A Few Days with Gladstone

The Otter and I have taken a blissful week off, and trundled our way through a storm across to Chester, where we are staying with…

A bust of William Gladstone, with a festive robin on his head

Mr Gladstone himself (and robin), at his Library.

Gladstone’s Library is a unique institution. It is Britain’s finest residential library and its only Prime Ministerial library. It was founded by the great Victorian statesman, William Ewart Gladstone and, following his death in 1898, became the nation’s tribute to his life and work…. A place for serious study or a relaxing retreat for booklovers, the longer you stay, the more you will enjoy Gladstone’s Library. ”

The accommodation is lovely; we’re on the top floor, with a fair-sized room and its own bathroom (and desk, if you feel like sole working!) and there’s a really nice restaurant with breakfast included every day. The common room is absolutely stuffed with books, cosy chairs and sofas, and they’ve been putting the fire on every night (I’m currently writing this curled up in a chair in the common room, with Otter reading a book on the sofa opposite!), but the reading room is also amazing; two quiet floors of academically-stuffed shelves and cosy writing nooks, and a plethora of armchairs in the main rooms in case you want to just read. It’s been fun treading up the spiral stairs and working out which nook to settle into!

An Otter in a chair, with tea in front and a Christmas tree behindThere’s some really nice walks around too, and we’re heading out this afternoon (during a slightly-less-windy-and-rainy period – this is Wales, after all) to visit Flint Castle and a beach. I’ve managed to get some writing done, caught up on book reviews and have some more writing planned for the next few days, so it’s been fairly productive. It’s definitely a lovely place to write, though, and because everyone’s here for the same thing, there’s a really nice atmosphere. The staff are wonderful, food is excellent, and it’s just a wonderfully relaxing place to read, write or just chill.

A bundle of black fluff with some back paws sticking out

We’re heading into Chester itself for a few days later in the week (Romans! Amphitheatres! Temples! Walls! Shopping! More Romans!) and then heading back towards a grumpy cat – who is being very well looked after, although I’m sure he will be complaining bitterly about his treatment and the instructions we left about biscuit dosages… (he does adore his temporary hot-water bottles; it’s just the dinner portion sizes that he doesn’t like!)

A Kate Update: Nov 2021

Where on earth is time going? And also has anyone seen my brain? I’m sure I had it here a moment ago…

Kate on a sofa with a black-and-white cat enjoying scritches on her lap
Mr George enjoying fuss

So what’s happening at the moment in the World of Kate?

Sad news first; my grandma, Molly Moody, passed away last week. I know a lot of my friends met her in Salisbury and as we lived with her while growing up, she was a huge presence in my life. But she’d reached 100 (!!) in August and saw my sister get married in October, and last week had lunch, had a nap, and just slipped away – so we don’t think that’s a bad way to go! The funeral is going to be hard for me (various reasons) but I’ve also been taking the time to just reflect and grieve, so it’s as easy as a loved one passing can ever be.

In more random cheerful news, Things:

  • I’m learning Ruby! Still in the stage of “wait no I’m thinking of CSS, and now I HAVE TO DO MATHS? WHAT EVEN IS THIS?” but I’m sure I’ll get there.
  • The cat is still cute, stinky and purry.
  • Our Kiwi neighbour is home, after almost a year away! We had a lovely burn-up with cake, and I made cinnamon rolls that turned out really well – may have to repeat those…
  • I’ve been ultra-organised and got my Christmas presents mostly sorted (it’s been a very productive coping mechanism) so that feels good!
  • Been seeing more friends, which has been lovely, and trying to catch up with people I haven’t seen for a while.
  • Got some writing time coming up!! We’re going away in December and I will have a dedicated couple of days… so hoping to do more work on Greensky Book 1o, and get that finished!

I had a bit of a rant about my ex-job (aka. Rebellion) on Facebook the other week, and that felt productive – I think I’m slowly coming to terms with everything, and working my way through the emotions. It still hurts and is still hard to process, but I’m just trying to let it all be, and settle. (And also still staying away from social media and the book world, really, because that makes it all worse.)

Wytham Woods - the sun coming through beech trees

I found a new series! Another Victoria Goddard, the Greenwing & Dart series – they are wonderful, ridiculous adventures that start small, and end up chaotic! The next one in the series (book 6, Plum Duff) is out this December, so I’m looking forward to curling up with that over Christmas. I also got my hands on the second Scholomance (wheeeeee) and now NEED THE FINAL ONE because what even was that? (Review to come!)

We went for a lovely sunny walk in Wytham Woods – it was an absolutely glorious day! The leaves have started to turn now, and we need to go back.

Beyond that… still grey. Still struggling. Everything’s still just flat. The new medication (c. 4 months now) is working well, in that I have more consistent energy and I’m able to cope, but definitely still Down. But hey ho, we just keep going! I was able to cope well with the wedding (which was lovely, but weddings are Hard!), and I’m hoping the pills will get me through the funeral and Christmas (both very hard things for different reasons) and then we’ll see.

Have a gorgeous sunset, and be kind to yourselves!

Five Happy Things: July 2021

Happy things! Happy things! All of the happy things!

1.Sitting in our neighbour’s garden with a fire globe & wine & fish and chips

We were over near our definitely-not-local fish shop (there is a local one, which isn’t yet open… progress on that is a matter of fierce anticipation for everyone in the area!) and picked up some for our neighbour as well as ourselves – perfect social distancing food, as everyone can just eat out of their own boxes! We had old fence wood to get rid of, too, and so we got to use said neighbour’s fire globe… and the wine, well, you gotta have a glass of something. It was a nice, quiet evening, and was very much a balm to the soul – plus we got some cat company, which is always a pleasure. (The fish may have had something to do with that, I admit!)

2.The weight is lifting…

I’m not doing a whole bunch of stressful admin for an old house (it’s been handed over to a lovely agent, who will definitely be better than me at remembering when to get new certificates for everything, and trying to fix everything that’s gone wrong this month) and it just feels so much better. I’m a bit frustrated at myself that I didn’t ask for help earlier (to be fair, I didn’t realise that I could) but better late than never, I guess.

I also saw some ex-work friends for lunch (which was lovely – I really do miss the people!) and everything’s still generally on fire there, and IT IS NOT MY PROBLEM! It’s such a great feeling. I knew it was all heavy, but didn’t realise quite how much it had dragged me down until it wasn’t any more, and I’m in a job that doesn’t demand my heart&soul and spend every working hour reminding me that however much I do, it will never be enough. I’m still absolutely fucking angry about that whole thing, but I’m also aware that there’s nothing more I can do, and it’ll just drag me down again to be thinking about it – so I’m trying not to. But it is lovely to hear about the rolling chaos and know that I don’t have to give a single fuck any more.

3.Travel? (UK… and further?)

I’ve been booking bits for December – we’re going to Chester – and London in October, and it’s been very satisfying to be able to think about travel again… even if it does get cancelled, which is fine, and we have contingency, but it’s a nice possibility! We’re also thinking about Canada and Antwerp for next year, but that one’s a bit more of a “let’s just see how the next few months go…”

We’re also starting to do more in the local area, too – Otter & I have been trying to find things that are nicely distanced, so we’re going kayaking next week sometime, and hopefully trundling out for some walks that we’ve wanted to try for a bit. Wytham Woods is first on our agenda!

4.The Garden

Having spent the last year or so with zero energy and zero spoons and absolutely no desire to go into our garden (our neighbour’s garden has been the saving grace for getting outside, as they are a keen gardener and so if we wanted beautiful flowers, there’s always something there), I finally have more energy and a desire to do something, and we did a Garden!

We’ve taken out the over-enthusiastic goose grass, put in purple wisteria (not in the same quantities…), added two raised beds, cleared the path, encouraged the tomatoes, planted some more veg, got to the gooseberries before the birds (TAKE THAT, YOU THIEVING BASTARDS – we got TWO last year. TWO!) and some raspberries, took a bunch of old wood over to our neighbour for burning, added some trellis for various things, restrained some rather enthusiastic growers, and generally Tidied.

We’ve got a few more plans, too, which feels nice (and like they might actually get done!) – dig in the path, sort the patio, add some plants to the fence (we have some small flexible plant pots, so we want some climbers/smellies/herbs in the pallet holes), tidy the shed, and sort the compost. But it feels like a nicer area to be in, and that’s really satisfying.

The wild meadow in the centre is growing nicely, too – we put yellow rattle in last autumn to fight back against the grass and that’s flowered nicely this summer, plus there’s been a bunch of other odd things popping up from the wildflowers I scattered in October. The bees are definitely enjoying it!

5.WOE (and also WOE, and more WOE, and have some extra WOE)

There has been the standard amount of very vocal woe from a small black furry Woe Machine, but there have also been purrs – so many purrs! I picked him up the other day and he was just rumbling away in my arms. He’s been DEMANDING cuddles in the morning (me) and evening (my partner) and enjoying belly rubs (!!!!!! – only my partner is brave enough for this, I haven’t dared yet.) In short, he’s being absolutely spoiled rotten, and is enjoying it thoroughly – despite the ever-present wailing and claims that he is Starved and Neglected and How Very Dare We. Dare I say, he is actually quite happy (especially when there are biscuits.)

And generally…

As you can probably hear, I’m doing better; there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not on fire! I’m definitely still grey, and have occasional bad moments, but they’re nothing like as bad as they were. I’m slowly coming out of a pit of no-energy too, but it’s translating at the moment into something that feels almost manic; I’m keeping going and keeping going and somehow it doesn’t really feel like my brain’s involved in that! But if it means I can get out into the garden and not either immediately feel horribly overwhelmed or need to spend a day recovering from the small amount of work I do manage, then I’ll take it.

I have to admit, I’m actually worse with motivation now; I’m able to feel slightly enthusiastic about some things, so it’s making everything that I’m not enthusiastic about that much harder. I’m also still finding people hard; I don’t know what to say! I’m doing my best to keep going and also respond to people who have contacted me, and start to repair some of the missed communication threads, but it’s going to be a slow process. (As one of my ex-colleagues said: you send someone an email, and then they email back – and expect you to reply again?! I already did the email thing!!)

I’m also now having to deal with some Actual Feelings, and that has meant a few breakdowns – the nice thing about not caring is that, y’know, zero fucks, but now… but hey ho, I have coping mechanisms, and I just gotta get the practise in again! It does also mean that I’ve got to actually deal with/work through/get out a bunch of stuff, so that’s going to be fun – especially if this is only the start of everything lifting. But again, if it means I’m actually feeling instead of just being numb, then I’ll take that as progress.

So overall: doing better, and cats.

Death with a kitten. "Cats are nice."
Unfortunately via Pinterest, so no source

A Kate Update: June 2021

Update of Kate things! Happy things!
 
New job (as of almost two weeks) at Elsevier, doing journals admin; it doesn’t require me pouring my heart&soul into anything, but does require boatloads of organisation and being left alone to do said organisation, and is therefore AMAZING. I am very much picking everything up, and will be for the next year, but it’s been good so far and they’re all lovely. I am also still doing freelance work, which has been good & steady, and I’m enjoying all the random books I get to format.
 
New therapy! As of… three weeks? I think? Good so far, mostly just talking, but I think it’s helping. She does keep telling me that I’ve been through a lot and I’m just sort of “well… it’s life, y’know? Everyone has. We all kinda… cope.” But the rest is useful, I think.
 
BOOKS! I have been reading and will shortly spew out a heap of reviews so I can gush over all the things at all you book people. I also got to read a draft of a continuation of one of my favourite series and it’s SO GOOD and also I did have to message the author to yell at him… it’s the small things that make it.
 
CAT! Grumpy. Cute. Fixated on biscuits. Managed to tread perfectly in his own poop, which… is actually quite impressive for a creature that’s supposed to be an apex predator. (Thankfully he cleaned his own paw off from said poop incident, although I won’t share the method. Safe to say I’m not going to be going with the Cat Method of Cleaning anytime soon.)
 
Friends & family! In the last month or so I’ve seen an old friend (after three years!!) and we got welcomed by a blackbird family too, which was adorable. I have also been enjoying the sunshine with a neighbour, met another friend and had a very long and excellent grumble at The State Of The World, trundled over to see a good friend in Swindon (we had distanced pizza, which rocked) and I also got to see my family, which was great. It feels like I’ve used a lot of spoons but it has also been lovely. (Yes, suitable precautions were taken for all of these instances.)
I think that’s it? I’ve been slowly getting rid of a few pressures, the absence of which is gradually making itself felt. I’m feeling manically cheerful, with occasional dips, but I’ll take that over thoroughly depressed. I’ve got something of a life plan back; my task list has slowly been going down; and I’ve actually joined a very nice local yoga class so that I get out in the fresh air once a week. (Well, I usually get out more, but I can’t claim that having a glass of wine with my neighbour is in any way exercise.) So slowly, steadily, I’m rebuilding.
I shall leave you with a really good app if you’re anti-food-waste or pro-good-cheap-food: Too Good To Go. I was recommended it by an amazing friend, and you can basically book in to collect going-out-of-date-that-day food in your local area for cheap – ours has Greggs, M&S, Paul, Le Pain Quotidien and Costa as part of the scheme, amongst others! It’s been really good both for getting me out of the house and for obtaining us bags of random food items for not much money, all of which have been fab. (The M&S ones in particular are AMAZING.) Definitely worth a look for your local area!

Game Review: Spiritfarer

I’ve been playing a game on the Switch called Spiritfarer, which bills itself as “a cozy management game about dying”, and the couple of reviews I’d read (plus a suggestion from someone I follow) suggested it was right up my street.

Let’s start with the good bits. It’s got beautiful graphics, is adorably drawn, and it’s pretty easy to move around/do things. The first quarter of the story – the first four characters – is lovely; you’re led pretty easily through how to play, the base resources you can get, customising your boat, sailing places, all as you do tasks for the characters and make sure they’re comfortable… and when those character arcs are done, you can take them to the Everdoor, and usher them onwards. It hits all the right bittersweet notes, and one of them did make me cry. So for the first couple of hours, it’s a really nice, sweet, find-resources-and-do-quests game.

And then let’s move on to the things that made me repeatedly (over several gaming sessions) swear, want to throw the controller across the room, and finally actually give up on the fucking game.

First; whoever designed the plot/game mechanics apparently never even considered that someone might not do things in the “right” order. I actually had to restart after 5-6 hours gameplay because I got the “wrong” skill, and couldn’t progress; after I’d restarted and got past that same point, I then spent 8-10 hours almost running in circles, because what I needed to do to progress any of my quests was. Not. Fucking. Obvious.

I usually hate looking up answers, but I hit my limit. I accessed walk-throughs. I asked the same questions many other players had asked. I tried to guess and second-guess if I’d missed something. Each time, I did eventually manage to figure out what I’d missed – but when it’s several things, in different areas, and that had happened multiple times… I was done.

Constantly second-guessing a game IS NOT FUN.

Fun is knowing something is up there but not being able to get to it yet, or mashing buttons frantically because you just have to get that jump riiiiight oh fuck, ok, do it again. Fun is exploring and finding new things, new quest lines, and even if you can’t do one or two there’s still plenty that you can follow. Fun is being able to see what you can do and what your aims are, even if you can’t currently do it/don’t want to/feel like chasing comets instead.

Fun is not being led, gently, along a path, and then being pushed off it – and having no idea if you can’t do a thing because you don’t have the skill, or you missed something, or there’s a bug. Fun is not being frustrated enough to have to research every single character you can pick up in the game to figure out which one you should get now, with the (apparently limited) skills, and realising that the answer is “none”… which can’t be right. Fun is not HAVING TO FUCKING RESTART because the devs apparently didn’t even consider that someone might not follow the game with the plot structure they had in their heads, and then have no way to remedy it.

Place that alongside some decisions not to signpost resources or provide any help in-game, and to only signpost some access points and not others (eg. places where you can jump are sometimes obvious… and sometimes very not obvious) and it’s a recipe for a fucking frustrating game. There was one instance with a high ladder, where one iteration of it is relatively easy to jump onto; it just requires the right position/skill. There’s a similar iteration where I must have tried 15-20 times, no luck – so I assumed, not unreasonably, that it required a skill I didn’t have. Apparently what it actually requires is the stars to align and a pink elephant to fly past, and you can climb up this ladder – I have no idea what I did differently to get there, but it was annoying. Times that by about ten different things, and it’s infuriating.

The paragraphs above don’t really convey the sheer annoyance of all of this, but my partner will assure you that I was PISSED OFF. And I would also like to point out that it’s not me being stupid; the decisions were pretty obvious, generally, and the game definitely didn’t point to one being needed before the other, or to where I could find more information – it did really seem like whoever designed this had merrily trundled along, assuming you’d do The Right Thing and just… not thinking about if you, maybe, didn’t or couldn’t do That Thing.

I want to love this game. I want to say it’s sweet, and cute, and fun, and it made me cry (which it did, twice.) I want to say it’s a neat little game about collecting resources and taking your passengers out for dinner and talking to rude passers-by and delivering lemons. I want to say that it’s a thoughtful, gentle story about life and death, and friends making their way into the afterlife, and about how we deal with death and loss and memories, and that it tugs all the right heartstrings.

I want to love it.

But, honestly: it is all of that – it is sweet and lovely and heart-tugging – and that’s not enough to overcome the flaws.

My real takeaway? Don’t buy this. Don’t bother playing. You’ll make the wrong plot decision, or not be able to do something, or choose the wrong action, and frankly – unless you like aimlessly drifting around a map while frantically Google’ing to see what you missed and where you should go next – it’s not worth it.