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.

Short stories and big pumpkins

I’ve been on holiday this week. Not that I’ve been anywhere, just not doing any work, or any day job work anyway.

I have been up at the plot. Firstly to dig up the main crop potatoes, which turned out to be rubbish. Last year I had six full sacks of spuds, this year a single sack full. I’ll be having to buy spuds for Xmas dinner this year.

Thankfully the brassicas, especially the cabbage and kale, have done really well, as have the winter squash and pumpkins. The leeks are a little rusty, but growing well all the same and the beetroot, carrots and mooli just keep coming.

In the polytunnel the carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and salad crops are going crazy too. Unfortunately, with the change in the weather, suddenly cold and wet again, the chooks aren’t firing on all cylinders.

Anyway, back to the winter squash and pumpkins. This is what was harvested today. Ben (my son) and I hauled this lot back in a garden trolly, 1.7km according to Google Maps.

That big one weighs in at 41.6lbs and the little acorn squashes (Thelma Sander’s Sweet Potato Squash) average around 3lb each. The marrows, small ones I know, are about 8lbs each. Around 120lbs in all.

No wonder I needed a soak in the bath tonight.

In other news, I finished off a short story. It needs a good editing, but it’s almost there. I just need to grab an idea for the next one. There’s a few scraps of stuff floating around in my head, but nothing solid enough to put into words yet.

A word of warning. A company called Webnovel contacted me regarding a novel I have self published on Smashwords, trying to get me to sign some kind of contract with them. Anyway, if they contact you, check out Writers Beware. They seem legitimate enough and their website looks pretty impressive, but their contracts are far from standard, or even fair. To be honest, the broken English in the email rang alarm bells from the start.

That’s all. Stay safe.

ps: did I mention I hate this new WordPress block editor thingy?

New story and monster cabbages.

I’ve been a bit busy with the day job just recently but I’m on holiday now. I think the distraction has done me good though because a story idea popped into my head the other day and I’m already halfway through it.

I’m still putting several stories out there into the submission mill too. No luck as yet, but it’s a slow process at the best of times.

In other news, specifically news regarding vegetables and fruit, all seems to be well, or as well as can be expected given the strange weather we keep getting. Things seem to be growing huge this year. I’ve already had some really big onions and my leeks are far bigger than they usually are at this time of year. Raspberries have been coming thick and fast and there is a massive pumpkin (which I don’t remember planting at all) growing in the squash patch.

I’ve yet to dig up the maincrop potatoes, I’ll be doing that over the next week, but here is a picture of a stupidly big cabbage that I carried home the other day. It weighed in at 14.5lbs, just over a stone. We’re eating it 1/8th at a time.

Have I said I hate this new WordPress editor? I do, I really do.

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.

Too hot, baking and vegetables.

Not much writing progress this week I’m afraid. That story that was begging to be written hit a dead end. I do have another rattling about in my head though and I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

The problem at the moment is that it’s just too hot to be bothered. Only I’m having to be bothered because it’s weather like this that makes everything grow. Instead of writing (or doing all the non-existent day job work) I’m either in the garden or on the allotment. I can only go into the polytunnel at night it’s that hot (49 degrees C yesterday, fully ventilated). Still, I can’t complain, I’m not going to starve anytime soon.

In the past week I’ve lifted the onions and put them out to dry. I’ll bag them up tomorrow, or at least that’s the plan (I’ll do it before I check my work email, that way I’ll get it done).

I’ve being harvesting spuds, cabbages, beans, peas, carrots, courgettes, salad, rhubarb and soft fruit. I’ve also being baking bacon and egg cake (it’s a pie, but that’s what my nana used to call it) and making jam. The chickens are laying eggs faster than we can eat them.

Anyway, back to hopefully a little bit of writing and, in the meantime, here are some pictures of some fruit and veg.

Incidentally, I’m still waiting on that submission that is close to overdue. Fingers crossed.

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.