I haven’t written this blog for months, because I’ve been experimenting with a different media platform, and trying to be all writer-ish. Authors, even the non-famous variety, are supposed to generate a newsletter to send out into the world every month. This is important, and a way to stay in touch with your readers and your one fan. But I’m really crap at it.
Newsletters are supposed to be all about my books and my writing, and my writing and my books. You are supposed to feel more connected to my creative side. And though I know my supporters and readers like to hear about what I’m up to, they are probably more interested in hearing about how my husband, Gump, and his sidekick, Scout the wonder dog, have again narrowly escaped the wrath of my sharp tongue and furious indignation. I just can’t write normal, nice things. I can only complain, be sarky (British for sarcastic), and be self-deprecating. I can’t be candy and roses, I’m just not that nice. So after a few tries, I find myself back at the old Brit on the Block, having a bloody good moan about my spouse and my dog, and anything else I want to whine about.
My husband, although a good, kind person, is one of the most infuriating people I know, who delights in winding me up at every opportunity. Perhaps this is a qualification most husbands have in abundance? I was aware of this when I married Gump, but I did not realise he could offer a masterclass on how to drive me bonkers. It is appropriate to say this, as today is our wedding anniversary. I had a surprisingly warm moment and posted our picture above as it proves how we looked before we got married. I’m too embarrassed to show you the ‘after’ photo. I look like Mother Theresa now.
That we have made it 14 years is rather astonishing. That he has not been maimed by me in a fit of anger is actually a miracle.
2023 has been the Year of the Gump. He decided, that along with starting and not finishing several projects, it would be ‘his’ year to take all the fishing trips he wanted, and, added an extended touring trip with his good friend to Montana and Wyoming. Other than my house being totally upside down from Gump’s unfinished projects, I was all in favour of him having the year to enjoy doing things he liked to do. Why would I deny the man some pleasure? Of course, it had nothing to do with my being desperately excited about finally having some peace and quiet around here.
The long trip took Gump away for over a month. It was utterly wonderful. There was something magical about having a long stretch of time by myself. To say I was looking forward to a Gumpless month is an understatement. To say I had planned to let the house go to hell, not cook, shave, or bathe, is NOT an understatement. It is highly possible the dog was more fragrant than I.
But I wasn’t about to have a month of TV and bonbons, worse luck. I had chores out the wazoo, a book to get wrapped up and published, and countless projects that had fallen by the wayside as I wrote the book.
Yet as Gump pulled away, it was as though I suddenly lost two hundred pounds…literally.
Oh, the freedom, the liberty, the remote all to myself! JOY!
I did not miss shopping for groceries, I LOVED getting take-out whenever I was hungry and not bothering to cook. It was a vacation. Well, almost. Having a smarty-pants dog did stop it from being perfect. Scout the Wonder Dog demanded certain activities every day involving a frisbee and an icky ball, which I found rather irritating, especially when trying to write. But taking her out and playing or walking was probably good for me, or I might never have got up from my desk. I also found treats were helpful in bribing her into leaving me alone for five minutes. This was probably not a healthy option, but I didn’t care (we can now share clothes).
But in the snap of my fingers, Gump’s impending return loomed on the horizon and motivated me to bathe and then, much to my own surprise, clean the house. Not that he would have said anything if I hadn’t. I do scare him in some ways 😊
I was genuinely happy to see him when he returned. I suppose being apart is good for a relationship. It was nice having him back, well at least for the first day. Scout acted like she hadn’t seen him for a year and that her life had been hell staying alone with me. She’s such a suck-up. But I didn’t mind. I was just happy Gump was home and could take over playtime with the mutt, and do all the Gumpy chores I’d done in his absence. Then it was off to the grocery store…oh goody.
I did get my book launched in June (that’s a writerly plug for you to go and look at it) – Then in July, we loaded up the car and drove all the way to Sarasota, Florida, to surprise my brother and his family, who were visiting from Scotland, along with other family members from Seattle and S. Carolina. We dropped the Wonder Dog off with my son and his wife in Fort Worth (poor things) and then drove further south for what seemed like months.
It was a typical road trip for us. Him driving slowly, me taking my turn and making up all the time he’d lost. Me groaning, as yet another Semi overtook us when he was at the wheel. When an Amish family of four sailed by in their horse-drawn cart, I’d had enough and was unable to keep my mouth shut. So, we alternated between having nice chats and yelling at each other-just like always!
I’d already booked a hotel room for us to stay overnight on the way, and we stopped in Fort Walton to check-in. I’d been to Pensacola many years earlier (1990s), and wanted to go back there, but I’d left it too late to book and had to go with Fort Walton instead. It was slim pickings on hotel availability, but I got us one at a Mariott. Usually safe enough, and at least it was on the beach! I’d never been in Fort Walton, so I was looking forward to it.
We had been quite excited about staying the night somewhere that wasn’t in a tent. I LOVE the beach, so I was anticipating a lovely walk along the shore and a paddle in the water. We planned to get there and take hot showers. I was going to try and look more like a date, and we were going to find a really great seafood/beachy place to eat. We’d been picking at junk food all day in the car, so were both ready for a nice, scrummy dinner. I’d googled some places online, and it seemed there were some within walking distance. I might even get lucky! Not with Gump, but finding a place that had fish and chips!
The first sight of our hotel was a little underwhelming. It looked like a relic off the set of The Golden Girls, and not in a good way… like it hadn’t been updated since the series ended. The reception area wasn’t much better, and the young lady at the front desk behaved as though she’d rather be anywhere but where she was, yet she was really enjoying her chewing gum. It was a bit off-putting, but everybody has days like that, right? I glanced around at the other people there. It wasn’t looking promising.
We got our keys to the room, happy it was at least a ground-floor room…yippee (the things that excite you as you age….) We emptied the car, and as we walked to our room, I tried not to notice the state of the manky hall carpet. We got to our room and I was instantly disappointed. It just had a sad, tired look, with icky, brown water stains on the tiled ceiling over the bed, and just that sense that it wasn’t somewhere you wanted to stay. The bathroom was okay, but I made Gump check the bed for bed bugs and didn’t want to unpack my bags. A bit down in the mouth, we took our showers and then headed out to the beach and a wonderful dinner. We were determined not to let anything spoil our evening! I might add, that I was not looking like a date. it was too hot to wear make-up and my hair was frizzy. I guess that made ME a hot date after all?
We didn’t want to drive anywhere (duh), we’d been in a car for two days already, and local traffic was crazy, so we walked to the beach by our hotel (and many others). Unfortunately, the part of the beach that was by our hotel had a weird setup that was sort of like a tiny food court. The heat was abysmal, as you would expect in July, and unfortunately, this whole food area was not air-conditioned. Added to that, it was already into the evening, and the day’s detritus of humans eating, drinking, and playing on the beach was evident everywhere. Trash cans were spilling over, and there were even soiled diapers on the ground.
There was only one large restaurant that advertised seafood. This is where we went. One look at the place and I knew instantly it was not going to be good. It was teeming with sweaty people, loud, and had a funny smell. I ended up getting just a side order of potatoes because everything looked really awful. Gump ordered Cajun seafood, and even he thought it was bad. That’s saying something because Gump has the reputation of being able to eat roadkill or ten-day leftovers. Trust me, we are not fancy people on any level. But this was a new low, and not cheap either.
Oh well. It was just bad luck on our part.
After dinner, we went for a walk on the beach because it was still really hot and humid, and at least there was a breeze coming off the water. There were a lot of other people around. I felt like we were at an outdoor Walmart. That may sound snobby and I don’t really care if it does, it just wasn’t what I had expected.
When we got back to our rooms we were relieved to be in the air conditioning and both very disappointed. But the real vacation was to begin the next day once we got to Sarasota, so I focused on that.
We put all the lights on while Gump got ready for bed. I went to get into bed first, when I saw the sheets looked rather questionable. By that I mean they were clean, but bore remnant stains from the past. I was mortified, imagining what had made those stains in those very specific areas (ick) – Gump was chivalrous (shock) and switched sides with me, putting a towel between him and the sheet. He’s braver about stuff like that because:
a. He’s a boy
b. He was a Boy Scout Leader
Needless to say, it was not a restful night because I kept expecting something to crawl on me.
We were up very early the next morning and out of there, planning never to return. When we got to our destination, I was really worried what our place would look like. But thank goodness we had an Airbnb in Sarasota which was small and plain, but very clean and comfortable.
My brother got a big surprise when we knocked on the door later that day, which made it all worth it. We got to spend July the 4th with our Scottish clan, watching fireworks on Siesta Key Beach, which was fabulous. We enjoyed two days with the fam, which went by way too fast, and then reluctantly said our goodbyes. That’s the sucky bit about emigrating. You only get to see your family every couple of years or so ☹
It was a long haul back home. We usually don’t squabble as much on the way back. Maybe because it’s a different pace, and I was also sad to say bye to my family. We spent the night in Louisiana with friends and stopped to see some of Gump’s relatives, which was nice. A quick diversion to Texas to pick up the Wonderdog, and then we were headed home.
All those hours in the car though, took their toll. By the time we arrived home, I was ready for Gump to go fishing again. Only this time I just wished he’d take the damned dog with him too.
In August, Gump celebrated his 68th birthday and we marked the occasion by both getting Covid for the second time. As soon as he was not contagious, Gump went to Minnesota to see our grandkids and work on a week-long project with my stepson. I know a lot of people suffer from post-COVID exhaustion; I certainly do. I was knackered (as we say at home). So, when Gump was gone this time around, I wasn’t terribly productive. Unless you include checking off all the shows I wanted to watch which I never have time to look at it. In this endeavour, I was very successful. I caught up on a bunch of British shows and a handful of movies. It was heaven. Even the bratty dog seemed happy to chill.
Now for some writing speak. In September, Gump was away fishing yet again, and I was invited by a book club called Babes with Books, to Lee’s Summit, Missouri. I was to be a guest at their meeting to discuss my book, The Secret of Mowbray Manor, which they had just read. My sister-in-law, Kay, runs the book club and hosted the gathering at her home. I was to be a guest of honour. Oh my. What an amazing experience! An opportunity to converse about writing, where people genuinely wanted to talk about my story, and not go into a coma like Gump always does.
I spent an amazing couple of days in the Kansas City area, being shown around and treated like a princess. My mother-in-law, Rachel, also lives in Lee’s Summit and it was wonderful to catch up with family.
The book club night was so much fun! Kay decorated her house with British flags and had British snacks for all to try. We did a drawing for a couple of my books and I got to engage with a group of really nice ladies. We discussed some aspects of my story and what it’s like being a writer, which was fun, and they also asked me questions about my life. By the end of the evening, I had made a group of new friends, and I had an absolute blast. Even Scout behaved herself for the trip which was shocking.
Our niece, Rachel Maxey, has a bakery business called RC’s Sweets. When Rachel arrived at the book club (she is a member too) she had baked cookies for the occasion. I was absolutely blown away when I saw them. Rachel had recreated my book covers on these cookies and it was amazing! They were too beautiful to eat, but Rachel’s cookies were so delicious even her lovely artwork couldn’t stop us. (I wish she lived here so I could order things from her). The large one below, is actually covering a tray of cupcakes! So clever…..check out Rachel’s creations on Facebook or Instagram – if you have a chance. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063948258722
What a wonderful trip! I didn’t want to go home!
September went in a blink and Gump was off to Alaska for his annual fishing trip. I stayed in the Denver area with my son and his family, and of course, the bratty dog was with me too.
It was an amazing visit. This is the first time I’ve stayed with my grandchildren since the oldest started driving, and the youngest is now a fully-fledged teen. It was lovely spending time with them, enjoying the adults they are becoming as they grow up. I even got to meet my grandson’s girlfriend which was great. He’ll be a senior next year and it was wonderful talking to him about his future plans. I also got to watch him play football for the first time which was thrilling.
My granddaughter, who is almost 14, plays volleyball and I was able to attend one of her tournaments and see her play for the first time. It was a blast being a part of their world for a short moment. I am so proud of both these kids and the amazing people they have become.
Now I’m no mountain person, and I hate elevation, but it is extremely beautiful where my son and daughter-in-law live, and I appreciate the opportunity to spend time there. It is such a huge change in comparison to where we live. Though the air certainly is thin it seems so much cleaner than here. I didn’t miss the humidity or the mosquitoes.
The week flew by, and before long, Gump was getting off the plane, bringing home his ice chest of dead fish, fresh from Alaskan rivers. It took forever for his baggage to come through, and when it finally did, he discovered that about a third of his salmon were missing from his now-open ice chest. That’s a first. He was not happy.
We loaded up the car and drove home.
That was only a week ago and I still feel like I have driver’s lag. I’m only too happy to stay put for a while and try to remember what it was I was doing before September. Usually, I have a book coming out in October, but I am very much behind with my schedule. I’m quite disappointed in myself.
Well, now you’ve had my play-by-play of summer, which brings you up to date with me and Gump on this, our anniversary (as I write this on the 9th). We don’t do gifts anymore, and I told him not to buy flowers. He’s totally distracted with his projects anyway, and that’s fine with me, as I am as well.
We’re skipping the romantic dinner and just going out for lunch, because we’re old and tired, and we don’t do romantic. As we’ve aged I think we’ve become a little jaded. Our friendship is what keeps us together now our looks are fading, the wrinkles getting deeper, and our hair turning white or falling out! I honestly think if the Gumpster and I went to a dinner with candles and music we’d probably just start laughing. I’d make fun of his table manners and he would tell me I had food stuck on my chin, and before long it would be a comedy sketch. Lunch works great for me—especially when I pick the location!
Some writing/author news…..This month, I am presenting at a conference for the first time. Hard to believe I’ve learned enough these past three years to get up in front of other aspiring authors and share some of my knowledge with them. I’m pretty excited about it. The writing community is a special bunch of folks. Very good at helping each other out along the way, so it will be great to give a little back! For those writers out there, here is the link.
I’m going to stop here, as I’ve written enough for a short story…oops.
Happy Autumn everyone. I hope you enjoy the cooler weather. I’ll be in touch around Turkey Day!
All the best
The Brit on the Block