Sunday, 31 December 2017

Bananas and Bin Bags

It's New Year's Eve, and I'm sleep-deprived but feeling great.

OH is very sensibly having a kip before we venture out into the madness of a pub doing a 70s/80s night. It sounds a very mainstream thing, but it's just our usual regular lovely real ale pub, with its predominantly rock and metal jukebox, and regular goth nights. 

Now, they haven't said it's fancy dress, but that didn't stop me making a fancy dress outfit. I felt some effort was required, you see. It's just a shame I've put on so much over Chrimbo, as I have a very serviceable puffball skirt in my wardrobe, but I think being able to zip whatever I'm wearing all the way up would be a bonus. Therefore I'm wearing a very forgiving chazza-sourced LBD (originally Autograph M&S, ooh swish!). And a tie-on skirt made of bin bags.


Oh yeah!

I made this out of bin bags yesterday while watching old black and white films on the telly, and if you're thinking, ooh, that's very Blue Peter, that's exactly what it is! I remembered Caron Keating making a dress out of bin bags on the show in the 80s, and whilst it doesn't seem to have gone down in Culture memories as prominently as Anthea Turner's model of Tracey Island, I remember it. Can't seem to find any stills from that time, mind, but it definitely happened!

And the bonus is that it will fold away very easily in case of embarrassment!

Now bananas... I want to share a rescue recipe I tried when I discovered some mincemeat I wanted to use had opened to the air, so I needed a festive filling quick.

Festive banana pies!

You will need:

2 bananas, 8 almonds, a capful of brandy, 4 chopped dates, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

Oh, and the shortcrust pastry. Butter, flour, bit of water. I don't even bother measuring anymore.

Oven - 180 degrees C.

Just blitz the ingredients in a food processor (I would chop the bananas first to be honest), add filling to pies in a buttered patty pan. 

If you taste the mix now, it is sooooo sweet. Baking removes some of the sweetness, so don't panic if your teeth hurt.

Seal down pies, add prick holes, brush with milk or egg for glazing.

Pies are done in about 20-25 mins.

Whole like this, the bananas look very ostentatious, but won't chop down. 


Anyway... promise pics tomorrow, if not too hungover.

Friday, 22 December 2017

A Year to Save My Life!

It's 5.30 in the morning, and I am up ridiculously early because I woke up with indigestion, possibly because OH treated me when he came off shift last night to a massive trifle he'd picked up at the garage, and I sat in my PJs, eating it,  watching Bridget Jones' Diary...

In said film, Bridget notes, "I am 142 lbs."

OH quickly did an incorrect conversion, so I let him know, "No, that's 10 stone 2 lbs."

"Well, that's not really very heavy is it?"

I grimaced. "Well, depends on your height, but to a short woman like me it would be." I put the empty trifle carton on the floor. "Except, it's now my goal weight."

Seriously, though... I am back in the red zone. Unsurprising after the month of gluttony I've had, and I didn't have to step on the scales to know that: I am wheezing like the penguin in toy story; I am permanently wearing my looser combats; things get strangely crushed every time I try to tie my bootlaces. But what could be causing such a scenario? Well,  here's less than 24 hours of my life for context: last Sunday, I had a three course meal with the Arts Lab at 4, followed by the Northampton comedians' Christmas party at 8, where we went for a curry. And I forgot that the next day, my boss was taking me out for lunch as well.

I could do something about it today and go and do Parkrun (seeing as my lost trainers have miraculously been found!), but I have to go to a distant Argos to pick up a present for littlest nephew today, plus get all the very much not done domestic things done. I am not sure who I need in my life more - Chris Powell from Obese: A Year to Save Your Life to encourage me to eat right and get back in shape, or Kim and Aggy from How Clean is Your House? Clue: right riffy.

Even having had more holiday than I've had at this time of year for years, I've been struggling to fit in all my duties. I've been reading and editing, answering queries, getting frustrated... and I have also been out a couple of times this week, to my writers group and also to help out at the local theatre for James Acaster's last gig of the year.

We were in a bit of a hole last year, like we have been in previous years, but things are getting easier. I have been stressing since about September about whether I'd have enough for the tax man, but it's fine, and so, we are in a good place to face 2018. Still got a busted car to fix, a tumbledown house continuing to tumble, and there are some threatening bits of mail to sort... but it's all cool. I made get all chilled next year and do lots of Kirstie Allsopp-scale crafting. Oh yeah... need time. See above.

It's now 6.45, so not long now until the shops open, may as well crack on! I've been listening to Wolf Alice on Spotify. Hadn't heard any before, think I like it. Now listening to Stewart Lee. Well, an ad by the Turin Brakes in between bits of Stewart Lee.

So, got some resolutions. I'm doing them early as opposed to when drunk. You can't say the word "resolutions" without sounding drunk.

  1. Booze! I'm doing the Dryathlon. However, I am not signing up. If people are impressed and would like to donate to Cancer Research off their own bat that would be awesome, but I don't want to pester people. It is often said by cynical people on that there Facebook that if you feel the need to give up alcohol for a month then you have a problem. Well, yes... 
As it happens, I saw the poster for First for Wellbeing when I was in the library, and saw they could help with weight management. I thought - ooh, that will be beneficial, and perhaps save me from the costs of signing up to Slimming World or similar, so I did. I filled in the questionnaire... and this is what popped up when I'd finished.

Priority 1! One!

"Based on the information you have provided we are delighted to confirm that you are eligible for Alcohol support from our trained alcohol specialists. Once you have confirmed you are happy to proceed, we will pass your details onto to your chosen provider and one of their team will be in contact with you shortly

Our trained First for Wellbeing staff will deliver up to 3 sessions where you will have the opportunity to discuss and agree your goals to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, find alternative things to do and learn the health risks associated with drinking. Our advisors will then agree with you an action plan and give you resources to take home to support you between appointments."

What the heck did I put? I don't exceed the advised number of units, or drink when I'm not supposed to, or feel like I can't cope without a drink, or drink to get drunk. I like a cider in the Black Prince, or when I'm at my writers group, and some wine if I go out to dinner. I get tired, I get emotional... I do not ever get 'tired and emotional'. Good grief!

Now, I do know some of the First for Wellbeing staff. They are librarians. I hurriedly texted my sorry tale to OH and said, "I must have filled something in wrong. It says someone is going to contact me about my alcohol consumption as my first priority. Agh! ... oh my life. That someone could be Malcolm." Malcolm being the made-up name of one of our librarian friends... and OH happened to get the text just as he bumped into him in the street, read it, started laughing, and showed Malcolm.
Oh my life!

Anyway, no one has got in touch yet. I am dying in the gutter, clinging to a bottle of Frosty Jack...

2. I am determined to beat one of my crazy fitbit group pals one week and get a trophy. 100,000 steps Monday-Friday should do it.

3. I. want. to. swim.

4. Write more! Cook more! Eat good veggies! Make my allotment beautiful!

5. Lose at least 2 stone.

That should probably do it. anyway, let's forget about all that for now... it's Christmas! Happy Christmas everybody!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

One Day All This Will Be Over

It has been a rather chilled end to a busy week. Besides the day job, I have been editing and gigging keeping me very busy in the evenings, and this afternoon I was at the Love Kingsthorpe Library event, doing some Christmassy poems. Not many kids there for my competition, but I had fun, especially as my friend Wayne and my brother and sister-in-law and the nephews turned up, and we all went and had cake!

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As frugalling has gone, OH and I were both feeling a bit too boozyliciously overspent ahead of Christmas already, so we've avoided the boozer tonight and stuck to hot chocolate. Black Forest Gateau flavour, from Poundland. Got a gig tomorrow, so... mind it's a school night.

Having sorted out my tax return this week, and had a look at the progress of my debt repayments, things are going well. We've got to be sensible next year to whack the next lot, but we will properly hammer them. I'm happy with my lot anyway. But as to the nature of this blog... well, I'm a tryer, I'm a failer. Sometimes I do superbly well. Sometimes I'm a hypocrite. At the end of the day, I'm a human being, and while I'm working towards improving my lot all the time I don't expect anything to stay fixed exactly the way it is. I don't expect me to stay the same either. I spy a point on the horizon where I know there's comfort, security, more space to be me and do what I like doing. It doesn't seem to be an impossibility for me right now. I'm very lucky in that respect.

A few years ago, I found the most amazing and inspiring blog, written by a lady who lived in a beautiful little cottage. She'd paid off her mortgage and was now set on travelling the world. She wanted to travel in a line from North to South Africa ultimately, but had interim goals of getting to Japan, but also enjoying travelling in this country. Every time she planned to do a thing, then found a cheaper way of doing it, she'd save the difference. And the pictures! I lived vicariously through that blog. But then, something made her switch it to invite only. As I wasn't a close friend, just a stranger in the internet, that world closed off for me. Her blog, she can do what she likes with it, but I felt sad and hoped it wasn't due to unkindness.

But I found someone else whose blog I liked, recommended by the other blogger. Frugal Queen! I was hooked on her story. She wasn't on a low income, but she had got a whacking load of debt, and so she went to extremes to clear it down as quickly as she could. A lot of people were inspired by her early years of blogging when she battled the debt and she became quite famous as the debt was conquered. Many stayed to read once she was in better circumstances, myself included. But now she has gone. All social media shut down. And I understand trolls are to blame. Why? Why would you do that?

As I came back from my gig last night, three of my friends were talking about being trolled on social media. Different reasons. A lot of my friends from performing get the "women aren't funny" brigade... but in lifestyle blogs, a lot of the invective seems to come from people who seemingly don't appreciate that the process of blogging is to share experience as you change your life. People change too. They can't stay perfectly imperfect forever. They therefore become imperfectly perfect instead.

So yes, I fully intend Frugalwench to be gone one day. Then maybe she'll be Comedywench or Poetrywench. Maybe I'll change blog on that day; start fresh. Maybe I won't. But I know one thing - that's not going to be down to a bloody troll.

Merry Christmas, Froogs and SFT, wherever you are.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

My Body's Too Boozylicious

It's advent! I've not got my Christmas decorations up yet - I'll probably decorate my work desk tomorrow, but wait until after next weekend to do the house. OH likes to go overboard; I think we've got too much random clutter as it is without draping tinsel over it. Mind, what an excellent and easy way of feeling like you're embracing the minimalistic lifestyle in the New Year - just taking the damn things down again.

My homemade Christmas jumper has been making an appearance on my bod since about September, so I've succumbed and bought an Aldi unicorn one today. We're doing Christmas Jumper day at work on 15th. Plus, I like unicorns. At least I can wear this all day and not lose it on the train like I did my best pyjamas and onesie on pyjama day a couple of weeks ago. Round and round in circles phoning London Midland and Lost Property Euston, I was. They found it. They lost it again. It was probably between platforms 8 and 11, they said. Like sodding Harry Potter. Except this was Euston, not King's Cross, so he'd be lost as well.

Anyway, I didn't get it back. Bye bye, sheep onesie.😟

Blooming charities... I tell you I'm done. Especially after I got practically mugged by a Big Issue seller outside Sainsbury's the other day. "Oh I don't have change," I said. "I have change, he said, and then started throwing various copies of Big Issue at me. "Have this one, and this one. This is a bumper one!" Then he took my tenner. "For Christmas?" he said, with puppy eyes. What could I  do? I had so much to read of that excellent magazine, I should have been happy, but I saw my reflection in a window and I had the same facial expression as Melania.

But, needs must and it's time to embrace the frugal lifestyle a bit more thoughtfully as I've had to reach past the moths to get to monies for car repairs and other things that drained the emergency pot, and taxman needs paying soon, so will sort that out too. I'm also a bit worried about a thing that came in the post. Ah Christmas! The time for worrying things coming through the post that are not inappropriately humoured Christmas cards.

One of the things I have been doing with going to the library a lot is looking for good, healthy recipe ideas, and I came across Your Daily Diet by Dr. Ian Marber. You know, it's excellent, but I noticed something happening as I embraced this hunger-busting way of eating. It was getting expensive! And because of combining, and a super busy lifestyle, I kept running out of suitable things to eat at the different times. When you are in Marks and Spencer (one of the few places to buy food near the office), contemplating spending £2.50 on two boiled eggs and 4 spinach leaves, you know things have got ridiculous. So, back to my frugal-wenching quite carb-rich way of eating, with a vow to walk more and drink less. Not actually going to give up, but something's making me have to buy big girl's bras. and I think that something is cider. Almost had a can tonight, then slapped my own wrist and made a cup of tea instead.

So, I've taken the time to make my food for tomorrow - porridge is waiting for me in the pot when I wake up (I reckon about 20p), and for lunch, I have Aldi basic pasta shapes, half an avocado (from the awesome greengrocer in town), a tomato, a bit of basil and a tablespoon of past it's best before-date Spanish Heinz mayo, which was only 5p from the Okay After shop, as I call it!!! I think altogether that's less than 35p. Then for a snack I have a chopped carrot for 4p and homemade hoummous, which as the whole lot cost about 40p to make, this bit here is under 10p. So my food tomorrow will cost 74p, which is much better than buying a prepped sarnie from M & S, which can cost as much as £4.50 if you go for the pretty ones. 

Going to bed reading The Little Village Christmas, by Sue Moorcroft. It's a Sunday Times Bestseller, and it mentions people I know in it! Love Sue's books, and this one is very Christmassy - just what I need!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Gunpowder, Treason and Activism!

It's an odd morning for me, as I currently appear to be dog-sitting invisible dogs!

The owner has a theory his other dog sitter has taken them for a walk, but it's turning out to be a very long walk indeed, so I'm not sure what to do now...

Today is November 5th, Bonfire Night. A night for fire and fireworks, toffee apples, and burning an effigy of attempted regicide, Guy Fawkes (except it's a school night, so most people seem to have done their burning of things last night). I watched the BBC drama series Gunpowder, produced by and starring Kit Harrington as his gunpowder plotter-ancestor, Robert Catesby. Harrington's genealogical research, and the clear passion that has inspired has imbued the drama with an unrivalled verisimilitude, I think. With some slight artistic license  -  I believe it generally takes hours to die of the torturous method of pressing, but I thought it was amazing. Of course, it has attracted some criticism for its unfettered violence, but I think that's really important to know the pain and degradation felt by the Catholics under ever more stringent clampdowns on their religion and religious expression, and to give an idea as to why  Robert Catesby and the other plotters did what I did.

When I lived in the Black Country, I often saw the sign pointing towards Holbeche House, the manor where the gunpowder plotters, including Catesby, were found and arrested. I had no idea that it was the scene of a massive shoot out, though, and how many of them died in that place, and what was done to their bodies after they were buried nearby. A gruesome but fascinating part of our history. I wish I'd gone before it was turned into a care home for the elderly!

But last week, we were on staycation, and as a treat, OH took me for a drive to a "mystery location in Northampton". A trick to fool me, as in Gunpowder the manor house where the Catesby family lived was labelled in the series as being in Warwickshire. Well, nowadays, Ashby St. Ledger is in Northamptonshire. The manor is a private residence now, owned by Lord Wimborne, and a field separates the gates that would have led down to the house when it was in its own land with fewer neighbours.

It's a very beautiful house, and that's thanks to the current Lord Wimborne's efforts as just over a decade ago, apparently it was in very poor repair. the Crown Estate had to step in to buy the estate minus the manor house, and run by a "Rural Directorate" as an agricultural business. And Lord Wimborne might have inherited the estate from his grandfather, but it has been owned by quite a few people in between them - and businesses. British Airways owned it at one point.

Right next door to the manor house is the church, dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Leodegarius. According to this website it has been there since 1100, but most of the buildings are 14th and 15th century. It's beautiful and has some fascinating frescoes, including one depicting the flagellation of St. Margaret.

Here at the side of the church you can just make out the famous "gunpowder room", a timber framed part of the manor house where the gunpowder plotters allegedly planned their act of terror.

Creepy skeleton commemorates the Black Death.

No more brass rubbing allowed!

This ornate tomb was beyond reach in a part of the church that looks like it doubles up as a storage area.

A wall memorial from early 17th century in which husband and wife are wearing ruffs.

This memorial plaque is topped with a harpie (blonde with very pink boobs)

Slightly closer view of the harpie

A Norman font.

 Next to the font, there is also a mini exhibition on the gunpowder plot... which gave us a clue as to where we could go next.

But first, we had a spot of refreshment in the Olde Coach Inn, and then took in a but of the Jurassic Way which crosses through the village.

 For our next destination, we had to cross the border into Warwickshire proper, to pay a visit to Dunchurch where the Old Red Lion Inn once stood, where the gunpowder plotters awaited news of the success of the plot, so they could nip off to Coombe Abbey to kidnap Princess Elizabeth and make her their sovereign. It is now known as Guy Fawkes House, and it's someone's house now. Someone who must have to get used to lots of people taking photos of their house!

 While we were there, we thought we might as well also visit the outside of 12th Century St Peter's church, which has some lovely miserichords.

We were trying to work out the dates on this for longer than wasn't embarrassing.
So, what else was I up to on my staycation? Not much chilling I'm afraid... rather I seem to have become a bit of an activist.

It's a dire time in Northamptonshire, as the County Council have announced that they have so little money, they are going to be forced to cut services, some of which are not only vital, but also statutory, so they ruddy well can't, never mind shouldn't. Therefore they have a fight on their hands!

In the first wave of cuts to save £9.6 million, they have proposed the closure of up to 28 libraries (out of 36 across the county), but 21 can be "saved" if the community finds groups to run them with volunteers. Well... remember when I did that gig in a volunteer-run library? That is typical of community-run libraries, in that it depends on the unskilled retired, rather than trained librarians. Yes, people can still borrow books (from a limited supply, also donated by other nice people), but modern libraries are about so much more than book-lending. They provide access to computers, homework help, jobseeker support, mental health resources, blue badge provision, bus pass renewal, playgroups and health visitor services, and more! They are a frontline statutory service and our local authority is obligated to provide a decent and comprehensive service for all who wish to use it.

It has made me so angry. In reaction to the 3 pitiful options the County Council has suggested, many of us are joining the campaign Option 4 - Save ALL libraries. I think the CC are hoping we will be divided by trying to just back our local library under threat, and indeed I am backing Save Kingsthorpe Library, my local library  (and it's crazy that this one only has 1 of the 3 options to stay open, seeing how used it is). We are investigating the figures for costs and usage provided by CC, and querying why other measures don't seem to have been taken with regards to budget reduction.

I can't believe this is a consideration for the council. It's the 21st century, and we need libraries more than ever. I am as baffled by this as I am incensed.

To help my campaign group I put together  this video.

And on 28th October, I took part in a demo outside Kingsthorpe Library, which I filmed.

Here are my banners!

And here is my video.

What you can do:

Monday, 2 October 2017

Fantasycon and Eveything After

This Monday morning is very autumnal, and I've got the day off from the day job, so I'm starting it huddled in my onesie, with oodles of tea. I got back from Fantasycon in Peterborough yesterday. It was a great convention and I had lots of fun and inspiration, and there's a fire in my belly now... it's a dodgy boiler pilot light, flickering as I fight the melancholy, but a small flame I intend to encourage nonetheless.

It follows on from a bit of a pep talk I had in the tea room area of the Bull Hotel yesterday with my friend Mark West, and OH too, who were telling me I don't shout loud enough about my successes sometimes, and when I talk about sad things they seem to be the things that people pick up on and remember. But I think with OH and my friends, I have so much support. There's only me who can change things.

I do worry about OH too though. My reliable Chevalier party personality, he does his best to improve me and I love him so much. He has really stepped up for me lately, though that has meant a lot of sacrifice and pressure put on himself, and I haven't always made it easy. Let this fire drive me on, and towards that happy and successful future, because I need to make sure he is okay and knows how much he is appreciated.

Blasting Jethro Tull from the stereo in the A-team van, we arrived in glorious Peterborough mid-afternoon on Friday and checked into our hotel. We went to the Queensgate as my shopping around showed it offered free Wi-Fi and breakfast for the price of the room without those at the Park Inn, and was not much further away. Once we were settled we made our way to the con hotel, past the beautiful Cathedral Square, with its fountains shooting into the air.

There are also Poundshops in abundance and strange types on the street at night. Oh, Peterborough! But your architecture is stunning.

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This is dusky Peterborough on the way home. The fountains are off.
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The Bull hotel is in a beautiful building, filled with a lot of eighteenth and seventeenth century portraits. We found the bar, and settled into a corner with Sue Moorcroft and Mark West, and Terry Martin, and then shortly after were joined by Kim and Del Lakin-Smith, and beers were bought. We shortly then realised we would need to leave the hotel to get to the panels we intended to go to into the conference centre, so Del drink-sat and did some work, while Kim, OH and I went to a reading by Ian Whates, Andrew Hook, who we know and are our friends, and Rose Drew and Kevin Elliott, who we were not familiar with.

More chatting in the bar followed before a large group of us left for the fusion restaurant Ba Shoh. Having been road-tested and found to be decent in the week  by a couple of our party, something must have happened because the Friday version of the place had a loud lounge singer on (we just wanted to talk!) and it took a while to get served even drinks. They took the starter order, served that, then came back for the main order, which seemed a good way to get us through the wine. Both my starter and main came with components and ingredients missing and no apology or warning. They did try to make BBQ sauce when I pointed out that it was missing from my jalapenos, but goodness knows what it actually was - lumpy and full of chillies. Not nice. But what was nice was the company - Ian Whates and Helen, The Lakin-Smiths, the Tchaikovskis, Neil Williamson, Philip Palmer, Rob Malan and Francesca Barbini, Storm Constantine and Jim and Danielle Lainton.

Thence to the disco! I did a lot of dancing before retreating to the side bar where events caught up with me and I was woken up to go back to the hotel.

I had to be up early for my book launch the next morning, and first went to the Luna Press one, where Allen Stroud and Rebecca Hall were doing readings from their new books. I didn't have a big budget for the weekend, but I did want to make sure I'd bought Allen's The Forever Man. looking forward to reading it.

Then it was the big Newcon Press book launch: books being launched included Tanith by Choice - a selection of stories by Tanith Lee selected by other authors; a slipcase set of novellas including The Wind by Jay Caselberg, Cottingley by Alison Littlewood, Body in the Woods by Sarah Lotz and Case of the Bedevilled Poet by Simon Clark - all available individually of course, but also in a beautiful slip case with wraparound art by Vincent Sammy. And of course, Best of Visionary Tongue. 'VT' was a fiction and poetry fanzine started by Storm Constantine, who edited this anthology. The magazine itself was passed on to me and my good friend Jamie Spracklen as the editorial team in 2003. I so wanted Jamie to be at this convention, so as his co-editor I represented both of us. This is me at the launch with contributor Chris Amies. Terrible photos, as OH had split his jeans and was trying to shop for some so he wasn't there to take the photo... and my phone screen is broken so all my selfies are misty.

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My first panel (Humour in Genre Fiction) was at 2pm, so just time to nick Del's unwanted crisps before heading off, and I was nervous as anything as THE Chris Brookmyre was in my panel, and I flipping love his books.

Wow, what a great time on that panel! And here we all are: Heide Goody (who brought an awesomely creepy baby doll to the con), Duncan Bradshaw, Chris Brookmyre, Jen Williams, me, and Adam Millard.

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Before the panel, my friend Kim surprised me with a dress from a sale she'd seen me admiring... and after the panel, my friend Annie surprised me with an awesome crocheted thumb-hugging sloth. My friends are the best!

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After the panel, I bumped into fantasy author RJ Barker, who had been called out of the panel by a phone call - great to finally meet him in the flesh, as he published my first short story on the Bloodlust vampire fan website in 2005

I also went to the GoH interview with Pat Cadigan, interviewed by Ian Whates, which was great.

A lot more chatting in the bar, including with fellow Norhampton Science Fiction Writing Group members Tim C. Taylor and Paul Melhuish, and as I had a panel at 8, a group of us headed off early to find somewhere to eat as soon as the dealer's room closed. After trying to get into Wagamama, we went round the corner instead to Wildwood, which does pizza, pastas and burgers. A much more relaxed atmos in there than in Ba Shoh, great service and lovely food. I had the mushroom burger with melted brie and sweet potato fries.This time we also took Rob and Francesca's friend Anthony Lakin.

My 8pm panel was Staging in genre fiction, and I was moderating again with panellists Terry Grimwood, Sean Hogan, Ritchie Valentine-Smith and Dean M Drinkel. With such a diverse panel of experts, we managed to talk very inclusively around the topics that confront am dram and professionals, script-writing, creative direction, production, cast choices and the money, and our bijou late night audience seemed to enjoy it.

Thence to the karaoke!

Oh yes I did.

Another early start for Sunday as we not only had to be checked out by 11, but I had a panel at 10am. This was on Small Press Publishing and included myself, Ian Whates, Francesca Barbini, Peter Mark May, Steven Poore and David A. Hardy. Again, I was really nervous, but we had a really good talk and people came up to us afterwards and said how useful they'd found it.

A quick scoot around the dealer's room followed, where I picked up a copy of Anna Smith-Spark's The Court of Broken Knives, and got it signed by the Queen of Grimdark herself.

As I perked myself up with a hot chocolate in the tea room, I had a good chat with my friend Mark West about self-promotion and it was soon time for the banquet. We were on a table with Lydia and Ella from Titan Books, and also writer Phil Sloman, who was a nominee for Best Newcomer in the British Fantasy Awards that followed. Titan Books also had a few dogs in the race, and though Phil lost out, Lydia got to go collect on behalf of one of her winners. Best of all though was being there when our friend Adrian Tchaikovsky was announced winner as Best Fantasy Novel winner, and got to collect his trophy from Ben Aaronovitch.

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So happy for him!

At the dead dog, we caught up with a relieved con organiser Allen Stroud and Dave Lally, but we had to go as we could feel the exhaustion catching up with us. And we completely failed to go visit Catherine of Aragon in the cathedral!

And that was my weekend - one book launch, three panel moderations later. I do good stuff! Looking forward to Chester.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Happiness without you...

I want to write this because, a brilliant thing happened and again, you are not here for me to tell you about it.

It's Saturday, I would probably have called you already, talked about how I don't have a hangover and I really, really deserve to have one, and you would just tell me to be careful -  you would be concerned about my vulnerability to embarrassment more than muggers and rapists. But I'm fine, Mom. Honestly, I did a gig on Thursday where I went on stage after an act who had, beyond his own credulity, somehow managed to get the audience to chant, "Rape, rape, we want rape!" And they found me "adorable". I am beyond all doubt, a survivor as BeyoncĂ© would say.

But last night I did a gig for the Arts Lab, and I made people laugh, even though I started talking about dad's accident on stage and forgot to tell jokes for a bit. And then Robin Ince was talking about his mom, and his passion for art and there was so much I wanted to be able to tell you about. If you were there I'd have nudged you at various points. And I wanted to talk to Robin as well, who lost his mom a couple of years ago and talked about it in his show, about the grief - all this well of utter sadness and despair you left me with. How it was there on my wedding day. How it has been there for every book launch, every party, every time one of my friends hugged me and said they were proud of me. The ridiculousness of the grief... how, you think it is going to get smaller, but it bloody well doesn't, it just stays the same stupid size. And happiness. That speck of light in the big black pit. I knew I was happy. I just couldn't feel it. Not for ages.

Anyway, I didn't mention it to Robin, but I wanted to tell you about it. I have friends who are still in the pit, and they can't even see the speck. No one goes through this uniquely, but we all do.

I'm feeling guilty these days because I can say I'm happy. We have barely anything: a van that could do with fixing; a car with no nose; a washing machine that will boil and/or dampen clothes indefinitely; very dodgy windows. But I'm happy... There have been points in my life when I should have been happy but I wasn't. There was no happy without you. There is happy with OH now. He has been in his own pit for ages and ages and ages... but I think he's working towards happy too. We are beyond content.

Robin was talking about the Lucifer statue in Birmingham art gallery and sensory art exhibitions. I won't mention the Lucifer story I told him, because you know it anyway and he might use it. But I did want to apologise for constantly dangling the carrot cake of a nice sit down and cup of tea under your nose for keep dragging you round art galleries. Remember the Fluid exhibition when Wolverhampton re-opened? We'd only just been to the Dudley gallery wartime memories exhibition which was all 'lift this flap'/'touch this'/'sniff this' so I think that was the sort of thing you were expecting.  I didn't tell you this was an exhibition about body fluids  - not so cute. And you and babies and dolls! So when the first installation was a cradle you made a beeline for it and I had to tell you, "Stop, Mom! It's made of vials of sperm!!!"

That and the piss flowers. I'll never forget your face.

Were you listening at your funeral when the reader said "Kath loved to paint. If you've got one of her pictures, treasure it, because there'll never be another." There wasn't a bloody first one, was there, Mom? What the flip had dad told him...?

Oh, she loves to doodle on the newspapers  = Georgia O'Keefe.

And then when they started to move you before I'd done the eulogy... oh, I'd have loved to have seen your face, you'd have been so mad we'd have laughed. Why is it the best people are the ones in the boxes?

I went to the Holly Bush a couple of weeks ago with Bec. You are now not the only member of the family to have been given a banana in that establishment, as Al Grant needed to dispose of the fruit for a joke and gave his to my sis. I remember you haranguing Paul Savage for his banana you'd seen him use on stage in a trick. I now can't see Paul without thinking of you shrieking, "Where's the banana?" at him. He finally gave you the  - now much bruised - banana, and you wouldn't accept it because the one you'd seen him destroy had been pristine. You absolutely refused to believe it was the same one and told him he was keeping the best banana for himself - which he would have been much entitled to as it was his banana. Somebody was hungry! I think we had to go and get you a curry after that. Too much lager!

I remember you being so proud of telling people I'm an editor. I wanted you to also be proud to tell people I'm a comic, but I think me knowing Paul Savage was enough for you.

I'm sorry we can't meet anymore for tea and cake or go for a mooch round M&S or the market. I'm sorry I can't hug your bony body. My god, you were 100% shins. I'm sorry we can't talk about your love for Ed Norton, or Princess Diana, or Jonathan Rhys Meyers from the Tudors, or The X-Factor which I wasn't watching anyway. I know there's a chair thing now and you'd probably hate it as much as I hate the whole show. I'm sorry I'm... happy. It has been a long time, and I don't know when it lifted, but it did a bit. It doesn't mean I'm not crying as I type or that my love for you isn't still bigger than the entire planet. And that happiness would be 500% more intense if you were here and that's probably a bit too much happy for anyone. But happiness... happened.

And that's what I'd tell them, the people still living in raw grief. Nearly six years it has taken for me... but I think I'm going to be okay. And so will they be.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Can You Dig it?

I decided to spend some time on the allotment today. The lower half is running away from me and very grassy. I've put some tarpaulin down and had a go at digging a square foot where it's a bit tough. The advice I got from my neighbour with the immaculate-plot 2 down is just keep doing that, and it will soon be clear, so I'm not going to beat myself up about it any more than I clearly have done already - my goodness, I ache!

The potato beds cleared easy enough, and I now have two great bags of spuds to store. And these...

Beans, aubergines, squash, tomatoes, onions, alien cucumber, slug-eaten courgette

Raspberries - still!

Look at my pumpkin now!
I abandoned the plot in a brief shower and popped to the library to grab a Chris Brookmyre, so I can read ahead of meeting him at a convention in a couple of weeks. By the time I got back to the plot, the sun was beating down and the crickets were singing. That's what it's been like all day!

I've had a long bath, but I'm still very, very stiff and achy from digging, and I got a bit dizzy this afternoon again, which might be over-exertion. Also, I have accidentally cut a chunk out of my little finger near the nail - again, probably lacking coordination due to over-exertion. I've tried not to do too much else and have been in a onesie for hours.

But it did fell good to make dinner out of things I'd grown myself - sausage and mash for mains with some of my potatoes and beans, and rhubarb crumble for dessert. With custard, of course, I'm not a monster! Plenty crumble left for tomorrow's lunch.

Big week this week for me... got a couple of gigs to prep for and a writing group. Also, I think I promised just to help clean a motorbike. Sucker!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

If We Took a Holiday...

It feels absolutely crazy, but I've managed to book myself a holiday... it's not for another month or so, but work has been so busy it was difficult trying to find time.

Only one question now: is this going to be a vacation or a staycation?

I think that question is going to be left spinning for a bit, but I tell you one thing that's not spinning quite so much... my head! Doc took a guess (erm, Vertigo?), and I have meds that seem to be working. Apart from first thing this morning when I was a bit spinny, but then I naughty, naughty had a naughty cider last night, which I'm not supposed to. And thus, I think it stopped working. But only for a bit. Plus points, I feel as light as a lemon mousse, though my eyelids are as heavy as an actual moose moose. Typing is a struggle... so I'm not going to do much. But I do feel better. Yay for better!

What a lovely day I've had today too. I did a lunchtime gig at Northampton Soup.

What is Northampton Soup? It is a great way to raise money for local projects.
This is an event run by volunteers, whereby people can come along, pay £5 for lovely vegan soup and a vote, and hear pitches from groups who are pitting for the pot of funds. Pitches are for 4 minutes and then pitchers take 4 questions from the audience who then have to vote for their favourite pitch. There can be for charities, community projects, social enterprise, art groups... anything community minded that will be of benefit to the town. Today's pitches were from charities to help new mums in poverty, packs for women women with breast cancer, transport for the local hunt sabotage group, and a higher esteem fitness class to help women.

I see the page has put up some great photos from today. Go have a look, see how fun it is!

That's me timing one of the pitches. These were the winners, Breast Friends. Such good pitches today. There was lots of love and energy in the room. 

I do the MCing and sometimes do a bit of poetry.

And then afterwards I spent time with my nephews in the chaos that is Wacky Warehouse. Noisy but fun. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Adventures of the Worst Biker Chick

I've not been updating much lately due to extreme busyness and not feeling great - a mix of light headedness and spinning rooms, which has given way to post-party agues and aches that seem to have lasted a week... mind, I've got lots of new classes on, which sap energy and my Fitbit has been going crazy.

But I thought I'd share some of the things I've been up to, which naturally I have broached in my Frugal Wench manner.

First up, I got invited to the wedding of the century - beautiful friends, getting married in a beautiful place, and having their party in their beautiful back garden. I basically loaded these photos before last Saturday's do, so I shall take you up to the hen night. Both hen and wedding were themed Great Gatsby/glamorous 20s.

The major part of our prep was making sure OH could come. To something! Shifts were re-arranged, but in the end he couldn't be our hag at the hen do, and due to working so much overtime and needing to get his glasses fixed at *some* point, OH could only make the wedding party. So spending money on his outfit was not a waste of time (not cheap, but good stuff for blokes isn't, and after creating a mood board for him of different looks, I'm satisfied we only spent a fraction on a Joe Brown blazer than we would have had to recreating the look from Brooks Brothers).

As for me, I had a 30s-style dress for the wedding, and thought, you know, that's close enough, and comfortable enough to wear all day too. But for the hen do, I wanted to release my inner flapper.

I didn't want to spend any money though.... none whatsoever. So I started with a dress I already had, this one I got from Mind at Christmas for £8, which had required me wearing with safety pins to get it to fit.

I unpicked most of my seams, and settled down for a couple of evenings sewing with some inspirational telly.
The House of Idiot... I mean, Elliott. It's all on YouTube in some ridiculous theatre frame, but it's still good!
Drop-waists were kind of hinted at  with baggier tops until about 1924 when everything went South. So, I began the effect by inserting a panel using this gold material from my scrap box. I unpicked some of the under stitching that had held the ruching in place when the top was across the breasts to make it look more down-directional, like a lovely pair of curtains.

I chopped and re-attached the hem, giving it a shorter flare, and then hacked at the overlying chiffon, tying it in drapes about the hips. I stitched it in place, but could have done this better as it tore and I had to re-tie in the night -  but it looked right!

A black devoré scarf, a homemade headband made of green ribbon and elastic from my scrap box and some recycled wedding feathers pinned in place, et voila! Dame Maggie would like some Malbec, please!
I mean, it really is a terrible sewing job, but I think I've got the bug you know!

And I just thought I'd share some photos from my birthday weekend when I went on a little trip to Fawsley Hall. As we still don't really have a working 4-wheeler, we went on 2 wheels instead. 

And I've no idea why, when I was fine before, but I felt like I was about to get killed the whole time when I had enjoyed it so much before. I seriously wanted to get the bus from Daventry. It made me not want to go visit the little church, and I'd been looking forward to going to see that. I was going to walk around it doing impressions of Danny Dyer. Denied! 

At least there were no complaints from OH about my skills as a pillion. In fact, I was so good he forgot I was there. And that may have been why I fell off.

Yes, I fell off.

Okay, it was when we had stopped at a give way in the dead of the countryside, and there was no traffic about or anything, but I looked up at the bike from the tarmac and could see my glove still in the strap, and OH MY GOD CAN YOU JUST IMAGINE IF WE'D ACTUALLY BEEN MOVING! I happen to like my hands with skin on them, so that is not good.

And it didn't help, OH thought he'd drop me at my brother's house for a restorative cuppa, and OH MY GOD, WHERE IS YOUR HEAD? THEY ARE IN SPAIN ON HOLIDAY! I JUST SHOWED THE PHOTOS TO YOU!!

Legs. Of. Jelly.

Anyway, I need better gloves.

Only yesterday, I saw a bike going along in urban traffic and the pillion was holding on one handed, checking their phone with the other. I'm assuming Facebook as I just saw the general blue and pictures. Sheesh!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

I've Hardly Done a Thing Lately

Sorry for not blogging for ages... I've had a very busy couple of weeks. I've been doing a lot of editing work, and other things too.

Not everything has been a fun thing. We had to say goodbye to a friend who died of cancer a couple of weeks ago. What with his being a biker, though, it was an amazing funeral, attended by lots of his friends on bikes. I rode pillion, so had to overcome some nerves for that. Such a thoughtful day. He  had planned for what he wanted for his ceremony, but he had also very much planned to live as well, and I think there's a lot we can learn from that.

I've not had much time to get to the allotment, so things have been growing again... oh my goodness.

These are earlies. I dug them up laties.

1950s Flying Wall Marrows

Some squashes

Another squash


These are definitely not pinstripe.

Pumpkin with hand for scale. Mind it's my hand, which is tiny.
Last weekend was the Umbrella Fair on the Racecourse  - a wonderful coming together of performers and artists, organised by UFO. I started doing some MCing in the Umbrella Fair CafĂ© on sturday to help advertise Northampton Soup, and then de-camped to the spoken Word Tent to watch some great acts. It was fab to see some folks I hadn't seen for ages.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing
Poets with Babies

On Sunday, I was an early act in the Spoke Word tent... doing me comedy 'n poems while the greater part of the audience hovered in the vicinity of the tent flap entrance thing (to run away)... but we got there. I went to the pub for lunch, but came back for The Anti-Poet, who were very good indeed.

This weekend, I've had my birthday (my 4th eleventh one), and I've done my history-based comedy show in Leicester (at the Guildhall in the mayor's parlour again!). This time OH came on the adventure! And one of my friends from uni came to watch, which was brilliant. I've had a lovely, lovely time, but I am quite pooped and ready for bed now.