Monday, 16 April 2018

The Perfect Accompaniment to Mascara Application...

Let's revisit some over-sharing I've done in the past. Bear with, there'll be a logical explanation in a moment.

Sharp-minded memory champs may remember that despite being a feministic woman of the highest order, I also spend a chunk of the day covering my face in coloured grease. Often when I'm in the house alone and planning to see no one but the postman. (I never plan to see the postman, but the fruits of my late night eBay habit kick in with a knock on the door, every few days or so.) If you want to reacquaint yourself with that particular ramble, click here. Alternatively, be assured I settled this conflict of interests happily enough, with the declaration that I like putting on make up, and the process is relaxingly creative. It takes away none of the 'Smash the Patriarchy' undertones to my personality. 

So why bang that drum again? Why revisit past paragraphs. Well, I'll tell you. It occurred to me why I enjoy putting on make up so much. Yes, it's creative, and yes, I like playing with different products and trying new effects (I'm all about the 'bad girl smoky eye' at the moment) but there's more to it than that. I've realised it's one of two times in the day that I get my own choice about what I watch on TV*. Every morning, as I emerge from the bathroom, towel-clad and dripping (easy now) I sit in front of the mirror, turn to the Netflix app on my phone, and continue to watch whatever it is that I've got on a loop that week. I don't have to compromise or bargain. It's pure 'me' time. It's not the place to watch the latest must see TV series I'm bingeing at night. It's not the time for Swedish killings and Danish subtitles. It's not where I can give something my full attention. No, it's the time when I watch repeats of things I know backwards, or where I play something that only needs to be heard to be understood. While I'm concentrating on poking soft black pencils near my eyeballs, I need no cause to turn my head for a visual gag or dramatic yet soundless reaction to a plot-twist.

So for now, let me fill you in on the shows with which I share my make-up application time. What am I listening to, that sets me up for the day ahead, whilst taking away none of the concentration I need for creating flicky eyeliner? Let's take a look through the round window.

1. Schitt's Creek
I've talked about it before, but this comedy is perfect. Watch it for real first, then repeat aurally with a visual memory of the characters' facial expressions and mannerisms. The episodes are short, with plenty of 'laugh-out-loud' and 'ahhhhh' moments every time. Series Four is currently being shown in Canada and the US. I cannot tell you how irritating it is to see GIFs, comments and outpourings of love for the new episodes that I can't yet see. I'm frustrated beyond belief. As we speak, I'm repeating Series Three for the dozenth time. I've seen it...a lot. I could probably perform it as a one-woman play. One episode lasts as long as it takes to throw on my slap, dry my hair and get dressed. It's spot on. I've also worked out that I have all the social awkwardness of David Rose when I'm sober. It's uncanny.

2. James Acaster
Because I am old and watch repeats of Canadian sitcoms every day, I know little of new comedic talents breaking through. But somewhere at some point, James Acaster entered my life. I think I first became aware of him on an episode of Would I Lie to You. (Click here to see him totally outshine everyone else in the 'This is My..' round.) Now, ages later, he's popped up with his own stand up special on Netflix. I tested the waters this morning. I sat down, pressed play, and reached for my foundation primer. Reader, I can confirm that you do not need to see James Acaster to laugh hard at his comedy. He has a couple of visual gags, but he mostly talks and you LOL with gusto. Another winning companion to my morning routine.

3. Serial
We're moving onto podcasts now. Yes, I know Serial has been out for years but I am late to the party. I listened to this because every article about 'Must-Listen To Podcasts of (Insert Year Here)' referred to it like the grandmother of everything that has come after. For me, time flies when I'm absorbed in a story. And being able to use my hands and get on with life as I listen is a big win. Serial gripped me, yes even Season Two. It also opened up a world of True Crime that until then, I'd given a wide swerve. 

4. Missing Richard Simmons
A really random but intriguing podcast, not without controversy. The not-that-famous-in-the-UK fitness guru, Richard Simmons, apparently dropped out of public life a few years ago. This podcast makes what could be a complete non-story about that retreat, seem engrossing and interesting. It's 6 x 30 minutes so it covered a full week (Sunday's don't count) of cosmetic augmentation. 

This is the only GIF of Mark Kermode
I could find. It makes no sense . Sorry.
5. Mark Kermode's Film Reviews
Here's what happens when I watch a film. At some point after it's finished (and for the purposes of this list, it's often the following morning as I slap on the slap) I go to You Tube and type in the name of the film and 'Mark Kermode'. That's all. That's all it needs. Then, like magic, his well-thought out and considered review of the film pops up, filling ten minutes of my morning. I don't always agree with him but I always enjoy hearing his thoughts. I feel genuine sadness when I search for a film and it's been reviewed at a time he's taken a holiday. I am sure the people standing in for him are marvellous, but I feel something's been taken away from me. The best thing is saving up two or three reviews to watch at once. That fills up my entire daily beauty regime. Good times.

So there we are. Some suggestions if you ever feel like experimenting with make up or audio-entertainment. For now I'll carry on fuming that Schitt's Creek Season Four hasn't yet come to the UK, I'll keep seeking out engrossing True Crime stories to keep me guessing, and I'll definitely continue to plaster on the black eyeliner on a daily basis. Oh, and I'll smash the patriarchy too. It's good to keep busy.

Have a lovely week, folks.

*The second time in the day where I'm in full control of what I binge, is when I do my power-walk. Yes, that's right. I'm power-walking now. Or as I like to call it, walking. 


Monday, 9 April 2018

I'll Take the Pethidine Now, Thanks...

There's a common trope in writing circles. It gets trotted out all the time, is massively overused, and is something I've resorted to a few times myself. It's the idea that writing a book is like having a baby. 

It seems writing a book is like... a  painful, 
bloody, dog-eat-dog, dystopian world?
As a happily child-free grown up, I'm in no real position to understand whether there's any merit to this comparison. But I've seen it made so many times, by women and men with kids, as well as by the likes of me, that there must be something in it. Lazy and oft-repeated though it may be, there has got to be some stock in comparing the creation, delivery and world-reception of a novel to the conception, birth and rearing of a newborn person. It's just easier to sit down on publication day. That's all.

So whilst recognising that this metaphor is far from original, I'm going to run with it a bit longer. You see this week is a big deal. This week, my beautiful, bouncing book-baby is one year old.

It seems only yesterday I was working out the juxtaposed timelines of 1996 and 2016 for the split-story narrative. It seems only yesterday I was converting the PDF doc and tearing my hair out when the spacing wasn't right. It seems only yesterday it went on sale and people actually bought something I'd written. But there we go. With the speed of light, we are here. One year later. My baby - also known as Carry the Beautiful, (available at all good online retailers) - has been in the world for a whole year. It's my proudest achievement to date, as well as the hardest thing I've ever done. It caused no end of stress at times, and then the giddiest, most joyous of feelings at others. I have buzzed from reading the reviews on Amazon, and like a Mum at parent's evening, I've been chuffed to bits when a stranger has seen something good in the kid that I invented. I've even loved it when I've been taken to task over plot twists. My neighbour was incensed by the ending. She had to tell me how much she wanted it to go another way. It made my day that she'd read it and that she cared. 

A canvas of Child Number One -
a birthday present from my siblings.
And now I've got past the midnight feeds and mustard nappy stage, I'm ready to do it all over again. I've forgotten the stresses, I've glossed over the frustrations and I've disregarded the headaches. I'm only remembering the good bits and I want them all over again. I'm done with promoting Carry the Beautiful now. That's in the past and I'm looking forward to what's next. My new book - title to be confirmed - will be out in Autumn. I've been focusing on all that entails for quite a while now. Carry the Beautiful, AKA Child Number One, is on the back burner. But this is where the baby metaphor breaks down. Is this is what parents feel during their second pregnancy? Is Child Number One, old news? (As my own family's Child Number One, I am very keen to hear feedback on this.) Perhaps it's time to ditch the pregnancy links once the first book is out. Maybe it's time to talk solely about writing and publishing and leave the contractions and the stitches alone. Book Number Two is simply book number two. It cannot be compared to anything else. 

Nah, let's milk every last drop of this tired old analogy. It's almost time for the three month scan. Pants are getting a little tighter and the queasy mornings are still in full flow. OK, OK, I'll stop there as I literally don't know what I'm talking about. But I do know I'm whittling down the list of potential titles. Once that's locked in, I'll be getting in touch with the cover designer. Then I'm going to be sending it to the editor. That's where we are at the moment. Book Number Two is gestating. And the good thing is, I've done it all before so I know when it's going to hurt and when it's going to feel marvellous. I just have to remember to breathe.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 2 April 2018

One for the Word Nerds...

I read something the other day that made me think. It was one of those inspirational/philosophical memes that pop up on Facebook all the time. Usually I scroll past like the virtual wallpaper they are, but I remembered this one. Forgive the paraphrasing but it went something like, 
'Don't tease someone for pronouncing a word incorrectly. That just means they read it and didn't hear it.'
I'm not going to pretend this was some mind-blowing, earth-shattering truth that made me see everything in a whole new light. It wasn't and it didn't. It just made me think for a minute. 

There are a few words in my head that make me pause before I say them out loud. I know what they mean but I'm entirely sure how they're said. Nomenclature. That's one. I've literally never said it aloud, but I have read it.* I would go as far as to say I would avoid having to use it so I don't make a show of myself. (This is not a hardship, by the way. It doesn't tend to crop up over a beer with friends.) Likewise the term 'GIF' is something I stumble over. It was always GIF with a hard G. And then out of the blue, the inventor of the damn thing said it was pronounced JIF. But not everyone got the memo. Or maybe people just decided that the inventor was wrong. I hear GIF far more than JIF. But I also know that it annoys me when people get my name wrong so I don't want to insult the GIF inventor by getting the name of his creation wrong. When I have to use it in a conversation, I tend to say, 'Did you see that funny GIF/JIF whatever it's called, on Facebook yesterday?' See what I did there? 'GIF/JIF whatever it's called', is how I pronounce GIF these days. Every single time.

And then there are words that I know how to pronounce but I don't have a clear dictionary definition of their meaning. This is definitely a by-product of reading books. When you have a feeling of a word rather than a clear understanding of when it should be used. When you know of a specific character or scene where you saw it used but you can't apply it to any other situation out of that context.

One of my favourite words falls into that category. Languid. Yeah, I know. Languid. It's a word I tend not to use because I don't have a clear definition, but it's a word I really like from its sound. I like words that have that specific U sound. (English Language students will have all sorts of technical explanations for what I mean.) Words like mellifluous, superfluous, fortuitous eloquent, and yes...languid. It sounds nice to hear and feels nice to say. Then there's the vague understanding I have of it. I think it means elongated, stretched out, drawn out and relaxed. I see it as a good word. Long summer days spent languidly under blue skies. Or something. I remember it being used in The Great Gatsby to describe someone. I can't remember who but it's definitely in there. 

My non-grasp of languid peaked the other day. I had been given the DVD of Call Me By Your Name for Christmas by my brother** and I finally watched it last week. Aside from the story of young love, the film was a sensual feast, depicting a whole summer of free time, balmy evenings and good weather, with nothing else to do except shag your parent's house guest. (It's much more beautiful than that in reality. I've done it no justice there, whatsoever. Honestly, it's gorgeous.) As I watched, the word languid screamed out at me. Constantly. So much so that I thought it was high time to acquaint myself with the correct definition of the word. So I did.
'Having or showing a disinclination for physical exertion or effort.'
Now the thing is, Call Me By Your Name is chock-full of physical activity. (I'm not even trying to make a rude joke there either.) There's swimming, cycling and dancing from the start. Clearly I've had the wrong end of the stick when it comes to what languid means. Also, I think that definition makes it sound like it's a negative thing to be. The 'dis' of 'disinclination' sounds like behaving in a languid manner is bad. And that's a real shame because that definition pretty much sums up my entire personality. Especially on a Sunday. Hey ho. I'll embrace my languidity even if it's bad form or not the done thing. I'll embrace it on a weekend when I've ditched the shower in favour of whatever Netflix series I'm currently binging. I'll embrace it as much as my apathetic, lazy personality allows.

Meanwhile, inspired by Call Me By Your Name, I've been planning on dusting off the garden chairs and being languid outside. When it's a touch warmer, I'll honour the film by drinking wine and eating fruit by the back door. I'll have no bother eschewing the physical exertion that kept cropping up on screen, and instead I'll sit outside and ponder life as the sun sets. I'll pretend I'm in rural Italy, instead of just off the motorway on an A-road in Merseyside. I'll make it my mission to ensure that the world knows what languid means and sees it in all it's chilled-out, laid-back, horizontal disinclination of effort. 

But for now the Easter weekend is virtually over. The four-day holiday ends tomorrow and it's time to get back into the usual routine. No more time-wasting on linguistic streams of consciousness like this. Ooh. Linguistic! Another word with the U sound I like.

Have a lovely week, folks.

* Actually I have said it aloud. A mate once asked me how it was pronounced and I realised I didn't know. He had a colleague that said it one way and my mate said it another. I am still none the wiser.

** My brother got me Call Me By Your Name  - I think - because he knows how much I love an intense connection between two characters, and how the discovery of a soul mate can be the most gripping of narratives. See Before Sunrise, or Chapter 17 of Carry the Beautiful which is my own homage to the concept.

Monday, 26 March 2018

By George, I'm Forty...

Morning all. How did we cope with the tricksy cliffhangers I threw at you last time? Did we sleep? Were we driven mad with suspense? Do we need to refresh our memories because we've forgotten it all?

I am not this self-confident.
Last week I talked about the dual experiences of feeling the need to mark my 40th birthday in a marvellous way, and the fact I'd become aware of a local artist whose work I really liked. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I decided I was going to contact the artist in question - Ben Youdan - to arrange a portrait for my birthday. (When I shared this with my little brother, he looked appalled and said, 'A portrait of you?' So let me be clear for everyone. No. Not me. Not even I can pull off the level of confident narcissism it takes to suggest to an artist they might like to capture me.)

My initial enquiry about costs was reassuring. It was within my budget. In addition, the Bond siblings agreed to do a whip-round and contribute as their present to me, which was very kind of them. All in all, everything was set. The biggest challenge was to choose someone appropriate to be pictured. 

I had given this much thought, long before I contacted Ben. I already had ideas from flicking through his gallery. There, iconic faces from music, film and TV are pictured side by side. Massive names such as Madonna or Marlene Dietrich are placed alongside TV characters like Elsie Tanner. It's a Who's Who of gay icons and pop culture. (Honestly, click the link and check them out. They're amazing.) I could think of several people in the public eye whose work or public persona had been personally inspirational, who represented a specific time in my life, or were just people I really liked. I decided to make a shortlist of potential subjects for my picture.

Not only do I love pulling off a Nigella in the kitchen (#sorrynotsorry) I am a big fan of her 'stoicism in the face of adversity' approach to life. She has an air of unflappability when events in her life have been anything but. Besides, her soy, honey and sesame cocktail sausages are everything.

A writer who loves to play with words and phrasing. A distinctive style. An unapologetic advocate for unapologetic feminism. An icon. Also, she is the eldest of eight so we have (almost) EVERYTHING in common.

He made me go to San Francisco because of the stories he told. Plus, he created the most perfect set of characters in his 'Tales of the City' series. I still mourn Dr. Jon Fielding.

One of my favourite literary characters from the aforementioned 'Tales' series. 

Watching her win Eurovision in Copenhagen 2014 was the icing on a particularly brilliant holiday cake. 

This is my peak Wham-love era.
Still decades away from
knowing what Nigella's
24-hour roast ham is.
So that was my thought process but none of them seemed quite right. The main reason was that they were all people whose work I'd come to know and love in the more recent years of my life. Armistead Maupin goes back the furthest - to my early twenties - but none of them were in my life as a child. I came to realise that this wasn't just a nice picture to put on my wall. It was supposed to represent my forty years of being alive. It needed to depict someone that had been there from the beginning. (No, not you Mum.)

There really was only one possible person it could be. George Michael. In 1984 at the age of six, I got my first Wham album. I played it on repeat for the rest of the decade. For my eighth birthday, I got a more than life-sized poster of him for the end of my bunkbed. (Top, seeing as you're wondering.) I based my love of the cold and all future Winter fantasies on the Last Christmas video, and in more adult times I've turned to George's later music to get through grown up things. In all it's heartbreak and tenderness. I first learnt of him aged five, and he died when I was thirty-eight. He pretty much spanned the first forty years of my life. His music was always there, soundtracking my life. There was no one else I could choose. It had to be him.

And that was that. I emailed Ben and explained what I'd been thinking. He emailed back and said he was up for it. It was as easy as that. Sorted. 

That was at the end of last year. A couple of weeks ago I got to pick up my George Michael portrait and take him home. It got stored in the spare bedroom under bubble wrap and I wasn't allowed to hang it until my special day. But here's the thing... In an exciting time-travelling move, we can now fast-forward to right this second where my special day has happened. It's in the past. Woohooo. I've had my birthday, I've unwrapped my picture, I have a piece of gorgeousness on my lounge wall. Check out this bad boy! Isn't it stunning? 

So far I've not stopped staring at it. The TV has no chance at the moment. It just makes me smile. What I love is how it changes in the light. My favourite time is at night when the glitter really sparkles under the spotlights. It shimmers when I walk into the room. 

I wrote last week that I'd never really 'got' art. I think I do now. At least I have an appreciation of it that works for me. It isn't about fancy schmantziness, crazy auction prices and silent galleries. It isn't about deliberately holding your hands behind your back as you pretend to be deep in thought as you stare at a random bunch of shapes. It's the opposite. It's about being visually grabbed or shocked into a train of thought you hadn't considered. It's about accessibility. It's about pleasure and the start of a conversation. It's something to feel, rather than something to see.

Specifically, my portrait is more than a fab piece of art for the wall. It's more than a portrait of a long-loved 'celebrity'. It's more than a brill birthday present. What it is, is a daily reminder that life is short. Forty years pass in the blink of an eye, and are here before you know it. And it's a sparkly, beautiful reminder that every minute MUST be lived to the full. I don't want to put words in his mouth but I reckon it's what George would think too.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Two Seemingly Unrelated Stories...

1. The Born-Again Art-Lover 

There are some cultural things I get and some I don't. I love the theatre but I don't get opera. I love prose but not so much poetry. I am all about eighties music but fast forward ten years and most of the nineties output is lost on me. And then there is art. I mean 'pictures on the wall' art, not art in a generic sense. I am the proud recipient of a C grade GCSE in Art and Design. Yet sometimes art galleries leave me cold. I have been to just a few that stand out positively. In the mid-90s, the Tate in Liverpool had a David Hockney exhibition that I really liked. I walked around it while I waited for the bus. I think I was fifteen. Years later I saw Munch's 'The Scream' in Oslo. It was cool to see something I recognised as a famous painting. I also love the National Portrait Gallery. Blame my Tudor History A Level, but seeing real paintings of the Earl of Leicester and Mary Queen of Scots is pretty exciting. But paintings elsewhere, depicting seascapes and sunflowers don't really float my boat. 

So when a piece of art grabs me and forces me to stare for ages, it's quite a thrill. A few years ago, there was an exhibition about April Ashley in the Museum of Liverpool. (I visited on my birthday in 2014, when I was doing a 'food, drink and culture city-crawl'.) A large portrait was displayed as part of the exhibition. It was stunning. Huge in size, it dragged me in with it's vibrant colour and detail. And then, just as I was standing close, the detail became apparent. The entire background of the portrait was made up of smaller pictures of April Ashley from over the years. Her entire, trailblazing life was depicted in the background of her portrait. It only became clear when you stopped and really looked. I was mesmerised. I could have gazed at it all day.

Some time after that, I was idly scrolling through Instagram, when I saw a similar portrait. The writer Jonathan Harvey had shared a picture he had received as a present. Straight away I recognised it. Not exactly the same as the one in the museum, he had his very own version of April Ashley by what was obviously the same artist. At that point I looked him up. I felt the same gut-based-thrill as I had in the museum and I wanted to see more. Ben Youdan turned out to be a Liverpool-based artist. I followed him on all the social media formats I could find, and pondered how marvellous it would be, to be the sort of person that had real art and not just Ikea prints in their home. How marvellous it would be to mark a special occasion by having a piece of original art made, just for me....

Ah Ferris. You taught me how to look sophisticated in all manner of situations.

The End. 

2. A Pressure to Celebrate

A few weeks ago I wrote that I'm currently counting down to the big 4-0. Just as when I turned thirty, it feels an exciting time. A new start, re-setting goals and realising that age is all in the mind. And on top of that, it's something to celebrate. Woohoo!

My birthday has always been one of my favourite days. I imagine this is a product of big-family syndrome. It wasn't about expensive presents when I was a kid. It was about getting to choose what was for tea, and getting attention all day. Some years I had a party with friends in the house, some years it was just the family at home. At age six, it was a BIG DEAL. I had a party in a local hotel (now a nursing home) with Uncle Terry, the clown. (Sidebar - he was not my uncle.) I spent the morning of my eighteenth washing dishes at my weekend job before going home to an extended-family party-tea, and receiving a variety of kitchen-based presents ready for Uni. On my thirtieth, I woke up with a stonking hangover in San Francisco, and ended up eating minibar crisps and watching 'Enchanted' in bed. Some birthdays stand out more than others. Yet, regardless of what I actually do on the day, there is an inner glow that never fails to materialise as soon as I wake up. I walk tall and feel special. Even on past birthdays that I had to be in work, or the ones that I spent alone. 

So with the arrival of a new decade alongside the inner-sparkle of knowing it means something special, there has been a lot of pressure to mark it appropriately. Discussions started last year amongst my friends. The question, 'What are you doing for your 40th?' has incited a variety of responses from us all. From a simple, 'I don't know yet' to a pained expression and a heavy heart. The pressure to mark the event has been clear. It felt much easier at thirty. Possibly due to the lack of children in my friendship group, nights out and holidays were easier to arrange. Less responsibility and more freedom made celebrating the change of decade far easier. Things seem harder now. It's time to think outside the box. It's time to do something really cool to mark the next chapter of my life. I just need to work out what that is...

35 with Battenburg
39 with a personalised cake
37 up the Great Orme

The End.

So there we go then. Those are my two stories. La-di-da, la-di-da. So, yeah. Um... that's it I suppose. Except...HAVE YOU WORKED IT OUT YET? DO YOU GET IT? HAVE I MADE IT CLEAR?

Tune in next week for the conclusion of the exciting cliffhangers of 'How is Nicky celebrating turning forty' and 'Does Nicky become someone that celebrates a milestone by commissioning art?'*

*Spoiler alert - YES SHE DOES!!! Can you even believe it? As Ferris said, 'Life moves pretty fast.' He also said, 'You're still here? It's over.' Well it is for this week. All will be revealed next Monday. Join me!

Have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Never Too Busy For Me Time...

No green shoots today.
It's time for another seasonal update. Every few months I find myself being moved to write about the weather, time of year and specific routines that annually kick in. That time has come again. Usually this is something to do with the building excitement of Christmas, or the oppressive heat and sneezy allergies of the Summer. Today we are talking about Spring. 

Now, let's calm it right down. Spring in its own right, interests me not a jot. I can't get worked up into a tizzy of excitement about baby lambs and green shoots like some people can. That is not me. In fact, as I type, the North of England has just had its second bout of heavy snow, causing schools to close and cars to remain on driveways. Green shoots are not too visible right now. And I imagine the baby lambs are sheltering in a barn, rather than gamboling about the countryside. 

My desk top is FULL of it.
No, I'm not that bothered by Spring at all. But it seems Spring is bothered by me. This is the time of year that is without doubt, my absolute busiest. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I am run-ragged trying to fit in the usual work schedule alongside the list of additional chores and events that take place each year. To put it simply - hyperbole alert - pretty much everyone I know has a birthday in March. Everyone. There are presents to buy, cards to create (hey there, Moonpig!) and outfits to wash or buy for the accompanying meals and nights out. Plus, throw in Mother's Day and Easter and you've got yourself a busy few weeks. My iCal isn't enough this month so I've got a Word doc. carrying the extra weight of each day's tick list. This year seems more full-on than usual because of my own VERY SPECIAL BIRTHDAY at the end of the month. That in itself has it's own planning document. March 2018 is all about the paperwork. 

And so, in the midst of all this headfriggery, I need things to keep me sane. I need to stick to my writing routine even when it's busy, and I need relaxing things to do in the evenings, when I've hit my day's target and ticked off the extra jobs from my calendar. Let's take a look at some of those me-time activities now, shall we? Over to you, Nicky.

Thanks Nicky. Yes, first up, I have to share my latest Netflix binge. It is everything I need right now. Easy to watch, non-taxing on the brain yet ultimately profound in it's own quiet way, I urge you to watch Queer Eye. I never saw the original (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) back in the day, but the reboot is similar I believe. And yet Oh Em Gee, it is essential viewing. Via the power of a make-over show, five gay men - all of whom are utterly beautiful in their own way - are healing the rifts of Trump's America. Through open-minded, non-judgemental conversation, topics such as politics, religion, racism, homophobia, toxic masculinity, self-confidence and personal pride, are unpacked, sorted out and put away with grace and compassion. It hammers home how limiting and damaging it is to assume there's only one way to be a man. This programme should be shown in schools. Don't be confused by the fun concept. It's breaking down barriers and stereotypes, one moisturising tip at a time.  

My favourite thing about
my cinema card is that
I used a photo of me standing
on the Aberystwyth waterfront.
Not for me, a boring passport
photo. Oh no.
OK, next on my 'activities to chill me out' list, is a recurring topic. The cinema! Yes, I do pay a monthly fee to have access to films all the time, and yes I barely used it last year. 2018, however, is going so much better. As soon as Oscar season hit, I got excited. Not because I care about Oscar nominations, but because this years' Best Picture category was full of films I wanted to see. That never happens! Over the past couple of months, I've seen The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I, Tonya and Lady Bird. I'm not going to review them here, other than to say I loved them all (just call me Barry Norman with that incisive assessment) but that isn't the point. Instead, I've realised that the process of going to the cinema in the first place is good fun. Sure, I can wait for them to come to TV in a few months but then I miss out on the comfy seats and shared experience with strangers. Plus, after Lady Bird last week, I was so moved/impressed/mentally stimulated that I had to go to a bar for a glass of wine so I could type a bunch of notes into my phone before I forgot them.* So yeah, hurrah for the cinema. It's just a shame, after all my efforts, that the Best Picture went to something I hadn't seen. Hey ho. Congrats to The Shape of Water. I have no idea if you deserved it. 

Can you feel the excitement?
Right then, moving on. Look, there's no easy way to casually mention the next seasonal leisure activity on my list. I'll just have to say it quickly. IT'S ONLY BLOODY EUROVISION. Yes! We are creeping into that time of year and you all know how happy that makes me. Normally, I enjoy the build up to the event (this year on 12th May) without listening to the entries first. There's something about saving them for the week of the semis and final that has always appealed. But then last year I was invited onto Martin Adams' show on Wandsworth Radio to chat about that night's contest, so I had to do my homework. And now we are nearing the big day, I'm getting beyond excited about listening to the entries and trying to spot the favourites before I read about them. As the days tick by, more and more countries are announcing their entries. And so have we. SuRie is representing the UK in Lisbon. Her song, Storm, is the most Eurovisionny-sounding song we've sent in years. If politics didn't come into play one bit, I'd be putting money on this to win. But hey, let's not be naive and foolish. The left-hand side of the scoreboard will be more than enough. Let's have realistic expectations of our own success whilst revelling in the out and out spectacle of the entire evening. I'm getting giddy.

Behold the wonder of a yoga mat.
With Agatha Christie books for a head
Finally, let me tell you about my yoga practice. Ha! Did you hear me correctly? YES, YOU DID! Now, calm right down and let me explain. My messed up back is in no way ready for even the hint of a downward dog. Not yet. I am the very opposite of supple. But irrespective of that, I am always attracted to the idea of a roll out mat and comfy clothes. It's my kind of sport. So after my most recent bout of backache last month, I decided to do something. Ladies, Gentleman and those in-between, let me introduce you to the Alexander technique. To the outside world this looks like lying down. And it is. Except it is lying down in a way that makes your spine do the right thing for once. Twenty minutes a day is supposed to be the cure to all ills. We'll see. For now, I'd just like it so that I can sit and type away for a few hours every day without feeling like I've been run over by a steamroller when I stand up. Fingers crossed. Except for the twenty minutes a day when nothing is supposed to be crossed. Except for then.

So there we are. As my mad month of fun, games and frolics continues, that's the stuff I'm relaxing with in the down time. The stuff that will keep me sane and enable me to wake up refreshed each day until mid-April arrives. In the meantime, for those of you that are excited about daffodils and lighter evenings, I'm so happy for you. Knock yourself out. I'll be rolling out my yoga mat somewhere and telepathically demanding a second series of Queer Eye

Have a lovely week, folks.

*It appears my new book is a good impression of a prequel to Lady Bird. No word of a lie. It dawned on me in the opening scenes. I am depicting the frustration of being a ten year old living at home with a family that crowds her. Lady Bird has similar feelings at seventeen.  I expect me and Greta Gerwig would get on well.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Back to School for Bond...

Did we all survive World Book Day? Did we manage to get through last week avoiding eleventh-hour costume stresses the night before dress up day? Did we cope? Are we still here?

For me, last week was a bit de-ja-vuey. (Defo a word.) By concerning myself with the weighty (lol) matters of typing away willy-nilly since leaving teaching, I've been wholly oblivious to the joys of World Book Day (or Book Week, for many schools) out in the real world. I've not given it a thought since 2011. That is until I look at Facebook each year, and see a variety of superheroes, Disney characters and movie characters (yeah, tenuous) depicted by the children of people I used to know. 

But like I say, this year was different. I was asked to go into my old school and talk to the children - wait for it - about being an author! Yeah, totes hilar. I laughed at first. But then it dawned on me that I have written a book, and I do actually like doing this, and maybe I could have some stuff to say that would pad out a lesson. Besides, I believe JK Rowling was unavailable.

So I went. I spent last Monday talking to the Year Five and Year Six classes of Thatto Heath Community Primary School. I didn't know the children at all - all my classes have long since left - so it was lovely to be there in another capacity. My brief was to talk about the process involved when writing a novel. I planned it out like a real live teacher would. Like I say, very de-ja-vuey.

And so, like the benevolent life-force that I am, I share with you what I told them. Here are my seven tips for writing a novel. You're welcome. 

Imparting wisdom,
shaping minds.
Or something.
So there we have it. My fool-proof guide to cracking on with the book inside you. I stopped there because I was talking to the Upper Juniors and not delegates at a 'How Do I Get My Book on Amazon' conference. I didn't think the nitty-gritty of book-formatting or PDF conversions merited much of Book Week's time. Despite that, several children asked questions about the next steps, and I waffled away about indie-publishing, cover design and at one memorable moment, the cost of ISBN numbers. Thankfully no one keeled over in boredom or walked out in disgust. That was good. In fact, they seemed to accept I was there with insight to share. A lovely feeling! 

In all seriousness, I met some lovely young people, many of whom were filled to the brim with questions and enthusiasm. Despite the Government's best efforts, it was good to see kids' imaginations are still in tact. If events like Book Week do nothing else, they reminds us that reading is supposed to be a pleasurable experience. It's something to enjoy, not endure. It's something to chat about with other people. So now that dress-up day is over, let's raise a glass that we survived another year, and relax with a stiff drink and a good book.

Have a lovely week, folks.