Thoughts from beside Anne Bronte’s grave

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Anne Bronte is the only member of the family to be buried in Scarborough; after her death, aged 29 in 1849, Charlotte made the decision to ‘lay the flower where it had fallen’ and bury her sister quickly (there were three mourners at Anne’s funeral- Charlotte, their friend Ellen Nussey and their old school teacher, Miss Wooler.) The spot she chose would have been picturesque in 1849, beneath the castle walls and with a view out to the north bay. It still is a peaceful spot, albeit the bottom half of the graveyard is now a car park. Nothing, it seems, gets in the way of modernity.

Harbour from the top of the castle #scarboroughcastle #scarborough #sea…:

View of the North Bay and harbour from the top of Scarborough Castle

Although I knew I definitely wanted to visit Anne’s grave, I was taken aback when D and I stumbled upon it by accident on a morning walk (where inspired by the old fellas on their walks to buy papers or to give their dogs a wander, he began to return their greetings with a cheery- and very northern- ‘MORNING!’, much to everyone’s amusement.) Unbeknownst to us, we were staying five minutes away.

The day was warm and sunny, and even D realised we were somewhere that required a bit of quiet. We sat on a bench next to the grave and looked at the view; the sea was calm and the view was stunning. I noticed that there was a spot in front of the grave where the feet of people who were visiting had worn away the grass. I wondered how many people visited the spot every day. I’d been told that there were often flowers on the grave, but there were none on either of the two days I visited. I had looked for wildflowers to put down, but had had no look. Maybe they would have been more appropriate for Emily anyway.

In a funny way, I think it’s appropriate that Anne is the Bronte who is not buried at Haworth; she was the only member of the family who really had any professional success in a job away from home. Although she disliked being a governess, she was able to cope being away from her siblings. If it was Emily buried far away, I imagine she’d haunt Scarborough like Cathy until her remains were returned to the family vault.

Also, in a lot of ways, Anne is the family outcast. In a literary sense, she’s often left out in the cold. I’ve never met anyone who raves about her work in the same way they do about that of her sisters. No one ever says, breathlessly, that they are definitely an ‘Anne’. So maybe it’s fitting that the quietest Bronte is on her own, and noticed and visited for herself.

A few days later, we were in York when I had a sudden urge to walk down a particular street. It turned out that some part of my subconscious apparently remembered that there was a Bronte-related plaque:

Casual #Bronte spotting in #York. It's now a Next.:

“On 24 May 1849, Anne said her goodbyes to her father and the servants at Haworth, and set off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. En route, they spent a day and a night in York, where, escorting Anne around in a wheelchair, they did some shopping, and at Anne’s request, visited York Minster. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.”

I must have walked past it on previous trips to  York, but something drew me back- it’s pretty inconspicuous. After I took the picture and was walking away, it dawned on me that the reason that Anne and Charlotte had stayed on the site was that they were on their way to Scarborough, where Anne would die four days later. Four days had lapsed between finding the grave and finding the plaque.

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Anne’s death, coming as it did so soon after those of Emily and her brother Branwell, seems so tragic. Her apparent strength in the face of death seems brave and admirable (although it seems that Charlotte’s claim that her sister welcomed and longed for death are wrong; Anne wrote in a letter that she had many things she still wished to accomplish.)

On Sunday, 27 May, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte’s distress, whispered to her to “take courage”. Conscious and calm, Anne died at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday, 28 May 1849.

There’s a plaque on the side of the Grand Hotel commemorating the place of her death..

I mused on the life of a quiet, shy woman who had written books that challenged early Victorian views of women. I wondered whether she would have been happy with the choice of her final resting place, or whether she would have preferred to be buried in the church at Haworth. And then, my thoughts interrupted by the chattering of an excited child desperate to get down to the beach, I walked back home in the sunshine.

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Hello! I feel like it’s been ages since I sat down and actually blogged properly. Truth is, I’ve been super busy with work and stuff and it’s all kind of run away from me a bit. It happens.

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It’s always busy in the spring- it’s crunch time for getting Year 11 ready for their exams and I have to make sure that their coursework is all present and correct (this can sometimes feel like I’m herding gigantic kittens and managing a large load of printing at the same time). I also have to keep up with the rest of my work in a job that has recently made the top 5 most stressful jobs. Yay!

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Then, of course, I have a three year old at home- which is like herding many tiny kittens at the same time, with the added bonus of a really thick actual cat thrown into the mix to add to the fun. I’m not complaining though. I’ve learnt a lot about Lego Star Wars in the last few weeks and Bronte brought in a slow worm, which led to an interesting discussion with D about creatures that live in the garden.

I also recently started taking on a bit of freelance work: mainly proofreading and copywriting. It’s good to do some jobs that bring in a bit of extra work and money, and I’m choosing jobs that I can fit in around everything else. I’m not daft- I take work when it’s quiet elsewhere- but I enjoy it and I prefer it to signing up to do exam marking, which is way less flexible.

So, the upshot, I’ve been busy. But definitely in a good way. I’ve still managed to do bits and pieces that I liked (I’ve been working in the garden and I have three books on the go at any one time, as per), but I’ve appreciated them more than normal. I’ve also been sleeping BRILLIANTLY, which really is no surprise.

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The fact is, if I actually admit it, is that I like being busy. It shows me that I’m well and that my mental health is OK. It may be that it’s not always the right thing to do, but at the moment it serves me well. I like feeling useful and I like getting stuff done.

BUT! I am looking forward to the long weekend! I finished marking all of my Year 11 coursework (a Very Big Deal Indeed) and I have no work to do this weekend, bar prepping some display stuff. D is staying at his grandparents’ tomorrow and I am looking forward to just taking it easy. And I will very much enjoy and appreciate some downtime. After all, I think I deserve it.

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Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte

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Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.

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“‘Ave you seen ‘er?” On Victoria Wood

An Audience with Victoria Wood, Dec 1988

Growing up, I always knew about Victoria Wood. My mum had her videos and we had a couple of signed books, too. I remember feeling dead grown up, aged about 10, when I was allowed to watch some of her stand-up. Here was a lady, who wasn’t thin or glamorous- but she was funny. Even as a kid, I knew she was unusual.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that she’s had a huge effect on me. As a northern, working-class kid, she talked about things I understood. I even own an orange raincoat (although not a fetching yellow hat to go with it.) My sister and I have been known to say “I’m looking for my friend, Kimberly. ‘Ave you seen ‘er?” to each other. We don’t know any Kimberlys.

In restaurants with slow service, it won’t take long for Benn or I to whisper to the other “Two soups?”

I’ve always felt a bit suspicious about prawns too, thanks to this sketch:

And I remember seeing her programme about tea. Of course.

The thing is, Victoria Wood’s humour was funny and warm; it was grounded in real life and it was never cruel, either. I’ll miss her.

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Let’s ‘foster a conversation’

Recently, I’ve been told (twice) that a company wanted me to write a sponsored post on my blog, not for pay- or even, gasp, for the exposure!- but to ‘foster a conversation’.

Now, I want you to imagine a pipe burst in my house and I called my usual plumber. If I told him I wanted him to work for free, in order to ‘foster a conversation’, he would laugh at me and rightly so. Because I’d be paying him for his skills and his time. Even if he did accept to work for ‘the conversation’, because he’d heard somewhere that I was not actually socially awkward and was in fact a secretly brilliant raconteur, he’d still get tea and biscuits out of me. Which is more than I’m being offered here. Most galling was the very, very well-known, very famously profitable company that wanted me to write about how to earn extra money- by not paying me any.

My time outside of work is precious. I don’t have a lot of it, to be honest, and I want to use it well. A few years ago, I did do some work for free. I had a sleepy baby and was trying to get my writing up as a possible sideline. I made a bit of money, but then I had to go back to work in a job that is apparently one of the most stressful to do. I also have a three year old and they are hard. work. I want to do stuff in my downtime that’s fun and not pressured. If you want me to work to a deadline, you pay me for my time. It can be monetary, or it can be in the form of a product/book/event. (I’d also like to point out that I’ve turned down stuff in the past that, even though it was paid with money, didn’t fit well with me or my blog.) I do make exceptions for charities, which is only right.

The thing is, if you want me to spend my scarce free time on something for you, you’re getting my attention and my skills. If you offer me nothing in return, you’re telling me that these things are worth nothing. I’ve spent a lot of time doing stuff for nothing (I used to do a lot of stuff on the blog, a few years back), I thought about it and realised I’ve sort of outgrown it, to be honest. I want to work to earn money for me and my family and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I’m envious of those who can earn a living writing; to me it’s been very, very hard to get anywhere with that.

These days, I’m a bit of a blogging bumbler. My life is very, very different to when I was doing my journalism degree, or even when I was flirting with being a bit of a beauty/parenting blogger. I couldn’t bear the pressure and I just wanted to write about things I did or books I read. I don’t make any money from either blog and that’s fine. I’m happy to work with companies I like and have a mutually beneficial relationship with- and I enjoy that work. Would I turn down something if it was interesting? No. But I don’t feel like I have to chase anything either- especially ‘exposure’.

Prepping for spring!

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I have spent most of the last few months mourning a winter that has never quite arrived in Sussex; I’m convinced that people were wearing hats, scarves and big coats out of force of habit rather than necessity. Now that there’s some sunshine, I’m feeling a bit more hopeful and happy that our extended autumn (it feels like folly to label it ‘winter’) is on its way out. The days are starting to feel slightly longer and I’m feeling cheerful- it’s time to plan my garden!

A couple of weeks ago, I went on my annual trip to Seedy Sunday, held in the Corn Exchange in Brighton. As you can see, I came home with a huge amount of seeds, as well as some interesting varieties of seed potatoes and a membership to the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Despite saying that I wouldn’t focus entirely on veggies this year, I did end up buying a ton of vegetable seeds; I always buy from Pennard Plants, as they have special show offers, I’ve used them before and, yep, I love the packets! This year, D had asked me to grow a pumpkin for Hallowe’en and a beanstalk (although I’ve had to explain that you’re going to get beans, rather than a giant, on your beanstalk), hence the fairytale-type packets. As well as vegetable seeds (I’m trying again with a couple of failures from last year, most notably squashes and tomatillos), I came home with lots of flowers- all of which, inexplicably begin with S. I’m obviously creating a Sesame Street garden without realising it.

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As well as my usual sweet peas, I’ve been really lusting after snapdragons. They’re so pretty and cheerful- I’m thinking of putting them in an area by the backdoor- and I fell in love with them last summer. They remind me a bit of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. I’d also like some phlox and am debating planting crocuses and snowdrops later in the year so that they can be enjoyed next spring.

I’m also thinking about layout- last year, the potatoes were by the back door and more tender plants, such as tomatoes and courgettes were further up the garden, which meant that the snails and slugs (grr) could get to them before I noticed in some instances. However, I do have some unusual potato varieties this year- purple and blue!- so I don’t want them to be too far away! I also need to replace the raspberries, which I put in a quite frankly RIDICULOUS place last year and that need to come forward in the garden. Ah well, you live and learn.

Lastly, I’ve realised that I can’t do everything I want to do, which simply boils down to money. I have to decide if I want new terracotta pots or border plants and I can’t do everything. But I’ve accepted that it will most likely take me years to get the garden the way I want it and I am OK with that. I’ll just enjoy the process until then.

 

How women on TV shape my career goals

Now that D is three- and will be starting school in September 2017, eek!-I’ve started to think more about where my career is and where I would like it to go. At the moment, I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing, but there are things I would like to achieve (if I had a Five Year Plan, this is where it would come in.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I LOVE TV. I like to say it’s because I teach Media Studies, but it’s really just that I’m a telly addict and have been forever. I love Netflix and I love a good binge-watch. What’s surprising is that I’ve found career inspiration in some of my favourite shows and that by watching these four women, I’ve started to think differently about my own job and the way that I work.

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Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation

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Leslie Knope is a ball of contradictions- sometimes she’s brimming with self-confidence, other times, she’s on the floor with self-doubt. And although Amy Poehler (one of the greatest comedians of the 21st century, IMHO) plays Leslie for laughs, there is something in her character that most women can relate to; she’s a visible embodiment of someone with imposter syndrome. Leslie’s key strength, though, is her love and support for her colleagues. Yes, she looks after herself, but she cares deeply for those around her- and not in a self-sacrificing way.

Dana Scully- The X Files

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Scully (and Gillian Anderson) has been a heroine of mine since I was twelve. Although I’m not very good at emotional detachment, I’ve always admired Scully’s dedication to her job, her dry humour and her dogged pursuit of what she thinks is right. At work, next to my desk, I have a poster with a picture of Scully, reminding me that if I have a bad day I should think about what she would do. It stands me in good stead.(I also like Stella Gibson, Anderson’s character in The Fall, but don’t really feel the same connection to her. Did I mention I just really love Gillian Anderson?)

Viv Deering- No Offence

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If you haven’t seen No Offence yet, I urge you to seek it out (the series is on All 4). I loved Viv as soon as I saw her- northern and bold as brass, obsessed with clothes and very, very sweary. She’s sort of like the old stereotype of the northern, working class matriarch but updated and promoted to DI. She presents a tough-as-old-boots persona and won’t take nonsense from anybody, but isn’t vile to work for. Her sense of humour, ruthless determination to do her job well and her ability to stick up for those working for her make her an excellent, if occasionally slightly scary, boss. I want to be more self assured and trust my judgement a bit more- Viv’s the woman to look up to. (Also, when the young PC answers the above question with a hesitant “..Seven?” Viv replies “Oh, good. I do love a man who isn’t bothered about career progression.”)

Alicia Florrick- The Good Wife

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The Good Wife is my current obsession. I love it because it’s full of interesting female characters in addition to Alicia (Kalinda, Diane and my personal soulmate in the world of work, Elsbeth Tascioni), but my focus in terms of career is Alicia. She mucks it up sometimes, she often feels like she’s struggling to parent her kids and she has to deal with an on/off husband who is a bit of a git. Yet, she manages something that resembles a work/life balance (she also drinks a lot of red wine) and looks amazing at all times. I am currently debating whether I am going to grow my hair into an ‘Alicia’. But it’s the way that she negotiates her career that impresses me. It doesn’t always go right, but she brushes herself off and starts again- and this attitude is one worth holding on to at times of disappointment.

I guess all these women have a lot in common and represent idealised versions of women in the workplace. However, I reckon if I can channel just a little of what they have in my own job, I can see improvements. We’ll see.

Tell me- who do you admire in a career sense?

 

Some thoughts on detox teas

A few years ago, I had a nerdy tea blog (you can read it here.) It really was the start of my tea obsession- I mean, I reviewed sixteen types of Earl Grey as an experiment- and it’s really interesting to note how massive tea has become since I wrote it.

Every now and then, though, I find myself going back to it when I see the expensive detox teas doing giveaways. I did a detailed breakdown of what went into these teas and why they really aren’t worth the money; they are pretty much the modern equivalent of snake oil in some cases. The case I looked at back then was a spectacularly dodgy-looking outfit (there were accusations of fraud and over-charging) and, while I’m not accusing any of the newer brands of doing anything like that, I do think it’s important to research what goes into this often very expensive, highly marketed teas.

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If you want to see my whole post, it’s here– but I’ve also cut and pasted the breakdown of ingredients in that particular tea, which are pretty common in the ‘detox regime’ teas. You could have similar effects with bog-standard (read: cheap) herbal teas. The teas promise fast results for a very expensive system (this one was offering a two-week course for £40); in fact they won’t do much.

BTW, I’m not a scientist. I Googled. Check with your doctor if you intend to do anything health-related, obviously. I’m just trying to save you some money.

Oolong tea: on its own, oolong is used as a weight loss aid. So you could pick up a decent packet of this for around four quid (you’d get more than thirty cups out of it too…)

Hawthorn: Again, another ingredient that is used in Eastern medicine for digestion. You can buy tablets from Holland and Barratt if you really want to try this (but fennel and peppermint are much cheaper and nicer as teas)

Lotus leaves: basically another digestive aid, with added roughage.

Alisma rhizome: stimulates the kidneys and makes you pee. So you’ll lose water weight. Which you would put back on really easily. You could just drink more liquids (including green tea and water) if you want to cut down on  bloating.

Cassia seeds- most commonly used in laxatives.

Gynostemma Pentaphyllum- this may lower cholesterol. But so do apples, brown rice and avocados. Still not seeing how this tea is worth eighty quid a month.

Poria- another pee-inducing ingredient

Anyway. Nothing will ‘detox’ you except your liver and kidneys. You could have these effects by eating better, upping your water intake and exercising. I get it that these are attractive (I would love to be able to not worry about my weight!), but please think before you give up your money for a silver bullet that just isn’t worth it.

Musings on a mural

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The day after Boxing Day, I needed to get out of the house for a bit. I wasn’t up for a run (I haven’t been for a run since my ill-fated attempt at Hove Park Run last month…), so I decided to go for a long walk around where I live.

I found myself in a tiny graveyard. I was half looking for a particular grave that I knew was there but, like most of December, the day was damp and gloomy- and it wasn’t a good day for a grave hunt (I’ll probably blog about the hows and whys of my search in a future blogpost. It’s a writing related thing.) I also felt a bit odd, wandering around a graveyard on my own, dressed ever so slightly like Justin Bieber. I appeared a bit weird, if I’m honest. And then my eye was drawn to the little church that sits by the graveyard.

I’ve lived near this church, on and off, for most of the time I’ve lived in Brighton, but I’ve never been in. I only found the graveyard about ten months ago, by accident. I noticed that the church was open, so I stepped inside. It was a welcome respite from the weather and I was curious to see what it looked like in the actual church itself.

What I found was a small, pretty church with three thirteenth century murals- the picture above is the best one and it tells the story of the murder of Thomas Becket. It fascinated me and I sat there for a while, just looking at it. I’m not religious, but I found myself sitting in this deserted church (it’s no longer used for worship, but is open most days for visitors), deep in thought. I mean, it’s not every day that you unexpectedly come across a mediaeval religious painting about a mile from your house, is it?

The thought that struck me was that the mural was nearly 800 years old. Somebody at that time painted these pictures on the walls, with no idea that some weird girl, 800 years in the future, would sit there thinking about it all. I thought about all the people who had sat in the church over the centuries, looking at the paintings- whether through devotion, boredom, curiosity or a mixture of all three. Inrealised that the existence of the paintings means that the area where I live has been inhabited for nearly a thousand years and that the church has seen plague outbreaks, survived Henry VIII’s reformation of the church, civil war, a massive fire in 1906 and everything else. It’s slightly mind-bending. I’ve looked at a book that was published just after Shakespeare’s death and the park that contains the church has two ancient elm trees which have stood since the time of Elizabeth I. Both of these thungs impresed me with their longevity. I feel it whenever I go to a museum. Time is everywhere.

I found that I thought a lot about that mural and about time in the days running up to new year. We all get wrapped up in thoughts of ‘new year, new me’ and become focused on stuff like that. But we’re just specks in time, aren’t we? We all think, thanks to stuff like Doctor Who, we’ve become more confident with stuff to do with time and space and history and science, but it’s funny how one thing-in my case, a picture of a martyr- can make you really stop and look hard at your life and your place in the world.

 

 

Ten years in Brighton

Ten years ago today, I packed a few bags and a couple of small boxes of belongings into my aunt’s teeny tiny hire car and drove from Lancashire (I’d been at my cousin’s wedding the night before) to Brighton, unsure of what would happen to me once there. I’d had a really rough couple of months- the details are not interesting- and had managed to get a compassionate transfer to the Brighton office of the arm of the Civil Service I’d been working for in the six months since I’d left uni. I started applying to study for my PGCE at the Brighton universities. I was certain this was what I wanted.

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Brighton had seemed, to a lot of people, an odd choice. Surely I should have gone to my other favoured city, Manchester? It was near to my home city of Leeds and it was just, well, northern. But I’d been to uni in the North West and, although I’d enjoyed my visits to Manchester and generally loved everything about it, I didn’t know anyone there. I also didn’t know it as well as Brighton, where my aunt had lived for a few years and where I’d been on holiday a few times. I also knew I wanted to live near the sea.

I came down here with a vague idea that I’d stay for six months. I’m still here. I have friends, family (my aunt is still here!) and a whole support network that I’ve made from scratch. I met Benn on my first day in the office and in two weeks we’ll be celebrating being together for ten years. I no longer recognise Leeds when I walk around and feel like a fish out of water whenever I visit; I used to be able to navigate its streets at 3am on a Saturday night with no problem, no matter how much I’d had to drink. I could only do that now in my adopted city.

I’ve lived a third of my life by the sea (although, ironically, I rarely get to go and actually look at it!) and my life has changed completely and utterly. I’m still sometimes as sad as I was when I arrived, but I know that I have so much to help me get through it. If you’d have told me, when I moved here, that I’d be married with a kid, a job I’ve been in nearly nine years and a group of excellent friends, I wouldn’t have believed you.

And although the city sometimes drives me mad and I threaten that I’m going to move back up north, I still love it.

Here’s to the next ten years, Brighton.