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. L

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…

Tatt 2

In honour of my next tattoo, which I have just booked for January as one of my 40 things to do at 40 (see list here: https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/40-things-to-do-at-40/), I thought I would re-share with you the story of my original inking, back in January 2002.

2002!!  I was a mere 25 then.  Tattoos were a relatively rare form of expression; now it seems like every other person you meet sports one.  It speaks volumes about the comparative popularity of tattoos then and now, that 15 years ago I didn’t need an appointment and was advised to “just turn up,” whereas this time around I have had to book a slot with an artist two months in advance.

Rereading what I wrote back then brought back vivid memories: my late dad’s misgivings (he never liked my tattoo); the “evil-sounding” whirr of that needle; the sense of anticipation in the waiting room; the gleeful feeling when I finally sat in the chair and told myself I was being silly worrying as nobody was forcing me to undergo this procedure.

It’s interesting that in the last sentence I vow never to get another inking, yet here I am nearly 15 years on about to mark a milestone birthday in exactly that way.  Well they do say never say never…

Anyway, enough waffle.  I give you Cat on my Shoulder:

https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/non-fiction/cat-on-my-shoulder/

It was 20 years ago today…

It was 20 years ago today that I set off, with my packed lunch and my naive hopes and dreams, into the world of work.  It was the era of the Spice Girls, TFI Friday, Cool Britannia, Cold Feet and Bacardi Breezers.  A carefree time, I can see now.  I was only 19.  Blimey, 19!!!  I was a baby.

That day still seems like 5 minutes ago, even though I am now a jaded and cynical almost 40-year-old with considerably more wrinkles and no prospect of retirement, with several varied jobs under my belt since starting out at the Stourbridge News.  After 4 years in journalism, I temped for a bit, then spent 14 years as a legal secretary, and am currently an administrator within the health service.

I had hoped I’d be halfway through my working life by now.  In reality I’m nowhere near.  Mind you, I suppose I imagined back then I’d still be in journalism by now, not suspecting how quickly I’d fall out of love with the profession.  But then technology and social media swiftly superseded the dinosaur of print journalism, and I’d have certainly been made redundant anyway.

Oh well, plod on.

Brace yourself for more Majella

After far too long a hiatus, I have been writing again.  Life, as it has a tendency to do, has rather got in the way this year and hampered my creative process.  2016 has been a bit pants so far, to tell you the truth (that’s another story).

But now I am back, as is Majella.

I have added two brand new Majella Bracebridge chapters: 14 https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/novels/majella-bracebridge/chapter-14/ and 16 https://leighmathers.wordpress.com/category/novels/majella-bracebridge/chapter-16/

Chapter 16, as its title suggests, brings MB’s story to its denouement, but I haven’t actually completed the novel yet as I am going back in and adding chapters.  Hence you will see I have re-jigged the numbering about, and what will now become Chapters 5, 8 and 10 are as yet unwritten and denoted as “Coming soon…”

I hope you enjoy these two new scenes from Majella’s life, including the conclusion to her story.  I will of course update this when I have slotted each of the new chapters in.

In other news, I am still looking forward to working my way through my “40 things at 40” list.  My major birthday is rapidly approaching, which is very scary indeed.  I swear it’s five minutes since I was zealously planning my 18th birthday party.

They say life begins at 40. Let’s hope it does next year, after a horrendous run of chicken pox, floods, gas leaks, water leaks, flu, chest pains, back pain, insect infestations, cowboy builders and officious councils.

Reunited with an old friend…

…first name: Jane, surname: Norman.

On a self-indulgent shopping trip to Birmingham yesterday, while enjoying some annual leave, I was pathetically excited to discover that the womenswear floor in House of Fraser (I still can’t get used to calling the Brum branch that – it will be forever “Rackhams” in my mind) now boasts a Jane Norman section.

In the 90s and 00s, about 80% of my wardrobe came from Jane Norman (most of those clothes still remain in my wardrobe – timeless classics). I was gutted when JN went into administration and disappeared from our high streets, and have never really found another clothes shop I like as much. Their clothes were so flattering. I even loved their shiny, colourful carrier bags! They make great “bags for life.”

So yesterday was a special moment! Does it sound sad to say it was like being reunited with an old friend? Probably, but I don’t care. I must have tried on about 20 outfits, eventually coming away with 4 tops (altogether now: “I’llll be theeeere…”).

Shopping these days is rarely the joyous experience it was in my carefree 20s, but yesterday some of the magic returned. They even had 90s music playing in the store, which enhanced the atmosphere.

I am loving the current 1990s renaissance. Long may it continue. The new series of the marvellous Cold Feet is a luxury that can now be enjoyed while sporting a Jane Norman asymmetric ribbed bardot top.

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