Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Z is for Zzzzzzzzzz

I am a big fan of sleeping. It is one of my favourite hobbies. Be it the cheeky afternoon nap on a sunny
Sunday or a hibernation-style early night on a chilly November evening, I love my bed and the chance to catch a snooze. My Dad used to call me a dormouse when I was little because I loved snuggling down for a sleep so much!

I'm rather particular about how I like my bed and am on an ongoing campaign to find the perfect pillow, the softest pure cotton bedding and the right tog quilt. I am often ridiculed by David for my insistence that I cannot sleep with the quilt the wrong way around (who wants buttons or press-studs in their face all night?) However, as it is my one domestic foible, he is quite patient and suffers many a midnight disturbance as I re-calibrate the quilt.

After a good night's sleep - crucially
not in a tent...
Not good - trying to have a good
time after a bad night's sleep.
As mentioned before I am not a morning person, but I do find that if I've had a good sleep the night before it is a little more bearable. Much research has gone into the importance of a good nights sleep and there is evidence to suggest that it will make you brighter, less stressed, sexier, more immune to pain and a more effective decision-maker.

I've really enjoyed doing the A-Z Challenge and, although I haven't had the chance to visit as many other participants as I would have liked to, it has been great to stretch my literary legs a little and write something for fun again. I intend to keep up the blog, although it may be more of an occasional post than this month, as I've found it fascinating to reminisce, put my thoughts into words and revisit some people and places again. For now, though, I'm looking forward to some more sleepy-time and with Bank Holiday Monday coming up, maybe an afternoon nap too :0)

Monday, 29 April 2013

Y is for YAY!

I had intended to blog about my beloved county of Yorkshire today for Y, but I've had something of a 'YAY!' day so thought I'd just post quickly about this instead.

We have Ofsted, the schools and college inspectors visiting our college this week. It is a very stressful time and the management have spent all year reminding us of this unpredictable impending doom. It all seems to be going well so far and today I was observed both by my Head of Department and an Ofsted Inspector and I was thrilled, and very relieved, to get a Grade 1 (the highest grade possible). I must say this is due to my students all behaving very well, my colleagues being incredibly supportive and David listening to me talk through my lesson plans incessantly. I am, none the less, super chuffed!

I also had official confirmation through in the post tonight that my grades for my Masters in Post-Compulsory Education and Training have been confirmed by the assessment board. This means I have an MA at Pass with Merit - officially!

To top the day off, my favourite team on University Challenge, from Manchester University just romped home with the trophy in the final! Yay, indeed!

Apologies for the overwhelmingly self-congratulatory nature of this post (and the excessive use of exclamation marks). Normal service will be resumed once I've calmed down and Y is for Yorkshire will appear soon...

Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for XXXL

The ubiquitous chubby cheeks
- still present to this day!
I was always a sturdy child. Despite a vegetarian diet, swimming lessons, gymnastics, ballet lessons and parents with well-meaning rules such as no chocolate except on weekends, I remained a chubby child. I was bullied consistently throughout school and the target of much of the ridicule and criticism was my size, leaving me with major confidence issues regarding my appearance. During my teenage years, it continued to be a problem that haunted those horrifically fragile times - finding clothes that weren't old fashioned or frumpy was hard enough, even without the crippling awareness of your otherness.

In a LadyV London vintage-style frock.
As a young woman, I went through a forgivingly elasticated hippy phase, a decidedly wafty goth period and, during my University years, an unexplainable pierced nose, crimped hair, depressed clown phase. I spent far too many hours, gazing at the clothes available in high-street stores, knowing they were not available in my size but trying to convince myself I could squeeze into them. Like so many big girls, I've often had half a wardrobe full of clothes I'm waiting to be small enough to fit into.

More recently, rather than continuing to pine for clothes that, as well as not fitting me, wouldn't suit me, I have decided to shop for the shape of my body. The internet, in particular, has been the key to finding well-fitting plus-sized clothes that I feel confident and happy in. I take a lot of pleasure in seeking out clothing that will flatter and suit my figure and planning out outfits that suit my taste for 40's and 50's style whilst also fitting my body properly and building my confidence.

In an Evans prom dress
& shrug at a dance.
On Pinterest I've gained 100 followers now for my board Plus-Size Pretties, where I collect some of my favourite pieces when I find them. I find it useful to store these when I spot them as, in many cases, it is hard to sort through the endless tat that some retailers decide will appeal to plus-sized customers.

5 of my favourite plus-sized shops or retailers:

  1. LadyV London - although their range of plus size dresses is limited, they do release new collections regularly and produce amazing frocks for a reasonable price. I've three of their dresses in my wardrobe now - and I've my eye on several others too! 
  2. Evans - the main high-street store to cater for plus-sized customers in the UK, Evans do stock some appealing ranges. I generally love their lingerie, as it really does flatter whilst being wearable. They have also done some special edition ranges with Beth Ditto and Clements Ribeiro both of which helped to push the notion that big girls like unique style too.
    Having a cuddle with my
    young friend, Sadie, in
    a Joe Browns dress.
  3. Joe Browns - the great blend of quirky style, fabulous prints and innovative cuts from this great brand now comes in a full range ofplus sizes and they are producing some beautiful clothes this season. Be still my twitching debit card... I've my eye on this beauty for a summer wedding we have booked!
  4. H&M+ - the plus sized range from H&M is often updated and features some good key pieces each season at a reasonable price. 
  5. Igigi - the American designer whose ranges I am falling in love with, despite the fact that they are very expensive and not available in many outlets in the UK. Love their style, cut and fabrics - maybe one day... 

Friday, 26 April 2013

W is for Who

David and I and the TARDIS
prop at BBC TV Centre.
In 1996, I discovered what became my favourite television programme of all time. I had always enjoyed some sci-fi programmes such as The X-Files and Red Dwarf and I had read some of Iain M Banks sci-fi books, but I wouldn't have classed myself as a sci-fi nerd by any stretch. However, once I was introduced to the world of Doctor Who, I never looked back!

The world of Doctor Who fandom was in a time of post-movie comedown when I discovered it. The TV show had ended in 1989 and the dedicated fan-base had very much kept series alive through books, magazines and conventions in the intervening years. In 1996, a new film had been made, re-igniting the excitement of fans around the world. Those with much more of a long-term involvement with The Doctor and his adventures than me had mixed opinions about the 'new film' but to me it was all part of the tapestry of the story and I loved it.

The concept of time-travel has always fascinated me, and the potential for storytelling that the simple idea of a mysterious chap in a time-travelling spaceship brings seems just endless. Through the television stories, the TV movie, the books, short-stories and audio recordings of stories I've experienced so many different adventures with The Doctor and his companions and I never seem to tire of it.
The 4th Doctor and his companion, Romana, in my
favourite episode of all time - City of Death.

My favourite incarnation of The Doctor is Tom Baker - the wild-eyed, mad uncle figure, who was the 4th actor to play the role on TV. I love the way he can flip between a grinning, sweetie-proffering, sparkle of a man to the darkest and most threatening individual you can imagine. You really can believe he is an alien - a stranger to any time and place, someone who never quite fits his environs. His Doctor is wonderfully anarchic, whilst at the same time suggesting more than ever before that he is a man on the run, with the weight of responsibility and a troubled past about to grab his flapping coat-tails at any point.

David Tennant's 10th incarnation of The Doctor
with companion, Rose Tyler. 
When the series returned in 2005, it was the first time I had been able to watch the show as it was broadcast, which was wonderfully exciting. I loved the 9th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, and was thrilled to see that the team who had worked so hard to bring my favourite show back to our screens, had created something so wonderfully new and different, without trampling all over the things I adored so much about the show already. The arrival of David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, during the second of the new seasons added even more to my enjoyment of the show. I loved his manic, elfish Doctor and seeing his relationship with Rose, his first companion, flourish and then end is one of the most heartbreaking stories I have ever witnessed.

The wonderful Sarah-Jane Smith, is definitely my favourite of the Doctor's companions. She was a
"Have you met Miss. Smith, she's my best friend"
The Doctor
headstrong, independent, intelligent and wiley young woman who was a journalist, with a life of her own outside of her adventures with the Doctor. Unlike some of the other companions paired with our hero, the writing of Sarah-Jane, as well as the amazing performance from Elisabeth Sladen, allowed the audience to see someone that you could truly believe was The Doctor's best friend and equal. Sarah-Jane returned to the series, in 2006, in a very touching re-union with her old friend - this time in his new incarnation, with scenes that cannot fail to make me cry. The wonderful Sarah-Jane also got her own spin-off series The Sarah-Jane Adventures, which endeared my beloved bestie to a whole new generation of children. When Elisabeth Sladen died in 2011, there was an overwhelming response from a public who had felt as I did about her most famous role. She is sadly missed.

I'm not overwhelmingly positive about the most recent incarnation of The Doctor, or some of his more recent adventures in the TARDIS, but I remain fascinated by this ever-changing magical series. A new companion, the wonderfully named Clara Oswin, played by the sparkling Jenna Louise Coleman, has bought a new aspect to the series again very recently and I'm very excited about seeing more of this intriguing character. As ever, the series continues to take us to places and times - in a way that no other show can.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

V is for Vegetarian Cookery

Before I was born, in the mid-seventies, my parents decided to become vegetarians. They were appalled by intensive farming methods and decided to try a new way of living. Although history paints the sixties and seventies as times of, (in the words of Neil from The Young Ones), 'vegetable rights and peace' - this was still something of a novelty at the time.

When I came along in 1979, they decided to raise me as a vegetarian, too. Despite the concerns of my Gran - who was a little worried to hear I was being fed yoghurt, or sour milk as she saw it - they persevered and raised both my brother and I on a vegetarian diet. This was not easy when we were young, in the days before Quorn or Linda McCartney boxed vegetarian meals. We bought strange and exotic products from health food shops, celebrated the discovery of vegetarian restaurants wherever we found them and ate vegetables grown on our own allotment. I remember once, during National Vegetarian Week or something similar, Dad cooked up a range of different veggie meals we used to have at home and brought them in for my friends at Junior School to try. It was really great, actually, seeing their reactions to Dad's cooking - whether it was recognition that it wasn't some alien fare that we ate, but something similar to their own home-cooked meals or joy (or, indeed, displeasure) at a new taste or flavour.

My Asparagus and Leek Quiche - recipe link.
Yes, I know the cliches about vegetarians and quiche.
Yes, I still love its cheesy, eggy goodness.

Often, when I meet lifelong carnivores, they are keen to list all the meat products they couldn't do without if they turned vegetarian. I can relate to this as I am appalling at any kind of diet - as soon as something is off the menu, I want it - badly! I am happy to admit that I find vegetarianism easy because I have always been used to it and, as I've never really eaten meat properly, I don't really know what I'm missing. People go into raptures about bacon and steak and sausages, but, although I've tried these things, I didn't really like them, so I don't feel like I'm being denied anything.

I turned vegan for about 4 years, some time ago, and I took this very seriously, ruling out all animal products from my diet. Whilst I highly respect anyone who maintains this lifestyle, I have to admit that in time I came to realise that I couldn't really find a sustainable ethical argument against eating truly free-range eggs. The same was true of cruelty-free honey and several other substances that I had sworn off simply
My Mushroom and Dolcelatte Salad - recipe link.
because they were a product of a living thing. I still have qualms about the way that milk is produced and I have to admit, this is something I am almost deliberately keeping myself un-informed about, just because the vegan diet did eventually make me feel so exhausted and drained.

Nowadays, I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian and I greatly enjoy experimenting with new flavours and ingredients in my cooking. Whilst I don't always find cooking the relaxing experience some might, I do enjoy greatly creating new recipes, learning and developing new skills and techniques and sharing what  I've made with other people. As my hips will attest, I love my food, and I take great pleasure in sharing and eating meals I've created myself.

I'm an avid Pinterest fan and store recipes and ideas I find all over the internet on my pinboard Nom, Nom, Nom. I have also recently started uploading and sharing my new recipes on Recipefy. I love the opportunities the internet has to explore recipes, ideas and the endless culinary experiences to be had out there. Below is my own recipe for Creamed Spinach Gnocchi which I wrote up to send to a friend, to prove how quick and tasty gnocchi could be. It is, like all my favourite recipes, easy, delicious and quick!

Creamed Spinach Gnocchi

Serves two people.

Total time of prep and cooking - about 12 minutes and it only uses one pan!


  • 1 pack of ready made gnocchi (you can make your own - I've used this recipe but it isn't really worth it in my opinion http://goo.gl/5Y1dY)
  • 1 bag of fresh spinach, chopped and steamed / 1/2 a can of prepared spinach / 12 blocks of frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 tub of mascarpone
  • Splash of single cream / milk
  • 1 tsp of green pesto
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Teaspoon of vegetable bouillon powder
  • Small block of parmesan / gran padano

  1. Put a big pan of water on to boil- you can use this time to defrost frozen spinach if using / grate the cheese etc.
  2. Once water is boiling add the bouillon and once it is dissolved, add the gnocchi
  3. The gnocchi will need about 8 minutes (check the packet!)
  4. Once it is ready (it will float to the top of the pan) you can put it in a colander to sit whilst you whip up the sauce
  5. Put the spinach back into the empty hot pan and back on the stove to boil away the extra liquid (needs attention so it doesn't stick)
  6. Once it is quite 'dry' and sticking together add all the other ingredients and stir whilst it warms up - its better to avoid it boiling.
  7. Tip the gnocchi in to the sauce, stir well and serve with parmesan sprinkled over it!
  8. Scoff the lot!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

U is for Uppity Fabulous

Sharon in full on glamping
mode - Leeds Fest 2010.
When working at a former College, I was asked, by a senior member of staff, to do something that I knew was not only unethical but actually illegal. When I refused, he was not best pleased by my attitude as it caused a little more work for him and, as a result, he referred to me as being 'uppity'. As you can imagine, this caused great hilarity when I heard this. The colleague he had said this to, my best friend, Sharon, decided there and then to re-christen me Uppity, in memory of this colossal example of un-professionalism. A little later, I had one of many unexpected, unrequested, and rather surprising, proposals of marriage, via MySpace - this time from a gentlemen named Gregory Fabulous. On discussion with Sharon we decided that I should snap up this tempting offer immediately - if only as I could then legitimately be called Sarah Fabulous, or, indeed, Uppity Fabulous. The name just stuck.

Relics from our
When I started at the College of unreasonable requests, I had a little office, all of my own, that was at the back of the staff-office for the 3D Design team. I didn't know anyone and was very nervous, but one morning, quite early on, one of the 3D Lecturers introduced herself as Sharon, before turning round to continue what seemed to be a drumming workshop with one of the students. At the time, I thought nothing of it and, in retrospect, it was, perhaps, an odd thing to be doing in a staff office, but I liked her style. A few days later, I got talking to Sharon some more and her sense of humour and cynical approach to the more ridiculous elements of our jobs told me that I had found a kindred spirit.
A shop-bought cake I decorated with sausage rolls
for Sharon's birthday - the lucky girl!

We have had many adventures together and whenever we are, we have so much fun. With a shared love of champagne, frozen After Eights,  button badges, Amy Winehouse and laughing until our faces hurt, nothing beats a night with YouTube up and running and some fizz on ice at, The Lodge, Sharon's apartment. She is still mock-furious with me for abandoning her in Yorkshire and coming down South, but I always look forward so much to my visits back home and a chance to see my girls at The Lodge.

With Eric in Morecambe!
On a particularly memorable trip we went to Morecambe, to see the statue of one of my heroes, Eric Morecambe, have a gander at the newly restored Midland Hotel and get a bit of sea air. We went in November, in freezing fog and we had a ball. It was 'bastard freezing' but we did get all the way through the fog to the cafe at the end of the pier, only to find that we were low on cash and they didn't take card payments. We shared a chip butty and a cup of tea and it was all the more delicious for the adventure of getting there.
With some of the students whilst
probably lost in Gdansk.

In 2009, we took a group of students to Gdansk, in Poland, one
of the student's home town, and proceeded to be given some of the strangest tours of a city I've ever had. Whilst there we went to 'the seaside', Brzezno, and almost froze to death. We got off at the wrong train stop on our way there, to discover that our guide had absolutely no idea where we were and even that didn't dull our excitement. The cakes we discovered were, rather surprisingly, filled with soft cheese and we drank vodka, whilst making friends with local youths, keen to share with us their enthusiasm for all things English - particularly 60's music. We barely stopped laughing the whole time - from trying on the costumes, clearly meant for children, in the museum, to the endless meandering circular tours we took when trying to find anything - we had a fabulous time.

In 2010, we heard that The Libertines, a band Sharon had introduced me to, were going to be reforming to play the Leeds Festival. I booked the tickets as a surprise, as we had not been able to get them when they were first released, and we decided to glamp it up. Although living under canvas was quite a test of our friendship, we did have an amazing time. The sleep-less night-times, the toothpaste explosion in our tent awning and the unexpected squalor of camping were all worth it for the music and the memories.

Sharon's daughters are also very dear to me and it is fascinating to me to see aspects of their Mum's personality, that I love so much, reflected in them. Chelsea still lives at home and is one of my favourite people ever. She has joined us on lots of our adventures, was my dance partner for most of my 30th Birthday Party and enjoys lots of running jokes with me. She is a such a little smasher and her nickname 'Cheeky Chops' really does sum up her mischievous nature!

Dancing with Cheeky Chops at my 30th
birthday - she danced all night! 
We've both had some bad times and we've often relied on each other to get perspective and work through the tough stuff. During some sad times I developed several techniques to get my bestie smiling again, including a solo performance of Beyonce's Single Ladies dance (well, the bits I could remember and not the bits of the floor because I couldn't do them). We also went on lots of impromptu trips out to the seaside, Ikea, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, shopping centres and walks in the countryside. She is always good at backing me up when I'm unsure, pointing out when other people are being unfair to me and making me smile when I'm super grumpy. She is brilliant.

Sadly, Gregory Fabulous never did get back in touch, so I have effectively stolen his name without warrant, but I am proud to be Uppity Fabulous - all the more as I was given it by one of the most brilliant, witty, caring and intelligent people I have ever met.

Sharon 'Fuckity' Fortune - I love you!

Leeds Festival 2010. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

T is for That London

Ever since I was little I've had a fascination with 'that' London. It seemed to be a magical place, to me, at home in the Midlands. It was where all the exciting exhibitions and events that they talked about on Blue Peter happened and where the characters in my favourite book, Ballet Shoes, lived. It was where the wiggly blue river on the EastEnders map was and I knew that the programmes made by Thames Television started with a view of the London skyline reflected in the Thames River.

After being given the chance to choose what I wanted to do for my 13th birthday, I made the rather lavish request to go to That London with my family. I'd definitely been to the big smoke during my younger years, as my parents had tales about me freaking out massively at the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, but my memories are hazy. In the midst of my burgeoning tie-dye phase, I was keen to get to Carnaby Street, which I had heard so much about, and wanted to buy myself a hat - a hat from That London. I remember having a wonderful birthday, staying in a hotel in Victoria, (where they excitingly had a fire alarm in the middle of the
A very bad photo of David on The March
for the Alternative protest we went on, 2011.
night) and I used my birthday money to buy a rather lush black, velvet, floppy-brimmed hat. I'm relieved to say that no photos of me in said hat exist (as far as I know). I'm sure I looked very silly, but I felt AMAZING!

When my rather sullen French penpal came to stay on a French exchange, organised by my school in 1994, my parents once again made plans to take us to London. Depressingly, she was not impressed by Big Ben, London Bridge or Trafalgar Square, but my Dad did agree to accompany her on the one thing she did want to see - Rock Circus, the, now thankfully closed, tourist trap waxwork museum. We didn't get on much and I'm still grateful to my parents for dragging this frankly disinterested and rude teenage girl to so many lovely places whilst attempting to make her stay interesting and engaging. In return, I did have a wonderful time with her friendly and kind family when I returned to Lyon.

"The actual Big Ben!"
Bradford girls out in the big city -
we were all a bit giddy!
When the course I taught on in Bradford won a Beacon Award in 2010, I bought a couple of students down from Bradford for the awards ceremony, and a whistle-stop tour of some of the sights. They were very sweet and for one of them, it was their first visit to the city. We had a great time and I will never forget the exclamation from one of them when we emerged from Westminster tube station - "Bloody hell - it is the actual Big Ben... for real!" It was nice to see such wonder on a, usually, all-too cynical 17 year-old face.  The year after, I bought a whole class of first year learners from the same course down for a four day visit to the capital. It was a highly stressful experience in many ways, as the potential dangers that could befall a group of 18 teenagers in the scary city were massive. In the end, though, they did all enjoy what was, for many, their first taste of London life. One of the most unfortunate truths about the city is the price of everything. This was highlighted by one student who, when asked what he thought of the British Museum, simply rolled his eyes and said with disdain and disbelief "They wanted £1.80 for a bottle of Coke?!.." You can't win them all.

Great graffiti on Curtain Street.
I regularly visited London for my work with the exam board but when I met David I saw new parts of the city and had the opportunity to view it from a different perspective. To see the back routes, shortcuts and alleys, only known to those who have walked a city's streets many times, is always a privilege. It was exciting to go off the main roads and routes and see some of the hidden art, fascinating buildings and surprise gems in the forms of quirky pubs and restaurants in unexpected places. It reminded me once again of what it was about That London that I had been fascinated by all those years ago.

Living as I do now, just 45 minutes away from the centre of the city, I visit remarkably rarely, really. I've recently taken the students from my current
A picnic in St. James' Park with friends in 2011.
college on trips to Central London and the frantic nature of the transport, streets and public spaces was irritating and un-nerving. However, I have also had times on my own, with David and with friends that have been simply marvellous. It is a city that is so many different things, crammed so closely together that it can never fail to be exciting, surprising and vibrant and that is one of the many reasons why I still love it.

5 of my favourite places in London:

1. Russell Square Gardens, for its outdoor cafe, beautiful fountains and wonderful lawns. David and I shared a lovely afternoon sunbathing there on one of my first visits to London to see him and my friend Moira and I had afternoon tea there on her last visit to the city.

2. The Chandos, for its air of excitement on a Saturday evening and the good beer! A real find of a pub, not far from Leicester Square, it serves Sam Smith's beer - a treat from the North, at a reasonable price. I arranged David's surprise 30th birthday party here in 2011.

3. The Tate Modern, for its inspiration. Not a shocking or unusual choice, but every time I go there I am inspired or excited by something I see. Most memorably for me was Miroslaw Balka's How It Is, one of the annual installations in the Turbine Hall. Stepping inside this void space was both frightening and exciting and really stayed with me.

4. Highgate Village, for its charm and serendipity. David appeared in a play in Highgate in 2011 and I had some time to kill whilst he prepared for the show that evening. I spent a lovely afternoon reading a book I had just purchased - Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - which happened to be set in Highgate itself. It was wonderful sitting in a cafe, looking up to see the very landscape being described in the book itself.

5. The Dove, Hammersmith - for its view of the river. Near to Kelmscott House, where William Morris lived in his later years, this gem of a pub has a wonderful dining area that looks out over the river. I spent a memorable sunny afternoon there, again with a book, whilst waiting for one of David's performances to begin. Beautiful and serene and a world away from the hectic city.

Monday, 22 April 2013

S is for Spaced

Spaced is, without doubt, my all-time favourite television sit-com. I could wax lyrical about Father TedRed Dwarf , The Royle Family, The Thick of It or many, many other classics, but for me Spaced has everything. There are believable characters you really care about, pop culture references scattered throughout, a great balance between realism and dream-sequence stylings, a great soundtrack, fantastically frenetic music-video edits and, of course, the hilariously funny writing.

Written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (then Jessica Stevenson) the series follows Tim Bisley, graphic artist and comic shop employee, and Daisy Steiner, a currently unemployed aspiring journalist, as they decide to rent a flat together. At the heart of the series is the premise that Tim and Daisy, despite being relative strangers when they first move in, pretend to be a couple, believing that to be a requirement of renting their flat. We meet some other residents of the building including Marsha, their wine-loving landlady, and Brian, the artist that 'rents downstairs'. Tim's friend, the gun-toting Mike, and Daisy's fashion-mad friend, Twist, also join the narrative as it unfolds, each episode revealing new layers of the relationship between this group of friends.

Right from the start, the writing is media-savvy, and aware that its audience is too. We are introduced to our main protagonists backgrounds cleverly through the device of them having to learn each other's history in order to appear as though they are a couple. This slickly edited sequence not only fills us in on the nature of these two characters, whilst referencing a number of different films, but also shows to us how little they really know each other. The efficiency of the exposition is incredible and, as a result, the audience are immersed so quickly and effectively, that the first episode flies by, making us feel that we have known these characters for a lot longer than we have.

Tim & Daisy = More Shaggy and Velma than
Fred and Daphne.
In the past, some people have suggested there are similarities between the character of Daisy, and I - something I've often shied away from. Sure, there is, in her, the journalistic ambitions I once held, the constant tea-drinking, the propensity to procrastinate, the love of plastic jewellery and the Velma-not-Daphne Scooby Doo characteristics. I did, also, once write a piece for the magazine called 'Winter Skincare Do's and Don'ts', as does Daisy, in one of her few published pieces of work. I would previously blush at the comparisons, perhaps because I could also see some of my less favourable traits in her character. Her laziness, insecurity and tendency to say the wrong thing when it matters most are things I can see in my own character. However, in recent years, I have come to see the comparison as a flattering thing, as Daisy is really quite a hero. Nothing says it better than this brilliant piece all about Ms. Steiner on Wit&Fancy (link).

There is an underlying possibility of romance between
Tim and Daisy throughout the show, but
crucially it does not diminish from the focus that
this show is about a group of friends.
Choosing my favourite clip from Spaced is pretty impossible. Episodes hang together so well that it is always hard to select one element that is more or less funny, immersive and enjoyable. I do love the idea of an unspoken telepathic mime-combat skills that exist within a group of men and the subsequent sequence after a night out in Camden. I love the cleverly intercut sequence from the very first episode where we see Tim and Daisy in a conversation that ends a relationship - only revealing at the last that they are not actually speaking to one another, but two other soon-to-be-ex partners. The final sequence in season 2 where we see the group reform after a turbulent time to the strains of Lemon Jelly's marvellous track, The Staunton Lick is so emotional. So many fabulous moments, such memorable scenes.

If I had to chose a favourite episode, I think I would go for Art, Episode 3 from Series 1. It features a marvellous opening sequence where a hallucinating Tim fights off zombies and Mike has managed a cross-country journey by train, whilst 'chemically refreshed'. Brian agonises over whether to attend a piece of performance art by his former partner and 'non-gender-specific-ex-chaste-heterosexual-lover', including a fantastic sequence where he chooses what to wear, whilst Daisy manages to get an interview at a new women's magazine. Like so much of the writing on the series, it interweaves the different characters' narrative strands together expertly, concluding eventually in a shared experience - the gang together again. Like Scooby-Doo, in a way. There are many stand-out moments from this episode but this fabulous scene, which features Tim attempting to console Daisy after her rather appalling performance at a promising job interview is just brilliant, in every sense.

If you've never seen Spaced, I heartily recommend it. You can get Series 1 and 2 in a boxset for less than £7! 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

R is for Reasons to be Cheerful

In extreme cases, a thumbs-up may
be required to accompany your smile.
I believe greatly in the importance of finding the positive in life. I have a tendency towards cynicism and suspicion at times and this can sometimes lead to something of a downward spiral. It isn't always possible, and there have been some dark times in my life where I've struggled to find the light. However, I have learned, that the best way to have a happy day, is to start it with as near to a smile as I can muster.

I am, by nature, not a 'morning person'. I adore my sleepytimes and the process of leaving my bed and
Just thinking about the Morecambe & Wise
breakfast sketch makes me giggle.
having to face the world is frankly, quite traumatic. Living only 10 minutes walk from work, I find I can get to a point where I roll out of bed, get dressed in a hurry and then stagger over the road to face my 9am class in about 30 minutes. As tempting as giving in to the snooze button like this is, it doesn't lead to a positive start to the day, as I tend to growl as I enter the building and that only ever leads to a growl in return.

Long ago, I decided that the way to at least start the day in a positive mood was to find something to smile about before I entered the building. No matter what it is, to think of something I am grateful for, something that
Thinking about antics with my friend, Sharon,
always makes me smile.
makes me laugh or something I am looking forward on my short walk to work, makes a massive difference. Sometimes, when the stress kicks in and I'm dreading going in at all, it can be hard to find something to be cheerful about. However, even if it just the thought that I don't have to see a particular group or individual that day, then that has to do.

I make an effort to wish the security guard, the lady in the canteen, my colleagues and, of course, my students a cheery good morning - partly because it seems to make them feel good, but also, (perhaps more selfishly), because I also kind of fall for it myself. I find myself
naturally beaming on the most leaden of November mornings because, ultimately, I get
that greeting reflected back at me, from colleagues, from students, from everyone, and a little morning sunshine bursts through the clouds.

There are, of course, millions of reasons to be cheerful and so many little things can make a day all the
Even the horrors of an Ikea visit can be overcome
with a smile (double  thumbs-up may be required for
more heavy-duty purchases).
more pleasurable - the smell of fresh coffee, the feeling of fresh new bed linen, cute old ladies, birdsong, the fact that otters exist... my list goes on. It is, undoubtedly, though, far too easy to miss these things on a daily basis and, all too often, I have found myself overlooking the bright-side for a whine about the inconsiderate nature of others, or to find fault with the modern world.

As flippant as all this may sound, I am aware that I am a very lucky individual who has so much, simply because of where I was born, who I was born to and what has happened to me in my life. There are, below, ten reasons, above all others that I should be cheerful, and thankful, every day of my life.

My crazy family - all my cousins pictured here - and the
fact that they embrace their daftness, make me smile.

10 reasons I have to be cheerful - every day of my life.

1. I have a safe, warm and furnished home to return to every day, unlike the 48,000 households currently classed as homeless in the UK.

2. I am lucky enough to be able to feed myself (often far more than I need), when 25,000 people a day die from starvation, worldwide, every day.

3. I have been given the opportunity to access education throughout my life, with the support of state-funded schools, my parents' encouragement and financial support and my own funds. 170 million children across the world aren't given the chance to attend school - 70% of them, girls. 

4. I live in a time, and place of peace, (despite my shouty neighbours) where I am safe from the daily threat of violence and war. The ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq alone has cost over 330,000 lives already.

5. I am lucky enough to be free from any of the diseases that kill 300,000 people in the UK every year.

6. I currently (despite the best efforts of our current government) have access to free healthcare, ensuring that no matter what happens, I know I will be given the treatment needed to remain healthy.

7. Unlike so many prisoners of conscience all over the world, I have the freedom to express my own thoughts, opinions and ideas - including on this very blog - without fear of imprisonment, torture or a death sentence for doing so.

8. I have access to the information, services and support I need to be able to make my own decisions about if and when I have children - unlike women all over the world, where pregnancy kills one woman every minute, due to poverty, lack of education, discrimination or violence.

9. The choice about who, and if, I marry is mine, unlike the huge numbers of girls placed in arranged marriages by their parents across the world, including 27% of girls under the age of 15, in precisely that position, in Bangladesh.

10. I have a loving boyfriend, a supportive family and lots of friends who I care for greatly. Ultimately, these are the greatest gifts in the world and matter more than anything that the day could throw at me.


PS - Answers to yesterday's quizzing questions: 1) Alpine Skiing, Snow Boarding, Ice Hockey, Luge. 2) Emma Bovary, Juliet Capulet, Ajax, Cio-cio San

Friday, 19 April 2013

Q is for Quizzing

I love a good quiz. Don't get me wrong, I hate exams and tests and anything where I have to remember content under pressure for any really important reason. But I love a quiz. Dredging up that fact from somewhere at the back of the brain, the frustration when you hear an answer that you know you knew, but couldn't quite bring to mind - the whole deal.

Some good serious quizzing faces here from our hosts.
On TV, I love a bit of BBC's Pointless - trying to remember facts and then establish what may be least well remembered by those polled. I have a strict policy of abandonment, however, if people get through to the final round and then pick a rubbish subject, like sports. I'll even turn over to ITV for a bit of The Chase, if my early evening quiz needs have not been sated, but it isn't quite as good. I've taken groups of students to see both of these shows being recorded as part of their course. It is fascinating to see the studio in action when such things are filmed, but hard to stop myself shouting out the answers like I do at home.

I fancy Manchester for 2013 University Challenge
Champions - they play their next match on Monday!
I really enjoy University Challenge - although I rarely get any of the answers right. I think the mix of questions that you feel you might possibly know and the joy of learning things you knew nothing about is quite satisfying. I love the crazy theme tune, the often hilariously-named, super intelligent young people and I relish admiring their often astounding knowledge. I'm not always a fan of the Paxman put-downs, but I do sometimes find myself chuckling at his frustration with the incorrect answers he deems obvious and wonder how he would cope with some of the students I teach all day.

Similar to the quick-fire missing vowels round -
answers on tomorrow's blog!
Undoubtedly, my favourite of all TV quiz shows, though, is BBC Four's fabulous Only Connect. I just love this show. Hosted by my girl-crush, Victoria Coren, it contains several fiendish rounds where you have to find the connection between words or phrases. My absolute favourite is the quick-fire round where the vowels have been removed from words or phrases and you only have a category as a clue to the solution (have a go yourself - right). The online version of one round, the  'Connecting Wall', is especially addictive and can keep you glued to your chair for hours. I strongly recommend you give it a go. Here is one (Game Wall 232 at this link) I managed to score full marks on - let me know how you get on!

A winning team of Family Day Quiz - my cousin Antony,
my brother, Tom, my cousin, Annie and Mum -
clearly where I get my quizzing gene from!
My cousin Kate is the Queen of Quizzes. She has, in the past, put together a quiz for our Family Day,
when all of my Mum's brothers and sisters, and their families, gather together in the summer. We are a family consisting of more than 50% teachers (including Kate and myself) and therefore organised fun goes down very well. Despite many disputes over the answers and occasionally controversial topics such as 'The Tommy Round' which featured questions all about my brother, Tom (a round his team did very well on, I might add), it is loads of fun. I think we should resurrect the tradition at the next Family Day.

In Carleton, my Mum and Dad's village they have a regular quiz at The Swan, the local pub, and last week, I'm proud to announce, Mum was on the winning team - take a bow, Mum! We have yet to find a good quiz around here, but we've been invited to join some work colleagues at a local pub quiz and I hope we get around to that soon. I need to get my quiz on!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

P is for Pulp

A lifetime fascination with men in knitwear began here.
In the autumn of 1995, I was in the midst of some exciting changes in my life. I had been released from the confines of my secondary school - glad to leave the corridors that echoed with taunts and the stink of PE humiliation behind. I had moved on to FE college, and the opportunity to study the things I really loved. I was able to do so with some of my dearest friends from school and explore this new place with its exotic cuisine (curly chips) and exciting people (from different schools - shock!) We quickly formed a cute little clutch of friends who all enjoyed each others company and shared many interests. It was top ace.

The ubiquitous cover from a
Guardian Weekend
Magazine, pinned to my
bedroom wall for years.
On the first day at college, however, I didn't know anyone who was actually in my form. I entered the room trepidatiously and chose to sit next to a girl called Rosh, purely because she had streaks of blue in her hair and she was wearing a Pulp t-shirt. This, to me, was the sign of a Very Sound Person. I made rather a lot of my judgements about people based on their taste in hair-dye and musical tastes and, to be fair, it was usually pretty accurate.

My bookmark, which
caused such concern.
At this time, I was already somewhat enamoured with Blur, amongst other bands, but Pulp stood out, really, as my favourite amongst favourites. I had a rather enormous fascination with the snake-hipped, super-odd, Jarvis Cocker, as the many posters adorning my bedroom walls would attest. At college I was given a 'Cause for Concern' note, by my Sociology lecturer for having a picture of Jarv as a bookmark, largely because that she suspected that I spent more time looking at the bookmark than reading about Marxism. I couldn't possibly comment on whether she was right or not, but suffice to say that the image remains seared onto my retina, whilst the intricacies of Functionalism, are a little more hazy.

I can't pretend to have been a fan from the very early days of Pulp - to be fair, the band formed the year before I was born, in 1978. Unless I was the hippest baby in the world (which I was not - as evidenced here) the likelihood of being in at the beginning, was pretty low. However, it has been galling in more recent times to be told of the brushes I had with seeing, what became, my all time faves in earlier times. They played 'spit and sawdust' pubs in towns in Yorkshire I lived in, and gigs in the Midlands not far from my hometown, before I knew they existed. They only really came to my attention when the rest of the world also started to wake up to their talent and my first ever Pulp purchase was The Sisters EP in 1994. Babies remains a song that I am ALWAYS in the mood for.

Pulp were particularly important to me as, along with a typical teenage admiration for a sardonic sense of humour, their laconic disdain for what was deemed conventionally fashionable greatly appealed. As a fat, bespectacled, geeky, vegetarian I was never one of the cool kids. When you are in your early teens, a successful piano lesson or good English grade never really makes up for realising you will never be in the 'popular' gang. For a while, I wanted to be one of the girls that all the boys liked. I wanted to have just the right clothes and be good at netball and laugh that seemingly carefree laugh of a golden, chosen one. It never occurred to me that their life would be anything other than wonderful, compared to mine - being the butt of every joke, being 'friends' with boys but never being lusted after.

In retrospect, I was an idiot. I had parents that cared about me, supportive friends, a loving wider family, beliefs, passions and, most crucially, the opportunity to move on to whatever I chose to do. Still, for that brief time, I felt I'd been dealt a crap hand. What Pulp (particularly their wonderful call to arms for the terminally un-cool, Mis-shapes), woke me up to, was that actually, I'd got my aspirations all skewed. These people, these awkward, quirky, arty people, were outsiders too - and they had something important to say. It made me see that being different was actually the key to being interesting. Be it lanky, angular Jarvis or quiet, plastic jewellery-adorned Candida, these were people who didn't fit the mould of convention, but were undeniably cool - because of their otherness, not despite it.

In December 1995, Rosh and I went to Blackpool, to the glamorous sounding (but, at the time, not so glamorous looking) Empress Ballroom to see Pulp live. To say I was excited is something of an understatement - I was almost sick with giddiness on the way there. We had paid the unbelievably reasonable price of just £9.50 for our tickets and set off, my stomach lurching with excitement. The gig was overwhelming - to be surrounded by fellow mis-shapes, belting out the band's songs at the tops of our lungs was rapturous. I remember returning, very late, that night, simply dizzy with the excitement of it all and hoarsely rambling on to my, presumably exhausted, Mum, who listened to the whole gig recounted song-by-song over tea and toast.

The very first email I ever received from David indicated that his email address included the phrase 'pulpanarchist' and, despite there being no indication of his mis-shapeness previous to this, I was thrilled that he confirmed that this was, indeed, a reference to Sheffield's finest export. He is potentially the biggest Pulp fan you will ever meet and, frankly, if you want to know anything about band and their music, apart from my own personal ramblings, you can't go far wrong by clicking on this link here. We were both thrilled to hear Pulp would be playing live again in 2011 and managed to get tickets to see them play at Brixton Academy on 31st August. Despite the sad realisation that I am now too old for the mosh-pit (it felt like a collective panic attack on a bouncy castle) we had an amazing night. Hearing the Pulp faithful gathered again, old and young, to share the songs we all loved so much was just magical.

Pulp recently released their first single for 11 years, After You, this year, and I rather like it. Jarvis remains a constant presence on BBC 6 Music with his marvellous show, Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service and he makes regular appearances across the media. I'm hoping we also get to hear and see more of Pulp, as well as more of Cocker's solo work, in the near future.