The Anxious Potager

Ramsons in our garden

Last year, during first lockdown, grumpy husband planted some wild garlic. I’d been banging on about how much I miss it, being an expat Lancastrian, and how when I was a kid you could gather buckets of the stuff from practically anywhere between Bolton and Ramsbottom where it grows in pungent profusion in cloughs and shady glades. It’s so widespread in Lancashire, places are even named after it. Like the aforementioned Ramsbottom, which according to my gran (who knew loads about this sort of thing) was named not after the nether-regions of male sheep, but for the masses of wild garlic growing there, or ramsons, as we say in a Lancy twang. Grumpy husband’s a proper bread-head, who bakes sourdough every week, and baguettes and pizza bases so when I told him you can make pizza toppings and flavour your bread with ramsons and that they’re totally delicious made into pesto and served on sourdough, he planted some under the walnut tree in the leaf and branch cover to see if it would ‘take’ in the dappled light. There’s been miles more rain here on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens in recent years, and as ramsons love damp as well as shady places, it seemed like a good bet.

Fast forward a year, and it’s done quite well. So last Thursday, on publication day for my memoir-in-flash, when I was feeling a potent mixture of excitement, anxiety, exposure and pride (the kind that comes before a fall my worry-warting thoughts were thinking) I absented myself from everything to do with writing and attempted ramson and walnut pesto. To be fair I’d never actually tried ramson pesto in my youth because pesto hadn’t made it to 1970s Bolton, but I had seen a recipe in cyberspace. So, as we still had a few walnuts left over from last year’s glut, I reasoned project pesto would feed three birds with one metaphorical peanut: use up some walnuts, do what I sort-of promised grumpy husband a year ago and act as a distraction/avoidance from the emotional maelstrom of publication day. This is what I did.

  1. Picked 30g ramson leaves (you could do this in miles bigger batches if you live in Ramsbottom but I didn’t want to stress the first year plants by taking too many leaves),
  2. Whizzed up 50g shelled and toasted walnuts with the juice of half a lemon. I just used a hand whizzer, not a fancy food processor or anything, then drizzled in some local rape seed oil still whizzing until it looked like pesto consistency.
  3. Halved the mixture and added 15g of parmesan to one batch and 10g yeast flakes to the other, (to make vegan and veggie pesto). I then seasoned with salt and pepper, and voila!

Here’s a picture of a wee bit of pesto popped onto a slice of sourdough for your visual delectation. Wish you could smell and taste it because it really is very pungent and delicious. After I took this photo, I sterilised a repurposed jam jar were I reckon the pesto will store for several weeks kept in the fridge. Grumpy husband was well impressed and enthused that it was one of my best garden preservations ever. Next year, if the ramsons have spread like they do up north, I’ll make bigger batches and see if it freezes okay.

I’ve always found preserving what we grow and forage for, calming and rewarding, which is just as well, as pickling, jamming, freezing and drying are a really important part of making the most of a potager garden like ours, where gluts and dearths are continual. Last year in early summer, for example, when the sour cherries were ready to pick, for a brief moment, cherries were everything. We had poached cherries on porridge, glistening red cherry compote on toast, tart and zingy sour cherry summer pudding, cherry buns, cherry bread, cherry couscous salad. Then suddenly we reached cherry saturation and never wanted to see another sour cherry again let alone put one in our mouths. We decided to leave the rest to the birds. But as weeks went by and summer tipped into autumn and we stuffed our faces with everything blackberry, the remembered cherries wove a wistful memory, and after Christmas, when we were sick and tired of wintry things, we found ourselves nostalgic for the sharp tang of early summer. If only I’d dried or frozen some of the wonderful cherries, I thought, or made them into long-lasting jams, or jellies or gin. A valuable lesson for this year coming (though the birds will still get their share.) And there it is – right there – why it’s mindfully positive , growing and preserving your own – it makes you think about the future not in an anxious, everything-is-bound-to-go-wrong kind of way, but in a what-can-we-do-to-make-the-most-of-it-next-time sort of way, a future where you learn from mistakes, not avoid them.

It makes me think about more existential things too, not just the positivity of impermanent things but the fickle nature of transiency too. Like publication day for The Naming of Bones. Unlike the cherries, that will never come back, and as I write this three days later, I’m wondering what on earth I was worried about, because, of course nothing bad happened. In fact I’ve been floored by the support from the wonderful on-line flash community. I’m so grateful to everyone who Tweeted and sent messages of support, and who bought the book, and my wonderful writer buddies too, who over the last couple of weeks in particular have provided such incredible support and wisdom. I so need to remember that if my novella that’s currently longlisted with Reflex Press makes it out into the world. But anxiety is a phantom shapeshifter, that gives not one hoot for fact or logical reasoning, that’s built from imaginings and inner whisperings that echo awful nightmares that will never come to pass, most like, that clag you in a non-existent miasma that you can’t see through, so the reality beyond it disappears. And it’s physical too, a physical dread like stone butterflies in your stomach.

It’s the on-line launch of The Naming of Bones tomorrow evening, something I’ve longed for for ages, something that really should be just a moment of joy, but even today when I’m excited and anxious in equal measures, the anxiety is rising. I wish I could simply look forward to it, especially having just harvested a bumper crop of positivity the day after publication. I keep telling myself I’ve got brilliant back up from writing buds who won’t mind if things go wrong, and that all round superstar and wonderful human being Gaynor Jones is overseeing the actual event. But anxiety is a shadow that needs neither form nor light to cast it, which is why I’m writing this, I suppose, using writing like I always do nowadays as distraction, as exorcism, as therapy, and because there’s something powerful about un-secreting fear, about calling it out and naming it. Thanks so much for listening anyone who is, because I feel a bit better now. Going to bake myself into staying in this moment, by harvesting and cooking the rhubarb.

The Naming of Bones

To keep my pecker up in the darkest days of lockdowns one, two and three, I did what I’ve done since 2015 when I started writing – I wrote. Stories. Bad stories, good stories, scary stories, happy stories, angry stories, short stories, micro stories, stories based on fact, stories based on wild flights of imagination, stories written in different shapes from usual stories, and all of them spilling out my emotions onto the page or into the laptop, so I didn’t drown in the feelings that so often overwhelmed me before I started my writing journey. That’s what creative writing is for me. Therapy. Exorcism.

It’s not overstating things to say that over the last 6 years, writing has saved my life, and that in the last 12 months it has saved my sanity. I’m very pleased to report therefore that in addition to keeping me sane (ish) during the last six months when, in the real world, my 87 year-old mum-in-law had a stroke, my dad-in-law broke his hip, my mum-in-law then caught Covid in stoke rehab and my youngest son had Covid at Uni and had to cope on his own, I wove some of my shortest stories into a novella-in-flash, and that novella has been long-listed for the Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize, which I’m well made up about.

I’m also made up to be sharing the longlist with two of my best feedback biddies (this was meant to say buddies but the typo made me smile so wide, I couldn’t correct it.) So, Michelle Christophorou and Ali McGrane, feedback biddies and flash writers extraordinaire, both have novellas on the Bath long list too, and having read both their works, I’m pretty sure mine stands not a cat in hell’s chance of making the short list. (Making the shortlist is important in this competition because it brings an offer of publication from Ad Hoc Fiction.) But I genuinely won’t mind if mine doesn’t make it – not if theirs’ do – because both their novellas are important pieces of work that really need to be out in the world being read. I can’t say what the titles of any of our novellas-in-flash are, as everything is still being judged anonymously, but it’s all wonderfully encouraging that our collective works have made it through the first stage of selection.

But even that’s not my best writing news this month. Now, as lockdown 3 stutters toward something like relaxation and both my in-laws are home and safe, and new normal is predicated on us all knowing that shit does and will happen, I’m totally stoked (and scared and happy, and anxious and elated) to say that my memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones opened for pre-orders on Tuesday, and that the response has been really wonderful. If you ordered a copy thanks so very much, and if you posted support on Twitter, thankyou thankyou. If you haven’t ordered one yet, you can do so by following the link below. I can genuinely say that, thanks to the beautiful cover created by Triona Walsh, and the care and diligence taken by Amanda Saint at the wonderful, award winning Indy press, Retreat West Books, it is a thing of real and exquisite beauty. If you follow the link https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/the-naming-of-bones/ you’ll be able to read what it’s all about and decide if you’d like a copy or not. If you live overseas and would prefer a paperback copy rather than kindle, you can contact me direct here, or DM me on Twitter @jankaneen1. I have a few copies reserved that I can cost for overseas posting and fulfill myself, taking payment by PayPal.

When the pre-orders went live on Tuesday I was so emotional. Writer buddy and all round insightful good egg Gaynor Jones gave me a heads up this might happen, but I still had no idea that I’d feel such a strange mixture of joy, terror, exposure and relief at the prospect of my story having a life outside my head. I’m still feeling all these things right now as I write this. But I guess that’s all part of the therapeutic journey I’m still very much on, so I’m going to say thanks again to everyone who’s bought and will buy a copy, and to everyone who reads it, then I’m going to screw every atom of my courage to the sticking place, hold on tight and hope for the best.

All Our Yesterdays

So that’s me back in the Hobbit hole then, which feels so different to the first time I came up here to shield last March – like going back to square one somehow.

This time last year just before Covid hit I was about to start what I thought would be a year dedicated to travel. This started with going to Wells-next-the Sea for my birthday then North Sweden to see the Northern lights then to Manc to have coffee and cake with writing good buddy Gaynor Jones, then oop to Bolton to see my sis, dad and nephews and nieces and go to a concert in Manc, then off darne sarf for a Writer’s Retreat with other writer buddies Ali McGrane, Sherry Morris and Amanda Saint, then off to wales for a week with Booboo pug to write in a wee cottage in Llan-non. Me and grumpy husband were then going to go to Italy to visit bessie-mate Kat who moved to just outside Milan in Dec 2019, then Poland to visit my son who lives near Gdansk with his lovely fam, then we were off to Havana and Las Vegas for the trip of a lifetime which of course didn’t happen.

As I look back to this time last year – so much has changed – people I loved have passed away, my pet sidekick too, close family have (and continue to be) be seriously ill. My mum-in-law had a stroke, was in hossie for weeks and weeks then in rehab miles away where on Sunday it was confirmed she has contracted Covid. We can’t visit and as her speech has been effected by the stroke – phoning is not easy. My dad-in-law, who has just about every medical condition you don’t want in a Covid situation – level 6 kidney disease, diabetes, heart failure – had a fall in November and broke his hip. He came back home last night after we’d spent the Christmas break working like furies to get the house adapted, bed downstairs, rising chair borrowed from friends, everything cleaned and cleared – then as we were waiting for him to arrive home last night the news that we are all going back into lockdown. Feels a bit overwhelming if I’m honest. Never have I needed my writing crutch more.

Some in-print books I’ve been in in 2020

I look back on 2020 as a very difficult time in most lights but writing wise, with having had more time to give to it, I actually had my most successful writing year – I won the Segora short story comp, Flash 500, Write from the Heart micro comp, came second in The Fountain essay comp, third in Bath Flash, was a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Awards, Comma Press’s Dinesh Allirajah Award and Fish Flash Fiction Award, and was published in lovely places like Fictive Dream, Ellipsis, Molotov Cocktail and Reflex Fiction’s A Girl’s Guide to Fly Fishing. And that is what I have to build on as we enter the dark days of January 2021. Its weird I was so looking forward to waving goodbye to 2020 just a week ago. It didn’t occur that 2021 might turn out to be even more challenging. But I have to remember there are bright lights on the horizon – doing Matt Kendrick’s flash course next week (my Xmas pressie from grumpy husband) and Retreat West’s flash course in Feb with the uber talented Amanda Saint (birthday pressie from the fam) and then the launch of my memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones on 22nd April. So I really need to give myself a talking to as I move back into shielding. I’m so lucky to have a safe place to retreat to, a family around me, and a writing passion to distract me from thinking those thoughts that think themselves. My lovely kids made a wee book for me as a Christmas pressie. (see above).They scoured the internet for my flashes then set them out in this lovely book. I was soooo moved and I love the picture on the front too. Last summer there was a butterfly that visited often. I put garden flowers on the table outside the hobbit house and it came back again and again and sometimes landed on my head or arm and one day when it did Paulina took this photo. It’s another blessing I need to remember to count.

Anyhoo in the spirit of dredging up some positive thinking – here’s my micro from Writing from the Heart. It feels hard taking my own advice at the moment but as there’s nowt we can do but roll with the punches, I thought I’d post it here just in case it helps anyone anywhere.

It’s my birthday on the 12th which is a crap time to have a birthday at the best of times – right after Christmas with decks all packed away, freezing cold, when everyone’s skint and sick and tired of eating and drinking, which is why I celebrate half birthdays in summer when we can eat out or walk by the river and sing in the garden in drunken bad harmonies. I really hope we will get to do that this year. Happy 2021 blog readers – here’s to the coming summer – when this lockdown will be over, the kids will be back at school and uni, online mates will be meeting up face-to-face, and we’ll be going to concerts and museums and libraries and sitting in cafes watching the world go by, and by midsummer 2021 mass vaccinations will be done and dusted, elderly relies will be well and home, my best friends and family will be sitting round the fire dish in my garden having just stuffed their faces and drunk too much red wine singing Don’t Look Back in Anger at the top of their football crowd voices like there’s no tomorrow, like there was no yesterday.

Yo-yos and Rollercoasters

Brains are weird. They sort of house who you are – your personality, your emotions, your lived experience – but they also sort of navigate you practically through time and space in a way that’s both primed to change in the event of new data but which is also predicated on what has gone before, especially on things you do every day in a kind of default setting way. Let me explain.

Me and Boo-boo down the pub after the first lockdown ended

Before I had the kitchen revamped in 2011 I’d had the bin in the same place for nine years previous. When the kitchen changed, and the bin moved, I found myself launching apple cores, screwed-up crisp packets, orange peel toward the empty place the old bin had been. I did it for months before my brain re-wrote its new bin placement data and for the ‘bin has moved’ default-setting/auto pilot part of my brain to catch up. Until it did, I was in bin limbo.

Today, (and for the previous three weeks) to get to the point I’m trying to make here, I’ve been in beloved-pug limbo, Boo-Boo limbo, constant-companion-through-first-lockdown-who-passed- away-on-the-14th-October-after-a-devastatingly-short-illness limbo.

Don’t get me wrong, October 2020 was one of the most up-and-down I’ve ever loved through (this should have said lived and is a typo, but when I edited I quite liked it and thought it was more appropriate so decided to leave it be). So to re-iterate. October 2020 was one of the most up-and-down I’ve ever loved through, the following being things that happened in addition to Boo-Boo passing away: my mum-in-law had a stroke (and is still in hossie where she’s not allowed visitors because of Covid and waiting to be transferred to the stroke rehabilitation unit but doing as well as can be expected); my youngest son had (and recovered from) Covid whilst away at uni in Nottingham); my eldest son who lives in Poland, got married at a tiny wedding ceremony at the reg office in Reda, Poland which I attended and am now in 14-day isolation after coming back into the country from; and I won third prize in the Bath Flash Prize.

Booboo just back from a walk in Llanon Wales in Feb 2020

So true to say that Oct 2020 has been a yo-yo rollercoaster, and yet my Boo-Boo limbo still persists. Every morning I wake up and my first thought is – must let Boo-Boo out for a wee; every time I answer the door, I think I must make sure the inner door is closed to BooBoo doesn’t run out; when I’m writing or day-dreaming, random Boo-Boo related thoughts pop into my mind – is Boo-Boo’s water fresh? Where shall we walk to today? Oh look at the crow on the lawn, I must release Boo-Boo to chase it away.

I know this Boo-Boo in-my-brain default setting is not indelible. I know that one morning I will wake up and sip my brew before I think of her. I know one day I won’t think of her even then, and that my default setting will have moved on to other habitual musings. But for now I’m just going to go with the flow and feel the pain of Boo-Boo’s ghost still triggering my thoughts, because that pain is a symptom of the love I had for that very small, yappy-with-an-attitude (if you were a crow or squirrel), adorable, loving bundle of life.

Her real name was Boudica, queen of the Iceni (though of all the names I called her it’s the one she didn’t come to). She was Boo-Boo, Boo-Boo Baby, Mrs Boo, All the Boos in all the World, The Booster and I will miss her so terribly until the terrible day I don’t.

Here are some photos of her, including the one I took just before we set off to the vets. Bye Boo. I loved you very much and though one day I know the auto-pilot thoughts I have of you in the most ephemeral parts of my brain will re-write themselves, the gratitude I feel for having shared the planet with you for ten short years, will stay in my heart of hearts for as long as I have any capacity for feeling.

Lots of Lasts

Been a wee while since I last blogged and in that wee while Harry has gone back to uni for his second year, Bob and Karolina have decided to get wed asap (third week of October) so that’s us back to Poland if we don’t get locked down, and I’ve grown (or is that groan) and eaten way too many courgettes and marrows, loads of apples, shed loads of plums, four pears, gazillions of tomatoes, many, many beans and lots and lots of lettuce. But now autumn’s here and it’s time for the last of all these veggies to be boiled, frozen, pickled, dried, preserved etc in all the usual ways. Here’s some pics of the last of the summertime flowers and crops.

But as is always the case with the circle of life, there’s still loads of stuff growing and being sown, the pumpkins are swelling nicely, the spuds are getting bigger and the winter chards are ready to plant out. And nuts. Don’t get me started on nuts. This is the hand of someone who’s been hulling walnuts for a week in order to wrestle some from the squirrels. The green hulls stain your fingers making them look proper filthy and no amount of scrubbing shifts it. You just have to wait for it fade. Anyhow, once the walnuts are hulled they must be dried or they rot, so I dry them for two days by the burner then when they’re light and rattly and sweet as a – well nut – I put them in my suspended, breathable nut storage unit (i.e. my bag from last year’s flash festival) thus uniting my two passions – writing and growing our own.

And there we are, back to the writing. The route was circuitous but we got there in the end. And I have very good news indeed. One of my stories is included in the Best British and Irish Flash Fiction list this year (known as the Biffy 50). Very pleased about this. Here’s the link to all the listed flashes which are free to read including mine. https://theshortstory.co.uk/submissions/best-british-and-irish-flash-fiction-2018-2019-senior-editors/

I’ve also got stories published in print in the Bacopa Literary Review and Molotov V neither of which are free. You have to buy copies but here are links to both, just in case.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08HTM6DKV/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i8

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G9X15YQ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i9

This month I also did a flash fiction workshop with flash guru and all round excellent egg Ken Elkes, which I found brill at freeing up my writing mind in these strange and unsettling times. I wrote several drafts following prompts and suggestions, and ended the week with three drafts I like a lot. If you get chance to do one of his courses I would. Well I did. Here’s the link to his website which gives all the deets. https://kmelkes.co.uk/online-courses/

And finally…saving, as is traditional, the best til last. Trumpet fanfare, drum roll, moment of dramatic pause…

I have a publication date for The Naming of Bones, my debut memoir-in-flash.

It’s 22nd April 2021!

Lots of work to do between now and then editing wise, but so looking forward to working with the amazing Amanda Saint and Gaynor Jones at Retreat West. As soon as there are any announcements I’ll post them here.

Winner, Winner Nut Roast Dinner

It was my step-dad-in-law’s 82nd birthday yesterday and we all went out for a socially distanced Sunday lunch to celebrate. The pub we went to was really excellent at organising a safe space for the gathering of our familial bubble and we sat behind a Plexiglass screen on an outside balcony at a safe distance from everyone else and drank beer and prosecco and had a right laugh. Here is the birthday boy ordering just the one Irish coffee as he tucked into his caramel waffle. I was particularly grateful to get out and raise a glass with him, the boys, Paulina, my husband and mum-in-law because I had something brilliant to celebrate writing wise.

It was the perfect end to a particularly writerly week to be fair, I’d been sent the proofs of the Fish Winners’ Anthology 2020 so I could do any corrections to my included piece; Retreat West had published a video of me reading ‘Sour’ on their You Tube Channel as part of their August Summer Spotlight series which you can watch by following this link, You+Tube+Jan+Kaneen&docid=608029921567969020&mid=FAFB7138CD81D0AB08F0FAFB7138CD81D0AB08F0&view=detail&FORM=VIRE – and I’d just WON the Segora short story competition 2020. The announcement was made on that very Sunday morning – here’s the link to it https://www.poetryproseandplays.com/short_story_howtoenter.htm

You can read my winning story by following the link and clicking on the title. I’m so delighted to have won this comp and am very grateful to the judge and organisers for the opportunity it affords, especially as they donate part of the entry takings to the brilliant charity Médecins Sans Frontières. Having won such a fab prize, I feel ready to properly polish my short story collection and get it sent out to potential publishers.

On the downside, it is a little bit disappointing to miss the presentation/workshop weekend that was planned by Segora before covid-19 hit, but they are going to resurrect it next year when it’s deemed safe to do so. The launch of the Fish Anthology, which was planned to take place in Ireland, has also been cancelled, as was the winners’ party for the Comma Press short-listees at the Northern Short Story Festival in Leeds in May – so it looks like I seriously chose the wrong year to start subbing my short stories if going to gatherings, and meeting other writers was what I wanted to do!

But I won’t let that wee cloud darken the blue-sky feeling I’ve got at the moment. I just need to thank my lucky stars and wonderful feedback buddies for the little slew of success I’ve had recently, and also Grandpa Bri – for having a perfectly timed, wonderfully sunny, deliciously boozy 82nd birthday!

Seeds and Summer and Some Successes

Its been a long time since my last blog and I’m not going to lie – there have been some seriously challenging times for me living up my garden, shielding from this awful virus that has taken so many lives. As I’m lucky enough to a have wonderful garden (see left), and as the weather has been mostly kind, the practicalities of day to day living have been not so bad but I’ve missed people, places and being busy doing ordinary things. Seems like I’m never content though because now England is standing down to mostly unlockdown status due to falling death rates and without any measures other than instructions to keep 1 metre away from each other, and without trace and track technology in place or very much science behind what the Gov are recommending, the world still feels scary to me, and a second wave, a definite rather than an avoidable perhaps. I feel like I’m not so much scared of the virus anymore just the uselessness of the people in charge, and as I have no control over them I’ve been throwing myself into gardening, reading and writing.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flowers-1.jpg

On the bright side now lockdown is more relaxed I’ve also seen some friends and family including my wee grandson and my friend Clarey who rocked up on Saturday to the garden with the lovely flowers here and we did socially distanced chatting without coming up air.

I’ve also done quite a lot of reading and was deeply moved by the memoir ‘A Song Inside’ by Gill Mann which made me cast a different light on my current not-very-difficult-really situation. Here’s a link to the review I wrote about it in case you fancy getting a copy https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53889889-a-song-inside?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=GvkOadmiRi&rank=1

I am currently reading White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, in an attempt come to terms with the gut-wrenchingly shocking murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. White Fragility is essential reading for anyone who wants to unpick and ‘see’ the personal prejudices perpetuated by a white-centric education system and cultural and social constructions that cast white as the default setting and blackness as something ‘other’ and ‘less than.’ Here is the link if you want to find out more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Fragility I would call it essential reading for anyone who wants to start seeing outside the box of white privilege and anyone who wants to better advocate for change and stand with Black Lives Matter.

On the Writing front, I’ve started a new novella-in-flash which stands at around 11k words at the moment and will probably be 15k words when completed. I’ve not subbed any of the new flashes I’ve written for it yet as I’ve been focussing on polishing and subbing short stories and short story length creative non fiction from my (yet to be published) collection of short stories, working title, Intrusive Voices. I’m hoping that any competition wins/placings/listings will help me when trying to get a publisher for the whole collection. I haven’t won anything yet but here’s me reading an extract from ‘The Reassessment’ which was a finalist in the Dinesh Allirajah Prize https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DClVUDmiA The anthology it’s published in, is for sale here – its only 99p! https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B085S922PM/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0https:/

My piece of Creative Non-fiction, Voices and Real Monsters came second in The Fountain Magazine competition. They’ve not published it yet but here’s the link to the announcement https://fountainmagazine.com/blog/2019-2020-essay-contest-winners I’m super delighted with this not just because this is a well-respected free comp in a magazine with a large progressive readership that had over 1000 entries, but also because the second prize is $500! And as my laptop has spent the last month crashing at least 20 times a day in these cash-strapped times, it will enable me to either get my current laptop fixed or buy a new one!

I’ve also had a story short-listed in the Writers’ Alliance of Gainesville annual competition which means said story, entitled ‘Splinters,’ will be published in the Bacopa Review. I’ll find out if I’ve won any money at the end of the month. On the whole then my short story subbing is going quite well. I’ve entered a couple more UK comps too which are yet to be announced so fingers crossed.

One of the loveliest things I’ve been involved in this year is Fictive Dream’s Flash February. This wonderful litzine published a flash fiction every day in February accompanied by different original artwork by the wonderful and talented Claudia McGill. The artwork was then available free of charge to the authors. Here are the pictures that illustrated my story which I have put into clip frames and which now sit in my makeshift temporary bedroom bringing me such joy. Writing is such a blessing for me, it lets me express joy, my darkest fears, brings in the odd bit of cash and sometimes conjures up added extras like these wonderful artworks.

Trees and Caircraft, three weeks of shielding 8/4/2020

When I got my last new car I spent a couple of weeks driving it round like it was made of glass, terrified I might have an accident in something so shiny and brand spanking new (to me). After two weeks it had started to fill with old water bottles, stinky rugby kit, forgotten takeaway wrappers left (mostly) by greedy teenagers, and I was thrashing up and down muddy fen roads like I had with my previous wreck. It had, in short, stopped being the new car and become just, the car. Same thing happened this week with living in hobbitland and being shielded from the rest of the family living in the main house. It stopped being new normal and became just the way things are.

During the week social distancing became ordinary, George worked from home pretty well; we had an isolated barbecue on Sunday when the weather was gorgeous which Paulina prepped to perfection and Nick cooked; I worked out the age of our copper beech by employing beginners trigonometry – turns out it’s about 185 years old; I had some brill writing news which I can’t mention until Friday and did fab free Arvon writing course devised by Tania Hershman; Nick had a huge break-though with his corona-provoked website and Caircraft project; and we had a MORRISONS DELIVERY.

Re Caircraft. When Nick was setting up his covid-19 information website he spoke to loads of people in the medical profession who were worried about lack of Intensive Care Unit beds and equipment which people suffering from the worse c-vid symptoms need to save their lives. At the same time planes were being grounded with Virgin even asking for a govt bail-out. Nick had the idea of recommissioning grounded planes and adapting them to become IC wards because they provide an unconventional solution to a new and huge problem. Planes are not being used, have inbuilt and adaptable oxygen delivery systems, are sealed units and so good at containing infections, and airports are optimally served infastructure wise and are surrounded by hotels to put up medical staff. Also when this is all over the planes can be un-adapted and go back to their previous lives, ready to be recommissioned should this ever happen.

Once he’d thunk it he worked like a fury speaking to medical and aviation experts some of whom were so enthused by the idea they decided to form a group called Caircraft. This week they did a press release and The Times ran an editorial. They were hoping to reach the ear of the UK Govt but unfortunately poor old Boris was taken ill and is now too poorly to talk to so its hard to know who’s really running things, and until he’s better I don’t think there’s anyone able to make it so. (I should say politics wise I’ve never voted tory in my life but wouldn’t wish what’s happening to Boris on anyone and wish him a speedy and complete recovery). Anyhoo, to cut a long story short, The Times editorial was picked up by Reuters and the story circulated throughout the world and loads of journals did articles including The New York Times. There’s been lots of interest from the US so watch this space. Its an innovative idea that could save thousands of lives if he can get it off the ground (to use the most inappropriate metaphor ever.)

In other life changing news, the Morrisons Delivery really showed how times have a changed. Never before has a grocery delivery caused such house-wide excitement. Cupboards were prepped, fridges cleaned, the car moved to give the driver clear access. The family was up at the crack of sparrows waiting at the window with a strange mixture of anxiety (that he might not come) mixed with Christmas-eve excitement at the prospect of hotcross buns, toothpaste and LOO ROLL. When the delivery arrived it was like a military exercise, Harry on onloading, Paulina on unpacking, me on standing two meters away issuing giddy instructions. It was like all our ships had come in!

Re the Arvon free five day workshop which is still live and still free. Here’s the link in case you fancy it https://www.arvon.org/5-day-short-story-challenge/ I found it a brill thing to do and wrote a flash like nothing I’ve ever done before.

Last night there was a pink super moon. It was a bit hidden by the trees when I took this photo at about nine. I took another at 12.30 but it didn’t show what it was like at all. It wasn’t just the moon that was astonishing – it was the light. I’ve never seen such a bright moonshine night, gin clear but weirdly dark too, like clear dark daylight. Apparently these pink super moons are quite rare and one won’t come around again anytime soon. Which means, I suppose, that next time there is one, this crisis will be over. Same moon very different world I suspect.

And so it continues – 2 weeks of shielding – 31st March

So much has happened and not happened since I blogged last Wednesday and as today is sort of a milestone (the end of the month) I thought I’d better put finger to keyboard and log events. In our familial universe, the make-shift gym has been supplemented by the acquisition of a borrowed bench press and weights which one of Harry’s friends left outside his house and Harry brought back home (as his daily exercise) then disinfected. They now live on the patio outside the hobbit house under three makeshift tarpaulins weighted down with the humongous rocks Harry gathered for his first, more make-do-and-mend home gym construction. Harry comes up every afternoon and blasts out rap music whilst working up a sweat. On Sunday George and Paulina joined in, working on their shoulders whilst listening to the music. Unfortunately George, who unlike his brother, is not a keep fit fanatic, badly pulled a muscle which sort of popped out of his shoulder at the back and sent a pain right down his arm. He was on pain killers all night and unable to work from home in the morning (yesterday) and had to (at the worst time ever) call the doctors. The line was dead at first, then just rang and rang and rang, then eventually a very hassled-sounding receptionist said they don’t do face-to-face consultations any more and that a doctor would call back. When the doctor did call back he diagnosed a damaged muscle and a trapped nerve and told George to call in at the surgery for an unfit-to-work letter and some codeine. George duly did this but is still in quite alot of pain and unable to tap at his computer and/or hold his phone. Is there a moral in this? Not sure, but keep safe peeps whilst you’re taking your exercise. Accidents still happen even in lockdown and the last thing we need is to stress out the health providers any more than they already are.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family poodle on in new normal, Harry doing uni work, Nick working on his website, Paulina cooking and shopping (she made us all some brilliant custard slices from scratch with puff pasty) and me beavering away in the self-shielding hobbit hole. My colleague, and head of hobbit hole security has been working at keeping me company and staring very, very hard (every time I eat something mostly. ) Her gimlet gaze is captured on this photo taken a couple of weeks ago in Llan-on. I swear that pug can well-up on demand. She’s like the Olivia Coleman of the canine world.

In the big outside, the Prime Minister and most of his fighting-the-covid-19-team have caught the bug and are (we are lead to believe) not very poorly at home and still running the country, also Prince Charles has had the bug too and is now feeling miles better having passed it no-one of any great importance so far as we know, I.e. the Queen and Prince Phillip.

Bucking the mild-symptom trend amongst the rich and powerful, thousands continue to die world-wide and the first frontline NHS worker in the UK died having caught the disease in the line of duty. Huge sympathy and respect to his friends and family, and to the NHS workers who are out there everyday struggling to keep people alive.

Last Thursday the UK went outside their closed front doors to give a round of applause to NHS workers everywhere to express gratitude and appreciation. I ventured into the thick blackness outside my hobbit hole feeling a bit daft and sad all by my lonesome, but both my dead mothers were nurses and would, had they been still alive and in good health, been working tirelessly to save lives so, bang on 8 I started clapping, and it was so moving. Our silent village burst into a wall of resounding applause, then whooping. I’ve lived here over 20 years and I’ve never heard anyone whooping before but it was really brilliant. I whooped a bit myself for a couple of minutes, then went back indoors where I wept a little in gratitude and because I didn’t feel quite so alone, like I was part of a community that really gave a shit and was prepared to do unprecedented whooping to prove it.

It really makes you think this crisis. About society’s keys workers on whom everything depends: nurses, doctors, shop workers, post people, bin emptiers, cleaners, delivery drivers – they are amongst some of the worst paid workers in society and yet it is them that keeps the world turning and who are keeping our society ticking along. I truly hope the captains of industry and the politicians remember that when this is all over and pay them well enough to live comfortably, and in term of the healthcare workers give them the proper equipment they need to do their invaluable work.

But enough of this semonising, now the schools and unis are closed and non essential workers are working at home or on hiatus, now lockdown is being observed by most of the population who now only leave home for short walks and essential shopping, the government have started to level with us that the lock down will not be short. The PM has snail mailed us all a letter apparently though we haven’t got ours yet, but on yesterday’s daily covid-19 news update (which is apparently getting huge viewing figures as the nation tunes in each day to get the latest), they started to tell us we may well be inside for a good six months if not longer. It seems almost impossible to think forward to September, but it will come, eventually. September is my busiest month family and friends birthday wise. The sixteenth of September is a birthday shared by my sis, and good mate Crispy Jowett as well as my husband’s best mate Al. The 15th is my mate Hel’s birthday and the 6th is Harry’s and the 13th is shared by my 85 year-old mum in law and my 84 year-old dad. I can’t help but wonder how we’ll celebrate all these birthdays this year. Times are so strange and uncertain. The picture above is of Hel’s 50th and Harry’s 10th shared birthday tea round our big table in the place we had it before we had a proper kitchen. Makes you wonder when we’ll all be able to get together like that again. Maybe this September if we’re lucky. Only time will tell.

On the writing front, I’m doing this https://www.arvon.org/5-day-short-story-challenge-introduction/ which is free and really good fun so far, if you fancy joining in. Yesterday I followed the prompt instructions and wrote something so weird, it even weird for me. Not sure what we’ll all be doing today but looking forward to it if yesterday’s exercise is anything to go by.