June Journals #21 ~ Soggy Start to Summer

Son's Giraffe

Son’s Giraffe

So it’s the start of summer.

Apparently.

You wouldn’t know it, based on the weather. It has barely stopped raining long enough to mow the lawn, not that it matters as the kids can’t get out in the garden without risk of injury, or possibly drowning.

Yesterday was a classic example. I ironed for most of the day as fence-staining was so not happening.

I just managed to walk the dog in a light drizzle and hoped to do the school run without a coat. It might be raining non-stop but it’s still too darn humid for appropriate clothing.

In hindsight a brolly might have been a good idea.

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Soggy School Run

Despite parking as close to the school gate as possible, I managed to get drenched to the skin in the ten minute cloud burst that graced pick up time. It happens so often – the weather god has a warped sense of humour.

By the time we got home it was sunny again and blue skies reigned until bed time while the humidity crept to raid-the-freezer-for-ice-cream unbearable. To think, four months ago I bought a humidifier for my son’s room!

British weather: you gotta love it. Unpredictable is an understatement.

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Hama Bead Horse

Still, at least I only got wet for a short while, and could change my sodden jeans straight away. My husband went to watch his Italian cousin play Ultimate Frisbee in an International tournament in St Albans and it poured.

So much for Summer Solstice.

But it’s okay. I quite like the rain.

We sat and did hama beads between school and Rainbows, and I’ve got to the point where I’d much rather do craft than watch cartwheels. 😀

Sleepy Thursday: 2013 365 Challenge #199

My new 'keep the kids cool' weapon

My new ‘keep the kids cool’ weapon

Ah hello Summer cold, we’ve been expecting you.

Little man coughed every 30 seconds for most of the night. I went and gave him milk, calpol and a cuddle on his new (child sized) sofa for as long as I could, to no avail. I thought he was asleep until he climbed into our bed ten minutes later and coughed and wriggled for the remainder of the night. Yawn. Pass the coffee.

At least the oppressive night-time heat broke like a fever around 2am, leaving a calm cool breeze washing through the open windows.

I was going to write today’s post about some old blog posts of mine I stumbled across yesterday, on how to write a novel with children underfoot, back in the day when I thought this would be a writing-advice blog, rather than a diary-cum-confessional. I will have to save that for tomorrow as I can barely keep my eyes open and I have an hour to get kids to nursery and write Claire’s showdown with Carl.

Even baby Annabelle's had enough (or is she drunk?)

Even baby Annabelle’s had enough (or is she drunk?)

These hot days are sapping more than my energy and good humour, they’re wiping away any remaining vocabulary left in my addled Mummy brain.

The thing I noticed most about my first posts on WriterMummy, written last March? They were penned with a sharpness of phrase I can only dream of. I don’t know how: I imagine I was getting less sleep then than now. Maybe only blogging every couple of weeks meant I stored up good phrases, or I was less self-conscious about my writing, knowing no one was reading it.

I also had more time to read other people’s posts back then – funny parenting posts, mostly – and that style of writing rubs of. It just proves the point that writers must read as much as write.

I think that might be my ‘homework’ today! I’ve just started reading a recommended book, Emotional Geology, which is reminding me of Virginia Woolf in style, as it’s quite stream-of-consciousness in the way it jumps about. Enjoying it though. Now I just need to tackle Carl, and consume some caffeine!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Despite quivering limbs, Claire felt happiness bubble deep inside. The look in Carl’s eyes, as he gazed at her across the desk, reminded her of a hunted animal finally cornered and aware there is nowhere left to run. It strengthened her resolve and calmed some of the jitters.

“Hello, Claire. This is an unexpected pleasure.” Carl’s mouth worked silently, as if more words wanted to be spoken but were under restraint.

“Yes, isn’t it. How are you? Are you well?”

Carl’s eyebrows flickered up almost imperceptibly, flummoxed by Claire’s affable conversation.

“Yes, very well. The Birds Eye account renewed, and we’ve secured three new clients this month already.” He sat back in his chair, his elbows resting on the arms of the large leather seat that diminished his stature rather than enlarging it as intended.

Sitting forward, Claire glanced sideways at the door. A flicker only, but Carl detected it, and shifted uncomfortably. Claire watched him squirm with indecision. If he called Julia in to take a drinks order, he would be treating Claire as a welcome visitor, despite her impromptu visit. On the other hand, if he didn’t follow normal protocol, he would communicate to the rest of the office that she was not there at his bidding. Claire nearly laughed out loud as the thoughts waged war across his face.

You should take some lessons from your receptionist; she’s a much better poker player than you are.

After a moment that stretched to eternity, Carl leant forwards and pressed the intercom on his desk.

“Julia, can you come in, please?”

The door opened immediately, and Claire suspected Carl’s PA had been hovering with her fingers already round the handle.

“There you are, Julia. Coffee for me, if you will.” He tilted his head in question at Claire, and she turned to face her erstwhile tormentor.

“Hello, Julia. Earl Grey, thank you.” She smiled sweetly, keeping her expression neutral.

Julia’s mouth dropped open and she shut it with a snap, before spinning away. Claire took the opportunity to inhale deeply and rub her sweaty hands down her dress, while Carl was distracted.

“So.” Carl turned, resting his arms on the desk. “To business.”

“It’s always business, isn’t it.”

Claire reached into the bag at her side, before Carl could answer, and retrieved a pristine white envelope, which she slid across the desk.

“I think you’ll find this self-explanatory.”

Carl looked at it and the colour drained from his face. A sheen of sweat made his brow sparkle in the office lights.

“You’re resigning?”

“I thought you’d be pleased.” Claire frowned, her poise slipping for the first time. “Isn’t that what you’ve been striving for since February?” She closed her lips, unwilling to give any more away.

“Yes, well, no. Of course not.” Flustered, Carl stumbled over his words.

“Oh, come on, Carl. There’s no need to play the game any longer. Not with me. You’ve won. That should make you happy.”

“Why? Why now, I mean.”

“I’ve had a better offer.” No need to mention she hadn’t even had an interview for the new role Linda had called her about. The potential had been enough to convince her of her next move.

“How much?”

Claire felt the heat rise in her cheeks at the audacity of Carl’s question. Refusing to rise to the bait, she crossed her legs, gazing coolly at him. “That’s all it is to you, isn’t it? Money. I pity you.”

Carl sat back as if she had spat at him. “If it’s not the money, why are you leaving?”

“Need you ask? You sent me on some fool’s errand, fit only for a manager at best, to force me to leave. No, don’t tell me that bullshit story of proving myself fit to the directors. We both know that was tosh.”

Carl shrugged. “The deal was real.”

“But the idea to send me was yours? Was I treading on your toes? Making you nervous? Well, you can relax. I wouldn’t have your job if you paid me double whatever exorbitant salary you’re on.” She paused, as Julia re-entered with their drinks.

The PA hovered, sensing the atmosphere and desperate to leave with some gossip. She glanced at the white envelope untouched on Carl’s desk, and Claire knew that was fuel enough for the rumour machine.

“Thank you, Julia, you may go.” Julia flinched at the icy tones, and scuttled from the room.

“What do you want, then, if not money? Prestige? A new car?”

“Nothing you can buy. In fact, I have to thank you. If you hadn’t sent me on that stupid assignment, I might still think cars and titles were worth something.”

It was Carl’s turn to sneer. “Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you’ve turned hippy. Look at you, still the heels and sharp suit. You haven’t changed. You’ve met some bloke, that’s it, isn’t it?” He jeered lasciviously and Claire crossed her arms, resisting the urge to throw her tea over him.

“No. No man, no money, no shiny car or bigger office. Just an opportunity to make a difference; to be me. To live a little in the real world.” She looked round his minimalist office, with the tinted windows obscuring the view outside. “You should try it sometime.”

Draining the last of her tea, Claire stood up. “I still have three weeks holiday, with what I carried over from last year. I’ll work to the end of the week.”

“What? You can’t. You’re on three months’ notice, and you took that week last week.” Panic raised his voice to a squeak.

“No. You gave me last week in lieu of the weekends I have worked, and if you check my contract I’m only on a month’s notice. I would like to say it’s been a pleasure, but I’ve had enough of lying.”

Leaving her boss gaping like a landed fish, Claire placed her cup on his desk, and glided from the room.

***

Keeping Cool: 2013 365 Challenge #198

The tools need to keep preschoolers cool

The tools needed to keep preschoolers cool

We  have enjoyed yet another day of 30+ degrees today. In England! It’s unheard of. British weather is meant to be wellies in June and jumpers in July. My kind of weather. But, no. Two weeks of sun, blue skies and hot, hot, hot.

I’d say the standard British line, “Not that I’m complaining” but I am, of course!

I make no secret of the fact that I am Scandinavian in my soul, if not in my genes. I like it fairly cool. Something between 15C and 20C is just fine. If I don’t have to do anything, you can raise it to 22C, as long as there’s a pool for me to cool off in, and plenty of ice-cold fizzy drinks.

And that was before having children! Now? How do you keep energetic preschoolers cool and covered in sun cream? It’s a mystery. Well, I thought I’d compile my top ten favourite ways of keeping the kids safe and happy, and me out the sun (as the children will tell you, “The hot makes Mummy grumpy”.)

1. Paddling pool. It’s a must. With a slide is even better, for prolonged fun, although that increases the need for plasters, cuddles and something to stop the decking being quite so slippery. We have two paddling pools, a big one (with a leak, that needs re-inflating often) and a little one for every day.

2. Non-muddy puddles. We have a dip in our patio (by design, of course! cough cough) where water gathers. Fill it with a bucket of water and instant puddle jumping.

3. Hose-pipe fight. No explanation required.

This is me: hot cross bunny

This is me: hot cross bunny

4. Sand-pit. Our sandpit is in the shade most of the day (or can be made shady with a brolly and pegged-up towels). It is messy: a blind eye needs to be turned to the spreading of sand outside the sandpit for this activity to last more than five minutes without my intervention.

5. Picnic in the playhouse (much-needed shade and quiet time although it can get a bit hot and stuffy)

6. Ice cream. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy – I have frozen blended strawberries and bananas, although I’m not a parent that worries about a bit of sugar, so the shop bought ones are fine. Two or three mini milks throughout the day cools them down and minimises the whining when the ice cream man rings his bell at 6pm

7. TV. Sorry, this is a must. Our lounge is the only vaguely cool room after 11am and regular stops for TV or iPad time keeps us all from going crazy

8. Craft at the kitchen table. Something simple. Today we made crowns and masks (the latter a really easy kit thing that didn’t need much help)

9. Puzzles in the lounge. See number 7.

10. Trip to the supermarket. That might seem odd but a) the car has air con (although probably more effective for me than the kids) and b) the supermarket has air con. I wouldn’t make a special trip, unless they were really driving me nuts, but calling in on the way home from a play date this afternoon, it was genius.

What other tips can you suggest for keeping cool? I think I still have a few days left of the heatwave to survive before British Autumn arrives!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire climbed out of the Skoda and stretched, cricking her neck left and right to release the tension. Driving north on a Monday had been a crazy thing to do, but she’d followed the impulse without questioning it too closely. That might be a mistake. She shrugged. It didn’t feel wrong.

Reaching in to the passenger seat, Claire grabbed her bag, then – checking she had the keys in her hand – she locked the car door from the inside and shut it with a slam. Time to get to work.

*

Two hours later, Claire left the salon and shook her head, feeling her tamed bob skimming her shoulders. It seemed frivolous to pay someone to wash and straighten her hair, but it hadn’t been done since she’d had it cut. Pushing away an unwelcome memory, she brushed her hands down her new dress, admiring the way it clung to curves she hadn’t realised had developed with her travelling regime of climbing hills and forgetting meals.

There was one stop left. Claire entered the department store and headed for the beauty department.

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” The face beaming at her looked ready for a stage performance rather than a day behind a cosmetics counter. Claire hoped she wasn’t the woman she was after.

“Yes please. I’m trying to choose a new foundation, I wonder if you can assist me?”

“Of course. Would you like our make-up specialist to give you a demonstration?”

Forbearing to suggest she wasn’t the only one who needed some hints and tips, Claire nodded. Mission accomplished.

*

Claire pushed through the glass doors, ignoring the pinch of her new heels and the stab of guilt when she thought of the thirty pairs locked in storage not too far away.

Oh well. This is important. And you can never have too many shoes. The thought was automatic, but felt alien in Claire’s mind. It had been months since she’d worn anything other than hiking boots or pumps. Her calves ached with the unaccustomed stretch of four-inch heels. No pain, no gain. The additional height was important.

Claire approached the steel structure of the reception desk. Designed to intimidate, Claire refused to let it do so.

Smiling down at the seated receptionist, she forced her face to relax. “Hello, I would like to see Mr Thurman, please?”

“Do you have an appointment?” The woman wore her expression like a steel mask.

Claire swallowed. “Can you tell him that Claire Carleton is here to see him?”

Without unbending her features, the receptionist reached for the phone, while Claire tried not to fidget. She watched the receptionist’s face, but her inscrutable expression defied interpretation.

Receptionists must make good poker players.

Claire’s stomach churned and she wished she’d had lunch. Gurgling was not going to add to her presence.

After a short wait and a terse conversation, the receptionist replaced her handset and looked up at Claire. A faint hint of surprise registered in her lifted brows. “Mr Thurman has asked you to go straight up.”

Heart hammering like a night club beat, Claire walked to the lift and resisted the urge to check her hair or makeup in the reflective surface to her left. The lift doors opened with a hiss and she walked in, back straight, head high. As the doors closed behind her, she slumped against the glass and inhaled deeply.

Come on, you can do this.

All too soon, the lift deposited her at her destination. Squaring her shoulders once more, Claire strode from the metal box and walked across the office floor. She felt eyes tracking her progress, and heard the susurration that followed her, as heads bent together and speculation ran rife.

Outside the office, Claire paused, before lifting her hand to knock at the door. Damn. Forgot the manicure. Bugger.

Dropping her hands, she curled her fingers in to hide the plain, short nails that jarred with her otherwise immaculate image.

“Come in.”

The terse voice called from behind the door. It sent shudders through Claire, emotions fizzing along her nerve endings.

Claire pulled the door open and walked unhurriedly inwards to take a chair. When she had positioned herself, knees together, hands clasped in her lap, back rigid, she looked up. Pouring three months of hard life lessons into her glittering smile, Claire met the eyes staring at her from behind the desk.

“Hello, Carl.”

***

Gold Star Day: 2013 365 Challenge #195

The awesome adventure playground at Belton House

The awesome adventure playground

Last week I read a post on the Mummy Kindness blog about remembering to celebrate the small daily achievements, as well as the big ones, particularly as a parent.

On those days when the chores are overwhelming, the laundry endless, the fridge empty, the children impossible and the tears enough to fill a paddling pool (and that’s just mine) it’s important to remember that the little things matter.

Mummy Kindness summed up the feelings of despair eloquently:

“Do you ever feel like your main role in life is simply to move mounds of clothing from one place to the other?

The tallest slide in the world (or so it seemed to my 2yo)

The tallest slide in the world

“Or is that just me? From the floor, to the basket, to the machine. Where it remains for too long. Wash it again. Put it in the dryer. Forget about it. Still damp and smelly. Wash it again. Repeat. Dry it. Iron it (sometimes), put it in drawers and on hangers. Chase moving targets to wrap them in it. Find items on floor. Move them to basket. Repeat, repeat, repeat ad infinitum.”

The point of the post was to reassure us harassed parents that it all matters. Even when the day feels like an endless stress of thankless tasks, it is all important.

“The small things. The chores. The wiping and the chasing and the cajoling and the finding of things. The comforting and the playing and the rushing and the constant busy. It is all part of a very important picture. It may seem ordinary. Mundane even. Sometimes banal. But it is part of the tapestry of family life.”

Summer boy having fun

Summer boy having fun

On days when it feels like you have done nothing but yell at your kids and feed them chocolate (or is that just me?) it’s important to remember that all the tiny details add up to something huge.

My response, in the comments, was this: “I really needed this today. Hubbie had a bad day at work yesterday and, instead of being sympathetic, I stomped round the house grumping that it’s always me that loads and unstacks the dishwasher, buys food and cooks it, cleans floor, kids, clothes, smelly dog, paint-covered-paddling pools and mouldy car carpets (it’s not just you!)”

“It’s hard to not need that pat on the back, but I do try and give it to myself. Every time I manage to get to nursery on time with brushed hair (me or the kids, I don’t mind) and at least one set of teeth brushed, I give myself a mental gold star!”

Well, today was a gold-star day. Today, in 32 degree heat (which makes my brain boil and my temper fray) I managed to get all the way to bedtime without bellowing once. A miracle.

Hiding from the sun at Belton House

Hiding from the sun

I had the fab idea to take the family to a National Trust property that has a tree-covered adventure playground (star)

I remembered the place is huge and a pushchair is essential, even though we don’t really use one anymore (star)

I managed to pull a picnic together out of half a loaf, some cheese and a pack of museli bars (star).

I covered us all in factor 50 sun cream (star)

I packed spare clothes so daughter could change out of her chocolate-ice cream-covered dress (star),

I remembered the porta-potty, the kids comfort toys and their milk for the trip home (star)

I thought to pack the swimming bag so we could swing by grandma’s on the way home for a swim (star).

In response to my comment, the author of the Mummy Kindness blog said “Maybe we need to think of it as a mental piggy bank for us to fill with our own virtual gold coins. Or to take it a step further, perhaps our very own reward chart complete with stickers, to remind of us of all we do and how important we are!”

My idea? To reward ourselves with a spa day for every full reward chart. I think I earned at least a pedicure today!

A final thought from Mummy Kindness to sustain you on a bad day: “When it feels like we’ll never be enough, we need to remember; Who else knows that the Hulk costume is in the green toy box under the table in the spare room?”

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire pulled up outside the Oxford YHA, and knew she should have stayed in her own bed. The purpose-built yellow brick building loomed large and soulless against the night sky. A train thundered past and she guessed the station must be nearby.

At least I’m tired enough to sleep through anything.

She peered through the window, trying to locate the car park in the dark, headlights dazzling her tired eyes, before she realised there wasn’t one. Damn, I should have checked when I booked. Bouncing the Skoda up the kerb on a single-yellow, she put the hazard lights on and ran in to ask at reception.

“I’m booked in for the night, but I can’t see the car park. Is there anywhere to leave the car?” Claire panted out the words, barely registering the smart reception or the group of people waiting to check in.

“You have to use the park and ride, love. About a mile away. You’ll be lucky to get a bus at this time on a Sunday, though. Leave your bag, it won’t take too long to walk.”

The receptionist smiled, as if this were perfectly acceptable news for someone just arriving after a long drive.

Claire groaned, and headed back to the car for her rucksack. All she wanted, after two hours of negotiating winding roads and roundabouts and junctions, trusting fully in the satnav to bring her safely to her destination, was a cup of tea and a comfy chair.

Would have been nice if they’d mentioned something on the website.

She thought about walking the streets of Oxford on a Sunday night, never mind leaving her car in a park and ride to be vandalised. Sod that. Jaw set and brow furrowed, Claire climbed into the car and started scouring the local residential streets for a space that wasn’t permit only.

After quarter of an hour, the traffic gods smiled on her, and she found a space just large enough to squeeze the Skoda into. With a smile of satisfaction, Claire pulled her rucksack out and tried to remember the way back to the hostel.

Her tummy rumbled a reminder, as she finally found the building again and walked into reception. Now she was here, with a bar and restaurant tempting her, it felt like the right decision to have come. Had she been at her parents’ house, she would be eating beans on toast and listening to the silence of the unnaturally empty house creaking around her.

The noise coming from the bar promised a rowdy evening, and Claire made a mental note to take a book and headphones down to the bar.

***

Heat and Time-Eating Hell: 2013 365 Challenge #191

We are so lucky to have these beautiful birds flying overhead

We are so lucky to have these beautiful birds flying overhead

CreateSpace approved my cover PDF yesterday (I wasn’t expecting them to). I am impressed, because they adjusted the spine width and the bleed area, at no cost, in order to approve the picture for print.

Unfortunately I spotted a missing full stop in the ‘blurb’ and I wasn’t entirely happy with their revised spine. But, boy oh boy, tweaking an adobe file EATS time. I spent so long working on it last night I didn’t get around to doing my post, so I’m desperately writing this when I should be making the kids’ pack lunches for preschool this morning.

(Pre-school drop-off takes so long I don’t get home until after my 10am deadline. Unless I get my Claire post written now, too, today’s post will be a tad late!)

Dive-bombing the paddling pool

Dive-bombing the paddling pool

My only complaint about CreateSpace vs Lulu (my preferred print-on-demand service) is I can’t seem to find a PDF template on CreateSpace. That’s not to say one doesn’t exist. And they do have detailed instructions on sizes. However, I followed those detailed instructions and still apparently got it wrong.

With Lulu, you can download a PDF template and include it as a layer in adobe, to build the cover on top of (sorry if this is too much boring information!). Ah well. The proofreader won’t be finished for three weeks, so I have time to play! I just have to be stronger-willed about when.

Sliding in super-fast

Sliding in super-fast

The heat is also frying my brain at the moment. I know, it makes people in proper hot countries laugh, because it’s only in the high twenties (C) here. But we’ve had eighteen months of rubbish weather, so I’m acclimatised to rain and jeans. I don’t have the clothing or the temperament for hot! Chasing kids with sun cream, hats and water is exhausting.

Thankfully, I am super-fortunate that there is a drop-in centre in town on a Tuesday where some lovely ladies from the Methodist (or Baptist?) church provide tea and coffee, toast and toys, so the children can play and the Mummies can chat.

Hot dog trying to stay cool

Hot dog trying to stay cool

My son doesn’t normally enjoy it, but yesterday the courtyard was open and they sat out having a picnic. Kids love picnics. Plus there was cake. Can’t go wrong with free cake.

Then we went to the pocket park and another picnic. Home for milk and quiet time (and more tea for Mummy to try and stay awake!). Why is it that hot weather is so exhausting?

In the afternoon we took the dog to the Farm, because it’s getting hard to walk her with all the fields overgrown. She enjoyed the fuss made of her by the staff, but she didn’t like that she wasn’t allowed to chase the ducks and birds. My kids spent an hour watching the staff feeding the ferrets, mice, rats and guinea pigs, and I spent the time convincing Kara that they animals weren’t her dinner!

Then home for paddling pool and tea. At least the kids found a way to stay cool, sliding into the paddling pool and covering the decking with water. I’m really impressed with how my daughter has overcome her fear of getting her face wet. At the weekend she swam for the first time without her float jacket on and last night, in the paddling pool, she was more adventurous than her brother! That’s a first.

The kites are loving the weather. We have two or three pairs of them that fly over the house. When the electricity cables are taken down later in the year, we’ll be able to entice them into the garden. I’m looking forward to getting some amazing pictures. Life is good.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Ruth’s words haunted Claire. All during the evening, as she battled to put Sky to bed. During the night, instead of sleeping, the phrase Life’s too short echoed round her head. The lure of running away to New Zealand grew stronger, the longer Kim remained silent. Claire had sent her friend a grovelling text message, unwilling to intrude on the remainder of her wedding weekend by phoning. But Kim’s silence was deafening.

Would it be running away? Or running to? She tried to imagine what it would be like, being so far from home. No different to being on holiday. Four hours on a flight or twenty-four, it isn’t all that different. And how different could it be, staying in Kiwi hostels, compared with the UK ones? They looked a bit more informal, but some of the bunkhouses in the UK were pretty basic.

By the time the sun peered through the curtains, Claire dragged herself upright with a muggy head, no closer to a decision. Heading downstairs to make Ruth breakfast in bed, she was surprised to hear laughter coming from the kitchen.

Sky and Ruth sat opposite each other at the pine table. Sky was gesturing, telling some story from their trip to the Farm, and Ruth’s face was alight with amusement. When Claire caught the drift of her niece’s words, she flushed.

“Well, it was disgusting. I’m sorry, I had no idea a cow’s tongue is about a foot long and covered with slime. It slobbered halfway up my arm.” Claire shuddered at the memory of feeding the giant black and white beasts in the barn.

“I can’t believe you did it. I won’t go near them. Sheep, yes, they’re gentle. Even the goats are okay, if they don’t head-butt you. But those cows! Yuck.” Ruth giggled.

Claire blushed hotter as her sister and niece revelled in her discomfort. After a moment, she joined in. “I got my own back, anyway.”

“Yes!” Sky said, snorting with laughter, “You wiped your hands all over me.”

Ruth turned to raise an eyebrow at her sister, her smile slipping.

“Only her hands, and we washed them straight away.” Taking a seat at the table, Claire poured cereal into a bowl. “You’re both up bright and early for a bank holiday.”

“School hours become a habit,” Ruth shrugged. “Besides, I feel great today. You must have tired Sky out, yesterday, as she slept right through.” She shone a grateful glance at her sister.

“Glad to help.”

There was silence, as the three of them concentrated on their food. Claire was relieved to see Sky and Ruth both eating well. It was gratifying to see that her presence had a positive effect. The see-saw of indecision in her mind swung back down to staying put in the UK. Her job was to help her sister get better, not gad about on beaches and in rain forests.

“Where to next then, Claire?” Ruth looked up with genuine curiosity. Claire realised it was the first time her sister had shown any interest in her career.

“I don’t know. There are still loads of hostels in Wales I haven’t covered. Plus, of course the whole of the South of England, and a bunch I need to pick up that weren’t open when I was up north.” She said the last phrase in her best impression of a northern accent, and Ruth giggled again.

“It must be fun, seeing the country, getting to meet new people. I love the blog. You should write a book.”

With a stab of guilt, Claire thought about the job offer. She wondered if she should tell Ruth, ask her advice. It was so nice having a normal conversation with her, though, she was reluctant to spoil it. Ruth’s reactions could be unpredictable, particularly where opportunity and money were concerned.

“Maybe I will. Write a book. Lots of the people who follow the book are authors, with self-published books to promote. It seems quite easy, although I don’t know who would buy it, when all my adventures are there on the blog for free.”

Ruth sat forward, her hands clasped loosely round a glass of juice. “I’d buy it. There must be stuff you don’t put on the blog. Things that the YHA wouldn’t approve of?”

Claire thought about the unnamed Scotsman. Josh. The wedding show-down. Yes, there was plenty of drama. Perhaps that would be a better option than running away down under. She could head down to Cornwall instead, and lose herself in words.

“I’ll bear it in mind. Thanks, sis.”

***