Getting off the starting blocks

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Last year I launched a little business. After planning and hosting a spectacular birthday party for our mothers’ 70th birthday, my sister and I came up with the idea of doing something together, a joint venture. Although organising the party had been stressful at times, what we found most frustrating was waiting for the china to turn up. We had booked some vintage china from a local company and had found the whole process unsatisfactory. The owner was very difficult to get hold of before the event and despite having paid a deposit, we got no confirmation from her beforehand. On the day of the party we worked tirelessly for hours preparing the venue, catering everything ourselves and putting out signs to ensure all the guests could find us. The only thing missing was the china! I rang continuously without success and, with less than an hour until the party  was due to start, we began to panic. What would we do if she didn’t turn up? When we were supposed to be glamming ourselves up, we were instead making an emergency plan to dash out and find tableware before the guest of honour arrived.

Eventually the china arrived with moments to spare. The owner was unfazed by our panicked faces. Apparently she’d had car trouble but had not thought to answer my calls or let us know she had been delayed. When we explained that we hadn’t known if she was going to turn up she simply laughed it off. Her china was beautiful but we found her customer care lacking. Once she had left we raced around like headless chickens setting the tables and had to lock ourselves in the bathroom to change once everyone had arrived. The party was a great success but afterwards my sister and I realised we could do so much better ourselves. I immediately set about building up some stock. Luckily Big agreed to fund me and I had great fun sourcing gorgeous cups and saucers, teapots and cake stands. I trawled charity shops for pretty pieces and searched sales ads for bargains. It quickly became an obsession as I researched makers and patterns. Once I had a good amount of stock I made an inventory of everything, took photographs and checked out my local competition. I registered a domain name, built a website and launched a Facebook page. Then I waited for the enquiries to come in. It has been about eight months and so far I have had a few bites but nothing has come of them. I have showcased my china at charity baking events and people are intrigued for sure, but I have never been very patient.

I’m desperate to show people what we can do. I want to do it right, provide excellent customer service and get glowing feedback, it just hasn’t happened yet. I was reading an article yesterday which said that on average it takes two years to get a business up and running. I designed some gorgeous watercolour graphics and had them made into eye-catching business cards which I will leave in local coffee shops and cafes, subject to permission of course. I’m doing everything I can to get some bookings so fingers crossed I guess. Does anyone have any tips for me they would be willing to share? All suggestions gratefully received.

Thanks for reading. xx

Worrying Times

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Last time I wrote I had just been on a lovely short break for my birthday and all was well in my world. As the great Ricky Gervais says about the ups and downs of life, “You can be having the time of your life, and then you find a lump”

Fear not, I haven’t actually found a lump, but my world was rocked slightly when my beloved French Bulldog Wilson suddenly became ill. A few weeks ago I noticed that he was not his usual bouncy self. He refused to eat his breakfast but I assumed he was having a diva day so I sat on the kitchen floor and offered him morsels from my hand. He ate a little but reluctantly, so I put it up to offer again later. During the day Wilson was clingy but, again, I put it down to the fact that I had been away recently and he was making sure I didn’t go anywhere again. Big was away on business and when he phoned I told him I was worried that Wilson seemed off-colour. He thought I was being neurotic but told me to make an appointment to see the vet in the morning if I was still concerned. A few minutes later I let all three dogs out into the garden to play and noticed that Wilson had vomited several times earlier. When we came inside he was breathing strangely and I immediately knew that something was wrong. I called the vet and they told me to come straight down and that they would put me in as an extra consult at the end of the day.

In the waiting room, Wilson sat on my lap and shook. He hates going to the vet and is usually quite vocal while waiting but this time he was too quiet. Eventually it was our turn. The vet, Claire, examined him carefully as he trembled on the table. He let her put her thermometer up his backside without the usual resistance so I knew then that he wasn’t feeling well! She was concerned that there was noise in his lungs and he had a slight fever so she wanted to admit him to the hospital for X-rays, blood tests and fluids. She whisked him away, leaving me with a form to fill in detailing his normal routine, food, sleeping and toileting habits and as I wrote down all the things he liked and disliked the tears came. I felt bereft leaving him there but I knew he was in good hands.

Later that evening Claire called to say that he had undergone a chest X-ray under sedation and there were early signs of aspiration pneumonia, meaning that when he had vomited he had inhaled some into his lungs which was causing inflammation. Because this had been caught early it was easily treatable with IV antibiotics but Claire was still anxious to find out what had caused the vomiting in the first place so they had taken bloods as well to test for various different things. I couldn’t relax so I ended up calling the night team after midnight to see if he had settled. They assured me that he was quiet and that he had eaten a little so I went to bed, although I didn’t get much sleep.

The following morning I phoned for another update and was told that Wilson was much brighter, he had apparently chewed his drip up and had destroyed bits of his kennel in a bid to escape during the night, so they were happy to let him come home with antibiotics in tablet form. Wilson and I were overjoyed to be reunited. After settling a rather huge bill we left with some special tins of recovery food and an appointment for a check up in a few days time. He certainly seemed much better, although he was still quiet and climbed into my lap every time I sat down. He really seemed to like the bland food though, lapping enthusiastically at it and making a proper mess on the kitchen floor. It was a relief to see him enjoying his food again and I relaxed enough to jump onto the treadmill for a bit of a workout. Just as I was cooling down, a call came through from the vet. Claire explained that she had done a snap test that afternoon with some of Wilsons blood and it had come back as abnormal for pancreatic enzymes. The test does not give a number and can sometimes give a false reading so she wanted to send some blood off to the lab to get a more accurate picture of what was going on. I agreed with her that it would be better to know for sure what we were dealing with, even so I was worried.

Two days later we returned to the surgery for Wilsons check up. Naturally he was not happy to be back so soon but he bravely tolerated another examination. Claire was happy that his breathing had improved and that the meds were doing the trick and we agreed that he would stay on the prescription diet, at least until the test results were back. Another large bill for all the extra tests and more food was waiting for me at the desk but I was just so relieved that Wilson was recovering.

A few days later Claire phoned again. This time she was not so upbeat. The reading for enzymes had come back at over 500. Claire explained that anything over 200 was considered high. This meant a definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis, simply meaning inflammation of the pancreas, which can be serious but will hopefully be controllable with a strict low fat diet. Although I knew it was a bad idea, I began to research the condition. I soon realised that Wilson had been displaying some of the symptoms a few days before he went to the vet. He had been stretching and bowing down during mealtimes as if he had a stitch, a sign that eating was causing him some discomfort, and had been more tired on walks than usual. It all started to make sense now that I knew what was wrong! I have always been very strict with all the dogs, feeding them good quality dog food and minimal treats to ensure that they stay slim so I was dismayed that this had happened but apparently some breeds are genetically prone to certain conditions and French Bulldogs are unfortunately prone to more than their fair share. Wilson has always been a small, slightly built dog but he has lost just over a kilo, which is a lot for a dog his size. He is looking a bit skinny but we are hoping he will fill out again once he adjusts to his new low fat, and very expensive specialist food. I have managed to source it more cheaply online but it is still going to be three or four times to cost of his regular Bulldog food. However, he is worth every penny and we will all be doing everything we can to keep him as healthy as possible. Heres hoping for a less eventful few weeks so that we can all recover!

Thanks for reading. xx

A Quality Weekend

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Just returned from a four day break spending quality time with my sister Em in Devon and it’s safe to say it was an eventful trip! She arrived to pick me up in a headscarf and sunglasses combo, a tribute to Thelma and Louise on their road trip, but hopefully without the tragic ending. The journey was an easy one, even the tricky bit getting past Bristol, with no hold ups and we were soon on the A roads. We tend to chat pretty much non-stop when we are together so it seemed like no time at all had passed when we reached Ilfracombe. Excitement was at fever pitch as we parked up on the seafront. A feeling of peace always descends on me when I’m in this sleepy little place, which I know like the back of my hand. After a stroll around the harbour with its tearooms and gift shops, we stopped for lunch in Dolly’s cafe. It’s the perfect spot for people watching and the jacket potatoes are legendary. We stopped briefly for some supplies before heading to Hele Bay, the home of our grandparents for many years. I am instantly transported back to my childhood self in this environment. The beach here is by no means the prettiest in North Devon, it is an unspoilt cove with basic facilities and is unforgiving in bad weather with no shelter from the elements but to me it holds wonderful memories of long summer days spent fishing for crabs in rock pools and splashing in the paddling pool. Em had booked us into one of the pretty pastel wooden chalets on Beach Cove Resort which sits directly above the beach. Our cabin was towards the back of the park and had its own hot tub. The interior was small but beautifully done and we quickly settled in with a cuppa, happy to just gaze through the window at the beach and reminisce.

Within about half an hour it started to rain and soon the wind picked up. We knew the forecast wasn’t brilliant but we weren’t quite prepared for Storm Hannah! By the evening our little chalet was being battered from all sides and we were frankly thankful that we were not right on the cliff edge at the front. We went to bed and my bed was moving with me in it! There was no chance of getting any sleep as the wind roared around us and the rain lashed the windows. It was pretty scary. By the next morning it was still windy but the sun was shining. Our outdoor table and chairs were in a heap and many of the other guests were outside checking for damage. Feeling groggy, we had some breakfast and decided to brave the hot tub. Although it was cold outside we enjoyed a relaxing soak and felt more human. We walked into Ilfracombe, feasted on delicious toasties and milkshakes and visited the famous fudge shop Roly’s for gifts for the family. Of course we bought some for ourselves, lemon meringue fudge for Em and peanut butter fudge for me and sat on one of the benches overlooking the harbour to eat some of it, under the beady-eyed watch of several seagulls. Needing to walk off all those calories we took the Tarka trail back, the coastal path which winds up and over Hillsborough and down the other side into Hele. The walk takes about an hour, with various viewing points where we could stop and catch our breath. Right at the highest point the wind was so strong that we had to hold on to a signpost as we feared we would be blown off the edge! We had a table booked at a local fish restaurant for dinner and got back to the chalet with just enough time to change and head off. Later we watched a movie, both of us were exhausted and barely able to stay awake until the end.

By Sunday morning the wind had dropped but rain had set in for the day, still we made full use of the hot tub, who cares, we are getting wet anyway. We braved the drizzle for a stroll to the old water mill where the owners of this beautiful iconic landmark mill their own flour and serve the most divine homemade cakes and cream teas. We shared a combination of the traditional cream and jam variety and their savoury version, a fluffy, warm cheesy scone with cream cheese and homemade caramelised onion jam which is, dare I say it, even better than the sweet version. The little tea room displays local art and sculpture and this year they even had lambs and rabbits in a little petting zoo, much to the delight of my animal-mad sister. Later, hoping the rain would ease off we drove to Woolacombe but it was too wet and cold to go onto the beach so we settled for watching the surfers from the car instead. We stopped off in Ilfracombe on the way home and bought fish and chips for dinner.

Monday morning and time to go home. We were late getting up and had to rush around packing so that we could vacate our chalet on time. After a final stroll on Hele beach we headed off to Woolacombe again for some last minute shopping and breakfast before heading home. Em was disappointed that the weather hadn’t been too good but I honestly didn’t care, for me it was enough just to be there, to get away from the routine of my daily life and visit my favourite place in the whole world. I don’t think I will ever feel differently about Devon, it has featured so heavily in my life and always will hold a special place in my heart.

Please tell me in the comments if you have a special place you love to visit and why. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading. xx

Life

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That good old Ronan Keating song accurately describes my life at the moment. Up and down like a whore’s drawers, as my stepdad, God rest his soul, used to quip. It’s the reason why I haven’t been able to post for a while. I have so many stories jostling around for space in my head, I just need the time to be able to get them written down! So much of the time my life just bumps along the dirt track, occasionally dipping into a pot hole but mostly staying upright. At the moment though it is careening downhill with dodgy brakes and I am struggling to control it.

Depression. The big black dog some people call it. I am a dog person so I don’t liken it to a dog. Dogs are happy creatures, always obliging, always loyal. Mine are the reason I get out of bed some mornings. Although they are all happy to lay beside me for hours on end, they do have basic needs which require my attention. It’s not always obvious when I’m depressed. Some days I can function perfectly normally even though I feel like I’m wading, knee-deep, through treacle. It’s exhausting. I get up, see to the dogs, spend an hour or so in the gym, have a shower, make lunch, take the dogs out for a walk, make dinner. All on auto-pilot. If someone speaks to me I can hold a conversation, smile, joke, but all the time I feel hollow. If I was to be tapped with a hammer, my outer shell would shatter into a million pieces and there would be nothing inside.

It’s not as dark as it sounds. I’m not about to throw myself off the nearest bridge, I have a phobia of heights for a start. I don’t want to exit this beautiful life. I have an awful lot to be thankful for and, hopefully, many more years of riding this glorious roller coaster with all its thrills and spills. I just sometimes get tired of the sameness of it all. Perhaps, inside my head, as my hormones and brain cells rapidly deplete, I am becoming aware that time is running out. I’ve lived longer than I have left, if you know what I mean. My bucket list has hardly been ticked at all and I want to do it all but I’m just so tired.

I will snap out of this pity party, I always do. On Friday my sister is taking me to Devon for four whole days. It’s her birthday present to me. She has booked us into a luxury holiday chalet, with a private hot tub no less, in Ilfracombe, our favourite place in the whole world. We try to get there once a year. When we were kids there was a clutch of battered old caravans on the cliff edge, overlooking the little beach. Our grandparents lived in a house further up the hill and when we visited in the summer we would make friends with some of the kids who stayed in the caravans. Often the same families would come for a holiday every year so we got to know them well. One year there was a terrible storm during the night. By morning several of the caravans were in bits on the beach, having blown off the edge in the high winds. Miraculously no one was hurt, but the site was condemned. About five years ago building work began on the old land and the following year a luxury park appeared with little pastel coloured wooden buildings, pretty gardens and a rooftop bar with seating overlooking the bay. We were staying in a B&B nearby for a few days so we walked up to take a look. The chalets were so sweet, some of them had hot tubs outside and all were kitted out with the latest gadgets. We popped into the onsite office to enquire about them and were absolutely gobsmacked at the prices. It was easily more than triple what we would normally pay for a few days in the guest house but we still gazed wistfully at them on our annual visits. And finally, in a few days time we will actually get to stay in one! I’m beyond excited. My birthday was about a month ago and the wait has been agonising but it’s nearly over. We will be doing lots of walking, visiting our favourite haunts, lots of eating (cream teas are a must in Devon) and we will be sitting in the hot tub, putting the world to rights come rain or shine and I will return to my home rested and restored. There is nothing more miraculously healing for the soul than some time away with good company in a place you love. Let’s just hope we don’t get any storms!

Thanks for reading. xx

 

 

Even More Progress

I couldn’t resist posting a picture of my new stair carpet which was fitted today. Right at the beginning of this renovation project I had a vision for the hall and finally it is all finished. I’m delighted with how it looks.

Next up is the kitchen. I’m working with our builder on the design right now. Looking forward to sharing the journey with you all.

Thanks for reading. Xx

Bit Fit

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Anyone who follows my blog will know that I celebrated a birthday recently. My lovely daughter bought me a shiny, black Fitbit. I tend to follow an annual pattern where I start dieting after the Easter chocolate binge, in preparation for my holidays in September. Then over Christmas I relax my regime and the weight creeps back on again until the whole routine starts all over again the following Spring. This year though, I felt that I really should try to work on my fitness levels. My diabetic nurse is always banging on about doing a little bit of exercise every day to help keep my blood sugars stable, so I was delighted with my daughter’s gift. It took me a few days to get used to wearing the device all the time, especially at night, but the app logs the amount and quality of sleep you get which is fascinating. I can also set an alarm on the app which wakes me gently by vibrating on my wrist, rather than the nerve-jangling noise from my phone alarm.

As well as tracking my sleep, the app allows me to monitor my water intake, meals, weight and even my menstrual cycle. I always thought I drank plenty of water throughout the day but trying to hit my target of 2500 mls has proved tricky. It also means many more trips to the bathroom. I do understand the importance of keeping well hydrated, however, so the benefits to my wellbeing outweigh the side effects!  Unfortunately I do have a slightly obsessive compulsive personality which means that I feel compelled to complete all the challenges every day. If I miss an hourly step goal I get really annoyed. I log every morsel of food which passes my lips to the best of my ability and check the app regularly, jumping up and jogging around the room when prompted, then feeling ridiculously pleased with the resulting praise it gives me.

The best thing though, has been how much I have enjoyed using the treadmill. We are fortunate enough to have a small gym space, with a treadmill, exercise bike and weights which has not seen much use until now, and I find that my mood improves greatly when I am working out, something to do with endorphins I think. Anyway, I’m finding it a really useful bit of tech to keep me on track. I might not be ready to run a marathon yet but I’m definitely a bit fitter!

Thanks for reading. xx

Birthday Celebrations

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On Wednesday morning I leapt out of bed. Tonight was Magic Mike Live night. I was so excited about my birthday trip to London. I spent the morning generally hopping about in anticipation and changing my mind a gazillion times about what to wear. My sister arrived in the afternoon to get ready with me. We were like school girls. giddy and restless. At last we were ready to go. The white limo turned up, Darren the driver was smart and attentive. The other girls arrived soon afterwards and all eight of us piled in to the car. My sister had bought me a sparkly birthday tiara and a huge badge, which announced to the world in pink glitter that I was 50. We were soon London- bound in our neon chariot. On the way we drank bubbly and listened to music we chose especially to get us in a party mood.

Once in Leicester square, a slightly squiffy gentleman honed in on me in my birthday finery and after telling me three times that I didn’t look 50 (which, let’s face it, is always good to hear), wished me a Happy Birthday and pecked me on the cheek, much to the amusement of my companions. We found a cocktail bar near the Hippodrome called The Alchemist and, again thanks to the balloons and birthday badges, managed to bag a table even though they were really busy. They even brought me a free cocktail. It had dry ice on the top so that when I added the vodka the drink turned flamingo pink and vapour poured out of the top and over the sides. It tasted like Ribena and went down a treat! After a little food to line our stomachs we headed off to the show.

Having never been inside the Hippodrome casino, I was surprised at what an elegant building it is, all art deco tiles in black and gold, absolutely stunning. My daughter, her friend and my younger nieces had to show ID to get in but obvs I was wearing my badge, so I didn’t need to show mine!! Every member of staff we encountered wished me Happy Birthday which was a nice touch. We were shown to the theatre where we had front row seats. It was not at all what I had imagined. The place was small, just a three hundred capacity, and dimly lit with a tiny stage in the centre. It had a slightly grimy, night club feel. There was a seated gallery above with a glass plinth running around the inside. We were informed by the staff when we took our seats that during the show our tables would be used by the dancers, which was exciting. Waiters bought us huge cocktails with suggestive names in what looked like fish bowls. Suddenly the music started and we were off!

Right from the start all our senses were assaulted at once. The dancers appeared on stage but also behind and above us, weaving among the audience, giving a sultry look or a gentle squeeze as they passed by. I quickly spotted a moody looking young man who resembled Channing Tatum, but there was someone for everyone, a boy-next-door type, a long-haired rock star, a dark, brooding Italian Stallion, a veritable mix-up bag of man. They were dressed casually at first in jeans and t-shirts, no stereo-typical stripper uniforms for these dancers. There was a loose storyline depicting a waiter who is taken under the wing of the female compere and taught about how to treat a woman right. The message was strongly geared towards girl-power and treating all women with respect, but it still delivered on what the audience had paid for, pretty men dancing for our pleasure and most importantly, no naked genitalia in sight! The stage management was slick, tables were cleared and people placed meticulously to ensure everyone’s safety at all times. I never once felt unsafe or uncomfortable. It definitely wouldn’t be for everyone, but the crowd was a blend of women of all ages and even a few brave men! Throughout the show the female inner “Unicorn”, voiced by Channing Tatum, urged us to give in to our feminine desires and submit to the experience. Unicorn money rained down on us and we embraced it all willingly.

Finally, as the atmosphere became super-charged with hormones, Baby Channing fixed me with a lingering glare and made a bee line straight for me. Swivelling me towards him on my chair he straddled my legs and placed my hands on his chest, all the while looking into my eyes. I have honestly never felt human flesh so hard and yet so smooth at the same time. He smelled absolutely amazing. I was impressed and slightly scared. My party looked on and I gave them a cheeky wink as they videoed me getting a lap dance. It was all over in a flash but it made my night. And yes, I know it’s all part of the show, and they do it twice a night, every night for months on end, but if the purpose of the show is to make women feel good, then it absolutely fulfils the brief.

The celebrations carried on all week. The following day was my actual birthday and it was truly lovely. Big was back from his business trip to Norway and it was good to catch up with him. After a lazy brunch with my mum and sister, during which my sister revealed that we were going on a girlie trip to Ilfracombe as her gift to me, I prepared for the kids and my grandson to come over for dinner. They showered me with gifts and my baby grandson gave amazing gummy kisses. It was heavenly.

Then, on Saturday evening, after spending all afternoon building flat-pack furniture for our lounge, Big took me to our favourite riverside restaurant for a romantic dinner. I think I would happily turn fifty all over again in a heartbeat, it was a magical few days. For now, it’s back to reality. The builders are due to start work on the kitchen in a few weeks time, so I intend to enjoy some peace and quiet while I can. Oh, and I have plenty of baking to keep me busy!

Thanks for reading. xx

 

Just A Number

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Next week I will be turning 50. Half a century on this earth. A real cause for celebration and I shall be celebrating in style.

I can’t quite believe how quickly those years have passed. In my head I’m still 25. Sure, the knees creak a bit when I bend them and I sometimes make a completely involuntary noise when I get up from a chair (what is all that about?) I can remember my sister and I giggling hysterically when our Nanna would groan as she sat on the loo and now I catch myself doing it. Well, I am a nanna myself now so I suppose it must come with the territory!

I distinctly remember, as a teenager, being unaware of how old my mum was, even though I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that she had been 20 when she had me. I group of friends were discussing how old their parents were and I remember thinking that their average ages, 35 to 38, were so old. I personally loved being 36. My children were becoming more independent by that point and I felt more comfortable in my own skin. I think I finally knew who I was, it took all that time to find my true self. I also think that as a family we were becoming more financially secure and I was content. Turning 40 was not a big deal as far as I was concerned. I didn’t find it depressing or scary. I got a few very rude birthday cards but that was to be expected given my family. I generally had a good time and once it was out of the way I didn’t give it another thought.

Approaching 50 is another thing all together, although again, it hasn’t been a negative thing for me. I mean, the increasing frequency of adverts for Vagisil popping up on my Facebook timeline is a little annoying. The scattering of liver spots on my hands is puzzling. And what is it with hair as you get older? My eyebrows and armpits have become somewhat sparse and yet the hair on my legs and my head still grows at the same rate it always has, how does that work? And I’m always hot. Not in a good way either. It’s like my internal thermostat is broken. I spend every waking minute either trying to decide what to wear or trying to figure out what to take off. I haven’t worn a coat, even in the depths of winter, for years. I can’t stand being in a department store for more than a few minutes, it’s like being in a sauna for me and I get very grumpy. When our underfloor heating was installed Big decided to test how high it would go. I accused him of trying to cook me. I had to keep going outside to cool down, it was unbearable. When we have our kitchen replaced I won’t have to worry because I will be able to cook dinner on our living room floor!

When my mum was coming up to her 50th birthday her best friend signed her up to loads of mail shot companies so that for the next year or so she was inundated with leaflets and letters promoting stairlifts, mobility scooters and incontinence products. She was not amused! Hopefully my friends will not be quite so cheeky. I have some wicked plans for my own “coming of age” saga. On Wednesday eight of us gorgeous ladies are off to London in a limo to see Magic Mike Live. Nothing like a night out with a group of scantily clad, oiled up hunks of prime man to make a girl feel young. The following day, my actual birthday will include brunch with my sister and a get together with the kids and my grandson in the evening. Then at the weekend Big is taking me for a slap-up dinner at a surprise location. He is amazing at organising gifts, always finding just the right thing I never knew I wanted. I plan to have a blast next week and I will definitely be growing old disgracefully.

Thanks for reading. xx