Monday, 14 August 2017

Bring on Bogo Pogos and Tina Sparkle...

I am not a fan of reality TV. 
Apart from a couple of specific exceptions (more of those in a minute) I avoid all examples of the genre. People judging other people just doesn't do it for me. Not one bit. And I completely despise the type of show that puts together a montage of the worst contestants/auditonees/humans for the baying public's amusement. (You all know who I mean, yeah?) Even the beloved and innocuous Great British Bake Off bugged me. Mel and Sue were brilliant and lovely hosts, but ultimately someone had made a cake. It was a cake that someone had made. There is no down side to a cake. Stop finding a downside, Hollywood, and be grateful. Eat it, say thank you and shut up.

I'm not a fan of early
evening blood sports.
I said I had exceptions. A couple of years ago I watched a series of The Voice. This was purely because Boy George was announced as a judge. Despite my dislike of the format, I ended up getting sucked in and eventually, irrespective of Boy George, I actively looked forward to each episode and the progress of the contestants. No one was humiliated, criticism was constructive and it didn't feel like it was tapping into the baser aspects of human nature by being gladitorial rather than supportive. It was nice. When the next (Boy George-less) series started, however, I was happy to leave it be, having done my time. 

The other reality show I like (no, I LOVE) is RuPaul's Drag Race. Now more or less mainstream, it has elevated the art of drag to a much wider audience than before. Whether that is a good thing or not, depends on your point of view. (There has been some criticism that drag is, and should continue to be a subversive attack on the establishment and therefore can never be mainstream. Alternatively, it's been praised for it's up front and centre LGBTQ presence in a country where the current political situation reminds us that hard-fought rights cannot be taken for granted.) Regardless of the debate, I am IN. Drag queens fiercely competing for the prize, whilst having each other's backs. Lipsyncing, runway presentations and performance art. Skills such as make up artistry, costume design, stand up comedy and dance. It combines trashy TV with a profound understanding of the need for solidarity in the face of adversity. Sigh. It's totes amazeballs and ev.

But still, why go on about all this, I hear you ask? What has triggered a reality show blog post this very day? Well, here's the thing. In January, I made a new year's resolution. I promised myself that I would try to broaden my horizons. I decided that the year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, would be the first year that I watched...Strictly!

I am assuming it will be exactly
like Strictly Ballroom every week. 
I know. I know. It's so not me. Saturday night judgey-ness and a results show on a Sunday too? Far too much commitment surely? But here's the thing. My Saturday night social life schedule is greatly reduced these days due to old age, so I'm usually in the house near a TV. And in the past, as I've been watching Beverly Hills Cop for the millionth time, I have seen my Twitter feed being stuffed full of joyous appreciation, witty commentaries and die hard passion regarding the dancing people that the rest of the world has been watching. I've had no idea who most of them are or what they are doing and yet Twitter's been having a weekly party because of it. And it's always so positive! Ed Balls brought joy to the world with his Gangnam Style in so many more ways than he managed when he had actual power in Government. At least that's the way it seemed from the gaspy adoration from my timeline. No one laughed at him, but laughed with him. He was living life large and people were loving him for it. Yet I missed it all. I wasn't there. I was probably re-watching something on Netflix. So enough is enough. The time has come and I am ready to join in.

Craig (?) approves of my TV plans
At the time of writing, there has been a contestant reveal each day. I have taken a smidge more interest this year (what with it being my first time and all) but other than a quick glance, I've been mostly in the dark about who they are. Until Friday. On Friday it was revealed that Richard Coles is contestant number 5! This has upped my excitement levels massively. I am a long time fan of Richard Coles. The fact that he is an Anglican priest AND he used to be in the Communards already blows my mind. Then there are his talking head appearances on the most interesting of documentaries. He contributed to How to be Bohemian with Victoria Coren Mitchell in 2015, a sumptuous feast of a series to devour, and then more recently, he appeared on Queer as Art for the BBC season of programmes marking the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. Basically he rocks and I cannot wait to see what he does on Strictly

My one stipulation of my new Autumn/Winter Saturday night viewing, is that it has to be kind. I have heard on the grapevine that Len (?) has left and there is a new judge this year. I need them to be nice and encouraging not cruel and cutting. I need the editors to show the progress and effort put in, not the mistakes and humiliations for an attempt at cheap comedy. And I need Twitter to keep up the party atmosphere every Saturday so I feel like this huge life change has been worth it. Is that all right with everyone? Thanks in advance.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Let's Just Write First Drafts Forever...

Writing a book is easy! Except when it's not. OK, there's loads of hard bits, but the first draft - the time when you can type any old nonsense because you know it will all get taken out at a later, unimaginable future time - that's the easiest bit of all.

Exactly what I look
like at the moment
I'm currently in the middle of the first draft of book two, and what a jolly old time of it I'm having. I sit in my usual Costa place (back wall, soft leather bench seat, individual table) and crack on with churning out the words. They come reasonably easily - not least because at this stage I simply don't care how terrible it all is. With no quality control, getting words on a page is the sole aim. 
Contemplating the ease
of a first draft in Costa.

If this were the sum total of all that was needed I would be laughing. I could write first drafts of all kind of things. I could branch out into non-fiction! Textbooks on subjects about which I haven't the foggiest could be my bag. First drafts are great. 

What follows a first draft is a whole other ball game. Second, third and eventually fiftieth drafts can be wearing. Forcing your eyes to begin the umpteenth read through, or knowing there's something wrong around Chapter 15 but you can't figure out what, are definitely the non-fun parts of the process. Then allowing people to read it for the first time is perhaps the scariest feeling ever. And when you hear something positive from the carefully selected people you've asked, the relief lasts only seconds. The immediate thought is then, 'But they would say that because they know me and are being nice.' This results in never fully knowing if what you're putting out into the world is any good. Self-doubt hinders everything.

Waiting for feedback is intense!
But even all that isn't the worst part. The worst part is most definitely the marketing. This is where I am up to with book one. Carry the Beautiful has been out for four months. So far everyone who knows me that is likely to buy it, has done. My weekly Facebook and Twitter links to the Amazon page have reached everyone they are going to reach. So I need a game plan. The trouble is, I haven't really got one.

I've gone down a self-publishing route - Ingram Spark - that means in theory, I can walk into any bookshop, convince them my book should be stocked, and they have the means to order it through their bookselling channels. If I'd gone with other Print on Demand companies, that wouldn't necessarily be the case. Except the thing is, I have to convince people in bookshops to stock it. I have to pitch. I have to sell. This is something I absolutely don't want to do. It's not that I don't think it's good enough. I think the complete opposite to be honest. It's a cracker! A curl-up-on-the-sofa-can't-put-it-down-stay-up-all-night-page-turner. Obviously I'm biased but even so. It's gripping and funny and well-written (hell yeah!) and moving. But I'd so much rather the world worked that out for itself instead of me having to shout about it. It's just the way I prefer things.

Look how well my
baby suits sitting on
a bookshelf.
I am working on this though. If you follow me on Twitter, or like the Carry the Beautiful Facebook page you'll have noticed I post screen shots of good reviews. I know, the brass neck of me! It's not who I am at all. But retweeting praise is the first step to becoming the cocky self-promoting, bookselling machine that I need to be. Perhaps at some point I will go on an all-dayer round town, and when I'm tipsy enough not to care, go and have a natter with the poor sod on the till in Waterstones. That could be one way of progressing. Maybe? Hmmm, maybe I'll give that one a swerve. In the meantime however, I'll keep going with the weekly tweets and Facebook posts, and screen shot the reviews. Let's take this slowly, everyone.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Enjoy a Food Based Euphemism On Me...

Aubergine curry 
recipe here
replaced yoghurt 
with coconut milk.
A few hours 
pottering. Front 
left is this dip.
 Last week my brother-in-law cooked, among other things, vegetarian koftas and I can't stop thinking about them. 

This is the problem when you love food. You taste something utterly delicious but then can't concentrate on the slightest thing until you've eaten it again. 

After a lovely evening with my bro-in-law, his variety of dishes and a selection of siblings, I spent the following afternoon searching the Internet for aubergine curry recipes. Then, once I'd found one that sounded vaguely similar to the previous evening's meal, with ingredients that didn't take much hunting down and was sort of healthy, I spent the rest of the day making it. I do get carried away.*

Hot and Sour Soup.
More filling than the
take-away version.
Prawn toast but a 
gazillion times tastier 
and healthier than 
the usual.
In contrast to my teen years, this is a whole new world. I grew up in a household fuelled by mince and pasta. Oh, and don't forget rice. My mum made the same meal repeatedly but had the nous to call it a variety of names - risotto, kedgeree, rice with bits... there was no end to her creativity in making affordable bulk-bought ingredients seem more than they were. I was once with a friend who had a similar mince-based childhood, chatting to another woman we hadn't known back then. This woman agreed that she too had experienced a basic diet growing up, consisting of simple things like pasta and pesto. Pesto! My friend and I turned to each other, full of the knowledge that this woman was clearly posh and had no idea of our small town mince struggles. (I appreciate I am lucky. I am not cooking for fussy eaters, there's only one or two people at most, and I have the time and means to indulgently shop in four or five stores to secure the weekly ingredients I need. I could not have endured feeding multiple children in a pre-Nigella era.)

Nigella's Moonblush
. I don't
even like tomatoes
but I love these.
John Whaite's
and potato
When I left for Uni in 1996, I didn't even like pasta. (I'd spent the childhood Mince and Pasta Years huffing, 'I'll get my own' and usually resorting to cheesy mashed potato.) As a new student I mostly relied on cheese and baked bean toasted sandwiches. This was handy as sharing a kitchen with nine other women didn't allow a lot of time for culinary exploration. But fast forward to now and I'm like a pig in shit when I spend a day pottering with ingredients. I attribute this to the rise of TV chefs just as I started cooking for myself. Nigel Slater taught me how to make mouth-watering comfort food. Jamie Oliver taught me how to make proper food for everyday meals. Nigella Lawson taught me how to do wow stuff for when people are over. And the repertoire is never complete. Most recently, John Whaite's book, Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients made me revisit lots of recipes and flavours that I thought I had a handle on, and opened them all up once more.

This is a much-tinkered
version of this original
burger recipe.  
Nigella's chilli is
always my go-to
recipe before
I start changing
Food changes over time. That's what makes it so interesting as a hobby. (It's why I view Fanny Cradock Cooks for Christmas as a rich historical source rather than a comically dated TV programme.) I have a few staple recipes that get trotted out every so often (chilli, burgers and casserole, thanks for asking) but most days I'm bored if I haven't cooked something new. And there's no end to foodie-inspiration now Pinterest exists. Tonight I'm doing a sort of Morocoon cous cous thing. Tomorrow is the aubergine curry I made after the evening at my sister's. The day after that, it'll be something else. The world really is all of our oysters. (Except oysters are one thing I can't stomach.) There are so many tastes, flavours and delicacies yet to discover. Now all I need to do is stop thinking about my brother-in-law's koftas.

Have a lovely week, folks.

*This is nothing like the meal my BIL made. I need to make that clear. His was fit. Mine conforms to Weight Watchers exacting standards. For those who give a shite about that kind of thing, half the amount pictured comes in at seven smart points. Balancing fit as frig food with low-fat good health is a science. A science, I tell you! *shakes fist madly in air before lying on the settee eating crisps*


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.