Tuesday 26 February 2013

A Damp and a Freeze

A Squash and a Squeeze by the wonderful writer/ artist duo of Julia Donaldson and Azel Scheffler, was, much to my delight, my youngest daughter’s favourite book a lifetime ago. Only young, I think the fable of its message passed her by, she simply loved the sing-song rhyme, joining in with, ‘Wise old man won’t you help me please, my house is a squash and a squeeze,’ with gusto. However, I’ve been referring to the brilliant simplicity of this tale ever since.

Move over Aesop.

A tired old lady seeks the help of the local vicar when her house on the farm just feels too small. It’s a fair gripe, the house is poky. Instead of instructing the Hand Of God, however, the vicar commands the lady to fill her house, one by one, with her animals. How on earth will that help? the woman cries but, nonetheless, trusts in the vicar’s wisdom.

Once she’s filled her house with every one of her animals then summarily removed them all, the house no longer feels a Squash and a Squeeze but positively roomy. Clever vicar.

A few weeks ago, my boiler broke. I returned after a night out to find the floor around it flooded but, once ascertained that this was indeed boiling water and not oil and I would thus not need to evacuate the sleeping household, I simply switched off the boiler and hoped that my Carlsberg of a boiler engineer would be able to fix it quickly and cheaply the next day.

Oh dear.

The new one - not so different from the old.
The boiler had died. Over the next three weeks the floor had to be replaced as the leak had caused it to rot and my washing machine was threatening to slip through into the foundations below. Meanwhile, I had to amass quotes with constant sharp-intaking of breath. Phew! Oil (gas hasn't made it to our village yet) boilers are expensive.

During the wait for the new boiler, I:
- learnt that there is an optimum temperature under which clothes, particularly children’s school skirts, will not dry
- rekindled my love for our wood burning stove, the kettle and the oil-filled radiator.
- fell in love with the immersion heater
- realised that the immersion heater does not heat more than enough water for half a shower and was reminded that being stranded with a head-full of shampoo and the deluge of cold water to wash it away, is tantamount to torture
- realised that tumble driers still shrink clothes however desperate the washer woman’s plight.
- used over a pound of sugar in the oil engineer’s tea. Honestly – three spoons in every cup and skinny as a pole with, as far as I could tell, great teeth.
- learnt that even fingerless gloves are not conducive to typing
- adored the winter quilt

Now, I don’t believe that a boiler breaking down when you are fortunate enough to have a rainy day fund to tap into (do you see what I did there?), is anywhere near a crisis. Yes, our health is the most important pre-requisite to happiness and four walls also help a lot. But I have to say, when the temperature plummeted and my fingers became so cold I had to plunge them into a bowl of water direct from the boiled kettle (I know, I know), my eldest daughter was going to bed in pyjamas, gloves and slippers and my youngest announced that she hadn’t had a shower for four days because she kept missing the one-shower-a-night slot, the passage from old boiler to new did become a little trying.

The Carlsberg engineer fitted the new boiler in only two of the allotted three days. The house warmed up like a Ready Brek advert and, once my family were showered and cleansed and packed off to warm beds, I had a bath; a full, steaming, bubbly bath. Never has hot water felt so luxurious nor bubbles so soft. How much do I now appreciate constant hot water and warm toes? The instant gratification of pink skin again, was almost worth the time without.

This was my Squash and a Squeeze moment. Or should I say, my Damp and a Freeze?

Have you had a Squash and a Squeeze moment recently? Please share!

Sunday 3 February 2013

You just gotta love it when...

I’m particularly glad I survived my previous post’s date stone attack as I’m having a very good week.

So, I’ve been asked to teach two day courses in creative writing at the school of adult education where I take an evening class. I love teaching and secretly hoped the evening class would lead to something like this.

This week, I’ve really launched into ‘Scrivener’ which is a piece of writing software personally designed for me, it would appear, to get the piles of half print, half-scribbled paper often extending out of the study and into the hall, off the floor and on to my virtual carpet on screen. Seriously, if you are a writer who is doing any planning or re-structuring, this software is heaven-sent. I have my stubby little fingers stuffed into so many delicious pies at the moment that I’ve had to be strict and commit myself to only two hours’ work per day on the novel this month. Scrivener means that even in this limited time frame, Glass Houses is still moving on a-pace. http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php 

Regular readers might be interested to know that my experiment into Larkism is firmly embedded in my daily routine now and my two hours of writing take place between 5 and 7am. It’s such a great feeling, often a relief, to have two hours of writing behind me before the rest of the family stirs.

And I had my biggest every month of page views of my blog in January – 1,800. Thank you!

I have one piece of vaguely bad news but even that is a good thing in disguise. I didn’t get the contract I wanted with the agent who was looking at my full manuscript. However, she was kind enough to send me detailed notes of suggestions on what I needed to do to make the story sing – it seems the plot and even the writing are on track but some of the characters are a bit of a tease – I hook the reader in and then leave them hanging. The agent phrased the problem in such a way that I had an instant light-bulb moment – hence the re-structuring which I’m really enjoying. It’s an exciting process because I know that whatever the fate of Glass Houses, this novel is certainly going to be a better read after the re-write.

And the other reason I’m particularly happy with life at my desk is because I’ve picked up a Versatile Blogger award from the multi-talented Karin Bachmann. Karin blogs about all things writing, being a tutor as well as a short story and novel writer, and I’m enjoying the behind the scenes posts she’s writing about her latest project,  Mord in Switzerland. This is an anthology of crime stories written with a handful of other writers with whom she appears to regularly meet for lunch. (Please can I have a job like that?) You can read Karin’s blog here: http://stories47277.blogspot.ch/2013/01/the-versatile-blogger-award.html

Now, you know what’s coming next. I have to write seven things about myself. As I had to dredge up old memories for the first time I was lucky enough to receive an award of this type and as I was really scraping the barrel for a similar award a little later, I thought I would do something slightly different this time. Because I’m feeling particularly upbeat at the moment, I thought I’d simply list seven things that I love. My disclaimer at this point, is that family and friends are a given, so I’m not going to wax lyrical about people you don’t know – wonderful as they all are.

In no particular order:

Running in the snow. There’s something so peaceful, almost ethereal, about being alone with the whiteness and the crunching under foot. I like to pull my hat down over my ears, feel the icy wind against my face and start to warm from inside out. I know it’s not for everyone but for me, this is when I feel most alive.

My first cup of tea of the day. Particularly if it’s brought to me by my lovely husband (ooops, broken my no family rule). The second cup isn’t bad either. By the eighth, I’m starting to get a bit of a fuzzy head.

Putting on my glasses. I know, this is such a dull one but not being able to read anymore without them has taken me quite by surprise and the instant transformation of the hieroglyphics on the page, washing label or side of a tin, to name but three, deserves my appreciation.

Cafes. With friends (there goes the rule again), chatting or with my hard-backed notebook, writing. Oh and hard-backed notebooks, I love those, too.

Learning Slovakian. I’d forgotten quite how much I enjoy learning languages – even though I sometimes curse the homework, even though I sometimes still throw my books across the room, even though I sometimes think I’ll never manage it.

Really cold dry white wine in a large glass. Or really warm, heavy red wine in a really large glass – and Lindt Lindor chocolates.

Singing. I’m not pretending to have any great ability but I belong to a small group and we have the most wonderfully talented and generous hearted teacher who brings out the best in us. When everyone’s singing and the harmonies are working, it’s simply, so uplifting.

Now it’s my turn to propose fifteen bloggers whom I think are particularly deserving of this award. I’ve chosen a couple of old favourites but also some recently discovered gems. Please do go along and see what they’re up to:

http://strictlywriting.blogspot.co.uk by a group of nine bloggers whose posts always make me smile.
http://www.janerusbridge.co.uk by Jane Rusbridge
OK, I’ve only listed nine but if you add in the nine at Strictlywriting, then I’m actually way over my quota ;)

These are the rules of the Versatile Blogger Award:
• Display the award certificate on your website
• Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
• Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers (Versatile Blogger)
• Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
• Post 7 interesting things about yourself

I look forward to reading your posts!