Wednesday, 30 August 2017

France, the French et moi!

Eight days and 1,500 miles later, we're back from our French holiday and I'm pleased to report that a fab time was had by Mr & Mrs Misfit and L'Alfster (our dog).  19 years of waiting for an overseas holiday was worth it and we've now explored Calais, Beaune, Valence, Uzès and Reims.

Lots of photos to follow but first a few anecdotes.

*  On arrival in Calais after braving the Eurotunnel (not too bad at all for a claustrophobia sufferer!) we headed off to the restaurant we'd decided to have lunch in.  Using my rusty French I asked if we could eat there with Alfie and we were led to a table where I asked for the menu. 'Steak, frites, salade!' I was told rather abruptly.  OK!  It looked like we'd be having steak then!  We still have no idea why everyone else in the other part of the restaurant was able to choose from a variety of dishes but put it down to the fact that it was a very French restaurant with no other Anglaise!

*  As we left the restaurant and headed back to our rather smart (borrowed!) car I gaily greeted it with, 'Bonjour voiture!' - only to realise that there was a French gentleman leaning out of his window.  He was greatly amused.

*  Again, braving the use of my French I successfully booked us into our first stop-over hotel in Beaune explaining that I was English but still managing to hold a decent enough conversation.  The receptionist however decided that when I asked if I could smoke on the balcony or outside that she would suddenly become my new best friend and speak English fluently!  'Of course!  Of course!  I'm a smoker too.  Not a problem!'  United by a foul habit!

*  Dinner in Beaune found us presented with a 69 page wine list!

*  Mr Misfit couldn't believe that the French word for swimming pool was 'piscine' - he seemed to think that would be an open invitation for abuse.

*  On leaving our hotel the following morning, Mr Misfit decided to attempt a bit of French himself.  'Bonsoir' probably wasn't his finest hour but he insists that was how she bid him farewell!  I somehow doubt it.

*  At a restaurant in Uzès with the friends we were staying with, I popped to the loo and heard an exasperated English mum in the next door cubicle with her son as he told her,  'Mum!  Mum!  I've peed all over the seat'.  When we met at the sink he went on to say, 'It's good isn't it, 'cos I can say what I like and no one understands me'.  I couldn't resist!  I looked at him with a cheeky grin and said, 'Except me!'  I've never seen a child disappear so quickly behind a mother as he shrieked, 'I thought she was French!'  The mother thought it was hilarious.

*  Walking back through the quaint backstreets of Uzès, Alfie decided to do what dogs do on pavements and we bent to put it in a poo bag - only to tread in a dollop that another dog had left!  We then heard from behind - from an English man - 'That was bad luck!' and his French wife added, 'When we saw you cleaning up after your dog, I commented, they must be English!'  It would seem the French aren't big on Pick Up Le Poop!

*  Playing one of our stupid games in the car - 1,500 miles is a long way - we decided on 'Would you rather?'.  I asked Mr Misfit if he'd prefer an extra nose on his forehead or one on his bottom.  His instant reply was on his bottom because he could cover it up.  Until the realisation of the smelly consequences hit him and he said, 'I didn't think that one through, did I?'  We laughed so hard, I lost most of my mascara and my stomach muscles were in spasms of agony.  Then every few miles, one of us would start chuckling and the whole Gigglefest would begin again. 

*  Our friends' beautiful house has steps and arches in unusual places.  We developed a new way of getting from room to room, especially at night, called The Uzès Walk - a kind of dip of  the head with an exaggerated lift of the feet.  Rather comical after a couple of glasses of rosé.

I managed to cross almost everything off my French Memories list:

* Citron pressé swiftly followed by an orange pressé
* Pernod and water
* Steak et frites
* Oeuf Russe
* Gallettes with cheese, ham and egg
* Crepes
* Rilettes and French bread
* Deliciously stinky cheese
* French apricots
* Les Croustilles aux cacahuètes - or as I like to call them' Peanut flavoured Nic-Nacs'
* Rosé wine with ice cubes - la piscine!

I didn't get the chance to savour mussels, tomato or celeriac salad but I'll save those for next time.

Our first stop-over in beautiful Beaune.  Spot the dog!
Welcome drinks at our friends' place in Uzes.

My favourite doorway at their place

Their rather splendid pool

Morning coffee and a paddle

My favourite photo of me and Alfie heading into town

Delicious artichokes for lunch

Monsieur Misfit braved L'Escargots!

Clearly content with the French food, wine and company.

Heading back from town

Charming Uzes at night

L'Alfster by the pool.  He attempted the first step in but no further!

Every street is unique and pretty

Coffee in the sun

In Valence avec my French Poodle

Pool at final stop-over hotel in Reims. Not as grand as our friends' but very welcome in the heat.

Our holiday souvenir.  36 knobs to transform our kitchen.  Or Ker-nobs as the shop assistant pronounced them!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

No Sun, Please - We're British!

OK.  We live in England.  I get that.  I also get that you can't plan anything around the weather - I haven't been a Londoner for over fifty years without learning that.  But when you've been planning an event for the end of July - after a heatwave - and the long-term weather forecast has been promising 'abundant sunshine' you kind of hope that you just might be blessed.

Nope!  The day dawned and we rose at 6am.  The sun was trying to poke through the clouds but a quick look at the weather forecast told us what we'd been dreading.  Rather than the gloriously sunny event I'd envisaged in the church grounds, we'd need to rejig and get the 40-odd stall holders inside the two halls.

Thank goodness we did, because from about 11am set-up time until the end of the fair, the skies opened and refused to relent. The poor bouncy castle/carousel man (who had paid me to be there!) didn't have one customer and the ice-cream van sold 2 ice-creams!

Despite that, locals braved the rain and paid their £1 entrance fee to enjoy the vast array of goods/activities I'd booked.  My stallholders all told me they had a great day and many have emailed to say how well it was organised - how they couldn't have smelt the panic from me or Mr Misfit, I will never know!

All in all, against the odds, it was a great day and we hit our £1K target, bar a couple of pounds.  Would I do it again?  If I lived in a country with a reliable climate, yes!  I loved every second of the organisation and the majority of the day but I can't do with the stress of weather-watching!  So, I think I'll be sticking to my evening events where we have a roof over our heads and the weather can do what it jolly well likes!

Massive thanks go to:

Costa Coffee - supplied 200 cups for tea/coffee
BannerBuzzz - free banner
Domino's Pizza - supplied staff and free pizza raising £67 for us!
Little House of Baking - donated £20 despite being unable to attend
Putney Women's Institute - donated half of their takings - £88.50

And love & thanks to:

Mr Misfit - for supporting my mad-cap idea and being as wonderful as ever.  Also for making 4 A-boards and two directional signs for under £2!
Ben & Kiki - for knitting (!) and running the kids' crafts / organising parking.
Elizabeth - for making 'Guess the weight of the cake' and doing a fab job of running the cafe and bar.
Virinder - for getting soaked on parking duty and general help.
Bee - for coming all the way from Cambridge, running a stall, washing up and mucking in.
Elaine - for selling almost all the jumble and making a child's day by donating her unicorn from the Tombola.
Marylou - for running the Tombola and winning / sharing the cake!
David - for getting soaked on the gate and engaging people with your winning banter!  Also for organising the kitchen for our after-event meal.
Victoria - for manning the cake/dog/sweet stall and looking after Alfie!
Toby - the little whirlwind!  Thanks for all that you did and for being so ready to help.
Johnny - for the muscle work, turning up so early and bringing Sarah to spend money!
Ann (my mum's vicar) - for letting us have the grounds and halls at a massively reduced price, for attending and for your donation.
Putney Man - for attending and for your generous donation.
Suzie - for setting up a table and buying nearly all the Prosecco!
'Fenella' - for your support leading up to the event and the ice-buckets and bunting.  Don't ever book a holiday again before consulting me!
And to all those who contributed who would like to remain anonymous.

When Mr Misfit put our signs up, the sun was still trying!
Our fantastic banner from BannerBuzz at the venue - the church where we married.
One DE-LICIOUS cake.

A-boards for under £2! - the cost of the hinges.
Hall One.
From another angle.

Front of Hall One.
From the back of Hall One.
Hall Two.
From another angle.
My lovely Twitter buddy, Bee, on the Mummy Misfit stand.
The BBQ in the rain!
Forlorn outdoors!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Putney Summer Fair

Those who follow my blog will know that I lost my mum last year and wanted to find a way to celebrate her life.  As a Putney resident for most of her life and a volunteer for Age UK's Be-A-Friend scheme (even in her 80's!) I decided that supporting Age UK, Wandsworth would be the most fitting way to pay tribute to her.

Last year's Vintage Evening was a massive success - you can read all about it here - and it spurred me on to hold a Summer Fair this Saturday 22nd July and a 50's Evening in November.

Years of organising school events has given me the experience but going solo has been a real learning curve.  Basically I need about 3 carbon copies of myself and Mr Misfit, along with the lovely friends who have volunteered their services on the day.

I'm feeling quietly confident, a tad frazzled, excited and terrified - all in equal measures.  I'm also doing regular sun-dances to ward off any threatening clouds.

So, if you're a Putney resident pop along and introduce yourself to the wild-eyed, manic one - I may well be in the bar!


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Launch Day ... and a Misfit Mystery

As if you didn't already know, today is publication day for 'Gettting To Know Me' and I'm a tad excited.

But something has got me a bit hacked off.

A friend of a friend went to download one of my books based on recommendation, searching on my name alone.  Imagine her surprise when she found out that it was ... and I use this term lightly ... porn.  Exceptionally badly written porn.

Not only that, but this OTHER Amanda Egan has posted all of her trash on MY Goodreads page so, to all intents and purposes, they look like I've written them because they also link to my author profile.  Not good.

In trying to Google this elusive Amanda Egan, there is nothing - and I mean NOTHING - on the web about her.  Suspicious, huh?

We have now contacted Goodreads to ask them to trace the person who posted them on the WRONG page and in the meantime we have our detective hats on - something we're rather good at.

I wouldn't like to think that someone is doing this with malicious intent to damage my hard-earned reputation but if it turns out to be the case this person needs to know that we are like dogs with bones and they won't get away with it - and there will be consequences.

So ... readers beware.  I do not, and never will write porn or erotica and if I did, it would be a damned sight better than the dross this person is churning out.

Rant over!  Go download a decent read here and I'll get back to my sleuthing.

Friday, 2 June 2017

My new Summer Read - "Getting to Know Me"

Well, here we are at last.  New book, new release date, same old nerves!

My TWELFTH full-length novel will hit Amazon and Lulu on Wednesday 28th June.

In the meantime, here's the cover reveal, blurb and first chapter.




Penny seems to have the perfect life.
A fantastic job on a country manor estate
with lodgings thrown in and a fit boss
who's more like a friend.

Everything about her is highly organised.
Except for affairs of the heart.

When conventional methods fail, how far
is she prepared to go to find herself a husband?

At the risk of jeopardising her friendships
- and indeed her livelihood -
can she learn to listen to her heart
rather than her head to discover that ...

... love is what happens while you're
busy making other plans?

 * * * * * 
Chapter One

A word of advice.  Sitting on the loo in a nightclub at three a.m. after a bottle of wine, three glasses of champagne and a tequila slammer is not the ideal place to have a light-bulb moment.  Trust me, being surrounded by other women's hen night vomit, trails of discarded toilet paper and empty tampon tubes really isn't the environment you want to be in when you look in your handbag and realise you've messed up.


And all because of the wrong bloody evening bag.


That afternoon at work had been totally manic.  Had it been quieter I might not have found myself perched on a clammy toilet seat contemplating my rather dodgy future, because I'd have had the time to head into town and pick up the beaded clutch I'd ordered to go with my outfit for the coming evening.

But no.  From the minute I hit my desk, problems after problems reared their ugly heads until by the time it got to two o'clock, I knew that there was no way I'd be enjoying the relaxing afternoon off that I'd planned.

So I put in a quick call to best friend Evie and mumbled my request through a mouthful of 'egg and stress' sandwich - as my dear mum used to call them.

'Sorry, Pen,' Evie interrupted.  'I can't understand a word you're saying.  Have you been to the dentist or something?  Or maybe you're having some sort of attack at the realisation that you need to call this ridiculous farce of a marriage off.'

Ignoring the wedding lectures that had become part of her daily routine, I carried on regardless.

'Hmmph, cang u ... gulp ... splutter ... collect ... bag ...'

Swallowing down the hurried bite I'd taken, I continued, 'Oh, Evie!  Sorry, it's batshit mad here today.  I haven't had time to scratch and I'm just wolfing down my lunch before I faint from hunger.  I just wondered if you'd have time to nip into Accessorize and pick up the bag I ordered.  I'll be lucky to get away from here before six tonight.  Bloody Logan is driving me up the wall!  I don't know what he'll do when I'm on honeymoon.'

As Evie agreed to run my errand for me and I hung up, Bloody Logan - my boss - appeared in the doorway, clearly having heard what I'd said and smiling in the way that only he can, mud on his wellies, holes in his cashmere jumper and unruly curls going in all directions.

'What will I do when you're on honeymoon?' he repeated.  ‘Hmm, well now, let's see shall we, Penny?  I shall mope and mourn, dragging myself around the estate with ashen face and sunken eyes and the business will more than likely go fun-bags up.  But then you shall return to the fold, wave your magic wand over everything and all will be restored to order.  Oh, and you'll probably realise the error of your ways and be asking me for advice on divorce proceedings because, let's face it Perfect Penny, you are being a bit of a tit.'

Opening my mouth to defend myself, I was stopped in my tracks when he leaned over my desk to wipe a crumb from the side of my lips.

'Got a stray bit of cress there.  Not a good look.'

Licking the offending morsel from his finger, he turned to leave adding, 'By the way, Ma wants to see you up at the manor before you go.  Something about a wedding present.  I told her not to bother 'cos it won't last but you know Ma - can't tell her anything.  My gift to you will be a shoulder to cry on and the name of a good lawyer - you can thank me later.'

Stuffing the last of my sandwich defiantly in my mouth, I pulled a face behind his back.  Why did everyone have such a problem with my impending nuptials?


There are a few things you should know about my job, my boss, my life and how I'd come to be considered (A) Miss Perfect and (B) Momentarily deranged.

Living and working in a small village on the outskirts of Oxford was like a dream come true.  Landing the position at Grangeford Manor was everything I could have hoped for.  It was challenging, varied and fun, allowing me the scope to stretch myself and implement new ideas and initiatives - more of that later - and I'm not blowing my own trumpet here but, had it not been for some of my brainwaves, Logan and his family might not have been sitting quite as prettily on their threadbare silk cushions as they were now.

Anyway, I digress.  Grangeford Manor is the humongous house that sits at the back of approximately ten acres of stunning Oxfordshire land in an area called Sunningford.  With more rooms than I care to count, it houses Logan in the left wing and the rest of his family everywhere else.  Literally everywhere else - scattered like confetti after a windy wedding.  Various staff help to keep the manor running smoothly - I use this term lightly, as chaos seems to be the major force of The Newton-Barr family.  On occasions, Logan's brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and other assorted waifs appear for short - occasionally longer - stays and I never quite know who might pop into my office at any given time with some weird request.  In fact once Christiana, Logan's youngest sister, asked me to call the doctor for the morning after pill as she was so hung-over her eyes couldn't focus on the phone that her hands were too shaky to hold.

That's the sort of job I have!

But my main role is the organisation and running of the estate's converted barns - one of which is my office, another my home, four permanent rentals and three holiday lets.  Again, there's never a dull moment and the responsibility for these, combined with the events we now offer up at the manor, keep me chasing my tail like a dog with mange.

Logan and I have a great working relationship.  He can fly off the handle and appear distracted and curt sometimes but I've always known how to throw calming waters on his raging fire and, most of the time, we share easy banter and muddle along quite nicely.  Lady Finola, his mother, often joked that we were like an old married couple.  To which I'd blush and Logan would mumble.  He's my boss and my friend - that's all, except things became complicated for a while.  Anyway, the family was always telling me that they didn't know what they'd do without me.  My eye for detail, my efficiency and what they called my natural knack for troubleshooting and muck-cleaning when the shit hit the fan, had got them out of many a scrape over the years.

'She's just perfect!' was the line I'd hear the most.  Which, funnily enough, was what my parents always used to say about me.  It's a lofty description to live up to but my mission in life has always been to simply do my best and never let people down.  Years of being a Brownie, Guide, milk monitor, prefect and Head Girl are deeply ingrained in me.  I make no apologies!

The first seven years here were the happiest I'd ever been.  A new start, a fab career and salary all with stunning digs thrown in.  My social life had never been better, dating came easily to me and I generally had a high old time.  Meeting Spence was the icing on the cake - or so I'd thought.  He was also settled in a great job, had the same OCD tendencies for order and precision as I did and seemed to share a similar set of values.  Of course, Logan never took to him but I became used to his snide comments and allowed them to run off me like water from Donald and Daffy, who liked to come and waddle around in puddles outside my barn door.

It wasn't until my mother became unwell that I started seeing Spence through Logan's eyes - a little too pristine to hang around and witness the ugliness of impending death.  In short, when the going got tough, the tough became a wet fart and scurried off with a stream of pretty poor excuses faster than a priest could read the Last Rites.

Logan and his family on the other hand, couldn't have been more accommodating.  Knowing that my poor mum had a morbid fear of dying in hospital, they converted one of the barn rentals so that she could live out her final months in comfort and with me never more than a moment away.  They employed a nurse for the times that I couldn't be there and, towards the end, they recruited a temp for my job so that I could be by her side the whole time.  Through their kindness I had the comfort of being with her when she passed and for that I will always be grateful.

Suffice it to say, losing my mum took its toll.  My life suddenly seemed to have got stuck on the pause button and I was scared.  An only child, with no other family to speak of, my mother had been my one constant and, still reeling from Spence's abandonment, I found myself questioning the point of anything.  OK, so he probably hadn't been The One but, drained from the trauma of my loss, I felt like an anchorless boat, bobbing around in a turbulent sea with no idea of the direction in which I should be heading.

What is it the experts say about grief?  Don't make any hasty decisions for at least two years?  Yeah, well I didn't listen to that one, did I?  My life wasn't perfect.  It was a mess - and watching someone you love die before your very eyes makes you question your own mortality - I didn't want to die alone.  I didn't want to live alone so I made the decision to take the bull by the horns and get me a husband - even if it meant paying for one.


The rest of the afternoon leading up to my hen night flew by in a haze.  Any trips to the hairdressers or nail bar in preparation for my so called big send-off, flew out of the window as I juggled calls from prospective holiday renters and meetings with cleaning contractors or caterers for various upcoming events.

Logging out of my computer at just gone six, I figured I'd have just enough time for the quickest of showers before heading off to meet the girls at the restaurant we'd booked prior to hitting a club.

'Erm ... Penny?  Here ...'

Logan had appeared in the doorway and was shuffling uncomfortably.  'Take this towards your evening.  I still think you're off your tiny little rocker but ... well, have a good one and have a drink or three on the family.  With any luck a few bottles of bubbly might give you the clarity you need.'

He handed me two envelopes and prepared to leave.  'Oh, and by the way, Ma's conked out after too many lunchtime G&T's so she said she'll see you on Monday but that I should give you this.'  He pointed to the pink envelope in my hand along with the brown one which clearly contained money.  'She apologised for forgetting that she had it but said that you know what she's like and ...'

I'd ceased to hear any other words that came from his mouth as the familiarity of the handwriting on the pink envelope was etched on my brain.

It was from my mum.


'What d'you mean, you didn't read it?  How could you resist?'

Evie had arrived at my barn after work in an attempt to do something with my hair when she'd heard that I'd had to cancel my salon appointment.  The bane of my life, my curls turn to frizz if not completely tamed and my best friend knew how cranky I'd be if I headed out for the night looking like a blonde Ronald McDonald after a trip through a car wash.

'It just didn't seem the right time,' I explained.  'I didn't want to rush it as that didn't seem fitting and I didn't want to be upset before tonight.  I mean, let's face it, nothing's exactly gone according to plan for tonight, has it?  No pampering, no down time and no sodding evening bag to go with my outfit either.'

'Look, Pen.  I've said I'm sorry.  I was running late myself and the shop had just shut by the time I got there.  I did remember to bring that sequinned one that you bought for the launch party up at the manor and then loaned to me for Drew's wedding.  I'm not totally useless - and you have to remember, we can't all be as organised as you.  Come on, have another glass of fizzy and let's get going.  It's not every night I get to be head hen to my best friend.  Let's make this a night to remember and when we get back later, I'll be here when you read your letter from your mum.  You're right, it's probably better that way.'


Fast forward a few hours and we're into the toilet scene again - my moment of spending a penny as another dropped, shall we say.

I'd left the dance floor desperate for a wee and a make-up repair after much raucous dancing and laughing.

Hovering over the toilet seat - years of having 'germs' drummed into me by Mum - I rummaged in my bag for a tissue after discovering that the paper dispenser next to me was empty.

As I pulled it out, something came with it from an inside pocket - damn Evie for bringing this bag for me - my world tilted on its axis, my legs turned to jelly beneath me and my buttocks landed slap-bang on the cold, damp loo seat.

Mum would not have approved.

Studying my find in my hand, time stood still and my heart almost stopped with it.

A Polaroid photo taken up at the manor's launch four years previously.  Crinkled and a little torn at the edges.  A snapshot in time.  In many ways, history - in other ways still so very much the present.  Him and me.

My boss - and what I suddenly realised had been my secret and buried crush for more years than I cared to remember.  But sadly not the man I was about to head down the aisle to in a week's time.

Because - and prepare yourself - I'd never actually set eyes on the man who I was due to marry.  Truth.  Oh, I'd been sent an image in an email but that was the sole extent of my visual knowledge of him.

And in a flash I could at last see why everyone had declared me totally bonkers.  My decision to take control of my life and force things that should come naturally suddenly seemed like a bad idea.  A very bad idea indeed.

If you enjoyed this taster, 'Getting to Know Me' is now available to pre-order ahead of its release this Wednesday.  Grab a copy now by clicking on the link below.


Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Little Things

On this day, last year, I shared a very special meal with the most important woman in my life. My lovely mum, of course.

It wasn't in a fancy-schmanzy restaurant with bubbles and fawning waiters.  We weren't dressed up to the nines, knocking back the wine (our favourite tipple).  It was on the side of her bed at her bedside cabinet, in the cosiness of her bedroom, with her tucking into fish and chips that my husband had prepared.  I remember he'd over-cooked the criss-cross chips as (for obvious reasons) life was a little chaotic at the time but my mum wolfed them down like a woman possessed declaring that she was starving!  We laughed and joked and, for a while, I let myself believe that all would be well in the world.

Just that afternoon she'd been visited by an acupuncturist who seemed to have worked her magic and prior to that we'd been giggling with my sister as we tested our mum on her times tables.  Boy, was she good at those!  Years of war-time schooling that drummed them into you were to be thanked for that.

After her meal, she said she wanted a wash.  I wasn't to know but this was to be the last time I would pamper and preen her - a full wash from the sink as she perched on the loo seat, legs and arms moisturised with new smellies she'd received for Christmas, a clean nightie and then back into bed where she cheekily 'ordered' cheese and biscuits because she was still 'starving'!

The next day, quite calmly, she called us all in to say her goodbyes.  I wouldn't have thought it possible for someone to be so clear-headed about the fact that it was time to leave the world unless I'd witnessed it for myself.  She knew - it was as simple as that - and she wanted to make sure that she'd said what she needed to.

Heart-breakingly sad but, at the same time, so lovely when you think of how many people don't get the chance to plan and say their farewells and then leave this world from the comfort of their own bed surrounded by love.

I guess the point of this piece - other than to honour and remember my mum - is to say take the time to do little things with those you love because you just never know if it's going to be your last chance.

I treasure that evening with my mum.  It will be etched in my heart forever and tonight I'll raise a glass to her and I know that she'll remember why I'm doing it.