Thursday, 18 January 2018


For almost twenty years, I was a guider, working with Guides (as opposed to Brownies or Rainbows or Senior Section) in what is now Girlguiding UK. Guiding was a big part of my life - until I made the decision to give it up in 2006 for a variety of reasons.

One role I held during that time was that of Association Trainer. Between 1996 and 2004, (at a guess) I ran sessions which helped grass roots guiders run an effective programme for the girls in their units, as well as sessions about aspects of training for trainers-in-training.

It was all a long time ago - but for some reason, I'd kept the folder containing all my session plans and post-session notes and the evidence I'd had to produce when trialling the NVQ Level 3 in Training and Development (I think that's what it was called) to see if it equated to the Association's own requirements for a Training License.

Why on earth had I kept the folder? Because it had been so important to me? Because I'm a closet hoarder? Probably a bit of both, but whatever the reason, today I bit the bullet.

I took that file, and I read through it. Read everything...

There were lots of good memories in there - feedback from trainees which indicated that I had made a difference to their own Guiding experience or that I had encouraged and motivated them (which is a good job, because GirlGuiding relies on these women to give girls and young women the experiences they do), and there were details in post-session notes I'd written detailing some personal achievements too. (Presentation to over 400 women, anyone?!).

There were, of course, some not-so-good memories stirred by the reading (not least the circumstances that led me to step down from the role, which I won't go into) like getting lost on the way to a training and arriving with one minute to set up, dealing with difficult trainees, activities going wrong...

After reading it all, I realised; there really was no reason to keep it all.

So I put the lot in the recycling bin.

I don't need to hoard the paperwork, because I have memories. I have skills. I have the certificate! And what I learned then, I'm still putting to use today, albeit in a different setting. My training in training means I can put together a comprehensive creative writing session for adults or children. I can speak confidently to strangers. I am aware of the different ways people learn. And I'm sure there are lots of other things, too.

The paperwork may end up as toilet paper, but that training experience remains inside me, where it really counts. In recognising that, I am able to close the book on that time and let it go.

And today, that feels really good.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Diary of a Rookie Silversmith: Part 1

Tail end of last year, I saw a jewellery workshop advertised in a shop in town that I thought only did picture framing. (Gallery 18 if you're interested - also sell lots of lovely cards and gifts as well as hosting the workshop.)

I thought it looked interesting and picked up a flyer, thinking yeah, I'll get round to doing that. One day.

My Christmas present from Mr Squidge was - the course! Ten weeks, learning how to make jewellery with an experienced silversmith, Alexandra Watt. I was understandably somewhat chuffed, and as this year Mr Squidge and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary (25 years - blimey!) I started to think of all the lovely things I'd make that were silver.

The workshop is teeny - probably half the size of my kitchen - and has six workstations. They may be compact, but everything you need is close at hand. There are separate stations which have polishers and blowtorches and where you can bash metal flat.

Everything you need - including a cuppa and a notebook

I was made to feel very welcome by Lex and the two other ladies on the course. They have both had some experience already, so they just got on with things, which meant that Lex gave me pretty much one-to-one tuition in how to make a plain band ring.

I had not realised how technical working with silver is, but I did my best to take notes as we went along. By the end of the first session, most people will have completed their ring, but I didn't. The main reason was, I think, that I chose to make a pinky-ring, and selected a 2mm square wire to make it from.

Now, my hands are not very big (would look a bit strange if they were, considering I'm only five feet tall!) so it was going to be a very small thing to make. In hindsight, I should've chosen a thinner wire to work with. Or a bigger finger! Thumb ring, maybe? But that's OK, because with Lex's help, I still managed it, and learnt lots of different essential techniques along the way.

So...let me take you through the process to make my first ring. I took a few pics, but as one process naturally moved into another, I didn't always have time to take them for every stage.

1. Size your ring - Mine was 15mm internal diameter. 

2. Work out what length of wire you need (ugh - maths! Internal diameter x Pi + metal thickness and a bit of wastage. = 51mm. Told you my fingers were small!)

3. Cut the wire to the required length, making sure to file the end if you need to, to make it flat, and then saw through at the right point. (Apparently I was a natural at sawing...though not at filing. I forgot to do it!)

4. Using a ring mandrel and a rawhide mallet, bash your wire, turning it all the while until it's pretty much circular. (Mine...wasn't. It stayed horseshoe shaped for quite a while.)

5. Anneal the metal - heat with a blowtorch until orange-red, then quench in water. (Hitting metal makes it harder, so it needs annealing to make it pliable again ready for the next stage.) Dry the ring.

6. Pickle it. Not, not like chutney! It's dropped into an acid mix kept at temperature, until it goes white. Rinse and dry.

7. Close the ring - you push the ends together, but end up with a V-shaped gap. You have to make several passes with a saw (I had to do three) to remove this V and enable the ends of the ring to really butt up across the whole end face. Need to point out here that my ring was twisted - so there was an extra stage of flattening involved! Much banging followed, along with a warning so the rest of the folks could put their ear-plugs in... Tension the ring to make sure the ends really do sit tight together.

Decidedly unround...and unflat!

8. Seal the join with flux. This was a very complicated stage, but if you've ever soldered a join before, it's exactly the same, except I used small snips of hard solder rather than a wire.

9. Anneal the ring again, before working it into a perfect circle on the ring mandrel.

Rounder - and flatter!

10. Sand flat faces (the sides of the ring) - work up the grades of sandpaper to flatten the surface and work out any imperfections. I had to use a figure-of-eight motion on a flat surface and it took FOREVER, because although Lex had helped me flatten the ring as much as possible, it still wasn't perfect. When you think it's really, really flat through sanding, you switch to a straight sanding movement, move to the next finest grade of sandpaper, and repeat the figure-of-eight move until all those straight scratches have disappeared. Then you repeat the straight sand on the finer grade and move to a slightly finer paper again... Repeat for finer grades of sandpaper until the ring is smooth and satiny!

This was the most time-consuming and labour intensive phase - I did some at home and found myself redoing it because I could still see deep scratches I'd left in my hurry to get on with it! I think patience is definitely the word to be applied to this stage.

11. Sand the outside and inside faces - at this stage, the outside edges of my square wire ring were champfered with an emery stick to take the sharp edge off, and a sandpaper-wrapped dowelling used at a 45-degree angle to take off the inside edge.

12. Add texture if required. The other ladies were showing me rings they'd made with textured finishes, and I quite liked them, so I went for a ball hammer and started banging again...

Texture on three faces

13. Polish with a fluffy mop. Nothing to do with kitchen floors, but a small rotating head with a very soft brush which you dip in wax to lubricate and use at high speed on the ring until it shines... (Not too much though, or you can polish out the texture you've just added.)

And voila! After three hours (over two weeks) I had a finished pinky-ring. My first item of handmade silver jewellery - hooray!

My next project is a pendant design. Look out for Part 2 in a couple of weeks time, or whenever I manage to finish it!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

NIBS - 'First'

We had a full house for NIBS this week, our first meeting of 2018! So it seemed only appropriate to have a theme of 'First' for the evening.

We kicked off with a short warm-up, of three words. The words could be taken as three nouns, or two nouns and a verb, as one could've been used for either.

Some great hilarity ensued, as folks produced either multiple sentences for different selections of words, or produced a short section of text based on just one.

My own offering is what follows, based on 'Ghost, Wheelbarrow, Watch.'

The ghost of the first gardener kept watch over the wheelbarrow. That's what they told me.

I didn't believe it of course, not until the day I ran it into the potting shed wall and put a great dint in it. The wheelbarrow I mean, not the wall. 

Course, I left it. Was only a wheelbarrow after all.  

Nothing went right the rest of that day. There was compost spoiled, pots broken, and stems snapped.

"You've got to knock the dent out," Seb told me. "The First Gardener (and yes, he gave it capital letters) won't let you get on until you do."

"Rubbish," I muttered, and ignored the dent. Up until I cut my finger for the umpteenth time taking apple cuttings. I threw down the knife. "Right, have it your way." I stomped over to the wheelbarrow and did what I could. It wasn't perfect, not by a long shot, but I gave the wheel a drop of oil to make up for it.

"Will that do you?" I asked no-one in particular. "Will you let me work in peace tomorrow?" 

If I believed in ghosts, I'd have said that someone breathed 'that'll do' in my ear.

But I don't. And they didn't.

I've never run the wheelbarrow into any walls since, though.

The only problem with having a full house of eight members meant that the feedback took a bit longer than normal, so we launched ourselves into the second task as quickly as we could, whilst still allowing enough time to share whatever we were going to write.

I'd found out and scanned a selection of first pages from novels at home, trying to cover as many different approaches to openings as I could. I asked the NIBSers to choose one, read it, and at a point of their choosing, continue writing the story... One sentence was the minimum requirement.

Unfortunately, I'd given the group far too much choice of potential text to use; I tend to be quite impulsive in my own choices when doing these types of activity, and can make a decision quickly. But others within the group had a much harder job deciding because I'd overwhelmed them with too much choice. Eventually, everyone picked something, and silence descended as we scribbled. (As a result, our February meeting theme will be 'One' - a single picture to provide inspiration AND cut out choice completely!)

The results from these continued first pages were amazing. Some remained in the idea stage, because of course we have planners as well as pantsers among our merry little band, and although the planners knew what they wanted to achieve, they hadn't written anything 'finished' to read back. Those who are pantsers produced some fabulous work, very emotive in some cases and full of laughter in others. I would have to say that the quality of several of the pieces were worthy of submission to competitions, and I told their authors so!

If we'd had more time, we'd have tried to work on another short piece, based around first prize, first glance, first love, first person or first encounter. But we didn't, so I offered it as homework to anyone who wanted to scribble a bit more between meetings.

Anyway, here's what I wrote, based on the opening sentence in my friend Jody-Klaire's book, The Empath.

'My problem is that I know too much.' That's why they're after me, sir. I tried not to see, tried not to listen, but when you need to light the fires, you have to go into the bedrooms while they're sleeping.

If they didn't want anyone to find out, they should've been more careful. She should've woken him early, pushed him out from under the bedclothes to get dressed in his night-chilled shirt while she stayed warm in the love nest they'd created.

I promised not to tell, I did. And I wouldn't, cos I've seen with my own eyes what they do the ordinary folk caught up in a lovemeet. Effra knows what they'd do to those as important as the Chairman of Elders and the White Woman.

No, I wouldn't tell. But they woke, and seemed to think I might, so they gave me a headstart. Until the sun rises, that's all the time they gave me before they started after me. When they catch me, they'll silence me.

So excuse me sir, but I have to run... 

I feel quite fired up about writing at the moment - long may my enthusiasm continue! And these two bits of flash feel like a good start to the new writing year.

Stories for Homes - the auction!

Stories for Homes, Volume 2, was launched in December, and there are still events coming this month to support the book.

The latest one is an online auction - click here for details - featuring the original painting which became the cover art for SfH vol 2, along with a variety of signed books, an original Viz comic strip, a meal, music and hair styling... Why not pop over and take a look? All proceeds will be going to Shelter

There's a signed copy of Kingstone up for grabs...

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy New Year!


to every reader of the Scribbles, wherever you might be in the world. Whatever you left behind in 2017, may you be able to face 2018 with love and hope.

It's off to a good start for me already...

Mr Squidge and I don't really celebrate New Year. We've done parties of course, and enjoy being with friends or family, but I don't make New Year's resolutions or view it as the end of something. I see it as a chance to pause for a moment, to take stock of what has happened and look ahead to what might be.

Which is why, last night, with Squidgeling J back in Bristol and Squidgeling T partying with friends, Mr Squidge and I took the opportunity to go and watch a film. We have two cinemas in town; one is a massive complex boasting goodness knows how many screens and all the latest blockbusters. The other is a smaller affair, which to this day I cannot think of as other then The Curzon.

'The Curzon' (it's actually the Odeon nowadays) is a fabulous art deco building which, when I was a kid, had one or possibly two large cinema halls - complete with balcony. We used to go once a year, when my dad's workplace offered their employees' children a chance to see a Christmas film (the best bit was the selection box we were all given on the way out!) As the years passed, the large halls were converted into smaller rooms, and a next-door club was taken into the complex to add even more. So today, there are six screens suitable for various sized audiences.

That's where we headed.

It was New Year's Eve, so it was quiet - about a dozen people watching Pitch Perfect 3, our film of choice. Have to say, it was great - if you've seen the previous films, suffice it to say that Fat Amy takes centre stage in this one; look out for the sausage nunchucks!!

On our way home, we dropped into a pub for a swift half. We had no intention of stopping, but people watching is far too interesting a pastime...and then the DJ put on some 70's disco.

I danced, dear reader! I boogied to those disco beats, alongside twenty-somethings in their short skirts and bra tops and sequins and down-to-the-waist-open-cleavage-showing shirts, happy in my jeans and jumper and red boots, without a scrap of makeup on, and I didn't care! (I often feel like a fish out of water in pubs nowadays, because although I'm sure I'm really twenty-something inside, I certainly don't look it any more!) Talk about impulsive - even Mr Squidge was doing his 'shoulder-shuffle' dance move to welcome 2018...

So anyway, that was good fun.

This morning, I've been pootling on the laptop and what did I discover? More good(ish) news - StarMark and Kingstone had both gone up the rankings on Amazon. We're talking a few hundred places out of potentially millions, but it's an upwards direction. So I did a bit of digging and discovered that the price for StarMark has plummeted in the UK - you can now buy the paperback and the kindle version for under £2 each. Check it out HERE if you haven't read it yet and fancy giving it a go. (Mind you, having gone into the link again, prices range from one penny (!) to about £5 for the paperback now, so I'm not sure what's going on with it. Kindle's still under £2 though.)

And in the US, the kindle price has been dropped too - to under $3. Maybe it'll mean a few more steps in the upwards direction on the Amazon rankings in the coming days? Who knows...

I've got some other good things lined up for the start of 2018, so I will try to blog more frequently and share them with you, because I know I've been a bit lax at posting over recent months. But for now, I'll finish off my first post of the New Year and get back to work on a short story I'm writing...

Bye for now - and once again,

Happy New Year!