Monday, 23 February 2015

Work and Play

Pen & ink drawing by Richard Cosgrove-Bray
I have just arrived home from an enjoyable walk with my dogs through the meadows between Hoylake and West Kirby, which stretch around Gilroy Nature Park.  The spring sunshine was bouncing off pools of water lying half-submerged beneath drooping tussocks of winter-bleached grass.  A small flock of goldfinches was flitting around the bare trees.  The birds are back early after wintering abroad.  On the duck pond were the usual mob of Canada geese, mallards, coots and moorhens, plus a large flock of redshank who prefer the pond in the flooded field on the other side of the public footpath.

Richard and I are still waiting for the conveyancing on the house sale and purchase to complete.  I went into our estate agents' office on Thursday to enquire into the delay, and asked if the process usually takes this long - 10 weeks and counting, now.  The delay has been caused by our buyer's buyer, who had to wait for a divorce settlement to be paid before her solicitor could begin acting on her behalf.  Her solicitor had only  received copies of the various FENSA certificates and assorted repair/alteration guarantees which UK home owners are obliged to exchange to prove that work has been carried out by a qualified professional.  Once these have been checked, so long as no issues are revealed, then the buyer's buyer should be ready to sign her contract.  Once that's happened, the various other people in the chain can also sign their own contracts.  At least things are slowly moving forwards, hmm?

Turtle by Richard Cosgrove-Bray
Richard has been creating some new items for Spooky Cute Designs.  You can see two of them illustrating this post; if you visit the website you can see more. 

I've completed an NCC Skills course which relates to my day-job, and now just have to wait for the certificate to arrive.  I felt the course would have been useful to a young person entering the workforce for the first time, but for an adult the academic content was too basic to have much meaningful value.  Still, it earns me a few more Credits.

I've now begun the NVQ Level 3 course and have finished three units for that already.  It's as pedantic as I anticipated but my tutor is a lively and pleasant woman and that makes doing the course more enjoyable.  I've always hated doing courses but despite this I've completed rather a lot.  I scored 97% in the English skills assessment, though I struggled with the Maths assessment and scored only 48% for that.  Maths always was my stumbling point, right from very early school days.  The pass mark is 50%, if I remember correctly.  As part of NVQs, all students have to take English and Maths too.  Even my own tutor had to take these, and she has two Degrees and is a qualified teacher.  Did I mention the "I hate courses" mindset? I will focus on completing the course and not on hating doing the course, especially the Maths.  I will.  Honest.

Doing courses has slowed down work on Fabian, but even so I have written more of this.  I've only got around 8,000 words to write, which really isn't much, and writing the final scenes is always fun.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Goals for 2015

For the last three years around New Year, I've created a list of goals which I hoped to achieve within the following twelve months.  This is one way to keep track of the progress of various projects and it's a bit of self-entertainment.

My goals for 2014 were:-
  1. Finish Fabian.
  2. Publish a 3rd free ebook anthology which will be called Travel Stories.
  3. Write one short story per month (minimum).
  4. Continue to collect dolls, swim and have more fun!
The bad news is that Fabian:  An Artisan-Sorcerer Story still isn't finished.  The good news is that there remains less than 10,000 words to go, and so the completion of the 100,000 word first draft is well within sight.

The proposed free ebook anthology, Travel Stories, has been cancelled as I'll be moving to another area of Wirral and so my involvement with Riverside Writers - the main source of contributions to the ebook - will be greatly reduced.  For the same reason I recently resigned as the group's Chairperson, a role I'd filled since 2003.

I did not write one short story each month!  I did, however, write several of them plus some poetry.  There is also a longer short story partially written, which may well evolve into a novella, (but I aim to finish Fabian before I return to this project).

I completed an NCFE Level 2 Certificate in the Principles of Business and Administration, finishing the last work for that back in July though I'm still waiting for the certificate to be mailed to me from Stoke-on-Trent College.  I am currently three-quarters of the way through an NCC Skills course relating to my day job, and have also begun a second NVQ Level 3 course in another day job related subject.

My doll collection has now includes three vintage 1960's "Dolly Darlings" plus two dolls designed by Mary Quant, "Daisy" and "Daisy Longlegs", along with a few more vintage dolls.  I've been swimming twice a week, and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  I'm not the world's best swimmer by any wild stretch of anyone's imagination but that's ok, and I usually manage 40 lengths of the pool each time.

2014 saw my husband's business fold after twenty-one years of trading.  Blame the recession; blame the changing face of Liverpool city centre which has left the Renshaw Street area looking like a Third World slum which people scurry to avoid; blame Liverpool One for hauling-in most of the custom; blame vastly increased competition; blame whatever, but the upshot is the same and blame changes nothing and contributes nothing of constructive value.  Richard went from being self-employed to being employed, and has now been able to give more time to his own art and photography again - no bad thing.

So, my goals for 2015 are:-
  1.  Move house - we're going through the conveyancing stage now.
  2. Finish Fabian!
  3. Write at least one short story or poem a month.
  4. Finish the NCC Skills course.
  5. Continue with the NVQ Level 3 course, (and hopefully finish it sooner rather than later).
  6. Fun stuff - swimming; doll collecting; photography; art.
Previous Goal Lists:-
Goals for 2012
Goals for 2013
Goals for 2014

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Gathering, Hunting and Letting Go.

Exclusive greetings cards from Spooky Cute Designs!

Temperatures have dropped today.  The wind has a sharp edge to it which wasn't there yesterday, when I was potting a few small plants and some bulbs to take with us when we move, and raking autumn leaves into piles before scooping them into our rusting wheelbarrow.  It felt odd tidying the garden, knowing someone else will benefit.

This garden did not exist when Richard and I bought this house in 2000.  The contorted hazel tree and cherry tree were lonely starting points in a mass of waist-high weeds.  Slowly, slowly, our garden was created.  And now we're leaving it all behind, hoping that the new owners will tend it and add to it and enjoy it for years to come.

The sale of this house and the purchase of our new home is, as of this morning, in the hands of our solicitors.  Here's to a swift and smooth settlement.

Over the last couple of months, we've visited several houses with a view to buying one.  Some proved that photos really do lie, as a wide-angle lens can make rooms look much bigger than they are.  We saw some horrors - immersion heaters and gas fires with back boilers (ancient!); miles of hedges to prune; a kitchen which fell to bits when Richard opened a drawer; a cellar fit for a Stephen King novel; dangerous wobbly staircases; trees growing from chimneys....  And then we saw the one we're aiming to buy, which I won't write about until all is signed and sealed.

This house has attracted a lot of interest.  A minority of visitors were time-wasters only out to feed their curiosity.  Several were from more southerly regions, looking to relocate to Wirral.  Most were already living in Wirral, wanting to move up the property ladder.  Some were first-time buyers with eyes bigger than their budgets; one of these put in a hilariously low offer which even had our estate agent laughing at the cheek of it.

Other news - On Monday 24th November, I officially resigned from my role as Chair for Riverside Writers, after having done this since 2003.  I've enjoyed my time with the group, and I've made some wonderful friends through it, but I've started two courses related to my day-job and have a couple of writing projects on the backburner waiting for me once I've finished writing Fabian, which won't be long now as I've only got around 8,000 words to go.  Also, once we've moved house I'll have further to travel to meetings.  Quite simply, I recognise that I won't be attending the group anything like as often as I used to, so it's only fair to hand the role of Chair onto someone else.

Fabian - 4th in the Artisan-Sorcerer Series - Due Out Soon!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Childfree by Choice

There is an interesting article in The Guardian today which discusses reactions to the decision not to have children. 

Richard and I do not have children and are perfectly happy that way.  We have never had any desire to become parents.  This was one of the first things we agreed on when we initially became a couple some twenty years ago.  We wanted to do other things with our lives and neither of us have ever regretted that choice at any point.

Now I'm 50, people have finally stopped insisting that I'll change my mind about not wanting children as I get older.  Instead, I'm told that I'll regret it when I'm elderly as there will be no-one to visit me.  I know plenty of elderly people with grown-up children of their own, plus grandchildren and a network of other family members, who rarely if ever see any of them for a host of reasons - geographical distance, economics and family politics, for example.  Clearly, breeding additions to your family tree does not guarantee that you'll have company from them, and also ignores the possibility of a person enjoying quality company from friends, who can often share a much closer bond than many blood relatives.

Only this week I was confidently informed that if only I had children I'd now be looking forward to celebrating Christmas, and being childless was obviously the reason why I don't celebrate the festival.  The fact that I'm not a Christian didn't enter this person's head - and that has nothing to do with not having children either!

It's ridiculous that people who choose to remain unencumbered by children are subjected to this tunnel-visioned hubris, yet it's a common occurrence.  I find that other women are the main culprits, as if they can't imagine that someone might make decisions which they did not.  The human race is hardly heading towards extinction due to underpopulation - on the contrary, one wonders how long an increasingly polluted Earth can continue to support our global population explosion.  Mass hunger, famines and draughts are no strangers to news bulletins. 

Relatives and friends on both sides tried to put pressure on Richard and me to start a family of our own because society is set up that way.  It's what women are 'supposed' to want.  Well, women are also 'supposed' to love shopping but it bores me silly, and women are 'supposed' to be enthralled by celebrity culture and fashion but I couldn't care less about those either.  It's disappointing to me that women are still so generalised, pushed into one cookie-cutter mould when it comes to maternity despite assumptions about this being a universal ambition being patently incorrect.  Around one in five women are childfree, and many of these are so by choice.

There is a double standard.  When a man says he's not a father, he gets a matey slap on the back and is congratulated.  A childless woman, however, is pitied or informed that her opinions are suspect.  Yet so many mothers have told me they envy me my freedom, and if they had their time over they wouldn't have had children even though they love the ones they do have.  Many others have had only one child, as one was quickly deemed enough.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to be a parent, so long as you're a good, responsible parent.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing not be a parent, also.  It's that simple.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Hallowe'en Wedding and a New Job.

31st October 1996 - Richard & Adele's wedding.

Eighteen years ago today, Richard and I got married at Brougham Terrace in Liverpool.

These-days the Register Office is located within St George's Hall which is far more grand, or people can opt to make use of a whole host of fun places as their marriage venue.  Brougham Terrace was previously the site of Britain's first mosque, opened in 1887 by William Henry Quilliam, a solicitor who converted as a seventeen year old after having been sent to Morocco for his health.  Rich people used to do stuff like that back then.  Now they just go to rehab then do the TV chat show circuit.

Ten minutes before our wedding was due to take place, everyone was still sitting in Richard's mother's house.  "The cars are a bit late," someone said, echoing what everyone else was thinking.  This was when we discovered that the bridegroom had forgotten to book any cars.  So Richard and his two brothers ran to the nearest main road and began flagging down taxis, this being in the days before there was a centralised taxi-booking phone line.  The drivers got on their radios, and pretty soon everyone was speeding (literally) to the venue.

We had chosen an informal wedding, with an option of fancy dress.  My two little nieces, who desperately wanted to be bridesmaids, arrived dressed to fit in with the Wild West theme.  Many of the other guests had joined in, too, and even the Registrar wore cowboy boots.  For our 'walking in' music we had the romantic wedding scene piece from the Braveheart soundtrack.  Richard was so nervous he signed his name as 'Richahard', which has been one of my pet names for him ever since.

On leaving the building afterwards, everyone huddled in the porch while torrential rain pelted down - and of course there were no cars....

That was eighteen years ago, as incredible as that seems.  Time flies, hmm?

Our marriage today is stronger than it ever has been.  We've had our ups and downs, good and bad - and gosh awful - times just like every other married couple.  We've got on each others nerves and laughed ourselves silly, we've had rows and we've had fun too, and certainly we've faced some daunting challenges over the years.  We are facing big changes now, too, but we're both feeling optimistic and are looking forward to a new cycle of life  - such as selling this house and buying another.

Also, on Monday 3rd November, Richard starts a new job.  Richie Tattoo Artist will be no more.  We've battled through this seemingly endless and on-going recession, and watched while long-established businesses around his studio have died  as Liverpool's shopping and tourism focus has swung over to Liverpool One.  We've coped with Richard's health problems, too, which mean he's currently reliant on 24 tablets and 2 injections every day, plus an oxygen mask every night - and he's still worked full-time in his tattoo studio for six days every week.  He finds himself, after tattooing since he was eleven years old and after running his own studio since 1993, bored with his craft.

Tattooing was not his first career choice.  He wanted to be a photographer, and graduated from college with a City & Guilds qualification in this subject and a graduate ranking as 3rd in the country.  It was due to photography that we first met.  Now he will have more time to pursue this interest, which has got pushed to the background due to lack of time.  Now he'll only work five days a week and he'll have paid annual leave - five weeks' worth - for the first time in his life.  And once he's had time to adjust, I'm sure he'll start creating art again, albeit of a different and more personal kind.

In plain English, he'll have his life back.

And that's no bad thing, hmm?

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Bloodbaths and Polo Mints

I bought a packet of Polo Mints.  They cost me 65p.  Richard said it's no wonder that so many newsagents are going out of business as Home And Bargain sell the same mints at three tubes for £1.  I pointed out that to get to the nearest Home And Bargain store I'd have to do a thirty-five minute journey into Birkenhead, which isn't much use when I'm on my way to work in the exact opposite direction, and it would cost me far more on transport to Birkenhead than I'd save by buying mints there.  It's not as if I'm a frequent mint eater - which is why I was surprised by them costing 65p.

I can remember when Polo Mints cost 7p.  The reason I can remember this riveting bit of social history is because many years ago, when I was a very small child, I had bought a Christmas present for everyone except for Dad.  Over breakfast, I asked him what he'd like.  "How much pocket money have you got left?" he asked.  I replied that I had 7p left.  With his brown eyes twinkling, he said, "What I'd like more than anything is a packet of Polo Mints.  They cost 7p."

And so began a long-standing joke between him and me, which had me hiding Polo Mints in his slippers or under his pillow whenever I'd visit.  Every birthday or Christmas gift had numerous tubes of these mints hidden somewhere within them.  Once, I taped loads of them together to make a steering wheel - as Dad was a lorry driver - and when I arrived for dinner he opened the door wearing it around his neck.

Dad died on 2nd February 2007.  He'd had a long and cruel battle with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Speaking of battles, earlier this week I was upstairs putting clean laundry away when Richard shrieked, "Adele, HEEEEELLLLP!!!  Bring the First Aid kit!  QUIIIIIICK!!!"  So I dropped what I was doing and grabbed the required box of tricks from the bathroom, then headed downstairs to find Richard with blood pouring down his arm.  His hand was under the cold tap which was splattering blood everywhere.  He was hopping around like a mad man, wailing in pain and sprinkling blood even further.  "You're a nurse," he yelled, "SO DO SOMETHING!"

I am not a nurse.  I have never been a nurse.  I did a one-day First Aid course with the Red Cross four years ago but that is hardly the same thing.

Anyway, I pulled his hand from under the tap - running water would prevent coagulation - and saw he had an inch-long cut along his finger, close to the nail, and I wrapped this in a wad of clean kitchen paper and applied pressure.   "OOOWWWWWWW that jolly hurts!" he said, or words to that effect.  There was blood over the sink, smeared across the worktops, sprayed up the white kitchen walls, and one of our Jack Russells was eagerly gulping down blood on the floor tiles.

At that precise moment, the doorbell rang. 

And there was another smiling couple, prospective house buyers, who'd come to have a look round.  So I stuck on my professional smile and said, "Do come in.  Would you like to take a look around the garden first before it gets too dark?"  Meanwhile I was silently willing them:  "Everything normal here, folks.  Nothing to see...!"    Maybe I did too good a job, as they didn't seem to see much likable about the house.  Hey-ho.  Onwards.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dusty Crates and Loud Crashes

All's Change

With the herald of season's end,
all's change.

It feels good to stop
swimming against raging currents.

I said to the Dragon,
"Ok, I give in -
if this tide's reason
is to block my path
then show me another way."

And so it was done.

Breezes shiver gold-tinged leaves
in a barren apple tree -
time now to journey on
through different waters.

There are big changes coming to our household; selling this house and planning to move on is only one of the two big changes about to unfold.  We're not quite ready to make public the other big change just yet, not until a few details have been finalised which could take a couple of weeks, maybe a little longer.

Life's a funny old thing, hmm?  You potter along in a set way, thinking this is how life's going to be for the foreseeable future - then WALLOP!  All's change.

Change can be for good or ill, as we all know.  It depends on context.  In this instance, Richard and I are feeling really good about the new cycle of life that's just around the corner.

Re. the house selling - we've had a number of people come to view our house, but no offers so far.  Two more couples are booked in this weekend.  Some viewers were obviously time-wasters but I guess we'll have to take that in our stride.  One didn't even have their own house up for sale, so it seems they just wanted to be nosey.  Another couple took one look at our garden and their reaction of shock told us that gardening wasn't an interest of theirs - so why bother to view a house described as having a large garden?  The house has only been on the market for two and a half weeks, so it's very early days yet.

Last weekend, Richard got our old packing crates down from the attic.  Our neighbours must have wondered what on earth was going on, as the din of umpteen heavy plastic crates bumping down the loft ladder to crash onto the upstairs hall's floorboards should have been enough to disturb even Karis the Mummy's sleep without a waft of tana leaves.

The crates are a bit grimy, having been stored in the attic for the last fourteen years.  We've managed to find time to wash half of them so far.  There's no rush.  Or much space, actually, which is why we're doing this on the patio outside rather than drench the spare bedroom floor.  The crates can drip-dry to their hearts content out there.

In our hallway, downstairs, is a growing pile of old newspapers - also known as useful packing material.  Richard's packed a shelf of books and I've carefully wrapped up some of my dolls' house furnishings, but that's all we've done so far.  Once the crates are all washed I'll begin packing non-essential stuff like vases and fancy stuff (some of which might as well go to the nearest charity shop for all the use it is!)  Again, there's no rush.

Why do we collect so much stuff?  We don't actually need one half of it.  Stuff invades our lives and becomes precious even when it's really only junk.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

House Hunting and Murder

A corner of our garden.
This morning, our house was photographed and measured by the estate agent in preparation for putting it on the market.  He said again that the garden is a major selling feature, partly due to its size but also because of the dense planting and the maturity of many of the trees and shrubs.  He also said that the house structure is fine, that the newish kitchen and bathroom are both fine, and that everything else is just cosmetic.
Previously I asked if we should redecorate and was advised, (by three seperate estate agents), not to bother as one person's idea of good  taste is the next person's idea of Yuck Made Manifest.  I pointed out that all the - interminable, which is one reason why we don't own one - TV shows depict the vendors frantically painting everything white or a variation of beige and installing new, equally colourless carpets.  The estate agents said that's mostly a waste of time and money, and often doesn't add enough value to the house to balance what you'd spend.

There is a bit of paperwork to complete which will be mailed to me this coming week , and the 'For Sale' sign should be installed tomorrow or Monday.

On Sunday, we went to view a house which looked pleasant at first glance.  Bakelite light switches do not feature on my list of desirable features, however.  The staircase was extremely steep.  The ladder which could be lowered into the tiny bathroom in order to access the converted loft space meant half-sitting in the sink in order to climb them.  But the modern kitchen/diner was gorgeous and the little garden was attractive - apart from the expanse of past-its-best decking, decking being one of my pet hates anyway, (ref. earlier comment about Yuck Made Manifest).  Of much greater concern was the small tree growing out of the roof tiles.

Choices, choices....

Choices and their consequences feature heavily in the plot of Torn, a YA novel by Cat Clarke, which was published by Quercus in 2011.  Main character Alice and best friend Cass take part in a school holiday to Scotland, where they're made to share a cabin with the darling of the in-crowd plus a goth-emo girl who is in the lowest rank of their merciless social pecking order.  Tempers flare and a vengeful 'joke' backfires when one girl dies.  Can Alice live with her guilty secret?

The novel portrays the tunnel-visioned and intense teenage world of school and who is and isn't popular.  While it's a fun read, it would also serve as a good basis for a teen discussion on bullying and social exclusion, conformity and individualism.

Monday, 1 September 2014


Doors of perceptiom...
The process of household decluttering continues unabated.  A chap named Ian is going to cart a stack of won't-read-again paperbacks to Oxfam.  I've tried selling some of the books on eBay and earned 99p before the site's selling charges were deducted.  Oddly enough I can't be bothered trying to find big-enough envelopes for the rest.

I have been painting door frames, window sills and skirting boards all round the house.  By the end of this week, three estate agents will have traipsed through our rooms and delivered their verdicts.  Yes, we're putting this house on the market.  Yes, we really are moving this time - not like two years ago, when we considered moving to New Brighton and then changed our minds.  This time, we're resolute.  We have become Rightmove regulars.

We have been here for fourteen years, which is the longest I've ever lived in one place.  I'll miss my frog pond but I plan to build another.  I'll miss my garden but I'm already looking forward to creating another.  I wish I could take all my plants with me but having attempted to do this once in the past I know it's more trouble than it's worth.  Many plants didn't survive digging-up and re-potting, and by the time life had settled down again to the point where there was time to start planning the new garden many of the survivors had keeled over anyway.   Besides, most my favourite plants are too big to dig up now.  We'd need a fleet of vans to transport them.  So it's being utilised as a major selling point, (which is how it was described by estate agent who's been here already).

I won't miss West Kirby as it will only be down the road.  The views from our windows are rather nice, though, and those I will miss - but there'll be other views, which is perfectly ok.