Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Long Haul


Apologies, dear reader, for my absence. Life suddenly got very hectic. I have been doing so much work in the evenings I've not had time for my blog. Neither have I had a lot of heart as some of our financial plans were thwarted by unforeseen circumstances. Dur du-duuur! I see this blog as being about positivity, and need to be in a chipper frame of mind to write that way, hence I didn't write. However, plans are adjusted following our disappointment, so the mood lighting of this scene is a tad warmer and accompanied by some soft jazz. Chill... everything's gonna work out just fine...

Hello, hello?
Hello new follower, Bruce! Welcome.  I promise it's not always this chaotic round here. 

I am a Horror Writer. Welcome to my Darkplace...
Author... Dreamweaver...

What a couple of weeks I have had!  Over in writer/editor/science fiction land I have been working like crazy. A short  story has been finished and sent to my editor for publication a little later this year,  and I have been busy with BSFA Award stuff too. They will be announced next week. Editorial work has been taking up most of my time, though. I'm currently working on a memoir for a private commission at the moment which is very intensive, but the old East End character of the writer's voice shines through, so I'm thrilled to be helping with what will be a lovely and unique family heirloom. 

Over on the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group blog, co-Chairman Ian Whates has summarised everything we've been up to in 2013. It already looks like this year is going to be even busier. Except I'm not getting married again. Apart from that, really, really busy.

One thing OH and I are getting up to this year is script-writing with comedian Tom Young, the purposes of which I will keep shush for now. Very excited about this project though. A clue... it's pretty geeky.

If Your Name's Not on the List, You Might Still Be Able to Get In, I'll Just Check...

I have also been bouncing again.  This time for Robin Ince, who this time came to NN with Jo Neary (who I performed with in the old Fishmarket a couple of years back),  George Egg and Grace Petrie. What a marvellous night! Robin was doing his Dirty Book Club - like the Bad Book Club, only more sexah.  My verdict: very, very funny - all of them. I  love Grace Petrie's songs, too; I have been listening to her for a while.  Also, I got to try maple bacon as cooked by George Egg. Egg does bacon pancakes very well. This might sound like I was so impressed with the acts I ended up staying for breakfast,  oo-er, but it was an act thing and I don't want to describe it in detail,  as you may very well go and see him do it,  which you should. 

Robin Ince: dressing like he means it.
I've Seen Bigger...

I have also been complaining. I'd like to say my complaints were always as successful as this one. You know about Mars' recent health-drive to save us calories? Well, they've improved the recipe and downsized their chocolate bars. Very worthy, and I can't argue with that. But I did take exception to paying for a load of air.
But I got an apology from them - their cutting machines had cut my bar too short they reckoned. And a sweet £2 voucher. Get in!

Scratting About
I also gained 25p in 'Found money' this week for my Sealed Pot Challenge. I put a quid's leftover change in 20p pieces into OH's much depleted Doctor Who DVD collection, and earned my first Quidco cashback. 69p. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!
I Appear to Have Gone Bananas

 So, I left you on a bit of a cliffhanger.  What did I do with the rest of the bananas? 

Well,  I made chutney.  So you can breathe now.  Right after you've stopped spluttering.  Banana chutney? Yes indeed.  Very lush it is too. 

*Imagine here a picture of the actual chutney I haven't taken yet*

We're talking 8s and 9s here

 I used: 5 overripe bananas
1 wrinkly Golden Delicious
8 pitted chopped dates
1 red chilli (this was a yellow sticker buy)
3 really small onions from a  savers bag - one medium one would be equivalent
pinch salt
250ml white wine vinegar
100g soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger

Really was as simple as frying the onions and spices, adding the fruit and vinegar, then the sugar, bubbling it away for a bit, then storing it in jars as you would jam. I sterilised my jars first, and added a greaseproof disc to the top of the chutney. This stops the metal tainting the chutney. Then, to properly seal, I boiled the closed jars in some water for a few minutes. A great way of using up fruit that's no good for eating as fruit anymore.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

How Not to Be a Right 'Nana.

How are we all doing? Keeping up the resolutions? Good, good...
I have to say I am feeling pretty proud of myself so far...  firstly, I did the very first Parkrun of the year even though it was tipping it down with rain!! As a 'well done' I was allowed entry to a competition to win a place at the Virgin London Marathon. Maybe I'll do a marathon this year then? Or not... Oh Cripes; hope I don't actually win...
Then when I got in, I noticed OH had accidentally opened a letter for me from the bank. Apparently I'd gone over my overdraft limit and they were going to charge me £10. TEN SQUID! I was livid!
I have signed up for a text alert so I get notification if I am nearing my limit within £50 or so. I can then go into my account online and pay in money to my account before 3.30pm to make sure I don't get charged. On the day in question I got the alert because I was close to the limit. So I went online, made sure I wasn't actually over, and then checked again at various points through the day. So I knew darn well I hadn't been.
Most people would just shrug their shoulders and eat more chocolate at such news. But I work hard to earn every tenner and I'm not going to put up with a charge like that. I mean a tenner - that's a round!
I decided to call in at the bank in person and sort it out. If you are ever going to do this, you must remember the golden rules of (cuts both ways) customer service:
  • Remember the person serving you is a human being; never be aggressive or rude. Keep your eyes friendly, your voice calm.
  • Use phrases like, I understand why you have to say that, but; I appreciate your position on that particular issue, however. Basically, soften up before you say 'but'.
  • They do have to be a gatekeeper and say no, but be persistent. And persistence shouldn't become aggressively persistent. If you reach an impasse, pause before going back to an earlier point.
  • A good way of getting them to understand where you are coming from is to ask questions. "If these transactions were done overnight, shouldn't I have seen them on my statement in the day?"
  • Don't argue about anything you know you are wrong about - you will trip up. They've seen it all and can spot chancers a mile off.
  • Remember to say thank you - a lot. Thank them for checking the facts again, looking things up for you, and thank them after they have helped.
And, dear reader, you will be pleased to know after a bit of persistence, I got my money back. And then the same person was an absolute lovely and helped me bag up my post-Christmas piggy bank change so I could bank it.
It's worth noting that when you sign up to an overdraft facility it's at the bank's discretion. But they look at the long-term benefits of letting you have access to services like that (because they can make more money) and as long as you don't become a credit risk or a bit of a banking lemon, it does them more good to keep you on side. Hence, going into my branch  - often - works for me.
And then I ate the chocolate anyway.
So, week 1 of 2014 and I'm making the most of what I can get, which this week was bananas. I picked up a bag of 15 for 19p. Some of them were still good eaters, but there were a couple turning very brown, some black. This is the state people think chuck/banana cake, but we wanted to do something a bit different. I had a special request from OH, who doesn't really do breakfast, but wanted some energy bars to help fuel morning exercise. I adapted this recipe from one in an old, old Weightwatchers book to do the business:
Banana Energy Bars
Yes, they're full of sugar, so have limited claim to actually being 'healthy'. But they are full of all natural ingredients and you get slow release energy from the oats as well as fast release from the sugar.
Ingredients and facts:
  • Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C, Gas mark 4. Line and grease your tray (about 17 x 25cm - I used a lasagna dish).
  • In a saucepan, slowly melt together the 100g spread, 50g sugar and 50g honey. When it's all melted, set aside to cool down a bit.
  • Sift 100g self-raising flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl, add the 125g oats, 50g sunflower seeds and 40g chopped dates.
  • Mash the bananas together, mix in beaten egg. Add this to the flour mixture.
  • Stir in the syrupy mixture.
  • Pour into the baking tray/lasagna dish/whatever you have, and bake for 25 minutes or so. It should be firm to the touch and golden brown.

  • Let it cool for a bit, then cut into 10 bars.

Of course, this didn't use many of the  bananas... tomorrow I will let you know what I did with the rest. Nothing rude... just another recipe thing.
In the meantime, listen to a creepy story read by creepy old me. It's live now on Pseudopod. I read The Violin Family by James Douglas, which won second place in the Escape Artist Forum's Flash Fiction Contest 2013.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

No Brownie Points for Drake

Hello! It's 2014! Happy New Year and all that... and a big welcome to my new followers; hello Sarah @ A Frugal Wife and Angela.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and Santa brought you things you are grateful for.

I got a book by one of my favourite writers:

I also got a onesie  - believe it or not, I actually asked for one! I have to spend long hours in my office, editing books. It doesn't involve much moving about and I like to feel cosy. Admittedly, I did say any colour but white as I was thinking of practicality. So OH got me a sheep.

People have been asking whether I've become a furry. Er, no...

But imagine, dear writers: when I am working on your novels and am deep in character as Evil Editor, this is what I look like. 
Baa Humbug!

OH and I got other lovely presents too, and this was one of our favourites from my brother and sister in law, who looked after us brilliantly on Christmas Day. It's a wonderful hamper of goodies, including my favourite raspberry and chili tea-bags, some sloe gin (ours is still brewing) homemade hazelnut chocolates, mulled wine spices, and - Josh Widdicombe's double nemesis - homemade jam and apple and mint jelly! Annie is an awesome cook, as you can see from her web page.

So, when we were invited to spend New Year's Eve with lovely, lovely people, I imagined trying to do something similar... and as my lovely friend can't eat gluten, I thought I'd do something coeliac-friendly.

I have a poor history of offering gluten-free comestibles to Kim: my wedding cake had a gluten-free chocolate layer especially for her - she didn't get any; I took snacks for her to my birthday party - they got buried under the presents and no one could find them. At least this time, I would put them in her hand, and they would be in her house. Problem solved!

For the basket, I chose one of those Top of the Pops records that always duped you into buying a load of covers because they couldn't afford to use the real versions.
Phew! It's not really Gary Glitter!

For the recipe, I thought I'd avoid any controversial celebrity association.So, I went for this recipe by Nigella Lawson, because you can't go wrong with Nigella. I used hazelnuts instead of walnuts as I had those, and that bit about proper quality chocolate? Yep, used basic. Good job I did...
Ah - they smelled gorgeous!!!
A liberal sprinkling of special white powder icing sugar.
cling-filmed for the journey, with a pretty bow.
Being flourless, they were lovely and squidgy. They needed liberating onto a plate after the journey to look presentable. I liked 'em... and success - my friend did get to try some. Huzzah!

However, she didn't get to try too many before Drake the Labrador took advantage of turned backs to jump up and scoff most of them off the plate.  Doh!

Good job it wasn't the hard cocoa stuff- not terribly healthy for dogs. Luckily, he wasn't ill after all that. Or the cat food he'd stolen from the cats just after.

I looked into his big, sorry face, and said - right, you're going in my blog. He wagged his tail. I think that was tacit approval.

So, the 'make your own booze' aspect of the year's resolutions (try saying "New Year's resolutions" without sounding just a little bit pissed) is going well, as we have slow sloe gin and this strawberry thing on the way. We had to throw a lot of elderflower as it was practically pure alcohol.

But laying off the booze for a bit... not feeling brilliant after NYE, when OH did an accidental eyes-closed disco punch in my face and made my nose bleed. It was a bit Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.This was post knocking my wine glass flying, and he finished the manoeuvre with a removal of dangly appendages from the ceiling light. I don't think he'd do too well on Strictly.  On the plus side, I now resemble one of my favourite French actors.