Ehh, yippee?

Come on, which day are they going to hold the referendum? You know, do we or do we not want to leave the EU? Because that’s where this is going. The current deal looks to make the best of an awful job and I do salute Theresa for getting something on the table. All of those currently shouting from the sidelines saying she hasn’t done a good enough job clearly don’t get how difficult the negotiations were always going to be. I suppose we could have applied a Trump business blueprint and threatened all sorts of merry hell and been incredibly rude about people on Twitter, but we would have ended up with no deal … and probably too late to do anything about it. So we either leave without a deal (ehh, no thanks), or we bring down the government and hold a general election (where does that leave Brexit?), or, as the politicians can’t decide, we put the only deal on the table and ask the punters to vote.

I bet you weren’t expecting that, Cameron, were you? What a mess.

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our life at the moment

We’ve been at Jen’s, making things. Lots of things. So much so that it does look like we might need to think about using one of the two women who came along on Monday for a look-see. One is an experienced seamstress, the other currently doing a sewing course ‘at college’. They were both lovely and both seemed excited by the prospect. Just now we held a ‘business meeting’ with a couple we’re sharing a stall with at the Birmingham dog show on 16/17 December (do come along). They’re expecting 10,000 dogs and I guess a fair few numbers of humans to look after them. We discussed how it would work, and what stock we would take (all of which we have to make up). It was a fun meeting and felt a little bit like we had a business between us.

Today I started a 8-piece order for a shop in Scotland that wants to stock our stuff. Jen’s made up a product book … and we have no idea where that’s going. And the other orders keep coming in. It is pretty mad and we all hope it will calm down before Christmas.

Books? Still selling about one-a-day. And I’ve set myself a target to have completed book 5 (less epilogue and prologue) by the end of the weekend. I’m currently sitting up in bed at night trying to knock out between 500 and 1,000 words a day. It’s a bit crazy.

Oh, and last night we met up with Darren and Karen. They’re a couple of years behind us. They have a big Hymer and hope to push off into the sunset in a couple of years time. Go D&K, go!

That’s all from me. Back to Jen’s tomorrow, but hopefully Friday and the weekend free. Yippee!

This might be a thing …

A lot of incidental things have happened since Wednesday. The biggest being that I/we have committed to Cubbly’s for the next 12 months. Committed means that I will work 3.5 days a week, but we have guaranteed periods of holiday which we already have planned (skiing, a trip abroad in Doris in the Spring and 6 weeks in the summer doing China etc with Bex and Steven). Jen and I (with some limited support from C – somebody will need to hold the rest of us together) want to give this a wholehearted go. This came to me when we were slogging through bandana orders on Thursday (didn’t finish until 10 pm), realising that we may be onto something special – bigger than just Jen and me/C sewing a few things here and there.

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this business might be going somewhere…

I think I said last time that we have two women coming along tomorrow to look at whether or not they’re prepared to help out. Taking on gig workers; that’s no small thing. One part of me is excited – another, already exhausted. We’ll give it our best.

Second, we popped to Mum and Dad’s on Friday. Although, to be fair, you can’t ‘pop’ to M&D’s.  It’s a 3.5 hour drive on a good day. We weren’t thinking of going until early December, but Mum was in a bit of state. Actually little has changed. Dad is more and more forgetful and pretty inert, but he can be a little aggressive when his frustration comes out. I think the thing is, even with the girls coming in twice a day, Mum is weary. Anyway we’re looking at getting in more support to give Mum more respite. The big move would be putting Dad into a home, which would disassociate him from the family home completely, and, we guess, he would go down hill v quickly. The problem would be Mum who, whilst she says she could cope at home on her own, would hate it. I’m like her. I’m not v good in my own company – that’s one of the reasons I write books – because I feel as though I’m talking to lots of people. She would quickly get bored … and would find herself in a home pretty quickly. And she would not see Dad – or not often. Ho hum.

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Finally, a couple of words about how inexpensive the UK is. No, really. I know a lot of people have difficulty making ends meet, but we’ve found the cost of just living continues to surprise us. I spoke a couple of weeks ago about the price of electricity. Well, in the last week, and just by using the web, we have remortgaged a house we own in Wells. It’s 2-year fixed price mortgage which was coming up for renewal. I went on to the mortgage company’s website and, literally, two minutes later I pressed ‘send’ and had signed us up to a 5-year fixed rate which was cheaper than the current rate we were being charged (I think it’s 2.99% no fees, for a buy-to-let). Sorry, but when you’re talking about borrowing thousands and thousands of pounds and you can do that in minutes, without talking to a human – and save money – that works for me.

And yesterday we re-insured our trusty Ford Focus (2006). Hastings wanted £254 – which, in itself, wasn’t bad. However Go Compare pulled out 5 companies for under £160. Twenty minutes later we’d signed up to the RAC with increased mileage and ‘commuting’ on the schedule. Fab.

Oh, and did I tell you about the Focus’s MoT? It went in on Friday. I take it to the County MoT place as they’re not a garage and don’t go out of their way to find things wrong so that they can fix them for you. They can also MoT Doris – as they are one of just a couple of places who can physically squeeze her bulk through their doors. Anyhow, it failed because there was no oil in the sump. Which, by the way, is not an MoT failure. But the guy couldn’t run the engine at high-speed to test the emissions, so he couldn’t pass the car. And we were off to Colchester in an hour to see M&D. Mmmm.

Well, it’s my fault, although having had (allegedly) oil and filter changed exactly a year ago I was a bit surprised that there was no oil in the car. I know, I know, I should check. I do on Doris (who is, as you know, part of the family), but have never thought it necessary on the Focus as …. well, no excuse. Anyhow, 2.5 litres of oil (she only takes 3.2!) later and she’s back at the yard and passes her MoT. There’s a lesson for me. and, maybe, the rest of you. Check your oil once a month!

Books? Still selling, which is good. I plan to finish Chapter 19 of 20 today and have it completed, less prologue and epilogue next weekend. I’m really excited by the ending. It’s going to surprise a few people!

Tired …

I’ll start with an addendum to the last blog. I’ve had a small peak in book sales. Not big, but a couple of books a day – and some consistency. That may well stop tomorrow (I’ve sold 2 books today), alternatively … who knows. Those of you who read this drivel week in, week out, know that 10 books a day would be a sensible figure. In term of wages, I think we’d be talking about £5/6K a year with that number, which would be a nice fillip.

Anyhow, just got back from Jen’s. That’s three days and two nights. And we’re popping up tomorrow as well. We’ve slept on the sitting room floor and C cooked for us all. There’s been a lot to do, and orders keep coming in. By chance, as we went to Jen’s local arts and craft shop to ask if we could position ourselves there (yes – a small display unit for £10 a month – no other fees – from January), there was the local crochet club doing their, well, crocheting. I sort of mentioned that we might be looking for gig workers from the New Year, showed them the product (great excitement all round), and low and behold we had at least one woman – who had just started a sewing course – who’d like to join us. I think finding more will be straight forward. Our ambition would be to contract out ‘making things’ for a fixed fee. Sounds like a cottage industry in the making. Fab.

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Cubbly’s shop floor

And we could have a stall at the Birmingham NEC dog show in December. Apparently there are tens of thousands of visitors. Mmmm … better get sewing.

I think that’s about it for me today. We are both a bit shattered. I would love to talk about Trump’s letter about Saudi Arabia, about Ivanka’s emails, about Trumps denigration of the Marine’s special forces general who oversaw the attack which took out OBL, about the disaster that is Brexit (actually, whilst I wholly disagree with the notion, you have to take your hat off to Theresa May who has been immovable against a huge onslaught – good effort), about so much else, but I haven’t there energy.

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on the sofa after a hard day at the office…

So, signing off!

Is it worth it?

First, let’s draw a line under Tunisia.  We had a fab time, we really did. And I take back my comment about it not being ‘culture central’. If you’re interested in Roman remains then you will be tripping over columns and mosaics. They are everywhere. We did a back of beyond trip on Wednesday and saw another Colosseum, a huge recently excavated town, a massive aqueduct (what have the Romans ever done for us?) and a water storage/spring set up in the mountains. It was fab. So, if you like Roman stuff, you won’t get much better.

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dawn from our hotel across the swimming pool

And, blah, the hotel was great, the weather warmer than Telford and everywhere very inexpensive. There is no nightlife (certainly not at this time of year) and it’s a hike to the marina, but if you just want to recharge (on a budget) then come. Fab.

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another Colosseum – fab

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what have the Romans ever done for us?

Another highlight was the opportunity to concentrate of book 5, now with a draft title of To Hell In A Handcart. As you know I’ve been writing it on the hoof and that has been a strain and a little discombobulating. A week ago I was unsure if what I had written was going to be any good, and I was at a loss as to how it was all going to come together. Normally about now we’re in the south of France for six weeks and I write day-in, day-out … never losing track of where I am, or where we are all going. As I got on the plane to fly out I was at the end of Chapter 14, about 84k words in with a planned total of around 130k. I was all over the place and it all seemed to be taking forever.

A week later and by the time we flew into Birmingham I was three chapters to the better and feeling very pleased with myself. Hurrah!

But it does take for ever. Writing a book is like running a marathon. You start with enthusiasm, you quickly lose momentum, then it’s a slog, then it’s almost impossible (where I was when I got on the plane), and then the end comes into sight and you’re off – a sprint finish! 130,000 words is a lot of words. And this is my fifth book (OK, the first, Unsuspecting Hero, was only 86,000, but they got a lot longer after that). I work on 20 chapters of 6,000 words each. I end up with 21/22 chapters and an epilogue and prologue, both of which are slightly shorter than a chapter.

Each 1,500 words takes 2 hours. Then I crash edit that (about another 30 minutes). And then there are up to 6 full-book edits (plus a professional proof read) before she’s ready for publication. Therefore, the first draft is about 220 hours of work. After edits we’re looking at over 400 hours, possibly 450. That’s before we look at cover work, the blurb etc.

It’s not possible to work at a keyboard for 8 hours a day. If it were, the maths show it takes me 50 days to write a book. If you add in weekends that’s 10 weeks. In reality it takes twice that length. I start in September, finish the first draft in December. I then edit in the Spring.

My question is, is it worth it? I have sold 5,000 books in four years, with likely another 2,000 books out there via giveaways and Amazon’s prime lending library. Most of those books are Fuelling the Fire‘s (3,000), which Amazon/Kindle own. My last two books have sold just over 400 (The Innocence of Trust) and 150 (For Good Men To Do Nothing). I make somewhere between £1.50 and £2 a book – which, as you can see, is not very much. Other than one or two, the reviews are all great – some spectacular. My current rate on Goodreads against over 200 reviews is 4.2/5.0 which is as good as any I can find.

But … is it worth it? Really? It’s half a year’s work for, what looks like, a very slow take up. And just enough cash to pay my proofreader and replace my chromebook.

And five books (600,000 words) is quite a series. Isn’t it?

We’ll see. Let’s get this one out there first!

Pictures are all Tunisia.

Oh … Tunisia

Ok, Tunisia (sorry about yesterday).

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Think southern Italy (same latitude), but poorer still, and without the piles of unharvested rubbish and no roadside prostitutes. It’s all two storey high, block built houses, but (mostly) with ornate doorways, painted white. Tiles are big here and they cover everything with them.

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Outside of the tourist areas things are pretty run down and very north African. Sheep with attending shepherds graze the side of the roads, shops spill onto the streets and on vast tracks of land the only crop we could see was olives. It is said (probably by a Tunisian) that Tunisian olive oil is the best in the world. Most of the country is uninhabited, and most of it is steppe-like. The south tends to the Sahara desert.

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The coastline is one long beach: lovely sand and, after a period of calm, crystal clear water. However, away from the hotel fronts the beach v quickly becomes plastic central. They are a mess. There are a number of things to see. The markets are typical souks (one Dinar, best price for you …), there are a lot of Roman remains (did a huge collusium today), mosques, forts and Berber villages. But it is not culture heavy.

The people (99% Muslim) are mostly lovely. The woman always engage and always smile. Half of the men are charming, the other half are stern and, if you’re of a nervous disposition (hardly surprising after 38 tourists were murdered in 2015), clearly terrorists; which they are not. We found the Turkish men the same, but I can tell you that I’ve felt much more at ease here than I did in Istanbul just a year ago.

All-inclusive? Well it’s a first for us. On chatting to our fellow guests, people come here because it’s cheap. We paid £750 all-in (we know of one couple who paid £600). Whatever, we thought that good value … until I checked our hotel on TripAdvisor and read the recent reviews. After that we came with v low expectations. The reviews were wrong. The hotel (4-star) has been built with grand intentions. And it almost meets them. Our rooms are huge, the two outdoor pools are massive and wonderfully clean, the indoor pool is good, there’s a gym, a spar and access straight onto the beach. It’s clean and only one or two of the staff are grumpy. The food is good (no hamburgers, it’s Tunisian and better for it) and plentiful. The beer (which is free) is perfectly quaffable and the red wine is on tap in the restaurant. Ok, so we’re not all-inclusive aficionados, but it ticks all our boxes (apparently you do get better, but you do pay more).

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Our hotel has a number of local guests (it’s about 25% full) and they clearly love all-inclusive. Watching how they like to pile their plates … many plates …is a sight to behold. I guess the Brits make up for it at the bar. So, all-inclusive gets our vote. It is so good to not to have to think about how much things cost.

More on our itinerary later, but in a nutshell: day one was a 6-mile beach walk to Hammamet, and a bus back; day two was a taxi to the next but one coastal village, and a bus back; day three was an organised trip inland to a big mosque and a huge collusium, which is where they filmed Life of Brian (love it).

Oh, and I lost my glasses somewhere on day one’s 6-mile walk. I was wearing my prescription sunglasses at the time. Bugger. I fumbled about for a bit and then, yesterday, I found a street vendor selling glasses and he had a pair (short-sighted) half the strength I need … for £6. They’ll do! C reckons I look like Himmler or some other pervy chap. Oh well

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More later!

We will remember them?

If you don’t want the usual Ladley lecture, then skip the next couple of paragraphs and go on to the bits about Tunisia.

I’m not anti-Brexit because I think the UK will lose loads of cash if we pull out of the economic union. Whatever form it takes, I think it’s clear that it might be fiscally close to catastrophic in the short term, but who can tell in the mid-to-long term? It might just work … we might be better off. I’m not anti-Brexit because I’m for open borders. No, with a small, busy, already over-populated country I can see that we need to look closely at how we manage immigration; at how we deal with asylum. For the record I am a multiculturalist. I couldn’t care less what colour, creed, sexual persuasion, religion etc you are. Having travelled a lot and lived and worked with all manner of people the ratio of good people to bad people is the same whatever they call themselves, whoever they worship and wherever they live. And I’m not anti-Brexit because I think the EU is a well-oiled machine which we shouldn’t abandon. No. It’s rubbish in parts and needs a good overhaul, especially in light of where the world finds itself today.

And I’m not particularly anti-Trump because I can’t find a single redeemable feature about him; which I can’t. I’m not particularly anti-Trump because he’s a racist and a misogynist – which I think the record shows that he is. I’m not anti-Trump because every policy decision he has made is wrong. NATO allies should pay more for their collective defence. And, although I’m no expert, China is almost certainly stealing US industrial secrets and fixing its currency. And I’m not anti-Trump because he’s wholly partisan, when he should be trying to bring the country together … that’s what leaders do.

No.

I’m anti-Brexit and anti-Trump because history tells us that nationalism and isolationism breed mistrust and fear. They sew arrogance and xenophobia. They hand power to individuals and wrestle it from the rest of us.

The UK is known and respected for the rule of law. It gets things right – with hundreds of years of stability we are a beacon for trust and fair play. People regard us highly. And yet. Just when Europe needs stability, with the far-right emerging in countries nowhere near as temporally stable as ours, we walk away from the table with a message that says, ‘we don’t want to belong to your rubbish club anymore’. Just when solidarity is needed, we, the centre of right and wrong, set an example for others to follow. If you don’t like it – leave.

And they will.

And Trump is doing the same thing on a global scale. His disdain for international treaties, his disrespect for allies and his ignorance of what is the right thing to do when everyone looks to the US for ‘the normal’, is telling crackpots and dictators that ‘that’s ok’.

One hundred years ago … no let’s reflect on all of the conflicts over the past one hundred years. People gave their lives to create a world where the world found a balance. The big players, the large alliances co-existed. Global warming was recognised as a big thing. Treaties were put in place to keep a lid on nuclear disarmament. Europe, the centre of all things war-like, had become so close it was impossible to see how friends could become enemies. Yes, there were tiffs. But a common good was recognised.

Now, with Trump and Brexit, the stable platform that we have enjoyed is crumbling. Our children will inherit a world-order that is disintegrating. Friends are already becoming foes. Bullies are rising. Fear and hatred is among us.

And we are to blame. Our generation. For ignoring the poor. For giving up on the dispossessed. For looking out for number one. For being so short-sighted that we ignore history and dismiss the future. Yes, we’re going to be OK. I will not get called up to serve. I am too old. But my kids might. I will not drown in rising sea-levels, but my grandchildren will need to invest in a boat.

we should remember them

Oh, and what about Tunisia?

We’re having a fab time. And I will post again soon cos I’ve got a lot to tell you! So, sorry if you skipped to the end only to find that I’m still droning on. And on.

Sorry.

Harrumph

I don’t want to talk about the ‘blue ripple’, that is that His Donaldness didn’t quite get the smashing he deserved in the US mid-terms. I don’t want to talk about the fact that he’s since fired his AG, Sessions, and will now look at closing down the Mueller probe into his relationship with Russia and Russian businesses. And I don’t want to talk about how he’s barred Jim Acosta, the CNN White House correspondent, from the WH for asking difficult questions.

But, as ex-Army and having served in a few interesting places in my 25 years, I want to make a single point (which might go on for two or three). His Orangeness has never visited a member of the military serving overseas, anywhere. He’s not been to Iraq, nor Afghanistan. He has, of course, been golfing. A lot. And he has used Air Force 1 to transport himself to 72 political rallies since he won the election; in the last one he used AF1 as a backdrop for his rally … both of those things are unethical; I think the last one may be illegal. He is, after all, the president of the whole of the US, and not just 37% of it. Seventy-two rallies. That’s about one every ten days since his election. One day in every ten he’s doing the ‘look at me’ thing, whilst not running the country. Sorry, but what does that tell you?

And he’s never been to an operational theatre. Where he might have to put on a flak jacket. And eat food with some sand in it.

Final thing. I bet there’s no more fuss about the thousand-odd shoeless immigrants who are heading to the US border. I’m guessing the soldiers with their guns (more nights out of bed for the poor blokes and girls who should be home with their families, resting between overseas tours – will they still be there for Christmas?) will not get much of a mention either. No? That’s because it was a political stunt, backed up by vile and untrue propaganda, and the odd baseless campaign add.

As an ex-soldier, and in the run up to November 11th, I am appalled (and intrigued, I have to say) by state of US politics and what it says about half of the US folk who voted on Tuesday. He cares not for you. Really. He only cares about himself, and how you lot see him. He’s not a great politician, nor is he, by record, a great businessman. And, for me … and I would say a lot of my country … he is no longer the leader of the free world.

The good news is we’re off to Tunisia for a week tomorrow. Hurrah!

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lots of collars and leads to finish

And, for the record, it’s been a busy first half of the week for us. For me, three days at Jen’s sewing lots of stuff.

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cheers! We’re escaping the madness and heading off to Tunisia!