, as my daughter has just informed me that her boyfriend is at long last her fiance (he asked permission on Christmas Day, so it was no surprise to me and I can only presume Covid had something to do with the delay), I’m going to have some proper red wine, and perhaps some chocolate, though my daughter is working so her brother who, unfortunately, is not old enough for me to marry off, will eat chocolate on her behalf.

Oh yes, and one of my submissions is really late coming back to me. It could be a sign but we won’t dwell on it. We won’t. No we won’t. We will not keep refreshing the email browser. We will not. Oh no we won’t.

Submitting, at last.

I’ve finally submitted my story to Writers of the Future, though not the one I wrote through the workshop. That will go next month, unless I find somewhere else to submit it to.

I’ve got two stories out doing the rounds now, the most I’ve written and submitted in years.

In the meanwhile I’m on with another and still world building for a novel.

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I’d like to sit and write out on the decking, but the chooks seem to have other ideas. Can you spot all five?

 

(Incidentally, that messy mesh at the bottom is to stop them destroying those young plants I’ve just planted out)

Finished novel and short, writer’s workshop, fences and brassicas

I’ve just heard from work that I’ll be furloughed for the whole of June so I should have plenty of time for writing. So much so that I’m having to plan things out a bit more than usual.

I finished off that novel I’ve being talking about. I’ll let it sit and stew for a bit while I work on the next big thing, though I’m still world building and doing character studies for that.

I’ve just finished another short that I think is just right for Writers of the Future, and that is now going to sit and stew too.

Once I think they’ve both stewed enough I’ll start editing them. In the case of the short that’ll be a few days, the novel will be a few months, maybe not until I have a first draft of the next one.

I have also signed up for a free writer’s workshop that WotF are doing online, so that should last me the month out. Hopefully by then I’ll have my world built and will have started writing the thing at last.

I’ve also been pretty busy in the garden and on the allotment. My neighbours put up a new fence so I took down my old panel thing. The panels, much to my surprise, were still in good condition, so I sliced and diced things and made a compost and pot store out of them as well as repairing the old fence at the bottom of the garden. It all looks quite tidy now.

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On the allotment, just about everything is in and growing reasonably well, though a bit of rain would help (anyone know any chants?).

I put up the brassica cage, which is huge this year (about 24ft by 12ft) and filled it with all sorts of brassicas. The beans and squashes are also in, the onions and garlic are all doing well and the carrots have mostly germinated.

An overnight frost managed to nip the potatoes and a few brassicas but the potatoes will recover and I have a tray of spare brassicas to fill in the gaps. I’m not fussy about everything in a row being the same thing, so I’ll end up with a hotchpotch of cabbages, kale, broccoli, cauliflowers and sprouts.