Weather and Whining: 2013 365 Challenge #89

Thomas the Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine

Our day featured too much weather and whining.

We took the children to see Thomas the Tank Engine at our local steam railway this morning. He doesn’t run very often (he’s actually going in for an overhaul in May and will be out of action for a year or more), and he was meant to be running today, as it’s a bank holiday weekend in the UK.

Only no one told them.

We checked the website diligently, because disappointing two and four year old children is a very bad idea. And still, when we got there, Thomas was clearly just outside his shed and not hooked up to carriages. You know that sinking feeling you get as a parent when it’s all about to go pear-shaped?

Thankfully the kids took it well as we were still able to ride the steam train to the next stop, a large park near a lake. The plan was to visit the park, have lunch in the coffee shop, and catch the train back two hours later. Only the kids were in that sort of mood today: You know the one. A thousand questions a minute, usually the same question repeated over and over and over and over. Even the kindly guard got a bit wild-eyed after ten minutes of trying to answer the barrage.

Then the whining started.

Our steam train today

Our steam train today

When we got to the station the snow was hurling down: tiny, freezing specks of misery. It’s a ten minute walk to the park and littlest Martin started crying before we left the platform.

If I’d been engaged as a parent this morning, instead of desperately writing my post after devoting yesterday to Dragon Wraiths, I would have thought to take their scooters. I didn’t. So we had the classic situation of one child wanting to do one thing and the other vociferously advocating another. One parent wanting the screaming to stop and the other one ready to hurl the kids under the next train.

Amber's Photograph of Bunny

Amber’s Photograph of Bunny

The problem with the steam train is it only runs three times a day. We had a choice of catching the return leg of the one we’d just vacated – a wait of half an hour – or persisting with the park plan and risking the chance of screaming children for two and a half hours. We opted for the former as the lesser of two evils, with a promised trip to a different park on the way home. A cup of tea and a biscuit later and we were all a bit calmer.

But boy they were in whinge mode.

Why is whinging directly proportional to the amount you’ve paid to do something? It cost us twenty-five quid to ride on the train for half an hour and have a cup of tea with UHT milk. We let them play in the little park at the station for a while, but it was so cold. Then little man refused to have his nappy done and even my enforced calm was starting to fray. Hubbie was holding on through gritted teeth and playing in the park to pass the time.

Before we knew it, we were in the car heading home (the promised trip to the big park cancelled due to bad behaviour) and it was only midday. Now I don’t mind spending money on a trip out with the kids but it needs to eat up more than two hours of time!

Big kids can have fun too

Big kids can have fun too

Anyway, sorry for the rant. There were good bits too. The kids loved bouncing on the old sprung seats of the train carriages, chatting to the friendly guard and playing in the tiny park at the railway station. There were given a pound each to spend in the shop (which only had one thing for sale for that price) and they came home with some wall stickers. So that used up an hour of time while I cooked lunch. I think next time I’ll do a bit more planning. Or check the forecast.

Auditioning for a Bond Movie

Auditioning for a Bond Movie

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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 pushed the pedal to the floor, remembering the expression on Fiona’s face when Josh broke the news of their planned Cambridge trip. Stella the Skoda groaned in protest and the needle swung round to 75mph. Damn you, car, I need speed. She looked at the piles of snow spilling onto the inside lane of the motorway and eased her foot back. Alright, car, you win. Just because the stupid cow looked at me like I’m a marriage wrecker, that doesn’t mean I need to wreck you too. Poor Stella.

The world outside the window spread in unrelenting grey. Sky merged into snow-covered fields until Claire felt like someone had hit select-all-erase on the world. The only splashes of colour came from cars speeding past her in the outside lane, and they were mostly silver.

The lanes and the grey and the moving cars began to blur together. Claire blinked several times and wondered who had filled her eyelids with grit. Might be time for coffee. It had taken over an hour to drive the first dozen miles from the youth hostel to Ashbourne. Although the roads had been clearer from there to Derby and on to Nottingham, it was only when she reached the M1 that she felt able to breathe. Glancing at the dashboard clock Claire was shocked to see it was past midday. Scrap that. I haven’t got time to stop. School finishes at three. If I’m late to pick up Sky, my sister is going to disown me. Or worse.

She tried to calculate how much further there was to drive and wished she’d left earlier. Funny how six hours seemed plenty of time to do a three-hour journey. Damn this damn snow to hell and back. If I hadn’t promised Ruth, I’d be driving to the airport and boarding a flight to the Maldives. Screw Carl and his stupid vendetta.

Inhaling deeply, Claire tried to untwist the ball of panic growing in her gut. Her eyes blurred and, as she blinked them back into focus, she saw the red lights of a lorry braking ahead. Crap. Don’t tell me there’s been an accident at Catthorpe. That’s all I bloody need.

The traffic slowed and gently ground to a halt. At least I don’t have to worry about over-heating. If this heap of junk starts steaming in sub-zero temperatures it deserves everything it gets. She patted the dash quickly. Sorry car; didn’t mean it. Don’t fail me now, I beg you.

Claire looked at the endless line of red lights and wondered if it was time to call her sister. Or at least Mum. Maybe Kim’s home. Sky would be thrilled if Kim picked her up from school, especially if her hair’s still tomato-red. As she pulled her phone towards her and readied a text message the traffic began to move. Like a queue of women waiting for the loo at a festival, the lines of cars fed slowly forwards. At last Claire was on the A14 and the final stretch home.

Please, no more accidents. I just need to be outside the school gates at 3pm. She raised her eyes to the god of motoring and hoped he was listening. That’s all I ask. I’ll give up Starbucks. Anything. Just make sure I’m not late.

A single ray of sunlight broke through the clouds ahead and bathed the scene in a warm glow. Claire felt her heart jolt, as if she had indeed received a message from the Gods.

Okay, I’ll take it. But, can I just, you know, cut down on my Starbucks? Rather than a complete ban. That’d be marvellous. Thanks.

***

Happy Birthday WriterMummy! 2013 365 Challenge #64

It's my Birthday (well, WriterMummy's anyway)

It’s my Birthday (well, WriterMummy’s anyway)

WordPress has informed me that my blog is officially a year old today! And what a year it has been. I have journeyed from trying to promote writing tips, through realising I am not qualified to offer writing advice, to writing a daily novel and chatting about my family life.

Twelve months ago this point seemed impossibly distant and yet, little by little, here I am. I have 81 blog followers, I’ve posted 121 times and have had 3267 views. I’ve had as many views so far this year (4th March) as I had for the whole of March 2012. In my former life as a Data Analyst I would call that a good result with clear evidence of growth.

Of course I’m a long way from achieving the holy grail of 1000 True Fans but then I’m also a long way from producing a book worthy of them! I dug out Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes today, to see how far from finished it truly is. The first section is okay – I always start at the beginning when I do revision. I don’t always make it to the end. By the third and final section I was wincing in pain at the clumsiness and sheer awfulness of the prose. I’m embarrassed I asked friends to read it or thought it was ready for querying.

What I need is a plan.

The Crowden YHA - Photo by John Fielding

The Crowden YHA – Photo by John Fielding

When faced with a 116k manuscript the thought of detailed revision cripples me. Also I worry about story arc, character arc and all that stuff. However, if I assume the story is mostly okay (the friends that read it didn’t highlight anything terrible, they just didn’t enthuse, if you know what I mean?) and concentrate on tightening the prose then maybe that will be more manageable. I’m going to treat each scene (there are about 200) as a ‘Claire’ instalment and edit them as such, making sure they have a clear opening and a neat close. It feels a mammoth task but if I am methodical I might actually get to the end this time. So what if it takes another year, at least it won’t be awful. Guess I’ll be putting my self-publish cover away for a little while yet.

On the blog front my little boy has chicken pox, despite being vaccinated, so the posts might be a little bit sparse or rough this week. Today’s post is about grounding Claire back in the YHA hostels and introducing her to Derbyshire. She has about ten days before the Easter holidays (and Sky) so I might have her wander round the Dales for a while. We’ll see.

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“Just yerself is it?”

Claire nodded without raising her head.

“Dorm or private room luv? We’ve got a single room as it happens. Some lass rang in a cancellation this morning.”

Claire paused, pen hovering over the form, then resumed writing. “Dorm is fine, assuming you have single-sex?” I think I’ve had my fill of men this month.

The man behind the counter tapped at his computer and assured her they did. “Staying long in Glossop?”

“Oh no, just tonight thanks.”

The man nodded knowledgeably. “Pennine Way?”

His words drew a reluctant smile. “No, I managed one leg, up at the finish. That was enough for me. I’m heading south to collect my niece.”

She didn’t add that she intended to pick off as many Derbyshire hostels as possible en-route or that her primary concern was to get away from Manchester. After leaving the Airport she hadn’t returned to the city, despite having several hours to kill before she could check into the Crowden Hostel. Instead she’d taken a detour to a hotel outside Hyde that her iPhone informed her boasted a Starbucks. It turned out the hotel also had full leisure facilities and empty rooms. It was only by imagining the look of smug satisfaction on Carl’s face if he ever found out that she stopped herself checking in for the night.

“We’re the first leg, you could always do that and say you’d started and finished. No need to talk of the middle.” The receptionist gave Claire a wink and a grin. She frowned while she tried to remember what they were talking about, then grinned back. A cheater’s version of the Pennine Way. That’s my kind of thinking.

“I might just do that, if I can get it done tomorrow and still move on Edale.”

“Yer heading to Edale? Well that’s the start right enough. Walk from here to there and you’ll be done.”

“Walk with my pack? And what about the car? No thanks. Maybe I’ll wait until I’m in Edale and stroll up the first few miles. That should be plenty.”

“You’ll be spoilt for choice at Edale: Kinder Scout, Mam Tor. You won’t want to leave.”

“Believe me, one night and I’ll be off. I need to be in Cambridgeshire by next week.”

If the receptionist thought Claire’s plans strange he didn’t let on. She was about to leave for her room when he stopped her.

“Make sure you pop by Holmfirth while you’re with us. It’s where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine. Though I suppose you’re too young to remember it?”

Blimey, that takes me back. Uncle Jim must have watched every episode and rerun. Perhaps I will take a look, put something on the blog. It might make Uncle Jim smile wherever he is.

“I will. Thank you.” Claire dug out her brightest smile for the helpful man and pulled her rucksack up onto her back. She felt a decade older than she had twenty-four hours earlier. As she bent over to counter-balance the heavy bag, Claire thought she must look at least ninety.

Nora Batty eat your heart out. All I’m missing is the wrinkly stockings. She shuddered at the thought. At least it hasn’t come to that.

Dragging her lead-filled shoes towards the stairs, Claire tried not to pine for the Leisure Hotel with the Starbucks on-site.

It’s just the hangover wiping me out. I need to feed it carbs and water, that’s all. And then sleep.

***

NCT Friends and Indoor Football – 2013 365 Challenge #42

The football goal also doubles up as a playden

The football goal also doubles up as a playden

Today we caught up with our NCT baby group, four years on. We see members from time to time and we try and catch up with everyone once a year. This was the first time in two years that (nearly) everyone was there. I think we were missing two daddies and one sibling. There were 8 couples in our baby group all on their first bump in 2008 and there are now 13 children with another on the way.

We met up in a small indoor play area that I go to quite often. It wasn’t open when we arrived – I don’t think they were expecting 12 kids and the same amount of adults to turn up at 10.30am on a Sunday. It was great to watch the kids running around and to see how much they’ve changed and how much they haven’t. It’s a nice way to keep us grounded with the passing of time.

As husband and I are both still poorly (my cold hopefully going, his just arriving) it was survival for the rest of the day. Rugby on the television with mummy giving commentary to keep the kids interested: “Ooh look now he’s got the ball, watch they’re all going to squish him. Look he’s saying, ‘my ball by ball’, ooh do you think he can kick it between those tall sticks?” Which, to be fair, is about my knowledge of rugby anyway, despite being an avid fan of the game. I can tell you most of the rules of football and cricket including the off-side rule and when it is and isn’t LBW. But rugby, well. I know about tries, line-outs and the fact the ball goes above the bar not below, but the rest is all a bit hazy.

Playdough animals

Playdough animals

We also did playdough and indoor footie. I kept getting told off by my son for responding to comments on twitter and taking pictures of the kids to use on the blog. I do feel bad when he reprimands me for combining work with play but I also remind myself they only go to nursery 2 days a week. We bumped into a friend of Aaron’s at the play centre (hurrah! – they chased each other for half an hour. Genius) and he goes to nursery five days a week. We’re all lucky that Mummy doesn’t have to, although if Daddy doesn’t get a job soon that might change. Having seen how weary my husband is getting of his extended childcare duties I suspect that’s a fate worse than unemployment for him. He freely admits he couldn’t be a stay-at-home dad on a permanent basis.

I spent today also trying to write a press release for the blog/free ebook, seeing it as a dry run for when there’s a proper novel out there that needs promoting. I used to work in Marketing but it’s a different beast when it’s your own stuff you’re selling. My first draft came in at two pages of mostly waffle. I’m always reminded of the quote “sorry for the long letter I didn’t have time to write a short one.” I do tend to the verbose (had you noticed? :D)

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Claire settled into the squeaky seat and wrapped her hands around the solid white cup. Her smile spread wide as she raised the drink to her lips and sipped at the froth, glad Josh wasn’t there to see her milk moustache. She felt the air exhale from her lungs in a contented sigh. It wasn’t the biggest Starbucks or the most up to date. But the coffee always tasted the same. The caffeine zinged through her body, carried to the furthest tips of her fingers by her grateful blood.

She glanced up through the window for the eighth time. Stop looking. It’s no concern of yours where he’s gone. Another voice in her mind said no concern but still intriguing. We’d barely parked when he said See ya later and legged it.

Claire took another long slurp of her latte, letting the sensation of civilisation wash through her, warming her right to the centre. With a sigh she placed the cup back on the table and took out her Lonely Planet guide. If I’m only going to be in the Lakes for a day or so I’d better find something noteworthy to do. I don’t want Carl making me come straight back. I intend to spend at least a week in the next city we come to, even if it is Liverpool.

She flicked idly through the pages around Keswick and came across a picture of a snowy ridge of mountains with the title Skiddaw. That looks the ticket. A picture of me up there should shut Carl up for a while. I wonder if I can climb up for a photograph without having to walk along it. It’s not far from the hostel, maybe it’s not a bad thing that Cockermouth wasn’t available.

There was a tap on the window and Claire looked up automatically. A gentleman in shirt and tie was peering through the glass searching the interior of the coffee shop. As his gaze locked with Claire’s the clean-shaven face broke into a smile. Claire automatically smiled back although she had no idea who the man was. He does look familiar. God I hope it’s not another client. She hadn’t bumped into anyone she knew since the services on the way to Berwick and definitely wanted to keep it that way.

As if in response to her smile the man raised his hand in a wave and headed for the door to the café. Bugger, he’s coming in. She plastered her best client-facing expression on her face and sat up straighter in her chair, sliding the Lonely Planet guide off the table into her lap.

“Hey Claire, still here? How many coffees have you had? Am I going to have to tie your arse to the seat so you can drive us to the hostel?”

The words, as much as the Aussie twang, confirmed to Claire what her eyes could not credit.

“Josh?”

“Of course it’s me, dingbat.” He slid into the seat opposite, a faint blush of colour peeping through his brown cheeks. His eyes slid away from hers and he made a show of looking round the room as if taking in the scene.

“So this is what we drove all the way here for? It’s nothing special.”

“It’s not the décor it’s the drink.” She wrapped her hands protectively around the coffee mug and drank the tepid dregs.

“Now I’ve heard that said about a bar but never about a coffee shop. You’re one strange girl.”

“I’m strange?” Claire’s voice rose in indignation. “I haven’t suddenly reappeared with a spanking haircut, shave, and shirt and tie still with the shop-bought creases in. What gives?” The words were out before she could stop them, despite vowing to herself that she wouldn’t question him. Sure enough a veil dropped across Josh’s face and his eyes lost their sharp focus.

“I had to Skype the folks. Mum likes me to look smart.” They both looked down at his hands where they twisted like coiled snakes on the table-top. “Anyway are you going to buy me one of these famous coffees or shall we head back to civilisation? Cities cramp my soul.”

As the words settled softly in Claire’s mind like fresh snow she was aware of a sense of loss. Whose loss she couldn’t say, or even why she had the feeling. It seemed like Josh was floating away on an iceberg in a choppy sea. She shook off the strange sensation and gave him her widest smile.

“Sure, let’s head to Keswick. I’m thinking of hiking Skiddaw tomorrow.”

The effect was instant, like changing the batteries in a run-down appliance. Josh sat up, his face beaming. The air of ancient injury dropped away and he became young again.

“Sweet.”

***

Baby’s Growing Fast and 2013 365 Challenge #41

My daughter at 19 months (just after Aaron was born)

My daughter at 19 months (just after Aaron was born)

My daughter came back from her first sleepover today having had a great time. She woke a couple of times, missed us at bed time, but that was it. No hysterics. No picking her up at 3 a.m. Obviously I’m thrilled – we must have done something right as parents – but there’s a tiny bit of me that recognises she is growing up and I’m having to let go.

Actually I’m surprised at how well I dealt with it. I thought I’d miss her terribly or worry excessively or not sleep. None of those things. She was with a very good friend of mine and I trust her and her husband implicitly to ensure no harm comes to my child. It’s the same when they’re at nursery. The trust is the thing. How I’ll cope when she goes off to university and no-one is watching over her I have no idea. I suspect that, by then, she’ll be such a sensible teenager I’ll trust her implicitly to look after herself.

Scootering energy (I want some)

Scootering energy (I want some)

My son is going to be entirely different. I don’t trust him not to hurt himself in my care, never mind anyone else’s. If he even makes it to his teenage years I’ll be impressed. Thankfully at present he copies his sister in everything so hopefully he’ll copy her level head and sensible nature. Hmmm. Look at the picture….

I’ve been trying to think of what to write next for Two-Hundred Steps Home. It’s time for something interesting to happen but I’m not sure what. I don’t want to play my cards too early with Michael – it’s only day 41 out of 365 after all (although I guess I can write two novels in the year, it doesn’t have to be all Claire.) I’m tempted to move Josh’s story along a bit, but I haven’t actually figured out what it is yet! I’m definitely a Pantser! 🙂

In the meantime I’m enjoying choosing the image for the next ebook instalment. I’m looking at Lake District ones as she should be there by the end of February. Best get a move on. She’s only on hostel 6 or 7 out of 200!

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“What do you mean it’s closed?”

“I’m sorry,” the man on reception explained, “some of our hostels are only open at certain times of the year. University vacations, that kind of thing. Durham and Carlisle are both halls of residence, so they’re only available in the summer.”

“Bloody students. I want to go to a city. I want a Starbucks, I want to feel pavement beneath my feet instead of dirt.” Claire swallowed the lump in her throat and wondered if she was due.

The man smiled as he would to a toddler demanding chocolate. “Why don’t you try Cockermouth? The hostel is only ten minutes’ walk from town.”

“Do they have a Starbucks?” Claire could hear the petulance in her voice and hated herself for it.

“Excuse me?” Claire heard footsteps behind her. She turned to see a girl in a red anorak smiling at her from behind designer specs. “There are Starbucks at Penrith Center Parcs which is on the way to Cockermouth from here. Or you could go via Carlisle, it’s not that far out of your way. Spend the day in the city before heading out to the hostel later?”

Claire beamed at this girl who seemed to be speaking a language she could grasp. “Thank you so much. Do you work here?” She doesn’t sound like a local. I can understand what she’s saying for a start.

“No I’m one of the bloody students at Carlisle Uni, sleeping in the Hall of Residence that doubles as a hostel in the summer. Sorry.”

Her unapologetic grin brought a flush of blood to Claire’s cheeks. She opened her mouth to apologise but the girl was still talking.

“My mates and I came for the weekend to go hiking and we’re just heading back to the city now. We have lectures this afternoon.”

It seemed she might continue her monologue but a voice called out from deeper in the hostel.

“That’s my boyfriend. I have to go. I hope you find Starbucks. It’s in the pedestrian bit in the town centre if you do go to Carlisle. It’s not a big one, but a skinny latte is a skinny latte right?”

Claire watched the girl hurry out in response to a second, more urgent, summons. Funny how coffee can give a common cause to the most unlikely of meetings. She tried to remember if she had been that forward or sassy as a student. It seemed so long ago now, even though it was less than a decade. I was probably worse.

“So, do you want me to book you a dorm at Cockermouth Miss?”

The broad accent of the receptionist cut through Claire’s thoughts. “I just need to check whether Josh wants to come.”

Who knows what Josh wants? It’s as if he’s done one of those teenager-adult swaps, like in the movie with Tom Hanks.

 

Claire tracked Josh down in the garden where he looked like he was practising slow rave dancing. Claire guessed it was probably taekwondo or t’ai chi or one of those classes she’d seen girls doing at the gym when she went in for spinning. It made her numb with boredom just watching it, although as Josh had stripped to the waist, despite the freezing temperature outside, its appeal was increasing.

She stood waiting for him to finish, watching the muscles shifting under his smooth tanned skin. She became aware of an urge to walk over and run her hands across his back, to plant a kiss where his shoulder met his neck. When it looked like he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, Claire gave a little cough.

Josh completed the move he was doing before bringing his hands to his sides and turning round.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’m about ready to move on.” Claire tried to keep her gaze on his face rather than following the line of hair that ran down his chest and into his trousers.

“Where to?” Josh responded without meeting Claire’s eyes.

“Um, Cockermouth I think. Carlisle is only open in the summer holidays and the rest round here are all bunkhouses.”

Josh smiled at that and his face lost some of the new sternness. “You’re going to have to face a bunkhouse eventually you know. They’re not much different to hostels, just a bit more remote.”

“In the summer maybe. I’m beginning to think they started me up here just to wind me up. Half the hostels are closed and the rest are in the arse-end of nowhere.”

“Well you said the entire point of the mission was to make you quit your job. What better way than to chuck you in it?” Josh leaned over and retrieved his jumper from the floor. His voice was muffled as he pulled it over his head. “Why don’t you head to London or somewhere, do some city hostels until the spring at least?”

Claire thought about getting lost in London. Could she cope with staying there and not frequenting her usual luxury hotels? At least there were shops and Starbucks. “That’s not a bad idea you know. The assignment said it was up to me what order I did the hostels in. I could be in London in a few hours.” She looked at her watch and was surprised to see it was mid-morning already. Her muscles were still sore from the abseil and what she wanted, more than anything else, was a skinny latte.

“No, sod it, let’s stick to the plan for today. I’m going to Cockermouth. Are you with me or staying here?”

“Will you go to London tomorrow do you think?”

Claire tried to read the expression on Josh’s face. “Is that why you suggested it? Do you need to be further south?”

“I need to work and it’ll be easier in suburbia.” Something in his tone suggested to Claire that she wasn’t getting the full story. Nothing new there then.

“Then, yes, I will be heading south. I might go to Bristol rather than London. Maybe even Liverpool.”

“Okay, count me in.”

Claire wondered whether her decision to try Liverpool rather than London had anything to do with choosing not to spend six hours in her tiny car next to the temptation of Josh’s smooth skin.

***