2018 – a retrospective

Ah, it’s that time of year when I get to get all about me in public (oh wait, it’s a blog about me and my artistic endeavours, I do that every time I post, whoops).

So, how do I feel I did this year? Well, it started out on target:

1. Fix greenhouse.

The greenhouse we finally put up last autumn lasted a whole week before a storm ripped the sides off. We reinforced it with batons, I spent a happy week building lots of bespoke furniture for it, and it managed to house my first successful tomato crop before the storms ripped the roof off instead. So we went back in with the batons and reinforced the roof, too.

Status: so far so good. Unfortunately, all it needs is a really good storm and the whole thing is away again, no matter what we do to it.

2. Get new job.

This was kinda urgent since the old job was a contract. My boss got it extended, which was very sweet, but all good things come to an end. As luck would have it, I got a new job that began the very next day. Miles and miles further away, slightly fewer hours, slightly lower pay, but any port in a storm, what? Status: sorted.

3. Get taken back on at old job.

Would you Adam and Eve it, almost as soon as I started the new job they needed someone to fill in at the old one again. So I took on both.

Status: ker-ching!

Sadly, this had a bit of an impact on the old free time, as did:

4. Organise hen-do for best mate

As the only bridesmaid/ maid of honour for me mate’s wedding, it fell to me to do the honours for the hen-night. And with only three weeks’ notice, what! There was no time to get money out of everyone up front (hassling people you don’t know for cash is always the best way to make friends before you see them all at the wedding, right?) so I told them it would be free and hosted it at mine. (See under: ker-ching, above). I mean, we had room to sleep twelve. Just about. If I got more beds. And gave the place a thorough sprucing-up; by which I mean, not only moving everything out the way and giving the place a hose-down and several coats of paint, but also building some walls that had been left unfinished when we first got the place. Yes, myself and the G Monster had quite merrily* lived in that squalor for over a year while doing up the main house, but asking other people to do so? Unthinkable!

*For a given definition of ‘merrily’, obviously.

In my panic, I went a bit balls to the wall with the nautical theme (the wedding was at a lighthouse) – sent them on a cruise, hired a naked butler, put up an ‘under the sea’ theme for the lounge, bought pirate-themed cocktails, made the guests fish about in a paddling pool filled with coffee and cocoa powder with their toes for coins (I ran out of time to make them walk the plank, which was going to be done blindfold in the hopes that they would believe they would fall into water rather than just being on the lawn).

Status: There were inflatable parrots everywhere in the morning, including in the toaster, so I think it was a success?

5. Build lean-to log store

lean-to

I did this in a couple of days out of only what was lying around, and very pleased with myself I was too. Unfortunately for me, next door promptly built a lean-to too, only hers is professionally-made by a team of workers, and is a gigantic thing made of all the shiniest materials. You have an excellent view of it from my lean-to, which you could easily fit twenty of into her one. In fact, our house would fit into it. She is lovely, so I am not jealous at all. Am not.

Status: Okay, I totally AM.

6. Me mate’s wedding

I got through this without participating in any arguments, letting the bride down or making a Scene, which is my best-case outcome for social interactions. Also, the lassie who did my make-up made me look like Katie Perry. Although according to the photos I actually looked like a giant blue pineapple, but you can’t have everything. The bride looked wonderful, the cake was an octopus attacking a lighthouse, the first dance was in a bouncy castle, the photos were amazing.

Status: It was awesome.

7. Operation Windbreak

It’s a bit windy here, almost all the time. A lot of the time it’s very windy. I had tried planting all the fruit bushes along the front very close together, but they still hated being the first thing the gales hit after the wind-farms you can see on the horizon. I’ve been feeling a hedge might help – despite the fact that we have a big hedge, and a big fence, along the side, and sure, you’re still blown off your feet on especially windy nights – but I had to talk the G Monster into it. However, with all my spare cash from working two jobs, I now had money to burn. I just had to build some mighty raised beds for the fruit bushes to move into, dig out 45 bushes and move them, dig a 33m trench and prep it, shift all the strawberries that had escaped into the lawn while I was working two jobs, make some planters, put up a trellis, and get it all done before 130 baby trees arrived in November.

operation windbreak 1.jpg

November came and went with no baby trees. Or confirmation email, now I came to think of it. So I repeated the order. 260 baby trees turned up, nearly giving me heart failure.

Status: if this works, it will be the densest hedge in all Christendom.

8. Dogface!

dog with hair

I’ve spent years saying I want to get organised and disciplined enough to get up early before work every day and take some exercise. Last Christmas the universe sent us a dog, so now I damn well have to, let that be a lesson for everyone reading this. He turned 15 in November, and the G Monster’s sister came to celebrate with him. We have fallen in love with him soooo hard. This year we took him to Wales, where he got ill, and Stonehenge, where he walked 10 miles in one day (and got ill), and Arran, and the Lake District, so whatever he was up to for the first 14 years of his life, he’s been about a bit now. I don’t know if it’s possible for dogs to be on the spectrum, but he does have a number of… odd… habits:

  • If you throw a stick for him and it lands on the path, he will tidy it away to the side.
  • Shortly after arriving, he banned himself from going on the furniture.
  • If he wants to go out to the loo in the night he will not bark. Or whine or make any sort of fuss, despite being repeatedly told we really don’t mind (not when the alternative is playing “where is that godawful smell coming from” in the morning. So much fun when your schedule means you have to leave for work now, but you can’t just leave that on the rug for twelve hours). He will, however, put his nose over the side of the bed and whiffle hopefully; this works if you’re sleeping facing the right direction, but not if he just gets your hair.

Obviously your dog (or cat, or tortoise or whatever) is objectively the best one in the whole world, but Dogface is the best one for us.

Status: yay, Dogface. Never leave us. Oh wait, one day you totally will.

9. The Twelve Days of Cthulhu-mas

I am laying the blame for this on the G Monster’s sister. When she came up for Dogface’s birthday she said she would commission a portrait of one of her own dogs but “didn’t want to do it right before Christmas because you’ll get stressed trying to do that plus Christmas”. This was very sweet and thoughtful on a number of levels, but sadly I got a fever right after and, knowing I was free of the stress of trying to do a Commission Plus Christmas, I spent the next three weeks doing something far more stressful instead. Go me. I should be proofing it for stray pixels right now, in fact, because having got this far I might as well go the whole hog and attempt to put it out as a novelty book.

Status: who the hell do I think I am, eh.

10. Volunteering

I’ve spent years saying I want to get organised and disciplined enough to do some volunteering, because I am conscious that I have a very idyllic, me-centred life and ‘should give something back’, and also, see under 8) above, I am incapable of learning from my mistakes. I was more specific about this notion, however – it has to be volunteering that doesn’t involve a) going anywhere or b) meeting people or c) interacting with people. Lest you think it’s laziness, it’s not; it’s simple cowardice.

Comeuppance arrived the week before Christmas when the G Monster’s mate needed someone ‘reliable and conscientious’ to help out with some charity work at short notice; all those people were busy, so she got me. Boom boom.

Status: I have spent the festive period on one hell of a learning curve.

11. But, wasn’t 2018 supposed to be all about the art and writing and stuff?

Yes, yes it was. I just wanted to get my feet clear first. Never do this. It’s like in Red Dwarf (the book, not the series) where Kryten, the droid who is programmed to clean up after humanity, is on his way to escaping from Better Than Life. Only he sees a pile of dishes that need washed, so he decides he’ll just get that done before he goes. Three months later the pile is no smaller and he realises he’s been conned. If you never do anything creative until you’ve got your feet clear, this will be you. It’s certainly me.

Anyway. Here we are in 2019, which I am starting with a bugger of a head-cold. The dishes are done, the world outside is so frozen I just had to use a pick-axe to break up the mound of left-over earth that the G Monster has been giving me meaningful hints about getting out of the way, Dogface has been taken for a three-mile walk over the moors and is curled up asleep by my feet, and all is well with the world. Quick! Time to get creative!

Tis the season…

How did that happen already? I swear, you take on two jobs and suddenly the year is just gone. In theory, I would at least have a shed-load of money to show for it, but unfortunately I blew all that on a massive gardening project that ate my entire autumn.

And now it’s two weeks till the winter solstice. Go figure.

I have, however, cunningly managed to find time to put together a batch of Christmas cards for this year. If I’d been even more cunning, I would have marketed them slightly sooner, but here we go in case anyone is even more behind the times than I am:

Christmas owls! (Click link if you wish to buy from Redbubble).

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Also a pagan/ LGBT mashup featuring the Power of Love Mistletoe that… well, as the punchline of that old joke goes, ‘sometimes, señor, the bull wins’. So they aren’t available for sale.

Phew, just got that in before the end of the year, eh. Merry Hectic Shopping Season to all!

Your opportunity to own a clock with work-safe pseudo-medieval humour plastered on it!

Your opportunity to own a clock with work-safe pseudo-medieval humour plastered on it!

Read on to see why that sentence above does actually make sense!

So. Many years ago, I did a series of wee drawings of a knight chasing a dragon through the alphabet. I had good reasons, let us not discuss what they were because I don’t recall. I do love early Christian and Medieval illuminations, though. For anyone not familiar with the term, it’s the doodles around the edges of the books the monks used to copy out. Some of them are absolutely mental; the Toast had a series about it, someone has thoughtfully collected some of it here. Although apparently it’s all allegory and therefore quite possibly some sort of pithy political commentary whose point has been lost to the ages.

So, first to admit, my wee alphabet was quite tame by comparison with all that. However, in order to retroactively justify the amount of time I spent on it*,  now it’s been dragged back into the light of day and tarted up. And lo, by the power of modern technology, it is now available on mugs and T-shirts and cards and bags (and, apparently, clocks. I’m just gonna go with it. You never know if someone might be jonesing for such a thing, it’s a funny old world).

To check it out, click here!

If you want to buy something, I will of course love you forever, but if they aren’t your cuppa or you’re broke, feedback is welcome too!

*Oh okay, I had a deadline I was avoiding.

Spring has sprung! Thus setting the scene for the massive gardening fail later on!

Spring has sprung! Thus setting the scene for the massive gardening fail later on!

(Pictured above: the sort of scene that only excites the sort of people who post on Allotment Life, so apologies for the niche interest.)

Spring took its sweet time about it, too. Truly, we have had a winter like the ones child-me thought were “supposed” to happen, where the ground was covered with snow more often than not, and every time I ran outside with a spade I was beaten back into the house by a big blast of hail from one of a number of ‘Beasts from the East’ (can we call them Easterlies already? Or, just ‘wind’?)

The snow was great, actually. One day we got our first ever Red Weather Warning (they only brought them in last year, which might have something to do with it) and the snow stopped me going to work, woo! Then I had to make up the hours later, of course, but it’s the principle of the thing. The only problem with the snow is its fragility. If someone so much as steps on it, or it melts even a little bit, come nightfall it’s transformed into ice, which is a whole different ballgame. (I don’t remember ice being a problem when I was a child. Probably because I weighed about a fifth of what I do now, so falling on my face wasn’t such a big deal).

Still, in between the various Beasts, the garden’s all prepped for the rest of the year. I might have gone slightly overboard on the number of fruit bushes that needed weeding and composting. It might also be that planting a fifty-metre hedge entirely composed of thorns was not my smartest move. Every time I went in with a shovel-full of mulch for the ungrateful thing, it grabbed me by the hair and I had to fight my way free.

The good news is, the newly-reinforced greenhouse has (touchwood) stood up to the storms so far. Mostly because they came from the east and it’s sheltered by the house from that direction. Three years of tending a mighty, spiky hedge to try and keep the westerlies off – we’re kinda elevated, so there’s nothing at all between here and the hills of the west coast but wind – and suddenly it’s all coming from the other direction. Where there is a whole street, nay, village, and trees and high fences and you name it as a barricade and none of it seems to stop the wind a damn, so… yeah. A single hedge. Well, it seemed a good call at the time.

Nothing I planted in the greenhouse has come up yet, however, because it’s too sodding cold. I predict another cold snap, too, because I just got the raised beds planted. Not that it’s all about me, of course, but next door have planted theirs too and therefore we’re doomed. You can set your watch by the weather round here; the heavens open at going-to-work time, school-run time and evening rush hour, with enough kept back for a sudden downpour once enough washing’s been hung on a sunny day. Tis a cunning beast.

Anyway! The garden is now all set up to produce: basil, cabbages, four types of chilli peppers, courgettes and cucumbers, leeks, parsnips, peas, runner beans, swedes, tatties, tomatoes and tomatillos. In the perennial beds, we have rhubarb and borage; in the tubs there are strawberries, blueberries and oh god I still need to pot out and compost the herbs. Fruit bushes and trees: gooseberries, currants of all three colours, goji berries (ha. These guys apparently live in the Himalayas and ‘thrive on cold and windy conditions’. Not so far), raspberries, elderberries, cherries, plums, apples, rowans and a single, rather optimistic pear tree. The hedge might yet do something useful if the hazelnuts and rose-hips and sloes ever get going.

I mention all this so later, when I report on the solitary parsnip that comprises the entire harvest, the contrast will be extra emphasised.

The other thing that happened this spring is, we had a wood-burning stove installed. You know, just in time for it to not be cold enough to need one. Since the garden was a massive grove of feral Leylandii when we moved in, getting rid of the buggers left a colossal pile of logs, so it made sense to make use of them. We thought.

But lo, the guys fitting the wood-burning stove casually pointed out that Leylandii is, apparently, the Wrong Sort of Wood for wood-burning stoves. Too much resin, burns too fast, something something. Let this be a lesson to everyone else to do your homework before forking out; also, if the neighbours offer you cash for something you’re not immediately gonna use, for godsake take the money and run!

That was the week off, that was

That was the week off, that was

Somehow or other, I’ve managed to get nearly to the end of the business year with two whole weeks’ leave in my pocket. This greatly distressed my manager so I had to take this week off. It’s a hard, hard life.

I had so, so many plans it was hard to choose. Build the log-store I’ve been meaning to get around to for a whole year? Write that sequel that’s been popularly demanded? (If you count as ‘popularly’ one person, who was drunk at the time, which I will, dammit). Gut the house? (Now we have a dog – who turns out to be ninety-percent floof by body-weight – it badly needs it. Within approximately three hours of the last time it got done, too). Socialise? Pfft, what even is that?

Alas for all of this, I had an Idea.

Then some more ideas:

Then it kinda snowballed:

Then it got completely out of control. And, somehow, the whole week is gone…

A very happy 2018 to all!

A very happy 2018 to all!

Whoa, it is 2.5 hours till the Bells, and I have no earthy idea how this crept up so suddenly. Not that I’m not kinda glad 2017’s nearly over; if 2016 was the year everyone I knew was bewailing the deaths of artists they loved, this year’s been the year it got a lot closer to home, for a lot of people I love. Bad trend, dude, so I’m already giving 2018 the side-eye.

I can’t even say it’s been an eventful couple of months since the last post, although we did manage to get out a bit. We went to the local wrestling’s tenth anniversary at the Hydro (and had VIP tickets, it turned out, for the blasphemous price of thirty-seven pence apiece) so I got to have Swears screamed at me by thousands as we went up to the no-queueing door, which was… interesting… but it was worth it for a totally awesome night. Later that week, I got taken to see Deep Purple for a very cheap price by someone I didn’t know very well but who turned out to be totally lovely. I spent a lot of time trying to help someone who was going through a very bad relationship; then when we went down to Cambridge for a party and a couple of days’ peace, a bunch of bad news broke and we ended up inheriting a dog for Christmas. Within two hours of getting back, even, so that was a lot of running around even before my Christmas present (seven blueberry bushes) turned out to have arrived a month early and need urgent TLC.

Neither of us have had a dog before, so that’s certainly been an eye-opener. We’re very fortunate that he’s an OAP and as little trouble as a dog could possibly be (except for the separation anxiety. And the fact that he was terrified of the stairs. We ended up taking shifts sleeping on the couch, while I was under the attack of the worst lurgy I’ve had in a decade, so that was just fab, and in the end, though I was half-dead and the G-monster appallingly drunk (so jealous!) we got out the staple-gun and spent the midnight hour decking the stairs with cardboard until dog-breath could be persuaded to come up them and stop barking all the goddamn time already). He’s been here just under a fortnight and already it feels like we’re a proper family or something, so I predict he will stay long enough to break our hearts, and our bank balances with his medical bills, and then pop his poor little clogs, leaving us devastated. Woo, pets.

In the meantime, I fulfilled this year’s goal of writing a short story for every week for the year (if one generously counts poetry and sarcastic articles as short stories). The less said about all the other goals I had for this year the better, but who knows, maybe next year I will get more done. Not as much as I want, of course (until the lurgy, my plans for the Christmas period were to write eight short stories, and possibly a novel, and get a whole raft of drawing done, while somehow also gutting the house, getting fit with dog-breath and insulating the loft. Probably not realistic goals for eight days, but they never are.)

Nevertheless, it would be a small and mean world if one person had the slightest chance of experiencing it all in one lifetime, and I suppose it would be a small and mean lifetime if one had any chance at all of doing everything one wanted to do within it. Though I hope, for anyone reading this, you have a chance of doing all sorts of wonderful things and fulfilling all sorts of wonderful goals in the coming year. Remember, it’s always better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. At least, until the landing.

On which note, here are some fever-animals. Happy New Year!

neon animals tiger dec 2017 smallneon animals zebra dec 2017 small

Is it too early to be plugging Christmas cards?

Probably, but I’m going to plunge on ahead with it anyway.

I’ve spent (what is probably far too much) time working on a wee series of cards that combine two things almost everyone loves – Christmas, and Great Cthulhu, who doesn’t quite ‘get’ Christmas.

Okay, when I say ‘almost everyone’, I mean, ‘almost everyone I know had to have Great Cthulhu explained to them, at which I did not do such a great job’ so it is the most niche of niche-y Christmas cards ever.

Here they are!

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And if for some reason anyone would like to purchase any, here’s the link. Season’s greetings y’all, even if this season is, um, still November at this time. Oops.

Great Cthulhu Hates Christmas

I see summer’s been and gone

Autumn’s pretty much over too! The best laid plans of mice and men, etc. I got a new job, a lot closer to home, and full of lovely people. Stressful as hell, and an awful lot to learn in a short time, but that’s what keeps you young, eh? (She says, looking at the tremendous amount of grey hairs busting out all over).

(I have made a name for myself there, despite it only being a contract job, what with standing up at the end of the first meeting I ever chaired, catching my foot on the table leg and going down like a felled tree, taking the hat-stand with me, and only the other week I got the norovirus that’s doing the rounds, had to bolt out of the meeting I was in the middle of minuting to be sick in the bogs and got sent home in disgrace. Go me!)

Then it was fruit-harvesting season, and a poor crop it was too thanks to the really cold weather, but I have a few dozen gallons of wine on the go which will hopefully be delicious next year. Hard on the heels of that, bad family news on both my side and the G Monster’s, which all hit at the same time. Life, eh.

So it was nice to get away to the Lake District for a well-deserved week off! Shame it rained quite a lot, also I came down with the most horrendous cold (because of course I did) so there was not as much hill-walking as there could have been. There were a huge number of steam trains to have a go on, though, and we had a pint on the steam cruiser on Lake Windermere (the bar is in the – bilges? gunnels? the bottom of the boat, anyway, so it was quite weird, sitting in a nice comfy saloon and watching the top of the water go by at neck height). And we saw some waterfalls and strange creatures and I got to hold a python. Sadly I am far rounder than before, due to staying in the White Hart Inn, which is full of delicious food and a wide variety of beer…

So here is a selection of fairly horrendous photos, almost all taken with the wrong settings.

lakes - wet creatures 1
everything in the Lakes was soaking, even this guy
lakes - view from windermere
and the weather was really ‘moody’, as seen in this view from the bar
lakes - waterfall 1
but it meant all the waterfalls were really huge
lakes - waterfall 2 - thingy force
we didn’t even think much of this one, last year
lakes - ghyll force
this is ghyll force (fun fact, force is probably from ‘foss’ which they are called in Iceland
lakes - ravenglass
we did get one nice day, though, in Ravenglass
lakes - steam train 2
which also has a steam train
lakes - steam train 3
it was bitterly cold, though
lakes - steam trains in bed
even the trains were all wrapped up
lakes - halloween 1
but it was Halloween so everyone had pulled the stops out
lakes - halloween 2
which impressed some more than others
lakes - rock tree
we also found a strange place where the trees grow only out of rocks
lakes - steam train 1
and a zoo with a steam train
lakes - halloween steam 1
and a place which did Halloween AND had FOUR steam trains!
lakes - halloween steam 2
if i had loads of money, I would do exactly what these guys did with theirs
lakes - skull
and here is a skull, because that appears to be a Thing with me now 🙂

I have a book out!

shutterstock with black

It’s a self-pubbed book, so it may well not count as a ‘proper’ book, but it’s the right length and it tells a story and everything. Perhaps a bit of a mad story, with monsters and explosions and extremely complicated personal relationships (I am totally stealing this sentence from one of my two kind reviewers) but as they say, for people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like!

Hopefully, at least. You can have a gander inside at the link below and decide if it’s your thing or not.

In No Way Heroes