E-Robot – The Rise of a Security Conscious Adult

Robot blog

Well I hope we’ve all been living and loving GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations for those of you not in the know) this week. I’m slightly ashamed to be starting a blog post with such a sensible and grown up topic, but it’s actually had quite an affect on my general day to day so guess what – you all get to be involved. If I have to adult, the rest of you do too.

My real life job is pretty heavily censored by the GDPR guidelines (which makes me sound like some kind of secret agent – Spoiler – I’m not) so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when bucket-loads of emails came through asking if I was happy to continue being subscribed and sharing my information with various companies. To be honest, I was mildly surprised to see how many I was actually signed up to – I think I recognised about 60% of the names which is a little concerning, but it’s been a rather timely little exercise in personal housekeeping and fingers crossed I can actually start to make my mailbox a tad more presentable (I am definitely one of those people with over 1000 unread items).

It has been rather annoying to find myself logged out of nearly every online service I use though; I’ve had to scrabble around trying to remember passwords with embarrassing desperation. I still haven’t been able to log back into my Youtube account, and who knows if I’ll eve be able to access my GiffGaff portal again. I sometimes really get Neville and his password pains. I would have definitely had a list of common room entry passwords tucked into my pockets at all times.

My new phone is quite fancy in that you can use your fingerprint to log into certain systems rather trying to remember all the different combinations of characters you’ve been prompted to create. I do see it as a bit of a double edged sword though. On one hand, I feel like a kickass lady spy with super cool gadgets and I don’t actually have to remember anything. On the other, I’ll be screwed when I do have to get a new phone because I’ll never ever be able to remember my passwords by that point and I have a slight fear that I’ll be kidnapped and have my thumbs cut off so people can rob me like every Mission Impossible film ever. So, you know, swings and roundabouts.

To get back on track though, I can promise there will be limited mention of any further adulting. We’ve been having a lot of fun educating ourselves about ridiculous (and mostly unhelpful unless pub quizzing) subjects. We’ve been binge watching Vikings again (we’ve actually made it past Series 1 this time so that’s good) and TMM has been fully immersing himself. I’ve definitely started to affect him with my weird obsessional personality. He’s treated us to a fancy copy of Neil Gaimen’s “Norse Mythology” and has been entertaining me with retellings in his charmingly brusque way. We spent most of the car journey back from the Motherland (where we’d been visiting family members with much joy) to his personalised renditions of some of the more ‘unusual’ myths. I’ve been regaled with Loki’s exploits (literally don’t know how anyone managed to get anything done with that numpty hanging around), journeys to visit Frost Giants and the various trials and tribulations faced by Thor, but through the possibly unexpected medium of working class Northerner from the early 1950s. He’s basically been channelling Fred Dibnah and it’s fantastic. TMM’s somewhat unjustified Northern roots (he has the heart and soul of a proud Yorkshire man, despite being born in the Midlands and raised just above) come out spectacularly when he’s story telling and he’s definitely spoiled me for anyone else – if I’m not hearing about Norse Gods in the dulcet tones and somewhat questionable terminology of a disgruntled coal miner, is there really any point in hearing about them at all? I honestly think if we weren’t both hideously awkward and slightly more tech savvy, we’d have a hilarious vlog and be Youtube famous by now. Though seeing as GDPR has proven how useless I am and stopped me logging in, maybe its for the best we’ve never actually managed it.

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My love has the dulcet tones of a grubby imp, and the photographic eye of an angel.

In fact, we’ve been making the best of our shared nerdiness and generally questionable hobbies all round this week. On Tuesday we spent an enjoyable evening finding particularly hilarious words from my birthday book (please refer to last week’s post) and reading them out at each other in lieu of normal home time conversation. We are particularly fond of “Softoff: noun the opposite of a hardon” (I was in hysterics about this for far longer than is appropriate) and “Jobbernowl: noun a blockhead, clodpate”. It seems to be very much the case that these words are either completely ridiculous or so vague and undefinable that the only summary they give is a quote detailing the one time they were actually used and literally no other information. As we can see from the following example, George Stone Saussy (the Third) has no freaking clue what this meant but decided to just roll with it and hope nobody would notice.

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We noticed George. We noticed.

We’ve pretty much been at it all week really. Our Bank Holiday Monday was mostly spent in bed eating two day old apricot pastries (don’t judge, they were super tasty) and playing Zork like the old school, socially conforming hipsters that we are. TMM heard something on the radio that had him diving for his app store and by the time I had managed to drag myself to the land of the living, he was elbow deep in word based intrigue and adventure. After letting me drool unattractively on his arm and stare blearily at his phone for a while whilst I tried to get myself online, he handed me my phone (with handily downloaded Zork maps to my surprise) and told me to make myself useful. About 4 hours later we’d physically moved about 3 inches (there was some accidental hardcore napping which resulted in us being late for a first birthday party like actual badmen) whilst simultaneously managing to be killed by one (1) grumpy troll and then two (2) thieves with shifty expressions and bags full of stolen loot. However, we did also fill our virtual trophy cupboard with six (6) jewelled treasures so I’m pretty sure we achieved. Annoyingly, we have since come to the conclusion that although we’ve gotten this far, we’ve bypassed some pretty vital sections and consequently are going to have to start from scratch. Still, our team work skills are on point and I’m pretty sure that if, for whatever reason, I lose my physical form and have to have my consciousness downloaded into some sort of virtual network, I’ll make an excellent on-board computer and TMM can just download me as his personal AI.

Since then I have been trying to convince myself that I am actually cut out to be a real life person, but it’s proving to be a little tricky. Let’s be honest, I would be so much better as some kind of intelligent computing system. Sign me up to be the next Cortana (though I think I’d be far less JARVIS and far more Red Dwarf Holly (series 2) – All right dudes?)

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The Art of Obsession

 

Obsession Title Box

So I learnt another new word last week (strap in kids, it’s time for some education). It’s rather self explanatory and not really the most exciting of terms, but I stumbled across it whilst blindly surfing (the web, not the sea – that would be silly) and had to do a mental double take at how accurate it was.

Hyperfixation – the act, process or result of fixating or becoming fixated on something; a persistent concentration. A mania, obsession, preoccupation.

I mean, come on. That is literally my entire personality down to a tee. I live to become weirdly obsessed with the most ridiculous things and drive myself into some kind of uncontrollable frenzy just for the hell of it. It’s a very specific definition though, and simply describes itself in a way I don’t think I had really appreciated before. To clarify – hyperfixation is, as the name suggests, a highly compounded version of an interest or hobby. It’s more than simply liking something, it’s taking your positive feeling and concentrating it to the nth degree. It’s a complete and utter submersion into a song, a book, a character, an idea; an almost overwhelming desire to drown yourself in something that is a mere triviality in the grand scheme of the world.

I literally don’t think I’ve ever read anything more legit (stolen from Tumblr)

I gently ricochet from one bizarre mania to another, barely giving myself time to get over the last one before diving in headfirst and with minimal care for my sanity. Poor TMM follows behind, absently picking up the random facts or thoughts that I spew out in my over-excitement and proving soft encouragement and careful distraction where he can.

I often think how strange it must look to an outsider; someone who has a healthy control over their own emotions and understands quite rationally that TV characters aren’t real and don’t need to be cried over, or that books end and that’s okay. They must look at me with their eyebrows raised and feel a gentle level of bemused condescension. There have been so many times that I’ve gotten into the car and rambled wildly on at TMM, telling him about a conversation I had at 10am with someone who happened to briefly mention something that I am currently “in to” and the internal explosion of excitement I had to tamp down in my pretence that I am normal and not a massive weirdo. Typically he smiles serenely and pats me on the knee and his silent acceptance of my complete nuttiness is very much appreciated. Usually though it just results in me harping on about this tiny interaction (which pretty much will have set my mood for the whole day) and I segue way off to chatter about something I saw on Instagram that links in some obscure way to my preoccupation of the hour.

They’re never fleeting things either, these obsessions. It might just be a flash of something, but each time I get sucked into whatever it is I’ve gotten sucked in to, it settles down in my psyche, digging out a comfy little niche for itself. Then, once I have gradually calmed myself down and moved onto something else, it still lurks in the background ready to spring into action when I least expect it. If I’m not prepared, I can stumble upon some kind of trigger and BAM, I’m stuck for days. Living For The City played on the radio the other day, and without even realising it, I was completely hijacked and I’ve not had anything else on what the past three days. Regardless of what I want to listen to, Stevie Wonder is now pretty much the only thing my brain will happily accept.

TMM finds it quite hilarious too, because I get very stressed about crossing the obsessional streams. If I can keep things separate, it makes it a lot easier, and it’s comforting if I can try and draw up a basic mental calendar – seeing potential triggers and preparing for them. For example, if I know another book in a particular series is due out, I can give myself time to read the pre-existing works (getting right into the groove of things) and meet the situation head on, avoiding anything that might try and distract me in the meantime. (The thought of reading a book out of sequence, or god forbid, picking up a book from somewhere completely different right in the middle of a series brings me out in hives. How people can flit between *looks at TMM very pointedly* is beyond me).

Getting caught up in two things at the same time is a horrible state of affairs, and I can’t help but feel like I’m betraying something if I swap before I’m ready to. Case in point for you – TMM wanted to watch some episodes of Lewis the other day. Now I love Lewis with an unhealthy passion, but the new Avengers film was coming out (not sure if I’d mentioned this?) and there was no way on earth I was going to come out of that unaffected. I couldn’t be expected to start Lewis (read, binge watch three seasons in an 14 hour period) become weirdly and uncomfortably obsessed with it and then just move onto Infinity Wars without so much as a howdoyoudo. Instead, I coerced TMM to take me to the cinema and then watch all of the old Captain America and Avengers films (in order) at the weekend. Admittedly he napped through most of them, but for those he didn’t escape, he was forced to listen to my endless commentary and excitable squeezing.

(It is perhaps important to note that I’ve previously had to limit my consumption of Lewis because my mental state wasn’t secure enough to deal with the fact my televisual comfort blanket was coming to a permanent end. I still haven’t quite come to terms with it (I categorically refuse to watch the last episode, because then I can just pretend it never finished).

…Does this sound mental? I’m pretty sure it sounds mental.

Though, after doing a bit of research on the whole notion of Hyperfixation, I did learn that is actually often seen as a coping mechanism for anxiety, which does make perfect sense. The thought process behind it is that hyperfixation allows you to narrow down all focus on one particular thing and block out anything else that may be out of your control. It limits your world to a singular thing and allows you to feel a sense of ownership and groundedness that might otherwise be unavailable to you. It might just be something small or seemingly stupid, but if it gives you a modicum of comfort when you need it, I really can’t bring myself to see it as a problem. Sure, it might be strange and admittedly half the time I think my obsessional leanings tend to exacerbate my issues rather than help them, but what the hey.

It’s very much a kind of madness though (that’s made pretty clear by the kind of words used to define it; “mania”, “obsession”, “fetish”) but I suppose it embodies the notion of fighting fire with fire – overcoming an insecurity or anxiety you can’t deal with by smothering it with one you can. It might sound childish, and there might be those that judge you for being absorbed in something silly like, oh, I don’t know, superheroes (me, it’s me, I’m obsessed with superheroes at the moment), but sometimes the news is horrible and the world is shameful and I just need to imagine Captain America punching Trump in the face in justifiable outrage. If it’s a form of insanity, it’s one I can to some degree control, and I’d much rather be preoccupied with Steven Roger’s star spangled and American flag clad butt than anything my anxiety-ridden brain can come up with. Wouldn’t you?

PS – for those of you unsure about whether or not you’d choose to pick the butt – I advise you to google it.

Do Ebears Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dream Blog Title Box

So I’ve had a little re-vamp with the layout, though I cannot claim true inspiration as I definitely stole this off somebody else. Still, they say mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, and I can only hope nobody is too distraught at my blatant plagiarism of ideas. The trouble is, as much as I try not to be, I often find myself being a tad more about style over substance and I spent far too much time making new jazzy title boxes and far too little time actually writing my blog.

This week’s topic was actually suggested by Jonbles, and for want of anything new, exciting and specifically noteworthy occurring in my regular day to day, I’ve gone at it as best as I can. Ultimately though I think we can all agree that if it’s crap, it’s all his fault and I’d like to ask you to direct any and all complaints to Mr Jonbles at Jonble’s House, Fake Street, Hecouldntcarelessshire, England. I do actually have a great little prop for this topic, which I was surpised but pleasingly chuffed to remember I own.

I bought this on a whim at a book sale in Buxton, along with a copy of When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne which is absolutely darling and brings back fond memories of childhood. Apparently, The Royal Imperial Dream Book of Fate and Fortune Telling (published 1870) is the key to helping you to decipher the inner workings of your internal, sleep submerged subconscious. (Side note, it also provides Prognosticators by Dice, Auguries by Dominoes and Signs Heretofore Related to Physiognomy). I’m not 100% convinced on the accuracy of it’s teachings, but I have thoroughly enjoyed accosting people to get examples of the dreams and then deconstructing them and providing extracts of the most hilarious bits in voice notes on Whatsapp.

The trouble is, as much as I dismiss dreaming as the ramblings of a distracted and decompressing mind, I do actually have quite a lot of weird dreams. My family have rather vivid dreams; my dad dreams in black and white, Mother has a recurring stress dream of being on a Penny Farthing that’s hurtling out of control and my sister is the undisputed ruler of weird ass dreams; there was that one time she ate half a pillow because she was dreaming of marshmallows.

Admittedly, I don’t dream quite as vividly as I used to which is quite a shame, but I still have regular forays into the dream landscape. There are a few of my childhood dreams that stick in my head even after all this time, but that’s because they terrified me. Whilst I can’t say that I’ve ever had particularly dramatic nightmares, I’ve had a couple that have dug into my psyche and left their marks. The first dream I can ever remember having involved me being chased around my grandparents beautifully manicured lawn by a man in a giant gorilla suit and the Quaker Oats man on a giant ride on mower. Not too terrifying you might think, but I remember having to rush into my parent’s bed and cowering under the duvet. Even now I still get a twinge when I look at the Quaker Oats porridge box.

The only other dream I can remember with startling clarity involved a huge warehouse full of plastic Pokeballs (the kind of ones you get out of those 20p vending machines on piers) stacked high on shelves and an absolutely MASSIVE pelican with razor sharp teeth eating people. Whilst I know exactly where the pelican came from (there was a pub we used to drive past on my way to Drama class and for a period of about two months they had a sign with a rather hideous cartoon pelican on. Thankfully they didn’t deign to keep it, but the damage to my malleable and delicate child mind was already done), I have no idea what the message behind the dream was. Sadly, both pelicans and quaker oats appear to be a little outside the spectrum of my dream book.

As is universally known though, no matter how exciting your dreams are, they are never as interesting to anyone else. (Please enjoy how I acknowledge this only after I’ve given you a couple of my own personal examples). Anybody who tells you otherwise is either incredibly bored with whatever else they’re doing or fibbing. There’s something about dreams – possibly how personal yet inactive they are, that leaves people with glazed expressions and a sudden urge to be anywhere else. At least when you’re being told something that has really happened to someone, there is an actuality there, and often something to relate to and allow the conversation to grow naturally. Dreams allow for no other response than “huh, weird”.

Still, there is a huge collective of people who study dreams and try to find a logical answer as to why we do it, and possibly uncover the secret messages there within. There is actually a name for the study of dreaming – ‘Oneirology’ (you can be an Oneironaut which is the most pleasing thing ever), but I can’t imagine its particularly satisfying. You can only ever make subjective conclusions, and nobody wants to spend their time doing that for someone else.

I approach the whole act of dream detectivism in a way very similar to that Eddie Izzard sketch from Glorious (1997). “A man comes up to me covered in jam and he sings, ‘Oh, I am a man-hippo’ and he brings me spoons and his buttocks explode and his brother drives a small snail towards me very slowly. ‘What does it mean?’ The interpretation’s always ordinary. ‘You didn’t get on with your father when you were a child.’” To be honest, I think that’s a pretty sound summary of the whole process of investigating and defining them. So, in order to bring some laughter back from the proceedings, I’m going to share with you some of my favourite definitions from the Imperial Royal Dream Book. It starts with a cute little preface (as all good books should), stating “Nothing which is natural is entirely useless. Dreams must be intended to fit some purpose”. I mean, I suppose I can’t fault the logic.

Book of Fate

Doesn’t it look so mystical and delightful?

The first half of the book is dedicated to an alaphebetically structured list of any possible dream content. And believe me when I say, those things are niche. For example, did you know that you could dream of a colliery, yew tree or scullery maid? I’m not too sure what your brain has been paying attention to to make this the case, but there we go. Where you aware that if you dream of a cow, there’s a whole world of meaning that you just weren’t thinking about, and it’s not as cute as you might think!

“Should a young woman dream of being in danger from a cow, she may rely that she has a powerful rival. For a man to dream of a cow implies that he has an enemy who will do much to injure his character. To dream of milking a cow foretells much sickness, and to a woman about to be confined a bad time (a bit threatening I feel), and thst she will have a dead child”. I mean, it’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? Little did I know, but cows are the true harbingers of doom.

Hats and the arts of Milliny are equally as dark. “Should you dream that you lose your hat, be aware that you have an enemy doing everything in his power to injure you, and that you willgreatly suffer thereby. To dream that another is wearing your hat implies that some one will obtain something you should probably have. To a young man, in love, it shows a rival will supplant him the affections of his mistress. If a Milliner dreams that she has secured the patronage of some ladies of wealth and influence, it is a sign that she will soon be visited with heavy trials, losses in busiess, and eventually come to extreme povetry”. Who expected hats to be such damning objects? Such small, unoffensive objects and yet they apparently lead to abject sadness.

My personal favourite was Tortoise though. It had me in actual hysterics and took me about half an hour to read out to TMM because I had to keep stopping to wheeze and wipe the tears from my eyes.

“Dreaming of a tortoise indicates your business will fail and that you will be obliged to seek your fortune in a foreign country, that you will suffer many hardships and difficultieis, and that you will have a deal to contend with, but that after many years of toil and suffering, you will suddenly become rich and return to your own country, where you will marry a beautiful woman and be happy, and have many children.” It’s an epic story in single sentence! How gutted would you be if, at the tender age of 14, you dream of a seemingly innocent tortoise and the come to the realisation that that your whole life is now laid out and that you are to expect many years of sadness, failure and heartbreak? Though I suppose knowing you’ve got a nice wife and tons of kids to look forward to eventually is a slight balm.

Indeed, this wonderful book has brought such joy to my life and there is still so much of it to enjoy. I think next week I might look a little more into the meanings behind crooked noses and unfortunately located moles. I might even open up a virtual walk-in centre, and allow readers to come to me with queiries and questions regarding their subconscious visions, odd shaped blemishes and the specifically placed dominoes. And that’s not even addressing the last chapter, which has a whole section on love spells…

Shelf Life – Give a girl a book, she’ll read for a day. Give a girl a library and she’ll read forever

Rejoice Readers, for I have good tidings – Spring has finally Sprung! It is upon us in all it’s majesty and I for one am immensely grateful. The clocks have changed, the days are longer and if I hear one more person threaten me with another terribly named weather front, I will pitch an absolute fit. I have tasted sunshine and felt the soft summer zephyr on my face and I will be damned if I’m going to let the promise of another snowy weekend dampen my cheer.

To fully welcome the season (and bite my thumb at any lingering wintery atmospheric conditions) I’ve commissioned a lovely spring wreath to festoon my front door curtsey of the almost not quite but soon to be sister in law. TMM and I regularly drive past an adorable little house that really pulls all the stops out for year round seasonal displays and I’ve been completely bewitched by their practice of having a beautifully topical wreath always viewable. Last October, they had the most spectacular tea tray sized one made up of stunning coloured miniature pumpkins that must have weighed and absolute ton. At Christmas they had a lovely simplistic arrangement of driftwood and currently they’ve got one made up of beautifully painted pastel eggs. In my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided we’re going to up our game and give them a run for their money. TMM’s sister has been attending a flower arranging course over the past few months, and paired with her fashion design University degree, it’s done me very well. I’m expecting great things from her for the rest of the year. My house is going to look freakin’ fabulous.

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Look how pretty!

We’re not doing too badly on the inside of the house either. TMM hasn’t quite fully got into his fitness groove but now that things are a bit tidier, he’s back onto his daily yoga routine (Bucky is incredibly interested in this and likes to help in his own, incredibly unhelpful, way). I have done absolutely nothing to improve my fitness (because I am forever destined to be a potato wedge and will definitely be one of the first to go when the zombie apocalypse finally happens upon us) but project wise it’s all going quite smashingly. Over the weekend I managed to get a bit of a stomp on with the wedding place settings I’ve been tasked with for TMM’s brother’s wedding. Admittedly I have had them for a few weeks, but I’m finally on the home stretch now and am hoping to have them finished by Saturday, with 3 weeks to spare. After that, I’ve got a couple of personal requests from my best Woo for her yoga studio-cum-delightfully decorated bedroom and then I should be completely up-to-date with my commissions. I’ve still got plans for our living room (TMM shudders) but once the craft corner is re-vamped and everything is stocked in delightfully decorated and sensibly labelled boxes (FINALLY, says Woo, who has been far more involved in our house that she ever thought she would be), it’s going to be a dream.

A huge chunk of the work is done now that the bookshelves are finally finished (TMM breathes a huge sigh of relief) and as promised, please find a picture of them in situ. I’m pretty chuffed with how they’ve turned out and the amount of space they’ve given us is actually a little ridiculous. I think we’ve both been a little panicked at how much room on there is (bookshelf number 5 in the corner has two completely empty shelves!) and TMM has demanded an immediate trip to the nearest bookshop and is chomping at the bit to start stocking up. I don’t think he actually has any idea of what books he wants to buy, but that’s never stopped him before. It’s more the prospect of having them there, ready and waiting, that he needs. I think he’s quite taken with the ides of an “anti-library” (a term I learnt from an article my dad pointed me to – please see the link below**) and the notion of being surrounded by so many unread books; the constant and steady reminder that there is an infinite amount of knowledge and experience available and the never-ending strive for personal improvement through learning (Or, I dunno, he just looks the look of it). I, on the other hand, am slightly panicked to know that I will probably never be able to read all of the books we will own in our lifetime and more often than not find comfort in picking up a well thumbed old favourite in favour of something new, because I aim for contentment rather than excitement. Still there’s a safety in unread books in that there is always something there to interest, engage and teach me, so whatever our reasoning, our library can continue to flourish.

These new bookshelves have also meant that we’ve been able to slightly categorise the books we already have (because we’re geeks with mental health issues and we can’t help try and identify patterns) and helped me flesh out a blog idea that TMM suggested a few weeks ago. He sent me a snapshot of a couple of questions that someone had asked regarding their favourite books, and whilst we were restacking, I couldn’t help but start to answer them for myself…

(I do warn you now, the answers get a tad incestuous because 1) I cannot ever just pick one answer to a question and 2) a lot of the things I love about one book overlap with the rest, which is why I love them in the first place, but I promise I’ll try not to repeat myself too much).

So, because it’s best to go big or go home, I’ve started with the hardest question. Favourite book of all time. And just to be annoying, I’m not going to answer it, because this is a stupid question. Seriously, who can pick a favourite book? It’s impossible. Anybody who can categorically chose one book to hold esteemed above all others is clearly an alien or an android and shouldn’t be trusted.

Ironically perhaps, considering my anger at the previous question, I have actually pinpointed a Favourite Series, though it is a bit of an extraneous question really, because all of the books mentioned (with the notable exception) are favourites of mine. Still, I can’t let a book post go by and not mention Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. I have gushed about these so much I have managed to make at least 4 other people read them (3 bought their own versions, the other was bought them as a Christmas present along with the threat of death if he didn’t read them). A series that comes with 6 novels (so far), a novella, a couple of short online stories, an audio book, additional comics and the one fantastic rap by Doc Brown is something that deserves commendation. The fact the actual stories are pretty fab doesn’t hurt either.

The next question is slightly easier, though not much because I literally cry at everything. A book that made you cry – let’s be honest. It would probably be easier to find one I haven’t teared up at. I mean, I’ve cried at lots of books. Sometimes I just cry because I love them that much, but I think the one that stands out for making me actually ugly cry is The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. The whole Northern Lights trilogy is stunningly moving and evocative, but I’m pretty sure I started crying about two chapters in and didn’t stop until about three days after I’d finished. Between losing favourite characters, having to endure biblical wars and ending on bittersweet endings to relationships you were convinced would survive, it’s a bit of heartbreaker.

The next choice made me cry too, but I hardly think it’s surprising. Naming a book that changed your life is possibly an obviously answer for anyone that knows me (and probably even for people that don’t). If anyone ever has to do a Mastermind episode on my life (it could happen!), Harry Potter will definitely come up. That series has had an actually ridiculous impact on my life. I cried, I laughed, I went to midnight opening sales and I bonded with my sister more than you’d ever think over those seven books. That story affected a generation of people world wide and I’m pretty sure it would be the answer to this question for more than just myself

To be honest, Harry Potter could probably answer nearly every one of these questions, including this next one. A book you always return to. Being who I am, I spend a lot of time retuning to books, because I fully adhere to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it”. Still, there are a couple of choices that I could easily pick from a line up to fit every eventuality in my life. One in particular is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Originally my sister’s (let’s be honest, most of these are), the copy of this that I have on my shelf is discoloured, crumpled, ripped in places and absolutely adored. It’s like a security blanket, a best friend and a diary rolled into one. It’s so embroiled in my life that each chapter reminds me of another time I read it; of a mood or memory or specific moment, and yet every time I pick it up, it’s a completely new experience.

The next question provides a bit of a U-turn and I’m almost ashamed to admit my answer. Worst book you’ve ever read. I am a tad sickened by this, but happy to give this title to Fifty Shades of Grey. Good god, could there ever be anything to beat that pile of badly researched, awfully written corrosive a-grade shite? No. No there could not. Unless Donald Trump rolled around on an ink pad and pressed himself against a piece of paper and published it. I can remember being sat in the bath reading a bootlegged copy of the second one on kindle (because like hell was I going to give any money to that cause) and absolutely raging, so much so that TMM threatened to confiscate it. Annoyingly, I had to read the whole series because I needed to know how truly awful it was, and let me tell you, that is a period of my life I will never be able to get back.

Conversely, my next answer brings nothing but sunshine and smiles to my life. Favourite childhood book. I naughtily have two answers here, but I read a lot as a child so you can excuse me. The first, Danny Fox by David Thomson, is a smaller yet perfectly formed trilogy that holds a place very dear to my heart. My wonderful Neens graciously allowed me to take possession of the family copies (dog eared, torn and adored) and they have prime place on the new shelf. Baby’s first crush (the Sailor), first feminist role model (the Princess) and first requested Christmas present (a Fox), they shaped my personality more than I think anyone could have expected. The second is The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley and is possibly one of the most quoted works in my family (except maybe Blazing Saddles). A beautiful, funny, charming and perfectly imagined story, it’s something I would recommend that every parent read with their child.

Which leads on very nicely to the next question – A book you would recommend. Once again, I’ve slightly cheated here because I have two. They’re both books that I’ve shouted from the rooftops about though, and as my poor book club WhatsApp group will attest to, I have shouted about them a lot. The first you may recognise from previous blog posts – My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Seriously, I cannot say enough about this book to make you understand how much you have to read it. It is summer joy wrapped up in one beautifully envisioned bundle and it’s as enjoyable to read now as it was when my Neens used to read it to us of an evening time when we were little. The second is the first of a trilogy (read all three. Do it) – The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist. A decadently rich, wildly careening adventure full of erotic alchemy and gothic horror, it could not be more different to my previous recommendation but is by no means any less worthy of a look.

Now, as you may have guessed, nearly all of my answers for these are affected in some way by my family. I have been surrounded from birth by people who emboldened me to read everything I could find; who taught my to embrace my ability to devour the written word and who shared their own preferences and paramours that allowed me to find my own. The final question; Favourite Author, is a bit of a toughie, but I think there could really only ever be one answer. I can remember being absolutely fascinated by the artwork on the front covers the filled my father’s bookshelves as a tiny dot, and then being equally enthralled by the stories within as I got older and was encouraged to read them for myself. And I remember being so heartbroken that I cried like a baby when I learnt that he’d died. Terry Pratchett was a true artist who created a world so bold and bright that it will stand the test of time. His characters, his mythologies, even his turns of phrase are each as individual and irreplaceable as something can be and I am more than happy to lay down my fealty at the foot of his swivel chair.

So we come to the end of this week’s lesson. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this little peek into my library (and do please share any of your own answers because I do have some shelves that need filling).

Before I go though, I’d like to leave you with this final thought – A good book makes you want to discover more, to immerse yourself in that world and find out everything you can. It should leave you hungry, frustrated and immeasurably improved.

** https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/why-you-should-stop-feeling-bad-about-all-those-books-you-buy-dont-read.html_

And so I fall in love just a little bit every day with someone new

Well it’s all been very exciting up this neck of the woods recently. With “The Beast From The East” making it’s way unrestrainedly through the country, there has been snow related chaos nationwide, so much so that I got to go home a whole half an hour early yesterday. I’m not complaining – I love a good snow day as much as the next person, but sometimes it does make you wonder how Great Britain was ever composed and disciplined enough to control an empire when we struggle to sufficiently grit major roads. Admittedly though, I think as a country we’ve been doing much better this time round than we have in previous years. I’ve barely witnessed any winter hysteria and the only person injured so far is TMM (and that was less of a physical concern and more of a personal slight – some young scrote threw a snowball at his testicles). To be honest, the best thing about the whole situation is the highly sarcastic and derisive nature we as a nation approach the snow calamatists with. *

* Sadly, I don’t think “calamatist” is a word, but it definitely should be, so I’m just going to go all Shakespeare on it and see if I can get it into the dictionary. Calamatist – noun – from Calamity – a person drawn to melodrama, overreaction and hyperbole.

It is communally known truth that we are unlikely to get any more than 2 inches of coverage, and that compared to the rest of the world, we get off incredibly lightly, and yet there still appear to be some poor souls who lose all sense or reason and flood to the nearest super market to clear the shelves. It seems not to concern them that most of the things they stock up on are perishable, or unlikely to be of any use in an emergency (I mean, who is stockpiling 0% fat yoghurt for this situation?!). I’ve found that these few idiots bring the rest of us together though, in a beautiful conglomeration of ridicule and mockery, as we all tut, shake our heads despairingly and share passive aggressive social media posts.

Things have seemed a littler perkier though, despite the unnecessary weather front, and I’ve decided to reflect such positivity in my blog this week. Over the last few posts, I feel like I’ve delved more deeply into wistful and morose introspection that I intended, and perhaps now is the time to try something a little more uplifting. Visiting my Mother last weekend has lifted my spirits and I think the Welsh country air has given me a boost. I’ve heard birds a’tweeting and seen daffodils spring into bloom and spent more time thinking about the things I love.

Love has indeed been in the air a lot recently. With all these designated celebrations and my numerous anniversaries (I don’t care what anyone says, I’m keeping them all. Why would I bunch them all into one specific date when I can spread the festivities? Since we’re not supposed to be doing presents, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to keep our first date, engagement and soon to be wedding anniversary separate). We’re apparently not the only lovebirds around the place either; Bucky keeps bringing his boyfriend home. It’s more surprising than not at the moment if we come home to find Mr Biggles (some big ass white cat from over the road who likes to help himself to our heating when we’re not in) not sitting at the top of the stairs, giving us his big eyes from behind the bannister. Considering how unhappy Bucky was when the other cat was with us (there was a lot of shade being thrown about and sad singing from under the bed) he seems rather taken with Biggles. For a while, we weren’t even sure Bucky was aware there was another cat in residence, but after we drooped him in front of Biggles and he did his sexy “let me rub myself all over the carpet in a sultry manner” in front of him, we’ve come to the conclusion they’re dating. They do make a rather pretty pair (I can’t stop myself singing “Ebony and Ivory”) and it bodes well for my dreams of becoming a crazy cat lady.

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Bucky, lying supine on my lap and dreaming fondly of his Biggles.

To this end, and in honour of such affirmative emotion, I’ve been thinking a lot about things I love. Specifically, those unexpected little things that you discover throughout your life and that weave themselves into your subconscious. Odd bits and bobs that somehow always seem linked to a happy memory and fill you with a sense of wellbeing without ever being obvious intruders. Little happiness burrs that latch on and have a delightful habit of making you smile without you realising. I’ve been making notes of mine for a while; just scribbling them down so that when I’m flicking through my notes later, they’ll pop up and remind me of something wonderful. A lot of mine focus around the senses and I’ve been a lot better at identifying them since using the sense technique to help with anxiety.

(It’s a cute little 5-4-3-2-1 coping mechanism for helping yourself to remain grounded. You pick a sense and name 5 things you can identify with it. Once you’ve done that, you pick another and name 4, and so on and so on. It’s easier to start with an obvious one, like 5 things you can see and work onto the harder ones. By the time you’re really focusing on the 1 thing you’re smelling, you’ve become a lot calmer.)

1 x Smell – Honeysuckle

The waft of a honeysuckle plant in someone’s garden always makes me pause for a moment and inhale deeply. It’s like an automatic trigger and it makes me stop whatever I’m doing, regardless of what it is, where I am or who I’m with, just in order to get a good lungful. I don’t even think it links to a specific memory or certain time, it just always makes me feel warmer when I spell it. I think it helps that it’s such a beautiful and evocative word, because we know how I feel about those.

2 x Taste – Hot Tea & First Mouthfuls

This one is a little weird, because it’s not actually the flavours but instead the actions involved. Making a cup of tea and taking a moment to just sit, warm cup in your hands, and take a few sips is possibly one of the most calming things I think anyone can ever do. I’m not sure if it’s a British thing (I still categorically believe you cannot call yourself British is tea isn’t your go-to beverage in times of stress), a family thing (if you’re with my Mother or my Neens and you’ve not got a brew on, something’s dreadfully wrong) or just a me thing, but the ritual involved around tea is one of the key pillars in my life.

First mouthfuls is similar in a way; it’s a tradition that was never specifically imposed but has somehow become crucial to me. If I’m eating with someone, I cannot start eating until everyone has food and is tucking in. It can be a family gathering, a cake with chums or even just eating tea with TMM, but I can’t start alone. There’s just something fundamentally social and authentic about enjoying the first bite together.

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I mean, look how perfect that is. what more can you want?

3 x Sound – Cat Purrs, Spanish Seas & Singing

There is not much better in this world that the sound of a cat purring on your lap. It signifies comfort, ease and the satisfaction of knowing that a cat not only chose you, but was happy enough to settle in for the long haul. Bucky has a purr like a motor engine and when he gets going can actually be so loud you can feel it through your skin. Ptolly-mo (my first cat, currently rooming with Mother) is an accidental purr slag – you can tell that he doesn’t really want you near, but once you stroke his head he can’t help but start purring away. Bobby (my Mother’s other cat) is a bit of a tough cookie to crack, but when he scrunches up his disgustingly beautiful eyes and trills away, I feel like I’ve basically won at life.

Music is an obvious contributor to nearly everyone’s happiness burrs I think, and the right song can flood your system with joy. I’ve currently been stuck on Toto’s “Spanish Sea” which has recently been released and it’s been in my head so much it’s actually been the soundtrack to a few dreams, which is a sign it’s a keeper.

My Mother’s singing is possibly one of the most evocative sparks though. It’s a bit ridiculous now because all she has to do is open her mouth in a choir and I’m crying. I mean, they’re good tears obviously, but it’s getting a bit embarrassing now.

4 x Touch – Soft Cotton, Supportive Arms, Knee Pits & Book Ache

Now I know this one is a family thing and I blame my sister and Mother for this. We spent countless hours in shops stroking smooth cotton items (we even had the “tummy test” where you had to rub it on your belly to see if it was soft enough – how we never got kicked out I will never know), but I find myself constantly running well worn blankets or silky sleeve cuffs across my lips. It sounds unaccountably weird when I write it now, but there’s something so comforting about brushing your lips gently with something smooth. I suggest you all try it and stop looking at me so accusingly…

Another weird one is something I specifically link to TMM, and I’m hoping he won’t judge me too much. He runs about 3000 degrees hotter than anyone I’ve ever met and is such a good soul, he always lets me put my cold feet on him in bed. He also provide truly excellent snugs, but there’s a bit when he pushes his hot knees (I mean, who even has noticeably hot knees?! My Man Muffin, that’s who) up into my knee pits and it’s possibly one of the most relaxing things ever. I don’t think I’ve ever had particularly cold knee pits before, but boy let me tell you, when they’re warm it really makes a difference.

Possibly less weird (though probably not) is actually a specific memory more than a continually achievable feeling. I’ve been remembering this one a lot due to the current climate and my completely irrational terror of falling over. It was whilst I was still living partly at Papa’s in Manchester and was coming home one super slippery snowy day. It was getting dark and I had a treacherous walk ahead of me. I was dithering near the exit to the tram stop, trying to find a way of walking as quickly as possible without slipping or looking like a complete tit, when this lovely gentleman walked past, gave me a searching look and offered me his arm. Now, I am horribly socially awkward and usually would have died at this, but I was just so grateful to have a supportive arm. We didn’t talk much (it was windy as shit) but he half carried, half dragged me all the way down the main road before making sure I was able to carry on across the crossing and home alone. I can’t remember what he looked like or if I ever saw him again, but I often remember his kindness whilst I’m slip sliding my way to work.

The last one is, unsurprisingly, a little odd too, but more in a kind of self-destructive kind of way. It’s the kind thing hard-core readers will relate to and wince at sympathetically. It’s the moment when you realise you’ve been holding your book so long that your fingers have gone numb. The moment when you have to make the harsh choice to stop your chapter, mid sentence, to put your book down and massage some life back into your blood drained hand. The moment the pins and needles you’ve be mind over mattering make themselves known rather dramatically and you regret, fleetingly, picking up the pretty hardback copy instead of the easy kindle version. It’s a pain, but it’s also a badge of honour.

5 x Sight – Bright Sunshine, Snow Wind, Wrist Bones, Cat Beans & Full Bookshelves

Now sight is probably the easiest one, and I had trouble narrowing down to just these five. You realise though, that there are just some things that stick with you, year in and year out and will pop up after an age and surprise you into smiling.

Snow wind is one of these for me. It’s that bit when you’re walking; bundled up to the eyeballs, hands shoved deep into pockets and pink nose buried in scarf, when there’s a gust of wind from behind you and the top layer of snow powder shifts and dances across the floor. It’s fleeting, hardly noticeable and completely magical.

Now I know I’ve already mentioned cats once, but they just make me really happy so suck it. I challenge anyone, when faced with a tiny toe bean on a cat paw doesn’t just scrunch up their face with love. I mean, I think some people (weirdos) prefer baby toes (TMM does get rather broody when faced with tiny baby hands) but there’s not much sweeter than a curled up cat cushion that lets you lie alongside them and play with their toe beans.

I also have a similar kind of fascination with wrist bones (though most people definitely DO NOT let you lie alongside them and touch theirs). I just find the intricate play of skin, muscle and bone so delicate and I’m constantly amazed by the strength that can be held in such a fragile form. I’ve always liked hands and fingers; I love watching people play instruments or knitting, just to see the clever way they can manipulate whatever they’re doing so easily.

Bookshelves is rather shelf explanatory (LOLOLOL, see what I did there?) really. I can’t trust someone who doesn’t have that many bookshelves, or who has one with empty spaces. There’s something decidedly natural about a cluttered book shelf, filled with a mishmash of books in various colours, shapes, sizes and positions. I love when you can tell someone has just picked up a book to flick through it and placed it back haphazardly, or when a trinket has been left behind, slightly obscuring the book behind it. The signs of regular and routine use of a what is basically a stationary object shows a lot about the person who owns it.

The very last thing on my list (and kudos if you’ve made it this far) is sunshine. It’s probably a bit obvious, but that moment when a flash of warm sunlight falls across my face, obscuring my vision and leaving little flashes of gold afterwards is one of my most favourite things. I get unaccountably grumpy at work when someone shuts the blind to protect them from the glare; I would happily squint at my computer screen all day if it meant I could keep the sunny strips of light that lie across my hands. I’ve been known to rearrange entire rooms throughout the day to keep my chair in patches of sunlight, or there was that one time at University I spent three hours scrunched up on the windowsill with the laptop balanced precariously on my knee just so I could get the warm splash of light for as long as possible. I remember waking up when I was little and watching the dust motes dancing around in the streams of light and just knowing that for that moment, everything was alright.

Side note – I am equally as fascinated by, but not quite as desperately drawn to, moonshine. The past few days, or should I say nights (a ha ha) have been beautifully silhouetted by the moon doing its best to shine directly through our bedroom sky light and cast everything in ethereal shadows. Note, we do have a sky light in practically every upstairs room (bathroom included) because our landlord is apparently some kind of backwards vampire who designed this house with the fact he couldn’t sleep without constant light firmly in mind. I’m not complaining because it suits my predilections rather well, but I do wish he’d continued the theme through the whole house rather than deciding windows were a wonderful feature of the modern age for upstairs but were basically unrequired for any downstairs rooms. The living room tragically survives with a tiny postcard of a window at the far end of the room – no sunlight to chase there, I can tell you.

So there we have it. I think I may have possibly gone slightly overboard this week, but I’m taking it as a good thing that the one post I’ve dedicated to purely happy things is almost double the size of those which aren’t. I hope some of my happiness burrs inspire you to think about some of your own and bring a little unexpected smile to your face.

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Just look at this beautiful sunny window. I even remember exactly when and were this was taken because I was to pleased with the perfect size and placement of it. Admittedly, I did go and ruin the whole thing by having a nose bleed so forceful and lengthy that my father actually became concerned enough to text his nurse GF for guidance to ensure I wasn’t dying. Still, it was a great window.

The Write Can Never Be Wrong

So recently TMM has been rather taken by the idea of winning the weekly National Trust Instagram photo competition (because we are NT members and we do go regularly and we are secretly 70 year olds trapped in 20 something bodies, sue us). His photography is coming on phenomenally, if you ignore his humble and self-deprecating comments, and I think the structure of having something to aim for, such as the weekly theme, pushes him to try and find new ways of capturing sights that might have never occurred before. It’s rather delightful to watch and it warms my cockles no end to see him so passionate. There’s something rather engaging about seeing someone else so invested in a hobby and it makes me want to savour everything he does; to give each photo the attention it deserves. To this end, I’ve been trying to get him to set up his own photography blog to illustrate his progress. Somewhere he can virtually collate and keep all of his photos; group them into specific collections and something he can update regularly and share with others easily. I had lots of exciting ideas and a possibly unwarranted amount of enthusiasm when I discussed this with him at the weekend. I say “discussed” – mainly I rabbited on for half an hour whilst he just looked a little shell shocked and nodded timidly.

Afterwards though, it led me to think a bit introspectively about the whole process of blogging. (Oh joy, I hear you cry, yet another self-absorbed ramble about narcissistic hobbies that nobody cares about. What can I say, I’m a slave to my generational tropes.) The actual act of regularly blogging has forced me to think about writing more than normal and start to dissect what it is that draws me in. Writing in general has always been something I enjoyed; I suppose it goes hand in hand with loving reading as much as I do. I’m always full of relatively interesting ideas and often inspired by other people’s work (it’s not plagiarism, it’s homage, honest). Sometimes there is a turn of phrase or jumble of words that sparks a kind of chemical reaction in my brain and suddenly there’s a cascade of electric pathways darting off in all directions full of potential. I’ve got masses of notebooks absolute brimming with quotes I’ve taken from books, films, songs, adverts, conversations and even graffiti that have, quite literally, spoken to something in me and demanded that I remember them somehow. Every single one of them is a seed waiting to burst into bloom and there’s something both comforting and mildly terrifying to know that there’s a world of literature right there just waiting for me.

Just a few of the snapshots I’ve taken – including a guerrilla attack on the university system carelessly scrawled on the bathroom wall. If that doesn’t inspire a story in you, who knows what will.

Somehow blogging is a little different though. Writing truthfully is always harder I think, however counterintuitive that seems. Considering you have a wealth of things to discuss and extrapolate on, there is a vulnerability about putting something out there about yourself that is evidential. When you write fiction, you can hide behind a fake name, behind an idea, behind something so fantastical it can’t be measured on the normal scale of living. Writing about your every day life stripes away any of that and leaves you writing nakedly, hoping that what constitutes your everything is funny, interesting and worthy enough of others approval.

(I mean, if that last paragraph doesn’t encourage TMM to start a blog of his own, I don’t know what will…)

The process is a different too; working to a self imposed deadline puts a different kind of pressure on. Writing stories for fun is something that can be done whenever and can be left for hours, days, even years before being picked up again easily. Writing blogs means that you have to actually dedicate time specifically to a topic and commit to it, rather than flitting around like a literary hummingbird. I mean, my highly honed and carefully crafted process spends possibly a tad to much time focusing on the unnecessary and self inflicted faffing, but I’m definitely getting better at devoting myself.

My handy 15 step program to successfully blogging:
1. Day 1, Lunch Time – Hmm, what I shall I blog about this week? With a world so full of interesting, engaging and occasionally enraging topics, it really is a veritable fest of oysters for picking.
2. Day 2, 3pm – I could chose this subject or that one. Gosh, so many choices!
3. Day 2, Bed Time – Well maybe not that particular topic.
4. Day 3, Mid Morning – That one does seem a bit tricky/controversial/difficult to expand on
5. Day 3, Evening – I don’t really have any ideas for that certain subject, and the pictures would be a pig to try and get.
6. Day 4, Appox. 10am – Why is everything getting dark suddenly…
7. Day 4, Tea Time – Oh god what on earth can I blog on? Why is there a sudden dearth of approachable subject matter?
8. Day 5, Midday – Shitshitshitshit
9. Day 5, Bed Time – YOU NEED TO GET UP AND BLOG RIGHT NOW. PICK SOMETHING
10. D-Day – *screeching dinosaur noises and panicked scribbling*
11. D-Day, 6pm – That’s it, I’m done. I can’t take this. *posts*
12. D-Day, 7pm-9pm – Oh look, people are actually liking it. This is such a healthy and rewarding hobby.
13. Day 7 – *basks in smugness*
14. Day 7, Cont. – *relaxes*
15. Day 1, Lunch Time – Hmm, what shall I blog about this week….

As you can see, Step 10 (the only really important bit) is over with rather quickly. In all seriousness, once you strip away all of the unrequired and unnecessary, the act of blogging itself is surprisingly easy. Whilst the actual content of what you’re writing about can be frivolous or hard hitting, and the emotion and thought behind it trivial or full of importance, the writing itself doesn’t change. The words are the same, the sentences fit to certain guidelines and the muscle memory in your fingers doesn’t stumble.

More often that not, if I make time and sit myself down with some background music and a purpose, I can overcome any potential writer’s block and produce a reasonable amount of text with minimal crying (always a bonus). It’s not necessarily anything worthwhile, but it’s there. Sometimes, if I time it right, I can start writing and within half an hour or so, the whole of whatever I’m trying to write comes tumbling out. I get kind of overtaken by what I’ve poetically christened “The Literary Urge” and the writing just does itself, dragging me along with it. It used to happen quite regularly on car journeys home when it was dark and sleepy. I could just hunker down, open up the notes on my phone (or #oldfogey an actual notebook) and just write whatever came into my head, usually fully formed and just waiting for somewhere to be written. Mostly now though, I get blindsided when I least suspect it. I had an unprovoked attack last week and had to spend a flustered 25 minutes making desperate notes in the hope I could save it. Thankfully I managed to put it on ice until I got home where I then proceeded to ensconce myself in the arm chair with the blanket and laptop and refused to let TMM speak to me whilst I got it all out. This was despite his best efforts to distract me with documentaries on people living in Alaska which appear to have taken over our lives recently.

Simply put, I enjoy writing. Considering how much I chatter on, I enjoy it far more that I do talking. Talking doesn’t allow for any of the forethought or control. Talking is like an hysterical rolling tumble down a hill whereas writing is a leisurely and controlled stroll. Talking is an unfiltered look into my childish brain and a desperate way to fill awkward silences, whereas writing is a chance to make those same thoughts sound intelligent and interesting. You have time to actually think about what you want to say. You can reread, reword and rephrase things, you can spend time thinking of the perfect word for a particular point, you can work out exactly where you want your argument/story/discussion to go and how to make accessible. You can savour coming up with the perfect line and spend time rereading a sentence which just sparkles. There’s always a memory of it, tucked somewhere on a scrap of paper or an old word document, reminding you of that time, that feeling, that thought that so desperately needed to documented. It’s a selfish way of sharing and it’s something I will never stop enjoying.

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Long Live the Written Word

 

The Chronicles of Molly, Volume 3. The Return to Village Fair

Today’s post comes to you, rather differently than normal, from the front seat of the car after an aborted jaunt to Lyme Park. We’ve treated ourselves to a long weekend and as a last hurrah of freedom, we thought we’d go for a nice walk in nature. As it turns out, it probably would have been best if we just hadn’t bothered. After realising one of my wellies had a hole in it, yet another flashing check engine light alert, and a fit of hysteria based on the cold/the fact I’m not a Lady from the early 1900s with a huge house, masses of money and a line of attractive RAF officers in my wake, we decided it was probably best to start for home. I am in fact writing this section with my socks off, blowers on full blast and in aghast at a man who’s just run past in short shorts.

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Here lies Eleanor’s sock. May it be forever fondly remembered and dry before she has to get out of the car and try and hop anywhere.

We’ve actually had a rather early start (in my opinion) because it was becoming increasingly clear that we couldn’t actually do anything in good conscious without giving the house a good cleaning. We’ve gotten rather lax these last few days and the kitchen was starting to resemble a bombsite. TMM was terribly rude and completely disregarded my suggested plan (which focused around me staying in bed and napping whilst he fixed everything. He would then return to me where upon I would say in my most surprised tone “oh gosh, you tidied everything without me? What a shock, you should have woken me!” and then we would laugh like some 1950’s advert) and so I was ceremonially turfed out of bed before 10am. Shock horror. We have had a terribly good weekend though, including the best nerd!gig ever, a large selection of tasty cocktails and a nice wander round around the Manchester Christmas Markets.

Let’s be honest though, the reason you’re all hear is to find out how Village Fair-ageddon went with Molly. Honestly I can say things turned out better than expected, but that’s not really saying much considering how cringe worthy the last one was. It was thankfully over within two hours, but I still had to have a sizable drink and a nap in a darkened room to recover.

The event itself was 2pm-4pm and we’d planned to leave ours just before 2 and run the dog out before we went. Turns out though that Molly wasn’t down with that and she rang TMM at 1.49pm to remind us that the fair was starting in ten minutes and in order to make sure we didn’t miss a single second she would be waiting by the front gate for us. Bear in mind, her front gate is actually quite a distance from her door and involves at least three steps and a lot of slippery pavement, so this was quite a threat. Usually she doesn’t even make it to the first step by herself, but for the Fair she was willing to throw herself outside of her comfort zone with gay abandon.

By the time we got there (within five minutes), she’d struggled down that path under her own steam and was hanging onto the gate for dear life, bent double and weighted down by three huge leather handbags and a rather fetching cloche hat. Thankfully she was wrapped up in a bright red woollen coat (avoiding any concern of pneumonia) and looking for all the world like a little crunched up garden gnome. Now, due to her inability to walk any distances, we actually have to drive her the length of three detached houses from her gate to the village hall at the end of the lane. TMM typically drops us off and goes to park the car back outside her house (as the carpark at the hall itself fits four small cars at a push) and I chaperone her initial entrance. This time though, we’d barley made it past the first house before we had to turn back because she had gotten herself in a tizzy and was convinced she’d left her blue handbag in the house. Rather than let her escape the car and try and tackle the hunt for it, I went back to the house and bravely fought off Benji who was hysterically hyperactive and basically tried to climb me like a tree. I searched high and low for the missing bag, forced to shove Benji off the couch, my leg, the chair and anywhere I was actually trying to look on numerous occasions. I managed to find one handbag (the brown one she typically takes shopping) but the blue one was nowhere to be found. I rang TMM to query this and heard her chunnering away in the background whilst TMM tried to explain my dilemma. Taking the bag I’d found back to the car to double check it wasn’t the one she wanted, it turned out that she already had the blue handbag, safely tucked inside one of the other ones as it had been all along.

Gate

The seemingly endless walk from the gate to Molly’s front door. I imagine it was a little like a scene from “Everest” for her trying to make it up here.

We all pile back in to the car and thankfully make it the 100 feet to the village hall without any other distractions. TMM deposits us by the front door and executes a picture perfect turn to get back out whilst I gently shepherd Molly up the ramp and into the hall itself. She shuffles through the little coat room ante chamber and takes a good minute to stand smack back in the middle of the doorway. I’m still unsure if this was to allow her to properly evaluate the layout and formulate her plan of attack, or in order to give everyone already there a chance to bask in her arrival – local celebrity that she is. Before we even make it to the first table (cakes) she’s been hugged by three people who’ve all loudly introduced themselves and who, I’m pretty sure, she remembered none of. By the time we make it to the stall itself TMM has thankfully returned and we manage to divest her of all the bags so she can at least lift herself up enough to look over the table edge. It’s something we’ve got down to a fine art by this point – trying to wrangle all the bags, pay the correct amount (with no change because all she ever seems to have is notes) and keep an eye on the wily old girl before she brandishes her stick threateningly at someone and falls over. Considering she can barely walk normally, she can get a right turn of pace on when she sees someone she wants to shout at.

Before we’ve even finished getting ourselves past the first table, she’s got us cramming the biggest of the leather bags with a whole plate of flapjacks, a bag of chocolate fridge cake and a bundle of mince pies for us (she asks us what we want at every single table, and gets quite offended if we don’t manage to distract her quickly enough). Canned goods is next and Wendy, bless her heart, tries to shepherd Molly along and encourage her to not spend all of her money on tins of salmon. Alas, it is to no avail and we leave this one with tuna, peas and two chocolate oranges.

The next hurdle is the jam table which I really do think might be the bane of my life. I get rather peeved about this particular section as the two who staff it see Molly and her purse coming a mile off and can’t help but rub their hands together. Unlike Wendy who is loathed to take money from her, these two are more than happy to encourage Molly to take seven (7) jars of jam and chutney, knowing full well she’s still got cupboards full of the stuff at home. One man pauses just behind me and asks in a low whisper if she plans on leaving any jars for anyone else and I tell him that he really is best getting in there quickly before she her second round. We load down the bags with jars and TMM pays whilst I try and stop Molly barging her way through to the Tombola table. I am still surprised there wasn’t a throw down here the way she kept shoving at the old gent in front of us. I’m unsure if she doesn’t understand the etiquette of waiting your turn or if she’s just decided she’s too old to be arsed waiting around for others. I manage to distract her long enough for the man to get his prize and move on and then we all have to have a go at taking a ticket and trying our luck. Thankfully we won (she gets incredibly fractious if we leave a table without something) though the prize of a multipack of cereal boxes did leave her rather baffled.

Eventually we make it out of there and guide her past the book/calendar section without too much fuss. (She loves, LOVES, a calendar. There are at least four on the go every time we go round and rarely do any of them show the right date). We take a brief respite with the man who sells cards (hand drawn scenes from Keele – very lovely) though there is a slightly bit of confusion when Molly tries to buy some for herself and some for us at the same time we’re trying to buy some for ourselves and there’s cash flying all over the place. Molly gets bored of this and moves onwards swiftly to the decorations table and I sacrifice TMM to settling up and hunker down to discuss the merits of Christmas Crackers with her. Annoyingly I cant help but talk to her like she’s a child sometimes which must come across as horribly patronising, but I can’t seem stop myself. Either she doesn’t care or just thinks I’m a complete dick, but regardless we get along all right. We barter for a while over the crackers and end up purchasing a box of six small ones (rather than the 12 she was initially dazzled by). I’m pretty sure the crackers from last year are still under the stairs, but what the hell.

Haul

The sum total of our haul from this year. Thank God.

The next table is that one that every good village hall fair has – the random shite table. This keeps her entertained for a good 10 minutes and I only make it away without a cuddly toy, glittery butterfly candles or fake crystal flower vases by the skin of my teeth. We also bump into Gladys (cheery neighbour form across the street) and have a quick chat whilst Molly picks up every item on the table and tries to work out if it would do Benji for a Christmas present. Spoiler – Benji is a dog and is not interested in wooden puzzles or bath soap, so that debate ended with limited results.

Finally we encourage Molly to give it up as a lost cause and take a seat at one of the tiny cramped tables and have a warm drink. TMM ushers her down whilst Gladys and I sort out tea and cakes and eventually we’re all seated and able to take a breather. It doesn’t take long though and before I know it Molly’s got her grumpy face. This happens every year without fail, because it works her up terribly that doesn’t recognise half the people who’ve turned out and this starts her on the standard rant. She thinks it’s shameful how the local Keele people don’t take the time to come and patronise these things, and they should all be given a kick up the backside with a pair of winklepickers (her punishment of choice). She’s seemingly unaware that the reason she doesn’t recognise anyone is that most of the locals she’s thinking about are dead, but we haven’t the heart to tell her that, so we all just nod along and Gladys and I share a pointed look over a tea cake.

Before long though, various old ladies in aprons come by to fuss over her and my face starts to ache from smiling at each one of them whilst Molly introduces us all like we haven’t met before (we have). There’s a complete flurry of excitement when Jean from down the lane appears (her husband recently passed away and poor TMM had to have an excruciating phone call with her because Molly wanted to know how he’d died approx. 2 days after it had happened). Jean has brought along her two sisters though (Hilary and Valerie) which brightens everything up no end and they all chatter on happily as old ladies do. Eventually things start to wind down and the sisters leave whilst TMM goes to fetch the chariot. I gently lever Molly out of her chair and we make three or four pit stops on our way to the door (which, I would like to point out, is less that 5 feet away from our starting position) in which time Gladys has done a runner and TMM has come looking for us because we weren’t where we were supposed to be. There is a slight highlight though – as we’re leaving TMM overhears an old doctor gentleman (who I think I might have been hopelessly in love with in his youth) tell his wife that he nearly complimented me on my nice green hat before he realised it was hair and how embarrassing would that of been. I kind of wish he had to be honest.

We finally manage to get her to the door and there is one heart stopping moment where she stops and does one final sweep of the room and I am terrified she’s spotted the vicar who’s sat at the other end. Molly has what I can only describe as “serious beef” with him and I don’t think I’m strong enough to try and stall any thinly veiled insults about his weight at this point. Previous meetings between the two of them have included such classics as “do you think he’s might be pregnant? It looks like twins” and “if I popped him with a pin I bet he’d go off like a balloon”. Apparently he’s promised to go round and see her and still hasn’t made an appearance (I wonder why) and the vendetta is brewing. Thankfully though, her eyes gloss over him and I whisk her out of the door and into the car before she can do anything. We make it back to the house just in time for a heavy hail storm and it’s like a scene from Noah’s Ark trying to get her back into the house with all of her bags whilst trying to keep Benji from killing either of them in his excitement. Eventually though, we drop her off into her arm chair, help her go through all her purchases and make our escape before it gets too dark.

Overall, we’ve definitely had worse, but I am immensely grateful that we don’t have to do it again until next year.