Sat Nav Mayhem …

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Only I can drive out to a Women’s institute meeting and have it resemble an expedition to the Antarctic. While the whole time being armed with an AA road map and a Sat Nav. You weren’t properly prepared? I hear you ask.

That’s where you’re wrong. I’m well prepared. This is the first time I’ve given a talk so I was over the top prepared. All my notes are neatly stacked in a nice clean blue folder. Books are piled on the table ready to be packed into the car. I’d asked my husband Andrew to charge the Sat Nav the night before so it would be ready. I’d printed out an AA map for back up.  I seriously couldn’t have been better prepared. I allowed forty minutes for Andrew to arrive home and have dinner with me before heading off.

It should be born in mind that I have never been to this particular village in Oxfordshire before. But the map said it would only take 30 minutes. Of course, it is also November and the nights get dark earlier so I figured I should give myself a little longer. Andrew arrives home on time. We eat dinner on time and I have my car packed in time. I’m all ready to set off. Andrew fits the sat nav into my car and we see the battery is low. I feel the first stirrings of panic but quickly get them under control.

‘It’s fine,’ says Andrew. ‘As long as you keep it plugged in here it will work.’

He’s quite right of course and we set the postcode and wait for the GPS to pick up signal. Before long Sebastian the Sat Nav is telling me to take a sharp left. Off I go.

‘Hope it goes well,’ says Andrew.

I start the car and turn the headlights on full, for it is very dark in the village. We don’t have street lights.

‘Sharp left,’ says Sebastian, lighting up the interior of the car.

I travel through the lanes of my village with Sebastian as my guiding angel, although so far I know where I am going. I round the bend and Sebastian tells me to keep left. I reach the end of the village and go to take the bend.

‘Turn left, and then …’

Suddenly Sebastian loses his voice and the car is plunged into darkness. My heart almost stops and I feel myself come over all hot. I glance at the tom tom to see it has died. Oh no, this can’t be happening. ‘We’ve only just began’ comes onto the car radio. Talk about a psychic car. I pull into a layby where there are plenty of street lamps and fiddle with the lead to the Sat Nav. A minute later and it lights up again and I sigh with relief, only to find it has now lost its destination. I fiddle with the settings, find the set destination bit and type in the postcode except for some annoying reason the O keeps getting stuck. My heart is beating faster now and with shaking fingers I struggle to punch in the postcode. A few seconds later I am off again, perspiring a bit more but off never the less. But you know how it is. I have doubts that I have punched in the right postcode. I see a pub ahead and pull in sharply, sending my neat folder and all its papers flying. I’m beginning to get a bad feeling about this talk. A man lounges outside the pub and keeps giving me odd looks. I don’t believe this is happening. I fumble for my papers and attempt to discreetly lock the doors before studying the road map and punching in the postcode again. Now, my neck is tense and there is a mild thumping in my head. The Sat Nav set, I reverse out and continue my journey, careful to avoid any bumps that may disturb the Sat Nav connection. I get onto another country road without street lights and strain to see ahead as bright headlights blind me. I then hear a pitter patter on the roof of the car and then it begins to hail stone.  This surely can’t be happening. I turn the windscreen wipers on full but I can’t see anything for the spray. My neck is getting tenser and my head is now banging away. I’m going to die on the way to a Women’s institute meeting. All for fifty quid plus travelling expenses. I’m not Lady Gaga am I? Why am I doing this? No one will care if I turn up or not.

‘Exit ahead,’ shouts Sebastian and I panic. I’m in the wrong lane. Oh no, what if I miss the exit? It could be miles before I can get off and then I will most certainly be late. I strain to see through my rear view mirror and indicate. I make it into the inside lane but can’t see through the mist. I indicate to take the exit and zoom dramatically into it when Sebastian shouts, ‘Take the exit.’

I zoom into a small country lane and find myself chugging through a flooded road while in fifth gear.  Can it get any worse? This must be the road to the hall. Please God, let this be the road to the hall. It’s beginning to feel like the road to hell. I think I shall kill myself if it isn’t the road to the village. Ten minutes later and I’m still travelling down the country road. Sebastian is silent and I’m getting very nervous. I pass through a village, past a hall and a church and a pub and finally Sebastian says, ‘Take the motorway.’

What. I don’t want a motorway do I? But before I know it, that’s where I am. I’ve gone round in a circle and I’m back where I was fifteen minutes before. Perhaps it is the next exit.

‘Exit ahead,’ shouts Sebastian.

Please let this be the right one. I take the exit and breathe a sigh of relief.

‘Continue for …’

The car is thrown into darkness and Sebastian dies. Oh no, I’m in the middle of nowhere. No street lights, no people and now no Sat Nav. It’s pouring with rain and the wind is howling around me. I’m beginning to wish I’d bought a little panic alarm. I fiddle with the lead of the Sat Nav and thank fully it lights up. I take a chance it is still set to the destination and continue on. I then realise I am passing the same hall, the same church and the same pub. Oh what! Right that’s it. I turn around sharply and turn back to the village hall. This must be it. On entering I see several ladies doing Zumba. Unless this is the kind of thing they do at The Women’s Institute these days, which I very much doubt, then this is the wrong hall. My heart sinks and my head thumps even more. I won’t be able to talk if things get much worse.

‘Hello, can we help?’ asks a lady.

‘A Valium and a darkened room would be nice,’ I want to say, but instead show her my little map.

‘Where is this?’ I ask.

‘Do you know the pub?’ she asks.

Oh, very well. In fact I’m seriously thinking of spending the evening there.

‘Go back past the pub and onto the main road.’

Oh no, not again.

‘The second exit is the one you need. You can’t miss it.’

Want to bet?

I climb miserably back into my car and see I have five minutes if I am going to make it in time. I drive back to the main road and the pouring rain and take the second exit. And there is the village. I could cry. I make it dead on the dot of eight o’clock. I did consider asking for damage money but I couldn’t bear telling them why.

 wi

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Coconuts, Wonderbras, Charity, And Christmas. Amazingly They Do Go Together

 

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It’s been a strange few weeks.  The tragedy in the Philippines really brought home to me what counts in life. My family, food on the table, and a roof over my head. My lovely Filipino daughter in law spent an agonizing week wondering if her parents were alive or dead. Finally we heard that all her family were alive and had been living during the day in their house with the roof totally off. Fearful to go out at night because of rebels with guns and they had no food. Thankfully my stepson sent money to get them off the island to safety. Their home is destroyed, their village gone. They are displaced people, dependent on family to get them back on their feet. Not everyone has been so lucky.

 

As a writer I have had an opportunity to help and you can help too.

http://authorsforphilippines.wordpress.com/

Is a great fund raiser where many authors have donated signed copies of their books, Top agents are also offering to critique work. Please go there and have a look. Bidding stops at 8pm GMT tomorrow.

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While we’re on the topic on books, on a lighter note I did a fab interview with the great Jon Rance, author of ‘This Thirty Something Life’ where he talked about his new book ‘Happy Endings’ check the interview here.  Best news of all is that especially for Christmas, my novel ‘Coconuts and Wonderbras’ is 77p on Kindle.

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Just to get you in the mood for Christmas here is a little sample.  ‘Literary agent Libby Holmes is desperate for her boyfriend, Toby, to propose to her and will do anything for him and if that means dieting for England over Christmas then she ll have a go. However, when Libby’s boss introduces her to her new client, Alex Bryant, her life is turned upside down. Alex Bryant, ex-SAS officer and British hero, insists Libby accompany him abroad for a book fair. Libby finds herself in the middle of an uprising with only Alex Bryant to protect her, that is, until Toby flies out to win back her affections.’ Read the first sample for free below.

You can purchase it here.  You can also bid for two signed copies of my books on http://authorsforphilippines.wordpress.com/ They are ‘Pink Wellies and Flat Caps’ and ‘Croissants and Jam’

In the meantime peeps, enjoy the lead up to Christmas and enjoy the free sample below.

 

Chapter One

 

Don’t you just hate diets? Well maybe you don’t. You’re probably one of those people who never need to go on a diet. Generally I couldn’t care less about dieting, but now that I am on a diet it is a completely different matter. After struggling to zip up my best pair of jeans this morning, and painfully pinching my naval in the process, I’ve decided it’s time for drastic action. The problem is I keep changing my mind about which diet to be on. I never realised there was so much dieting paraphernalia. You know the kind of thing, watching everything you eat, counting calories or counting points, measuring food in those colourful measuring pots and trying to get as much out of them as you can. Not to mention those embarrassing weekly weigh-ins. Then there is the awful food. Eating salads instead of proper food and making your own vegetable soup. Talking of soup, I did try the Cabbage Soup diet. It seemed so easy, but the stink in my kitchen and the amount of time I spent in the loo put me off that one. Then, of course, there are the wonderful diets. Chef-made meals diet, homemade meals diet, and tiny portion diet, eat all you like diet, not to mention the low carb or high carb diet. I rather liked the sound of the ‘Ducan’ diet, but I seemed to end up with the ‘Ducant’ diet.

Then there are the marvellous magazine articles with headings like ‘Eat Yourself Slim’. Oh yes, I like the sound of that. You can choose whether to diet online or offline, or you could just have a milkshake and forget about food altogether. It’s all so confusing. And why do we do it? I don’t know why you do it, but I’m doing it to keep the man in my life because I am sure my boyfriend is seeing someone else, and the someone else is far skinnier than me. I know, of course, I should be doing it for myself. But, starting a diet three weeks before Christmas is not only very bad timing but sheer stupidity. I’m Libby by the way, and I like to think of myself as slightly curvy rather than fat, although some days I must admit to feeling huge. My best friend Issy is blessed with a metabolism that allows her to eat anything, and I could gladly kill her. I only have to think marshmallow and I look like one. She, on the other hand, is one of those women who can polish off a plate of fish and chips with a bread roll on the side and still manage to lose a pound. However, it doesn’t seem to improve her temperament.

 

‘Sod off.’

It’s Saturday night and three weeks before Christmas and Issy, somewhat inebriated, shares some Christmas spirit with the carol singers outside my cottage. I am mortified and tell her so. After all, you just don’t tell the Salvation Army to sling their hook do you, especially when they are singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

‘That’s my bloody point. If they are the Salvation Army then I’ll eat my Christmas hat. And if they are going to sing outside your front door they should at least sing carols. Since when has Onward Christian Soldiers been a carol? Hark, I do believe they have now turned into Mariah Carey,’ she says scathingly.

Embarrassed beyond belief, I attempt to inject some Christmas cheer by offering mulled wine and homemade mince pies. After all, one of us should show some Christmas spirit, especially to the Salvation Army. I open the door to be met by three youths and a ghetto blaster. They hungrily devour my offerings while I stand shivering. Honestly, it’s Christmas, what happened to goodwill to all men? I love Christmas, and the lovely warm cosy feeling you get at this time of the year. I also adore Christmas shopping and the crowds, and I happen to love those garish houses that seem to be hopelessly devoured by Christmas lights and huge reindeers. Oh yes, Christmas isn’t really Christmas without all that tacky stuff. And I like carol singers, real carol singers, that is. I am more than happy to give them my mince pies but fake carol singers are something else.

‘Now you can sod off. I don’t want to hear this rubbish. If you have to play rubbish at least play sodding traditional rubbish, then go and find your mince pies somewhere else,’ Issy, queen of tact, shouts from the living room.

The three youths and ghetto blaster trudge off into the snow. I return gratefully to the warm living room, where Issy is breathing fire down the phone to some poor assistant at Domino Pizza.

‘I know it is Christmas. What has that got to do with the price of cod? We ordered it over an hour ago, or are you telling me that you have to deliver to Santa and his reindeers first?’

‘Price of fish,’ I correct under my breath.

‘What the bollocks.’

Issy, my best friend and women’s journalist agony aunt, likes to say bollocks a lot. Frankly, she is a crap agony aunt and the last person I would ask advice from. If you feel depressed she is likely to agree that jumping off a cliff is the best option. Issy spends bucket loads on clothes and cosmetics, and always emerges from a dress shop looking like a million dollars, whereas I come out feeling like I have spent a million dollars but never looking it. I can never grow fingernails like Issy, and when I do, her bright purple nail polish makes me look more like a witch than tantalising seductress. Issy is confident where I am not and oh yes, she is slim. Like I have said, I am just a little bit fat. Did I say a little bit? Okay, a slight correction needed. A fair bit fat I suppose would be nearer the truth. Although, Issy assures me I am nowhere near as fat as I think. Okay, I am one stone ten pounds over my normal weight, or 10.88 kilograms overweight to be precise. Whichever way you convert it I still come out fat. So, what the arsing head and hole has possessed me to eat a Domino’s pizza you’re thinking. Well, it is almost Christmas, and I am convinced my boyfriend, Toby, is seeing someone else. Of course, I have no real evidence for this belief except he seems to smell very sweetly of Lancôme Trésor perfume these days. I can’t exactly confront him with that can I? After all, he is a highly respected journalist who writes not only for our local rag here in Fross but also for The Political Times, which means he works with lots of women, many of whom I am sure wear Trésor. I can’t very well accuse him of sleeping with all of them can I? The thing is, they are all slim and trendy whereas I am neither. Don’t you just hate the word ‘trendy’? In fact, according to him these women are bloody perfect, whereas I am just bloody useless. Not that Toby has ever told me that I am useless. I just feel I am. So, a few weeks before Christmas I have decided it is time to do something drastic about the weight problem. I need to turn myself into a slim, trendy and somewhat perfect woman by Christmas Eve. I decide to call in Issy for diet advice. She suggests we discuss it over a Domino pizza and a bottle of wine. Good start. Like I said, I should never take advice from Issy.

‘Obviously you should diet darling, after all, no one likes a fat person, not that you are terribly fat, but don’t do it for that little fart Toby, and stop baking sodding cakes. Nigella Lawson you’re not!’

As you can see, Issy is as tactful as a sledgehammer. Although I have to agree, I am probably more Delia Smith than Nigella Lawson. I love baking cakes you see. Cupcakes, fairy cakes, fruit cakes, Christmas cakes, sponge cakes, you name it and I bake it. Toby loves my cakes. His favourite is my Victoria sandwich and I have made one for him today along with the mince pies and sausage rolls for the office. The problem is my hobby does tend to end up touching my lips and of course lands on my hips resulting in an insult from Toby’s lips… Have you gained more weight Libby? Your hips look bigger, and that dress used to look nicer on you.

So, after exhausting every slimming pill on the market and still managing to eat like a horse I have decided drastic measures are needed.

‘A gastric band, have you gone insane? Do you really think that little sod is worth it?’ Issy gasps when I voice my plan.

I actually think the little sod is worth it.

‘I’m thinking it would be beneficial to my health and besides…’

‘Bloody hell Libs, you could die under the knife, or even worse, have your spine severed.’

Yes, that is my kind of luck.

‘Isn’t that one and the same thing?’

‘What?’

‘If they sever my spine, I will die won’t I?’

‘Whatever, anyway they’re bound to perforate something. It’s par for the course.’

‘It’s unlikely.’

‘God, you do think the little shit is worth it don’t you?’

I’m wondering how many more derogatory words Issy will find to describe Toby before the evening is over. I am actually thinking the little shit/sod/fart is actually worth it, although I don’t imagine anyone else would think so. I sometimes even wonder why I think so.

‘Right now, the little fart/sod/shit is the only boyfriend I have,’ I moan.

‘And that’s the way it will stay if your spine is severed.’

The truth is I’m not very confident, and even less so when it comes to men. I was so flattered when Toby asked me out a year ago. He is good looking, successful and confident. I can’t imagine what he saw in me.

With raised eyebrows, Issy says I should dump the little bugger.

‘Stop thinking you can’t find anyone better,’ she sighs.

With perfect timing the Domino Pizza man rings the doorbell, and I am saved from admitting that I really don’t want to dump the little bugger and that I actually do love him. I have to wonder how much I love him, however, when five minutes later I am stuffing myself full of ‘Chilli Surprise’ deep pan pizza and potato wedges, not to mention the garlic bread. I am proud to say that when Issy opens a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert I actually do reign myself in. After all, there is the Christmas party tomorrow night, and I will doubtless eat heaps. Maybe I should start the diet after the party. Yes, that’s the best thing. I’ll start my diet on Monday. I’ll make the party my final indulgence. After all, publishers lay on fab parties, and Hobsons are no exception. Did I mention that I work for a publishing house? I probably didn’t. I work as an agent at Randal and Hobson’s publishing house aka Hobnobs. Not that I have anyone famous on my account but I live in hope. My real ambition is to be a journalist like Toby, and although I have written tons of stuff, I just can’t get anyone to actually read it. Toby says it is pretty amateurish, but I’m sure with practice I could get better. I actually have this crazy idea that maybe tomorrow night, at the party, I could propose to Toby. Yes, you heard me, propose. I am twenty-nine after all and I really should get married. I know one shouldn’t rush into marriage just because one is almost thirty, but can you imagine still being on the shelf in your thirties? Oh God, it is enough to make me reach for the Ben and Jerry’s. Well, I have already eaten the pizza so let’s face it the damage has been done.

‘Oh, I really can’t face the thought of being single for another year and Toby is so lovely, he makes me feel…’ I say with my mouth full of ice cream.

Issy leans towards me and grabs the spoon.

‘Makes you feel sick I shouldn’t wonder,’ she hiccups. ‘He certainly has that effect on me.’

‘Special. He makes me feel special,’ I say lamely, knowing full well that he doesn’t.

‘Oh please. By the way, did you hear that radio interview with the luscious Alex Bryant? Oh, that voice. He trashed Toby’s article on the Cambodian uprising unmercifully,’ she says gleefully. ‘But what a dreamboat. Talk about fabalicious. Did you see him on the Morning Show? He’s just back from America and has signed with a publisher here. Wouldn’t it be fab if you had him as a client? He is as close to an Adonis as any man can be. Imagine working twenty-four-seven with him. I bet he has a penis so large that…’

‘Issy, please, I have just eaten,’ I snap and try to get the image of a huge penis out of my head.

‘Anyway, I’m not in the least interested in the Oh look at me, I’m an ex-SAS super hero, call me when the world needs saving arsehole. I thought that radio interview was pathetic as it happens,’ I say scathingly. ‘He is so arrogant, I’m so glad we didn’t sign him last year. That is the second time he has trashed Toby’s work.’

‘He is ultra-gorgeous though, you have to admit that.’

‘I wouldn’t even know what he looks like.’

‘You’re the only woman who doesn’t then,’ she scoffs, flouncing off to the bathroom.

I take the opportunity to see if Toby has sent me a text. Disappointedly I throw my Blackberry back into my bag and clear the dishes.

‘Bastard,’ slurs Issy sneaking up behind me. ‘He hasn’t texted you has he?’

‘He’s probably busy at work,’ I mumble, splashing soapy water over the plates and crashing them onto the drainer.

‘Where is Toby taking you for New Year’s Eve?’ she asks, taking a tea towel from a drawer.

‘Not sure. I have mentioned the party at the Glass Dome. It seems everyone is going there this year.’

‘I’ve promised myself I will only go if I have someone special to go with,’ she sighs.

She throws down the tea towel and gleefully hands me an envelope tied with a red ribbon.

‘This will cheer you up. Happy Christmas,’ she says nodding excitedly.

‘But it isn’t Christmas for three weeks. Blimey, you’re organised.’

I turn the envelope around in my hands and then place it beside my row of cookery books.

‘I’ll stick it on the tree as soon as it goes up.’

‘No,’ blurts Issy retrieving the envelope and sending a Gordon Ramsay cook book flying. ‘You have to open it now.’

‘Can you please mind Gordon. He is the closest thing I have to male company most days.’

She rolls her eyes and thrusts the envelope at me. I raise my eyebrows. Aren’t you just highly distrustful of presents that have to be opened weeks before Christmas?

‘Why?’ I ask suspiciously.

‘Because you have to use it by the end of next week,’ she sighs.

Ah, one of Issy’s second-hand presents. I open the envelope with trepidation. Please don’t let it be anything life affirming or God forbid, dangerous. I am still quivering from the hand-me-down bungee jump that she gave me for my birthday. Please let it be a cookery lesson or something equally as safe.

‘A makeover and photo shoot!’

‘It expires next Friday,’ she cries delightedly. ‘I’ve had the thing hanging around for a year, and then I thought of you. I really don’t need it, but you do, and I thought it would be a great present.’

Bloody cheek, what does she mean I need it? I try not to look crestfallen.

‘Come on; we are going to Madam Zigana’s after all.’ She throws my coat and gloves at me.

Oh no, not the psychic. I had hoped that the pizza and the Ben and Jerry’s would have made her forget all about that.

‘I can’t hobnob with the dead. I have nothing suitable to wear, and anyway Toby might phone and I would hate to miss his call,’ I protest.

‘God, you’re starting to obsess. Come on, grab a shroud and let’s go.’

‘But it’s snowing,’ I complain.

‘Grab a fur shroud then. Come on. She is doing a Christmas special and you are getting so maudlin these days, verging on depressing in fact.’

A Christmas special… God, it sounds more harrowing by the minute. I think a hand-me-down bungee jump would be less vexing. I would much rather snuggle up with a mug of hot chocolate and dream about Mr Right.