Saturday, 17 April 2021

(Nearly) spring update

 
elliswhittam.com

Mid-April (already), the weather is glorious, if still on the cool side, and it's been a very busy week and a half.

After my extra-long Easter weekend, I did some overtime last weekend. I've always said that I'm willing to do it, so I was happy to finally get some - it's just that I'm no longer the age where my body is so glad of it! Ha ha! It doesn't come on offer very often - this is, in fact, only my second time doing it in five years - and I put in 16.5 hours! We were falling behind on our report typing so I hammered out six or seven reports, including one that took me about 4.5 hours to type (house worth £££££££££££££££££££ in London). I got a few other bits & pieces sorted out as well, so it was well worth it. Feeling less stressed now, although I'm POOPED! Friday couldn't come quick enough and it felt like three days in one with all that was happening. What a very weird day it was.

It means, though, that I've got a chunk of overtime pay coming to me at the end of the month, which I'm pleased about, and I'll put a little extra towards my debt. I'm not feeling quite as pressured about it all at the moment for some reason. Stressing about it doesn't help it get paid any faster and just makes things much grimmer than they are. Slow and steady is the only way I can do it, although I *am* doing some research into ways of writing it off or at least reducing payments. There are options out there, I'm just torn about it all as it would ruin a credit rating I've worked really hard for. And, as it's all my own fault, I feel a sense of responsibility to get it sorted the same way. You know? It's something I've been rolling around in my mind for a long time - have even gone to see someone already about it, and is something I keep coming back to. The psychic advised (I asked specifically about money) to take an option of writing some off if given the opportunity, so that lined up nicely. She said - which makes a lot of sense - that the Government is going to have to do something because once furlough ends in September, there will be a LOT of people who have incurred incredible debt who are going to need help with it. That much collective debt can seriously damage a country's economy, so they'll have to offer something.

Anyhow. I added up my debt the other day and was surprised, and rather pleased, to see it wasn't as much as I thought, which is good, although it's still more than I'd like. The slow and steady approach is good, it's just...slow.

To that end, I have also chased a review at work. I wasn't going to be narky about it this year simply because last year was so weird, but because things have changed at work I feel I need one (and deserve one), so I asked. No set date, just when there's time. So, that's something at least.

I signed up for a free online forensic course through the University of Strathclyde. I've done a genealogy course through them as well, which was excellent. I thought this might help with my writing. If I can figure out HOW a crime is solved via forensics (obviously, the course is basic and we don't get the magic of the background scientific work to work with), then perhaps I can build a crime working with those aspects. It's a six-week course, released one week at a time. Last week, week one, was the foundations of the course, what we could expect and reviewing a crime scene that is the basis for the course. We'll be building on that as we go, taking each part of the process bit by bit to see how it all works together. It's so interesting! Week Two is on my to do list for this weekend.

I've also registered for about a million talks at the Welsh Crime Festival. The first official one is planned for next year in Aberystwyth, but they've gone online this year as a precursor to that. Lots of discussions about writing and ideas and finding your voice, etc. Fantastic - and entirely free. So, honestly, have signed up for most of the talks (I think 15 out of 18 - and I might just go back and join the rest!). My evenings from 22 April are going to be busy! :)

I was awake early (not unusually) this morning and by 8:00 had already done my laundry and had a cheesecake in the oven! Today is a beautiful day, but I really just need to spend some time here and get some rest and a few things done around the flat. Tomorrow is more of the same, weather-wise, and I'm going to take myself for a nice walk at the reserve. I'll cobble together a lunch and take myself out for a couple of hours.

All our 'non-essential' stuff re-opened on Monday and it's been like kids in a candy store. Absolute madness. Not necessarily a bad thing, but nothing will really change for me. The holiday let portion of the B&B is back open and already busy, pubs, bars, restaurants, charity shops, hairdressers and barbers, etc. I'm glad for them, this last lockdown was a tough one - felt like it lasted forever. 

Here's our current guide:

Business and activities

Step 2, which will be no earlier than 12 April, will see the opening of non-essential retail; personal care premises such as hairdressers and nail salons; and public buildings, including libraries and community centres. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will also reopen (but only for use by people on their own or in household groups); as will most outdoor attractions and settings including outdoor hospitality venues, zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas. Self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, can also reopen.

Hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors at Step 2 and there will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks and no curfew, although customers must order, eat and drink while seated (‘table service’). Wider social contact rules will apply in all these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households.

Events

While funerals can continue with up to 30 mourners, the number of people able to attend weddings, receptions and commemorative events such as wakes will rise to 15.

Next step is 17 May.

And then, assuming all goes well, we're back to 'full normal' from 12 June. My colleague says she's pretty sure we'll be back in lockdown again come autumn, and I agree, but at least we can maybe have a good summer. Optimistic, or what? Ha ha!

Really, the Government is damned if they do, damned if they don't. I'm marginally more optimistic with this new 'slow release' plan, but I still maintain that shops and pubs and restaurants and every place where people gather in crowds can put every single possible measure - and more! - in place to make/keep their staff and patrons as safe as possible, but if people don't give a shit and don't want to follow the rules, then THAT IS THE REASON WE'RE STILL HERE. Businesses can only do so much. Pubs were already in trouble, and this past year has been particularly devastating to the industry. There are plenty that simply won't have been able to make it, along with many, many other businesses - some of our big High Street names, a few of which were in trouble prior to the pandemic, have had this underscore their issues and they've closed their doors or some of their shops. I'm not surprised that pubs and hairdressers were full to bursting on Monday. It's actually quite nice to see life back to relatively normal, although we still have a little way to go yet. I've been far from perfect, but I'm looking forward to getting back into the charity shops for sure.

It's affected me differently because I've only really had one lockdown - I've been working since last July and have effectively missed the last two. I've been 'back to normal' a lot longer than most, so nothing will change for me, even with more things reopening. My colleague is astounded by that - she's already got plans to eat out, go places, see people, do stuff, get her hair done, get her nails done, etc. There are almost 25 years between us, however, so our normals are already very different! I'm very much a homebody generally, and only eat out when I meet up with my cousin or something. I'm looking forward to at last getting together with friends for our monthly walks, though.

Anyhow. Here we still are to a degree. But at least the weather is good again - that, I'm sure, is why the last lockdown felt harder, dreary winter weather - and we can get outside more easily. People are feeling better too now, with things open and the sun out, even if it is still relatively cool. That helps a lot.

I hope you're all as well as you can be under our various circumstances and can have a restful and enjoyable weekend. x

Monday, 5 April 2021

Easter laziness


HAPPY EASTER!

It's been, so far, an excellent weekend for the most part. I had a somewhat stressful day on Thursday, worrying about the chat the office manager was aiming to have with my colleague and texted her to find out how things went. She came back to me later to say not to worry because it hadn't been a day especially conducive to chats. Phew! I imagine she'll try to have a chat tomorrow instead when there isn't anyone else in the office. Hopefully, all will go well.

The weather was glorious so I sat in the reserve reading for a couple of hours until my friend came to collect the lamb and a couple of other things necessary for yesterday's meal. He was on his way home from 10 days working in Essex and detoured here for an hour. It was good to catch up as I hadn't seen him since Christmas.

On Friday, my birthday, the weather again was beautiful and while I wanted to be outside, I didn't want to walk, so I took myself to the closest shop, bought a picnic of sorts, and headed back to the reserve where I spent most of the afternoon reading. I initially couldn't figure out why it was so busy (comparatively), then of course remembered that it was a holiday, the good weather driving folks outside now that restrictions have eased a little. I didn't have to go far to find a bench to sit on. There's one not far inside the reserve, a little way down the 'wrong way' path (the reserve is open and has set up a system of one way routes). I can set myself up and hardly see anyone. There were loads of birds around, too, so it was the perfect relaxing spot.

Saturday I met up with my cousin for a walk and a birthday lunch. We took her dog, Bonnie, off to the forest and spent over an hour getting caught up and getting in a decent walk at the same time. Cows and ponies aplenty, as well as others out getting some proper exercise. The weather was cooler than I had anticipated, so it was good to get back to her place although her boiler isn't working so it wasn't a whole lot warmer there either! Ha ha! She'd made a Moroccan Tagine which was delicious. I've never had one before, but it's super easy to make and is something I need to add to my recipe cache for cooler weather.

I finally posted a parcel to my sister too, that I've had hanging around for a few months (because I can't be bothered to go to the post office...). I posted it at the village post office near my cousin's house. It's nothing too exciting - a blanket and my knitting bag/bits that I don't use and are just taking up space here. My sister said she'd take them off my hands, so it was just getting around to posting them that was delaying everything. It's good to have done it and have three fewer things cluttering my flat.

I'm probably not the only person who's been decluttering during lockdown. I imagine, much like last time, the charity shops will be overrun with things. Some of them had requested appointments be made for donation offerings and I imagine it will be much the same this time. I know I've got a box and a couple of bags of things to get rid of. Not sure what they're doing about books - many were not taking these - so will have to see. Maybe there are some options online to get rid of them. It's part of the reason I don't buy books anymore and just read on my Kindle. Some libraries aren't taking donations anymore, and the thrift shops are regularly overwhelmed with them. Anyway, only a few more days until re-opening and I'll get an appointment if I need to. I'm getting desperate for some new duds, too, so keen to have the thrift shops open again!

Yesterday's lunch was excellent. There was aperitifs, lamb, salmon (for me), a beef broth with homemade tortellini, salad, lentils, roast potatoes, cabbage, wine and lemon mousse cake. The five of us did very well to get through a sizeable portion of it over about three hours. I had my usual 'inch' of wine to start and that was it for me. It was a dry white wine, quite lovely, and now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not actually sure I even finished it! Ha ha! I remember putting the glass on the window sill behind me and then simply forgot about it.

The cake I made was a hit - a lemon mousse cake. I've never made one before, never mind just a mousse, and wasn't sure it would work, as when I took it out of the tin in the morning it started to 'melt' a little so had to put it back in (!). It went into my friend's freezer for an hour or so when I arrived for the meal, then into the fridge for a couple of hours after that. That seems to have worked as, while it was a bit softer than it was supposed to be (a volume issue, I think), it hung together well and was quite delicious, although sweeter than I was anticipating. One of the guests had two pieces and is apparently still talking about it this morning, so I'm pleased it worked out so well. Fortunately, there are some leftovers in my friend's fridge so he's welcome to them.

The warm temperatures of last week have halved today, and it's cool and cloudy. I'm not sure what I'm feeling like doing and how motivated I am to do it.  Reading, probably, now that I'm fully re-engaged with it. I finished reading a book this morning - the Dales Detective Series, by Julia Chapman, if you're interested - and now have to wait another year for the next one. It's one of my favourite series and the biggest annoyance is that it takes so long to write! Ha ha! Characters, story, plot, and multiple threads of intrigue, mystery, romance and glorious descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales.

I've whizzed through a decent number of books in the past couple of weeks (you can see them there on the right-->), some good, some not as good. I'm trying to read more non-fiction, but I don't always get it right. Obviously reading is subjective (writing is an art form after all), and not everyone will agree with my assessments, but I still have a long list of reviews to get done this year. I'm not one, however, to keep reading something that I'm not enjoying - life is too short for that. I used to, but now it's simply not worth it, not when there's so much that I really want to read. I've sadly given up on about four books already this year, while others have surprised me.

I hope you're all enjoying your long weekend as much as you can.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Taking a little break... :)

 

Happy April all! No, not taking a(nother) break from blogging; I have a few days off work. Obviously, part of it is the Easter holidays, but I've got today and Tuesday off around that as well. I'm really feeling I need a good rest, and this worked out well, seeing as tomorrow is my birthday anyway. The holiday gods organised that nicely! :)

I've not been sleeping especially well the past couple of weeks, and work has been a bit of a roller coaster so I've got very little motivation to do much of anything, although feel I need to be reasonably productive as there are still things I have to do. I'm going to see my cousin for a walk and a birthday lunch on Saturday, then have an Easter/birthday lunch on Sunday... and that's it! I need to do a grocery shop in there somewhere too as I'm making something for Sunday (thinking along the lines of a lemon mousse cake). There's going to be five of us. We're having an Italian Columba cake for dessert (hooray!), and there will be plenty of wine and food.

I've registered for a number of online writing retreats and festival discussions this month. There's a new Welsh Crime Writers' Festival, and as this is their first year, and it's an unusual one, they're offering loads of talks and discussions online for FREE! So I registered for most of them the last week of April through to May 3. I've also registered for an online writing retreat via The Guardian's Masterclass offerings, 'Finding Your Voice', which is hosted by Kate Moss, Abi Dare, and Kishani Widyaratna. It was only £32 and sounds fantastic. I attended Sleurthfest two weeks ago - my first online conference of any kind - and got a lot of great information from it. They had an exceptionally scaled-back version of the annual conference, with only about seven talks compared to a number of normally about 40 talks, presentations, discussions, booths, etc., so for what it was, I enjoyed it. Some of it didn't apply - the marketing of your published book, for example - but I got a lot out of the editor/agent query letter and synopsis talk, as well as the Clues and Misdirection talk, which is why I originally signed up.

If I'm not actually writing, gathering information and ideas is still part of the process, so I'm pleased I'm at least making a more concerted effort around it. It's easy enough to sit and listen to someone talk, take notes and process. And there is always, always, something to learn, or that might give you that little spark of inspiration you need to get started again.

Work is beginning to get to me a bit. My new colleague is lovely, sweet and funny, but I'm not sure I have an emotional and empathetic/sympathetic well deep enough to continuously prop her up and calm her anxiety. Actually, scratch that: I know I don't. She came back on Tuesday from a couple of days off and was so upset to find emails and work to do she was crying (I cover her job while she's gone, but I focus on the priority stuff - getting jobs booked, etc. - and will leave some of the less urgent items for her. This is a carryover from my previous colleague). I got the impression that she seemed to think that because there were jobs waiting to be booked, I was apparently NOT doing her job. Never mind that on Friday I cleared up what she hadn't completed to that point, booked the jobs that came in on Friday and then cleared/changed/booked jobs on Monday. I couldn't get to everything, so I left what was left for her return. About 10 jobs?

I think it boiled down to a mixture of her assumptions that everything would be cleared and she'd start with a folder empty of jobs - I can do nothing about her personal email inbox - and me perhaps saying 'I cover your job' without being specific. I don't know. Anyway... I tried to explain things as best I could, then took about three hours to help clear stuff up, which took time away from things I needed to do...

Should I have helped? There are actually two answers.

Yes, because otherwise it wouldn't get done. She struggles to get all the jobs booked over the course of a week. She's painfully slow because she's so focussed on not making a mistake, they start to pile up, she gets stressed and frustrated, people start calling to chase booking dates, her anxiety increases and I have to soothe and support and then I help because otherwise it wouldn't get done...

And

No, because it's not my job. All this is taking time away from work I need to complete, leaves the office manager literally typing reports all day and taking time away from tasks she also needs to complete, leaves the accountant having to do filing that isn't her responsibility and taking time away from what she needs to do. Realistically, as the accountant says, let her get on with it and deal with the consequences.

To be fair, it is reasonably busy. People are anxious to get surveys booked with the clock winding down on the stamp duty holiday, which ends in June, and it can feel relentless. I understand that. Our surveyors are struggling to keep up, our booking dates are sitting at a minimum three weeks ahead, we have a new surveyor who's just started and finding his feet, and we're all feeling the pressure. It's not where we were six months ago - or even three months ago - but it can be pretty overwhelming. So, it's not that I don't have sympathy for her. I do, and we're still in a weird time where there's no full complement of staff in the office. The office manager is in today, though, and is going to have a chat with her about...stuff...and I hope everything (at least as much as possible) is sorted out. I commend her for not wanting to feel taken advantage of, nobody should feel that, but at the same time, she needs to recognise how it's affecting the rest of us. I think a lot of it goes back to the (lack of) training she had. If I or the office manager had been able to at least be there while it was happening, I think things might be a bit different. I have said this to her.

She has also had no previous experience with surveying and starting a new job is always a struggle for a little while. It's a very big learning curve, so I'm trying to be as supportive and helpful as I can.

Anyway. I'm complaining too much - I've never won an employee of the month prize, and know I have a tendency to slack off if given the opportunity. Perhaps this is payback. I'm just frustrated because I want her to succeed and be happy but right now it's very uncertain. She has her three-month review at the end of next week, so I guess we'll see how it goes. If she's unhappy, she needs to say so. If she's feeling taken advantage of, she needs to say so. Ultimately, I feel it's entirely her decision whether she stays or not.

I had a blog writing trial with the proofreading company which I thought might work into some part-time income but unfortunately wasn't successful. I was initially disappointed, as I thought it would have been a nice part-time gig, but after a little thought, I realised that I would have been quite resentful of the time needed to focus on it and that it wasn't quite my niche. So, I'm okay with that.

I had my first vaccine jab last week and it went very well. Quick and painless. I was very tired the next day, but otherwise, I've been fine apart from a tender arm. They were super efficient too, and the whole process took less than 10 minutes from arrival to departure.

My full bloodwork got done the week before that and my chat with the nephrologist the following Tuesday was very positive. Everything is right where it should be: cholesterol is spot on, all the numbers and whatever else they needed to see is excellent, so I'm very relieved. It means only an annual check to monitor things now, and she said to just keep doing what I'm doing (mind the salt!) as it was all looking good. I did tell her that I get quite fatigued and have taken to taking an OTC iron pill (14mg = 100% daily iron requirement) and she was fine with that. And yesterday I had a health check with my new surgery which, I didn't realise, was to do an intake to see what sort of health issues might need to be ascertained. Whoops! Apparently, because I'm already aware of specific issues and on it, it was a bit of a waste of time, although I now know my blood pressure (low) and they have some notes on my file. Hopefully, all the bloodwork information will arrive soon and they'll have all the information they need.

Otherwise, have polished off two more books and am most of the way through a third. Hoping to clear at least one or two more this weekend. The weather is slated to be warm, so maybe the best place to read will be the reserve. That would be a treat!

Have a safe and enjoyable Easter weekend!

Sunday, 21 March 2021

The end of March is nigh

 

So, when did that happen? We're crawling towards the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as Lockdown Exit 3.1.1 inches closer. Schools have gone back already, and each stage appears to be in bi-weekly steps, which is quite sensible, seeing as we're moving forward with the vaccinations quite well. 

I have my first vaccine jab booked for 27 March, the second for 12 June.

What have I been doing otherwise? 

I had the onboarding session with the proofreading/editing company I took my course through, but have yet to find any jobs on the portal. Because we're currently limited to a max of 750 words while we get our editing feet under us, there's not a lot of work in that range available, and quite a number of new people who are likely all in the same place as me. I think part of the problem for me is that I'm only really available on weekends, but I do check during the week on occasion and have only seen one item - which was due three hours from when I saw it! Yikes! Not enough time for me to proof as a newbie.

They have since approached all editors with an opportunity to write for their blog (two posts per week), so I've thrown my hat into that ring and we'll see what happens there. If you get on board with them, it's a great fee so would be really worthwhile. All I can do is try, right?

I rearranged my flat last week. For some reason (spring?) I was itching to do it, so cleared it with my landlady (watch the floors!), and off I went. Two hours later, I had changed a few things around and it feels SO much better in here, bigger somehow. I took down a wardrobe in the bedroom, too, and moved my plants to the living room. It now feels more open and fresh. Much better. Helped a little, of course, by the sweeping and tidying I did as I went along.

I've been reading again! Quite a lot. I struggled with this for a couple of years and it's been so frustrating. I love to read (L.O.V.E.) and while my TBR pile and choice of reading material isn't the latest high-brow, literary, or award-winning type stuff, it's meant I can get back to do something that gives me great pleasure, no matter what I'm reading. To that end, I've veritably 'whizzed' through 14 books since January. Compared to last year's total 23 books, I'm definitely on a roll which I hope continues.

My new colleague is settling in slowly, which is good. We had a new surveyor start and then abruptly leave only a week later (a record, I think), but already have a new one replacing him next week! I'm adjusting to a somewhat new role (although not officially) and trying to keep my personal feelings about the situation within that to a minimum. They're rattling around in my head regardless, but it's because I know something I'm not supposed to, and there's nothing to be done about it at the moment.

I registered for an online writer's convention this weekend - Sleuthfest - out of Florida. It was only $20 and has been quite good. Considering it's my first ever writer's convention, I guess it's what I was expecting, but also not what I was expecting. Ha ha! Sort of like my very first glimpse of Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain, way back in 1996 (?): 'What, that's it?' (It's changed A LOT since then, and not necessarily in a good way).

It's hard to explain, but it's exceptionally truncated: only six or seven forums, as opposed to more than 40 (from what I understand) that would be there in Normal Times, so I guess the main thing is at least it's going ahead and the organisers are doing it as best they can under the circumstances. I'd never heard of it before (no surprise), but thought it might be worthwhile. And the talk I 'attended' last night was very interesting, 'Clues & Misdirection'. I made lots of notes! :D

I've got a couple of days holiday coming up around the long Easter weekend. It's my birthday on Good Friday, so took 1 & 6 April as holiday days, so I could have a proper long weekend. I'm going to have an Easter/birthday lunch with my friends at the old address which I'm really looking forward to. They're having lamb. I don't eat lamb, so I'll have to get something else.

I had some bloodwork done on Friday (long overdue - me not being organised) and have a telephone appointment with a nephrologist on Tuesday to see how things look. I'm feeling reasonably good lately - stopped eating so much bread. What a difference (sadly)! - so hopefully everything looks okay from their end. I took the bus down to the hospital, and six vials of blood and a urine sample later I was all done. I was back in the office just over an hour after I left. Not bad!

Yesterday, I had an online reading with a psychic I've seen before. My new colleague's mum is her best friend (!) so put in a word, and I got a slot yesterday because she'd had a cancellation. Lucky me! This lady has a HUGE waiting list. I saw her a couple of years ago and was really impressed. Yesterday's reading was excellent - several things cropped up that were the same/similar to my last reading with her, which I thought was interesting - and I'm feeling quite positive and pleased with it all. The underlying message is to take things slowly this year. This is already something I've been told to do, so that was interesting. Whether you're a believer or not, sometimes it's just nice to have some confirmation that you're on the right path, you know?

I'm still walking to work every day. According to my pedometer app, I've now walked 450 miles - Boston to Philly - so that's quite an accomplishment I'd say! I average about 6,000 steps per day, which is still a bit less than I'd like, but I'm consistent, which I think is the key right now, and I'm hoping to head into the reserve in the evenings, once it stays light later. It's a half-hour walk around the 'short' route, and that's sufficient before or after dinner.

Otherwise, my immediate future plans include such exciting things as repotting all my plants, something which is DESPERATELY overdue, weeding (more) stuff out of the flat for either selling or donating, buying another bird feeder, possibly going to see my sister in Devon at some point, and making - again - serious adjustments to both my eating and spending habits. The food thing cropped up in yesterday's reading, as it did two years ago, so it's obviously something I need to take to heart.

So that's about it from my little corner of the Kingdom. I hope this finds you well & safe where you are!

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Commenting

 

vhsfletchers.co.uk

Weird. I can't seem to comment on posts for some reason. I tried several times last weekend and only got a notification that there was some kind of an error... ?? Same thing just now. So, please note that I'm trying, but am blocked/restricted somehow. And it's definitely me, not you because others are able.