Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo: the writing dilemma

I haven't done Writing Wednesday for a long time for a simple reason: I haven't been doing much writing. It turns out that our summer (if I can be so bold as to call it that) sapped my mojo and it has been a struggle to kick it back into action. I can tell how drained I became as I was barely reading and that, I have to tell you, is practically a life crisis! I can't remember a time when I didn't love to lose myself in a book.

Yet I long to write. When we were canal boating back in May I spent hours at the tiller, chugging along the beautiful waterways, planning stories and phrases, plotting the outline to a chapter or coming up with the perfect description of the scenery I passed. As soon as I stopped: bam! It is gone! There may be some lessons to learn from this.

1  Always make notes as you think of ideas.
2  The pace of canal life is great for writing motivation.
3  Dry land is not so good.

Of course, the main factor is time. Work went a little crazy for a couple of months and my children are always a drain on resources. That is nothing compared to many writers, who scribble away at their masterpieces from the most time-pressured, child-infested lives possible. Perhaps I needed even more pressure in order to get going.

And so, I note that NaNoWriMo approaches. For those of you who are unaware of this phenomenon it is short for National Novel Writing Month - the month being November. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Now, I'll not go into the argument that 50,000 words does not constitute a novel, nor into the pros and cons of writing so intensively expecting publication by the end of December. No - instead I'll focus on the merits of getting into a writing habit. Or, in my case, back into it.

The challenge equates to 1,667 words per day (that allows me to stop at 1,657 on the last day - the mathematician within me insists on calculating, and saving, those extra 10 words). If I aimed for 2,000 every day that I could allow me 5 days off. Even if I achieved 1,000 per day I could be writing enough words to top up one of my partly written memoirs practically to book length. Then I could spend a happy Christmas editing (ahem!)

Can I do this to myself? More importantly, can I afford not to do this to myself? The challenge is out there. Perhaps I should just give it a whirl and see where I get.

Or else I should buy a narrowboat and become a hermit.

What do you think?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Car Story, Part II: ...and In with the New

After the month that it has taken to get our old car collected and taken away it would be fair to think that we might be more lucky with the process to purchase a new car.


Well, a little bit right. It wasn't quite such a frustrating waste of my time. But only just!

About the same time as I was first arranging the collection of our old car, we paid the deposit on the new car. We were told that it was in transit and it was possible - though not probable - that it would be ready by the end of September. I would be phoned on Wednesday to confirm its arrival date.

Wednesday came...and went...

(This blog post is already sounding very familiar!)

During the succeeding two weeks I rang the garage repeatedly to check on its progress. Their policy (or so it appears) is to not respond to any phone calls made in the morning until at least 3.30pm, more usually 5.30pm. This I note as a frustration rather than a crisis.

Finally - finally! - the car got as far as Grimsby.

"It may be ready for you on Friday," I was told, "but definitely the following week."

Friday came...and went...

"It's on the loader tomorrow," I was told, "and here on Wednesday, so you can collect it on Friday."

This was reasonable, as I know they had to do a couple of things for it to be ready for us (not least of which was to fit a towbar!)

So I arrange to go in last Friday at midday to collect the car.

Now, how long do you expect it to take to collect a brand new car from a showroom?

At 2.15pm I was free to drive away.

That's right: 135 minutes of waiting. A few bits of form-filling, a lot of form-signing but mostly, mainly, a lot of waiting. And an awful cup of tea.

I think the 'hand-slams-into-forehead' moment was when, after over 90 minutes, I was given the car keys, only to have one set taken away so he could drive round the corner and fill it with fuel. Couldn't someone else have done that whilst I was ticking all the other administrative boxes?

Now don't get me wrong: the new car is fabulous! It is clean (I note the lack of dog hairs and wonder if our dog will ever get a walk again!) It is quiet, despite being another diesel engine. It is bigger, comfortable and delightfully shiny. I love her.

But it was as I drove home that I thought, I wasn't shown the towbar. Is it there?

My suspicions were not allayed when I stopped and looked underneath the rear bumper. I could see no evidence of any fitting. Another call to the garage.

"Just let me have a look," he said. A pause as he rifled through paperwork. "That's because it wasn't fitted," he said, and spent the next half hour arranging for a man to come out to fit it.

And the manager wondered why I hadn't ticked the box saying: Yes, I am completely satisfied.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Car Story, Part I: Out with the old...

After three glorious years with our car the end of our lease contract loomed. In fact, it has been looming for the last six months but no amount of my nagging seemed to provide the time my husband needed at work to reorganise its replacement. Deadline approaching we made a decision to purchase our own - possibly financially worse, but better than being without a car for at least 3-6 months while a new one was located.

So, mid-September I rang the leasing company and arranged to have our beloved Fabia taken away.

"What day would you like?" she asked.

"Monday? In the morning?"

"Fine." She checked my home address (rather than husband's hospital) and all was sorted.

Monday morning came...and went... 

In the afternoon I gave her another ring.

"But it's booked in for tomorrow morning, collecting from the hospital," she said.

"But that's not what we arranged!"

At this point there was, of course, a bit of a stand-off, as I knew I hadn't agreed to that (my husband has clinics all morning so I'd never have arranged something that would interrupt them!) She was adamant this was how it was planned and with a big sigh said, "So, are you wanting to rearrange it?"

"Of course I am!" I blustered, and suggested that we tried again the following Monday morning.

"No problem," she said, again checking my home address.

Monday morning came...and went...

This time, when I rang, the girl on the phone had no record of the car being due to be picked up at all. This despite us having received an email from them during the week charging us £84 for rearranging the collection date. (I know! We were being charged for them not turning up on the date they had agreed to originally!)

The week came...and went...

Eventually we got an email specifying a date (last Thursday) when the car would be collected. Would we prefer AM or PM? After 1.30pm, I respond.

Imagine my consternation when I found a message on the answerphone on Wednesday afternoon asking me to call about the collection. It was another company again clarifying the time of collection.

"Between 9 and 6?" he said.

" - I'd said after 1.30pm?"

Grumble, grumble. Ok. "And collection address: Stafford?"

"Definitely not!" and proceeded to tell him our own address. Stafford is not even the hospital address. Just don't ask.

So, late Wednesday afternoon I am rearranging a company's schedule to involve possibly an extra 2-3 hours of driving in order to pick up our car. I wasn't placing money on their third attempt to collect it.

Thursday afternoon came...and went...

Surprise, surprise. But - to be fair - when I rang up this time the lady was profusely apologetic, realising that what she had on her screen had not been transferred to their driver's screen and thus he'd gone to Stafford.

I hope he enjoyed his day out!

Furthermore, within 10 minutes the lady's manager rang me to arrange whatever time I wished for the car collection, explaining again the error that had occurred.

This morning... they came!


(That bit wasn't so good. It's half-term and I'd anticipated more of a lie-in!)

And so, with regret, I watched my car being taken away before 9am. It has done us so well over the last three years, being super-economical and totally reliable. Had we been renewing a lease contract we would have got the same type of car again, but instead we have a new car to last us until my son learns to drive - a scary prospect on many levels!

The Old Car story would have been over at this point...but whilst I was out and about this morning I received a call on my mobile.

"I'm calling to arrange the delivery of your car," he said, quoting the registration number...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Water, water everywhere

We have a history of water disasters in the home.

In our first house the entire kitchen had to be ripped out due to damp in the kitchen, presumably from a persistent drip that had been going on for years.

In our second house we woke up one morning to find water pouring through the bedroom ceiling all along the front of the house. A new roof didn't solve that problem: heavy rain gathered in a front gully and something, somewhere wasn't watertight.

In our third house when the plumber assured me he'd fitted the new radiator correctly it then leaked as soon as the heating was getting going, pouring water through to the room below.

In Zambia we had problems with lack of water, but that wasn't the house's fault. Termites eating through the ceiling was the issue there! Nor did we have problems in our rented houses.

Our current home? Despite being renovated from top to toe, an entirely new plumbing system fitted and everything being (ahem!) perfect two years ago, we have one window that leaks badly when it rains heavily; another where there is damp above the window cill and - the pièce de résistance - last week it appears that emptying my bath didn't go down a pipe but through the ceiling.

Not a happy bunny.

Amusingly, when I came down for breakfast in the morning, my son had no awareness of the dining table being covered in water, everything sodden and sticking to the mat, and was happily playing games on the laptop surrounded by this water disaster. Briefly I held onto the hope that he'd just knocked over a jug of water, but looking up to the ceiling was the tell-tale sign of a yellowy-brown streak just where my bath is upstairs. How the laptop escaped the deluge I have no idea!

Still, as they say, worse things happen at sea!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What you missed in September

When we lived in Zambia I used to write a letter home every month summarising what we had done and experienced. Given the last month's blog-void and life-rollercoaster I thought it was time for a quick revival.

Dear blog,

The last month has rolled past with barely a moment to catch our collective breaths. It turns out that working part-time, two mornings a week, can take up so much of your life that there is no time for blogging. This is not good, but it is exacerbated by the extra hours I've had to work in order to sort one particular client's accounts out. I'd rather not.

September 2012 has brought about one of those moments when you know you are getting older, moving on to the next phase in life. My first-born, son and eldest child (one person!) has started secondary school. He's taken the change completely in his stride. His mother was much more of a mess, worrying about her baby amongst all the big kids. Still - there is nothing quite like distraction (see paragraph 1!) to take one's mind off the big life-changes. I have dutifully taken photos in the front garden of the boy drowned by blazer and trousers that are a couple of inches too long.

His aunt commented on his hair ("he's going to love that photo when he's older!") ... which leads us into the other life-changing event of the month: haircuts. My son's mop was in desperate need of a trim and so, in a moment of despair that I would ever drag him to the hairdressers, I set up shop at home. (This means I sat him on a chair in front of the mirror in my bedroom and attacked him with the scissors.) He wants long hair, but the natural curls prevent it lying beautifully and it grows into a ball of chaos. Now I've cut it to be something approximating smart.

If his hair was a trauma it was nothing compared to my daughter's. She too wanted long hair and over the last year or two it has steadily grown down to shoulder length. When washed and heavily conditioned it looked beautiful, but every morning there were horrific knots which resulted in screaming and agony as I tried to brush it. I kept telling her the only solution was to shut up or cut it short. Astonishingly, she decided one day to cut it. Not believing her I left it 48 hours before sitting her in my (bedroom) hair salon. With many a deep breath I cut her a short bob - probably 15cm of hair falling to the floor. She looks so much more grown up, and best of all there are no morning tantrums any more!

Other childish events? I tried to organise a sleepover for my son's birthday party (in advance of his December birthday) and failed. I am planning my daughter's 10th birthday party, which is causing me marginally less far... I've also been to-and-fro to hospital appointments for her incontinence issues and met up with teachers, classroom assistants and speech & language therapists.

Perhaps the biggest time consumer has also consumed the most money. After three years the lease on our car has expired. If my husband didn't work such long hours he might have got round to ordering a new lease car through work but, as it became apparent that wasn't going to happen in a reasonable timescale, I decided that we'd have to bite the bullet and buy a new one. So we have - or at least it is ordered. I have to reassure myself that it is a great offer, a good deal, and we haven't been sucked in by the car salesman.

To add to the financial stress my husband has decided to invest in a trailer tent. Long-term this will be fantastic. Already the children are planning our holidays in Holland and France (Modern Languages week at school has set my daughter's imagination rolling!) but I have never driven a car with a trailer on. Lots more deep breaths and telling myself that it will all be ok! I'm praying for a glorious hot, sunny summer in the UK next year!

Both car and tent took up weekends of family time and hours of analysis (Can we justify the expense? Is this the right way forward? Will my son's 6ft tall rugby-playing friends squeeze in the car in 3 years' time?) but I am hopeful that we have made good decisions for the family as a whole.

Throw in some grandparents visiting, church responsibilities, orchestra practices, swimming lessons, dentist appointments and puppy training and you've jammed September about as full as is technically possible whilst still allowing time to sleep. Well, doze lightly.

Roll on October. After all, it must be quieter. Mustn't it?

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