Saturday, 9 October 2021

What Have I Done?

It's nearly 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, and I am having a breather as I am halfway through a very tiring job.

And I was already tired as this morning I did Parkrun for the first time in over two years this morning. But during Lockdown we have been doing up the house, and minimising at the same time. We still have too much stuff, and I have flipping made it worse, haven't I?

Having saved up a bunch of money, last week we went armed with a list of wants to a warehouse clearance auction. We got loads of bargains of things we need to do the house up. Some of the things we got were for peanuts, others for just good prices. 

Sometimes there were lots of things on a pallet, so if they could be separated at all, we would ask, and then the gathered crowd would bid on the items separately, but it wasn't possible with one of the things.

What was the thing?

What did we need?

Well, having had new windows, we will need to redecorate every room. Some of the rooms need re-plastering, so paint will do on those walls, but other rooms will need to be wallpapered. 

Now, wallpaper can be expensive, can't it? And it can also be a bit fuddy-duddy if you don't choose carefully. What looks great on one wall might induce migraines if you have it everywhere. What looked good on the roll might look awful when spread across a big space. It can be a minefield!

Anyway, we came to a big, sagging, overloaded pallet of wallpaper. I could see lots of different colours. Who knew what was there, or whether there would be enough of one sort to do a room?

"Who wants to start a bid for this with a fiver?" said the auctioneer.

I laughed and said, "A pound."

"A pound? A POUND?!" he exclaimed. "Do I hear any offers for £2 then? Anyone...?" But no one else wanted to bid. I'm sure they would have if there weren't so flipping many rolls! "A pound it is then... this is... this is criminal!"

Another chap leaned towards me and said, "I bet some of them rolls are about £25, look them up and see."

Anyway, they got picked up on Tuesday and my husband posted them through the window. 


I estimate about 100 rolls. We sorted them out and paired them up, and there are definitely enough to do different rooms with.

And I did look them up, and some of them are not worth £25 a roll. No. You can buy them for flipping £42 a roll at John Lewis.  No, I don't think we have Carrie Symonds' cast offs. But we definitely have a rich person's rejects.

So, yeah, I'm halfway through lugging these upstairs. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Dream Country

Well hello everyone... and surprise!

It's a few years later, and I'm in a much different place. Not geographically, yet. But this is where the next stage of this blog is headed.

I've been through some tough things since I was last the Wench. I grew a massive uterine tumour, and survived, following a huge operation. My whole body is scarred, and I wish I could say I'm fine with that, but... not quite yet. I can at least laugh about it though, which you will find out if you listen here. Yep, doing all right with that Apple-charting podcast.

My dad's dementia got worse. He survived so much that could have done for him from falling off buildings, being electrocuted and crushed by massive factory ovens,  but eventually it was COVID that got him. It got me and my husband a bit too, and we fought it off, but my body kept fighting and I'm one of the many that picked up hypothyroidism as a result. One of the easier aspects of Long COVID to identify, perhaps. Free prescriptions though now, woo.

This blog is not so much anonymous, as just an alter ego. I'm kind of getting my name a bit too much out there with writing and performing, and there's barely any digging involved to recognise me. But this was started when I wasn't as comfortable as I am now. Trials and tribulations aside, that's just the truth of it. 

My crumbling house is now a lot less crumbly as the roof and windows are fixed, and we are most of the way through transforming the Victorian outhouse dunny to a rather nice downstairs loo. Rather handily, my husband's retraining for a new career has given him some skills, and I too am picking up things like tile-cutting and soldering. YouTube is brilliant for that. There's also a lot of decluttering going on, which is just such a lift!

I'm hoping we can get this place looking brilliant - on a budget, and in a reasonable timeframe. As Jane the Frugal Queen said on one of her recent YouTube videos, there are many different types of frugal. This is the one that has come through debt and is now not badly off. When I think about how things were when I first moved to Northampton, it's incredible! Hopefully that's inspirational, but I'm not writing this from the same place as when I started. It does feel a bit weird sometimes, but then I have to remind myself I'm older and childless, so it's kind of normal. I just feel very lucky. 

But as I have faced not-quite-death-but-definitely-very-poorly a few times, I recognise that I do have to start facing life as if the working bit of it is on the downward slope towards not being able to work any more and get myself ready for that. Plus I must try not to hasten my demise by working at my current rates constantly. 

My ambition is to get this house tip top, then I would like to move somewhere I can start to live very happily indeed. Somewhere in the country! I'm never happier than when walking somewhere green and beautiful, so I want somewhere on my doorstep like that. Lucky as I feel though the only millionaire lifestyle I've got is access to millionaire shortbread, so I will have to budget. Today then, I must look at my plans... got gigs and work travel to factor back in this coming month. I have been socialising mainly outdoors since the restrictions were lifted so I still have to get my head used to buses and air-conditioned offices. I still fear getting sick, despite the double jab. Mainly because my luck is terrible! But also, now I know how my immune system overreacts to viral infections, I don't know if it will go crazy again and just start shutting things down if I'm sick. Easing back to a social life has been hard. I've had panic attacks at gigs - but at least I've started.

The brain is suffering at the mo too because of the hypo, and I keep forgetting things, so I'm hoping writing will reinforce some of the neural pathways required to remember to do stuff in order, and help me budget.


  • Plan for every pound.
  • Declutter and get cash for it where possible.
  • Make time for basic cooking and meal-prep.
  • Save for next DIY project.
Hopefully this will make an interesting journey. 

Transformation photos below from the downstairs loo.

Friday, 12 October 2018

More Travels in Showbiz

I'm on holiday this week! In true frugal fashion, we've made it a bit of a working holiday and taken in a couple of gigs round the country. Very utilitarian! If it was work, work, proper work though, it wouldn't work. That is, we'd be bankrupt as with the money earned these gigs wouldn't even cover the cost of travel. Hence making them a 'holiday' has given me the opportunity to do these things I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise, but also made the holiday recoup some of its own costs. Mad, crazy...

It sort of works for me anyway.

On Tuesday, I had a gig in Oakengates in Shropshire. Nice little town, surrounded by lovely countryside. Isn't all countryside lovely? I don't know, some of it is quite dull, isn't it? Anyway, this trip gave me the chance to go and visit my sister at her new house in Baschurch, which was fab, as I don't think I have seen her in a year. 

Lovely gig for Roger Swift with Alex Hylton, Dan Collins, Kevin Hudson, Tom Little and Chris Phillips. I had a couple of very nice ciders at the Crown, which I think  may have been slightly strong, but I swear I didn't have any before my set, though Dan told the crowd I was on drugs. Alex did a run through of his Edinburgh show 'Everybody's Different And I'm The Same', which was really good!

The next day took us traveling proper. Kahn Johnson invited me to Treehouse Comedy at the Walnut Tree Shades in Norwich. I prepared for the journey with a picnic of blueberry muffins, squash, and chicken legs, which we were very glad of when traffic crawled to a halt. A lovely traffic jam picnic! I generally try to take my own food and drink on these journeys as it saves money. We were also entertained on our journey by an audio book from the library of Christopher Brookmyre's Bedlam, which was funny and highly entertaining. The jam meant we didn't have very long to do much in Norwich before dinner, but we  saw the Royal Arcade and 'Children's Doctor Tim' from MasterChef's shop!

Dinner was in Jamie's Italian, taking advantage of the early bird special and the vintage crappers (oh my life, you need to see the loos!!!). Might as well, eh? The real extravagance of our holiday (and still pretty cheap). I had truffle tagliatelle to start and smoked salmon cassarece -- both beautiful pasta dishes -- and my husband had the pate followed by tagliatelle carbonara. Yum!

Thence to the Walnut Tree Shades. This is another lovely gig, and I opened for John Mann with -- as Kahn described -- a million comics in the middle as he'd overbooked. I'm afraid I didn't grab everyone's names and have tried retro-searching to no avail, but I met Olly Neve, Susanna Jones, Martin Westgate, and others including a Laurence, but they were all very good. There were a couple only on gig # 2, and they were both very promising. Great storytelling and callbacks. 

As soon as we arrived in the pub, it seemed the local 'character' found us and told my husband he was going to show the comedians he was funnier than any of them. He was inebriated and possibly a little challenged in other ways, but others at the bar said he was "NFN", which apparently means "normal for Norfolk". The pub filled up with loads of people for the comedy, but as Kahn began compering this fella's voice was heard rising above everybody and everything with nuggets like "There are 80,000 pigs in Norfolk" and he not only resisted any attempts to be shushed, he took up the invitation that was issued generally to the more behaved non-seated members of the crowd and went and plonked himself in an empty seat in the front row. I crossed myself, I was up next!

Anyway, I dealt with him, no problem and after my set he tried to shake my hand and tell me I was "going places", but what actually happened was that I stayed there and he was the one that slunk off, and thus I was carried somewhat metaphorically on the shoulders of the newer comedians for a moment as he wasn't going to bother them. Huzzah!

I'd booked a hotel for the night in town, so me and Neil lingered a while after the other comics had gone. Neil has recently learned he is allergic to spirits, but they were doing a scratch card promo with Jack Daniels to try to win a guitar that at the very least meant you got a free plectrum, so he diced with his health and got a couple of plectrums. On the way back to the hotel, we took in the sights of the posh shops, the resplendent Ivy Restaurant, all the jewellery shops with their displays of gold and diamonds removed for the night, except for this...

Normal for Norfolk?

Our hotel was on what locals called 'the food mile', not quite as posh as the Ivy. More the chips and cheese joints next to the nightclubs, strip joints and massage parlours. Our hotel was somewhat conveniently located and priced for its surrounds. We had a perfectly nice stay, though wished we had realised the window was open a bit earlier. Raucous! We thought the biscuits on the tea and coffee making facilities were a nice touch, but there was no way we were actually making a cup of tea. 

With a bit of time to explore Norwich before we left in the morning, we climbed up to the castle. I was hoping to show Neil the Victorian mourning jewellery full of dead people's hair that I remembered from my last visit in 1992, but at £9.75 each to go in, we decided against going in.

Instead we ventured back down the hill, our eye caught by St George's Tombland church just before we got to the cathedral. The vergers inside seemed delighted to have visitors, and we got the amazing whistle-stop tour. I was a bit hesitant to go in, I must admit, as the "art project" Jesus visible from the doorway was a bit creepy, but it really is a fascinating building if you go in, and the people there know so much about it. In fact it was a lucky day as with the bright sunshine, they were able to point out bits of the décor to each other that weren't normally visible, so it was like everyone was learning something. Fans of Pre-Raphaelites should goin and see the Burne-Jones designed window. And fans of comedy should go and see the figure of St George on the font, which due to a choirboy/football mishap is killing the dragon with a No. 8 knitting needle.

Then we went on to the cathedral, stopping in the crypt to the side to see a fascinating art exhibition about Charles Bonnet Syndrome (it's a proper surreal hallucinatory condition affecting people whose eyesight is failing). The cathedral is of course a very beautiful Romanesque/Gothic building, and has a cloisters that reminds me of Hogwarts. We had a proper explore, climbing up to the reliquary, and having a gander at all the tombs. Anyway, Google has helpfully made this lovely video of our time in Norwich with all that in.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Bus Wencher

Long time no post, but l now have time to start again.
Right now I'm sitting on the 15 bus to town, will shortly change for the X7, and as these are not the snug, comfy, tall seats of the Gold buses they seem to have removed from my journey to work, I shall not be sleeping at any point in the journey unless the bus makes me. Which it probably will. Definitely on the way home anyway.
I have been using this travel time as an opportune occasion to get on with my sadly neglected TBR pile, currently enjoying Blood of Assassins by RJ Barker and feel much happier for it... Traveling by train is great, it's quick, but doesn't give you time. And I may have to get up half an hour earlier, but I get back into town quicker on the way home. The bendiness of time! Or the fact that the train is not so great: it's expensive, often late and despite the gratitude I have towards all the guys who helped me get to work on the scooter when my ankle was kaput, I just can't afford it right now. I'm saving £60 a month by traveling on the bus, baby! Sweet smackaroony!
The ankle is still very much making its presence felt in my life. Shoes are a mare. It hurts. I can't dance. Plus ca change. Running for the bus is a no no. Also, I remain quite the chubster. Haven't been swimming for a while though, and really, really must.
What have I been up to in the intervening wasteland of time?
Campaigning for the libraries was reduced to occasional angry tweets, as NCC passed the buck on the 21 libraries they want to close to 'groups' that didn't include Save Kingsthorpe Library, and slapped a big NDA on each of them. I've been keeping an eye on the politicos from the side, and watching the section 114 notices roll in accompanied by a lack of sensible financial decision-making subsequently. The ex- leader got all tired and emotional (which is the press way of saying she cray cray, like drunk cray cray, but not drunk. Though it would make sense if she was) and swore the Jeffrey et Al at the press about my young Tory fellow campaigner in the council chambers who was one of the few who delivered the et tu Brute blows that finished her off (and ushered in the equally complicit Matt Golby). That was funny. You know when you see steam coming out of the ears in cartoons? Like that. I think my young friend has quite the future in politics. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Anyway a small child took NCC to court over the library closures and won. Hooray! We now just have to see the way it plays out, but some dastardly moves are still going on, like the stripping of book stock, redundancies, cancellation of periodicals and newspapers, selling of gifted property assets (that were gifted with usage conditions, so definitely not on).

Also for the last few months, I have been organizing a festival!

View from my tent


Tré Ventour

Cameron Grace
That's the Bardic Picnic, which took place in Beckett's Park on 5th August. Still on the paperwork, report and financial side of stuff, so can't relax just yet, but what a magical day.

Quite frankly it was exhausting and I went just a tiny bit insane as I wibbled and almost fell off my coping pole. So much to organise, plus an almost straight 10 hours of MCing and performing on the day itself , whihc beats my previous longest gig of a couple of months ago by 6 hours (4 hours of storytelling at Kettering Museum - because I am a tour de force!). The sun show down, everyone enjoyed some awesome spoken word and music, and there was vegan ice cream and rhubarb cider  - heaven! A bijou crowd remained for my headline comedy performance at the end, clashing with Jono and the Uke Dealers, but I made them laugh and that's what mattered. Plus we made two fantastic new bards: Sami the 9th Bard of Northampton, and Coral McShane junior bard.


What else? Well I've been working on my downsized allotment plot. I had yellow courgete pasta for tea last night and will have homegrown lettuce on my sandwiched today! Spuds are nearly ready, plus I have more lettuce, beets, caulis, cabbage and kohlrabi on the way.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Back to Life

A very busy week has seen me not make great inroads into reorganising/refrugalising my life, but a few baby steps, nonetheless.

For a start, I've managed to make my lunch every day, saving probably around a tenner. Before had seen me getting dropped at the station, grabbing something reduced price from M&S for the next day (because I knew I would be too tired to bother), and hoping I could get through to a mini cab company for the journey home, as black cabs are an arm and a leg.

Good news, this week I am in shoes! My physiotherapist gave me the all clear to ditch the boot -- if I could -- about ten days ago, but I couldn't get into anything for a few days so had to keep the boot on to go to work. My foot is less swollen now, but still a bit bigger, and it's a bit less pronounced now, but my ankle is like the hip on a rose at the end of summer. Lace up pumps are the only shoes I can wear. I don't think I'll be able to war my Mary Janes or my Doc Marten boots for a while.

This week, I have managed to walk to the station on 3 out of 5 days, and get lifts the rest of the time. Trouble with getting lifts though, is I am susceptible to agreeing to not drive home straightaway, and that has seen us drive by a beer garden to appreciate the heatwave and get takeaway on the way home. Uh oh! My peak steps on Saturday were 10.9k, but that was a mistake doing that much as I was in agony after. I am settling down from the usual night pains, but I felt sore after yesterday's home physio session too, and it's making me wary of moving.

Still, every day, more control, but I still can't do everything I want/need to do and it's frustrating. I was worried about my allotment, but my friends have promised to come help in a couple of weeks, which is awesome! I am so happy knowing I'm not going to lose it.

Broken ankles are the enemy of frugalling! I saw 20p on the floor yesterday and I couldn't sodding pick it up!

Okay, enough moaning, here are the fab things from my week:

I went to see my friends' play Madam Bovary: a madcap tragedy at the Playhouse Theatre. It was excellent! Lou Chawner played Charles Bovary and the salesman. He broke his ankle too a few weeks ago (plagiarist!), so had to play with some retro under-elbow crutches, but even though this was a very physical production he was awesome in it. Nice one, Lou! Brilliantly cast as the lead was Julia Langley, who I told "gave good face" -- she does! She was excellent in The Rover too. I think she's a comic natural. My friends did brilliantly with the fantastic bed and mirrors-centred set design, puppets, staging, everything. Even ribbons were used with skill. Lovely, lovely night!

I also met up with my writers group, and got to finish signing copies of my antholgy for future sale and pick up my contributor copies. This is the happy face of a woman who loves practicing her autograph!

Might blog again very soon, about something that's been in the news loads lately. TBC!

Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Rest of Follycon

A week after coming back from Eastercon, my ambition to recount the weekend in lots of detail has failed as I've had to do other things. Plus, as I have been walking a lot more, I also need a lot of recovery time. My Fitbit has been recording from 3-5K, but as I ventured out today, I noticed it hasn't always been recording properly. All I know is, I ache.

Anyway, I should at least mention the highlights from last week, and apologies, it's not really the usual stuff you might read here.

On Friday, I launched a book! My book!

Specifically my latest anthology: The Best of British Science Fiction 2017.

This was immense. Mine wasn't the only book being launched, and I know pretty well that I wasn't the draw in a room with some pretty awesome authors, but it was such a buzz to see the launch room pack out. People got turned away because the room was so full!

And on Saturday, Chad Dixon took this photo of me controlling the presentation slides for the BSFA Awards. Woot, yes that's my wine!
I had a panel on Sunday to talk about the BSFA being 60 this year. I was moderating, accompanied by previous chairs Kev McVeigh and Joseph Nicholas, BSFA Review editor Susan Oke and previous award winner Jaine Fenn. It was quite a tough panel to be on with lots of strong opinions in the room, but very interesting. I had more wine for that one.

I had a great time in between those things, having long chats in the bar with my friends, or in the dealers room where I was on the BSFA desk. Access was a bit of an issue in the Majestic. When I felt up to it I coped with the stairs to the dealers room, but in the mornings I just couldn't, so a man called Stan would whizz me round to the step-free entrance by the art show on a golf buggy. He was a demon driver and then some!

We normally save up for the year and make conventions our holiday, though they are also quite work-filled things too, but I usually pride myself on being super-prepared. Sometimes these things cause you to be trapped in a very expensive location, so we have learned to take supplies with us for the lean times between panels. We also try to make the most of where we are. This year, with my broken ankle, we found ourselves in a lovely place that we couldn't take advantage of so much, and I did not feel prepared either. But I still had a great time.

Normal bloggery will resume again soon.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Follycon Gone!

Part one: Thursday.

Having changed the purple plaster for an awesome space boot last week, I was ready to go to a science fiction convention in Harrogate.

But first, a stop in Yardley Hastings for a celebratory cake.

As gleeful as I was to get a boot that looks like part of Marvin the Paranoid Android, the smile somewhat faded when I realised walking is now double hard and I miss my scooter.

The journey to Harrogate on Thursday was a good deal longer than it should have been, but I was delighted to find myself travelling on the A1 - lead tarmac of the film of the same name, A1: The Long Road to Edinburgh a film by newbie comedian Mark Row about his first year in comedy and which I got invited to see at a screening last week as a guest of Nig Lovell, who was also in it. Only to discover I was also in the film! Well, the sound of my cackling voice was (at a gig in Milton Keynes). We listened to a short story collection audiobook from the library on the way on time travel.

Unfortunately, because time travel was working incorrectly for us, we ended up missing a table booked for a hotel, and instead ate at our hotel - the beautiful Crown! This was a hotel at which Lord Byron once stayed in 1806, and they are very proud of this and have the poem he wrote then on the wall, which you can read on the way in to breakfast.

To a Beautiful Quaker.
Sweet girl! though only once we met,
That meeting I shall ne'er forget;
And though we ne'er may meet again,
Remembrance will thy form retain.
I would not say, "I love," but still
My senses struggle with my will:
In vain, to drive thee from my breast,
My thoughts are more and more represt;
In vain I check the rising sighs,
Another to the last replies:
Perhaps this is not love, but yet
Our meeting I can ne'er forget.

What though we never silence broke,
Our eyes a sweeter language spoke.
The tongue in flattering falsehood deals,
And tells a tale it never feels;
Deceit the guilty lips impart,
And hush the mandates of the heart;
But soul's interpreters, the eyes,
Spurn such restraint and scorn disguise.
As thus our glances oft conversed,
And all our bosoms felt, rehearsed,
No spirit, from within, reproved us,
Say rather, "'twas the spirit moved us."
Though what they utter'd I repress,
Yet I conceive thou'lt partly guess;
For as on thee my memory ponders,
Perchance to me thine also wanders.
This for myself, at least, I'll say,
Thy form appears through night, through day:
Awake, with it my fancy teems;
In sleep, it smiles in fleeting dreams;
The vision charms the hours away,
And bids me curse Aurora's ray
For breaking slumbers of delight
Which make me wish for endless night:
Since, oh! whate'er my future fate,
Shall joy or woe my steps await,
Tempted by love, by storms beset,
Thine image I can ne'er forget.

Alas! again no more we meet,
No more former looks repeat;
Then let me breathe this parting prayer,
The dictate of my bosom's care:
"May heaven so guard my lovely quaker,
That anguish never can o'ertake her;
That peace and virtue ne'er forsake her,
But bliss be aye her heart's partaker!
Oh, may the happy mortal, fated
To be by dearest ties related,
For her each hour new joys discover,
And lose the husband in the lover!
May that fair bosom never know
What 't is to feel the restless woe
Which stings the soul with vain regret,
Of him who never can forget!"

In other words: "I quite fancy you!" Did they or didn't they? Probably. He was only eighteen but apparently he'd already had a collection of poetry burned for being too saucy.

We had chosen to stay at the Crown because it was a cheaper hotel than the convention hotel - the Majestic - and only a five minute walk away. Only!! Well, after walking there on the first night, it became clear I would need to use a lot of taxis. Thankfully, taxis in Harrogate were fairly cheap.

And the food was amazing at the Crown. I had macaroni cheese with Whitby crab (oh my life - it so works!) and OH the steak and ale pudding. Then we went to the Majestic to begin locating friends. We found Ian Watson and Cristina Macia in the bar with Roberto Quaglia, and were joined by fellow NSFWG member Andy West, Dave Lally, Neil Williamson, and were then joined by friends Jess and Kris, who had enjoyed the pleasures of the A1 for even longer than we had. Finally we met Ian Whates and Helen, whose company we had missed at dinner. But it was a fairly early night for all of us before the con proper the next morning. And the memory fuzzes already... the bar was busy, we were tired, and so I am now...

To be continued...