Duck egg blue traditional style bathroom suite from Victorian Plumbing Old London range.

We’re in!

Well, folks, we finally did it. Calum and I have finally completed the purchase of our first home – a lovely 1950s ex-council semidetached house with a utility room separate from the main kitchen and lots of storage for our tools and bikes. I think it feels quite cottage-like with built-in wooden cupboards, an adorable cubbyhole, and a rustic staircase that will be very pretty once it’s painted and recarpeted. My favourite part of our new house so far is our brand new bathroom, which we arranged to be fitted before we moved in.

When we purchased the house, the bathroom was actually two tiny rooms – a W.C. which contained just the toilet, and a bathroom containing the sink, bath and shower. Naturally, this was an entirely gross setup so we decided to prioritise getting the bathroom entirely remodelled. We hired an excellent plumber to tear down the wall between the two rooms, retile the surfaces and fit an entirely new set of sanitary wear.

Bathroom across two rooms – who invented this gross concept?

Initially Calum and I talked about getting an awesome gothic bathroom. We liked the look of an ornate black porcelain suite that I’d seen in a shop window in our local town centre, but it quickly became clear that the gothic dream would likely be out of our price range. So, I took my search online and came across the Old London traditional range at Victorian Plumbing.

Calum’s favourite colour is blue, and he was amenable when I suggested the full duck-egg blue set, with accompanying amenities in white and chrome. Although Victorian Plumbing was a little disappointing with delays, missed delivery days and lack of communication, the products themselves are great. I particularly like our set because the sink is part of a cabinet that we can use for towels, and there is more storage in the mirrored cabinet above the sink. We ordered a Victorian-style bath that looks like a rolltop, but is actually flat enough that we could get a shower door rather than needing to settle for a dirt-gathering curtain. I like the chrome griffin-like feet that Calum selected for the bath, but my favourite part of our bathroom appliances is the heated towel rail/radiator. It’s just so cosy!

Choosing tiles was quite difficult, since I was adamant that, although we would probably want blue on the walls, I didn’t want the room to look like either a swimming pool or a public bathroom. Our plumber suggested we might like linoleum flooring because it would be easy to clean and replace, but I was worried it might look a bit too 1970s.

I had found a reference photo online that showed a bathroom with wooden flooring, which I immediately loved but dismissed as impractical because I thought it would get damp and rotten too quickly. My mum came to the rescue and suggested that we might look at wood-effect tiles. In the end we settled on dark “Maddison Cherry” tiles for the floor, with simple white square wall tiles. But I also ordered some very thin, rustic, duck-egg blue rectangular tiles to create a border at the top of the white tiles. I think they’re very cute.

Look, no wall!!

After that we basically left our plumber to it. He was absolutely fantastic and finished the entire project in a couple of weeks. He knocked down the wall between the two rooms to make one proper-sized bathroom, and did a great job of the tiling and fitting. At all points he made sure he was working to our requirements: even if that meant using white polyfilla against his suggestion (he warns will yellow over time) and moving piping from inside to outside the house (even though it meant he needed to raise his original quote a little). He even went to B&Q on our behalf to purchase some shower equipment after we decided we wanted a new matching head rather than just keeping the original as we’d initially planned, and he got us a couple of taps for our radiator so that they would match the other taps in the bathroom, which was very sweet.

Honestly, I cannot recommend our plumber, Chris, enough – check out his Facebook site (Chrisdecor Home Improvements) if you’re looking for a reliable plumber in the Manchester area. We have him to thank for our beautiful bathroom and we’re so excited to start living in our beautiful new home.

The completed bathroom.

Alchemical Ink

Calum and I played a writing challenge this evening. We gave each other 4 prompts: a character, an item, a setting and a theme. Then we had to try to write a story based on that theme in 30 minutes. The time-dependent aspect got abandoned by the wayside, but we still wrote them within less than an hour (barring tidying for spelling and grammar).

Here is my result (and you can read Calum’s one here):


Character Prompt: An alchemist
Item Prompt: A jar of ink
Theme Prompt: Preservation
Setting Prompt: A haunted castle.


It wasn’t supposed to go like this. Normally, the ghosts were happy to be listened to. Were content to have their essence distilled down into a thick, ectoplasmic goop and mixed with the glowing pigment that would record their life story for it to be preserved for all times in the Sacred Archives. But as soon as the Alchemist crossed the drawbridge, leather satchel slung over her shoulder and incense at the ready, she could tell this time was different.

The slam of the portcullis, blocking her path, was her first clue. The second clue was the blood red writing on the courtyard wall – “you are not welcome here”. Then there was the unnatural cold and the angry howling.

The Alchemist took out a vial of acid and eroded through the portcullis bars, making a gap just big enough to squeeze through. Once she was inside, she reached back into her satchel and produced a bottle of lemon juice, which she mixed into a small ceramic bowl with the dust in the castle courtyard. Now she had her base concoction: it combined the substance of the place where the haunt dwelled, with the elusiveness of invisible ink. But it still required one more ingredient if she wanted to create a barrier to keep the ghost from escaping – part of the ghost itself.

The Alchemist’s eyes rested on the wall writing. Ghosts were mostly intangible, so to affect its physical surroundings, it had to mix its essence with the item it interacted with. Meaning the bleeding letters would be made of ghost? Careful not to get any on her hands, the Alchemist scraped some of the wall writing into the bowl with a tiny spatula. The substance was ready, but in this form it would not be nearly enough.

The Alchemist scanned the courtyard once more, searching, and she noticed a rusting water pump situated near a wall of ivy that shivered in the wind. The Alchemist started towards the pump, but as she walked, the courtyard’s cobbles protested. They wriggled and jostled, trying to get under her feet and trip her up. But the Alchemist lay on her side and rolled, so that each of the cobbles bumped her uncomfortably, but barely hindered her movement. With even the castle floor trying to keep her out, the alchemist did not trust the pump or ivy would be any more welcoming. Sure enough, as soon as the alchemist was in reach of the ivy, it lashed out and wrapped its angry vines around her legs, arms and neck, squeezing like a boa constrictor. But the Alchemist was prepared. From inside her sleeves, she produced a squishy bottle of vinegar, that she sprayed at the offending leaves, causing them to recoil. In her other fist she held a block of salt, that she rubbed on the ivy tendrils, drying them to the point where they had retreated back to the wall. Ivy defeated, the Alchemist held the salt rock under the spigot of the water pump, so that it purified whatever nasty concoction the ghost had added to the dirty brown liquid that emerged as the Alchemist pumped. Added to the lemon juice, courtyard dust and ghost extract, the resulting mixture wasn’t as pure as the alchemist would have liked, but it was now probably enough solution, so the diluted form would have to do. Bracing herself for further bruises, the Alchemist rolled back out to the portcullis and used a pastry brush to paint an X onto the bars. Now the ghost would be stuck here.

All that remained was to track the ghost down. The Alchemist moved through the castle, encountering and neutralising obstacle after obstacle that the ghost threw at her. In the kitchen, the Alchemist was attacked by flying knives; pouring ferromagnetic metals onto the floor attracted the knives downwards, so the ghost couldn’t lift them. A spark from her tinder box quickly cleared the huge stack of books that blocked her way in the study. In the great hall, the giant taxidermied stag heads animated and attacked, but were lulled to sleep by the funeral incense (myrrh) that the Alchemist burned. The Alchemist herself, being still alive, was not affected by the myrrh, but the ghost, well, it was dead, and its attacks became less forceful after that. As the Alchemist moved through each room, she crossed off the doors, so the ghost was shepherded until it had nowhere else to go.

Finally they got to the highest tower. The Alchemist, with sticky glue dripping from her shoes (which she had applied to climb the slope that had once been stairs), was puffing, frustrated and angry. By this point the ghostly howling had died down to a sullen sob. The Alchemist opened the final door, and there, curled in the corner watching her sulkily, was the ghost of a little servant boy.

The final inhabitant of the castle glared up at the Alchemist.

“It ain’t fair,” said the child. “I never got to live much. I should get to unlive without all you exorcisers comin’ to take me away.”

The Alchemist said nothing, but she settled down on the floor, pulled out her pen and glowing, ectoplasmic ink, and a small tea set. Over her Bunsen burner, the Alchemist boiled a pot of green tea and the tiny ghost accepted the teacup in his hardened ectoplasmic hand. Now that the ghost wasn’t haunting so large a space (only this small room), he was able to concentrate on holding better. The ghost told the Alchemist his story. He had worked in the castle as a stable boy. He had tended the horses and the dogs. Each evening he had sat by the castle stove and eaten his potato dinner. He had sent home a silver piece to his mother each month. And he had played in the snow with the other servant children when the adults weren’t looking. Then the plague had come and people started getting sick. To keep him well, the cook had hidden him behind the stove. But something had gone wrong. Maybe the cook had fled and forgotten to tell anyone about him. Maybe she had gotten too sick to retrieve him.

The boy had been stuck, trapped inside the wall, and when he awoke he was able to glide through the wall, but he was still trapped in the castle. And now he was all alone. He wanted his mother; he wanted his horses and dogs. He had cried for them. Howled for them. But the howling had alerted the village and the village had alerted the archive and the archive had sent the Alchemist. And as the story was told, the ink grew brighter. The child drank his tea, and the Alchemist picked up the quill and wrote the child’s story. As the Alchemist wrote, the child began to fade, particles of ectoplasm drifting towards the ink.

A smash of the teacup on the stone floor told the Alchemist the boy was gone. The Alchemist lifted the cracked china, the final dregs of tea not yet drunk. This was what the Alchemist needed. She dripped the tea, now combined with the boy’s spirit, into the ink, and the ink itself shimmered and bubbled in appreciation.

The archive wants to preserve people’s tales, but the story is not what the Alchemist wants. The life mixture, a thousand thousand souls combined and preserved in one little glowing bottle of inky gloop. That is true alchemy.

And now the boy’s story lies in the Sacred Archives. And the Alchemist moves onto another haunt, another story, and in her satchel, the ink glows a little brighter.

Back to School reflection: What I did on my holiday

After a good amount of time off work over the summer holidays, I am happy (if a bit nervous!) to be returning to the school library tomorrow. I had a lot of plans for when I was off, and some of them I completed, some of them I at least started, and many of them I didn’t get around to. Either way, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the summer before the new school year washes all of it into oblivion.

School’s out for the students

The students finished their school year on Friday 9th of July, but I still had a lot to complete so I spent the following two weeks in the library most days working on four main tasks.

Firstly, I shelved almost all of the books and music that had been building on the Covid quarantine shelves. That was quite a lot of work, seeing as so much music was returned last-minute, and I’m still getting used to the layout of the chamber music library (where we have shelves and shelves of parts in brown envelopes). Full disclosure, there are a couple of items that have been left so that I can ask my ever-helpful evening staff where the music should go!

I catalogued and processed a huge pile of music. We had received a fantastic donation of beautifully bound full and miniature scores from a member of the public. They are in such good condition that I have decided to add all of them to the library stock (replacing tatty copies where possible), but with probably over a hundred items in total, getting through it all is quite a task. I made a dent, but never fear, there’s still plenty of cataloguing waiting for my return tomorrow!

I also did my best to spend the remaining library budget, having been advised if I don’t spend it I lose it. The students can look forward to a few more books, some replacement music for lost copies, and eight lovely new pairs of headphones – enough for every library computer. I don’t know where the previous pairs kept disappearing to, but I think it might be worth creating a headphone sign-out sheet, to make sure these new ones are always returned.

My biggest challenge in the weeks leading up to the end of term, and the two following weeks where I was in the library on my own, was creating lists of all of the music that was still out to school leavers and would need to be tracked down. This task was particularly difficult because, despite being a music school where ensemble music is in high demand, the library system software we use cannot track multiple borrowers. This means that every set of music is only ever out on one borrower’s account (regardless of how many parts there are). Although we try to keep a manual record of who has which part, with over a thousand outstanding items at the end of term, going through every single envelope to notify students of their unreturned music was a huge job – and certainly not one I want to have to do every single summer. I only just managed to get it all completed in time to send out final warning emails to all the students before I left for Scotland, but I’m going to have to work out a better system for future years, or I might have a nervous breakdown!

Four crates full of brown envelopes
All of the empty envelopes still waiting for parts to be returned to them!

Visiting my parents!

After all that stress, I was super excited to travel back to Scotland to visit my parents for a few weeks. It was so nice to see them again, and my sister, Jenny, was there too for part of my trip. On my first night, Jenny introduced me to the anime Assassination Classroom, which is about a group of school students trying to assassinate their evil yet adorable teacher: a betentacled alien that plans to destroy the world if his students don’t kill him first. It’s surprisingly good.

The weather was gorgeous every single day of my visit, so we did a lot of outdoor activities. One day we walked along the beach for a forest/water walk in Greenock and ate ice-cream and another day we went to a market in Helensburgh where we listened to Glaswegian busker Maryjane singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen (in the middle of a heatwave). My dad and I went for a 50km cycle along the River Clyde, which was super fun but also extremely tiring, and at one point I fell off my bike. Although I’m pretty sure I hated everything and everyone by the end of it, it was great to cycle with my dad again and we both really enjoyed it.

On another beautiful day we visited my aunt and uncle in Stirling where we walked around the King’s Knot and learned the story of the Stirling Wolf. Apparently, during a Viking raid, one of the raiders accidentally stepped on a wolf causing it to howl out and wake the sleeping Anglo-Saxon garrison. This gave the garrison time to prepare for the invasion and force the Vikings to retreat. And now the howling wolf emblem can be seen all over Stirling. How bizarre is that?!

What is property? Property is stress!

After my visit to my parents, I still had three weeks left of summer holiday, and in this time Calum and I wanted to make some headway into buying our first home. Calum took a week off work, so we set up a meeting with a mortgage broker and started looking at properties. In total, I was able to arrange eleven viewings although five of them cancelled on me before the viewing could take place. Calum and I attended three of the remaining viewings together, and I attended three on my own because Calum had to go back to work. Although it was quite frustrating and extremely stressful, there were still some good parts. On one extremely wet day, after a viewing, Calum and I visited Worsely Village, where we walked around the Tudor-style streets and along the canal in the rain. There were even some cute metal ducks!

Even with the support of my parents (who were great at sending me suitable houses that I might have missed), and Calum (who did everything he could while also working full time) and the mortgage broker (who’s invaluable advice was fantastic help), I found the entire process really grim. I looked at house websites for hours ever morning, calling up estate agents to try to arrange viewings only to be told the houses were already under offer, or they were no longer accepting viewings. Not to mention the palaver navigating the disgustingly stupid system of Freehold vs Leasehold housing (don’t even get me started).

But eventually, less than a week ago, we got an offer accepted. Hooray! It’s a nice house, in a pretty area, and well within our budget, which is fantastic. We will probably need to do some work on the bathroom, because for some reason quite a few houses in Manchester (including this one) have a toilet with no sink next door to the bathroom with the sink in it. This feels very disgusting to us, and we’ll need to get that changed, but otherwise the house is great. It has a lovely shed for our bikes, and a nice big living room, a pretty kitchen and a utility room where we can put our washer/dryer and install our first dishwasher (such luxury!). There are also two relatively big bedrooms. Calum’s has a wee cubby area where he will be able to set up his workspace, since he is planning to work from home more often, and mine has a huge built-in wardrobe and a cosy alcove where I think I’ll be able to fit my bed.

So that’s pretty exciting, and all we need to do now is meet with our mortgage broker again, set up our solicitor, get a survey from our mortgage provider and a homebuyer’s report, exchange contracts and keys, get a new bathroom, move all our stuff across to the new house, and move in. Easy-peasy.

“For Sale: Cauldron, Broomstick. Both Charred.”

In what is now looking to be a series, I decided to create a second piece of fan-art for my friend, Calum’s, Six-Word Advertisements in the style of Ernest Hemingway’s Baby Shoes. This one depicts a witch selling her broom and cauldron, that have been burned up by her unrepentant dragon familiar.

“For sale: cauldron, broomstick. Both charred.” — Calum P. Cameron

May the Fourth be with You!

It’s the fourth of May – do you all know what that means? It’s Star Wars day! I first got into Star Wars when I started university ten years ago and, although I’ll never be as keen as most of my friends are, I enjoy it quite a lot. I’ve seen eight of the films, some of the Ewok TV show and about 15 minutes of the Star Wars Holiday special. I also own a teddy Ewok – because I found the idea of a teddy of a teddy alien delightful! And now that Calum and I have purchased a Disney+ subscription together, I think we are in store for several Mandalorian evenings! (Ooh, Star Wars themed Mandalorian evening… that is an idea I can get behind!)

Actual Facebook comment when I received the teddy ewok for Christmas: “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!!! I actually now own a teddy ewok!!! This-makes-me-happier-than-it-has-any-right-to!!!!!”

Anyway, I want to share with you a display I created while I was still working at Milngavie Library. Here’s a bit of background: Milngavie Library has a LOT of Star Wars books. Fiction, non-fiction, adult, junior – from the hard in-depth The Military Science of Star Wars to a Lego Star Wars boardbook for tiny children Stories from the Galaxy. We have trashy paperback novel spin-offs, fancy hardback novel spin-offs, graphic novels for all ages, huge art books filled with beautiful screenshots or intricate spaceship designs… I counted fifty-seven Star Wars books for adults and a quick search of the catalogue just now returned 107 titles about or relating to Star Wars. You get the idea. The point is, we had a lot of Star Wars books, and I wanted to make the readers aware of this. So I created a display. This was around Christmas time, so it lined up perfectly with the release of Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker.

And I went full out! (Well, as full out as you can get on a zero-money, limited-timescale budget.) I papered the display in black and covered it with a string of Christmas lights to look like stars. I printed and laminated a bunch of stills from the films (with maybe a slight partiality to baby Yoda memes). I also printed, cut out and laminated a few pictures of the space ships used in the show, including a Death Star, the Millennium Falcon and “some kind of Jedi Starfighter” (Calum P. Cameron, 2020) that at the time I had thought was an X-wing. I hung these from an awning that I’d created to shield the Christmas tree lights from the bright surroundings and make them show up more.

Left to right: Death Star, “Some kind of Jedi Starfighter”, Millennium Falcon, 2nd Death Star

One of my library colleague lent me his toy lightsaber (that actually lights up if you press it) for the display – which was a huge success, particularly among the children. I wrote a very corny piece of text to act as the library themed opening scroll text and one of my other colleagues showed me how to prop it up on a pair of Christmas wrapper tubes, that I’d marker-penned black, so that the text appeared to be getting further away:

A long time ago in a library far, far away…
Episode 4 May 2020
The new Star Wars movie is about to be released in cinemas and our REBEL LIBRARIANS have compiled a display of some of the Star Wars books carried by MILNGAVIE LIBRARY.
It is up to you, the MILNGAVIE ALLIANCE, to circulate the books and bring the enjoyment of Star Wars to people across the galaxy.
But bring the books back on time, or Vader will get you…..

I also cadged some black paint from the children’s afterschool club that meets in the same community centre. With permission, I painted one of the children’s librarian’s papier-mâché golden eggs black, and once it had dried, I used her gold sharpie to make Death Star markings. (I utterly destroyed the pen, but purchased a replacement from the local Tesco before anyone noticed!) This papier-mâché Death Star was too heavy for the wool that I used to hang the laminations with, but one of my colleagues found a black pipe-cleaner that I was able to use instead – and it worked perfectly! The display now had two Death Stars, but so did the Empire, so I felt it was appropriate.

It was a really fun display to make, and plenty of my colleagues and other people who worked in the community centre got involved. Although the display had to exclusively feature the adult Star Wars books, since it was set up in the adult library, it was right across from the door, so everyone could see it when they entered. Lots of children really enjoyed it, as did parents – and even some childless adults were into it. I don’t know what it did for the Star Wars book circulation numbers, but it contributed to the library being a fun place to be in for a few months. So I’d say it worked well!

One evening after the library had closed, the Community Centre caretaker turned off all the lights so I could photograph the display with all the cool lights.

“Sale: Babby Shoe, Unweared, Not Trap”

A while ago, my friend, Calum, created a list of six-word advertisements in the style of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word Baby Shoes story. With his permission, I’ve created an illustration of my favourite of the ads, clearly written by a set of goblins and so blatantly conspicuous that it could only lure other equally-gullible goblins. I hope you like it.

Sale Babby Shoe Unweared Not Trap
“Sale: Babby Shoe. Unweared. Not trap –>” — Calum P. Cameron

Never Meet Your Heroes; You’ll Only Disappoint Them

Earlier this month, I was in Edinburgh to review Company Wayne MacGregor’s production, Autobiography, for Bachtrack. This post isn’t about that. Rather, it’s about an incident that took place earlier that day, where I, by chance, got the opportunity to meet my favourite living children’s author, Theresa Breslin, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

A little backstory. I’ve loved Theresa Breslin’s books since I was in primary school. I enjoyed the Dream Master series because it reminded me of E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton and Edgar Eager. Her book Remembrance taught me about pacifism during the First World War. I learned about how awful dyslexia was for children in the past from Whispers In the Graveyard. And, although Marcus Sedgewick is a writer I also enjoy, I’m still slightly disappointed that the Booktrust Teenage Prize opted for his book, My Swordhand Is Singing, over Breslin’s The Medici Seal…

(although, at least the Booktrust had the decency to choose a more than halfway decent book as its winner, unlike SOME competitions I could name *cough*Carnegie*cough*…seriously, Just In Case was the actual worst.)

My point is I’ve been a Theresa Breslin fan for a while, so when, a couple of years ago, I saw that she was signing books at the Edinburgh Book Festival on a day that I happened to be there, you’d have thought I’d jump at the opportunity to meet her and get a book signed. And, I almost did, I swear… but I chickened out. It felt too weird for a 20-odd year old to be standing in line alongside a bunch of kids to get a book signed by a children’s author.

And then I forever felt bad about not having met Theresa Breslin when I had the chance. I was even lamenting about it to one of my work colleagues less than a month ago.

But then, earlier this month, I was in Edinburgh for a Bachtrack review, and I had time to burn. So my best friend Calum and I went to the book festival, where Theresa Breslin, coincidentally, was signing books again. Would you hate me if I told you I almost chickened out a second time? I am, undoubtedly, my own worst enemy.

But I didn’t chicken out, because Calum was there and he convinced me to go through with it. I was still a little nervous, but I bought a copy of Spy for the Queen of Scots and waited in a fairly short line.

And, unsurprisingly, Theresa Breslin was super nice. She asked whether I’d been at the talk that she and Holly Webb had given earlier that day… which I hadn’t. I managed to babble something about just having seen she was signing books and that I’d really liked her when I was wee. I didn’t say that she was still one of my favourite authors and that the last time I read one of her books was this year. That would have been weird.

Spy For the Queen of Scots - dedicated page2 (3)
Look at the pretty title page!

The meeting was a blur. She signed and dedicated the book to me, and then it was over. I was in a slight state of shock for about fifteen minutes after the signing and I kept asking Calum whether it had gone okay and checking I hadn’t made a fool of myself. I think it’s the most fan-girly I’ve ever been in my entire life. (Oh my gosh, what would happen if I, in some weird turn of unlikely events, were to meet Julie Andrews?! Would I faint? Or cry? Or cry and then faint?!)

All things considered, although I was nervous, it could have gone a lot worse. And now I have a book signed by Theresa Breslin, which I am extremely ecstatic about! I’ve even wrapped the book in some laminate casing to keep it nice. And it was an awesome extra add-on to a fun day out with my friend and then a not-so-fun dance show in the evening. And two out of three ain’t bad – I count that as a really good day!