Wot I Did On My Holidays (April-May 2022 Edition)

We have just come back from a long-long-weekend in Lydford, Devon… and it was a little more eventful than planned!

Walking with alpacas

Things Wot We Did:

  • Turned the car into a boy racer…
  • …and then got assistance in making the boy racer slightly less, well, exhaust-dragging-on-the-ground-style… by a bunch of Polish moving crew, who turned up with a large length of wire and a beaming smile to bodge everything back together so we could get to the campsite…
  • Managed to not burn beans
  • Gave some alpacas a shower
  • Did burn sausages
  • Met Big Dave (who was, indeed, a Chonk)
  • Got grumbled at by Mr T
  • Turned the Otter into either Vincent Van Gogh or Adrian Stephen, we’re not entirely sure which
  • Lost Dartmoor (it did reappear later on)
  • Didn’t eat dinner with the Devil – the cauldron was broken
  • Got sat on by a sheep
  • Climbed up way too many hills
  • Climbed down way too many steps

A white fluffy alpaca looking at the camera

We were staying in Lydford Caravan and Camping Park, which was lovely – we bagged a great spot for the tent with a lovely view, and it was a really nice location. Everyone there was so helpful too! (Mostly with helping us find a garage so we could stick the exhaust back on and get back to Oxford…) and it’s a really nice little village. We tried the local pub (The Castle Inn) which does great fish&chips and a pint or two of the local cider, and also had a very friendly cat that we said hello to.

Lydford Gorge - very green!

We spent a morning with alpacas at Lydford Gorge Alpacas, run by the wonderful Helen. Mr T was not exactly feeling the trekking bit, so we went to play in the stream instead, and then got to help give everyone a shower – and met a sheep! (Snowball. VERY floofy!) Walking back through Lydford Gorge was beautiful – it’s well worth a trek, and the walk from the waterfall side to the Devil’s Cauldron is the best (as it’s down by the river, and has the best views!)

Chatting to a brown alpaca by a stream

And then we got to see OTTERS and more OTTERS and some more OTTERS and the SQUEAKIEST BUNCH OF OTTERS and it was fantastic! We started off at Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary, where we got to meet a whole bunch, see some swimming (they have an underwater viewing tunnel and it’s fantastic – we had one point where two lots were swimming either side! They are so elegant, even when trying to gently murder each other) and also met a bunch of British otters, who included the aptly named Big Dave. (Think raccoon, basically!)

And then over to Dartmoor Zoo, where we met a bunch of lizards, spotted a snoozing tiger and a bunch of fluff that was probably a wolf, got (thankfully) ignored by the lions, saw the cutest Burrowing Owl chick (SO FLUFFY AND SO GRUMPY) and then got to feed the noisiest and most adorable bunch of otters! They were so cute, although the keeper did stop us out of sight to explain everything, as you can’t get a word in edgeways once the collection of general chaos in otter form spots you & the dinner bucket…

We also got to wander round Okehampton while picking up the (mended) car; headed over to the Eden Project for a lovely day looking at a ridiculously huge variety of trees; and generally got to admire a lot of really really nice scenery! We took the scenic routes wherever possible, and it’s totally worth the extra 15-30 minutes of driving; so many wonderful bridges, cliffs, valleys and views…

We are now home, got told off by the cat (who of course then had to sniff everything) and have managed to dry the tent out. A good few days away – even if a little* stressful!

Mr T and Occy in a stream

*Home managed to be a bit stressful too, as our cat-sitter forgot to feed Bobble at one point… thankfully another neighbour stepped in and he’s fine, but oh boy did we hear about it when we got back!

What Does Memory Loss Feel Like?

Welcome to my office! Aka, my brain. Think about having a filing cabinet in your room; a good solid one, that has been kicked around and sat on and opened & closed relentless times. That’s memory, right? Plus stacks of files around that are all the stuff you’re currently dealing and interacting with, and then post-it notes stuck all over the place because they’re the things that are for right now and you won’t need in five minutes. It’s a mess, but an organised one, yes?

But one of the side-effects of long-term depression is memory loss, and over the last 1o-15 years, I have been finding that I can’t recall things. Can’t find the memories. Can’t find the words. I was actually relieved when I learned that memory loss is a side effect, because it felt like my memory was draining much faster than it should have been – and despite everyone else’s “har har, yeah, I get that!” – it felt worse. It’s not bad, not yet, and I work around it, but it is worrying.

And I thought… actually, for someone who doesn’t live with this: can I explain what it feels like to not be able to access a bunch of my office-brain?

The little day-to-day stuff – I just can’t find the post-it note I need. I know that word, but where is that damn bit of bright yellow paper? Ah, here! That’s the word. Previously, I might have had it stuck to my hand, or immediately grabbable – now, it’s somewhere on my desk… and so there’s sometimes a delay as my brain hunts through the words, trying to get the right one! Although I am finding, over the past year, that the post-its are harder to find. That word I want; it used to be on the tip of my tongue, and went from being immediate, to a second or two… and now it’s more often than not failing to come, and I sometimes can’t even recall the shape of it – I substitute a pink post-it for a yellow and I get the word wrong, even if it’s the same vague association. (This is what I mean by “it’s getting worse” – I do have some sort of objective benchmarks, as well as a feeling.)

Some things have a nice, reassuring bulk of memory; friendship with a long-time friend, for example. I know I’ve got all these good memories; a bastion of warmth and tough times and good times and laughter and shared things. But I don’t need to access that; it’s a nice solid filing cabinet that I can sit on, so it doesn’t exactly matter what’s inside it. That’s not too bad; I know the cabinet is there, even if I don’t need to get into it right now.

Some things, I need to get into the cabinet, but I can’t pull the memory out. I had Thornton’s nut toffee recently, completely randomly, and it sparked… something. I know I have a memory associated with that taste, but I can’t find it. I can’t pull it out of the folder. It’s just… not accessible to me right now.

And some things, the memories simply aren’t there. I open the cabinet and it’s a blank; there might be one thing, but nothing else around it. I sometimes have a bright memory linked to a photograph, or a specific moment; but often, the surroundings will be blank. You know the way people often say “oh yes, that trip to X, we did Y and Z” – I don’t have those Y and Z memories. Or I’ll have one or two where other people have ten or twenty. The memory folder that once had a lot in has been whittled down, somehow, and just isn’t as bulky.

And some things are just blank. Gone. I know I should remember… but I don’t. Just grey emptiness. It’s not even that the cabinet is locked; it’s that it’s not even there, or the folder is completely empty. I’ve got a photo somewhere of my family on a trip; I must have taken the photo, as I have it, and I think it’s Florence… but I have no memory of that trip. Zilch. It’s just a photo that I can piece some information together from.(I actually have “Florence 2014” written on it, so that’s something… but can I remember the trip? I mean, I can’t really remember 2014!)

And, honestly, it’s just normal now. I think the terrifying thing with memory loss is that you get used to it; I’ve been learning coping mechanisms for the damn-what’s-that-word, but I can’t do much about the rest. I keep a diary, but don’t keep detailed notes – because what help are notes, if they don’t actually help you recall? And I’m lucky that it’s not yet too bad, and it’s only going slowly – so I am, objectively, fine. I can recall what I need to (mostly), and I know people and places. So I’m just working around a slight issue with wonky filing cabinets and lost post-it notes, and it’s fiiiiine.

(If you catch me pausing when I talk, or if I hesitate, the memory thing is probably why. I know the word, damnit, I just can’t actually find that goddamn bright pink post-it note right now!)

My brain is weird, and wonderful; and also incredibly frustrating at times. But have a small glimpse into what it’s like to have a filing cabinet that you can’t open – and post-it notes stuck everywhere!

Book Review: Greenwing & Dart series by Victoria Goddard

So I have already squee’d about my love of Victoria Goddard with The Hands of the Emperor, and over about a week I voraciously read my way through the Greenwing & Dart series. There’s currently six:

So, they are: Stargazy PieBee Sting CakeWhiskey JackBlackcurrant FoolLove-in-a-Mist, and Plum Duff. A seventh is due…sometime! (I am very excited about this.)

Jemis Greenwing came home from university nursing a broken heart and a bad cold, both of which quickly turn out to have far more significance than he’d ever expected.

His hometown of Ragnor Bella is reputed to be the dullest town in the continent. That just means it’s very good at hiding its secrets. Or it was, until Jemis and his best friend Mr. Dart start blundering around unravelling what they think are very small mysteries.

Fortunately both of them learned a thing or two at university … even if it’s the more arcane parts of their degrees that prove the most useful. It’s one thing to illicitly attend extravagant dinner parties, and another to start answering riddles set by dragons…

The thing I love about this series (all right, one of the many things) is that it starts off small, and just gets more and more chaotic – in a wonderful way! Jemis needs to get a job, and then stumbles into a mystery when a random pie is left on the town fountain. Then an old friend (possibly? Maybe not a friend? Who knows, with the events at the end of his university career) turns up. And there’s a cult that might be up to no good – or could be covering for something else. And then the dragon turns up, alongside an ancient, grouchy relative…

And they have to win the local cake-baking competition too, of course.

Over the course of the series, the events build and intertwine, and everything links; it’s wonderful how the contacts and friends (and enemies) that Jemis makes all make his life wonderfully, brilliantly complicated. It’s a brilliantly ridiculous, fantastic, crazy series that highlights the friendships and relationships, and it’s absolutely fantastic fun. I love that some of the characters from the rest of the world turn up, too – and if you’ve read The Hands of the Emperor and then The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, you’ll recognise some of the people who turn up. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the wider world there, and I love the way the stories combine.

This series feels very derring-do, and it’s a fun romp – with some more intricate and serious undertones, but it’s definitely more on the “adventure” end of the scale. A lot of fun, and definitely worth a read.

Review: Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

When a grumpy inventor meets her outrageous new neighbor in the big black castle down the road, more than one type of spark will fly!

Mia Brandt knows better than to ever again allow her true powers to be discovered. Ever since her last neighbors burned down her workshop in a night of terror and flame, she’s been determined to stay solitary, safe, and – to all outside appearances – perfectly respectable…

But Leander Fabian, whose sinister castle looms over her cozy new cottage, has far more dangerous ideas in mind. When he persuades Mia into a reluctant alliance, she finds herself swept into an exhilarating world of midnight balls, interfering countesses, illicit opera house expeditions, necromantic duels, and a whole unnatural community of fellow magic-workers and outcasts, all of whom are facing a threat more ominous than any she’s confronted before.

Luckily, Mia has unnatural powers of her own – but even her unique skills may not be enough to protect her new found family and help her resist the wickedly provoking neighbor who’s seen through all of her shields from the beginning.

Ok, let’s be honest here: this is ADORABLE. It’s fluffy, cute, filled with the sweetest characters, and also filled with sparks, snark and romance – and a love interest (ok, Really Annoying Neighbour) that you’ll want to throw things at. It’s a perfect wet-day-sofa-read, preferably with chocolate and a cat to hand, and you’ll get through the entire thing and be left with that warm feeling when you’ve read something that’s just *so good*.

I specifically loved Mia’s various inventions (I want her ball gown!) and the sheer variety of characters – and the reveal of who her father is dating is SO CUTE. The stories all flow nicely into one another, although each of the four is self-contained, and they’re all very easy reads. Definitely pick this up if you want cute, adorable and fun romances that are the perfect escapism reads.

(Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review; but I will also very happily point you towards Stephanie’s other series, starting with Thornbound and Scales & Sensibility – both excellent reads!)

This novel-length collection includes all four stories and novellas originally published on Stephanie Burgis’s Patreon in 2020-2021: Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, and Fierce Company.


A Kate Update: February 2022

Long time no speak! It’s felt harder and harder to update here; partly because I feel like I’ve got nothing happening, partly because a lot of what I want to say is either nebulous or Not A Good Idea or just eh, and partly I’m struggling because it’s a should… and I have enough of those in my life! (Although having said that I have Nothing Happening, this has turned into quite a long post… I should update more often!)

But February has got here, and the snowdrops are coming up, and there’s been a few slivers of sunshine, and the cat has been enjoying his radiator bed. Let’s do some Happy Things!

1.I got Animal Crossing New Horizons: Happy Home Paradise extension, which has been fun! It kept me sane over Christmas and I decorated a bunch of houses, which was great. I have been playing it a little more recently – I’m currently engaged in a war against the ever-expanding tulips, and also a minor war against Tom Nook: I refuse to pay THAT AMOUNT to extend my storage! Which means curating my storage… but then I can sell almost anything at the shop, so that’s been fun. PAY ME FOR MY RUBBISH, RACOONS!

2.Sewing! I have started cross-stitching again; using patterns mostly, but I found some mega-cute ones, so that’s fine. The pic here is from MimsiDesign on Etsy, but there’s been a bunch of cute (and mostly cat-themed…) ones that I’ve found – not sharing as some of them are going to be presents!A pattern of colourful sitting cats on a plain background

3.Planning holidays! My Advent Calendar for the Otter last year was Experiences, and so they’ve got vouchers for trips all over the place, ranging from small day-trips to see sheep or (lots of) otters, to a suggestion of a museum in Antwerp (hopeful for an autumn trip with my family!) and llama-trekking in Dartmoor. It’s been good to look at the year and see what we can do, and at least pencil things in.

4.Work has actually been ok! I feel like I’m settling in more; I still very much dislike Elsevier as a company and frankly it’s infuriating how badly my department is treated (we’re basically forgotten, despite doing a lot of the ‘cleaning’ work) but the work itself is relatively easy, my colleagues are lovely, my editors are lovely, and my boss is frankly amazing. (She has checked in with me every two weeks, and last week we actually discussed whether I wanted to take on more work – WHAT IS THIS CONCEPT?) I’m also currently doing some work to see if I can make myself a career, or at least figure out a learning programme for the hour a week that I’ve made sure I’ve carved out. So there’s progress?

(I didn’t end up learning Ruby, by the way, because the bit that they helpfully forgot to mention was that I needed to learn it in two weeks… with a full-time job and a part-time job? Uh, no. And it’s apparently one of the harder languages to pick up – someone’s suggestion on how to learn it was to go and learn Python first! So that was a firm no from me. Life is far too short to be confused about maths when I have other things I could be doing.)

6.Shall we do some more? MUSIC! I’ve been enjoying the compilations on AlexRainBird’s channel, and they’ve introduced me to a bunch of new artists – some of whom haven’t got much out so I’ve just been buying singles, but some have albums! I had found that listening to the same music as I’d been stressed or depressed to wasn’t helping my recovery, so trying to find new things has been great.

6.Organising! I am broke as fuck this year due to a couple of things I didn’t expect (yay taxes!) but I have a spreadsheet, and Plans, and I actually feel sort of in control? Or at least like I’m in a position to be able to make decisions based on a firm base, and I know how I’m building everything up this year. We also had a couple of house opportunities come up (one of our favourite neighbours is sadly moving) but it felt good to be able to confidently say “No, that’s not right for us” and also know where we stand if something does come up. That said, the Otter found the Best House Ever – it was filled, floor to ceiling, with books. They were a little bit sad when said lovely neighbour (who is the Sensible Person around here) pointed out that the house was unlikely to come with the books.

7. We’ve also been making some household changes – we recently switched from Botley Community Larder to Oxford City, and I am IN LOVE – Botley finished at 5 and always treated me like an unwelcome nuisance for daring to Have A Job and only being able to get there at 4.45 (which also involved a lot of stress and rushing for me), and then never had much food left… and Oxford City are open until 7, had everything plus extras, plus are super nice, and I got our usual bits plus an entire box of not-quite-going-off mushrooms (seriously, they did us for four meals) and three boxes of Coco Pops and a mango and it really is the small things that make me happy! And I’ve been checking out the various subscriptions that we have, what we can get in bulk, what we actually use… I mean, I don’t think it will help much in the crazy year that’s heading for us, but at least it’s a bit of savings that we can spend on cat biscuits. (Look, I know the household priorities.)

(Also if you’re in Oxford, see what your closest larder is! There might be similar schemes in other places – it’s a community larder rather than a food bank, and the aim is to use surplus food: so anything going out of date, weird labels, overstocked, simply can’t be distributed for some reason… we ended up with a bagful of Starbucks iced lattes one week, a huge bottle of Costa chocolate syrup, Waitrose bread, more limes than anyone can do anything with, a fridge full of potatoes (not all the larder’s fault, I admit) and Christmas Pudding flavour chocolate – in amongst normal veg, tins and bread. It’s brilliant.)

8.More Oxford – going out! I’m still being careful, and have been sitting outside/going to quiet places when possible. But over the last few months I’ve been to Shin (fantastic Japanese food), Coffeesmith (best chai latte I’ve ever had), finally got into The Missing Bean (weekday lunchtimes is where that’s at – don’t even try on a Saturday!) and a friend and I have a favourite place for breakfast on Saturday, but I’m not going to tell you in case everyone starts going there. (Ok, ok, it’s the Organic Deli. They do the best pancakes.) Jamona also do great Indian, and I’m still a big fan of Taberu (Japanese – really good sushi!) I feel like I’m starting to get to know the city a bit more, which is nice.

9.I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day, so I’m going to gush: the Otter is just wonderful. Actually being able to talk to someone, and have a conversation about issues/feelings/emotions/what the problem might be/previous history that could be affecting something/how something makes you feel – both good and bad! – is really nice. It’s also really nice to be able to have discussions about anything and actually feel both listened to and responded to. So they’ve been cute, wonderful and generally adorable! (They’re also now working for the OED rather than in computer games, and so much less stressed! That’s been wonderful too.)

10.And a final one: the Grumpiest of Grumpy Cats is, you will be pleased to know, still Grumpy. We also have confirmation that he looks like a walrus (I don’t yet have a comparison pic to confirm that, but I will get one) and is thankfully less chonky than previously (he was approaching 6kg! Now 5.3, much to his disapproval.) He’s absolutely loving his life; 7am sharp is cuddles on the sofa, 9am is morning snoozes on a warm lap when the Human starts work, and then it’s a flexible schedule of radiator naps, yelling breaks, occasional trips to the biscuit-bowl to refuel, back to napping on a lap until dinner, and then a post-dinner snooze in the radiator bed until bedtime in a blanket nest on the sofa. We’re very blessed to have had lockdown with his company, although I’m starting to transition back into a day into the office every now and again, and that is going to require Explanation… (or biscuit bribes when I get home. Both work.)


And a Kate update: As you may be able to tell, I’m feeling… better? Occasionally (ok, frequently) manic, and I definitely have more energy; I spent two hours on Sunday being a whirlwind of chaos and cleaned the entire house, and still had energy after…it was a bit strange. I’m still crashing occasionally, but it’s “I need a nap” rather than a full-day crash, which is good. I’m over six months on Citalipram, and it does seem to be the right base for me; we’re experimenting with doses (I’m currently dropping it a bit, as the manic has got a little too manic) and we’re just going to see how the next few months go. (On which note, my doctor is lovely.)

I’m still grey, though. Nothing really gets through, and I still don’t really know how to feel with anything. I’m struggling with motivation – I can just read Reddit or play Carcassonne and it’s just… existing. Sewing has been good, because at least that’s producing something while existing, and it’s fairly mindless. But I haven’t written, don’t really read, and can’t focus long enough to watch anything – even Ghibli isn’t great. I manage some games, but can’t really get into longer ones; Patchwork and Carcassonne have been my go-tos. I’ve got a couple of projects that I’m really excited about, but I just can’t summon the enthusiasm to tackle the huge pile of obstacles to even figuring out if they’re feasible. (Sorry, Dad. I know you did loads of work on the box and I haven’t looked at anything else for that project yet!)

But then I do also wonder how much of it is the depression, how much is the fact we’re LIVING IN A FUCKING PANDEMIC, and how much is recovering from a three-year severe burnout. So I’m trying not to expect too much, and just appreciate that I’m a lot better than I was a year ago. (And very thankful to be in a better place, too; still dealing with bursts of anger and frustration, still dealing with guilt, still very upset over the whole thing.  TL;DR: sucky job did some long-term damage. Quelle surprise.)

Everything is getting better, I think, or at least my energy is on an upward trajectory and I’m definitely not as bad as I was in terms of mental health. But I’m still very much just keeping going, and just putting one foot in front of another. But hey ho, sunshine is on the way! And the cat is cute (and grumpy), so that’s always a win.

A black cat practising his grumpy face in a mirror
Practising his grumpy face in the mirror