I bought the first ingredients for my Christmas Eve meal last night.

I know it’s still more than five weeks until the big day, but I’ve had my six courses planned for about that amount of time already, so I thought I’d make a start.

Not only will it spread out the cost, I’ll also reduce the time I have to spend in mad ‘two days until Christmas’ supermarkets.

And of course, as you already know Dear Reader, there’s little I love more than planning.

Cooking a fancy meal for my family has been on my List from the beginning of this blog, and although my family has been sadly reduced in size since then (see post 12, Love), I’m no less excited about the event.

In fact, it’s proving to be a great distraction from the seemingly endless filling out of mortgage forms and conversations with solicitors.

So, would you like to know what I’m planning on cooking? I advise that you don’t read this if you’re hungry because, if I do say so myself, it’s going to be one heck of a spread.

  • Starter: home-made blinis with sour cream and caviar (served with champagne cocktails)
  • Fish course: red salmon mousse with melba toast (served with white wine)
  • Sorbet: flavour to be decided, to freshen the palette (pretentious? Maybe, but this is my meal and I’ll be pretentious if I want to)
  • Meat course: beef (or venison, haven’t quite decided) Stroganoff with sour cream mash and a medley of green veg (served with red wine)
  • Dessert: a trio of individual desserts – champagne jelly, After Eight chocolate mousse and a red berry smoothie
  • Cheese: the stinkiest stilton I can find (served with port)

You like? My mum and my sister certainly seem to be excited, although to be fair they’re easily pleased.

Personally, I’m beyond excited, hence the need to buy food now – forget budgeting and avoiding crowded shops, I just can’t wait to get started.

Only 37 days to go!

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There was a day when a morning of shopping followed by an afternoon on the sofa watching a DVD, finished off with a Chinese take away and a bottle of wine, would have been something close to perfection.

Equally, doing chores – particularly cleaning – would have been a form of slow torture, combining both the ick factor and a sizable dose of boring.

But something is changing. I’m changing. Because while I had lots of fun this weekend, it was on Sunday evening, as my mum – who was visiting for the weekend – and I got stuck into a variety of ‘wouldn’t get round to this unless my mum was here to help’ chores, that I had most fun.

Don’t get me wrong: the rest of the weekend was great too. We indulged in a bit of retail therapy, and slobbed in our comfy clothes, compared the relative merits of Matthew McConnaughy’s sexy adventurer (Sahara) vs James McAvoy’s passionate Austenian lover (Becoming Jane).

But I seem to have mislaid my inner slob, and can no longer really enjoy relaxing until I feel I’ve earned it.

Sunday was different, at least from about 5pm. That’s when my mum, who had in true mothering style brought a variety of cleaning materials with her, decided that it was time to both de-ice my freezer, and clean my carpets.

I really wasn’t feeling the love for the idea, but I knew she wouldn’t let it go until I agreed, so I got to work unloading the frozen batches of home made soup and ready-to-make-a-pie blackberries into a cool bag.

Three hours later, we were beaming with satisfaction. The carpet was clean. The freezer was clean. My boots were polished and the dishes were done.

And we’d genuinely – surprisingly – had a lot of fun.

There’s something about working side-by-side with someone, toiling towards a common goal, which is really enjoyable.

We chatted the whole time about everything under the sun, and even added a glass of wine to the mix near the end.

By the time we sat down to dinner and another film (more Matthew McConnaughy as sexy adventurer in Fools Gold), I felt like I deserved it. And enjoyed it all the more for that fact.

It seemed like a really good idea a couple of months back when we put the date in the diary.

My friend Heather would drive up to Bristol, we’d load the bikes in the car, drive to Temple Meads and hop on the cycle path that would take us all the way to Bath.

We could even, I thought naively, have lunch and then cycle back. It would be a fun day out.

My enthusiasm, however, decreased in proportion to the number of days left before the proposed trip was to take place.

By Friday – admittedly tired after a long week which included a late night out with a colleague and a fair amount of pink bubbly – I was ready to call it off.

Only the permanence of pen on paper in my diary held me back. I’d hate to have to scratch through the words ‘cycling with Heather’, an admission of failure.

When Saturday dawned, miraculously bright and sunny, reluctance had been replaced by something close to fear.

What if the day was a disaster? What if I got half a mile into the 15 mile trip and was already exhausted? What if I got a puncture? Or if we got lost?

Ridiculous, I know, but my inner ‘glass half full’ merchant tends to get very vocal when I’m about to do something I’ve never done before.

Still, Heather was already half way to my place by then, and the bike – borrowed from another kind friend – was wedged in the back of my car. There was no backing out now.

I was glad, when she arrived, to find that I wasn’t the only one having second thoughts.

Luckily, our joint determination to do what we’d set out to do was greater than any reluctance to appear in public in jogging bottoms and risk helmet hair.

After a quick cup of coffee and a catch up, we set off. And of course, as is so often the way, we had a fantastic time.

The weather was glorious, the path easy to find and to navigate, the scenery beautiful, and even a minor accident resulting in skinned knees wasn’t enough to wipe the smiles off our faces.

Though I was relieved, when we reached Bath, to find that Heather totally agreed with my determination to do the return journey by train, I nonetheless had a sense of elation that we’d reached our goal.

We celebrated with a slap up lunch and a much needed pint, before heading back to Bristol, saddle sore but glowing with achievement.

It would have been far too easy to give up before we’d started, but I’m so glad we didn’t.

Not only have I ticked another point off my list of things to do before I turn 30, but I’ve learned two things.

First, that if you’re not sure you can reach your goal, your best bet is to call a friend to help.

And second, that Nike had the right idea when they came up with their famous slogan: just do it.

“You should have blogged about London Fashion Week the day you got back.” That’s the thought that’s been bothering me for the last week and a half.

And it’s a valid one, to a point. I mean, it would have been more current, my thoughts would have been fresher, than they will be when I finally get to it (probably next week, fashion fans).

But I’ve been busy. Really busy. That first day back I was up at stupid o’clock to get the train from Paddington to Cardiff and write up everything I needed to do for the paper, and didn’t get home until gone 9pm.

Since then it’s been non stop – dinners with old friends and trips to the theatre and even a minibreak to Austria to see the family at my one and only cousin’s wedding.

What with all of that and no small amount of work to do too, fitting in what is essentially a hobby, hasn’t been easy. But I still feel bad.

I don’t know why I beat myself up about these things though. After all, I have a strict “no shoulds” policy in my life.

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and the conclusion I have come to is that there are only two reasons why anyone should do something: because they want to, or because it will help another person.

As a Christian, I would add “because God said so” but even in this there is an element of choice – I choose to follow and obey God because I want to, because I love him and I want to go to heaven and live with him for eternity. That’s called free will.

So, my philosophy remains in tact: the only reasons for doing anything are because you want to, or because it will benefit someone else.

Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper. For example, say we’re talking about the gym. Now you may not want to go to the gym, but you do want to be toned and slim, and the gym is a means to getting that. So, indirectly, you go because you want to. Not because you should.

I personally don’t care about being toned, and therefore I don’t exercise. Why should I?

Well, you may say, being obese puts pressure on the NHS, so you owe it to your fellow man to be healthy and go to the gym.

Which is where part two comes in: doing things for the benefit of others. (I feel the need to point out here that I am not obese, and that should I ever find my lack of exercise becomes a burden on society I will immediately get my sweats on).

So many of us are weighed down by the concept of “should”, and live under a permanent cloud of guilt, or a sense of being inadequate.

“I should read better books.”

“I should understand foreign politics.”

“I should stop watching so much TV.”

These may all be very valid suggestions, but ask yourself this: will it help anyone? And if not, do I really want to do it?

If the answer is no to both of these, you have my permission to dismiss the nagging voice of “should”, and get on with enjoying life; doing the things that make you and others happy.

I’m not usually a ‘launch party’ kind of a girl, preferring for the most part to curl up on my sofa and watch reruns of Agatha Christie’s Poirot rather than find an appropriately ‘funky without trying too hard’ outfit and make small talk with people who know a lot more than me about just about everything.

This week, however, there was a particular launch of a particular magazine that I sort of had to attend. I’d been asked, you see, by one of the contributors, a designer whose work I admire and who has been kind enough to invite me to her debut exhibition at London Fashion Week.

So, despite the call of a long bath followed by an evening spent in PJs in front of the telly, I slipped on my new sequin pumps (they’re very on trend, don’t you know) and headed for the ‘do’.

It was, at first, just as awful as I’d expected it to be, and not just because my pumps proved to be blister inducing.

The first person I talked to – other than the woman on the door who took my name and the man at the bat who poured me an orange juice – was a photographer who spent several minutes monologuing about people I have never heard of, in a manner that suggested they were household names on a par with Jeremy Clarkson and Paris Hilton.

Come to think of it, this guy might not have known who those two were.

Anyway, the evening soon picked up and though I didn’t necessarily understand everything about it – there was a period of what I assume was ‘sound art’ but which, frankly, could have been feedback in a microphone – I had a thoroughly good time.

More than that, I was inspired. I don’t mean that I suddenly developed a great need to lock myself in a room and write experimental prose on the nature of existence. But the sheer fact that I experienced something outside of my usual routine made me think and feel and react differently to how I usually do.

My day-to-day life is, like that of so many people, a cycle of work, sleep, eat, play, do it all again, which is poison to creativity. Creativity needs challenge, and change, and courage. Convenient that, them all beginning with a ‘c’.

So yesterday – at lunchtime, I hasten to add, lest anyone think I was slacking off the day job – I wrote a poem. Or at least, a bit of poetic prose. I’m not really sure what to call it.

It’s less than 400 words long and it’s definitely not a short story. But I like it. And I like that I wrote it. That I felt inspired to write, and then did it.

I hope you won’t mind, but I’ve copied it below so that you can read it. You don’t have to like it, or think it’s any good but do have a read. You never know, it might inspire you.

“I just had a nap in a sunbeam. I didn’t plan it; the idea crept up on me, slowly, and slipped a friendly arm around my shoulder. Come, it said, you’re tired. And I was tired. Sitting at my desk, with the sun streaming in through the window. September sun, the best kind, like a late guest at a party bringing an unexpected case of champagne. The rays were warm on my shoulder, and my head was full of lazy, sleepy thoughts, thick as treacle. Have a nap, that was one of the thoughts. There now, it said, put your head down. I tried to fight it in a half hearted sort of a way. No, no napping. I have to work. But it’s lunchtime, my summer friend murmured in my ear. I heaved my eyelids up and gazed, dazed, at the clock. I was lunchtime alright. Past lunchtime actually – 1.30pm. I usually stop at half twelve. So really I could have a nap. And the sun was so warm and my head so floaty and cottony and heavy and dull. My eyelids were at half-mast already and my breathing slow, like a tantric yogi, steady and even. I slipped from my chair and puddled onto the floor, feeling the scratchy soft carpet beneath my hand, my cheek. Warm, from the sun. I sprawled, stretched, fell still. Like a corpse – if it were Tuesday the window cleaner would probably have called the police. Unless he’d stopped to look, and saw the gentle rise and fall of my chest. And then, rolling onto my back to savour the sun on my belly, like a well fed cat, I stretched again and wondered if I had already slept. The light dazzled through the window onto my face, my eyes painting pink and purple shadows. I dared to open one, just a sliver of sight between lashes, and marvelled at the tropical sky outside my suburban English window. Hot, rich blue. A sparkling, glistening sun. If only there were more time to sleep. But I have to work. It’s 2pm already. I must have napped after all. In a sunbeam on my floor.”

Ah, fame at last. Well sort of.

A fellow journalist and blogger, Marty Drury, has been writing an excellent blog since March last year, in which he decided to learn as many languages as he could in one year.

Crazy? Possibly, but definitely my kind of challenge.

Anyway, one of the other things that he does on his blog is interview all sorts of other people, and today Yours Truly is the subject of Marty Meets (accompanied by an enormous photograph, which rather scared me when I logged on, I must say).

Answering the interview questions forced me to stop and think about this year I’m living through, and whether I’m actually getting anywhere with my goals.

And I was quite heartened to find I’m not doing too badly. Especially given the fact that my marriage broke down three months in, which would have been a pretty good reason for giving up.

I’ve ticked off five of the original 14 goals, plus another two if you reword them slightly (I knitted a baby jumper, rather than a jumper for myself – but hey, it’s a start right?).

And I’ve got another two already planned – the big meal I’m cooking for my whole family will occur on Christmas Eve, and I’ve got a friend to agree to do the bike ride from Bristol to Bath with me before the summer’s out.

I’ve also added to the list. For example, I’ve always wanted to go to London Fashion Week, but sort of forgot about it when I was actually doing the compiling of the goals.

Well, the train ticket and the hotel are both booked, and I’m off for a long weekend of catwalks and cocktails at the end of September. I can’t wait.

I’ve still got a decent amount of time in which to get through everything but what I’ve realised, looking back over the last six months or so, is that it’s not actually about the goals any more.

For me it’s become about changing my character from ‘dreamer’ to ‘doer’, taking charge of my life and living it for all it’s worth.

Who knows, I might be hit by a bus tomorrow, and never finish this project. But at least I will have tried.

And as some famous person once said, it’s not about the destination but the journey.

Do not despise the day of the small things. That’s what Zechariah says anyway, and he’s got a point.

Some of my goals, the ones I’m trying to reach by the time I turn 30 in February next year, are big enough to make sense to other people – getting published in a national newspaper or magazine, for example.

They require effort and skill and perseverance, not to mention a measure of luck.

But there are other things on there which you’d think would be pretty easy to achieve, and therefore wondered why I’d felt the need to put them on the list in the first place.

Making a pie in my Pampered Chef pie dish is one such thing. Yet for some reason it’s taken me around three years to actually get off my backside and do it. Go figure.

I have though, finally, achieved said goal. To great success, judging by the look on my friends’ faces as they first saw and then began tucking into their meal.

Before I share the secrets of my success, I must first thank Jamie Oliver for the basic recipe, my sister for her improvement tips, her friend – widely regarded among her peers as the best pie maker in London – for proving that these tips work, and my mum for on the spot consultancy and reassurance.

And now, here’s the recipe, with my notes in case you’re keen to follow exactly what I did rather than what Mr Oliver recommends.

Jamie Oliver’s Turkey and Leek Pie (I used chicken)

Ingredients

* 2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped (I used bacon lardons because they didn’t have smoked streaky at the shop, and anyway, lardons are pre-chopped)
* 1/2 bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked (hold the sprig at the tip and slide your thumb and forefinger down to pop the leaves off more quickly)
* Olive oil
* Large knob of butter
* 2kg leeks (I used 1.5kg and it was plenty) white ends chopped into chunks, green ends finely sliced
* Salt and pepper
* 800g cooked turkey (unless it’s just after Christmas and you have left over, I’d say use chicken)
* The meat of 3 sausages, suqeezed out of the sausage skins and rolled into roughly 18 balls (this is my sister’s friend’s addition, and a very good one)
* 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
* 2 pints chicken / turkey / veg stock (normally recipes ask for too much stock, but as you make the gravy out of the juices, put the whole lot in)
* 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
* 1 x 500g packet of puff pastry
* 12 jarred / vacuum pack chestnuts, roasted and peeled (I totally didn’t have the time or energy for this bit)
* 2 sprigs fresh sage, leaves picked (didn’t use this either)
* 1 egg, beaten

Method

* Preheat oven to 190C
* Fry bacon (lardons), thyme leaves, a slug of olive oil and the knob of butter in a really, really large pot (seriously, look at your pile of chopped leeks and you’ll understand)
* Add leeks and fry for a further 3min, stirring often (don’t worry, they clearly won’t all touch the base all the time, but the next stage helps cook them properly)
* Add a pinch of salt and pepper, put the lid over and simmer for 30min, stirring every 5-10min
* Add the chicken, then stir, the flour, stir again (well), the stock, stir again, the creme fraiche, stir again, and finally, gently, the balls of sausage meat
* Bring to the boil, check seasoning, then drain off the gravy by straining the mix over another pan and leaving to drip while you sort the pastry
* At this point, Jamie’s recipe says to fiddle about with rolling chestnuts and sage leaves into the pastry. However, I’d already been working on the darn pie for about 2 hours, and decided to skip it.
* Instead, having drained the chicken and leek mix, spoon as much as you can into a pie dish (I had to put the last 1/6 into another ‘made for one’ pie dish, as there was too much), then unroll the pastry and make the pie lid (the pastry wasn’t wide enough for the dish, but I used strips from the second sheet and improvised a cut and paste job and it came out just fine)
* NB: I think it’s very important to make that cute three leaf pattern shape in the middle of your pie, so be sure to cut them out of your left over pastry – trust me, your guests will love it
* Finally brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg (a tiny splash of milk in there will help thin it) and put in the over for 40 minutes, or until golden brown on top
* Serve with the gravy that you drained from the chicken and leek mix, and a bunch of healthy veg (I used carrots and brocolli)

So there you are, a yummy pie that will serve at least six people. And another thing ticked off my list. Fantastic.

It’s not easy to get excited about anything at 5am, but when my alarm went off on Saturday morning, I felt a bubble of it rise in my chest.

For the last four years. I’ve been promising myself that I would get up and see the 6am lift off of the balloons at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, but every year something gets in the way – usually my own apathy.

This year however, with the deadline of my 30th birthday looming – not to mention you, Dear Reader, who I wouldn’t wish to let down – I finally achieved my goal.

It was dark when my phone alarm chided me into action, and as I stumbled around the kitchen making a more-necessary-than-ever cup of coffee, I admit I wondered whether anything could be worth leaving the confines of my warm bed at such an hour.

But 20 minutes later, as I set out for Ashton Court with the newly risen sun shining through my car window, I once again felt that bubble of excitement.

It helped that my mum was sat beside me. Though I’ve had plenty of incredible moments by myself, many of them on solo adventures in places like Kenya and Japan, there’s something about sharing excitement which makes it grow.

And luckily my mum is easily excited, a quality which I reckon goes a long way to explaining the fact that she comes across as much younger than her 61 years.

I’ve always thought their was something childlike about my mum – note I said childlike and not childish – and as we parked the car and made our way to the launch field, I realised that it’s because she simply doesn’t do cynical.

“Ooh, this is so exciting!” she squeaked, linking her arm through mine. Her face was lit up by a big, beaming smile, despite the obvious tiredness around her eyes. The idea of moaning about the early start would never even cross her mind.

It took some time for the balloons to be filled and then, gradually, one by one, to begin taking off. But it was so worth it. Worth the lack of sleep, worth the £8 car park fee, worth the cold feet and the missed breakfast.

At one point I counted 60 balloons in the sky, but later found out it was nearer to 80 – dozens of brightly-coloured inverted teardrops shining against a flawless blue sky. It was breathtaking.

Unfortunately, in my sleep deprived state, I forgot my camera, but thankfully today’s technological advances mean that my phone’s camera served just as well and I caught enough to stir my memory (not to mention convince my sister to forgo her lie-in next year).

My favourite photograph though, is not of balloons, but of my mum. To me, it captures everything that is beautiful about her, as she stood awestruck in the early morning sunshine, her face turned to the sky, an expression delight making it glow.

Not only is it a great portrait, but it reminded me that, though my current life deadline is just six months away now, if all goes well I’ll have several more decades after that to fill with a life well lived.

I just hope I can do it with as much genuine excitement as my mum.

A friend of mine posted a list on her blog the other day, containing the 10 books that had most inspired her over the course of her life.

It made for very interesting reading, not least because it gave me a deeper insight into her heart and mind, and I’ve no doubt I’ll seek out one or two of them next time I’m at the library.

At the end of her post, she encouraged her readers to share their most inspiring books, but as there’s not enough space in the comment box for a wordy person like me, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to the subject.

So here are, in no particular order, 10 books that have inspired me in love, life and writing:

1. The Bible: No, don’t groan, this isn’t some Christian cliché, like naming your husband / wife as one of five things you’d want if you were stranded on a desert island. Even before I became a Christian, more than nine years ago, I recognised the bible’s massive wisdom – just think of how many proverbs are lifted straight out of it, not to mention laws. Since then, I have not only found it to be an inspiration, but a challenge, a comfort, a guide, and many more things besides.

2. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King: Not only is this a fascinating journey into the mind of, in my opinion, one of the greatest living writers, it also gave me one vitally inspiring insight. In a nutshell it is this: there are four types of writer – terrible, ok, good, and genius. You cannot go from terrible to ok, or from good to genius, but you can go from ok to good. I’ve always held onto that concept.

3. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman: There are plenty of books on relationships in the world, but this is the one which had the most profound influence on me, fundamentally shifting the way I perceive love. It suggests that each of us gives and receives love in different ways – through acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, or physical touch – and that if you’re speaking a different language to your partner, you’re bound to encounter problems. There’s now a series of these books, with titles for parents and children, and for friends as well.

4. Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie: Of the 80 or so novels the Queen of Crime wrote, there are probably only half a dozen I haven’t read. Since I first discovered Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence, I have been hooked on English country house crime fiction. If I could even write one book of this kind, I would be able to retire, happy that I’d reached the peak of my writing career.

5. What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey: When I first read this, I was going through a crisis. As a new Christian, I totally accepted that Jesus had paid for my past sins on the cross. However, becoming a Christian didn’t make me perfect, and I was plagued by new sins which, I thought, Jesus couldn’t possibly forgive, because after all I hadn’t done them in ignorance. This book didn’t condone my sin, but it did help me to see that God’s grace is all sufficient.

6. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding and I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill: I’ve listed these two together as one item, because I read them together at school as part of my GCSE English Lit class. One of our assignments was to compare and contrast the two, and by doing this I began to understand the importance of things like imagery, pace and characterisation, all of which are vital to a writer.

7. Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden: Not only is this a thoroughly beautiful and moving book, it took my passion for all things Japanese and fanned it into a deep desire to go to Japan, which I have since done twice, once for almost a year. It also focused that passion onto the subject of geisha, which later became the topic for my dissertation at university. Without that book I may never have got to see the annual spring dances in Kyoto, take part in the tea ceremony at a traditional hanami party, or drink beer with a maiko (trainee geisha) in a tiny bar in Gion.

8. Stupid White Men by Michael Moore: Michael Moore was probably the single biggest individual influence on my political awareness and activity during my late teens and early 20s, other than Kate Allen, head of Amnesty International UK. This book, along with his film Bowling For Columbine, reached me in a powerful way and prompted me to get involved with groups like Amnesty and People & Planet, go to numerous protests, and spend hour after hour writing letters asking for prisoners to be freed and laws to be changed.

9. If by Rudyard Kipling: Ok, so it isn’t a book, but it’s part of a book and one which I have always found incredibly inspiring. I’m not generally a poetry person, I don’t particularly understand it so I’m limited to dividing it into three simple categories: like, don’t like and indifferent. This well known poem is a definite ‘like’, not only because it has such a pleasing rhythm but because, every time I hear it, I find it genuinely encouraging, particularly in difficult times.

10. The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis: If you ever need help resisting the devil, dip into this book. A series of letters from a senior to a junior demon, it cleverly highlights all the ways in which the enemy trips us up, and the unconscious – and sometimes conscious – ways in which we make the path to righteousness that much harder for ourselves. Not only is the book easy to apply, it stirs the spirit to stand firm – after all, we don’t want Screwtape and his ilk to make fools of us, do we?

So there it is. Not a very intellectual list, but it’s mine nonetheless.

Of course, books can only be inspirational to a point, and I couldn’t finish this post without giving a nod to all the people who have influenced me over the years.

My mum, for example, and my sister, my junior school art teacher and my high school biology teacher, and numerous friends, colleagues and even perfect strangers.

And let me not forget the friend whose post inspired me to write this one, a friend whose talent and imagination and creativity have spurred me to write my whole life. Thanks mate.

I’ve just had the best weekend. On Friday I went to the Miss Wales ball with a good friend and got to wear a posh frock and eat marshmallows from a chocolate fountain.

On Saturday an old school mate came over and we talked for hours and watched a DVD (Wild Hogs, comedy genius) and giggled at old photographs.

Sunday morning’s church meeting was excellent, and was followed by lunch at the pub and then another DVD (the uber romantic Phantom of the Opera) as we left our stomachs to the challenging job of digesting a huge meal plus pudding (sticky toffee and pear, with ice cream).

But perhaps the best bit – or rather the bit that surprised me most by being so thoroughly enjoyable – was the daytime part of Saturday in which I simply pottered.

After getting up at 10:30 (a treat in itself, seeing as how I’ve been sleeping so badly recently) I realised that I had at least eight hours in which I had absolutely nothing planned.

Being one of those people who usually fills every spare slot in her diary as soon as it opens up, I don’t often get whole days to myself. Or if I do, they’re ear-marked for a variety of chores.

However, because my school friend had been due to come earlier in the day, but had realised last minute she couldn’t come until the evening, I suddenly had the rare gift of time for me.

And so I pottered.

I put a load of washing on and watched an episode of CSI from the new box set I treated myself to last week after spotting it going for a song on eBay (another first for me, since I’ve never used the site).

I went to the craft store for supplies and then finished a hand made card I’ve been designing for a friend’s wedding anniversary, and I bought the yarn for two more Christmas presents, one of which I’ve now started and is – if I do say so myself – looking fabulous.

And I went to the supermarket where I bought, among other things, sugar, milk, butter and vanilla essence: the ingredients needed to make fudge.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous about making my first batch, as I’d read all sorts of warnings on the internet while I’d been looking for a recipe.

You need to get the mixture to a particular temperature, one person wrote, which is absolutely impossible without a sugar thermometer. Another stressed that if you didn’t whisk it for exactly the right amount of time you’d end up with toffee instead of fudge.

But it turns out that, other than taking its toll on your arm muscles as you stir for a total of 25 minutes solid, it’s really easy. And really effective, as my fudge-loving friends confirmed when I took a sample round for them to test.

So now I’ve got a new skill in my cooking / baking / creating arsenal, and another great gift option for Christmas. Plus, of course, it’s something to add to that ever-growing list of things I’ve done in my 20s.