Excuse the Politics

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Well, this is nice, isn’t it? The world all over the place politically, everyone either angry or disengaged; yelling at each other about Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn or whatever. And now Theresa May is saying she wants to bring back fox hunting- like grammar schools, it’s a puff piece to distract from the barrage of warnings about Brexit. Hurrah for Macron etc.

But I do want to say something about voting. It is so important. Especially now.

I teach. I am definitely feeling the effects of this government in my job. Belts are being tightened, people aren’t being replaced, resources are running low. You might think that, because you don’t have kids, it doesn’t affect you- but it does. Because those kids might be the doctors who treat you when you’re older, or the scientists who find a breakthrough that you might rely on, or the journalist who uncovers corruption- every one of those kids has potential to be something amazing and they are potentially being robbed of this by this government’s policies. The ministers peddle the same lines about more money than ever- but there is a lot of money going into free schools and local authorities are not allowed to open new schools any more to meet demand. Grammar schools are a smoke and mirrors exercise. Academies are being run as businesses. Education should not be for profit.

They’re also scared by Brexit (disclosure: I am married to a Leave voter)- a lot of their parents work in and around a large national airport. They’re worried that their parents might be sent home, that they might be separated from families. I’ve had some hard, hard conversations with kids in the last year about things that are way too grown up for them.

The NHS is in trouble. You only have to look at the utter shambles going on across the pond to see how precious the health service is here. Yes, it could be better and it needs more investment- but I am unsure how, when the government is going to be tying itself in knots over the EU, it will be able to keep its eye on the NHS too. Hospital staff are using food banks and leaving to get jobs in supermarkets to make ends meet. This is not right in the world’s seventh economy, especially when there are people who have got rich from the post-referendum chaos.

If you don’t need the NHS now, great! But don’t forget, you’ll probably need it down the road: a filling, your kid’s broken toe, your nan’s dementia care. If there’s no money, there’s no healthcare. Health should not be a for-profit business.

I have been so blessed by the NHS- my mum is a type 1 diabetic. She wouldn’t have made it past childhood without the NHS. I have experienced excellent audiology care, dental care, mental health care. My son was treated in a matter of months last year and now has perfect hearing. I couldn’t have afforded that.

I’m not telling you how to vote, but I want you to vote and consider who you vote for- and to consider how precious it is that you live in a democracy.

You might not want to vote for Corbyn’s Labour and that’s your choice- but consider the alternative if you vote Tory. No party is going to be perfect; if only! Think about what your vote means for you and for those around you- and it does mean something. Please don’t think that your vote is worthless. Don’t just think that nothing is going to change- you can vote and maybe you can bring change about.

REGISTER TO VOTE. You don’t have a voice if you don’t register

Live in a safe party seat? Find out who came second last time and read their manifesto. If you’re still not keen, check out vote swapping. If you’re passionate about a party or a candidate, offer your time to help them.

Think past the idea that this election is about the leaders. It’s not just about that (although Theresa May wants you to think that this is a her vs Jeremy Corbyn contest. It’s not. Well, not entirely)- it’s about the MP in your area, about the cuts to your council services, about who will stand up for you. Don’t be blinded by the headlines about personalities.

Educate yourself. Vote. Please.

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Easter fun!

Ahh, the Easter break cannot come quickly enough. I am exhausted. However, spring is cheering me up, as are changes that are afoot (no, I’m not pregnant. I did nearly buy some guinea pigs today, before my senses reconvened. They were SO. CUTE. though.) Although we’re off up north for a few days, I’ve started to get into a spring-like, Easter-y frame of mind…

Easter bunting from @klinakloen! So cute!:  My friend Carolina sent us this super cute bunting which is now up in our front room. Even D is very taken with it- and he finds Easter a bit baffling. I think the sheep is my favourite (naturally!) with his cheery little jumper.

How much fun is this Easter bundle from @bluebirdteaco?! 🐰🐇🐥🐤🐣 Thanks, guys! #tea #easter:  I’ve also been spoilt in the tea-drinking department- Bluebird Tea sent me a bundle  of their Easter treats- aren’t the little egg box (containing four reusable plastic eggs with different flavours of tea) and carrot (full of Hot Cross Bun flavoured tea) CUTE?! The parcel arrived on a day where I’d almost walked out of a class, I was so stressed- it cheered me no end. I especially love Easter Egg Nests as a morning tea. Available in both vegan and non-vegan blends, it’s a sweet, slightly nutty tea that doesn’t overdose on the chocolate, but quells my sweet tooth and steers me away from sugary cereal. I’ve been drinking rooibos in the evening, so Carrot Cake is perfect. It’s so warming- it’s like a spring update for those who love a spiced tea, but don’t want to heaviness of the winter blends. I wish it was a permanent addition to the range.

In the rock garden. "Mummy, do fish swim for many moons?":  I’m hoping to recharge my batteries and catch up with friends- as well as this little dude, who is keeping me on my toes. We find out in two weeks’ time which school he’ll be going to! Madness, right? I swear he was only a baby five minutes ago- but today he was asking me if fish ‘swam for many moons’, as if he was some kind of little old man from the 13th century. Life goes by so quickly that it’s important to slow down enough to actually spot the fish in the pond as you hop over the stepping stones.

All Killa No Filla Live- Brighton

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All Killa, No Filla- Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean (Barry Mellor)

I love a podcast and one of my absolute favourites is All Killa No Filla, which I discovered last summer. Hosted by Manchester-based comedians Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard McLean, it makes me feel like I’m listening to two of my mates- except they’re talking about serial killers as well as the other stuff you might discuss with your friends. And they’re damn funny too (I’ll never look at Gary Barlow/gear sticks/sausage rolls again in the same way.) Since I’d been into reading about serial killers since I was a kid- nice and normal- I was so pleased to find it. If you have yet to listen to it, I am very jealous because you have an ace back catalogue to enjoy. Although maybe don’t start with the Fred and Rose West triple hander. It’s a bit of a shocker for the uninitiated*. According to a lady I spoke to at the show- and Benn- Harold Shipman might be the entry level episode. Up to you though. Everyone has a favourite. I like HH Holmes and the female serial killers best. #feminism.

Even better is that the All Killa No Filla duo are taking it on tour. Brighton was the first date and what a doozy it was: a whole hour on the unsolved Bible John case (although a strong suspect was discussed. I won’t give it away in case it gets broadcast**.) The crimes are never treated gratuitously or as a joke, but the laughs come from the interweaving of Rachel and Kiri’s stories about their lives- Kiri’s mum is a badass, by the way- and their observations of the world. They also explore and unpick the reasons why whoever their subject is/was became a serial killer.

I had so. much. fun., even if I did end up going on my own because Benn had a pathetic hangover. I also made friends with a friend of a friend who was going, which was lovely. But I can also confirm that Rachel and Kiri are brilliant- engaging, funny and knowledgeable, as well as sarky and down-to-earth. The other fans were great too. For a crowd so interested in such a macabre topic, they were lovely- and gave gifts to our hosts of serial killer Guess Who (would buy) and taxidermied mice (relevant to my interests.) Overall a fun hour and a bit with lovely people who happen to share a slightly odd interest.

Finally, I came away with a lovely ‘colour a killer’ colouring book, which I am very much looking forward to tackling. Might have to put my D at GCSE Art to good use and badly draw glasses on Jeffrey Dahmer though.

All Killa, No Filla is touring. Find information here.

*Fun fact- as a result of listening to this podcast, I have asked Benn to clear my Google history in the case of my mysterious death/disappearance. I would like to say to any police investigating me for the future that I just wanted to see what these people looked like. Thanks.

**Second fun fact- I once got into a mild disagreement with Professor David Wilson on Twitter about the subject of French Fancies during an episode of The Great British Bake Off.

 

When I break up with my makeup…

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I had an epiphany today and it all started when I went to have my passport photo taken and I forgot to take some makeup with me. I had applied it before I left, but a biting wind and cold weather meant that my eyes watered really badly (which happens ALL THE TIME. So much fun.) All my concealer disappeared in a puff of smoke. On the plus side, at least I can see what my mugshot will look like when I’m arrested for murder in twenty years’ time= tired with massive under eye shadows. Delightful.

I’ve been wearing makeup fairly regularly since I was sixteen. Back then, it pretty much consisted of liquid eyeliner and mascara, with the odd bit of Rimmel Hide the Blemish when I needed it. My mum didn’t wear makeup and I was never really interested in it before I started college and going out. My basic makeup has evolved from this starting point, but boy has it got complex: I counted that, on a morning, I can use anything up to FOURTEEN different products on my face- and that’s only if I use one shade of eyeshadow (I sometimes use up to three.) That’s skincare and makeup, by the way: serum, moisturiser, primer, foundation, powder, eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, eyebrow gel, blusher, highlighter, lip balm, lipstick. Some mornings I even put a bit of oil on my face before a serum even touches it. This has been a gradual build up of stuff over the years that has only recently got to this size.

I’ve always loved playing with makeup and its ability to transform me at 5.30am from looking like a very tired builder called Graham to, well, a better version of me. But who’s to say that is a better version of me? And do I just look tired because I’m an insomniac who, at least three times a week, gets up at 5.30? Could I actually live without less makeup? Could I maybe get a bit more sleep if I didn’t wear as much makeup? And who exactly am I doing this for?

I got seriously into makeup around the time D was born; I think I was trying to re-establish my identity and not just be ‘mum’. My makeup was also armour at a time when, emotionally, I felt weird. I had the deadness of post-natal depression battling with the hormonal weirdness of new motherhood. Makeup helped me put a brave face on a difficult time and helped me to distinguish between home and the outside world.

Lately, though, makeup is a bit of a chore- and an expensive one at that, even though I don’t buy expensive makeup. I told a friend that I was looking forward to the summer because I knew I wouldn’t have to wear makeup and I’m finding myself desperate to get home at the end of the day and wipe everything off. In fact, after the passport photo, I did just that. I went out with a bit of moisturiser, concealer and mascara on and that was it. I can’t remember when I ever did that before. No one looked at me weirdly and my skin felt amazing for the first time in ages (because apparently stress and makeup are crap for your skin. WHO KNEW?)

So I think I’m adopting this for work. Skincare stuff, a good SPF- let me know if you recommend one, btw-plus very basic makeup and that’s it. Will it be weird? Probably. But in the long-term I think it will really pay off. And of course, I reserve the right to wear more makeup on days when I want to, I just don’t want feel like I have to.

 

Making Time

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My work/life balance is out of whack at the moment. The spring term is always intense, but a series of unusual things have meant that work is even more stressful than usual (and I’ll probably have to spend at least one of my mid-week days off working and hoping that D doesn’t notice too much…) I’m also kind of not eating as I should be and everything’s just… ugh. At least there’s my birthday in the middle of the madness.

The thing that frustrates me the most is that how everything goes by the wayside. I’m a worrier by nature and the way I deal with worry is by being REALLY PROACTIVE. And so, when I worry about work, I do MORE WORK. Which is great. For work. Not so much for me and my stress levels.

I’m setting myself a resolution- and, my reader, you are witness to it. I am going  to make sure that I make time for D (I am promising myself that I will take him to his favourite place for lunch soon and I will do every. single. Mister. Maker. Art. Set. If that’s what he wants.) I will make time for Benn- we’ve been going to comedy gigs lately and we have a couple lined up in the next few weeks.

Most importantly, though, I need to make sure I do stuff I’m interested in, too. I’m quite good at not doing stuff and then beating myself up about it. The problem will be.. I just have to find the time.

Writers’ HQ: Seven Ideas In Seven Days

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Remember my novel? I was working on it loads last summer and then I did (most of) NaNoWriMo in November, before the world decided it really wanted to bring me down with its ridiculous ideas. I also got bogged down in family stuff, D’s operation, Christmas and then the hell that is working in a school when a new curriculum is trying to be introduced. I lost my way and I lost my mojo. My characters were still in my brain, my story was still asking to be written, but I just struggled to get it down or find time to write.

This is where Writers’ HQ comes in; its founders Sarah and Jo are time-poor, cash-poor, sliiiiightly sweary writers (both Sarah and Jo are novelists) who also happen to be mothers and needed a way to find time to do their work. They offer a range of ways for others to write too- monthly writers’ retreats in Brighton and Worthing, as well as online courses which are reasonably priced (there are also free exercises for a lot of the courses, if you want to check them out before committing to buy one) and take into account the pressures of daily life. Now, disclosure time: Jo is a friend of mine and has been trying to get me to go to the Brighton retreat for AGES, but I either never have money/time/anything to work on. Instead, she offered me the chance to have a go at February’s Seven Ideas In Seven Days course. I jumped on it.

Seven Ideas In Seven Days costs £20 and you are given a lesson everyday that takes around an hour to complete. I loved the variety of different tasks and the ideas I came up with were often completely new to me and very intriguing- I have at least three new ideas for different stories in completely new-to-my-writing genres (including one about the popularity of succulent plants being part  of an alien invasion plot, which I may just write for the LOLZ), as well as two new perspectives on the novels that have lived in  my brain for a long time.

I also liked the forum- although I’m not sure everyone signed up for this month’s course was using it. However, I found two supportive course members and Sarah who were all brilliant for bouncing ideas off, discussing what we’d written and where our work could go next. It felt less scary than a class and more like a friendly chat in a coffee shop (except that I was drinking tea. And in my own house. You understand the imagery though.)

Would I recommend the course? Yes. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do another course if I get enough money together- there are all sorts of things on offer, from how to plot your novel right through to actually writing/editing the beast and eventually sending it off to a publisher. It was more personal than just using a book or an anonymous blogpost to write and I think the structure and the range of tasks meant that I sat down every night to work. It also made me realise that I CAN carve some time out of the day to write, even if it’s not much. It’s better to write a bit than not at all. I look forward to reacquainting myself with my characters. And the Mutant Succulents From Space With Mind Bending Powers Of Persuasion, obv.

 

Not Today Satan: Bianca Del Rio at Brighton Dome

“Please, don’t take anything I say seriously,” Bianca Del Rio asked of her audience after arriving onstage. A couple of minutes before, a recording  invited any of us of an easily offended disposition to leave- but as if any of us would. We know what we’re in for- that’s why we’re here. After all, Wikipedia does describe Bianca as an ‘insult comic’.

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Source: RuPaul’s Drag Race wiki

I was lucky to be there at all, actually. I managed to snag a press ticket for me and my friend Jaqui in order to review the show for The Argus (at time of writing, it’s not online. I’ll link to it here when it is.) Later, as I tried and write the review with a little gin inside me, I found it hard to write everything down in 200 words. I gave the show 5/5.

Almost everyone in the theatre will have known Bianca from RuPaul’s Drag Race. The room was filled with a captive audience: gay, straight, married, single; all there for a good time and the excitement was infectious. Jaqui and I made friends with two girls outside the venue and we made more friends with some lads in the merch queue (we didn’t have enough money for t-shirts, so we ended up buying each other exactly the same signed photo.) The audience loved Bianca. I’d argue that she’s the most successful contestant from the show, her catchphrase ‘Not today, Satan!’ even making it on protest signs at the recent anti-Trump marches. Despite the acid tongue, Bianca (the stage name of Roy Haylock) is adored, this being her second tour after ‘Rolodex of Hate’ a couple of years ago. I think ultimately it’s because we’re included in the joke- even when, sometimes, it’s aimed squarely at us. But it’s OK. We can take it because ultimately, the joke is on Bianca too. This is what makes Bianca’s comedy work: yes, it’s a bit mean, but we like her. We’re all in this together, warts and all.

Her set deals gleefully with her participation on Drag Race, the biggest cheers (and biggest boos) being offered during gossipy snippets about fellow contestants. “But, after all, the are my sisters!” Bianca offered up every time she took a sip of wine, a knowing wink in the direction of the audience. I always compare Bianca’s comedy to that of Joan Rivers; it’s sharp and funny, but sometimes you will wince when it gets a bit close to the bone. Literally no one is safe- age, race, gender, sexuality, class is all up for grabs. The sketches deal with stuff you might expect- Donald Trump, for example, “I promised I wouldn’t get political!” and weird people on reality TV to the more surreal, such as being a drunk drag queen at an airport. I literally had face ache after the show, I’d been laughing so much. After the set, Bianca offered answers to pre-submitted questions about everything from advice for new drag queens to a key scene in Hurricane Bianca. And all this was done at the mercy of a malfunctioning wig and very high heels. Fantastic.

I loved every minute of the show; even though I know this type of humour is not everyone’s cup of tea, I can’t think of anyone-other than the late Joan Rivers- who does it better.