So long, 2011!

2011 has been an interesting year and in some ways, I’ll be sad to see it go.

I got married this year to a wonderful man and I am very lucky. I won’t miss the endless planning/people wanting to talk to me about my wedding (seriously- we had a low key wedding and I enjoyed it. But God, I was bored when people asked me about it. There were other things I wanted to talk about! Books! Films! The weather!) We went to Paris and I achieved a long held goal: to see Oscar Wilde’s grave. I think that afternoon in Pere Lachaise was, other than the day we actually got hitched, one of the happiest I have ever had. Wandering around, looking at dead people’s final resting places and wondering what species the odd looking bugs were that we saw on every path. Morbid, but there you go!

I read fifty-four books this year. Some were re-reads (such as Gone With The Wind- one of my all time favourites) and some were really inspiring. I think my favourite of 2011 was How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran- who I was lucky enough to meet (by meet, I mean accost in the street outside of Wagamama’s in Brighton. Thankfully, I don’t think I made too much of a prat of myself…!)

I did some interesting creative stuff, I sold some of my crafty wares at a couple of craft fairs and I made stuff that some people seemed to like. I also started my Ladies in Monochrome website, which has kind of taken over more than I expected it to (but I don’t really mind!)

I went on my first strike,  in protest at the hardships facing public sector workers and I despaired at how I perceived the government to be treating the people of this country. I despaired at the way I saw people behaving in the riots. I was both fascinated and horrified at the way the press ethics enquiries unfolded. I watched a turbulent world lurch from crisis to crisis.

But sometimes, things went well. And I hope that 2012 is a brilliant year.

Happy New Year




Post-Christmas ramblings

So, we’re now in that odd period between Christmas and New Year when, even though the world is technically back to normal for a few days, nothing really is. Traditionally, I’ve always found this period difficult and one of the potential flash points in bringing on depression, but this year is the first year in three when I haven’t been on any medication and this is something I would like to keep up… It’s been a struggle, but so far, so good.

In my last post, I wrote about how busy I was and how I was looking forward to a quiet Christmas- I continued to be busy, right up until today. Yesterday, with a few spare hours, I grumbled I was bored and then promptly fell asleep! Clearly a) I am incapable of sitting around for very long without having something to do and b) I’m probably a bit knackered.

I’ve done a bit of exercise today and discovered that, clearly, I am no longer as fit as I thought I was. So now I have exercise added to my ‘to-do’ list (is there any point in calling them ‘New Year’s Resolutions’? To me, that’s just setting yourself up for failure come January 15th.) Ironically, after doing a workout, all I want to do for the rest of the day is sit on the sofa eating Pringles. We don’t have any crisp-based products in the flat, thankfully…

Christmas itself was lovely, as usual, with too much food and lots of lovely presents.  I was appalled to see so many people take to the internet (particularly Twitter) to complain that they didn’t get what they wanted/expected to get for Christmas- and not all were teenagers. I think next year maybe these people should work in a soup kitchen and then see how they feel about not getting an iPhone.

Anyway, I am going to use these few days to work on a few interesting projects that I might get further involved with. I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my future, as I’m not sure whether I am entirely happy with the way things are at the minute. I need to start looking at new options and setting up new ideas whilst I have the time. And what better time than when we’re all supposed to turn over a new leaf?

Total Overachiever

I am always wanting to push myself and often do to the point that I end up exhausting myself. I can see that I’m doing it now, but I can’t stop myself. I don’t know why I need to keep doing stuff, but I do. I can’t even watch TV without doing something with my hands (knitting, sewing- minds out of the gutter, please…), much to my husband’s annoyance.

We’re not even at Christmas, yet I’m already setting New Year’s goals for myself. Whether it’s knitting myself something completely frivolous, getting my writing into shape (finally!), learning a few new skills I’d like to develop or reading more extensively, my list is getting longer. This also doesn’t account for the fact that I’ve also just done reasonably well selling some of my stuff at a recent craft fair and now planning new stuff for the next (all the while saying that I couldn’t possibly do the next one in March as I’m so busy.) Oh, and I also work in a job that is notoriously difficult to attain a decent work/life balance and I’m trying to revamp an extra-curricular programme for my department.  So, you know, 2012 will be a quiet one, then.

In the meantime though, I’m looking forward to a quiet Christmas. This year has been hectic and I want to slow. down. But I know I won’t, because it seems to be physically impossible for me. I have so much nervous energy that I’m not entirely sure what would happen if I just stopped.



What a difference a year makes…

This time last year, my sister and I were in a very snowy, very icy Ireland. I remember it well, as we’d gone out there for some memorial ceremonies related to the Irish War of Independence, which our great-grandfather had fought in (after originally fighting for the British in WWI). I have been researching this period of history for a while, as I would like one day to write a book based on the period. I am also massively in love with Ireland as a place, so I never turn down the opportunity to go there if I’m able. We had a great time and it was fairly emotional. Our hosts, John and Margaret had arranged for us to speak to people in the village where our Irish ancestors had lived and had also cleaned up the family grave for us.

The visit was remarkable for another reason- it was the weekend that Ireland had had to ask the IMF for a bail-out. We heard TDs talking about how the problem would be solved, heard people saying how the people who had fought for independence from the British would be turning in their graves at the thought that Ireland could no longer provide for itself.

We almost got snowed in at the house we were staying at, until John drove us, very skilfully, down tiny rural roads, just in time for the baggage check. When I expressed anxiety that we were going to miss the plane, the security man was typically laid back. “You’ll be fine!” he said, cheerfully, as he went through my bag. We got to the gate about thirty seconds before it opened. When we got back to the UK, it became apparent that the snow had followed us over. I didn’t work at all that week because of bad conditions.

Now I look at the world a mere fifty-two weeks later. We’re having unseasonably warm weather for November (which, I’d like to add, I’m not in favour of. I want to be bundled up in knitwear constantly from Hallowe’en to my birthday in March. Any less than this and I’m short changed.)

The problems faced by Ireland at the end of last year have rippled into bigger countries, making more of a stir, with constant fear of recession, of a massive financial meltdown. Ireland has become almost insignificant on the daily news bulletins that concern themselves with such matters. Last year, they were a massive problem.

And whilst I will be working some days this week, I won’t be working a full week due to the public sector strikes on Wednesday (although that is a post for another day, perhaps.)

It’s amazing how what seem to be little changes seem enormous when you really think about them, isn’t it?


Why modern teenage girls should read ‘The Hunger Games’ and watch ‘Buffy’

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Hunger Games‘ by Suzanne Collins, which is about to be made into a film. It tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young woman thrust into a Battle Royale-style nightmare in a post apocalyptic version of America. As a character, Katniss is the very antithesis of Bella Cullen in the ‘Twilight’ series (and much has been made of this)- she is strong, independent and a mean shot with a bow and arrow. Her dedication to self-preservation and her determination to protect her family and her district at all costs is admirable and brave. Surely, she is the sort of heroine teenage girls would want to identify with?

I’ve read the ‘Twilight’ books- there is something incredibly addictive about them (there was a joke that the publishers had put some chemical in the spines of the books, there was no other explanation.) Yes, there are flaws in the story-telling- it’s incredibly repetitive, some of the words are jarringly used- but it’s a highly readable series of books. And that’s what’s worrying. We now have a complete industry dedicated to replicating Stephenie Meyer’s success. Hot vampire boys and simpering, helpless girls now have an incredibly large section of the YA market. Maybe (hopefully?) ‘The Hunger Games’ will take over this section.

What has always worried me is that Bella, as a character, is so boring. And her relationship with Edward is scary. Co-dependency, anyone? Although I can never knock a character who loves ‘Wuthering Heights’, I just never understood Bella. There was nothing about her as an individual. I found myself thinking that had I read these books when I was thirteen, it could really have messed up my views of what a ‘good’ relationship should be. And that all future boyfriends must sparkle.

The vampire/human love story was told so much better in the Angel/Buffy story in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which, I am convinced, massively influenced Meyer’s own stories.) Buffy was a benchmark in strong, independent female roles. Where are her descendants? Katniss is the first character in a long time that I think could be a contender. If you know of any others, let me know!

In praise of the boyband

This week, for an inexplicable reason, I decided that I was going to make a CD of 90’s/early 00’s boyband tracks to entertain my carpool-mates. I was a massive boyband fan up until about the age of 15, so I figured that I could tackle this self-imposed challenge head-on and without difficulty.

I was right, to a degree. I deftly chose tracks by the likes of Backstreet Boys, Boyzone and Take That. But once I got to the latter part of the 90’s, I was stumped. I couldn’t remember much of those bands who came after the titans of stool-sitting and air-grabbing, as I’d denounced my love of anguished songs of broken hearts when I discovered Green Day. So I turned to Twitter and discovered quite a few friends had murky musical secrets of their own (mine, by the way, is that MmmBop is one of my all time favourite songs. Don’t judge.) I was surprised at the length and breadth of their knowledge of groups made up of entirely pretty boys (and the token weird looking one. I’m looking directly at you, Mikey from Boyzone.) I instantly felt relieved. It wasn’t just me who remembered the names of 911.

So I went of a journey of musical discovery and found out quite a few things. I felt like the Darwin of Boybands by the time I’d finished. For example, did you know that British boybands were much filthier than their Irish and American counterparts? MN8 and East 17 in particular were excellent in their use of double entendres. My mum bought ‘Deep’ and played it quite loud on a regular basis. I’m still recovering from the retrospective mortification of realising just what the lyrics were actually about.  Another Level were just desperate, it seems- I’m sure there’s a Dane Bowers/Jordan joke in there somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to stoop quite that low.

It also seems customary that every boyband song starts with some kind of unrelated sound effect. Plane noises, phones, footsteps and a weird ‘whoosh’ were favourites, but there was also- bizarrely- a dog at the start of one. Bonus points also if you have a sound effect on the outro.

What also surprised me is that some of the songs were actually quite good- I cite ‘Keep on Movin’ by Five and ‘Back for Good’ (obviously). These were songs that had messages and didn’t relate to sex or pressure, perfect for little girls with idols on their walls. I don’t think it did me any harm listening to the Backstreet Boys or PJ and Duncan, no matter what I insisted when I was seventeen. It was fun and not one of those bands ever came out with their own brand of condoms or told me about sexy times or ‘the club’.

Clearly, modern girls are being short-changed. The boybands of today have nothing on the ones we had fifteen years ago. The Wanted all look too perfect and One Direction should be doing their GCSEs, not pratting about miming on a stage. JLS? A rehash of the ill-fated MN8. I do wish they’d keep their shirts on.


Kirstie Allsop causes a furore…

Kirstie Allsop (described recently, along with Sarah Beeny, by Private Eye as a ‘posh bird in a tizzy’) has been upsetting a lot of people. It’s not because she’s a Tory advisor, or because she suggested that a way to keep one’s husband was to feed him well, or indeed because she’s hosting a property programme in the middle of the biggest recession for a generation.

It’s because she’s baking. Or sewing. Or doing something odd with paper. Welcome to Kirstie’s Handmade Britain.

Now, you’d think that people wouldn’t really mind Kirstie doing something productive. After all, she has to do something now that Channel 4 has decided to shelve Location, Location, Location for a while. (I’m sure, in a time when repossessions were on the rise, many people enjoyed watching couples decide which penthouse flat in London they should buy. And then deciding against it because they could hear/see traffic out of the back bedroom window. First world problems, much?)

But anyway, poor old Kirstie is getting it in the neck from crafters (who believe that she’s cheating when getting experts to help her win county fair shows) and, for some indeterminable reason, the ever-rational Liz Jones of the Daily Mail who says that she wants ‘a life, not a handmade beeswax candle.’

So, is Kirstie doing a disservice to crafters everywhere? I watched the episode where she was nobly taking on various needle crafts- I was doing some embroidery of my own and the competition was in Yorkshire, my home county. I couldn’t resist.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed the programme, having expected to be a bit let-down.

Kirstie is terribly jolly-hockey sticks, which is to be expected, if you know her presenting style. But this was useful, as she took to her crafts with gusto. I also quite liked that fact that we saw Kirstie doubting her own abilities and wondering whether she should pack to whole thing in when her wild hare didn’t look right. All crafters, no matter what they think, have this moment quite frequently. But we pick ourselves up and get back on that metaphorical horse, because we love what we do. And I believe that Kirstie loves learning these crafts, even if she is a bit too Cath Kidston-esque for my tastes.

Whether or not the competitions that she’s entering into are fixes really doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is that craft has a major, prime time slot on a national television channel once a week. It’s aimed at the general viewer, who might take up some new hobby they hadn’t thought of before. And genuine crafters are getting air-time, which can only be a good thing. Mr X Stitch, a bald rugby player-type, was a brilliant inclusion in this week’s edition, dispelling the myth that all cross-stitchers are cat ladies with nothing better to do. I went away with mental notes to try some of the products she used (water-soluble ink for embroidery? Spray mount for fabric? YES PLEASE.)

Anyway, if there was a fight between Kirstie and Liz Jones, I know whose side I’d be on. Kirstie looks like she could be a mean hand with a pair of pinking shears…

So, I’ve discovered a talent

Now that the nights are drawing in, I’m watching a fair bit of TV (not that I didn’t before, but I digress…) I can’t sit in front of the TV without doing something with my hands, so I’m invariably knitting at the same time. I also teach sixth form students how to analyse TV drama, so I’m familiar with quite a few different series, both UK and US- my favourites tend to be crime-based.

Tonight, after watching an old series of Silent Witness (you know, after it got good/Harry and his Marvellous Chin arrived, not the period when Amanda Burton used to stare off into the middle distance for what seemed hours on end), I realised that I have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the careers of bit-part actors. I recognised two actresses; one had been on a rubbish Channel 4 ‘teenage’ drama that virtually no-one watched and another was the daughter with the weird accent from a BBC comedy show.

That woman on the bread advert? She was in a controversial storyline on Brookside about twelve years ago. Recent BBC series/Waking the Dead spin-off The Body Farm practically culled its non-major cast from the alumni of the last five years of Hollyoaks. And I can spot pretty much any actor who ever starred on Channel 5’s ill-fated soap Family Affairs.  I drive my husband up the wall with the constant repetition of the CVs of former soapstars.

Last night, I watched the first two ever episodes of Law and Order. Now, Chris Noth (Sex and the City‘s Mr Big) was exciting enough. But when the murderer he happened to be interviewing turned out to be played by the actress who played Miranda on the same show, my head pretty much exploded. And don’t even get me started on the Joss Whedon/Torchwood cast crossover. I think you’d fall asleep.

With such a talent, I’m clearly wasted in my line of work.

The ‘wonderful’ world of website ‘designing’

So, I’ve taken the plunge and decided to start my own, actual website for professional reasons- and I made the foolhardy decision to sort it out myself (with help from the lovely Carolina, who quite frankly has the patience of a saint…) Before my foray into the world of WordPress, I’d used Blogger and LiveJournal, which are fine for fun blogs, but I needed something with a more professional feel about it. So here I am. In fact, I got so excited, I had some MOO cards printed with the new address pretty much straight away. And then realised I’d forgotten to add an email address to them. Oh well.

I’m hoping to get a couple of photos and actual proof of printed work up by the weekend, so then it’ll be a proper website. In theory. It could all go horribly wrong in the meantime. If you’ve stumbled upon this site in the last week of October 2011, please forgive the shabby state of everything; I’m still learning and it’s a difficult process!