Tuesday, 31 January 2012

# 31 The Nesting Instinct

Like most creatures on this earth, as spring approaches I get the urge to nest. I take this as being the last vestiges of what I consider my maternal instinct. It never goes any further. I am not encouraged by plants sprouting in the garden, new born kittens or any other cute baby animal, to embrace motherhood. But I do the nesting thing and I do it with boundless enthusiasm.

For me, as well as the urge to spring clean in the house intensely and begin an attack on the ravaged remains of my garden (post winter and bantam hen assault), I want to move all my furniture around.

This despite having little room for manoeuvre since de-cluttering would be far more effective than simply moving it into more manageable shapes and having a good hoover. However, moving it around is currently where I am at and so yesterday it happened.

I managed to shift quite a lot and had I been throwing things out my house would now be considerably emptier. Sadly this is not the case but at least this now gives the illusion of de-cluttering, which in the short term at least helps to keep me sane and enables me to compartmentalise the bits that need dealing with - since compartmentalising everything is my way of coping with most things.

Life is very complicated and it has a lot of different areas that need dealing with on a daily basis. Shoving it into small boxes and representing it with a number of neon post it notes in my bulging filofax means I can methodically work through it all.

So this week I have moved an Edwardian dressing table and a bookshelf into my bedroom, moved the costume rails around upstairs so that the lengthening days of light can finally penetrate the room and I have moved several bookshelves and a dining table about downstairs.

Everything feels bigger, cleaner and a bit different. It'll do for now. Now for the garden.....

Monday, 30 January 2012

# 30 The Progressive Reader

I read some fascinating statistics on Friday about how although book sales in their traditional form have been struggling during the recession, that e-books are as strong if not stronger than ever.

Something like 1.33 million ebook readers were sold in the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas and something in the region of 500,000 ebooks were bought on Christmas Day alone - no doubt to populate all those gifted Kindle's fired up on the big day.

Kindle - books on the go - source
Like vinyl the hard copy book has slowly gone out of fashion to a degree, but reading hasn't and this is the good news. The format has changed that is all. The internet has been a godsend in many respects. Access to digitalised hard to find books online using sites such as GoogleBooks has made the internet revolution enormously useful to both readers and researchers. I have lost count of the number of obscure foreign or out of print books I have gained access to through Google that I would otherwise never have found.

Vinyl of course, is now coming back into fashion and there were those that never stopped using it. It will be the same for the hard copy book. So what I found particularly interesting about these statistics was the demographic group buying into this new way of reading. It isn't, as you might expect the younger, technologically savvy generation, but quite simply those who were already reading real books in the first place. It is thus that the technology is not encouraging a new generation to take up reading, but the former to read in a new way.

Progressive publishers are producing new works in multiple formats these days - hard copy, e- books, even audio books and it seems that if the book buying public are happy to embrace this new way of reading, then publishers shall have to bend to meet demand and remain in business.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

# 29 Positive thinking

When I was young I was quite negative. I always thought the worst and I never tempted fate. I got into the mindset that if I predicted that the worst was going to happen, then I would be pleasantly surprised if things went well or not disappointed when they didn't. But when you're young, you don't know yourself or your strengths and weaknesses and you doubt so much.

Years later I realised what a pathetic waste of energy this kind of mindset was. Very often if you think the best will happen it will. But negativity breeds negativity. If you think the worst will happen, it probably will.

Now that I am older, wiser and self assured I know what my strengths are. I have learned to accept compliments and I know that having a positive attitude and coming across as confident and strong is inspiring to those around you. If you tell everyone you're no good at something, that you're bad looking or fat or 'can't do' they will believe it and so eventually will you, no matter how untrue it may be. And re-enforcing the negativity to get people to pay you compliments will eventually lose you friends because they will get sick of always bolstering you and telling you the opposite of what you keep on saying.

I have in recent months come across several people who perpetually encourage this negative mind set and I really haven't got time for it any more because it's pointless and just plain annoying and I don't want to surround myself with it. It's always thin girls complaining how fat they are and fishing for compliments and negative whingers who really haven't got anything to complain about in life who wonder why their friends drift away and why they are left alone. Worse still are the ones who get slated behind their friends backs because of their negative attitude.

There's nothing wrong with being a positive person. People prefer it, those who don't probably wish they were like you and had your confidence. The more positively you think, the more people will believe in you.

If you have negativity issues, get help. It's not right and it's not healthy and it's very damaging to your relationships. No one likes a know it all or a self congratulatory snob, but if you are a confident and happy person you will attract the right sort of people and eventually become that happier person.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

# 28 A Question of Character

Friday night was 'Supper Club' night at the Gainsborough Constituency Conservative Association at The White Heather at Caenby Corner. I attended primarily because its guest speaker was Rupert Matthews - author, historian and political activist.

Rupert Matthews - Editorial Director at
Bretwalda Books
Rupert is a very capable orator who gives fascinating talks in an interesting and informed manner on a variety of subjects. Tonight he gave an insightful overview of the Euro and a history of the European Union which was most definitely food for thought. If he'd been my history teacher at school, I think it would have been a whole different education.

To be honest, my friendship with Rupert has over the last few years I have known him, been sporadic to say the least since he is in Surrey and I am in Lincoln. It comes from, in more recent months, his association with Bretwalda Books as Editorial Director and it is to him I owe my thanks that my own book 'A Most Faithful Attendant' will at last be published.

Unfortunately Rupert has recently found himself the centre of press and media attention due to the resignation of Lincolnshire MEP Roger Helmer, whom Rupert would have succeeded as next in line had it not been for the intervention of Baroness Warsi. I am not going to go into a political discussion here however, that is not my motive for this write up.

I have however been intrigued and bemused at the nature of some of the press reportage on this situation and the way in which Rupert has been portrayed. I realise of course that anything involving politics is like treading on eggshells and that whatever you do or don't do will be scrutinised and criticised depending on who is reporting and the motives behind their attention.

That Rupert is an author with many wide and varied interests in history, the paranormal and the world of UFOs and aliens cannot and is not denied but it should not brand him in a bad light or make him unfit for his position. And whilst this is apparently not the motivation behind questioning regarding the validity of his candidacy as Roger Helmer's replacement you can't help but wonder if there isn't some sort of witch hunt going on as it keeps coming up time and again in press reports.

A prolific author on a variety of subjects

Reading recent press coverage you would be forgiven for believing Rupert to be of slightly questionable character, perhaps a little odd even - that is if you had not met him and only seen these misguided articles. If you met him you would realise that he is quite simply an interesting, educated and enthusiastic individual with a broad spectrum of interests that make him good company at the dinner table, an entertaining speaker and above all a trustworthy associate who is politically ambitious whilst wanting to do right by his party and to our country. And who wants their MP to be a boring, characterless politician in any case?

I would rather have someone who is passionate about the things that interest them, good company to be around and in it for the right reasons. It makes him human, down to earth and personable. I'd rather that than some of the corrupt individuals we've had to put up with in recent years.

Friday, 27 January 2012

# 27 The Harbour Masters Building

The Harbour Masters Office
There is a building in Lincoln on the Brayford Pool called the Harbour Masters Office that I suppose has been hanging on for dear life for some time now. I think it was still being used as an office, but it was basically a remnant from the old dock days when boats would deliver goods to Lincoln.

Since then Brayford Wharf has become something of a promenade lined on one side by the Marina and on the other by a succession of faceless branded restaurants. And now that the Doubletree by Hilton hotel has opened up at the end, curiously next to the Holiday Inn, the area has more of a foreign resort feel to it than a functional town that is about as far from the coast as you can get in these parts.

But last week the demolition men moved in and now only an outside wall and some interior features remain. It's going to be yet another restaurant apparently - a small one I don't doubt. But sitting right opposite ASK, Zizzi's and the Lincoln Odeon cinema I'm sure it wasn't a necessary addition.

We accept the demolition of our heritage with resignation these days, that we know eventually everything is going to look modern and built in concrete. I remember thinking this in days of old when I used to go to London a lot and saw old Victorian streets flattened for Sainbury's or modern apartments. I guess it's a sign of the times. You can't stop progress. Unfortunately however, once these places have gone, they've gone. You can't get them back and it's a shame that so often progress cannot meet with the past.

Brayford Pool - Victorian times
The same view now

Thursday, 26 January 2012

# 26 Winter Blues

So, it's finally reached that time of the year when my Italian ancestry gets the better of me and my body finally gives up and admits defeat. I crave sun, more light than what can be offered by an energy saving bulb, fresh air and outdoors.

I would like the ground level of my house to dry out, to be able to open the windows and doors and turn off the blooming central heating.

I am sick of stodgy winter foods that I can't stop eating and I've piled on the winter weight and now feel fat, lethargic and just about ready for hibernation.

Thankfully it's nearly the end of January and already the evenings are starting to draw out - even if the mornings still feel like I'm getting up in the middle of the night.

A summers day at the beach - perfect
I am trying to remember what it feels like to sit in the garden in full sun, the hens clucking at my feet, whilst I look up into a blue sky and watch swallows sky dive and tumble overhead. It feels like a million years ago and yet it was just 4 months. Of course, before you know it, it'll be here again and we'll forget what winter was all about.

SAD - seasonal affective disorder - is a recognised disorder these days. It can range from simply feeling tired all the time and overeating, to symptoms of major depression. In its mildest form we probably suffer from it all at some time or another, especially if the winter has been particularly gloomy. I'd probably never consider doing anything about it except ploughing on.

My mum used to have this fantastic light box which you would put anywhere your eye could see it so that your brain would acknowledge the light levels. You would switch it on as the light went down outside and leave it on for a couple of hours and it would extend the daylight your brain was getting. A great idea and my mother swore by it.

I looked up these SAD bulbs and there's a whole category on Amazon for SAD products. They are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but there is a more affordable range here.

Does anyone out there use SAD approved lighting? Can you recommend anything on the cheaper end of the scale. I feel I need to top up my light levels to get me through next last couple of months.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

# 25 Skinny Ain't Attractive in the 1950s

I picked up on this on Facebook on Monday. I'd had no idea such a thing had ever existed. In an age where we are constantly bombarded with subliminal messages that thin is best and that we should be aspiring to the cover girl image (which does not exist incidentally), I was surprised to discover this kind of advertising.

But hang on, this is just another no win situation, right? Naturally skinny girls back in the 1950s must have miserably forced themselves to over eat trying to live up to this expectation. And then in the 1960s it was in with the Twiggy look - super skinny.

The Size Zero debate - things just got out of control
Size zero has been a continuously heated debate throughout the 2000s and now the vintage look is back in again in certain sectors. But it doesn't seem to matter where you sit if you're too thin or too fat, you will always be too thin or too fat and you'll never win the argument. There never seems to be a happy medium. And just when you are content with the way you look, the goals change again.

Even so, I'm pretty sure I've never seen adverts promoting weight gain as a way of being more popular or as a fashion statement. They are advertising 'attractive pounds and inches'! They wouldn't get away with it now. They're not promoting it as a healthy way of life after all but as a popularity stake.

Crystal Renn - once a plus size 'UK16', but now an 8 - 10
Being involved in the fashion industry means I am constantly coming up against stereotypes, victims of the system and stunning girls with amazing figures. It's hard not to notice that trimmer models will generally get more work and I don't think there's a lot you can do about it.

Size is not a modern obsession of course. In days gone by they just wore corsets (both men and women) which had its own set of problems. Extreme tight lacing was just one of the many issues tackled by a health conscious public and almost as unhealthy.

We live in a society obsessed with our looks. Why we have become so is anyone's guess but preening and perfecting does seem to be our lot. I guess we should all take it with a pinch of salt, but it's so often easier said than done.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

# 24 Dopplegangers and strange first meetings

They say everyone has a doppleganger somewhere in the world - someone who is basically just like you. And given the number of people running around out there and the number of combinations of 'looks' there must be, it's a surprise there's only one. Of course, I have friends who come in identical three's. They know who they are.

I have a doppleganger. She's a top shelf model named Alexi which sadly means I can't show her pictures here. My mum's double turned up in a costume book I own modelling crinoline dresses. And on Saturday I met someone who seemed very like a friend of mine from Nottingham.

And then there are the look-a-likey's who you can't believe aren't related but actually aren't. I find it almost impossible to believe that there wasn't some sort of macabre hospital mix-up when these chaps were born. How can they NOT be related.

Stephen Tomkinson....

and Paul Tonkinson who I was
convinced had only vaguely
changed his name to avoid the
family connection. 

and Andrew Buchan

Alan Davies.....

Rob Brydon and Ben Miller looking similar anyway and turning up on QI with very similar shirts on was another case in point. 
Rob Brydon and Ben Miller, doing the doppleganger

And then there are those weird, 'don't I know you from somewhere?', scenarios. This also happened to me on Saturday whilst I was a fashion runway rehearsal in Birmingham. I was convinced I knew one of the models but I didn't say anything and later on in the afternoon she came up to me and asked if she knew me. 

Now, either we HAVE met before or there is some odd coincidence going on there. I will sleuth because I am so convinced I know this girl I shan't rest until I know for sure. 

I don't suppose these scenarios are unusual at all. But it does rather fascinate me. Do you have a doppleganger. I'd love to know.

Monday, 23 January 2012

# 23 The Importance of Work Experience

There was a time when you left school with O Levels (later GCSEs) and found a job or got yourself on one of those YTS schemes (paid apprenticeships). And then 'Universities for all' came along and suddenly there were generations of 21 year olds that couldn't function as responsible adults in the work place. There's no doubt the standard of employable 20 something's has really gone down the pan.

I blame the notion that it's all about the degree, spending several years studying for something that gives you grades but no life skills. University is all very well but it's a very insular way to spend your early twenties and very few come out work 'savvy'. Now of course, employers have had enough of taking on employees with plenty of grades but little else to offer in the short term.

And so work experience is once again starting to take the place of the 'old fashioned' degree education as the primary concern. No longer are they just looking at the grades but they are looking at CVs for evidence of experience in industry - not only for relevant experience but also for 'real life' experience - a demonstration of customer skills, time keeping and work ethics.

And whilst Universities do stress the importance of getting work experience during term breaks, many students aren't taking up the opportunity and are leaving Uni ill equiped without any realisation just how hard it is out there. If you don't bother to turn up on time for work because you had a hang over or wanted an extra hour in bed, you are going to lose your job - it's a simple as that. Unfortunately many courses do not enforce strict attendance which is leading to all sorts of problems.

'Graduates are losing out to interns when applying for jobs...' The Huffington Post reported 'highlighting the dominance of work experience as a key tool in securing employment.'

The benefit of doing a few weeks work experience here and there is that it isn't going to affect your time or income half as much as it will for an intern. If you can bank up enough experience to land you a job when you leave education you may be able to avoid months and months of working for nothing. It may seem harsh but being an intern is no joke - many of them work for nothing but experience, references and a name on their CV.

Now you may be thinking 'what on earth does she know?' but I do. As a mature student who worked for many years, I know how hard it is to keep up with the demands of full time work. I've done everything from being a nursery teacher, to a runner in a television company and a PA in one of the biggest financial services companies in the world. Much of it is hard work. You will get pushed around, imposed upon and most of them will expect that you earn every penny of your earnings.

If you can get a taste of this whilst you're at University, to give you some idea what goes on, on the other side,

Sunday, 22 January 2012

# 22 Spring clean

About this time of the year the annual spring clean begins. I try to do mine early because I have another one to tackle in the garden as well.

A change in living circumstances means there's one less room in the house now in which to hide all my crap and pretend it doesn't exist. So now I have to deal with it as well as all the dust and cobwebs that have gathered over the winter season of semi-hibernation.

Most of what I need to get rid of is the remnants from my costuming days, lots of Victorian style dresses I just don't want any more, hats, accessories. You name it, I've probably got it. But it has to go. I don't do costume anymore as a general rule and it's surplus to requirements and taking up room.

Clearing out is one thing, selling stuff is another. January is a great time for the sales, but not if you're trying to flog non-essentials on ebay so I may have to wait until after everyone has had their January paychecks before I start tempting them with goodies. Which means not shifting the clutter.

But spring cleans are mental as well as physical. I'm looking forward to 2012 being a clean slate. 2011 was pretty complicated what with one thing and another. And I'm hoping that for me, this year is going to be a turning point. I am expectant of a gloriously hot summer both weather wise and metaphorically.

Sometimes of course you have to leave clutter behind when you 'move on'. So get rid of all the things that gives you bad memories or hold you back and seize the day. It's time. You know it.

It's nearly spring after all and when the sun comes back we're all going to feel much happier again.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

# 21 The Queen's English

I came upon this little gem the other week courtesy of BuzzFeed.com. It was called 'Can You Pronounce All These Words Correctly?'. I only stumbled on a few of the words which I had genuinely never heard of. What is a Melpomene or a Feoffer anyway?

Using, or more specifically, writing good English is one of my OCDs. Proper use of the language is something that sadly appears to have been lost with so many other useful trades we once had in this country - plumbers, builders and factory machinists (there is a logic to that last one).

There is nothing more guaranteed to make me close down another blogger's page or Facebook newsfeed than sloppy use of our native tongue. For some reason it gets people's backs up when I criticise bad spelling or punctuation or a lack of grammar. They say there are more important things in life. Well yes, and there are more important things in life than beer, Primark and fish and chips on a Friday night but you don't give those up do you? We have a fantastic language. You can convey anything you want to say through it and to master it well and coherently is a beautiful thing.

To be able to write in such a way that keeps your reader coming back for more is a talent. Your subject may not be that interesting, but if the way you write it is, they will read. Likewise, an interesting subject can be ruined by poor writing because you may find yourself stumbling at every sentence.

I don't think I was particularly skilled as a school child. My interests were sewing, history and English. I read and wrote feverishly on many subjects including history and I was a self taught seamstress for many years. Once upon a time, had I not been a clothing designer, I would have been a scriptwriter and author. As it is, the latter has now become an achievement of mine.

Being able to write well is a beautiful skill. I don't understand why it has been lost, but I am sure it stems from the way it is taught in schools because the number of school leavers with a poor grasp of written English seems very poor to me.

What has happened to the system? I was taught well, but I also had the enthusiasm of my parents to keep me moving along and keep me interested. As a result I enjoyed it and still do. Perhaps it's a combination. Perhaps it's because in this era of quick and easy technology writing in full sentences that are grammatically and punctually correct slows us down. Perhaps some of us just don't care anymore.

I'm not a one for text speak and I generally write my text messages in real sentences. I just can't help it. And I'm not apologising for it either.

Friday, 20 January 2012

# 20 Red rubber bands

I like to recycle and if something is free I will adopt it and reuse it. The red rubber bands that the postman leaves lying around everywhere are a perfect example of this. I find them really annoying and I don't know why they have to litter the streets. Apparently Royal Mail get through 2 million PER DAY. If they took them back they wouldn't have to keep on buying new ones.

But in any case I have now been collecting them for about 3 years and I use them for all sorts of things - to keep my ageing filofax together, to tie up freezer food bags and in the garden for various things.

The BBC did some research a while back on other uses for a Royal Mail rubber band. Here are some of the best ones I came across on other websites doing similar work:

Rubber band littering has definitely become a problem
  • Use them as cheap Kabbalah wrist bands. Madonna wears one and buying them from the Kabbalah Centre costs $26 for enough red string to make seven bands
  • Consider them a collector's item. There was a fad among scooter-riding children in 2009 to collect the bands by putting them over the T-bar and dropping them down the central column. Encourage your child to collect the most
  • Consider the bending down and the picking up of the bands as exercise. It shouldn't be too hard to keep up a regular rhythm as the red bands were chosen by the Royal Mail so they were easy to spot
  • Make a red rubber band ball
  • Gather them and sell them back to the Royal Mail
  • Bicycle clips (yep I’ve done this one)
  • Emergency belt loops
  • Pencil-top erasers
  • Waistband expanders
  • Chopping board stabilisers
  • Anti-slip devices for mixing spoons
  • Anti-squeak devices for bed slats
  • Saucepan handle covers
  • Jar openers
  • Cable ties
  • An aide memoire
  • Barter for stamps
  • Cat toys
  • Gardening string
  • Handlebar fasteners
and here are some of the stupidest ideas I've found:
  • Use them to mark Chinese new year. Red is considered lucky by many in China and is worn during festivities. It's a mere 314 days until the next festivities.
  • Guitar strings (I don’t think this one actually works)
  • Hair bands (if you’ve ever done it, you’ll know what a stupid idea this is)
  • A teddy bungee jump (why?)
Do you use them for anything else? Let me know.

All the rage with the kids

Thursday, 19 January 2012

# 19 Occupy London - just remind me......?

The High Court has ruled that Occupy London protesters can be removed from their camp outside St Paul's Cathedral. Really? Gosh, I had no idea these guys were still there. Can someone remind me what they were protesting about in the first place?

And have they REALLY been living in tents for the last three months. I heard it was more symbolic these days and everyone went home for a hot bath and a square meal at the end of a hard day at the encampment. This was a suggestion made by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph but hotly contested by protesters.

Protesting is all very well, but it has to make an impact without isolating those people you want on your side - the general public. You don't want to get violent like last year's horrendous state of affairs (which turned into nothing more than an excuse for violence) and you don't want it to go on for so long that people forget you're even doing it anymore.

I guess for the people who have to step over them each day it has been a constant reminder and I don't suppose the protesters endeared themselves to that section of the community who were just as much victims of corporate greed as anyone else. They certainly wouldn't have made friends with the 'powers that be' trying to keep St Paul's open and attracting tourists.

The protest which was against 'Corporate Greed' doesn't seem to have had much of an impact either. I'm not even sure it's raised awareness of the condition. We know that corporates' are greedy, we know they are overpaid and the gap between rich and poor is ever widening but since when has it been any different? There is no such thing as a class-less society. That isn't the way a creature with a pecking order works. And we didn't need protesters closing down economy boosters such as tourist attractions to prove it.

Currently the protesters are additionally occupying a central London park, disused Old Street Magistrates Court and an abandoned office block in Hackney owned by a bank. Now, if you wanted to put your money where your mouth was you should have moved on to the steps of the Bank of England, or one of the other huge companies reaping rewards during recession time, not one of our capital's top landmarks and some derelict office space.

Whilst their initial target was the London Stock Exchange the protesters plans were thwarted by the police and they instead moved on to St Paul's. But why pick on them? I appreciate it is supposed to be a peaceful protest, but what sort of impact does occupying an empty building or a House of God make? Well several of the St Paul's authorities resigned their positions because of it for a start. Was that the impact they wanted to have?

David Cameron is now addressing issues regarding excessive executive pay but this was bound to happen in any case because things were getting out of control. Nothing is sustainable but I can't honestly say the protest has hastened this decision. It has after all now been over three months.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

# 18 Sex and the Student

Apparently, the huge rise in tuition fees has meant some students are turning to almost any means to fund their studies - vice, clinical trials and gambling. According to the NUS there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that students are also funding through prostitution and it estimated that about 20% of women working in lap dancing clubs were students.

The Government has retaliated by saying it offers students a generous package of financial support. I'm not entirely sure what they mean by 'generous' because as a student who has curtailed most of their social life to meet budgets I certainly wouldn't call it generous.

The 'English Collective of Prostitutes' (yes this a genuine business name) which runs its UK base from London says calls to them have doubled in the last year although they have seen a steady rise in student calls over the last 10 years. And it's not just University students, A-level and college students are also starting to take up the adult worker mantel, which suggests even students still living at home are struggling with rising living costs and study funding.

Prostitution of course, is the oldest profession in the world. If nothing else, sex sells and if you can't get work and you have pressing financial commitments the last thing you're going to be worried about is the morality of your choice of work. The Daily Mail regurgitated the same information with less sympathy and seemed surprised that the figures were so low given the ease with which many young women would be able to make a living in the sex industry (it suggested).

Even Oxbridge has its own Escort Agency called 'Take Me To Dinner' -a strictly no sex agency, although what happens on the escort's own time is of course their own business and profit no doubt. Sadly the website is down so I couldn't check it out for this write up.

There's no doubt that a rise in University fees may push some students into areas of employment they might otherwise not have considered, but though fees are rising, so are the loans so really it's no different to how it is now. You'll get a loan for your tuition fees and living expenses, the latter of which is really only designed to cover your basics such as rent and food.

On my course (like so many others) there is nothing for the hundreds and hundreds you'll spend on course materials and even if you remain a virtual recluse for the next 3 years and never spend anything on yourself your loan still won't keep you in food, paid bills or a roof over your head.

It's a worrying trend if the figures are to be believed and not a choice to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

# 17 Helping hands

I spent Sunday and Monday in London on business. Hence, I have been a little pushed for time getting this blog update ready. I apologise therefore, that it is short, but hopefully sweet.

I took the coach to London. It's door to door, I don't have to do any changes and it's far cheaper than the train, hence Viva la National Express! Tackling the underground with heavy luggage however poses a real problem. Many stations still don't have escalators and if the lifts aren't working it's a nightmare. If I was a wheelchair user I'd be stuffed. There would literally be no way out.

Victoria, Vauxhall and Finsbury Park were my stations of choice on this trip and all of them failed me in the stairs department. Thankfully, twice, I was offered help with my bags. It's a rare occurrence now, especially in London where everyone is rushing around minding their own business. They'd sooner step around you then stop for a moment to help.

The case that annoyed me so on the tube
I've never really had an issue with helping people. It often only takes a moment but can make all the difference to someone's day. Besides which it makes you feel good. There are still helpful people around mind you, but they're fewer and further between, more so in the city. I guess it's a sign of the times. We've become more wary, time focused and disinterested in folk around us.

The more densely packed we become in flats and house shares and the more slave to the rat-race the more introverted and self serving we seem to become. I'm quite impressed at how many people I chat to in our street. But I haven't always lived like that and a lot of people don't know their neighbours. Everyone lives in their own box and rarely ventures off into other people's.

I've noticed by writing this blog that other people's business is actually becoming quite interesting. And helping people is a good thing. So today, tomorrow, next week, help someone who needs a hand, especially if they're not expecting it. It makes you feel good!

Monday, 16 January 2012

# 16 Men are from Mars - Women are from Venus

I spotted this on Twitter last week and it reminded me that even though it is now 2012 men and women are still poles apart in every sense of the word.  This has been consolidated for me over the last few months by the men in or not in my life and the men/women coming into and going out of my friends lives. The old addage Men are from Mars - Women are from Venus rings true at every turn. This book was published in 1992 but it's STILL selling. Why can't everyone just accept that's the way it is. We're just different on every level and we just have to learn to get on with it.


So why are we are all so hell bent on trying to find the 'right one' without having to build in the compromise? Because I'm pretty sure perfect without string attached doesn't actually exist. Even when you do find a partner to settle down with, it's all just a big fat compromise. Which is fine if those are the rules and everyone is playing by them.

But what if you're done with constantly making concessions? Not all of us want to have to sit through football matches, play social graces with each other people's friend circles or pretend we're no longer looking at porn on the internet (who doesn't?). So I'm kind of wondering, why bother? And I'm not saying this as someone who has never tried and always dug their heels in. Ohhhh no, I've compromised until I forgot what I was compromising about. I'm too soft, that's the problem. I'm a pleaser, I want it to work.

Of course there's always the flip side. Yes of course girls ARE a minefield of contradictions, I'm not denying that or attacking the guys here. I've said too many of these phrases over the last couple of months, but I'm actually trying to believe it. At this moment in time being single is actually pretty cool. It's been ages since I was my own boss and I'm pretty sure the removal of the compromise has given me back many hours of my week.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

# 15 What to write about when there's nothing to write about

Well I can stall for a start and write about what there isn't to write about. So I suppose in the end, this means I am writing about something. That's a bit of a cop out isn't it? Oh who cares. Time for a little nonsense, it is still the weekend just about after all. Here's a round-up of the other bits that didn't fit in to the last two week's of blogs.....

There are some amusing random websites I haven't mentioned yet. They are full of pointless funnies, journal entries, amusing or bewildering photographs. Like this one called Black and WTF which I LOVE. It's loaded with random vintage and antique photographs that prove our ancestors did have a sense of humour after all. It's also regularly updated meaning there's always a fresh batch to keep you popping back. This is one of my favourites. I mean, what the hell is this all about?

I am afraid I am also a big fan of the I Can Has Cheezburger phenomenom since my brother was bought one of the books. Monorail cat gets me every time. I mean, how can you not laugh at this?

Funny cat pictures continue to find space on the internet. Here's another one you have to laugh at:

Buzzfeed is another of those websites that turns up trumps every so often. Things like this have me in tears for laughing and sometimes you just need a good laugh and nothing else. But watch for updates, this selection is nowhere near as good as the ones I read the other day. :)

Here's something I picked up on Twitter on Wednesday. I love those tongue in cheek adverts and this one for Photoshop of Horrors is a classic example. Of course there's a serious message behind it and it's one that's been bantered around a lot. Yet still we use celebrities and advertising as our markers for style, acceptable good looks and idealised imagery. Will we never learn?

And here's some Animal World stuff for you. Afraid of creepy crawlies - look away now!

Spiders are cute! Courtesy of 'The Daily Beast'

Saturday, 14 January 2012

# 14 Tesco shares are down, for what?

It's remarkable how quickly the mighty can apparently fall out of favour.

Over a pot of tea at my favourite coffee house Friday lunchtime I was reading in the Times about poor Christmas sales at Tesco. I mean - really???? This is one of the leading supermarket chains in the UK. So it experienced a profit downturn over the festive season, but for investors to shed their shares in the company quicker than you say 'Tesco price drop' is just ridiculous.

As a result there is probably going to be a massive price drop campaign across all its stores, meaning other supermarkets are going to have to follow suit to remain competitive. Good news for us shoppers. But isn't this a little bit of an over reaction? We all know Christmas has been tough, we're still a suffering economy after all and regular shoppers have pulled the purse strings tighter than ever. I'm sure no one was expecting to make huge profits but it isn't as if Tesco are going to fold. Give it a month or so and it'll be back to the old prices again.

The Times further reported that we were going through the most prolonged squeeze on spending power since records began in the early 1950s. But whilst smaller well known brands have fallen by the way-side the big brands are still here and aren't likely to be going anywhere anytime soon.

And no matter how much we complain about the prices, profit margins and the loss of our High Street, we all keep going back for more, because we like convenience, choice and cheap as possible - which let's face it, it is.

No matter how nostalgic we get about buying local we will never ditch the supermarket and put our money where our mouth is.

Friday, 13 January 2012

# 13 Friday 13th

Why is it that so many of us get jumpy when it's Friday 13th and why do we presume that something bad will happen?

Apparently there is no evidence that Friday 13th is unlucky, at least not until the Victorians added it to their long list of phobias and superstitions. Friday and 13 separately however, have long been associated with bad luck so there's a fair bet that's where it all started.

The fear of Friday 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia (or other equally unpronounceable things depending on what source you read).  According to research an estimated 17-21 million people suffer from it in the USA. Some people are so paralyzed by fear they won't even get out of bed.  And they estimate between $800-$900 million is lost in business on Friday 13th.

Statistically, in certain countries, you are less likely to have an accident on Friday 13th because so many people choose to stay home to avoid accidents. According to UK research it is the opposite which suggests we're far less superstitious than other countries.

The other 'Friday 13th'. Much scarier
But why are some of us still so superstitious? It's irrational in a modern age where we know pretty much everything about everything.  And yet we still have a fear of this mysterious other world that we can't quite put out finger on.

Personally, despite being a very superstitious child, I think it's a load of rubbish. Nothing bad has ever happened to me on Friday 13th.

I'll let you know at the end of the day if I survived without mishap.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

# 12 Useful around the home but keeping it under wraps

I try to keep it a secret that I am quite well domesticated. Of course, now it's out there on the internet it isn't a secret. Never mind, anything is a worthy sacrifice for 'blog' space.

I try to give off the pretense that I'm a career girl but I'm probably more 'Good Life' than good living. In the early days it wasn't really by choice. You have to do what you have to do to get by and though I was never taught how to be efficient and useful in the home and generally used to shut off during Home Economics classes (I can still remember making that Victoria Sponge in cookery though...) it's become a very routine part of my life.

Gardens produce great free stuff like this!
Budgets have been the one enduring feature of my life. I am a total spreadsheet queen. I've always had to live on restricted incomes but never more so than when I moved to my current address and I was having to live off my wits and conjure up all sorts of clever ways to make food last and keep the gas bills down.

I was lucky enough to have a house with a garden and a lot of friends who enjoy 'growing their own', so I turned my garden into an allotment, I got some chickens so that eggs (not cheap if you have a conscience about battery farming) were freely available, and I learnt how to bake, home cook and work with whatever was in the fridge freezer. Some of my favourite recipes are from simple traditional fare Victorian cookbooks and World War II rationing books that I found on the internet. A lot of what was on limited supply during the war were things I generally couldn't afford to keep in the cupboard, so it was an ideal way for us to manage.

I've had to gut and prepare my own pheasant, dig potatoes out of the garden in time for dinner and bake bread last thing on a Friday night so there was something for breakfast the next day. But to be honest I enjoy it. There is nothing more satisfying than eating something you grew yourself or cooked from scratch that afternoon.

My first ever batch of Marmalade.
I was pretty proud of this.
I discovered satisfaction in the simplest of things - home made bread and marmalade and the serenity of Sunday afternoons spent picking apples and blackberries in the local community orchard. Days in summer like this are absolute bliss and I get excited as soon as I can feel that first glimmer of spring on the horizon because it means I can get back out into the garden and start growing things again.

Our set food budget was and has been for the last couple of years, £30 per month for two people and though the days of excessively limited supermarket trips are over we've gotten very used to shopping this way and have remained within this budget out of habit more than anything. The only difference now is that I have an agreement with my housemate that I do all the housework, cleaning and cooking and he buys the meat supply every week. It works out well. He's in work, I'm at Uni.

Chickens produce cool free stuff like this!
I have found this sort of freedom liberating. Yes there are days when I wish I could blow some cash on a good restaurant meal or stock up on fine wine. I've spent more time than I care to remember with my nose pressed up against the windows of high street shops salivating over yet another pair of shoes I can't afford and I've lost count of the lunchtimes I've gone hungry. But to be honest, at the end of the day it's not happening and you just have to get used to it. We can't always have what we want, you learn to work within your limits and you just get on with it. Because sometimes life is like that. 

We all crave that extra pot of cash or a little escapism every so often but provided you can put food on the table, have your health and true friends, you can't really complain that much. It could be so much worse. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

# 11 Statistics and The 6 Degrees of Separation

I can't resist checking my Blogger stats. Yes, I know it sounds egotistical but it's my OCD nature packaging things up into neat little bundles that gets the blame this time. I guess it's why I still have a filo-fax. You know, that diary thing all yuppies and office workers used to have.

Sadly statistical information like this excites me especially when it's something I've done that might impact on something outside of my little world. I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of hits although the Thatcher posting damaged my ratings a little on Monday (oh well I guess we can't always write on popular subjects).

Not surprisingly, most of my readers are in the UK but it's a little surreal that people are reading in the USA, Germany, Russia, France and Saudi Arabia. My visitors are predominantly using Windows, Internet Explorer (narrowly overtaking Firefox yesterday) and mostly linking in through Facebook which I guess is just useful stuff to know. I know it probably sounds insignificant or pointless to a lot of you, but I've only been running this blog for a week and half. It sometimes blows my mind that out there in etherworld and often quite literally on the other side of the world, bits of my life and work are floating about being read by random strangers who may or may not have something in common with me.They could be anyone. Housewives. teachers, teenagers, celebrities. Who knows?

This information serves a useful purpose as well. I can monitor traffic peaks by the type of post I've published and this helps me add new work that will appeal to a wider readership. Post #5 Words Are Only Skin Deep has consistently been the most popular posting so far. Lifestyle seems to interest you all and there's clearly a tattoo fascination going on.

Source: http://lovestats.wordpress.com/dman/
I was reminded how small we have made this world by connecting us all up with the internet. But you don't have to go to such extreme lengths to get that experience of 'everybody knows somebody who.....'. A few recent events have made me think how closely we are all interlinked without even being aware of it.

I've only been living in Lincoln since 2008, but it does seem to have some strange vortex pull. I've never seen it anywhere else I've lived - the number of people I know who have close connections to bits of the country that I am closely connected with. And they're random bits that normally noone you would meet would have ever gone to or heard of. And since I have moved here and developed relationships within various friend groups, it's even more worrying how embroiled you become in their lives purely because everybody seems to know everybody else give or take a connection. Sometimes it can be awkward. I keep a lot of secrets.....

It got me started on the Six Degrees of Separation (to quote Wikipedia) 'Six degrees of separation refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, "a friend of a friend" statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.' If you want to get really geeky about it, here's the mathematical equation:

Average Path Length = (ln N / ln K) where N = total nodes and K = acquaintances per node. Thus if N = 300,000,000 (90% US pop.) and K = 30 then Degrees of Separation = 19.5 / 3.4 = 5.7 and if N = 6,000,000,000 (90% World pop.) and K = 30 then Degrees of Separation = 22.5 / 3.4 = 6.6. (Assume 10% of population is too young to participate.)

It's not a new concept either. They were theorising on this stuff back in the 1920s as communication and travel technology began advancing in leaps and bounds.  Of course we all know why it's 6 Degrees - social networking. But in 30 years time, 4 Degrees, 3??? Will there ever come a time when we are all linked so closely that there is noone else left to know?

Whilst I am a complete advocate of the internet and spend far too much time on it, I'm not sure I want to know everyone by '6 Degrees'. I like to know there are bits of the world that are isolated from human contact, that there are places I shall never see and that there are people I shall never have any contact with. Because I like to believe that the world is still big enough to get lost in.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

# 10 Was 2011 really that bad?

Everyone is summing 2011 up as a pretty damp squib of a year. Well I suppose on a general level it was.

Our economy was pap, everyone else's economy was pap, our coalition Government was pretty pap, there were dozens of natural disasters all around the world and people who shouldn't have died - died. On the other hand we got rid of some rather nasty and dangerous nutty dictators.

2012 doesn't promise anything much better and I don't think anyone is under the illusion that because the numbers have ticked over by one, it'll be any different. We'll still be in recession along with everyone else it seems, our coalition Government isn't giving us any genuine glimmer of hope, there will continue to be natural disasters and for the icing on the cake, we've got the 2012 Olympics to deal with - a money spinning event of the year which appears to be causing half of our nations capital to shut down (yes I know that's a slight exaggeration) and will mean an enormous influx of visitors, some of which will inexplicably disappear once they reach British shores.  On the other hand Pat Butcher has finally kicked the bucket. Silver linings eh?

A squib - possibly damp (in case you were wondering)
This seam of dissatisfaction has certainly run through the lives of many of my friends and family as well. We've all had our ups and downs but despite a few painful lows in my own life which I have come through relatively unscathed, overall I have to say I had a pretty good year. 2012 can only get better unless I make some monumental cock up. I graduate this year, am hoping to advance my studies and my business will have grown its wings and flown the nest.

There are lots of amazing things happening out there over the next 12 months. Can you share a few and cheer us all up because the news is just so depressing at the moment.

Monday, 9 January 2012

# 9 Margaret Thatcher, Politics and Looking Back In Apprehension

As a child of the seventies I grew up predominantly under Margaret Thatcher's 'rule'. I can remember yuppies, the Rubik Cube, poll tax riots, the NUM and a seemingly endless round of power cuts. I recall evenings spent by candle light - I was scared of the dark as a child. My Dad was an Electrical Engineer with the LEB (London Electricity Board) and emergency call outs when he was on 'stand by' through the night were relentless.

The wreckage of Airey Neave's
car at the House of Commons
I can also remember the Falklands War, the unrest which ensued when anti Government protest marches turned into violence and I can also remember clearly the terrifying grip the IRA had over us. I can vaguely remember when Airey Neave was killed when the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) placed a bomb device under his car at the House of Commons in 1979. Closer to home I was living not far up the road when they bombed the Baltic Exchange back in 1992. I heard the bomb go off.

On Saturday I went to see 'The Iron Lady' at the cinema. I had no particular desire to see it, and I was apprehensive given that I'm not a fan of Meryl Streep. I certainly wasn't a fan of Margaret Thatcher. But I am relieved I went, because not only was it a great film so different from the usual 'Thatcher movies' but it got me thinking long and hard. I'd spotted several things I hadn't really considered before and there were some ironic and worrying parallels with what we are experiencing now.

The Poll Tax Riots 1990 - look familiar?
I don't look back on the 1980s through rose tinted glasses. But we can sometimes forget what volatile times we lived in back then. We suffered what was then deemed the worst recession since WWII. This is an accolade since ovetaken by the recession we are currently in the clutches of and in recent years we have some of the worst GDP figures since WWI. The IRA were the most dangerous terrorist organisation we had ever known (since surpassed by Al-Qaeda) and we were being governed by the first (and only) female Prime Minister of our country's political history (our current coalition Government is the first since WWII) both of which are always ripe for finger pointing. What we are going through now and have been since 2008 at least is a worrying set of parallels.

The violence which ensued during the Poll Tax riots in 1990 was very similar to that of the student riots earlier this year. In August 2011 the Daily Mail published an article titled 'These Riots Reflect a Society Run on Greed and Looting'. But don't think for one minute that the Poll Tax riots were purely about the Poll Tax. It attracted its usual set of low-life looters and muggers - opportunists jumping on the bandwaggon. The only real difference as I can see it was that the police used a heavy hand to control the rioters back then. In 2011 they just let them get on with it.

The Baltic Exchange in the City of London after being destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1992
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1254353/Police-terror-budget-cut-millions-Ring-Steel-blunder.html#ixzz1ior7hGPr
One of the overriding feelings I came away with after the film was, I am so pleased I never had to do her job. I don't envy anyone a role in politics, it's a minefield, you're always making enemies and you'll always be criticised for making the wrong decision and rarely remembered for the right ones.

One parallel I'm pleased about though is that at least they both dug their heels in over the European Union.