Monday, 24 July 2017

Born to *Run/Jog Breathlessly... (*Delete as appropriate)

Psst. Let me tell you something. Come closer, I'm keeping it a bit quiet for now. Ready? OK then. I think I've got myself into an exercise regime! No, don't repeat it out loud, I don't want to jinx it. At the moment it is tentative at best. As soon as I start to think I am a regular exerciser it will all go out of the window and I will eat cake under a blanket. I know me of old.

It was Charlie Brooker's fault. Several years ago he wrote an article about how he, a self-confessed non-runner, had started running. It all sounded so easy - he named the app he used and everything. I had already made the, quite frankly, ludicrous purchase of a treadmill sometime before that. It was so I could walk whilst I watched telly. I can confirm that the idea of that lasted all of two episodes of Identity - a one hit wonder of an ITV show with the guy from Queer As Folk. Apart from Aiden Gillen, I only remember the programme because I tried to walk along with the first two episodes. It was the most boring two hours of my life. No offence to Identity, which may well have been marvellous, but walking along to scenes of office-based discussions about identity fraud, does NOT bring out your inner Flo Jo. The treadmill became the obligatory clothes horse and I was just glad I got the cheapest one in Argos. (Although I had to pay my little brother to assemble it for me. That was back in the days when he was happy to give up his afternoon for a fiver.)

Since then I have flirted with exercise, sporadically. I used Charlie's app for a bit and then lost the motivation. Occasionally I would walk on the treadmill whenever I could muster up the energy but that wasn't often. The most successful attempt at using it came in 2014 after I'd read Alexandra Heminsley's, Running Like a Girl. Each page was like having a lovely but persistent personal trainer standing over me saying, 'Come on Bondie, look lively,' and I gave it a good go for another few months. But that was three years ago. Nowadays my treadmill is dusty, a bit rickety and unused. UNTIL NOW.

Nine minutes
equals 1.2 miles!
Yes, that's right. Three weeks ago, I began again. With zero stamina and an absolute hatred of exercise I started running. I ditched the app and made up my own plan. Basically, on day one I ran for three minutes. Day two, I ran for three and a half. Day three, I ran for four. I increased my running time by thirty seconds every day. Today I made it to nine minutes!
Where the magic happens

Now look, I do get that this is shite compared to some. Eddie Izzard's feat of running forty-three marathons in fifty-one days isn't getting threatened. Not for a second. But still, nine minutes! Honestly. This is a major thing for me. Most impressively is that so far, I haven't missed a day. (Except for weekends off. I'm not an automaton.) My morning routine is barely troubled. Before I've fully woken up, I've put on my trainers, hairband and sports bra along with the PJs I've slept in, and got on with it. Nine knackered, sweaty minutes later I'm ready for the shower and can start my day. 

And my inspirations? As frigging fantastic as the Women's Euros are right now, I can't attribute this sudden sporting spurt to them. Nor any of the finely tuned athletes that have been on the TV recently what with Wimbledon or the Para Athletic Championships. Nope, my sporting inspiration is my old-time hero of Nigella Lawson. I read this article ages ago and it stuck with me. Fifteen minutes a day, loud 80s music and not much else. That is the kind of sporting aspiration I can aim for. I will reach fifteen minutes on 8th August. It is an achievable target. I will always be Team Nigella, in all areas of life.

Nine minutes!
I do realise I'm not revolutionary in the slightest. I haven't invented the wheel or cured cancer. Today I have run for nine minutes - big wow. But as someone that sits down for almost all her waking hours, this feels like a good thing to be doing. This feels like something I didn't think I could do yet here I am proving myself wrong. Plus, now this morning's nine minutes are over, I feel quite perky. That's got to be worth something.  

Have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens...

Argghh, the bloody Summer. Have I mentioned how much I hate it? No? Well let me tell you, it drives me mad. Everything about me functions at half speed in July and August and I find it impossible to motivate myself. I wonder if this is a universal experience, bourne from the evolution of children switching off for the annual school holiday? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Or is it just me and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder in reverse? No idea. Anyhoo - yes, I really did type that non-word - in order to be motivated to wake up, write enough and generally function at a basic level, I am constantly bribing myself. A thousand more words before the next cup of tea. Finish this chapter then you can have a wee. That kind of thing. The good news is, I know how it works. I will be hot and grumpy until August 31st and then I will be miraculously better. But until then I need to manipulate myself into setting to and cracking on. Below is an insight into my current bribes. These are the little shining lights at the end of that day's particular tunnel. Once I've written enough (or on weekends, simply got up and attended to personal hygiene) I can partake in their loveliness. By dangling these carrots throughout the next couple of months I can keep on track and keep mostly sane. So - sing it with me - these are a few of my favourite things.🎶
Ignore the subtitles, ignore
the actors, check out the open
stairs with the candles. I want.
A casual mention on Twitter this week from Marian Keyes, and I was in. Another Scandi crime drama to sink my teeth into - Dicte is about a reporter called - can you believe it? - Dicte, who investigates crimes and gets under the skin of the local police guy. I'll be honest. If this were set in Ipswich or Wolverhampton or Cirencester, I'd be less arsed. But it is set in Denmark you see, (Aarhus to be exact) so it immediately makes everything feel better. I've watched most of series one (on All Four) with one eye on the action and the other on sourcing features of Dicte's open-plan home. So far this has resulted in me buying a White Linen candle from Tesco and looking at how I can kick the wood out of the back of each stair. It's probably not going to happen, but still. It's ace. It's Danish. It reminds me of Borgen and The Bridge because of all the Danishness. It's something to look forward to when I'm done for the day.

The fruit, veg and wine diet.
Things That Make You Go Mmmm
I have talked before about how much I despair of summer food. Salad is no match for mashed potato and gravy, no matter what Pinterest inspired novelties you employ. I love cooking and I love eating what I make. Every meal I consume has to be worth salivating over. If I've got a limited number of Weight Watcher points to use, I'm not going to waste them on anything that doesn't make me say mmmmmmmmm after every mouthful.* With that in mind, I jolly up my evenings with excellent food selections. The photo shows Saturday's tea,** the planning of which filled many an evening in the preceding week. When you're creating extravaganzas like this, the mood is high.

*I mostly do this in my head.
** Also Sunday's, as well as a whole weekend's worth of open-fridge nibbling whilst forgetting the reason I came into the kitchen in the first place. 

You can tell I am enjoying
 it by this photo that
isn't staged at all.
Alan Partridge
Alan Partridge appears to be timeless. I was at school when I watched the Day Today, in Sixth Form for Knowing Me Knowing You, and in my twenties for I'm Alan Partridge. When Mid Morning Matters kicked off I was in my thirties, along with when I read his first book, I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan. Now I'm reading his new book, Nomad and I'm within sniffing distance of being forty. There's not much comedic popular culture in my life that has lasted so long with the same impact. Nomad is hilarious as you'd expect. With my current seasonal funk I can't concentrate on long, involved plots and heavy topics. I need humour done well. This is that.

Brenda on a windy moor
is marvellous telly.
This has been on for years but I've only just got on to its marvellousness. Brenda Blethyn is very watchable.* I don't know what that means but it's the kind of thing people say. I do love me a gritty murder mystery. Anything that used to be classed as the ITV Sunday evening slot but is now played 24/7 on channels like Encore and ITV3, is right up my street. I've devoured all the episodes of Vera that I've found on Catch Up over the past few weeks. Basically Northumberland seems as moody and brooding as all my favourite Nordic Noir telly. And Vera Stanhope is a cracking character. Knowing there's a new episode downloaded on the planner is a good feeling.

*I wrote that sentence yesterday. Today I am looking for links to add to the post and I found this review (linked above) with the exact same sentence. 1) I didn't plagiarise it. 2) Brenda Blethyn must be very watchable for realsies.

Sometimes buying a travel book is just
as good as going somewhere.
This falls into the category of Things That Look Brill That I Might Not End Up Doing. A few weeks ago I bought myself a Reykjavik travel book. Then I saw online there was a walking food tour stopping at six different food outlets! Then - and prepare yourself for a punctuation ejaculation - there was a walking beer tour at night!!!??#@! (Translation: high excitement). There are current practicalities that make this hard to book right now (time, money blah blah blah) but reading about it and knowing it is there for when I am able to go, is thrilling. Plus, it will be cold and I will wear jumpers!

Germany score against Sweden
 in the 2015 World Cup quarter finals
Women's Euros
Two years ago I decided I should watch the Women's World Cup because of feminism and sisterhood. Also the BBC were showing it and I wanted to support their decision to broadcast more women's sport. With all these noble intentions it was quite the shock when I got properly hooked. Matches started late and finished in the early hours but I didn't care. I decided I found it far more enjoyable than the men's game and it gave me the kick start to seek out a local team to support. (Both Liverpool and Everton play at a rugby league stadium mere minutes from my home. It's easy as.) This time I'm actively looking forward to the Lionesses' big tournament. The Euros started yesterday, but England's first match is Wed 19th July. It's not about feminism or sisterhood anymore. It's about a fab national team with more than a decent crack at doing well. Plus, the Netherlands' start times are a lot more user friendly. Channel 4 is broadcasting this time -  the England and Scotland matches at least. The rest is on Eurosport. The wall chart is here - print it out and get involved!

Aforementioned Tesco
candle: singlehandedly
 hygge-ing up my life
till Autumn.
So there you go. These are the joys I am filling my days with until my mood lifts and I cool down. When September comes everything will be OK. The nights will start a little earlier. The need for watching a film under a blanket will be far more pressing. There will be gravy once more. It feels like an unimaginable Utopia right now, but one day it will come. One day soon, if we all believe hard enough.

Have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Winging It and Other School Stories...

Ah, that old work-life balance. It's an elusive frigger, innit. I spent a large part of my youth with the focus swung firmly on life. I didn't really get the point of working hard at school. Oh don't worry. I never got into real trouble. I handed everything in and turned up to lessons (except PE. Sorry Mrs Graham - you were very lovely but outdoor hockey in Winter was not) but alongside that, I had the stress-free mantra of 'it'll do'. Excellence wasn't something I deemed necessary. Not when the bare minimum would suffice. Thank frig I had parents who knew it was pointless to nag. For my A Levels, I had the foresight to apply to Universities with very low grade requirements in order to maintain a chilled out ambiance during exam time. Clever! The plan was a winner and I got accepted and qualified for my first choice. 

Am I a fed up teacher
at the end of her tether?
Or am I role-playing a
passport officer because the
class are about to fly to Australia
via Google Earth? You decide.
It all changed once someone decided to employ me. Paid work bought out my inner puritan. I discovered a bit of personal ambition and focus. I went back to Uni, got a teaching job, got in early, went home late and generally did more than I needed most of the time. The swingometer was now firmly on work, with life being squashed into non-existence at times. So much so that when the job started to annoy me, I didn't know how to not give it my all. Rather than step back and reintroduce the 'it'll do' mentality that had stood me in such good stead in my teens, I self-indulgently decided it was all shit, and I wanted no more of it. Not a peri-menopause, but peri-mid-life crisis, if you will. I was going to be a writer and to hell with everything else. 

Initially I loved being flexible. I wrote in PJs. I wrote in bed. I had days off for period pain in a way I had never been able to do before. I took the first December off so I could do my Christmas baking. (WTAF?) I could work to suit me and it was all marvellous. My focus was knee deep in living life once again. Except some days it was hard to be motivated. And some days I found more pleasure in watching back to back episodes of 30 Rock rather than working on that tricky chapter, or using my new-found free time productively. So that probably wasn't work or life - more an apathetic third dimension of the swingometer. (There's a joke about Lib Dems somewhere in there but I'm not going to make it).

In hindsight I think that was a transitional period. It took a couple of years to settle into a new routine. One that didn't involve leaving the house everyday at 7am in wonder-webbed suit trousers, or spending my evenings marking and my weekends planning. I had to have a jolly old time to get myself back to wanting to go at it full throttle. The book I ended up finishing took a lot longer than it needed to but I was also managing a complete change of life at the same time. (That's the second menopause reference I've made. It's-a-coming - as Sally Albright says when Harry Burns asks when's she going to be 40 - someday!)

All teachers at
this time of year

So now I spend five days writing stuff and have a weekend off. Finally, it's balanced. Infinitely easier than my old routine but enjoyably busy all the same. At the end of the week, as I crank up Simon Mayo's All Request Friday, I can look back on five days of decent productivity. This includes publishing the week's blog post, online promotion, writing approx 2000 words of the current book, a day of plotting and researching the book after that, and writing a new blog post to publish the following week. I have the next two years mapped out, and every day has it's timetable. It's all go but all manageable. And means my once-abused work ethic is ticking over at a steady but healthy rate. 

There were upsides to teaching. It paid a lot more money and the kids were hilarious. But at this time of year - when I could be tearing my hair out with reports, performances, assessments, transition meetings, and hyper children who can see the sun and know it means wind down to the holidays - I wouldn't trade places in a million years. The moral of the story? I'm lucky. And be nice to teachers right now. 

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 3 July 2017

I Don't Want To Come Over All Mark Kermode...

Soz and that, but
it's just the way it's turned out.
In the past few weeks it feels like I've inadvertently become a film critic on this blog. First Wonder Woman, then Pretty Woman. It’s not my intention, honest. Even less my intention to restrict myself to writing about pictures with woman in the title. It’s just that individual films tend to spark off a stream of consciousness, that when left to run their course can become bigger than the original film. At least in my head anyway. This week I’ll try and keep it lighter. I’m still going to mention a film, but only because it's part of a bigger thing. Ready to crack on? Grand.

This scene alone is worth an 
immediate watch of Pride.
In 2014, Pride - the film about a lesbian and gay activist group (LGSM) that raised money for a Welsh village during the 1984/5 miners’ strike – was released. I loved it. Firstly, the music was straight from my childhood – all Jimmy Somerville and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Perfect. Then there was the story. Despite being set at a time of prejudice and ignorance, the solidarity between the different communities, was moving. It was also funny. Plus, it was true. Apart from some minor narrative tweaks, it all happened. This shit went down. The fact it was thirty years until the story was told to the wider world, reminds us of how selective our press can be.

One of the main characters of the film (and therefore a real person) was Mark Ashton. He was shown to be the driving influence of the decision to support the miners and form LGSM. The film depicts his tenacity and unwavering desire to do something to help those in need. When you watch it, and see him in his early twenties, you get the impression that this is a guy that is going to make a difference to the world. He is going to do good things.

*SPOILER ALERT* The end titles are both uplifting and emotional. As LGSM and the miners march side by side for 1985's Pride, we see ‘Where Are They Now?’ captions for some of the main players. We learn that Sian went on to University and ultimately became an MP. Jonathan has lived with his HIV status for decades and is still healthy in his mid-sixties. The feel-good factor is high at this point but then comes the kick in the guts. Mark Ashton died of HIV/AIDS when he was 26. Only a couple of years after the strike ended.

Ben Schnetzer, portraying
 LGSM's Mark Ashton.
Honestly, I really was trying to keep it light this week. I’ll try harder now. A few months ago, one of the original LGSM members, Mike Jackson, set up a Crowdfunder. Its aim was to raise money to buy a blue plaque for Mark. One that would be displayed outside Gay's the Word, the bookshop where LGSM used to meet. In the bastardized words of the Bridget Jones woman, he had me at ‘Hi, I’m Mike Jackson’. This wasn’t one of my usual drunken online pledges either. (I’ve explained before how I once woke up on a Saturday morning to an email thanking me for my £75 donation for a comedian’s new DVD - a comedian I only know through his tweets. Clearly, my charitable nature reaches it peak via the golden bubbles of Prosecco.) This Crowdfunder was different. I soberly and deliberately jumped at the chance to be involved. I was young but I remember the AIDS crisis; watching the news report one famous death after another seemed never-ending. The lost talent and unknown potential snatched from the world at that time is unfathomable and never ceases to overwhelm. Supporting a blue plaque for Mark Ashton felt important. He achieved more than most people manage in their life, and in a shorter amount of time. That’s definitely worthy of recognition.

In other news, I could
  have spent hours in here. 
The plaque was unveiled outside Gay’s the Word in May. The other day I decided to go and see it. Yeah, I know. A four-hour round trip to see a blue plaque might seem excessive, but I don’t care. I can eat my lunch on my sofa or I can mix it up and eat in London now and then. Last Friday I chose London.

When I got home that evening, it felt absolutely right to watch Pride again. But alongside that, I delved into the treasure trove of factual information that the Internet provides. There is so much! Pictures of visits by LGSM to the Dulais Valley, an all-the-feels documentary on Youtube made in 1985, memories of the real life Hefina and Cliff as played by Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy - the joy of people sharing a goal and working together.* I’m so glad that Pride was made. I wouldn’t know this story otherwise. I wouldn’t have a clue of the talents and bloody-mindedness of this group of extraordinary people. I’d have missed out.

Have a lovely week, folks.

*Hot off the Twitter presses as I write this post, it has been announced there is a book about the real life Pride in the offing. I couldn't be happier.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Oh God. The Pressure... of a Blog...

20th Century eyes! I am so old I
went to school in the last millennium.
When my class was studying The Merchant of Venice for GSCE in 1994, Mrs McCormack, the English teacher, would regularly implore us to ‘stop seeing the play through 20th Century eyes’. Apparently the anti-semitism was all fine and dandy as long as you remembered it had been written when racial abuse and a fear of difference were all part of happy old-skool Venetian life. Or something like that. Since then, the concept of '20th Century eyes' regularly pops into my head. At least the concept of remembering a play/book/song is from a different time, does anyway.

Nah. You're alright Rich, love.
I'm fine where I am.
And so it was last week. Pretty Woman was on the telly. It's not a great film to watch as an adult. Cosy prostitution? 'Sexy' Richard Gere who wants to pay, not only for sex, but for a woman to be at his beck and call because he doesn't want the complications of a real life girlfriend whilst he does his important man business? All a bit yuck. Viewing with enlightened feminist eyes means it is a problematic film. But oh how I devoured it as a youth.

To be fair, this is a good message. 
It came out when I was twelve. It was 1990 and back then I loved it. I first saw it at my friend Anne's house on video. I wasn't allowed to watch cosy prostitution films round mine so I had to be discreet. Later, my best friend at high school, Joanna, invited me to her house where we watched it repeatedly. Every time I was there, we put it on. We also quoted it. Every day at school. Key lines became our bread and butter. You're on my fax’. ‘Well that's one I've haven't been on before’. Standard. Like breathing. ‘Well colour me happy there's a sofa in here for two.’ And then of course there's the classic. The line that makes me bite the insides of my cheeks to stop saying aloud, at times. When you see a particularly po-faced woman in Marksies, shopping for granny pants with her long suffering husband. I have to force closed my mouth to stop shouting'Fifty bucks Grandpa! For seventy-five the wife can watch'. I know. I am a bad person. 

'Work it, work it baby'.
Films like Pretty Woman play a big part in our lives. Films that arrive when everything is being shaped and considered. As well as PW, I have about three films* that I can quote verbatim from my teenage years. They pop into my head in any number of scenarios and remind me of being the Starter Nicky. Nicky #1. Nicky Open to Influence. Pretty Woman is probably the most famous. The most global. The one everyone else can quote as well. It, and they, are a uniting force, creating cultural communities amongst the generations that share them.

It was four years ago that I heard Joanna had died. It was in the local paper, despite her having moved away. We'd long since lost touch but losing a fight against breast cancer at 34 seems particularly shite. When Pretty Woman came on TV the other night I almost kept scrolling. But the early scene I'd chanced upon happened to feature one of our quotes. 'Can I call you Eddie? Not if you expect me to answer.' Not only is this a great answer to that question, one that can be adapted to any number of similarly phrased enquiries, but it also took me straight back to the early 90s, to High School and to Joanna. Sometimes it is necessary to stop looking at everything through feminist eyes and just enjoy the memories and nostalgia of stuff before you knew what you thought. Of revisiting the formation of who you became. And the good news is, as formative as my years were when I devoured it, Pretty Woman didn't make me become a prostitute. Not so far, anyway. Nor did it make me need a prince in a white limousine to rescue me right back. Even less likely. It just gave me the usual teen stuff of sharing a film with friends, being silly at school as well as a bunch of funny memories. When I read her obituary, Joanna's legal career sounded pretty damn impressive. Quoting Pretty Woman lines in RE, however, is the way I choose to remember her.

Have a lovely week, folks.

*Thank you for asking. When Harry Met Sally, Shirley Valentine, and Much Ado About Nothing. No, it's fine, you're welcome.