Becky says things about … the first day of Uni

Wondrous Listeners, many 18 year-olds are about to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives: University.

(Well, the second biggest adventure – the biggest adventure is the epic trip to Wilkinson to buy more kitchen supplies than they will ever use, 90% of which will spend the entire first year under their beds, never touched by human hands).

So what happens on the first day of this epic adventure?

I shall tell you a story.

My first day of University was on the 21st of September 2003.

[Pause while I consider the dreadful fact that this was 12 years ago.]

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I arrived at the concrete jungle that is the University of East Anglia with my parents and my younger sister. I went to the Student Union (what the hell was a Student Union?) to collect the keys to my room, trying to swallow the fear of being surrounded by more 18 year-olds than I thought existed in this world (where did they come from?). The girl who handed me my key said ‘Oh, you’re in Waveney Terrace. I was in Waveney Terrace in my first year. You’ll have a wicked time! Just don’t be put off my appearances.’

My mother almost drove me home there and then.

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The girl was not wrong. I later heard a rumour that the design of Waveney Terrace had been inspired by that of a Swedish Prison, and there were definite incarceration-like qualities about it: a great, snaking concrete building that ran from blocks A to Q, each block with four floors. I was in N Block. A long corridor, seven rooms on each side, one kitchen with a McDonalds-style plastic table bolted to the floor, and a ‘bathroom’ with three toilet cubicles and one shower.

One shower.

For 14 teenagers of various genders and hygiene standards.

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My room was a tiny breeze-blocked cell with a single bed barely big enough for Billy Bear and Huggy Bear (yes of course they came with me). My family and I stoically unpacked my things, my ears pricking at any sound of approaching fellow students. After a couple of hours, my family said they had to go.

I waved them off, watching their car trundle across the muddy car park.

I went back to my cell and stood in the middle of my few possessions. What did you feel, Becky? I hear you cry. Was it excitement? Freedom? No. What did I feel? I’ll tell you.

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I then undertook the single most incredible feat of bravery that I have, to this day, ever performed: I swallowed the burning urge to burst into tears and hide under my bed, legged it up the corridor and exploded into the kitchen where two people were sitting awkwardly at the table, and yelled

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[Extracted from Chapter 3 of ‘How to Break Ice’, by Prof. Becky Mayhew]

And so it began. One by one more quivering teenagers skulked into the kitchen, each eyeing the others with the fearful stare of a rabbit about to be ploughed over by a Ferrari, and I realised something wonderful: everyone was shitting themselves. Probably the greatest realisation of my young life. It made it so much easier. (Note to any impending Freshers reading this post: always remember, you are only as scared as the Fresher next to you, and he is cacking his pants.)

Conversation happened quickly. Judgements were made almost instantaneously (100% of them turned out to be wrong, obvs). Soon there were about ten of us bundled into the kitchen, and so I learnt another important nugget: on your first day of University you spend a lot of time yelling place and subject names at people, and it works remarkably well.

 

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After we’d all exhausted ourselves by yelling our home towns at each other, someone uttered the words that would become the most frequently used phrase next to ‘Whose eaten my Admiral Pie?’: ‘Shall we go to the uni bar?’

And off we trundled, clinging to each other like King Penguins, to the heaving Uni bar which was full of other clinging groups of King Penguins who were – hallelujah! – all shitting themselves. And there, over insanely cheap drinks (99 pence for a gin and tonic. I know. Take a moment to digest that) more barriers were broken down, common interests were discovered, and I bonded with Mel and Emma in the toilets when my bra strap snapped.

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And then, a couple of hours later, someone said ‘Hey, I’ve got some cheese – fancy going back to halls?’ And we must be the only Freshers in the history of Fresherdom who went back to halls at half past nine on the first day of Uni for cups of tea and a cheeseboard.

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Then came the dread: it was suddenly half one in the morning, I was exhausted from being so inhumanely sociable for so long, and I wanted to go to bed. But no one else had gone to bed. I couldn’t be the first one to go to bed! I would forever be remembered as The One Who Left the Party Early. I knew how crucial this first day was, how important first impressions would be. Fortunately, the urge to snuggle up in my Aspirin packet-sized bed outweighed the fear of being labelled lame, so I bade them goodnight, claimed that I’d been up since five that morning (a heinous lie, but needs must), and scuttled off to my room. And, even more fortunately, about half an hour later, I heard them all do the same.

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So there are several morals to this story, which you may like to share with anyone who will be starting University in the next few weeks:

  1. Congregate in the kitchen. The kitchen is the centre of your world on your first day.
  2. Don’t let your parents hang around. The longer they hang around, the less time you will have to yell your home town and subject at your new friends.
  3. Even if you want to crumble into a sandy heap of terror, run up to the nearest housemate and bellow your name in their face.
  4. Never forget that everyone else’s pants are equally as soiled as yours.
  5. Bring a cheeseboard.

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Becky says things about … writer’s block

My dearest, loyal listeners. I have abandoned you. I have shunned, rejected, deserted you.

You see, listeners, the unthinkable has happened: I can’t think of anything to say.

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Yes, I have been struck by the writer’s worst nightmare: the dreaded Writer’s Block.

Initially my desertion of this blog was due to my focussing on writing my novel, which was going spiffingly: I’ve bumped the bastard thing up by 40,000 words since January. But then the writing slowed to the pace of a drunk arthritic slug, and then the ideas shrivelled away like a drunk arthritic slug that’s fallen into a puddle of salt.

So instead I thought I’d focus on my blog.

But then I realised I had no ideas for that, either.

The chamber of ideas was sadly lacking.

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There is no writer on earth who hasn’t succumbed to writer’s block. It is, to employ a phrase commonly used to describe the experience, a right old bollocks. It makes you feel incapacitated, because you can’t do what you know you’re supposed to be doing. Imagine if footballers suddenly couldn’t remember how to football, or singers stepped on stage and didn’t know why they were there?

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You feel like you have to start all over again. You have to rediscover your skills, which have crumbled to a pile of rubble, and lug out the most tremendous energy to retrain yourself to do what you hope you can still do. Writing suddenly becomes the most hopeless pursuit in the world. The pressure to get back into it grows to an impossible weight. Picture this: Christopher Wren starts building St Paul’s Cathedral. Everything’s going swimmingly, he’s at the top of his game, it’s a feat of architectural magnificence rarely seen… and then he gets builder’s block. He can’t go on. He runs out of ideas, his motivation dies a terrible, humiliating death, and he really doesn’t know what to do.

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Is writer’s block borne from external distractions? Does it have anything to do with the fact I subscribed to Netflix a few months ago? Maybe. Instead of writing I have binge-watched the entire three seasons of House of Cards, without once, I might add, having a clue what was going on.

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Instead of writing I’ve gone to the pub. Instead of writing I’ve painted my nails. Instead of writing I’ve searched for unobtainable properties on Rightmove.com, I’ve fiddled with my phone, with my laptop, I’ve googled ‘eye make-up tips for blue eyes’ and ‘documentaries about natural disasters’, I’ve trawled through Buzzfeed’s backlist of articles about cats. I’ve done literally anything to avoid thinking about the fact that I can’t think of anything.

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And as if the actual experience of writer’s block wasn’t irritating enough, the remedy is even worse: writers say that the only way to get over writer’s block is to write.

That’s like telling someone with no legs that the only way to get some legs is to walk to the leg shop.

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But I do feel a little better for just writing this blog, despite the fact that even these few words have been a struggle. Getting these words out has been like dredging a pond full of scummy water (which is a phrase I use in my novel. See, I’m recycling my own words because I can’t think of any new ones. I’ve stooped lower than whale shit (which is also a phrase I use in my novel. I’m doomed)).

So, hopefully, if I keep dredging the pond, I’ll get to the nice, verdant, mossy bottom, and that mossy bottom will, hopefully, produce ideas and words which will flourish into a veritable oasis of creativity and joy and if I haven’t drowned in the puddle of my own analogies by that time, I will, hopefully, be able to do some ruddy writing.

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Becky says things about … kids’ books

Before I commence, faithful Listener, Stickman has something to say to you.

 

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Oh great, thanks a lot, Sticky. Now can you say that other thing please? And do it properly.

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Why do you have to be so difficult about everything?

Anyway, moving on.

I recently gave my friend’s daughter the first Where’s Wally? book for her fourth birthday. She ruddy loved it. Within minutes she was hunched over the glossy pages and musing ‘Where’s Wally on this page?’ (She was soon firmly telling me that she knew exactly where Wally was on every page, because it was ‘in her brain’. I’m sure Stephen Hawking started with an equally momentous educational training.)

I am very much hoping that Where’s Wally? becomes one of little Lily’s favourite childhood books; which has led me to consider my own favourite childhood books, and would you believe it, there’s a list of them RIGHT HERE!

 

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George’s Marvellous Medicine 

 Roald Dahl

 

Fortunately, this book did not make me want to murder my own grandmother, but it did, however, lead me to make a series of glorious concoctions in the bath, while I was in it, using everything from Dad’s shaving foam, bubble bath, toothpaste, soap, talcum powder, and, on one unfortunate occasion, bleach. Oh yes, I became the Evil Genius of the Bath, swilling around in a murky cocktail of my own satanic invention – until Mum came in and told me to get the hell out and clean it the hell up.

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Tom’s Midnight Garden

 Philippa Pearce

 

A young boy, bored in a 1950s converted mansion house, wakes up on the strike of 13, and ventures out of the back door to find, not a dusty yard with bikes and bins, but a beautiful, verdant Victorian garden and a cast of Victorian characters who have somehow entered his dreams. I would wake at approximately 11pm, creep through the kitchen to the back door, unlock it, and stand irately on our patio opposite the rabbit hutch. What the book didn’t teach me about believing in the power of  my own dreams, it taught me in disappointment.

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The book3Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 C.S Lewis

 

See Tom’s Midnight Garden, except replace the kitchen door with my wardrobe, and a foot-stomping, baffled frustration at finding not a snow-draped forest and a friendly family of beavers, but a heap of my old school projects on Vikings and the box of Christmas decorations.

 

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Would You Rather 

John Burningham 

 

Decision-making is one of the most crucial skills a child can learn. Life is crammed with bone-crushingly significant decisions that we are forced to make, so what better way to be trained in this art than considering whether you would rather have breakfast on a river or supper in a castle, or whether you would rather your house be surrounded by jungle, water or fog? In addition, the choices we made in this book may well have given our parents some crucial insight into our developing characters.

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Where’s Wally?

  Martin Handford

 

(Yes, my American chums, this is your Waldo. Let’s not get into that old debate. It is upsetting for us Brits.) I spent many happy hours hunting for Wally as a child, and the books also taught me the first hint of that important adult concept of putting off duties.

 

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The Famous Five

Enid Blyton

 

These books taught me despair. Reading about a bunch of kids my age being let loose on clifftops and in forests and caves, solving mysteries, catching bad guys and generally having a jolly spiffing time, and knowing that I would never in my entire life have as much fun as they were having, was a pretty hard pill to swallow; not to mention the picnics that Aunt Fanny (snigger) would chuck at them to ensure they had sufficient nutrition for fighting evil. Would I have liked to sit on a grassy knoll with my best chums and eat tinned pineapple, ham rolls, hard boils egg and barley sugars? Yes. Yes I would. book9

 

 

 

 

 

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The Railway Children

E. Nesbit

Yes, the 1970 film adaptation taught me that it is possible to cry so much at the end of a film that several major organs are at real risk of collapsing, but the book made me want, more than anything, to own a red flannel petticoat. Okay, it also made me desperate to live in a stone cottage in the country and muck about on railway tracks, but I really wanted a red flannel petticoat. Red flannel petticoats, as well as being stonkingly cool, save lives. 

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So tell me, Listener! What was your favourite childhood book?

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Becky says things about … hobbies

As, splendid Listener, I have just turned 30, WHICH WE SHALL QUICKLY GLOSS OVER WITH THE SPEED AND STEALTH OF A RABBIT TRAINED IN NINJA SKILLS, I feel I should mark the beginning of a decade by taking up a new hobby.

I’ve never been very good at hobbies. I have always admired and/or detested those folk who answer a ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ question with ‘Oh, I’m going rally car racing then I’m foraging for fossilised mountain goat horns. It’s my hobby, you know.’ That sounds so impressive.

Back in the day when you had to put your hobbies on your CV (or resume for my American buddies), I had to reel off sad banalities like ‘going to the cinema’ or ‘reading’ or ‘socialising’; I was never able to write ‘alpine belly sliding’ or ‘taxidermy’, which was a shame.

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I tried photography for a bit in my teens, which was pleasant, but once I’d filled an entire photo album with slightly blurred pictures of sunsets and close-ups of flowers, there wasn’t much else to do apart from occasionally look at them and wish I knew what an aperture was.

I once played badminton two Tuesdays in a row, so that was nearly a hobby.

As a very small child, I collected stamps with one of those magazine subscription offers that try to get kids interested in wholesome pastimes instead of plummeting into a life of drug abuse and prostitution. I got a stamp book, some tweezers and a magnifying glass (which I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with, as I could see the stamps perfectly well using my normal eyes), and I quite enjoyed myself; but then I saw my friend’s rock and precious stone collection from National Geographic magazine, and my stamps became a vicious symbol of my inability to judge the excitement levels of a hobby.

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Then I thought I’d take up ice skating. My aunt took me on my first trip to an ice rink, and I, filled with confidence at the simplicity of figure skating because I had watched Torvil and Dean in the 1994 Winter Olympics, decided I would take it up as a hobby and become brilliant and move to Switzerland and compete in skating tournaments. Then I put on a pair of ice skates, spent 15 minutes clutching for dear life onto the side of the rink, and quietly crossed off this diabolical recreation and cursed my physical ineptitude.

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I am currently sitting in front of a list of hobbies on Wikipedia, so let’s see if I can draw some inspiration for my new hobby.

Electronics. Well, I turned on the bathroom light earlier, then about four minutes later I turned it off again, and I’m currently using electrical gadgetry to use my laptop and cook my cod fillet – hell, I’m already doing electronics as a hobby and I didn’t even realise it!

Jigsaw puzzles. Now, I love a jigsaw. My Funnybones puzzle gave me many hours of pleasure as a child. But surely you can’t do a jigsaw puzzle every night. I’m certain that after a while it would affect your day-to-day life.

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World-building. According to Wikipedia, world-building is ‘the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe’. If that is the case, then I spent most of my childhood engaged in this hobby every time I opened my BIG RED BOX OF LEGO DREAMS.

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Hula-hooping. I cause enough damage to objects and people around me when I’m standing still, let alone when I’ve got a giant wheel of death spinning round my torso at 3,000 miles an hour.

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Wood-carving. I do not have the urge to see a particular object represented in wood. More to the point, I can’t peel a carrot without slicing off five layers of skin, so hacking away at a block of oak means certain amputation.

Soap-making. I buy soap in the shops. They sell it in shops.

Archery. Listen, unless you are Robin Hood, or at least live in Nottingham and regularly get into scrapes with the local Sheriff, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a bow and arrow.

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LARPing (live action role playing). I think I’m already doing this hobby: I quite often pretend I’m being chased so that I’ll walk faster and thus get home quicker. Also, when I’m listening to music, I almost always pretend I’m in a film (the genre of which depends on the type of music, it goes without saying). So, one hobby I can tick off the list!

Rock-balancing. Rock balancing. It’s an actual thing. And I’ve just spent nine minutes looking at pictures of it on Google images. It’s like an extreme yet almost meditative outdoor Jenga. I like the sound of it. I’m going to take it up right now. In the absence of any rocks in my bedroom, I’m going to balance my favourite mug on top of a lipstick on top of a glass of Merlot on top of a picture of my grandmother.

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It’s a stupid hobby and I don’t want to do it anymore.

Well, maybe I won’t take up a new hobby. Oh no wait… people watching! That’s a hobby? You mean all the hours I’ve spent staring at strangers and silently making up personalities and histories for them and eavesdropping on their private conversations, is actually a hobby??? Hurrah! I’ll just keep doing that, then. I wonder if I’ve still got that magnifying glass from my stamp collecting days…

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Becky says things about … January

Well good day to you my most excellent Listeners! I trust you are in fine fettle and full of the joys and hopes of a shining, sparkling New Year?

Of course you’re not.

It’s January.

The laws of Physics, Biology, Cosmology and other sciencey things dictate that it is virtually impossible to feel anything other than thoroughly depressed in January. It is a terrible month. We plough through December, eating and drinking everything in sight, relying on the fact that on January 1st we shall be injected with a pure elixir of energy, health and enthusiasm for life.

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The reality is quite different.

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Oh, Listener, you have no idea the effort it is taking to drag my lethargic fingers across these keys. Would I rather be binge-watching anything on Netflix with a plate of cheese resting on my stomach? Of course I would. Because that’s what I spent December doing. But January is here now, and January says NO to everything we did in December. December is the really fun yet irresponsible babysitter who lets us eat all the chocolate and watch unsuitable films, but is now passing us back to our stern January parents who are entirely disapproving of the whole thing.

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In the midst of the grey funk of January, we are expected to reinvent ourselves. We are expected to hoist ourselves out of the gluttonous December coma and be inconceivably motivated. I tried to do this, Listener. On Monday I went to the gym. For the first time in about 347 years. Everyone in the gym could be moved into one of three categories:

1) Those who were doing a sterling job of starting their New Year’s health and fitness routine, who had clearly spent the weekend online ordering vitamin powders and home exercise equipment, and who were sprinting, cycling, lifting, pushing, squatting, and sit-upping with the fearsome determination of movie soldiers running in slow motion through a forest in heavy rain to catch the enemy who had just shot their best buddy Herb against a dramatic soundtrack.

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2) Those who desperately wanted to be in the first category, but who couldn’t quite muster the same level of enthusiasm because they were weeping internally for the loss of justified over-indulgence and the ability to consume an entire wheel of truffle brie without challenge. These folks were slumped wretchedly over the rowing machines and staring at themselves in the mirror whilst mourning their lost happiness.

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3) Those for whom January is just another month of incessant smug fitness and energy, and who were watching the New Year’s Resolutions clutter up their gym with a tedious annual predictability, and who were waiting for us to get the hell off the treadmill and stuff our pathetic faces with the pizza we so tragically desired.

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And the weather will not assuage our torment. In December, we can handle the perpetual greyness because it is lit up with a flurry of twinkling lights and the prospect of endless evenings face down in sausagemeat stuffing against a backdrop of numbing festive television. In January, the greyness is just grey. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. No hope. No joy. Nothing.

Just grey.

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We are overweight. We are dehydrated. We are unfit. We have played with our Christmas presents and had to explain ourselves to the family member who spied their gift to us on eBay. We have received the credit card bill. We try to sleep after an evening of peppermint tea and miso salmon, but lie awake inside a body that screams ‘What is this shit? Give me a full-bodied Merlot and a turkey crown this instant!’ We are oh, so aware of the running shoes that have lain unopened in their box since Christmas morning, and which are now pulsing like Kryptonite at the back of the wardrobe where we have pitifully tried to hide them and forget that they exist.

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Oh, Listeners. I wish I could end your seasonal suffering. I wish I could tell you a sprightly jape or provide some words of comfort to pluck you from your January doom.

But I cannot.

January has us in its clutches. January lies like the cold forgotten sausage at the back of your fridge. Hopeless. Useless. An unbearable disappointment.

My only advice to you is: cook some more sausages.

 

AND NOW FOR A SHAMELESS PLUG…

If you’d like something to cheer up your January, why not buy a copy of my book ‘This Ridiculous Life’? Click ‘Buy This Ridiculous Life’ at the top of the page and hey presto! January is immediately better! 

 

 

 

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Becky says things about … THE BOOK IS HERE!

Darlings, it’s here!

This Ridiculous Life, the book I have penned and self-published myself, which is a fabulously spruced-up and revamped collection of some of the things I’ve said on this blog – as well as some lovely NEW things – is back from the printers!! Look:

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Click on ‘Buy This Ridiculous Life’ right up at the top of this page, and buy This Ridiculous Life.

Look, Stickman’s been standing out in the cold for ages – at least make his endeavours worthwhile.

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Thank you, dear Listeners. Thank you.

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Becky says things about … publishing a book

Oh, sweet, patient Listeners. I have not entered the hallowed sphere of blogging for over two months.

But I have an excellent excuse.

No, I have not been trapped in my wardrobe after burrowing too far into it in an attempt to locate Narnia – I have been SELF-PUBLISHING A BOOK.

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Yes, dearest Listeners, I have been working on adapting some of the things I’ve said on this blog into a book, along with quite a lot of lovely new things to say especially for said book. It’s a book about the silliness of human existence: everything from monstrous things about working in an office, commuting, failed exercise attempts, bad habits, hangovers, to being a rubbish woman, the dentist and getting old.

The book is at the printers as we speak. I have just had to re-do my front cover, having realised – o, the horror – that

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Once the cover has been cleansed of this heinous rogue typeface, it shall be printed. I should have it early next week.

Here is a sneak preview of the front cover:

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Look! Lots of little stickmen on the front of a book!

Soooo…. this totally means that you can BUY this book JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!! How utterly brilliant is that?

You will be able to buy the book on here (once I work out how to set up a payment thing whatsit), and what a brilliant Christmas present! Buy it and shove it in someone’s Christmas stocking – OR treat yourself to the best toilet book you’ll ever buy.

I wrote this book because of you lot – you kept telling me I should turn my blog into a book, and now I’ve only gone and done it… so basically, it’s all your fault. Hurrah!

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Oh for God’s sake.

Yes, okay – sigh – Listeners, this book also features the star of the show, Stickman, using his best acting skills to get himself into all sorts of situations and illustrate my points far better than I could ever do using words alone. He has been an integral part of this project, and if he hadn’t been heavily involved I would be a miserable, wretched failure. He is literally the most prolific stick ever to be involved in a literary work of art, and I urge you to purchase this book for his stunning performance alone.

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Well I’ve done all right so far, Sticky.

So that’s it folks, watch this space… save a bit of cash for that last Christmas present (or the first Christmas present if, like me, you thought it was still April and literally cannot believe that OH MY GOD IT’S DECEMBER AND MY LIFE IS TRICKLING AWAY BEFORE MY VERY EYES) – and buy a silly little book full of words about our silly little life.

 

 

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