The Time an Egg Exploded

Before we begin, I feel I should clarify a few things:

  1. I consider myself a person of average intelligence, with perhaps a small deficit in common sense.
  2. I would argue that my boyfriend (Stef) is of similar intelligence, with a few extra points in his favour on the common sense scale.
  3. I studied Home Economics for three years and nowhere was it mentioned that eggs have the capacity to destroy entire villages with their explosive properties.

OK, let’s go.

It was a standard weekday morning for us. I was slumped on the sofa, coffee in hand, trying to motivate myself to stop watching the BBC news story I’d seen eight times over the past hour and get ready for work; Stef was fannying about in the kitchen attempting to come up with something quick and easy to shove in a Tupperware box for lunch.

He decided he wanted eggs.

Now, he won’t mind me saying this (I’d go so far as to say he’s proud of the fact), but over the past few years Stef has managed to teach himself to cook almost anything in a microwave. Rice, vegetables, cous cous, you name it. And we’re talking fresh foods here, not boil-in-the-bag, solely-intended-for-the-microwave items. So it came as no surprise that he had decided that now, 7:45am on a school day, was the perfect time to turn his attention to the next stage of the nuking experiment – level 7: boiled eggs.

I have to share responsibility for what happened next. He asked for my advice and I gave it. I was a key player in the traumatic events that followed. Our conversation went like this:

Stef: How long do you reckon I should microwave an egg for?
Me: What, boiled? In water?
Stef: Yeah. In a plastic tub.
Me: I don’t know. When we boil them on the hob it’s like… seven minutes? But the water takes about five minutes to start boiling beforehand.
Stef: So twelve minutes?
Me: Yeah. Twelve minutes. *goes back to slurping coffee and watching Carol read the weather again*

So, you see, it was my fault too. I could go further, and say it was the fault of my teachers, every adult who’s ever taught me anything, egg farmers and uninformative labels on cartons. But the truth is, I have easy access to Google and there was no excuse.

I don’t recall much of the twelve minutes between our conversation and ‘the big event’. I think there was a guide dog segment on the news and I shed a few tears, but that’s about it. The next thing I remember, there was a humungous, earth-shattering BANG in the kitchen.

I jumped to my feet (which, trust me, takes a lot at that time in the morning) as Stef emerged from the kitchen, covered head-to-toe in brown chunks, his mouth hanging open. He couldn’t form a sentence, such was his state of shock. ‘What the- the- what the fuck?’

It was around this moment that I noticed two things. Firstly, his glasses were covered in tiny pieces of shell. Secondly, the smell. Sweet baby Jesus, my insides are contracting just remembering it. An intense and sulphurous smack in the face – like burnt hair and farts.

I entered the kitchen. It was everywhere. The ceiling, the walls, the spice rack, even dangling from the blind cord. I retched, and then started laughing harder than I’ve ever laughed in my life.

‘What happened? What happened?’ I just kept shrieking. I honestly couldn’t stop. He was just standing there, palms up, covered in egg.

‘I was peeling it. As soon as I broke the membrane it just… it exploded.’ He was not yet finding this funny.

I was bent double by this point. The gravity of the situation, and the cleaning it was going to require, had not yet hit me. An egg had exploded and it was hilarious. After about five minutes I managed to calm down enough to tend to the minor burns all over Stef’s arms. He was fine, but the kitchen was not.

After we had cleaned up and Stef had taken his traumatised self off to work, I headed to my own office and regaled everyone with the story of the incident (and the video footage of the aftermath). The responses were not what I anticipated.

‘You can’t microwave an egg!’
‘Everyone knows whole eggs explode in the microwave.’
‘How did neither of you know this?’

It was a good question. How did the entire world seem to know the hidden capabilities of such an ordinary and innocent food staple? How we passed a quarter of a century on this earth without this information coming to light?

Google provided further proof of our ignorance. Apparently, one man had managed to sue a restaurant after he was severely maimed when biting into a microwaved hard-boiled egg. I reflected that if Stef hadn’t been wearing his glasses, he could have been blinded.

Thankfully, there are no serious injuries in my story. We diced with death the day we decided to shun the hob. We played a dangerous game. We were the lucky ones.

I’ll be sticking to scrambled in future.

Granny Hobbies

Recently I’ve been noticing a shift in the way people relax and have fun. It’s not a monumental sea change, but there’s an undercurrent of long-overlooked hobbies trying to push their way to the surface – and nobody’s trying to stop them. In fact, we’re embracing the old and shunning the new more and more every day.

But why?

I’m talking about granny pastimes. Cross stitch, knitting, brewing our own beer, arranging our own flowers. In a world where we can have anything we want, exactly as we want it, right now, why are we suddenly pumping more money and effort into doing it ourselves?

Let me put this in perspective for you. A knitted scarf from H&M costs around £10. A good set of knitting needles and enough wool to make the oversized, long scarves of today’s catwalks costs around £8. Considering the time, patience and YouTube tutorials needed to get from beginner to knitwear pro, it’s obviously not about the money.

We’re paying to go and pick strawberries in the summer (even though Tesco has a 2 for 1 offer on), we’re melting beeswax we bought from a vegan produce site and moulding our own candles. Pottery classes are popping up all over every city, despite Wilko’s extensive range of bowls and vases.

Is it social conscience? Maybe. There’s now a heightened awareness around where things come from compared to a few decades ago. We can no longer ignore that our clothes are made by children in sweatshops, that our broccoli travels half way across the globe and puts Farmer John from Somerset out of business.

But are we really that moral? Even those of us who ditched plastic in January turned a blind eye when we needed cream cheese for a dinner party recipe right at the last minute. When it comes down to it, the majority of us will choose convenience over conscience, as long as it doesn’t have too big of an impact.

Another possible explanation for the rise in kitsch-y DIY hobbies is, of course, social media. The days of parading objects and material possessions to your followers are still very much alive, but there’s a general tilt towards doing rather than having. It’s as if we’re becoming wise to the facade of ‘owning expensive item = happiness’. We now need to see the happiness, see the joy on Laura’s face as she runs through the vegetable patch, picking her halloween pumpkin, hand-in-hand with her equally ecstatic boyfriend. I see Laura doing that and suddenly, I’m not having fun! These Nike slides don’t up my status unless I can prove that I’m a whimsical and interesting person, too!

Of course this doesn’t quite explain why I spent my entire Saturday cross-stitching the words ‘DON’T BE A DICK’ onto a small piece of aida (if you follow me on Twitter, there’s proof on my cover photo). I did that because I wanted something that made in my house. I can’t paint or draw or make furniture, so I followed an easy, step-by-step process that gave me something tangible and home-made at the end of it.

The other reason I tried my hand at cross-stitching (and perhaps one of the more plausible explanations for why so many of us are creating things we can buy) was that I wanted something to do other than sitting on my phone and watching TV in my spare time. We’re all glued to our screens for a significant chunk of the day, and users of these relatively new technologies have long been seen as ‘cool’ and on-trend. But it’s not quite so cool anymore to be watching TV all night, or sitting on your phone whilst you’re at a party. We’re starting to get itchy, to envy those bygone days of our grandparents where hobbies were manual or intellectual. The rise of mindfulness has pushed us towards engaging with single-focus tasks, being in the moment and feeling calm. Again, of course, all of this is perpetrated by what we’re seeing on our Instagram feeds.

Increased engagement with non-technological activities is, in my opinion, no bad thing. The chance to slow down, take note and engage with my environment is something I relish, and would certainly do more of if I could just put down my bloody phone.

Do you partake in any ‘granny hobbies’? What are your motivations?

Let me know in the comments.

Mary x




Unless you’re a complete cynic, you probably have at least one element of superstitiousness in your day-to-day life. Not walking under ladders, encouraging birds to shit on your head so you’ll get that promotion, or hiding in your room for days because a black cat trotted in front of you on your way to the supermarket. Whatever it is, I bet you’ve got at least one.

In such a well-informed and increasingly science-driven society, how are we still engaging in these superstitious rituals? Most of us don’t go to church any more, and neither do our families, but our parents have passed down the cold, hard fact that if someone sneezes you must say ‘bless you’, lest the person’s soul leave their body forever. And if that person accidentally thanks you for blessing their sudden ejection of phlegm? Well, everyone knows that somewhere, somehow, a fairy is going to die.

Many things tell us that superstitions are illogical; they’re unfounded beliefs in our ability to control the universe and ward off bad vibes at the utterance of a word or the movement of a hand. Not least in the way of proving their ridiculousness is how vastly superstitions vary so greatly across countries and cultures. What people do in China varies from what people do in France, and as far as I’m aware, there’s the same distribution of good and bad luck in both countries. Drawing on my own experience, and on a country not too far in location or lifestyle from my own, I can tell you that Italians do things very differently to us Brits.

My boyfriend moved to England three years ago, and whilst I didn’t believe myself to be an overly superstitious individual, the non-British perspective really shone some light on how often I do engage in good-luck/no-bad-luck activities. He will come home from the shoe shop and recoil in terror as I launch myself across the room, screaming at him to take his new boots off the table. When we talk about something awful happening, I will say ‘touch wood’, and he will say ‘touch iron’. He mostly fares better in these situations – it’s easier to find a cast iron pole in the city centre than it is a flourishing silver birch.

When I’m alone on the bus, or in the street, and I find myself passing a lone magpie, I will scratch my eyebrow excessively. ‘He’ll know I’m saluting, won’t he?’ I think. ‘He’ll know I can’t do a full-on salute in public and will now fly home to his family and tell them to bring me good luck for the day.’ How weird is that? I work in science, I’m a rational human being, and there I am giving secretive undercover messages to a bird as it eats vomit from the gutter.

When we grow up, we believe our superstitions are the same as everybody else’s. I was shocked when I went to high school and discovered that nobody else puts the toilet lid down after every use in case all their money gets flushed away into the sewage system (I didn’t even have any money at 12 years old, but again – logic does not apply). I couldn’t believe that nobody else ran around the playground chasing those floating balls of fluff that roam through summer, so they could catch them and blow them away with a wish to send back to the elves and fairies.

We also stop engaging in certain superstitions as we grow older. Maybe we forget one day, and nothing terrible happens, or we realise that life would be a hell of a lot easier if we could just put our umbrella up before we left the house, and take the risk. I used to jump over every crack in the pavement, but time constraints and the overwhelming desire not to look like a complete twat in public have shaken that behaviour straight out of me. I step on fractured paving stones every single day and, so far, my mother has not fallen down the stairs and broken her back (touch wood).

Human beings are obsessed with control. We control our finances, our careers, our home lives, our eating schedules, our routes to work. What we can’t control are the things that happen to us. Nothing you can do will stop that plane from falling from the sky, or the fast-growing cancer in your best friend’s kidney, or that fire starting in your nan’s house thirty miles away. But the ease-of-use of superstitious behaviours, the nothing-to-lose gamble of them, means that somehow it makes sense to chuck the salt over your left shoulder if you spill it, rather than submitting to the minuscule chance that not doing so would result in plague and ruin.

Thirteen has always been my lucky number, and I consider myself to have had my fair share of both good and bad in life. Yet I still salute the magpie, because if I didn’t, and something terrible happened, the illogical part of my brain would tell me it was my fault. I say ‘safe journey’ to everyone I love as they leave the house, because if I didn’t, and they were involved in an accident, it would be my fault. Reason screams that it wouldn’t be, of course it wouldn’t, but at least I know I’ve made an attempt at exerting my future-changing powers. In a world where we control far less than we are led to believe, it comforts to know what we have tried.



My Agent-Finding Journey

Before I started querying agents, I read up on everything anyone had ever written on the subject. Stories from successful authors, articles written by agents themselves and blog posts from writers who’d just landed their dream representative.

It was addictive.

But it was also really, really inconsistent.

Nobody’s journey seemed to be the same! No one out there could say to me, ‘OK, Mary, here’s what will happen: you’ll send out queries, and exactly two weeks later you will hear back from every single agent and at least one of those responses will be positive.’

Why was nobody saying that? Why wasn’t there a clear-cut protocol? So frustrating, especially when you come from a science background and the majority of your life follows an a, b, c format.

I figured out pretty early on that the querying game is unique to every writer. We can read up on what to say, how to pitch, which details are best included in a synopsis – but what happens after we hit ‘send’? That’s anybody’s guess. It’s like a really unpredictable lottery – everyone will get something, but there’s no telling what or when.

For that reason, I made a vow that if and when I bagged an agent, I would write down exactly what happened to me, just to add some more data for those obsessive checkers of other people’s experiences like myself.

So here we go.

I started writing my novel in August 2017. In the beginning I was full-steam ahead, but as the months went on I started to doubt myself and my pace slowed drastically. I’d go months without writing a word, and the less I wrote, the more I questioned why I was even bothering. What was the point? It wasn’t going to go anywhere anyway, was it?

In September of this year, I was sat in the pub with my boyfriend one Friday night. He asked about my novel, and pushed me on why I hadn’t started querying. I hadn’t even finished the bloody thing, so naturally I freaked out and he had to buy me a pint to calm me down. It hit me that I’d been putting off finishing the book so I could put off the rejection I was sure was going to come with it. I told him exactly this. He laughed, bought me another pint, and said:

’14th October. That’s when you’re going to query.’

Four weeks away.

‘OK.’ I said, the alcohol loosening my inhibitions, and for the next four weeks I wrote more than I had done in the previous six months combined. With four chapters left to write, I crafted a synopsis, wrote a query letter and researched every agent in the country. On 14th October, I nervously queried 12 agents, with an unfinished manuscript sitting in my iCloud. I created a spreadsheet of every agent I’d reached out to, and set up a colour-coded key for when their responses came through (procrastination, you say? Never!).

I reasoned that the majority of people wait months to hear back. I’d have time to finish the book whilst I waited, wouldn’t I?

Ah, Mary. Didn’t you just say that reading all those author experiences taught you that nobody’s journey is the same?

The very next day, I had my first rejection. It stung bad. I cried a bit, and started searching for jobs abroad. Over the next ten days, I had three more rejections. They were coming in so quickly! This surely meant the whole thing was rubbish and I should never write again.

So I didn’t. I closed the laptop like a toddler in a tantrum and did other things instead. I considered taking a TEFL course, toyed with the idea of a trip around Asia and begged my boyfriend to let me get a puppy. Anything to take my mind off what a failure I was.

I’d waited ten days. Ten days and I was ready to give up. That’s how much those rejections knocked my spirit. Even though not one person I’d read about had had an offer that quickly anyway.

Twelve days after I’d sent my query letter out, I went to the cinema to watch Bohemian Rhapsody (great film by the way, highly recommend). When it ended, I stood outside waiting for my friend and checked my phone.

An email from one of the literary agencies.

knew it was going to be a rejection. I just knew it.

I read through the compliments, the praise of my book, waiting patiently for the ‘however…’ ‘in this current climate…’ ‘unfortunately…’

It never came.

It was a request for a full manuscript.

I just about died. Mainly because I didn’t have a full manuscript, and there was no way I was keeping this agent waiting. If she wanted to read my work, I was not going to let my own self-consciousness stand in her way.

I ran home, cried a bit, screamed a bit, and then wrote all night. I finished the book in three hours. I read it over and sent it off first thing the next morning, certain that my lack of preparation and ridiculous quitter’s attitude had ruined it all for me.

An agonising week went by. My thumb hurt from unlocking my phone so much, and every time Krispy Kreme sent me an email I promised I’d never eat another doughnut again.

And then she came back to me.

She wanted to represent me.

I’ll tell you this right now – there is no greater feeling. To have a professional read your work – the work you have shown to only two other human beings on the planet – and say, ‘I love this so much, I’m going to make you one of the tiny percentage of hopefuls who make it onto my client list’ is the most validating, incredible feeling in the world.

My immediate reaction was to reply screaming ‘yes, yes, yes, please have me, nobody else seems to want me’. But that wouldn’t have been very chill of me, and fortunately I had the more rational voice of my boyfriend to tell me I needed to think. Plus, she wanted to chat and make sure we were a good fit for each other first. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I needed to make sure this was right for me, too.

We arranged to speak the following week, and the agonising wait was only made more torturous by another agent’s email – she wanted the full manuscript too. I sent it off, my head spinning, and she came back the same day.

Offering representation.

This was too much for my insecure brain to comprehend. I almost felt upset – this was turning a joyous moment into a big decision, a decision that had the potential to affect my entire career.

But even with one offer, it was a big decision. I read everywhere that you shouldn’t accept an agent just because they’re the only person who wants to represent you. You have to do your homework. And I was in a very fortunate position – I’d have killed to have just one full manuscript request, never mind two offers.

I spoke to both agents. I told them both that I had received an offer elsewhere. They were both lovely, which made it even harder. How easy it would have been if one of them had been a real nasty piece of work. But they weren’t. They were great.

Personality assessment wasn’t going to illuminate the right choice for me. I had to put the book first. We discussed their editorial comments and I thought hard about who’s vision for the novel aligned most well with my own. Things were suddenly a lot clearer – they both had very different ideas – and my decision was made.

It’s been nearly a month since I signed that elusive, golden contract. I informed every other agent I’d queried that I had been offered representation, and let them know again when I’d signed.

The rejections are still coming through.

If I had put together all the data from my obsessive researching, and raked through it with a fine-toothed comb, I still wouldn’t have found a story like mine. It’s not better or worse than anyone else’s – and it certainly isn’t finished – but it’s individual to me, just like every manuscript is individual to its creator.

Your path to signing with an agent will take a different form to mine. And to hers, and his, and theirs. It won’t happen as you expect – you might be rejected by fifty agents, or one, or none – but keep the faith. Don’t let those rebuttals get you down. Agents are busy, your work is completely unique, and all it needs to do is land in that person’s inbox at that perfect time. 

KEEP ON WRITING. It’s what you love and it’s what you’re good at. Never doubt yourself. You’re smashing it and you deserve your own self-belief.

Good luck!