Pug-nosed and perky

The squelching and snuffling coming from the opposite sofa yesterday evening was a sudden and stark warning:

Man Flu in the house! Man Flu!

Evacuate or succumb!

Man Flu!

Man Flu!

And I knew it would be a bad one as I could trace back its origins. This was going to be a three-weeker, and I didn’t want anything to do with it what with Christmas celebrations getting underway.

Hubby retreated to the bedroom first, and later I followed. He was still awake as I crept in. Listening to his mucus melodies, nasal trumpets and percussive sniffs was not going to bode well for my good night’s sleep, let alone the prospect of waking up healthy, so I opened the window ‘to let out the germs’ and told him to turn his back to me (and stay that way all night, I added mentally).



As tired as I was, I was afraid to drift off. What if we – perish the thought – turned to face each other whilst in the depths of slumber?

I racked my drowsy brain for a solution. I could sleep in another bed, but then I’d have to launder the sheets. Nah.

Then it came to me, in a bright and clear vision. When in Rome [read as Japan]…

I hurried downstairs and rummaged in the kitchen cupboard below the sink. There it was – a sturdy roll of J-Cloths. I unravelled a few and decided that three joined together would be perfect. Placing the middle sheet over my face and mouth, I tied the outer sheets together behind my head and, intrepid and determined to defeat evil, mounted the Staircase of Doom to the Chamber of Horrors.

It was a little tight, I realised within minutes. My nose was flattened, and there was every likelihood that I’d end up pug-faced. The bow at the back was a bit bulky to lie on, as well. Eventually, I fell asleep, but continually awoke, gasping for breath; I had felt close to suffocating.

Bit by bit, throughout the night, my mask unravelled, opening up until my eyes were covered too, but on I slept. I probably looked like a badly-equipped welder. Actually, there’s no probably about it.

When I woke up, I looked through the mesh and took a selfie (yes, I know my hair is barmy in the morning and the camera has obviously malfunctioned to give me neck rolls).


But on the bright side, I cunningly evaded the germs and, as always, am happy to pass on the survival tip.


You’re welcome.


Weather Gremlins

Last night, I saw Huw Edwards briefly grimace at the News at Ten desk before the screen went blank and the Apologies for the break in transmission message came up on a red background.

I must confess, I was a little worried for his welfare, lest a bunch of Ninjas were under the desk tying his shoelaces together (hence the scowl) before maliciously pulling out the plug, much to the awaiting nation’s disappointment.



This morning, I switched on Breakfast for news of Huw’s fate only to hear talk of several incidents of studio electrical shenanigans attributed to ‘the heatwave’, and when I did my voluntary stint in the library today, the computers were slow and the little blue slips were not being issued through the little silver slits in the little black machines. Again, I heard talk of the effect of The Weather upon the servers at computer central, which had subsequently affected our ancient library equipment.


So, I guess that explains why at 5.20 this morning I was boiling the kettle for morning tea whilst multi-tasking and emptying the dishwasher with the usual self-set challenge to get it done before the kettle switched off.




It doesn’t?


Then I’ll enlighten you.

I failed the challenge. Mid-stoop, with a sparkling clean Jamie Oliver frying pan in hand, I happened to glance towards said silent kettle at the point when it was just about to begin its contented purr, and in doing so, my line of sight skimmed the built-in ovens. I froze, puzzled, bent double and still clutching Jamie’s handle. Something wasn’t right. I stared at the oven clocks which both said 5.22. I stood up – that would surely help – and stared a bit harder.

Yes, 5.22.

By now, I had surely developed irreversible frown lines. What were these bizarre numbers doing on my oven clocks?

My trusty phone was charging on the worktop. My phone would not lie; we had been through a lot together. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the time on the screen: 5.22… so why on earth was I making tea and emptying the dishwasher?

Had I dreamed that the 7.20 alarm had rudely wakened me and that I had resolutely turned it off?

I forfeited the tea – which was easy as it was still only at the boiling-water-within-the-kettle stage – and slogged back up the stairs where, if there were answers, I would find them, godammit. Granted, I had felt unduly tired on the downward descent a few minutes earlier where, bleary-eyed, I had relied more on my sense of touch than sight to negotiate the stairs.

Back in the bedroom, Hubby was still sound asleep. I picked up my clock – an electronic thing which is meant to automatically attune itself to the correct time – and held it right in front of my face for scrutiny. Yes! In the hour column was a 7. Of all the sevens I had ever laid my eyes upon, this was a prime example.



Not actual clock – quite evidently!

Still not quite convinced of the actual time, I checked the time on the house phone next to it. Maybe they would be in cahoots. But no, this device told me it was definitely 5 something.

I set the alarm on the house phone instead, and got back into bed, frightened to go to sleep for what might ensue. I could sleep until Friday if the world of technology had gone awry.

So, it seems that the heat has been affecting equipment willy nilly, my alarm clock being one of the casualties. At some point in the night, it had taken it upon itself to add on two hours and then trick me into getting up at the wrong time. And it still hasn’t righted itself.

I’m so glad it didn’t take two hours away; the reason I got up was to ensure that my daughter was up in time for her Physics A level exam this morning.

I just hope that if there were Ninjas underneath Huw’s desk, he didn’t get up in too much of a hurry.

Got to hand it to them…

How delighted I was to find a new shop in the village. The ironmonger’s was long gone and in its place was a shiny new replacement called Savers.

It wasn’t long before it was the talk of the village. The bargains to be had!

Well, yes. There were. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw nine rolls of toilet paper for a mere £1.99, or my favourite coconut oil at £1 a pot! I’d pop in regularly for toiletries – for toiletries galore were their speciality, along with, for some bizarre reason, a pot pourri of pet food in the last aisle.

For months I’d been wearing odd rubber gloves – one red and one yellow. I know many of you will be shocked by that confession.

Sometimes I shock myself.

They were both for the right hand so I wore the yellow one inside out, or sometimes, if it assumed its default stance due to a rough pulling off (yes, I have been known to be a tad rough with them: shock#2), I occasionally just forced my left hand into it. This pulled back and twisted my fourth and baby finger somewhat, lifting them up into a position where they were unusable (but quite elegant), and my thumb pointed the wrong way, but I lived with it.

I have to admit, those gloves annoyed the hell out of me, but as all you nail-varnish-wearing ladies know, washing up without sheathing one’s fingers in rubber can only result in disaster. As can many similar practices…

Well, I could hardly contain myself when I saw a pair of yellow rubber gloves in Savers at 49p. They were ‘Large’ and I am ‘Very Small’, but it’s rare to find anything less than a Medium so I snapped them up and snapped them on when I got home.

Not just for the fun of it, I hasten to add. There was washing up to be done. Who in their right mind puts glass in the dishwasher? No way, Jose!

I have worn Large before, so I knew that there would be a length of empty, flaccid glove at the end of each finger. It makes picking up very difficult; you just have to swipe and clutch, and often you have other fingertips in your grip too.

It wasn’t long before I mourned the loss of  Reliant Red and Inside-Out Yellow. My new gloves were not what they seemed for they began to stick together inside. It dawned on me that they had none of the powdery non-stick stuff that your average (or Large) Marigolds have. One by one the finger spaces became mini channels, or even cul-de-sacs, so that I could only get my digits part of the way up. There was now even more floppy finger dangling off the ends of my hands, and not only that, it was grossly deformed.


I am gradually getting used to them. They are a bit like crab claws now; I mostly don’t bother with the finger compartments at all and just insert the odd bit of extremity where I can find an orifice. I have just cleaned out the kitchen bin in them. It wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t find the opening of the new bin bag and when I finally did, I was unable to deposit a dirty Cif Wipe into it. Over and over it fell on the floor, and over and over I grabbed at it with fingers cramped into the palm of the glove.

Savers isn’t that good, and neither are 49p rubber gloves. Don’t be seduced, folks.

As Little Red Riding Hood can attest…


Flat shoes. Can’t overrate them enough. Abseil ropes? Something else that I shall carry from now on.

I had packed carefully for our trip to Durham University as I knew there’d be a lot of walking. Our younger daughter has been offered a place there for September and was invited back for a post-offer day this week. It’s a long ol’ journey – it took us nearly five hours, but it’s such a lovely place that we didn’t mind at all. In fact, we turned it into a kind of mini break. We booked into a hotel on Tuesday night ready for the 9 am start on Wednesday morning.

Durham, like Oxford and Cambridge, is a collegiate university. Our daughter had selected a college to apply to without ever having actually seen it. We had been to Durham’s Open Day in the summer but hadn’t got round to visiting every college. As the college tour started at 10.30, we had a bit of time to spare and decided to have a look at the sports centre first, which was right on the edge of the action – just where the town ended and the countryside began. We left half an hour to get back.

Well, now my tale turns towards my husband.

Unlike me, he has a very good sense of direction… most of the time. However, our hearts invariably sink when he announces that he (thinks he) knows a short cut. As we were heading back along the main road, the very road which we had followed to get to the sports centre (which, in case you have forgotten, is in the middle of the countryside), he stopped at a pathway which disappeared into woodland on our left. There was no signpost, but, he assured us, it was going in the right direction and would be a short cut to the college.

So, off we ambled in the morning sunshine, kicking through the leaves, admiring the view to our left – fields of horses and far-reaching vistas, while on our right was steep woodland. We had walked quite a long way, without a sniff of civilisation, when I suggested that this might not be The Way.

But, hey, what do I know?

On he marched, and on we trotted behind him. On several occasions, I brought up my concerns, but it was only as the woodland trail began to curve to the left that he reconsidered his conviction.

‘Oh,’ he finally declared. ‘It’s heading in the wrong direction.’ It was as though the path had deliberately misled him about its intentions.

‘I did try to –’

He glanced to the right and his eyes travelled up to the top of a very high, very steep slope.

‘All we have to do is take a right here to get us back to where we should be.’

‘But there’s no path –’

Undeterred, off, and up, he scrambled. My daughter, a gymnastic mountain goat, skipped up behind him and I brought up the rear, my over-sized, over-stuffed handbag weighing heavily on my right shoulder and throwing me off balance as I began to climb.


No matter how many steps I took, the summit seemed impossibly far. The reason was that, with every step, I was sliding backwards. Although the surface was covered with dry leaves, underneath was cunningly concealed, slippery mud. I muttered loudly as I teetered and tottered, my arms spiralling like windmills as I tried to maintain my balance. But then the slide of all slides began to pull me, feet first, back down to sea level.


There was just no stopping me. My knees eventually wedged into the mud and my hands sank beneath the leaves. That halted me all right.  Did my fellow mountaineers help? No! They did not. They just took pictures as my hair dangled in the mulch.


Suffice to say that I eventually made it, and that when we did emerge from the deep, dark forest, we weren’t that far from the college.

At every tuft of grass, I stopped for a boot rub down, but I don’t think I made the best impression as we arrived to a meet and greet with refreshments. My boots were caked in mud, my knees were dirty, and I was still brushing off humus from the zip of my handbag. I probably had leaf-mould in my hair, too. Who knows? I avoided hand-shaking as we introduced ourselves, preferring to cup my brown hands around a white china mug of coffee instead. And for the rest of the day I picked mud out of my nails.

The moral of this story is: Never veer off the path, as Red Riding Hood would confirm. Oh, and never take a short cut with my husband.


Extract from The Secret of Pooks Wood #freebook #mglit #kidlit #childrensfiction

The Secret of Pooks Wood will be FREE to download until December 2nd


Stella rubbed a circle of breath off the fogged-up pane and felt dizzy as she watched the snowflakes hurtle down outside. It was as if someone had split open a pillow and shaken it. The trees had sprouted white feathers and the hedges were furred with white; the whole world looked like a scene from the top of a Christmas cake.

She spun round as the heavy oak door thudded on the bashed nose of Jonty, the wooden dog that had sat behind it for years, and smiled at the squealing twins as they ran in.

‘Look what we found!’ shouted Oliver.

‘It’s a snow globe!’ His twin, Lily, jumped in as usual before Ollie could finish. ‘Guess what’s inside?!’

Stella knew immediately and, without a word, reached out for it. The twins became quiet and Lily handed it over. They studied their mother’s serene face intently as Stella cupped the globe and shook it.

If she had been standing outside in the grounds at that moment, looking towards Great Uncle Alfred’s mansion, she would have seen the exact same scene.

Inside the globe was a miniature model of Great Hawkesden Manor sitting in the middle of a glitter blizzard, just like the one that was going on outside for real right then and had been for the last three hours.

‘Mummy, will we really be able to stay here over Christmas with Alf?’ Lily looked up at her mother with her large turquoise eyes, her dark curls tumbling untidily over her face from hiding in the coat cupboard.

Great Uncle Alfred, Lily. You mustn’t call him ‘Alf’. It’s disrespectful.’

‘But are we?’

‘Well, it certainly looks that way. We’re cut off now. The roads are blocked and, even if we could get to the station, the trains aren’t running apparently.’

US link

28 Nov-2Dec #FREE #MG Christmas adventure

28th November-2nd December

#freebook #mgfiction #kidlit #childrensbooks #mgbooks



The Secret of Pooks Wood, a time-shift adventure for readers of 9-12, is currently FREE to download as a Kindle edition.

When twins Lily and Ollie are stranded at Great Hawkesden Manor over Christmas with their mother Stella, they have no idea what will happen when they find an old glass snow globe.

Inside it not only is there a miniature model of the manor house, but there is magic.

‘Ok, I know it’s a children’s book, but it’s so well written it appeals to all ages.’

‘Really captivating story that moved intriguingly from the present to various times in the past with Great Hawkesden Manor and a snow globe linking the times. Loved the character development and the ending! Highly recommend’

‘I shared reading this with my 13 yr old daughter. We both really liked it.
It was well written and the characters were well developed.’

‘This is one of those magical stories which shows wonder and enchantment in the faces of young children. I am far from being a child myself (although I did used to be one) yet I was quickly pulled into the very real feeling family Christmas story and, by chapter 2, I was totally hooked.’

‘Helen Laycock’s writing is rich with careful use of grammar and the feast of colourful text is fabulous for young brains to soak up. I can’t think that any 8+ child, girl or boy, could help but be gripped by this magical story and I would certainly recommend to my friends with young children.’

I hope you enjoy it! If you could leave a couple of lines as an Amazon review, then that would be absolutely lovely. Thank you.