Holding Chicks and Fighting Coughs: 2013 365 Challenge #47

The Winning Picture

The Winning Picture

I’m writing against the clock for today’s post. I normally draft the night before but last night, by the time the kids were finally in bed, I just about had the energy to crawl onto the sofa and not move until bedtime. Just as well, as I had a small child trying to elbow me out of bed for most of the night. I’ve had enough of ill to last a whole year!

It was a good day yesterday, just very tiring. We went to the Farm with a family who don’t go very often so were there for nearly five hours. The kids got to hold week-old chicks and have a go on the new didicars (which look fab – husband and I must have a go when it isn’t half term! Must teach the kids to propel them by wiggling…). Then home for quiet time and tea before our usual Friday night visit to my parents. Hubbie took the kids out to walk the dog so I could clean the house and little man cried all the way round after falling in a muddy puddle. It’s tough being two.

Adult Category Winning Photograph

Adult Category Winning Photograph

On a happy note two of my photographs won in the Farm’s Winter Photography competition, meaning we get a free annual pass (very helpful in this time of too much unemployment in our house!) We might have won due to the lack of entrants (most of the photos were either mine or my daughter’s) but a win is a win! I wouldn’t have selected the image they did as the best (it hurt me not to be able to digitally manipulate it as I do all my images – I love adobe photoshop) but apparently they chose it because of the depth of the puddle Aaron is standing in! I love that my picture of Humby Keith the Lincoln Longwool Ram was also a winner. He’s my favourite animal at the Farm just now.

The weirdest part of yesterday was my friend telling me her Mother has to have a biopsy, after writing yesterday’s post about Claire’s sister. It always freaks me out a bit when life mirrors art even in an unrelated way. It reminds me also of the responsibility to write sensitively about tough topics and make sure I do my research and get it as right as possible.


Claire gazed out over the water and let her thoughts drift away with the wake flowing behind the launch. She had intended to leave Bowness after her coffee but her sister’s phone call had driven all rational thought from her mind.

Besides, they have a Costa and I didn’t see it before I had that awful latte in the other place. I’m not leaving town until I’ve had a decent coffee.

Claire smiled at the irrelevancy. Coffee has never featured so heavily in my life as it has on this ridiculous journey. It seemed to represent some notion of urban civilisation that was essential to her being. The boat trip was a way to kill an hour or two before she could have more caffeine.

Turning her face into the wind Claire let the icy breeze drive out more important thoughts. She hoped the lap of the water would drown out the words echoing around her head but it only muted them and muddled them together.

“If it didn’t work for you, who does it work for?” … “You and Michael, you clicked. He adored you.” … “Where’s the hope? Where’s the hope? Where’s the hope?”

Was her sister right? Had she pushed away a man who adored her? Was a life without him a life without hope? Did her sister really envy her existence that much?

Wasn’t that what I wanted her to do?

The words, sharp and metallic, tore through the peace of the lake. Claire no longer saw muted shades of green and brown, glints of faint sunlight on the water, space and calm and beauty. No longer heard the lonely cry of the birds or the splash of the lake against the boat’s hull. Instead she saw the tones and hues of her pristine apartment. The sharp angles of her office. Heard the click-clack of her heels and the tip-tap of her keyboard. Her perfect world. What was there not to covet?

Claire inhaled, filling her lungs with unpolluted air. Her brain felt foggy and full, like a hangover of the worst proportions. Wrenching her gaze away from a view that only seemed to drag her into a well of introspection, Claire looked around the boat at the other passengers. She had assumed it would be empty at this time of year but the seats were crammed with huddling people, snuggling together against the icy wind. A quick survey confirmed something Claire didn’t want to acknowledge.

The people came in two by two, hurrah hurrah.

With a sigh Claire turned her face back to the Lake and waited for the boat trip to end.


Laundry Baskets and Nene Valley Living: 2013 365 Challenge #45

Wriggly Worms - the many usages of a laundry basket #1

Wriggly Worms – the many usages of a laundry basket #1

I had some exciting news today. Our local free magazine – Nene Valley Living – has agreed to publish an ‘interview with author Amanda Martin’ that I wrote for them, focusing on the daily blog and the free Two-Hundred Steps Home ebook. The editor apologised that they wouldn’t be able to pay me for the feature (I had no expectation of payment, so was highly amused) as they don’t have much editorial budget. When I had stopped laughing I emailed back and said That’s okay, it’s the promotion that’s key. Hopefully I’ll be in the April or May edition, so watch this space. My first successful piece of marketing – hurrah!

I have decided that I need to get a professional photograph of me taken however, as the editor would like a headshot and the best I have is one I cropped from me heavily pregnant with my second child. I rarely wear make up these days and my hair is only straight on the annual event of a hair cut. Even though the feature is about ‘WriterMummy’ it would be nice to look vaguely professional!

Scary Monsters - the many uses of a laundry basket #2

Scary Monsters – uses of a laundry basket #2

It’s snowing here again. Not the 3 feet of snow my sister has had in Boston, more like a third of an inch, but it it freezing and I confess to being a bit tired of winter now. It’s hard to take the kids out when it’s cold as the whole time is spent putting hats and gloves back on and rubbing life back into frozen fingers. Friends came over and we turned the house into an indoor park with play tent, football goal and building blocks. Their favourite toy? Some old laundry baskets I have which turned them into wriggly worms and scary monsters. Bless.

Think Claire might get out in some more clement weather today just because I feel the need for it. Never mind that it’s probably never sunny in the Lake District in March, I think some poetic licence is called for.

Update. I decided to set Claire a little challenge instead, courtesy of a Youtube video I came across while researching Windermere. She’ll have to go hiking in the sun tomorrow.


“Your turn Claire.”

The bridge stretched ahead of her like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. She glanced down, half expecting to see a rushing torrent fifty feet below. Instead there was just a car park at a distance of less than fifteen feet. She searched for her Skoda in the distance then looked back down at the ground. It was a mistake. The bile rose in her throat before sinking down to churn up her stomach. She dragged her eyes back to the structure in front of her.

Dammit I knew this was a stupid idea. The bridge hadn’t appeared that wide when she’d driven underneath it. Now it might as well span the Niagara Falls. Tentatively Claire put one foot on the first of the planks and the whole structure shook as if a force seven earthquake had just hit Windermere. Claire quickly pulled her leg back and retreated inside the tower. She could feel several pairs of eyes on her, willing her on. Behind her a lad sniggered.

Claire inhaled, put one foot on the plank, then another. Willing herself on she gripped the ropes until they tore at her hands and forced herself to cross the bridge. Her heart swooped like a released bird as she reached the tree trunk and wrapped her arms around it.

I did it. I crossed it. She pirouetted round the tree-trunk, surveying the rest of the course.

The next challenge was another bridge. Okay, I can do that now. Except this one didn’t have any ropes to hold onto. You have to be kidding. What? I’m meant to walk across it just balancing? I’m not a circus freak. Claire wished she could have watched the person in front do it, but they were already out of sight further down the course. Claire wrapped her hands around her rope harness and pulled, making sure it would hold. Then she closed her eyes and put her foot on the structure. It tipped sideways, throwing her stomach to the ground.

“Bollocks.” The word slipped out and Claire looked round to make sure the person coming up behind her hadn’t heard. She saw a petit figure bouncing across the bridge and was faced with the prospect of sharing a small platform with a bouncy child or running across a few pieces of wood stretched between two ropes. As the sound of giggling came nearer Claire swallowed, urging her legs to move. It was no good. Her feet were glued to the platform. No matter how many curses she yelled inside the cavern of her mind her feet refused to move.

Eventually a voice permeated the greyness.

“Hey, lady?”

Claire turned to locate the source and her gaze met a pair of clear blue eyes peering up at her from beneath a giant helmet. It looked like a cheeky beetle. The child was younger than Sky. Who lets a five-year-old up here? Claire grimaced at the girl, not trusting herself to speak.

“It’s your turn lady. It’s okay. I did this twice already, it’s easy peasy. Besides, you can’t fall.” She leaned sideways until the rope at her waist went tight then took her feet off the platform.

“Don’t do that!” Claire’s voice was probably only audible to dogs. The girl laughed and swung herself back onto the platform. She grinned at Claire, then raised an eyebrow as if to say Go on!

Claire looked at the grinning eyes and felt her cheeks redden. I will not be shown up by a child. She turned, inhaled, and ran. Her body slammed into the next tree trunk and she felt the bark graze her cheek. As her heart rate slowed to a mere gallop Claire turned to watch the child hoping gracefully across the rope structure. It made her feel ancient.

She conquered a free step to a small plank, then contemplated a snarl of ropes that linked her tree to the next.

I’m not a spider or a rat. How does this work?

Reaching out, Claire took hold of the rope, hoping she didn’t get tangled or, worse still, break a nail. I’m glad Josh isn’t here. I can just imagine the grief he would be giving me right now. That’s if he wasn’t standing underneath passing comment on my derriere.

The next crossing looked like a stretched-out clothes dryer, the kind her gran used to put ginormous grey knickers on in the utility room. It felt as stable as a deckchair when she put her weight on it.

Slowly, carefully, Claire crept round the course, all the while trying to stay ahead of the girl, as much to avoid the patronising encouragement as the excessive bouncing.

At last she reached the end of the course, only then realising she was on a different tree to the one connected to the Indiana Jones bridge.

How do I get down?

Claire stood on the platform and looked over at the tower where she started. Then she noticed a small sign next to her. Zip wire? Oh no. How did I miss that?

“Go on lady, just step off. It isn’t scary.” Claire turned to see the beetle girl standing next to her on the platform. “I wish I could do the big zip wire but I’m too little.”

The girl gestured at the top of the tower ahead of them. Two stories above where they had started three people were standing on a deck. Claire watched them step off and slide gracefully away into the distance. That doesn’t look so bad. Oh, come on Claire, this is the only thing between you and a cup of tea. Swallowing down the sick taste in her mouth, Claire set her sight on the tower and stepped off the platform. She dropped before the rope took hold and sweat pricked at her forehead.

And then it was over.

“Well done Claire. So are you up for the triple-zip?” Claire stared at the earnest face in front of her and laughed so hard her ribs hurt.

“Sorry,” she said eventually, wiping water from her eyes. “Maybe one day. If you’d told me last week I’d be swinging around fifteen feet off the ground I would have said you were nuts.”

A whisper at the back of Claire’s mind said Climb the stairs. You know you want to. Get the ultimate shot for the blog. Make Josh proud. Claire looked at the corner where the steps led to the next floor. She took one step, then two. Then she shrugged out of the harness and headed back to terra firma.


Pancakes and Bird Feeders: 2013 365 Challenge #44

Making Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Making Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Pancake Day! (Well it is while I’m writing this anyway.) We love pancakes in this house although we tend to cook them thicker than is the norm for Shrove Tuesday here in the UK.

Husband went to my mother’s today to job search in peace and was summoned home on the promise of pancakes at 5pm. He is addicted! I often use them to get him out of bed on a Sunday so we can go swimming.

We also made bird feeders at the Farm today: the sticky sort made with lard, bird seed and a yoghurt pot. I’ve never done it before, although the kids have made them at nursery. It’s a neat little craft activity that I might store for another day. Messy though!

My head has been buzzing with Claire ideas although none are right for the next post so I’m still stumped for this evening. It’s nice to have some ideas getting through; I must be coming out the otherside of this cold finally. Shame the little one still has a sky-high temperature. Another trip to the docs is in order methinks.

© Copyright Gordon McKinlay and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Gordon McKinlay and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

A quick note on research, as I know today’s post won’t reflect the hours I’ve spent on it. I feel I have travelled further than Claire: first looking at cities she might drive to from Keswick. Then thinking she might stay in the Lakes another night because she doesn’t like to drive in the dark. Then needing her in a private en-suite room so searching all hostels in the Lakes with en-suite and availability on 12th March (the date she has reached in the novel).

Then I wanted her looking at the nighttime view and so wondered if it was full moon or not (turns out it’s a new moon on 12th March). Then doing a Google-map search to find out what might have triggered her decision to stay at Windemere (for example was it en-route somewhere else? Yes, it’s on the road to Liverpool.)

This is the way my mind works when I’m researching and writing at the same time. It’s why I try not to do research during a first draft – it eats hours. Never mind, I’ve just about got enough energy to tap out a few hundred words even if it has little to do with the 3-hour internet search this evening has entailed! On a positive note, the more I research hostels the more I want to take my family to them. If only the Lakes were a bit nearer. I can certainly feel a summer road trip coming on!


Claire let the heat of the shower wash away niggling doubt, concentrating on the sensation caused by warm water caressing her tired muscles.

I’d give my limited edition Radley bag for a bath. Or one of the smaller purses anyway. She lathered her hair, grateful for the knowledge that Josh couldn’t have left anything scary and hairy in the cubicle. It had been luxurious checking in without him, closing the bedroom door and knowing she was completely alone.

I wonder what he’s doing, whether he’s found a new chick to hit on, to sweet-talk into a lift. She flushed when she remembered the night they had first met. It was only a week ago but it felt like months. Thinking about it she realised he hadn’t repeated his attempt to kiss her after he had taken her by surprise at the Observatory. Maybe he didn’t fancy me once he got to know me better. It was a lowering thought.

Claire rinsed the shampoo from her hair and detangled it with copious amounts of conditioner, combing it through with her fingers. She resisted the urge to hum ‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair’ with the thought that she couldn’t say for certain which one.

Clean, refreshed, and wrapped in a towel, Claire stood gazing out her window at the panoramic view just visible by the meagre light of the petrol-blue sky. The storm clouds that had battered them with hail on Skiddaw had long since blown away.

What am I doing here? I could be looking out over city lights, contemplating a three-course meal in a decent restaurant and breakfast at Starbucks. Instead I’m still in the Lakes. Windermere of all places. How touristy can you get? Although we’re not exactly in Windermere. Gazing at the view Claire was surprised at how few lights she could see. Why are all the YHA hostels so damn remote?

Her mind replayed the meandering drive up from town and she was glad, not for the first time, that she wasn’t trying to backpack without a car. Stella might be a heap of junk but she gives untold freedom. No wonder Josh stuck with me whether he fancied me or not.

She felt a stab of guilt, thinking about Josh. When she had left him after the Skiddaw hike that afternoon it was on the understanding that she was heading for a more high-rise than hill-side location. Certainly that had been her intention.

A wave of lassitude had engulfed her only twenty minutes into her three-hour drive to Liverpool. She’d seen the signs for Windermere and began following them almost without volition. Lucky they had a free room, especially a private one. I think I need some space to think.

She pulled on her most comfortable clothes and curled up on the double-bed bottom bunk, resisting the temptation to lie spread-eagled across it just because she could. Her mind flashed an image of the hostel lounge; the welcoming sofas, the view. The licensed bar. Her tummy growled and she realised she would have to venture downstairs eventually. And still something held her back.

Claire rapped her knuckles against her temples and tutted, the sound loud in the silent room. What’s going on in there, brain? Since when was the lure of Starbucks not enough?