The One Where Sophie Is Fine

OK so I didn’t think leaving the security of a job after working full time for the best part of thirty years was going to be such a Big Deal.

I was like this when I jumped out of a plane. As we climbed to 10,000 feet with the wisecracking crew trying to wind us up, I didn’t feel frightened at all; I just couldn’t think straight. I hoped I was taking in all these vitally important safety instructions. But maybe I wasn’t..?

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Ready for my tandem sky dive and feeling no fear…

Tipping out of the door and freefalling were a thrilling blur of movement, then the chute opened and my tandem partner did a couple of stomach-turning loops, superfluously trying to add to the excitement. That’s when travel sickness set in.

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Freefalling!

The landing was fine – clearly I had taken something in, as I didn’t break any limbs or die. But I felt sick for a couple of days afterwards.

Fast-forward to going freelance. I airily assured everyone that I was fine! Friends fans will recognise the episode when Ross makes a desperate show of not minding Rachel going out with Joey. But I was fine, I wasn’t nervous at all – I just couldn’t think straight.

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Courtesy of http://www.playbuzz.com

Resigning, telling everyone and having leaving parties were all part of the freefalling fun. But actually working at home for the first couple of weeks, cut adrift from every familiar support system, turned out to be a roller-coaster ride of panic.

At the end of week two, the sickness has subsided. I have achieved a lot under my own steam; seen friends and family, walked in the woods in the sunshine, worked and even broken through my writer’s block to write an article and a short story and start on the second novel.

So I’m fine! But I admit it now – it was a big deal.

And if you’re in this for the money-saving tips:

Dirt Cheap But Surprisingly Nice

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Asda have had a tough time lately but we have relied heavily on their Smart Price ranges since we had our last big budget cut, and I promise you, we eat REALLY well on very little. Asda are not sponsoring me (why would they? Only 4 of you are reading this!) but that’s where we do our main shop at the moment. I should add that the prices of their cheapest ranges have gone up (some have doubled), so we are keeping an eye on them.  PLEASE DO COMMENT if you have any hot tips from any other saver ranges/discounters.

There are some things I have bought with a heaviness in my frugal little heart, but then discovered they are completely acceptable. One huge surprise was Smart Price teabags. I thought these would be made from the dust the tea pickers swept off the floor – but they are really tasty and only 50p for 80.

As for the baked beans – it is always handy to have a student adviser, as long as they are not the sort who think cooking is pouring the hot water on a pot noodle.  It was our son, Ben, who told us that these are absolutely fine (and only 23p).

Porridge, if you like it, is a nutritious and warming winter breakfast and if you buy the Smart Price porridge oats, super cheap as well at 75p for a kilo bag.

Chopped tomatoes at 31p  –  these are the staple for hundreds of recipes and proper chefs use them, so why wouldn’t you?  Italians use them, for goodness sake! Their tip is half a teaspoon of sugar to take the acidity out of sauces, but don’t tell the Sugar Police.

And finally – the tin of herring fillets is from Lidl. The mustard and dill is our favourite flavour, but these are great too. Lidl annoyingly don’t quote prices online but from memory these are 89p.

I don’t claim to be an expert – I’m just sharing ideas. Please do share yours! What are your staple cheap ingredients? Can you beat any of the prices above? What are your Dirt Cheap But Surprisingly Nice top tips?

 

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I’m my own boss – but I’m horrible

I decided to set up as freelance in the same week Jon had his 50th birthday party, and so after an 8-hour cooking marathon, a day of party set-up, the 6-hour event itself, a massive clean-up until 1 a.m., a 6 a.m. start to do 3 hours’ washing up and a lunch do with our two families, I launched into my freelance career completely exhausted.

Nevertheless, because I’m me, I expected to be firing on all cylinders and setting up good working practices from day one – Monday. I continued my usual early morning exercise regime and clocked in at work way before most offices open. I set up a new bank account, worked, shopped, cleaned, did a disappointing amount of writing, went for brisk walks, visited friends, saw my parents, attended daytime church events, gave a friend a lift to the doctor’s, posted on two blogs, volunteered for the Food Bank and did my stint at the Winter Shelter for the homeless.

In the midst of all this, I had technical problems that meant I couldn’t download files, and the following day, my email stopped working. I was very disappointed with myself when I reacted with brain-freezing panic. Impatient with this ridiculous behaviour from an employee, I pushed on, got in technical help and fixed the problems.

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My new boss. She’s a cow.

I am my new boss, but I am a horrible. I am highly critical and expect the impossible without making allowances for it being my first week, or for the fact that half the things I have had to do are way out of my comfort zone. My previous boss was much nicer.

As a result of having to work for this tyrant; I have been waking up in the early hours thinking of all the things I haven’t achieved. I have been surfing waves of panic. I have felt like punching the next person who asks what it’s like being a Lady of Leisure.

I need to give myself a break. Otherwise I am going to end up firing myself, walking out or having some kind of internal industrial tribunal. I promise to be nicer to myself next week, and to be less of a headless chicken as an employee.

In the meantime – we had a massive amount of bread left over from the party, and I can’t bear to waste anything, so here are some ideas for using it up.

Tasty Ways to Use Up Stale Bread

Breadcrumbs

To make breadcrumbs, place slices of the stale bread on a baking sheet in the oven (or just on the oven shelf) for five or ten minutes until it goes hard right through. Gas Mark 6 seems to be about right. You can then bash it up in a pestle and mortar; put it in a bag, holding the top closed, and bash it with the end of a rolling pin; or whizz it in a blender until it makes fine crumbs. Keep these in a bag in the freezer and grab a handful whenever you need them – you can use them straight from the freezer.

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Breadcrumbs are really useful if you like to cook from scratch – add a handful of them to your favourite type of mince, plus herbs, seasoning and a squirt of ketchup, and you can form the resulting mixture into burgers or meatballs. The breadcrumbs help the mixture to hold together and give it a better texture than meat alone.

 

You can also drizzle a batch of breadcrumbs with olive oil, rub it in with your fingers (as you would rub fat into flour) and sprinkle it on top of macaroni cheese, fish pie or shepherd’s pie. It makes a crunchy, golden topping.

 

Croutons

This word alone makes me laugh because of the French and Saunders sketch where a neurotic dinner party hostess forgot to serve croutons and went berserk, shouting ‘CROUTONS!!’ until she scared her guests away. So here’s how I make CROUTONS!!!

 

Cut the stale bread into small squares, lay them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. I also had rosemary left over from the famous casserole, so I snipped lots of this over them too.

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Again, bake in the oven at around Gas Mark 6 for 10 minutes or so (keep an eye – I am always burning them). When they are golden and hard, let them cool down and then keep them in a jar or bag in the fridge. They keep for about a month. They are of course good with soup, but they also make a lovely crisp-type snack. I rarely have any left over for soup. You can also freeze them until needed.

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Sophie Kersey Has Left the Building

I did it – I escaped/sky-dived/belly-flopped out of the office and into the freelancing life!

Crazy…

is the only word for the last few days. My final day in the office was also Jon’s 50th birthday, and it also happened to be the day a TV crew came to film a colleague who has written a book about crafting her own wedding!

http://www.searchpress.com/book/9781782211587/my-handmade-wedding

My lovely colleagues were all incredibly kind and produced both a lunch and a tea-time party with Prosecco, cakes, wonderful gifts and a hilarious card covered in pictures of me being a nutter. In the evening at the pub, Jon and I shared breathless stories on the theme of ‘they all made such a fuss of me!’

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Jon’s enormous birthday bash was on Saturday, so when people asked about my first day of freedom, I rather snapped at them that I had spent eight hours cooking a casserole for 120 of Jon’s closest friends and family.

The party when it finally came was completely wonderful and worth every moment of hyperventilating panic I had over the catering. The beef casserole will live on as one of the main achievements of my life – you know the sort of thing: the odds were stacked against me, it took two hours to brown the meat, I felt the fear but did it anyway and ultimately I triumphed. I think I have given away the plot of my next novel.

So how was my first day of freelancing? Well, here is the view from my desk:

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Yes my presence in the house prompted Misty to want her tea all day long and to claw my legs expectantly – something my human colleagues almost never did.

As I began to do things that someone might pay me for, I was gripped by doubt that I could make this work – Indesign looked different at home and I had to fiddle around to get all the bells and whistles I needed. Could I get my head round the projects I had laid down all of four days ago? Could I even spell today?

Well I did manage to get a few hours’ work done, opened a business bank account, went for a walk and arranged a get-together with a friend, which goes some way towards the kind of balance I wanted to have in my life. The only thing I have not managed to do is any writing – which I will be putting right very soon, as otherwise this is all going to be pointless!

As for offering money saving tips, I feel an absolute fraud because in the wake of a tidal wave of kindness from everyone, Jon and I find ourselves in a house stacked high with goodies, so, um – watch you don’t drink all your champagne in one go..?

I give up – but normal frugal service will be resumed when the fuss has died down, the wine has all been consumed and we are left with a depleted bank account and quite possibly liver damage.

I Get Knocked Down

Well I will be giving up my day job this very week, and I had hoped to have some encouraging news to spur me on into my new life as a writer.

Instead, I have had three rejections in as many weeks. Two short stories were turned down by magazines and my novel, Unspeakable Things failed to get longlisted in a competition.

You’d think I’d be downhearted, doubtful and afraid I’m doing the wrong thing. But I have surprised myself.

I have found my Chumbawamba Factor.

Remember Chumawumba’s 1997 hit Tubthumping?:

I get knocked down

But I get up again

You’re never going to keep me down

(Repeat. Then repeat again. You get the picture.)

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Tonbridge Ladies. We got knocked down a lot! (I’m second from right at the back, with child)

This was the theme tune of a women’s football team I once played for that just kept on losing. As we trudged back into position after conceding yet another goal, our player-manager used to yell,

‘Heads up!’

Because in football, if you’re head goes down, you lose focus, and things only get worse.

So as multiple rejections hurled me to the ground this week, I needed to find the mental strength to get up again. I found it in the tennis news.

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Courtesy of Getty Images

When I turned on the radio, Andy Murray and Johanna Konta were both in the Australian Open Semi-finals. Let’s be honest about Andy Murray. In the early days, we all suspected he was never going to make it, didn’t we? When a buzz first surrounded him at Wimbledon, he didn’t even have the fitness he needed to succeed. But he wasn’t going to let that get in the way of his dream. After every setback, he picked himself up and kept going. Crucially, he found the right people to train him, and he was prepared to go anywhere in the world to work with them. Listen to Murray after any match, whether he has won or lost: his trademark is an uncompromising assessment of his performance.

He works out what was good and what was not good enough, and he uses that to move on.

Mental strength

After Johanna Konta beat Zhang Shuai in the quarter-finals, every word out of her mouth was testament to the mental strength that had got her there. Working with a mind coach, Konta had learned not to view every upturn or setback as a life-or-death struggle, but to focus on

‘…where my happiness comes from. Why do I play tennis?’

This sense of perspective had improved her game, helping her towards achieving

‘the dreams of my 11-year-old self’.

Reader, I got up again. I read a blog post in the brilliant womagwriter’s blog http://womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/interview-with-womagwriter-glenda-young.html about a woman who had just had a story published in a magazine, thanks to reading Della Galton’s book How to Write and Sell Short Stories. A few clicks and a dirt-cheap ex-library copy was on its way to me.

I read the one-page report on my novel from the competition and began to digest its positives and negatives. There’s a lot of encouragement there to keep me going, and some advice that I can take on board. I can’t wait to work on Unspeakable Things again; writing-wise this novel is my first love, and nothing I’ve done since means as much.

Like Andy Murray working on his backhand, I need to get the right advice and make my writing better. And like Johanna Konta, I need to remember where my happiness lies – in my case not on a tennis court but at the computer screen, with my first love laid out before me, a story waiting to be written.

And finally – save on rubber gloves!

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In the meantime, for those of you after money-saving tips, there’s plenty of inspiration this week, with extreme couponner Jordan Cox discovering that rather than catching the train from Sheffield to Essex, it can be cheaper to fly via Berlin (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/deals-hunter/2016/01/26/flew-home-via-berlin-cheaper-than-train/).

At the same time ‘Britain’s most frugal pensioner’ hit the headlines, living on £2,400 a year and never spending more than £1 on a meal (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/…/Most-thrifty-pensioner-in-Britain).

I can’t beat either of these two for frugality but I do have one tip for you. If one rubber glove gets a hole in it, throw it away but keep the other one. Next time this happens (and in our house it’s always the right glove that goes), dig out the remaining intact glove (always the left), turn it inside out and use it with the surviving left glove. It looks silly but works just the same.