The Cotswold Way

Today I belatedly fulfilled another labour on my list of 40 things at 40 (https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/40-things-to-do-at-40/)  – to complete a long walk.

My mum and I walked the Cotswold Way – not all of it, of course (it’s 102 miles altogether), but the first six-mile stretch, from her home town, Chipping Campden, to Broadway.

The beautiful Cotswolds will always be “home” to my mum, and also a special place for me since we spent so much time there visiting my granny when I was a kid.

We were very fortunate with the weather.  The long heatwave we have been enjoying gave way to rain in most areas today, but we for the most part avoided it en route, save for a light shower near Saintbury.  The cooler, fresher climate made for more comfortable walking conditions.  The torrential deluge only started as we were in the car coming home.

It was my first hike in a very long time, following a designated route through rolling countryside, and really reignited my hunger for walking.  I used to walk frequently, but in recent years have found time is scarce and weekends have a regrettable tendency to get eaten up by chores.  I really ought to make more time to don my mud-caked but dearly loved boots and put one foot in front of the other, whether for a rural yomp or a stroll around my neighbourhood.

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Oh my COD – another chapter!

Chapter 10 of Majella Bracebridge is now live: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/novels/majella-bracebridge/chapter-10/

This is my longest chapter to date, and recounts the lovely Majella’s experiences on and off the set of a really quite dreadful low-budget film named The Crash of Destiny (AKA The COD).  It’s been a long time coming, I appreciate, and I did have enormous fun writing it.

I have now produced something resembling a coherent, comprehensive manuscript, which you can read from here: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/novels/majella-bracebridge/chapter-1-majella-bracebridge/ to here: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/novels/majella-bracebridge/chapter-16/

Yes, I know the chapters are listed in the menu in a confusing, alphabetic rather than numeric manner, although I have now added to the bottom of each chapter a link to the next one, to enable you to follow the narrative a bit more smoothly.

The novel isn’t fully finished, though.  I am now going to reread the whole thing, and make notes about things I can add or amend.  I suppose – in the same manner as tai chi is never fully learned, and housework is never complete – no manuscript is ever finished, meaning that there is always infinite room for improvement; you just reach a point where you have to say enough is enough and move on to your next project (or ‘pro-ject,’ as Russell Varden – who features prominently in Chapter 10 – would pronounce it).

By the way, this won’t be the last you see of Jessica, another new character who features in Chapter 10.  I intend making her the heroine of my next novel, which is to be set in the 90s…

Happy Easter…happy gardening?

Happy Easter to you, dear reader(s).

Easter, being associated with new life and growth, marks for many the unofficial start of the gardening calendar.

My first gardening session of the spring always fills me with a sense of dread.  It looks so dishevelled and squelchy out there, and the challenge ahead of me – to tidy it all up, keep it under control, and cultivate and sustain new life and colour out there – seems immense.  The harsh winter, and seemingly permanent rain, have not helped the condition of the grass and foliage.

I’m hesitant to admit this, but I have an up/down relationship with my garden.  I won’t say “love/hate relationship,” because I could never hate it.  I spent too many years longing for outside space to feel unappreciative now.  It’s more that I waver between deeming gardening a rewarding labour of love and a backbreaking chore that steals my precious writing time.

When we finally bought a house in 2012, after 10 long years in a claustrophobic flat, I adored the novelty of a garden.  The lawn and flowerbeds were uncared-for and overgrown when we inherited them, and I worked unstintingly hard to bring them all to a manageable level.  The task was fulfilling, and I quickly developed green fingers.

In the intervening years I’ve fallen in and out of love with gardening according to my state of mind.  It’s complex.  My garden can be a metaphor, a living representation of my state of mind – be it tangled and messy or calm and fruitful.

The good old British weather hasn’t helped.  We’ve had so many years of lacklustre summers, mustering enthusiasm for mowing, digging, planting, pruning, etc, when it’s grey and soggy out there, has not always been easy.

Today I paid my visit of the season to a garden centre. It’s one of those vast stores where I must admit I’m prone to spending a fortune on scented candles or birthday cards and forgetting to buy anything actually garden-related.  The cafe is by patronised by “ladies who lunch” types who have probably never picked up a trowel in their lives. You’ll be familiar with such an establishment, I’m sure.  Today I was disciplined, though.  I restricted myself to just purchasing plants, gardening gloves (I always need those) and compost.

I do love the spring and summer.  I love to de-hibernate the barbecue and patio furniture from their winter coverings.  Let’s hope we get some sun this year.  We are crying out for it.  I want this year to be one in which I regain my gardening mojo.

It can be disheartening process, but no pain no gain, and all that.  I have to remind myself I am in control of my property, including its plant life; it doesn’t rule me.  If it looks drab out there, that’s down to me.

Please enjoy your bank holiday, and enjoy your garden – whatever you decide to do in it.

Chapter 5 is live

I have finally completed Chapter 5 of Majella’s saga and uploaded it: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/chapter-5-4/

I am currently working on Chapter 10 (told you this novel was disjointed).

In other news, I am still working my way through my 40 things list: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/40-things-to-do-at-40/ – I have achieved 32 thus far, failed a couple, and doing another one tomorrow, namely a candle-making course.  Quite appropriate, seeing as everything seems to get on my wick since I turned 40 (that was almost a Tim Vine joke).

The Diary of Leigh Mathers Aged 40½

We are way more than halfway through the calendar year now, of course, but August is traditionally a time of reflection for me, falling as it does midway between my birthdays.  This year, being my 40th, is particularly poignant.

I have to date accomplished 28 of my 40 things (see list here if you need a refresher: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/40-things-to-do-at-40/).  The most recent was a vineyard tour last night, at the gorgeous Buzzards Valley (we are truly fortunate to have such a spot on our doorstep).  I watched my 39th movie today, The Godfather Part 2.  Only the third part of the trilogy to go now.

I will not achieve my full quota of 40 things in 2017, I’m afraid to say, since my attempt to have a song request read out by Paul O’Grady on the occasion of our 10th wedding anniversary failed.

Whilst my aim is to tick as many items off my list as possible this year, those I do not will be ‘carried over’ into 2018.  I suppose that’s classed as bending the rules – but, hey, they’re my rules!

One mission I am sheepishly conscious I have been postponing is the self-publishing of my most recent completed novel, The Four Matthews (and eventually Majella Bracebridge, my current work in progress).  I knew I would put this task off, just as I left the Godfather trilogy until last, knowing those would boast the most hard-going plots of all my 40 films, twisting and blasting way beyond my musical/rom com-filled comfort zone.

This is tricky to admit, but the truth is I am more than a little apprehensive about self-publishing and laying myself open to a potential online slating.  Yes, we writers can be sensitive folks; our craft is highly personal; our toiled-over words not easy to share with anyone beyond our own close circle of decidedly uncritical critics (AKA friends and family).

I can’t not write.  It’s in my blood, for a start.  My dear departed granny wrote incessantly, and my mum possesses a natural aptitude with words, even though she herself maintains she lacks the talent or inclination to pursue the art in the way I have done.  My pen is forever flowing across the pages of my cherished, dog-eared notebook.  It’s a constant drill, the aim being to achieve greater fluency.  Writing is such a lovely escapist hobby.

Whilst I’m being frank, I confess I find these blogs quite delicate to construct.  I’ve kept a diary since I was 15 (a – gulp! – quarter of a century), but of course those entries are never shared publically.  Hence the concept of a “public diary” is alien and inhibiting.  Hence these blogs are not churned out as prolifically as they could be.

I will self-publish someday.  I must crash through my inhibitions.  After all, I have flown a plane this year.  Anything else ought to be a breeze.

Flying High

 

 

So we are now – scary realisation alert – halfway through the year.  I am glad to say I have managed to achieve 25 of the labours on my “40 things” list, with several more booked or in the pipeline.

After today I can tick off my bucket list that I have taken the controls of a Cessna-152 two-seater aircraft.

I don’t mind admitting I was terrified beforehand.  I am no daredevil.  In fact I am not the most easygoing flyer.  While I would never let my trepidation about flying stop me holidaying abroad, I employ deep breathing techniques when I take off with Thomson (other airlines are available), and am always massively relieved when that big jet comes into land at whatever destination.  In general, I am a “safe” sort of person who likes to live within my comfort zone.  To be blunt, I’m a wuss.

So how was I going to fare bucketing along up there at 100mph in a contraption that weighs the same as a Mini?

There are scary moments in life.  Some are “I might die” scary; some are emotionally scary (and, talking of the latter, Nathan and I celebrated our 10th –Tin – wedding anniversary the day before I took this epic flight).

My trip, from Halfpenny Green Airport, near Wolverhampton, was scheduled for 12:30.  I couldn’t think beyond that time, even about what I was going to have for lunch that day.  I psyched myself up for about a week before.  On the day I, not entirely tongue-in-cheek, reminded my husband of the location of our wills and my funeral plan.  I optimistically shoved a sick bag (a Poundland bag) in my pocket and went on my way.

I tried to rationalise with myself.  What had I to worry about?  Aeroplanes are the safest form of transport, so they say.  In 2016, my mum took four separate flights in similarly tiny planes, in various areas of the country, as part of her 70th birthday celebrations.  If she could do it, so could I.

The lovely pilot, Bob, talked me through the control panel, and then we were ready for take-off.  We were soon bobbing above Bobbington, with its acres of fields and farmland, and thence the much more densely built-up conurbations of Wolverhampton and Walsall.

Up there it was much smoother than I expected.  I’d imagined I’d be screaming, pummelled by the flimsiest breeze that would feel like a typhoon against the fuselage of a winged Mini.  The weather conditions were favourably sunny and calm.  There was very little wind.  It hardly felt as though were moving, although we were doing 100mph.  We maintained a more or less constant height of 2,000 feet.

We flew to my current home town, Sutton Coldfield, and back in the hour allotted.  I didn’t spot my house, though picked out my workplace amidst the toytown landscape below, and snapped a few aerial shots with my phone camera.

At one point Bob allowed me to take the controls.  My tension made me a tad heavy-handed, which resulted in a more urgent ascent than intended!  I lacked the fingertip sensitivity required to make that tin can move.

During the last 10 minutes or so, I must admit I started to feel a tad light-headed, though this was due more to the heat within the flying miniature greenhouse than from fear or turbulence.  The sick bag remained happily redundant.

I was glad, as always, to come into land – though the Cessna experience is one I am very glad to have undertaken.  Maybe it is good to venture outside your comfort zone once in a while?

Ironically, I made my maiden flight on the birthday of the famous aviator Amy Johnson – a fact I discovered only when I later logged online and saw she was the subject of that day’s Google doodle!

We’re lambin’..

We’re lambin’

We’re lambin’

20170402_121411

And I hope you like lambin’ too!

I have now ticked off 15 items on my 40 things at 40 list, the latest of which was to hold an animal I had never held before.

This little guy was just one day old when I met him, in the lambing shed at Blaze Farm in the Peak District.  It was like an ovine maternity ward in there.

Vegetarians look away now: I must admit that meeting Timmy in the flesh (fleece) did not put me off my carnivorous diet!

A new chapter

Chapter 8 of Majella Bracebridge is now uploaded, for your enjoyment:

 

https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/chapter-8-2/

 

In this one I have revisited Majella’s childhood and the inspiration which led her to act in the first place.  I had great fun writing it.  Let me transport you back to the 1970s, above a Happy Shopper somewhere in Staffordshire.

As ever, please feel free to comment…

A Tale of 2 Tattoos

And so last week this happened:

tattoo-cropped

I survived my second inking, and am delighted with it.

It depicts, as I’m sure you now, the yin and yang on the left; the symbol on the right is the Greek evil eye – supposed to ward off evil spirits!  I had a terrible 2016, which coincided with me losing a small evil eye trinket I had kept with me for years.  I’m sure that was a coincidence, but I don’t like to take the chance!  At least now the eye is with me always.

The tattoo experience was rather different to my first one, 15 years ago.  You can read more about that here: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/non-fiction/cat-on-my-shoulder/

Then, there were no airs and graces.  I didn’t even need to make an appointment, I was told to “just turn up.”  I was given no aftercare tips, just a piece of cling film which I was told to leave on for an hour.  Perhaps tattoo aftercare cream was a product that was yet to infiltrate the market back then, since body art was far less common?  To be fair, I had no scabbing or issues whatsoever (and haven’t this time around either).

This time around, I was whisked into the back office where the artist (Andrei) inputted my chosen design into a computer, talked through what size I wanted and how to position it.  I chose the tiniest possible design (to minimise potential pain – such a wuss!).  Andrei then made up a stencil, imprinted it on my left shoulder and photographed it so I could check the positioning and angle.  He mixed up his colours and was away to go.

An important difference was that last time I had to choose from the thousands of sheets of designs hanging up in the studio.  This time it was much more open; much more my choice.  I had, when I booked the appointment, been asked to have a look online for a design and email it in.  That’s how it should be really – entirely down to the customer, not limited by the stencils that happen to be available at that studio.  It’s your skin after all.

It was a very friendly and professional studio – a luxurious purple and black decorated lounge – and it seemed like a good omen when one of my favourite songs of recent times, Cheap Thrills by Sia, blasted across the studio just as Andrei was about to set to work on my shoulder with the needle.

I am glad to say there was no pain!  Like last time, there was just like a pin prick and a buzzing present.  The only sensation was in my left arm as it started to ache slightly after leaning on it for a while reclining as I was on the couch.  The process only took about 20 minutes – roughly the same length of time as the last one.  I didn’t envy the girl sitting across from me who was having her leg done (though it was her choice, of course).

Andrei really put me at ease.  I was excited, and of course it was entirely my choice to have a tattoo; the only nerves I felt really centred around the aftercare of my new inking.  I was anxious to follow any instructions about washing and maintaining my super tattoo to the letter.  I bought a tube of a tattoo aftercare cream named Sorry Mom (other brands are available), which I was instructed to apply about every four hours for the first week.

As before, the fresh tattoo was covered with a sheet of cling film.  I was instructed to leave this on for a maximum of two hours and then let the tattoo breathe.  As soon as the cling film came off, I was to gently wash the tatt with antiseptic soap (I bought two Dettol bars especially) and then rub on my first coating of Sorry Mom.

“Always clean hands when you touch,” he advised, pointing at the tatt.

I really hope my blue, white and black Greek evil eye will defend me against evil spirits, as per the superstition which I know from a few holidays to that part of the world that the Greeks take very seriously.  Maybe now it’s permanently imprinted on my skin, good fortune will befall me?  Ha, I can but dream.

Life begins…

Well Happy New Year to you, dear reader!

I hope the festive season brought you all you wished for.  For my part I returned to work today; back to reality after 10 days of eating cheese and crackers at every mealtime, having a drink every night, never knowing what day it was, and always feeling slightly constipated.

So I have officially entered my 40th year, the one where “they” say life begins.  You may have noticed I have updated my 40 things at 40 list, since I have now started ticking things off it, and I will continue to update it throughout the year, each time I achieve one of my labours: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/40-things-to-do-at-40/

Thus far I have completed 40 lengths of a swimming pool, donated £40 to charity, tried contact lenses, and watched four classic movies on my list, namely Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Bell Bottomed George and Anything Goes.

I have other things booked for the coming months, so please tune in again for updates…

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