Uncomfortably plum

I get home from work to find a sandwich bag filled with plums on my doorstep.

No note, but assume they’re from the Irish lady next door who sometimes gives us courgettes from her allotment. Feeling neighbourly, I knock on the door and her granddaughter bounds on to the porch.

“Mooma there’s a lady here to see you!” she shouts.

Theresa appears behind her fumbling with keys.

“Hello!” I say brightly. “Was it you who left the plums? Just thought I’d pop by and say thanks.”

“Yes yes it was me,” she mumbles in her thick brogue. It’s hard to pick out every word so I ramble to fill the conversational gaps.

“Well, it’s just really nice of you, I might make a pie, or maybe jam, or -”

“Jam? Oh, do you want some more?” Theresa’s already walking back into the house.

I inwardly panic. I don’t know how to make jam. I’m going on holiday in two days. I didn’t really mean it, I just said it in a spurt of whimsy. I’m not even sure I like plums.

I eye the granddaughter. “So, what’s your name?”

“Temperance,” she replies, digging the toe of her shoe into the floor.

“I’m Lauren, from next door.”

She regards me coolly. “I know.”

Theresa returns with a bulging Sainsbury’s carrier bag. Not a 5p bag – we’re talking 10p; a Bag for Life.

“Do you have enough jars?” Theresa inquires.

Of course I don’t.

“… oh…I’ll just buy some.” I trail off.

“I’ll leave some on your doorstep,” She offers.

“Brilliant! Amazing. Thank you so much. I’ll bring you some jam!” I hear myself say.

I go home and ask Instagram how I’m going to get myself out of this.

Gemma replies – “make a tart?”

I reply: “I go on holiday in two days and I promised her jam.”

“Oh god,” she writes. “You’re now trapped in a jam cycle with your neighbour – take her the jam, she’ll give you more plums – FOREVER.”

Ask the work WhatsApp group for advice.

Liz shoots me down: “This isn’t a problem.”

Easy for her to say – she’s not going to return home to 11lbs of rotting fruit – but have realisation this is exactly the sort of thing Tim Dowling writes about in the Guardian weekend magazine.

Later, I’m wondering whether I can pass off shop-bought jam as my own when I get a brainwave.

I send my dad a text.

“You know how you’re coming to cat-sit? Well, do you know how to make jam?”

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What does one write in a Smythson notebook? 

Oh my me, I have a first world problem on my hands: I own a very beautiful notebook and I daren’t write in it.

That probably wasn’t what Elle magazine was hoping for when it gifted me this lovely, leather-backed beauty in return for a few words I penned in their recent writing competition.

But I come from a world of spiral-bound reporters notebooks containing a scrawl that would make even a doctor squint and it certainly has no place in a journal which would cost a regular customer £135 to buy new.

Yes, those cornflour blue pages cost an average of 70p each to write on, meaning every word literally has to count should I ever put pen to paper.

But the thought of defacing this elegant, monogrammed delight with my scribble seems like a crime against stationery. Which brings me to the all-important question: what does one write in a Smythson notebook?

I guess those who can routinely afford such luxuries use them for every day mundanities such as shopping lists. But as this is likely to be the only three-figure notebook I’ll ever own, I feel compelled to use it for something special.

Sure, lofty ideas about using it to write my first novel have been mooted; however, should I ever get round to penning my life’s work it’s unlikely to be in handwritten form because, well, computers.

So, what then? Ignore the price tag and treat it like any other notepad, or just start carrying it around like a fancy accessory?

Suggestions welcome. By the way, did I mention it even smells of money?
 

 

Making a DIY Guess Who

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What do you get for the girl you’ve bought everything for? That was the quandary I faced when trying to figure out what to buy my best friend for her birthday this year.

After a decade of friendship, I’d covered pretty much all the gift-buying bases: books, clothes, prints, records, chocolate, beautiful – yet ultimately pointless – bits of crap. For probably the first time, I genuinely was stumped.

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As the arty one in our relationship, she has made me numerous handmade gift over the years. So, after coming across a blog about making a personalised version of Guess Who, I decided it was the perfect present, particularly for a woman that loves board games as much as she does.

The first task was accumulating the photos – a process of herding her friends and family and getting them to send a picture of themselves that was both the same size and style. That was, it turned out, the easiest part of the project, even taking into account the task of tracking down people I didn’t know and randomly asking them for a photo. I think we should just take a moment to look at what a sexy bunch they are:

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Next up was trying to source 50 miniature pieces of wood which, God bless the internet, involved only a few messages to DIY types on eBay. Most told me it would be nigh on impossible to find anyone to cut MDF that small but thankfully, someone out there had a teeny tiny saw and some time on his hands and made them for me no questions asked. Well, except one: “Are you sure those are the right measurements?”

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I had already batted my eyelashes at a timber yard and had two larger pieces of MDF for the boards cut to size, so I started the drawn-out process of spray-painting the wood. I do not have an art degree, but thankfully two of my friends do and had given me advice on primer and the type of paint I needed. Even following their advice, the MDF was so porous each piece needed several coats and it took two days to get the right coverage. The downside was some of the layers in the wood started peeling at the edges. The lesson here is don’t use MDF. It’s rubbish.

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While that dried I attached the photos and hinges to the individual pieces of wood. The blog had suggested supergluing the hinges rather than using the miniscule nails they came with and this, my friends, was what caused me to almost lose my mind. On that Saturday in June those tiny pieces of metal were the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

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I glued them on; they fell off. I glued them on; they glued the hinge shut. I glued them on; they stuck and then took off chunks of wood when I realised it wasn’t going to work and tried to removed them. I attempted to nail them in – I won’t even go into what an unmitigated disaster that was.

IMG_3608[1]I stared in despair at the chaos those evil little bastards had caused and realised I was at risk of ruining the whole present if I didn’t change tack, the irony being I couldn’t call the one person who probably could fix it because it was her gift I was destroying.

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Luckily, I knew exactly who else to call.

My friend Bunty is a crafting superhero who creates incredible pieces of art just by brushing past a wad of paper. I knew if anyone could save my disaster she could – even though at this point it was covered in holes and glue. I turned up at her house looking like a woman who had looked into the art abyss and seen unspeakable horrors and presented her with what I had deemed to be an unsalvageable mess.

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She took one look at it, produced a roll of washi tape, and in less than 30 seconds, saved the day. We spent the next hour patching up the wood and attaching the photo pieces to the boards using the magical masking tape, then she did what arty people do, which was to polish the whole thing off by covering up my mistakes with a piece of felt on the underside of the boards; therefore banishing the holes and the patchy paint to the graveyard of crafting misery.

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Though it took me two weeks and an obscene amount of money to make, it was totally worth it for the number of jaws that dropped when Ruth unwrapped her present at the pub. That being said, I’ve made it clear I probably won’t be making her anything ever again. At least not for another ten years.

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Elle Talent Competition 2015: Runner-up!

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So I’m finally allowed to reveal that I was a runner up in Elle magazine’s annual writing competition.

I say ‘finally’ because I’ve known since October and was asked to keep shtum, which by the way, is really quite difficult when you’re really pleased and want to tell everyone.

Even though I’m a journalist by trade and therefore write for a living, I’ve never particularly shared any of my more creative work with anyone, least of all put it forward for scrutiny by a panel of judges, which has made the accolade all the more special.

But when I saw the brief – to write 500 words on ‘Relationship Goals – I knew exactly who to write about and why.

No, not the obvious – though I’m sure plenty of people did – no, I decided to write an ode to my grandfather, who by all accounts is one of the coolest people I know.

My story will be up on the Elle website sometime this month, so keep checking there and here, where I will post a link.

In the meantime, I await the arrival of my super fancy monogrammed Smythson notebook, which I have no doubt I’ll be too scared to write in for fear of ruining one of its (surely) gold-plated pages.

It’ll look pretty on the shelf though and I might just start carrying around for effect.