Saturday, 26 May 2012

Bed Time

It's time to go to bed. The big hand has overtaken the little hand - at least I guess it has as I tell the time by my phone or laptop these days - and most sane and sensible people have hit the sack.

At times it's frustrating to be an "owl" - awake when everyone else is asleep. But the silence and solitude is something to be treasured and occasionally worth the struggle to wake up the next morning.

The main reason for this post is to thank those of you that read it! I saw some of you this evening and I am genuinely touched that you keep in touch in this way. You know who you are - so thank you!

Another reason for writing tonight is that I have just sent my first ever HTML email in an endeavour to drum up a few more cupcake orders. I would love for you to take a look and get in touch if you are considering buying cakes for a special occasion!

You can find out more here

That's it for now - night night!


Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Sound Investment

I have to start writing down the ideas I get for posts. I had a really good one just the other day. It made me laugh, would have made you laugh, may have finally made my name in the writing world and allowed me to give up work and spend my time doing what I love. Except that might have meant give up writing and spend my time writing which makes little sense so perhaps the fact that I have completely forgotten whatever the idea was is a blessing in disguise?

This post came to me in a flash of inspiration as I was tidying my knicker drawer. Well, basket if we're going to be picky. I have a lot of clothes - of the under and over variety, and tonight it dawned upon me in a moment of clarity that these, ladies, are what we should be investing in!

Gentlemen, I apologise if at this point you feel in any way excluded - that is not my intention and you are most welcome to continue with us but don't blame me if from here on in you are bored...

I guess I have always been of the clothes are an investment school of thought, but never as seriously as today. I believe in buying the basics and classics and have a wardrobe full of black trousers and blazers, nicely fitted shirts and tops, cashmere cardigans and skinny jeans. Yes I have way too many pairs of shoes in some people's eyes but none of them are going to date, they're made of solid leather and I take good care of them ( my Dune boots have lasted more seasons than my sons have been season ticket holders at the Vic - that's some considerable time!)

I look in my wardrobe on a daily basis and find things to wear, things I want to wear, things I enjoy wearing. I take a certain satisfaction in not being part of the disposable throwaway culture that many are - er - primed to embrace from an ever diminishing age. Equally I won't be sucked into the designer catwalk craziness that insists I follow a certain trend at risk of social exclusion. I wear clothes that suit me, that I feel comfy in, that wash and wear well.

And the point of this self obsessed rambling is...? Had I not invested in all these clothes and shoes while I was working where would I be now? I wouldn't be rushing out to buy all of this and besides if I was the prices would have doubled by now. My clothes and shoes were a sound and solid investment for which I am grateful - forget wine and the stock market, blazers and boots are where it's at.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

I am a Writer

Telling the world you're a writer isn't an easy task.

It doesn't have the same optimistic or life affirming ring to it as "I'm pregnant", or the sense of hope inherent in "We're getting married". Some of those witnessing the announcement may smell a rat of the "feel like dossing around in my dressing gown all day" variety. Others may smile sweetly and make nice murmuring noises, thinking all the time that you've finally accepted you'll never get a full time "proper job" and from henceforth will be scrounging off the hard working taxpayer - themselves included, whilst deluding yourself a best selling novel is just 100,000 words away.

A writer however is not something you become or choose to be. Yes you can study, train, practice and perfect your writing. You can tear up endless sheets of virtual paper in fury and frustration as you seek to improve your craft, make a name for yourself, get a deal, an agent, a hundred hits on your blog... but the one thing you cannot do is decide to become a writer.

Writers are born not made. Birthed not recruited. Writers must write as an outlet for the myriad of words and phrases that assault our brains on a daily basis, that cry out to be scribbled and typed and blogged and expressed and edited and shared and published.

That is why we sit in our dressing gowns bashing out another blog entry, news article, thought provoking piece or poem. That's why maybe we have to accept there simply isn't time to get a "proper" job". Why we believe passionately that our dream - be it a best selling novel, book deal, agent, successful blog - truly is a few thousand words away.

"My name is Linda, and I'm a writer..."

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Going green - another rant regarding public transport...

Today was definitely a "write" day with several stories to file from yesterday and a full day in the office to look forward to. Ian is still on annual leave and offered a lift to Bricketwood so all good - so far.

After a long but productive day I was looking forward to a drinks reception just off Carnaby Street. An opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues from a former life, surrounded by gardening items donated by celebrities and now being auctioned on ebay. Free wine and nibbles no less - and meeting up with Ian for a bit of quality time together.

On leaving the office and preparing for the mini trek to Bricketwood station I was thrilled to be offered a lift by one of my new colleagues. Within minutes I was stood on the platform waiting for the fast train to Euston where I would pick up the tube to Oxford Circus.

How, how, how had I managed to forget the events of two weeks ago? The whole Abbey flyer fiasco? Why had it not occurred to me to check train times, never mind whether there was a ticket office? What was I now doing standing on a station platform with a display sign telling me the next train was due in 50 minutes time.

And how had I forgotten that this station was on a branch line and not as I had anticipated the main line to Euston? That of course would get me as far as Watford where allowing for the sprint from Platform 11 and possible wait for the mainline train, followed by the hop on the Bakerloo Line, meant I would probably make it to the drinks reception around twenty minutes after it finished.

Never one to be defeated easily I struck up conversation with a young mum on the platform who, as it turned out, had a phone with the number of a local taxi firm saved, and an extensive knowledge of transport networks in London and the surrounding areas. She called them up but sadly the cost of a cab to Watford Junction was almost equivalent to the penalty fare on the Abbey Flyer. A Plan B was called for.

That involved me asking if there was any other railway station in the vicinity and another phone call later finding myself in a taxi to Radlett. From where I caught a First Capital Connect train to West Hampstead Thameslink. A short walk to the Jubilee Line, fifteen minutes to Bond Street, a ten minute walk and I was in the pop up shop with my husband and a glass of red. Twenty five minutes late and around twenty pounds poorer. Isn't it good to be green...?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Filled With Love

By anybody's standards today has been quite a long day. Common sense would say get to bed, get some sleep, you've done enough...

The Write-Fiend within me cannot go along with such sensible suggestions, feeling instead driven to post on here something of today's happenings before retiring to the warmth of the heatpad and comfort of the memory foam.

Today started - or ended - at 1.30am when sleep closed a long day of volunteering for Christian Aid. Judging a bake off that involved the tasting of 14 superb cakes, then hanging out in a pop up shop full of items customised and signed by A Listers made for an interesting day. It could have ended - or at least wound down - with a session of sofa slouching from 6pm onwards. Instead I baked somewhere in the region of 80 cupcakes to be tucked in lock'n'lock boxes for the night, ready for their 6.30am start.

I flat iced, frosted, piped and finished the cakes in time for a collection at 10am, a delivery at 11am and three postal orders this afternoon. All went well until the moment when the post office cashier told me - midway through my transactions - that the card machine wasn't working for my particular card. Expletive deleted but couldn't he perhaps have mentioned that before we started? Especially bearing in mind I am at the post office every other day with my pile of parcels?

He suggested I withdraw cash from the machine outside. I refused - why pay to withdraw money from my own account. He told me to tear off the stamps (presumably aborting the transactions). I refused on the basis these are cakes, they need to go today, and he could have said the machine was out of order. I ask him if he has a phone, no. Lady behind suggests I drive to petrol station, I start to explain why I don't drive and get exasperated - until - hallelujah - I have an idea!

I run to the dental surgery three shops down from post office and yes, my dear friend is there and able to lend me £20. I run back. Lady with advice re petrol station is now posting a trillion engraved badges she's selling via ebay. I wait.

I wait so long that by the time I am walking home it is hailing cats, dogs, snails, rabbits, geese, elephants and probably rhinocerii. I have no key so ring the doorbell, but Ian is in his studio at the end of the garden and Dave has his headphones on. I make my way round the back, into the house, shiver, turn the heating up to a couple of degrees less than it used to be when I had a "proper" job and decide what to do next.

It turns out to be an easy decision - emails in my inbox suggest a couple of phone interviews might be in order, to get ahead for local news magazine this week. After which building a website becomes the priority - so I do that (as you do....)

I finish in time to go for drinks with some very good friends. Four of us, three bottles of red, the world is put to rights and it is finally time for bed. 

There have been some lovely emails asking how I am enjoying being a lady of leisure... #justsaying

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Not such a good girl

A huge, enormous, massive thank you to my daughter Sarah for sharing the link to my blog on her facebook page, with an exceptionally nice comment which doubled the hits on here overnight.

Another giant, stupendous thank you to my mum for an immensely generous blog post of her own which complimented me on my creativity when it comes to cupcakes, and tenacity in the face of some trials and tribulations.

In receipt of such compliments it would be easy to allow my head to swell to such a size that the London Ambassador trilby I am soon to be wearing would perch in a ridiculous fashion atop my plum tinted plumage. It might also be tempting for me to believe these nice things to the extent that I forget I have my faults also.

To ensure this is not the case I have decided to consider some of these faults and in a spirit of openness and confession to blog them here...

First up, since losing my job I confess that yes, I have been known to watch daytime television. Shock, horror, gasp I hear from those of you with better judgement and a more evolved sense of what is right. But please let us not bundle all daytime TV together and tar it all with the same sticky brush. We do have standards - well some of us do - and whilst Jeremy Vile may be a part of the government's conspiracy to keep us all in work until we are 75 there are some gems to be had amidst the gross and ghastly offerings. You want examples? 60 minute makeover - now that they are honest about the three and a half weeks (my estimate) or so of preparation that goes on before the team of photogenic painters and decorators move in. I have been known to cry at the stories of well deserving people who return home after lunch with a friend to find their dreary bedroom transformed into a boudoir worthy of Billie Piper...

I have also been known to cry at Dickinson's Real Deal - not only because I wish I could pick up a bargain in Sue Ryder's shop that would sell on ebay at a 1000% profit. But also because there is a particular dealer - male - who wears so much jewellery that I suspect a visit to "we buy any" would keep him for life and safe him the embarrassment of having to appear on Daytime TV...

When it comes to being bad I have other things to admit to sadly. Whilst I vowed never to give up putting on make up if I lost my job I have sadly succumbed to the temptation not to wear eyeshadow. Mascara is an essential - why scare the postman? But life is suddenly too short to brush taupe coloured powder across my eyelids on a regular basis. Who am I trying to impress with my shadowy sockets anyway - the guy behind the counter at the post office who's become my most regular conversationalist?

Likewise, I have given up on tights. Not that I'm suddenly into stockings and suspenders - nowadays it's more jeans r us. And not the skinny jeans I used to take comfort in. Autograph. M and S. Enough said.

And then...

When it comes to confessions this is the big one. Up there with the seven deadly sins in some people's minds, so prepare yourself reader, you may be shocked.

Apparently I have been known to leave the bathroom in a disgusting state. I know, you cannot believe this. Neither can I as someone who has enjoyed the company of an environmental health inspector on various occasions with my kitchen being registered at the local council offices and all that. However, having left the bathroom after pulling the plug out, and not having returned before a member of my family has entered the room, apparently the remains of a bath bomb were once found adhered to the base of the bath. Be warned ladies - and gentlemen - who are lovers of Lush. This is a grievous sin up there with the final confession of the night...

... Not eating "properly".

Put simply, outside of the office routine mealtimes become somewhat arbitrary. You're hungry? Then eat - and whatever it is you fancy. You're busy, engaged, focussed on something else and 1pm comes around and you don't notice it - so what?! You're thinking of making a business out of cupcakes and have spent a day tasting sponge and buttercream and frankly cannot face a mouthful of anything other than tea and toast. Does it really matter?

Naturally it's important to have a balanced diet. Five a day and all of that. But there is eating to live and living to eat and maybe sometimes when we're so busy living that grabbing a bite to keep us going is all we have time for then it is okay to listen to our bodies - our tummies even - and indulge in a little of what we fancy?

Says she, having just enjoyed a delicately flavoured vanilla cupcake with a spoonful of ice cream :-)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Ticket Fiasco

If you haven't read the last couple of posts, please do.

That's not because I want more hits/followers/readers/whatever. I just want everyone to follow, understand and perhaps even smile or laugh at the ridiculousness of this situation.

We all need to bear in mind the context of course. A planet under threat from climate change, whose citizens are being urged to do all in their power to save energy, reduce their carbon footprint and green up. Who cling to their four wheeled carriages of independence with pride, looking down upon those who believe public transport, those slightly grubby looking vehicles that turn up late, in threes or not at all, are the key to our future and the sustainability of the planet.

I do of course digress.

I make it to Platform 11, throw myself on the Abbey Flyer, get out my yoghurt and banana (this is a train right - surely it is okay to eat here...?) I open up the Metro - how I have missed you - and prepare to enjoy my ten minute journey to Bricket Wood.

A ticket inspector asks to see my ticket. He has a ticket machine - clearly designed for the sale of tickets - around his neck. Oh joy! Hallelujah! Amazing - it is possible to buy your ticket on the train. By my calculation this allows me several minutes of grace at Watford Junction should the 320 arrive slightly later than expected, should there be a queue at the ticket machine, should I find myself unable to rival Usain Bolt's personal best whilst sprinting to Platform 11.

I engage him in conversation. Something he appears not to be comfortable with, his body language suggests he would prefer to be moving on through the train, scanning the tickets of others flying towards the Abbey. I express my delight and appreciation that it is possible to buy a ticket on the train, dreaming of the time saving possibilities this offers.

He crushes my carbon saving dream in an instant. No, madam, you cannot buy a ticket from me.


Unless you are boarding at North Watford. Or Garston. And why might that be? Because they do not have ticket barriers.

I explain in a very nice, pleasant, amenable and co-operative sort of way that getting to the Junction for 08.04 is a challenge, and ask him, as if I didn't know, when the next train might be. As expected, because I already know the answer, he tells me it is at 09.01. So if I miss this train, unable to board it because of a bus delay, a queue at the ticket machine, or an inability to run fast enough, I am delayed an hour. Even though I have got up at six am, done half a days work, walked to a bus stop and paid a stupid amount of money to share the bus with others who have chosen, or have no choice and are therefore taking the green route.

I'm not sure I need to say any more. You can probably guess what he said. There is no option, I have to queue and buy a ticket at the junction.

As it happens when I get to Bricket Wood I still have to walk down the road, over a bridge, across the common, along a country lane with no footpath, back into the flooded entrance to the business park.

"How was your journey?"

"Much better. Thank you."

Public Transport Discussion - Part Two

After last week's two and a half hour round trip to Bricket Wood an alternative had to be found. The Abbey Flyer - pictured on the last blog entry - seemed to be a viable alternative. Stopping as it does at Bricket Wood, on the side that isn't by The Black Boy, closer to the business park, I decided this was the way to go...

The Abbey Flyer leaves Watford Junction at 08.04. Arriving at Watford Junction in time to buy a ticket and make your way to Platform 11 - which happens to be a pretty long schlep from the ticket barrier - is another PTC (Public Transport Challenge) to be negotiated. After fruitless searches on my friend Google, calls to Traveline, and a walk to the bus stop to look at the timetables printed in black and white on the inside of the bus shelter, I decide the only viable option is the 320. It doesn't stop at my local stop but that's not an insurmountable problem - it's only a ten to fifteen minute walk away and leaves at 07.27.

So I set the alarm for 06.00. I get up, I shower, wash my hair, put on some make up (would not want to scare the bus passengers...) eat something (remembering yoghurt and bananas are not particularly welcome on Arriva services...) empty and reload the dishwasher, put on a load of washing (all the usual morning stuff) and make a sandwich.

I grab a cereal bar, more yoghurt and fruit, my anorak and a brolly. The walk takes less time than expected and I have ten minutes at the bus stop to check emails and tweet. Cannot resist channelling Sting. "Wet Bus Stop, she's waiting...."

Bus is late. This sentence does not require explanation or expansion, it is a fact and not to be questioned or commented upon. Bus goes round and round the houses, the ring roads, housing estates and the highlands and Loch Lomond - or perhaps I imagined the last bit. At 07.5something I arrive at Watford Junction, leg it to the ticket machine, stress and fuss while someone very slow - probably inexperienced when it comes to these things - negotiates the buttons that lead to the delivery of a ticket to somewhere they will have to take  a replacement bus service to - and finally, eventually, I get my debit card into the machine, key in Bricket Wood, break out in a cold sweat over the cost ( the first half hour's work today will fund my travel ...) and obtain a ticket.

I run to Platform 11 - which seems to be located in Berkhamstead - and throw myself onto the train...

To be continued.....

Public Transport - Discuss

The photo shows the Abbey Flyer. Confessions and apologies - I did not take it, do not own the copyright and should probably take it down if anyone objects...

I've chosen this photo because I have an anecdote to share. It's not particularly exciting or entertaining but it did amuse me - with hindsight. And it has also challenged me to take action to change things so that this ludicrously ridiculous situation no longer exists.

As some of you know I have been doing some freelance writing for our local news magazine. As a youngster (yes - we used that word back in the day...) I longed to be a journalist. I craved a byline the way my peers craved chocolate, chips, or a snog with David Cassidy. Somehow life didn't quite deliver my wishlist and after a spell at Marks and Spencer and the birth of three children I found myself officially too old to train. Since when did thirty become old? I know some (almost) thirty year olds I gave birth to - they are, to coin an old phrase, mere youngsters...

The editor suggested going into the office once a week for a few weeks, to see how I got on. I jumped at this opportunity - believing the magazine office to be at the Croxley Business Park. As I put the phone down I realised the words "Bricket Wood" had come into the conversation. What? How?

Needs must and all of that. After an hour or so in the company of my friend Google I phoned Traveline who assured me Bricketwood is a mere bus ride away from Croxley. The 724 to be precise. I dutifully waited for it, boarded it (ten minutes later than expected) and journeyed to "The Black Boy". The journey itself was a revelation. Heads turned when I brought out my yoghurt and banana - apparently breakfasting on the bus is not as acceptable as it is on the Met Line. (thank goodness I had already applied a full face of make up).

And then - horror of horrors - people started to speak. As in talk to each other. Oh my goodness, no, please no. Not at this time in the morning. Don't they have ipods? Probably not - most of them are over seventy...

The twenty five minute estimated journey time was quite frankly a joke. After an hour or two - after we'd been hit by a lorry and delayed by around 350 sets of traffic lights - I was finally deposited at the Black Boy an hour or so after leaving home.

Now the fun was to begin. Bricketwood is not a small place. The Business Park is not on the same side of it as the Black Boy. Not to worry - I have boots and an anorak, a printout of Googlemaps and a newly acquired Android phone. I begin to walk. Twenty five minutes later after uphill and downhill walks and a particularly hairy stretch along a country lane with no footpath I arrive at the Business Park. I have only to negotiate the short stretch of flooded road, splashed only lightly by those drivers with the luxury of a four wheeled vehicle to themselves, and I am there.

Good morning, and welcome - how was your journey?

to be continued........

Friday, 4 May 2012

Saying Goodbye

Funerals aren't something we look forward to or particularly enjoy. When we describe what a funeral was like don't we often say that it was a lovely service, a fitting tribute, a good way to say goodbye, what they would have wanted? I think most of us would agree they are necessary as without them it is difficult to find that over-used word "closure".

I'd like to put forward the hypothesis that when someone is made redundant a similar rite of passage is necessary. With hindsight it is since the leaving drinks I "enjoyed" with my friends two weeks ago that I have been able to move on from the situation I was in after losing my job.

"Enjoyed" sits within inverted commas since it is hard to use that as the word to describe that evening. It was lovely to see friends old and new, colleagues past and present. (Well as present as they can be when you no longer work with them...) I admit to being tearful, feeling fragile, drinking large amounts of tonic water, wanting the night to end and considering doing a runner.

I stuck it out however and the conversations I had were precious. Some of them will stay with me for a very long time. Above all else they helped me to move on, to let go, to look to the future. The week prior to "the drinks" had been one of angst and anguish, tears and tantrums. I had almost cancelled it, and considered simply not turning up. But you can't have a funeral without a body...

Since that night - and I'd like to reassure everyone I did at the end of it enjoy a glass or two of red with especially close friends who had travelled a very long way to share the evening - things have been "on the up".

After a particularly stressful and soggy session at the Jobcentre I was redirected to a warm and sympathetic advisor who understands and "gets" me. It looks like the government (God bless'em) will pay for me to get the Prince2 Project Management certification, and can also offer me some advice on setting up a small (cupcake?) business.

This week I have worked 16 hours - declared on a Form B7 so I lose my JSA - at a rate I would have laughed at six months ago. Somehow that doesn't matter, just being in work does so much for your self esteem and bolsters your confidence. Once upon a long time ago I desperately wanted to be a journalist but was told I was too old to train. Here I am working as a reporter! This week I have written about a swimathon, a marathon, a skydive, a litter pick, a football team, someone living below the line, a flower festival, an x factor contestant and - favourite story of all - three hives of honey bees buzzing away on the local business park.

I've baked for kids with chickenpox, incredibly brave women who're battling cancer, people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and for my family. I've walked miles, gained a better understanding of the bus timetables in South West Hertfordshire, spoken to any number of random people and feel fitter and slimmer than I have for ten years!

I've allowed my body clock to have its way - enjoying the peace and quiet in the house late at night and waking naturally at 7.30am rather than with the shriek of the alarm an hour beforehand. I haven't missed the Jubilee Line even one teensy little bit.

But - can you feel the but? I miss my friends and colleagues, the work that I used to do. The pride in working for an agency that does such amazingly good work, the buzz of being in the greatest city on earth on a daily basis.

Maybe one day I'll be back. For now I'm grateful that saying goodbye was such a positive experience. Thanks for reading this far - here's a cupcake treat for you...

Linda xxx

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

One month on

It's exactly one month today since I lost my job. Those of you who need to know will already understand what happened. The rest of  you probably only need to know that my contract ended at the same time as a big restructure and somehow I found myself "let go" (to use the technical term...)

Life since that time has been a roller coaster. Not a day has gone past when I haven't thought of blogging, when I haven't thought that writing it all down might really help. I've hesitated for the reasons given on the last post - in spite of all that has happened I believe passionately in the organisation I used to work for, they do a fantastic job and I will always support them. For these reasons and more I am nervous about baring more than my friends need to see, that might damage our friendship or their view of me.

Moving swiftly to today I can see how far I've come. There's not a lot I don't know about cupcakes and even looking back at photos from the beginning of this year I am impressed with those I made earlier today (see image).

I had thought of doing some kind of college course, of upskilling ready for the next step up the career ladder. I checked out courses in cake decoration and decided that being the sort of person I am I could spend the £300 or so it would cost me on equipment instead and teach myself by watching videos on YouTube while messing about in my kitchen - proving very successful so far!

Making cupcakes yourself from home is unlikely ever to make you a huge fortune. However I'm sure it's possible to expand and make some money if you have an astute business brain. Maybe that is something for my wish list.

Linda xxx

Why haven't I blogged for a while?

Oh heck, not blogged for a while, decided I really need to get back into it and ... look what has happened. Well actually you probably can't see what I can see, as I am in what I believe is known as the back end of blogger. The place with the WYSIWIG editor where you - or I - type your rambling thoughts before hitting the button that sends them into cyberspace.

Not blogging doesn't mean I don't want to blog or don't think about it every day - so what is it that stops me, that accounts for the long silence?

Maybe there is nothing other than laziness? The inability to focus and write rather than faff on facebook or mess around on twitter? Possibly, but I'm not sure that is it as there seems to be a bigger reason...

... from my very first post I've hinted that I struggle with the soul baring aspect of a blog. At the same time I find it hard to see any real purpose in a personal diary or journal - though I appreciate others do. So if I am going to  chronicle life as I see it here is the place.

The real reason why I blog less often is, I believe, because of the likely subject matter these days. During my scoliosis surgery it was pretty straightforward - if almost impossible - to enter something every day relating to the operating room, intensive care, recovery, drugs, pain, physio etc etc etc...

The redundancy issue makes scoliosis surgery look like a walk in the park. Ironic really since someone said to me that scoliosis surgery made open heart surgery look like that very same walk. I'm not saying it is harder to deal with redundancy than scoliosis surgery of course. But I am saying it is harder to write about it. For starters you don't want to be bad mouthing the organisation you used to love and love working for.

More than that however - the soul searching process you go through is so painful and personal that a blog somehow doesn't feel like quite the right place for it. Give it a few weeks - or in my case one month today - and you gain a sense of perspective which helps you express what needs to be said in a way that is fair and helpful.

I'll unpack this more in another post, thanks for reading this far x