Friday, December 29, 2006

To Do

There's a strange temporal effect around Christmas and New Year - I've often noticed it. The week-to-ten-days break seems to stretch away almost to infinity, full of space and time and possibilities.

"I shall take the time to rest," I think, "I shall play daily with the cats, cook luscious repasts and sit reading before the fire. Yea, verily, I shall essay long walks in the Glorious Countryside and write endless, Glowing Prose. Forsooth, nuncle, my days will be happy and long."

What actually happens is that I seem to do twice as much cooking as I'd planned, inexplicably find I'm doing laundry and hoovering (which are the HUSBAND'S tasks!), spend one fraught day shopping, and avoid the Glorious Countryside, since the Glorious Countryside appears to be trying to batter its way into the house via various draughty corners and slipped window panes.

As for the Glowing Prose.... The only writing I've been doing has been adding to the Writing To Do List. Which currently reads Thus (in no particular order):-

1) Write author bio (requested by editor)
2) Fill out Cover Art Sheet (likewise requeste by editor)
3) Edit first three chapters, or however much I can work, of TAKEN (you guessed it, requested by A N Other-Editor)
4) Write TAKEN synopsis (see above)
5) Complete website design brief (requested by designer)
6) Assemble partial of DANGEROUS LIES (yuh-huh. This is the option book)
7) Write DANGEROUS LIES synopsis
8) Do MCWIFE edits (not sure when these are coming)

All of the above (apart from 8) had a deadline of, oh, about.... last week?

I'm thinking that I might get to write something completely new next year. Eventually.

Mind you, all joking aside, I never thought I'd have a To Do List like that this year. And I received my first ever advance cheque yesterday. Some things are just good, no matter how much hard work are attached to them, right?

As for today, today I'm going to shower, fire up the coffee machine (my Muse of Health just started sobbing quietly in the corner) and tackle items 1) and 2). Wish me luck!

(My days have been happy and long, though. And I have played with the cats every day...)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

I’m sitting here wearing new earrings (thank you Cathy) and new perfume (thank you Husband). The cats are alternating between savaging their catnip toys in drifts of wrapping paper and finding as many boxes to jump in as they can.

Husband is wearing his head torch in order to install his new flat-screen monitor, while checking the time on his new watch and fretting to load up his new PC game.

The house is filled with the most delicious smells of turkey roasting, while carols play on the stereo. Later, I’ll sit down and go through my gifts again – it’s possible I may have fallen in love with a new bag (thank you Ruth and Barry), but that will have to vie for affection with my new additional luggage pack-it bags (thank you Husband), for which I have an unholy infatuation and obsession... All in all, a Christmas going according to plan. Lovely!

Hope yours is going just as well.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Welcome, Nathaniel!

Julie's had her baby - Nathaniel - 8lb 8oz.

Go congratulate her and her DH on her blog!

In case...

... any of you are wondering why I'm not posting any news of Julie on her blog, it's because

a) There is no news


b) Her blog won't let me!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kenya calling #2

Tuesday, 1st August.

FArm - Kalahari. NOT the desert, but a small swamp on a patch of Uncle's land. Peaceful and surrounded by game. Tawny and Batteleur Eagles, wildebeest, bee-eaters, buzzards etc. A pair of vervet monkeys were scared away when we approached.

We returned to find the farm abandoned, harvest having been halted for the day. Turned out Askari-puppy had been locked in the office, and Carla tried to break her out when the plane arrived. Askari was fine and loved the attention. It's Askari's 'big-brother' Ndofu I love - huge, gentle rottveiler, who comes and leans on you. Lovely big dog.

Wednesday 2nd August

Rest day on the farm. Went down to the field and saw two tawny owls fighting. Amazing.

57 tanks harvested for today. Harvest record for this year.

Thursday 3rd August

Flew into Nakuru twice - over the lake and the national park. The lake is a salt lake with a soda crust, clouds of flamingoes like rose petals scatter across the margins. You don't know where the airstrip is until you come round a hill, and then you have to drop to it quickly. It's short.

On the 2nd trip rhinos were seen, one with a calf.

You fly at 7,000 - 9,000 feet and still you're skimming trees over the edge of the Rift. We hit 170 nautical miles on the return journey with five people and 100kgs of plastic - whooee.

The first trip included buzzing a land rover at head height. Aaaaarrrgghhhh!!

Beautiful way to see Kenya.

Bloodied sunset.

Friday 4th August.

We went scrub bashing this morning - chasing each other through the bush. Was left wrecked and scratched and bruised but deeply satisfied. Gorges with crumbling sides and useful roots and thick undergrowth and taking the most impossible way - too much fun to handle!

Cooked in the pm. Cake and brandy snaps.

Have discovered that sleeping with no pillow solved my neck problem.

Saturday 5th August

Lazy days. [Carla's mum] remarked taht I looked like I was becoming rested. Only too right - it seems I am repairing the damage of three years. Not to say I didn't enjoy it and wouldn't do it again.

I seem to have acquired the nick-name Anaconda, which suits me fine!

This afternoon in the fields we saw tawny eagles, steppe eagles and peregrines (possibly sakers) scrapping, while their prey, the quails, hung illusive like mobile clumps of straw.

I'm browner than Carla, but this holiday is the last of my tan chasing, I think.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kenya calling #1

The year is 1995. I'm 21, feeling an odd mix of totally vulnerable and completely invincible. Together with my friend, Annagh, I've jetted off to Africa to visit our mutual friend Carla on a farmstead in Kenya.

It turns out my travel journal is more forthcoming than I suspected - I have to laugh. Clearly the urge to write is bursting out all over, although it will be another six years before I sit down to try and write a publishable novel.

I'm going to share snippets from my journal verbatim, without editing, so excuse the lapses into nonense, and the occasional moments of pomposity.

Saturday 29th July

Chamaeleons at [Carla's Grandmother's].

Met birds like whirring jewels, that purr away when you approach.

The game* in the Rift was stunning, just standing by the road watching traffic by imperiously. The roads are like off-roading centress - continously being driven at 70mph down them is pure fantasy. I don't really believe I'm here, it's too wonderful.

Tour of compound and then to watch new combine harvesting. A baby Duiker** almost got caught, so we took on the role of mother, guarding it from the Masai, who would have casseroled her. So sweet and frightened. It'll be put back tonight for its mother to find. She's waiting at the edge of the field, where the wheat turns into bush.

Little sleep. Plagued by insects and thoughts of insects. The blackness is total.

Sunday, 30th July

This place is barren, scrub and dust, water not to be found - but its beauty leaves me bereft of words and reason. I would like to believe I could live here, but I love England, too. It certainly has my heart - but it is its wildness and hugeness - I see God in its heart, and my heart in its God.

After checking our beds tonight, A & I went to the loo - when we got back there was a shrew in her bed!

Monday 31st July

Visited [neighbours]. Met ostriches, Aunt, Tiny and Tarquin, who is having a house built for him - gorgeous. Visited the boys in the fields struggling to get the harvest done.

An Australian photographer came to shoot O [Carla's brother] on his bike***. V impressive. He makes it look effortless, despite bruised ribs from an off 2/3 weeks ago.

Beds free from wildlife.

Saw baboons at edge of field when delivering drinks.

Bloat in cows last night - not serious.

*The section marked "mammals" in the journal shows we saw baboons, Grant's and Thompson's gazelle's, Giraffe, Wildebeest and Zebra.

** A type of antelope.

*** O at the time was the Kenyan motocross champion. They'd borrowed a JCB and made him a practice track just outside the farm.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A rare and wondrous thing...

... Is a photo of me AND of Husband. And a photo that doesn't make me wince, either!

So, seeing as this is the season of miracles, I thought I'd share it.

(I haven't forgotten about Kenya - glad you liked the post!)

A cup of Kenya, please

I’m down in Shropshire, visiting my Mum, Dad and Brother, and very nice it is, too. That’s why the blog’s been quiet, though. I'm eating croissant for breakfast, and drinking too much coffee. Excellent.

After two days of brother-related shopping (he asked me out to his Works Christmas party, but the proviso was that I went out and bought him something to wear at it.... And the second day was my assisting him to buy Mum and Husband their Christmas presents. I’m turning into my family’s lifestyle guru. The world is not ready for this...) we settled in to a good, raucous game of Black Twos, under the influence of Black Stump (delicious red wine, Mum’s fave) and variously Archers and Baileys.

I threatened them with the thrashing of their lives and then lost. Spectacularly.

I’m so proud.

Someone in comments (was it Sela?) asked about Kenya. I always feel a little hesitant about blogging about Kenya, because it was so special. It doesn’t seem as if words could do it justice. Sometime I do want to dig out my travel journal for the stay, and dip into that, but for now I’ll give you a taste.

I graduated in June 1995, and promptly went with a great friend, Annagh, to visit Carla, who lived in Kenya. We were supposed to go for a week or two, but flights being weird, ended up planning a six week break.

Without my journal, my memories are a mish-mash of bright images and impossibilities. I remember having a 24 hour stomach bug on the flight over, but looking out of the window and seeing waves on the sea… before realising we were flying over the Sahara and the ‘waves’ were dunes. I’ll never forget that sight. I wanted to say, “stop the plane, I’ll get off here!”

For all I love the Sahara, and write about it with the authority of research and my Dad’s reminiscences, the closest I’ve been is flying several thousand feet above it, in a BA flight to Nairobi.

I remember, too, waking up at Carla’s Grandmother’s town house (landing and disembarking late at night are a blur) and wandering into the garden. There were two chameleons fighting in stop-go-motion deliberation in a bush by the drive. I remember the Dorothy-esque, “you’re not in Essex anymore…” thought.

Then we drove through the Rift valley.

No, I can’t do justice to it.

I remember Kenya as huge, dramatic, colourful and dusty/muddy depending on how much rain there’d been… I remember sitting on a pile of mattresses in the back of a pickup, my purple and burgundy headscarf streaming behind me like a banner as we drove to the Masai Mara. The elephant that ate a tree yards from our tent, the giraffe who watched with boredom as we watched with amazement. I remember rolling in the mud-hole, and playing in the trees, discovering how fast we could move when our guide thought he saw lion, flying past Kilimanjaro, being thrown overboard in a mangrove swamp (by the South African cultural attache, no less) and shooing the monkeys out of the fruit bowl. I remember freezing the ants off the butter, and the soft plop of insects falling out of the reed-thatch hut roof.

Let me get home and find my travel journal. I’ll post some more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Little Book of Time Management

Page One

Plan to do less.

I don't know, maybe it's just me. Do you spend most of your days running round thinking, "I haven't got HALF the things done today that I wanted to..."?

And WHY do we apply twisted logic and assume this means we need to work harder, smarter, faster, more conscientiously.

Any child could tell you the real logical answer.

Plan to do less.

If I'm consistently getting half the things done that I wanted to, I need to learn to want to get less done. Specifically, when I see available time up ahead, I need to stop trying to spend it three times over, under three seperate headings, usually, Home and Family; Dayjob and Writing.

And anyway, we never have a heading on the To Do List that reads, "Unforseen Disasters."

I'm writing this sitting in a howling draught from the computer room window. I could draw the curtain, but we've got some, er, interesting weather outside, and when the wind's howling that hard, I like to be able to see the results. (I also like to talk to people - hence this post). It's part awe-at-nature, part keeping an eye out for sundry parts of our house blowing past...

Oh look. One of the farmers just roared by on his Quad, his white-and-brown dog balanced confidently on the front, paws foursquare, head lowered between his shoulders, nose to the wind. I tell you, given the state of the roads, other road users, the farmer's driving and the weather, that's one skilled dog. He has a huge grin on his face, too. The dog, that is. Not the farmer.

Rambling about the weather is relevant, I promise. I leaped out of bed this morning, put on a load of washing, and tripped merrily into the kitchen to start baking a Triple Chocolate Torte. My tripping went splash.

We've had this now-you-see-it-now-you-don't meandering roof leak in the kitchen for a while. The rain lashes down and you get a dribble. Sometimes in a fine mist, you get a downpour... Today, with strong winds and a light rain, it decided to drench the cupboards and wash over the counter.


Not too big a deal - there was no damage as such, just a lot of water. But the pain is that the water isn't clean - there are things living in our roof - and you have to disinfect everything it touches, and think carefully about cross-contamination.

So, I mop up, disinfect, place new and improved catchment systems (combination of towels, plastic tubs and my new innovation - one of our under bed stores) and phone a roofer. When the wind drops, they'll visit.

I wash my hands. I wash anything I've touched. I wash my hands again, put on an apron and open the baking cupboard.

It smells of gerbils. An evocative scent of childhood and a thousand encounters with the cage-that-won't-clean-itself-you-know.

This can mean only one thing. We have mice.

And, given that this is a household of four cats, next door to a household of five cats, marooned in a sea of feral tribes of cats, they must be mice with GREAT BIG BRASS BALLS.

They've been getting into the baking cupboard through the hole cut for the stop cock. And the really, really like hazlenuts and oatmeal.

So after spending an hour clearing up after the leak, I then spent the next hour cleaning out the baking cupboard, throwing away contaminated food and disinfecting everything else. And blocking up the hole.

I quite LIKE mice. I'm prepared to share. They're just not very considerate guests, you know?*


I'm only halfway through baking the Triple Chocolate Torte. And that was only one of the things I wanted to do today.

Note to self - Plan To Do Less.

*And trying traps and/or poisons would be like trying to hold back the flood waters with a sugar net. Our house backs on to a farmyard. Nuff said.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tagged by Sela...

... yes, starting to feel better, thank you. :-)

Four jobs I've had:
1. Sales assistant in H Samuel (jewelry store)
2. Weeder at a garden nursery
3. Re-writing unclaimed checks for a financial organisation
4. Leading practical conservation breaks (as a full-time voluntary officer)

Four places I've lived:
1. Erith, Kent
2. Collier Row, Romford, Essex
3. Edderside, Cumbria
4. Chelmsford, Essex

Four favorite foods:
1. Dad's chicken balti
2. Jacket potatoes with cheese, butter and salad (and I am VERY fussy about these)
3. Fruit pavlova
4. Thai fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce and rice

Four movies I could watch over and over:
1. The Incredibles
2. Pirates of the Carribean
3. Bourne Identity
4. The Thirteenth Warrior

Four TV shows I enjoy:
1. Simpsons
2. Futurama
3. University Challenge
4. QI

Four places I've traveled:
1. Kenya
2. The Pyrenees
3. The Northumberland Coast
4. New York

Four places I'd like to visit:
1. New Zealand
2. Venice
3. Carcassonne
4. Orkney (again)

Four websites I go to (almost) daily:
1. eharlequin
2. The blogs of Julie Cohen, Shannon Stacey and Beth Ciotta
3. ...
4. ... (I don't visit any sites daily any more)

Anyone who wants to, consider yourself tagged!

Hmm, that was kinda fun. Thanks Sela!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

View from the Champagne bar...

Have you ever noticed how the following things make you feel awful out of all proportion to the injury?

1. Stubbing your toe, for example.
2. Mouth ulcers.
3. A blocked nose.
4, A bad cold.

And it IS a cold I have. I'm of the, "if I can get out of bed, crawl downstairs and make a cup of tea, it's not flu," persuasion. Last time I had flu, Mum had to take a 3 hour drive to come and look after me, because I couldn't get out of bed and stay upright, and Husband had to go to work. I remember it vividly. This is not flu.

I don't have:

1. A headache
2. Aches and pains
3. A sore throat
4. Shakes
5. A fever

(You can stay where you are and keep looking after Dad and yourself, Mum!)

I do have a streaming nose and a cough. And a sensation of being made out of cold, wet, flannel.

We also appear to have in the house:

1. An excessive amount of champagne*
2. A very large Christmas tree, mostly decorated
3. Lots and lots of boxes of decorations
4. A preponderance of poinsettias
5. And many snotty tissues.

*Husband was given some for doing well at work, I was given some by my local chapter for selling my first book. I also have a bottle-in-waiting for every Ms I ever finished. One of those was drunk in McWife's honour, but we already had another from a past boss of Husband's, so we're still one up on the deal.

Husband and I were to be seen early on Friday morning unloading from the car champagne for his colleagues, singing to the tune of The First Nowell, "Mo-et, Moet! Moet, Moet! Born in the King of Cha-a-am-pagne!"

On the other hand, I'm not sure it's possible to have an excessive amount of champagne in the house.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Old fashioned weepie


I just happily cried my way through Love Actually again. Sometimes it's good to just wail at something unashamedly romantic, don't you think?

Christmas stuff is proceeding apace, although I may just have bitten off more than I can chew by planning to give homemade treats this year. Excellent! Nothing like a challenge, eh?

We put up a small, artificial tree in an alcove in the living room. We talked about betting on how many times the cats would knock it over, but thought it was probably a dead cert. The count so far, since yesterday evening? Three. And one of those, when I righted it, I found a nice, round flat patch where one of the kitties had been sleeping in it.

*rolling eyes*

Right. Off to drain the raspberry vodka....

Friday, December 01, 2006

Burning Skies

Yesterday morning, the sky was on fire.

There was the most incredible sunrise, filling the sky with blazing orange and red, backlighting the scudding dark clouds. It was like a scene from War of the Worlds, or some John Wyndham apolcalyptic story.

Gorgeous, eh?